The Simbang Gabi (translated as Night Mass) is a devotional nine-day series of Masses practiced mainly by the Roman Catholics, perhaps a few Eastern Catholics, and the Aglipayans in the Philippines in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary in anticipation of Christmas.
There are also a handful of Evangelical Christian and Protestant churches (Anglicans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, etc.) that have adopted this beautiful tradition of early morning worship in preparation for the coming celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ the Messiah.
It is held from December 16 to December 24 and is usually done as early as 4 or 5 in the morning. Although a lot of churches have already adopted the anticipated night worship services/Mass for those who can not attend the early morning Mass. The last day of the Simbang Gabi which falls on Christmas Eve is called Misa de Gallo, which literally means the “Rooster’s Mass”, in remembrance of the Filipino farmers during Spanish colonial period who had to attend Mass at 4 AM so they can set to work on their fields by 6 AM.
My Mother’s Humorous Simbang Gabi Experience
More than a decade a ago, my mother decided that we transfer from Las Pinas to Marikina so that she will be near her sisters and my grandmother.
She once recalled to me that she was looking for the church somewhere near the public market of Marikina City to attend the early morning Mass. It didn’t take long for her to find “the church”. But just as the Mass was about to end, she realized that she was in an Aglipayan church and not a Roman Catholic church.
I believe there is nothing wrong with that. In fact, the Roman Catholics and the Aglipayans particularly in the Pasig-Marikina area have been involving each other in community and parochial activities that promote unity among its members and leaders. I also know some Aglipayans who attend Roman Catholic masses when there are no available worship services in their churches.
The “Belen”, The Filipino Family’s Symbol of Hope, Peace, and Unity
The nation and the Christian church seem to have been divided lately by the current deliberation about the Reproductive Health (RH) Bill. While both sides have opposing views on it, all are concerned about the welfare of the Filipino women and children.
Personally, I have looked into the lobbying of the RH bill from the time US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton visited the Philippines in November 2009 when she commented about the absence of options for women on their reproductive rights in the country.
While there are provisions in the RH bill that I believe are valid points to consider, I strongly oppose using the taxpayer’s money to use for the purchase of contraceptives and condoms in country where at least half of the population are against it.
According to a study done by anti-RH bill proponents, 12 million Filipino married men can demand condoms if the RH Bill became a law. A piece of condom is assumed to cost 5 pesos. If a married Filipino man will get at least 3 condoms per week plus during other special occasions, the government will be spending a ridiculous Php9 BILLION in just 1 year! That’s for married men alone. If the RH Bill is passed, the law will also require the government to distribute free birth pills, IUD’s and other contraceptive tools. Do the math for me please.
This money should be used instead for legitimate health projects in far-flung communities such as new hospitals, medicines, incentives for volunteers medical workers, medical equipment, ambulance, heck, even a handful of utility helicopters for places that will be difficult to reach by land transport. We have seen the lack of all these in the last aftermath of typhoon Pablo.
Should the RH bill be passed, I hope the government will address these immediate needs first and not give in to procuring millions of condoms and contraceptives right away.
I hope families will continue to dedicate their prayers in this year’s Simbang Gabi for the government to focus on giving solutions to the real problems of the Filipino women, the children, the family. Whatever the outcome of the final voting on passing or withdrawing the bill, let us pray that the Filipino family will continue to be blessed with love, hope, peace and unity just as what the Belen represents.
The Simbang Gabi for Overseas Filipinos
While there are churches and parishes overseas that offer Simbang Gabi services to their Filipino communities, it can not be denied that going to the church with the whole family in the Philippines is truly incomparable.Non-Filipinos may not fully understand how valuable this rich tradition to the Filipino family is.
The Simbang Gabi celebrates the simplicity and humility of a true follower of God in times of harvest and abundance. It reminds the Christians that God should come first and be given thanks before enjoying the fruits of hard labor. It is also an intimate moment for Filipino Christians to ask for forgiveness, inner peace, and healing.
For a Filipino Christian working overseas, it is an event that he longs to experience once more. Lucky are those who are in the U.S., Canada, and Europe with large Filipino communities since parishes and churches here celebrate their own versions of Simbang Gabi.
Churches in Middle East cities of Dubai, Kuwait, Manama (Bahrain), Doha also dedicate special hours for Filipinos to attend their Simbang Gabi away from home.
Filipinos back in the Philippines should cherish this blessing and opportunity to worship God. Don’t let laziness and secularism take that away from you.
Dawn masses at San Fernando De Dilao Parish in Paco, Manila can be viewed on http://www.inquirer.net/paskong-pinoy.
Festive Moods After Simbang Gabi
So what else do you love after attending the Simbang Gabi? Of course, it’s the food!
Every province, city, town, and baranggay in the Philippines have their own versions of native delicacies and beverages being sold near the churches during these days. While others drool over the puto bumbong, suman, bitso-bitso, empanada, puto, kutsinta, pitsi-pitsi (one of my favorites, i’ll write a post on this soon), pan de sal, etc., my all-time favorite hands down is no other than the amazing Bibingka!
I’ll take a photo of it myself when the next available bibingka in my favorite store is sold.
For you lucky Filipinos out there who get to attend the Simbang Gabi this year, don’t forget to match your bibingka and other delicacies with a hot brewing kapeng barako, hot chocolate drink, or salabat (ginger brew).
Let’s drink to that!
What Simbang Gabi Should Mean Today
Philippine streets are lighted up with parol (star lanterns), which signifies the star that led the wise men to the baby Jesus: the only true Light of salvation for all of mankind and creation.
Church bells toll early in the morning to wake up the people from sleep to proclaim a brand new day of joy: that the Kingdom of God is at hand, and Mary, whom some mainline Christians and Catholics believe as the Dawn of Salvation, has ushered it in.
So what should Simbang Gabi mean today?
The Simbang Gabi should mean a celebration of new life. A new way of living by celebrating it and feasting on humblest meals with the whole family.
It’s all about joy in Christ amidst all the troubles and worries in life.
It’s all about families being together, not only physically, but in spirit and love.
It’s all about human beings connecting with other human beings as one big communion of saints and sinners under the loving arms of the Almighty Saviour, Jesus Christ.
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