Simbang Gabi: A Filipino Tradition

Written by: Chiqui Sanchez

Misa de Gallo (Mass of the Rooster), Misa de Aguinaldo (Mass of the Gift) are a couple of terms commonly used to literally interpret SIMBANG GABI (Night Mass). These interpretations stem from the fact that these Masses are traditionally held at dawn in the Philippines to give farmers and fishermen, who either began or ended their days at dawn, the chance to participate in the celebrations, and dawn is the time when the roosters crow to signal and welcome the beginning of each day.  It is also known that the Pope in the latter part of the 1500’s granted a request from an Augustinian Prior to hold these Masses outdoors to accommodate all the people who attended the services at dawn. Simbang Gabi typically starts on December 16th and culminates with the celebration of midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Typical Filipino fare, shared by families, inevitably follows each Simbang Gabi Mass during this Novena.

Simbang Gabi, a Filipino Tradition in which Advent Novena Mass - 12232014 30

Simbang Gabi has become one of the most popular traditions in the Philippines; a tradition that strengthens relationships within families and one that intensifies the faith of the Filipinos during the Advent season to prepare for the birth of our Lord. Filipino/Americans all over the United States have clung to this tradition and the Filipino/American communities in the Arlington Diocese claim no exception. Simbang Gabi is celebrated in numerous parishes in the Diocese, with one or more parishes taking turns celebrating one evening at a time to complete the novena of Advent Masses. The majority of our diocesan parishes hold the Masses in the evening, deviating from the practice to celebrate at dawn. The parish of St. Charles Borromeo in Arlington, which in December 2016 will be holding its 20th year of celebrating Simbang Gabi at 5:00 in the morning for nine consecutive days, is an exception.

At Our Lady of Good Counsel (OLGC) parish in Vienna, Virginia, the tradition has been going on for the past several years.  The parish-based Fil/Am Community Ministry sponsors the Simbang Gabi on the Saturday that falls within the  Simbang Gabi novena in the Diocese of Arlington. As tradition has it, Simbang Gabi at OLGC is followed by a reception in the church hall. A distinct feature of our Simbang Gabi at OLGC is the Panunuluyan, a short skit depicting Joseph’s and Mary’s Search for an Inn, played and/or sung before Mass begins, by a cast of Filipino/American children in the parish. This play has taken a form that varies from traditional to contemporary throughout the years, with Luke, dressed in a tunic, rolling down a scroll to tell the story or clad in shirt and blue jeans thumbing the story on an iPad.  Our Ministry is also blessed to have its own choir known as Serenata – Fil/Am Community Music Ministry, which provides the liturgical music for our Simbang Gabi at OLGC. The Musical Director also scripts and directs the Panunuluyan and leads the children in song in collaboration with Serenata either during the Mass or at the reception.

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The Fil/Am Community Ministry at OLGC sincerely acknowledges the support of our Pastor and his staff and the Offices of Multicultural Ministries in the Arlington Diocese, without which our endeavor to carry on a most beloved tradition would be in vain.

*Photos taken by Phyllis L. Johnson of the Black Catholic Ministry and various members of the Filipino-American Catholic Ministry.


Bishop Loverde Celebrates Growing Filipino Catholic Ministry in Northern Virginia

Written by: Angelita Felixberto

From its early beginnings in 2000, with nine parishes starting the celebration of Simbang Gabi, it has now grown into 35 parishes joining the celebrations in 2014, proudly announced by Ed Tiong in his acknowledgment closing in the final night of Simbang Gabi 2014. Ed Tiong and the Diocese of Arlington’s Filipino American Ministry of Northern Virginia Council have been a few of the pioneers leading the promotion and preserving the Catholic Filipino faith and cultural traditions in the Northern Virginia and metropolitan Washington, DC area.

The Filipino Ministry of Northern Virginia was born in the early part of the year 2000 when the Diocese of Arlington held a town hall meeting called “Encuentro 2000.” It brought together various diverse groups of ethnic Catholic communities consisting of the African-America, Korean, Chinese, Filipino, Hispanics, European and Vietnamese in Northern Virginia to facilitate expression of their hopes and dreams for a stronger Catholic community. The Filipino Ministry of Northern Virginia is an offspring of the “Encuentro 2000.” Three pioneering couples planted the seeds for the ministry, Ricel and Elvie Castro, Felipe and Rowena Averia and Ed and Maricor Tiong. The very first project was a retreat led by the musician Jesuit priest, Fr. Manoling Francisco. A leadership formation program ensued with the assistance of Cecile Motus, then coordinator of the Asian Pacific Ministry of the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees from the US Catholic Conference of Bishops (USCCB.) The initial core group added Jes and Nori Ces of “Tahanan ng Panginoon,” Neneng Riguera and Celia Coronado of the Philippine Medical Mission of St. Charles Borromeo in Arlington, Max Gonzales of “El Shaddai.” The Simbang Gabi 2000 begun, a Filipino tradition of nine-day novena Masses celebrating the Advent season in anticipation of the birth of Christ. Most people who attend the novena Masses have a prayerful petition in mind which serves as a motivation in completing the nine day-novena. In the Philippines, the tradition is celebrated by dawn Masses either at 4 or 5 o’clock in the morning, followed with an early breakfast of sumptuous Filipino rice or cassava delicacies that marks the celebration such as “puto-bumbong, bibingka” to include other stomach-warming dishes.

The theme of the Diocese of Arlington’s Simbang Gabi 2014 was “Love is our Mission: The Family Fully Alive.”  Photo 2The theme is in line with the preparation for the 2015 World Meeting of Families to be held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on September 22-27, 2015 to be led by our Holy Father, Pope Francis, for the 8th World Meeting of Families. The event seeks to “strengthen the sacred bonds of the family across the globe and highlight its intrinsic value to the good of society.” (Filipino Ministry In 2003, the World meeting of families was held in Manila and was then led by now St. Pope John Paul II.

The various parishes that joined Simbang Gabi 2014 included St. Michael and Holy Spirit in Annandale, Christ the Redeemer in Sterling, Queen of Apostles in Alexandria, St. Philip and St. Anthony of Padua in Falls Church, St. John the Apostle in Leesburg, Church of the Nativity in Burke, All Saints in Manassas, Our Lady of Hope in Potomac Falls, St. Veronica and St. Timothy in Chantilly, Our Lady of Good Counsel in Vienna, St, Mary of Sorrows and St. Leo in Fairfax. St. Bernadette in Springfield,  St. Theresa in Ashburn, and Holy Family in Dale City. The final advent novena Mass was held at Good Shepherd Catholic Church (Alexandria) celebrated by His Excellency Bishop Loverde, himself.  The final Mass was dedicated as a “Call to Filipino American Youth, Families and Community.”

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Aside from the various parishes, the complete nine-day novena Masses were also celebrated at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in Arlington, coordinated by the Roa and Sunga families. The Filipino Catholic Ministry of Northern Virginia coordinated with the Diocese of Arlington Office of Multicultural Ministries, directed by Corinne Monogue and assisted by Liz Tauke. Claireen Enciso was highly instrumental in coordinating the number of Filipino parish volunteer coordinators in bringing to life Simbang Gabi 2014.

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Angelita F. Felixberto is a blogger, freelance writer and news correspondent with GMA7 Network in the Philippines. Her blog is “The Catalyst Writer” at She can be reached at