MANILA, Dec. 20, 2013—As the Philippine Church celebrates traditional dawn masses (Simbang Gabi), Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle reminded the Catholic faithful of the true essence of the nine-day celebration, noting it as an “expression of filial devotion” that prepares the faithful as they receive Christ in their lives.
“Simbang Gabi is a typical Filipino way of preparing for the great feast of Christmas… For Filipino Catholics, (it) is above all an expression of their filial devotion to Mary, the Mother of God,” Tagle said in a circular released to the clergy of the Manila Archdiocese last November.
“We wish to encourage the practice of Simbang Gabi, whether at dawn or in the evening, because it is a great source of spiritual nourishment to our faithful,” Tagle added.
Celebrated at an early hour from 4 to 5 in the morning, dawn masses, also known as Misa de Aguinaldo, trace its origin from the tradition brought by the Spanish evangelizers to the country, the circular stated.
The early hour of the celebration serves as a “gift” of the faithful to God as they prepare to receive Christ in their lives, it noted.
“Throughout the centuries, Simbang Gabi or Misa de Aguinaldo has been preserved, enriched, and sustained by our people in spite of pastoral and liturgical challenges it underwent,” Tagle said.
“Today, everywhere in the Philippines, Simbang Gabi is celebrated with great solemnity, with the singing of the ‘Gloria’, in white vestments, and with Christmas carols and festive ornamentations, in contrast with the sober character of the Advent season,” he added.
Dawn, evening masses
The Manila Archdiocese has issued guidelines to assist pastors in facilitating the celebration and help the laity faithfully participate in the dawn masses, keeping the tradition free from abuses and misinterpretations.
According to the circular, only masses celebrated at dawn and in the evening are considered Simbang Gabi, noting that “other Masses celebrated during the nine days before Christmas are celebrated as Masses of the Advent Season, and should follow the norms of liturgy of the Advent season.”
“The celebration of Misa de Aguinaldo at other times, e.g. morning, midday, or late afternoon, is not in keeping with the liturgical norms of the Archdiocese of Manila and is to be regarded as an abuse…Only the dawn and, when pastorally required, the evening Masses are considered Simbang Gabi,” it stated.
Not in mall hallways, corridors
The Manila Archdiocese is also prohibiting the celebration of traditional dawn masses in corridors or hallways of shopping malls “where the celebration of the Holy Eucharist is needlessly exposed to shoppers that are indifferent to the celebration.”
“Simbang Gabi may not be celebrated in malls or shopping centers, unless there is a chapel in the establishment, where the Holy Eucharist is celebrated with frequency and duly approved by us,” the circular noted.
“The ordinary place for the celebration of Simbang Gabi Masses is the parochial church. Chapels, which are duly recognized within the jurisdiction of the parish church, is given permission to celebrate Simbang Gabi only with the consent of the parish priest and in coordination with the parish,” it added.
Filial devotion to Mary
Tagle also stressed the expression of filial devotion to the Holy Mother through the celebration of the dawn masses.
“For nine consecutive days (the faithful) join and accompany (Mary), so to speak, as she awaits the birth of her Son,” he said.
“As we prepare for the celebration of the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ through the unique Filipino tradition of Simbang Gabi, may the faith and devotion of Mary, the Mother of God and the Mother of the Filipino nation, inspire us to receive in our hearts and home God’s surpassing Aguinaldo in the person of Jesus Christ,” he added.
“Let us keep her company through prayer and good works, so that she may also keep us company as we journey toward the fulfillment of God’s promise of peace in our nation and in the world,” Tagle noted. (Jennifer M. Orillaza)