Wednesday, December 15, 2010

At the Crossroads: The Meaning of Simbang-Gabi

By Father Ben Alforque, M.S.C., V.F.
Parochial Vicar, St. Catherine of Alexandria, Riverside

The Filipino community of our parish is once again sharing with us the faith-expression of their Advent and Christmas celebration, Philippine-style: the Simbang-Gabi.  It is thus timely to remind ourselves of the meaning of Simbang-Gabi, and how it is celebrated.

Simbang-Gabi literally means “Evening Mass”.  It is a nine-day novena in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary as Mother of God.  It prepares the people for the birthday of Christ on Christmas day.  This novena begins in December 16th, and in the Philippines, is celebrated at 4:00 in the morning (Misa de Gallo=Mass when the cock crows), and culminates with a Misa de Aguinaldo (Mass of the Gift) at midnight of the 24th of December.  Jesus Christ our Savior is God’s Gift to humanity and to all of creation through Mary!

Because we are celebrating the Motherhood of Mary in view of the Birth of Christ, ergo, our celebration is festive, full of Christmas decors and songs, where the Gloria is sung and the liturgical color of the vestments and of the altar is white.

(On the other hand, the Advent season is our celebration of our expectation of the Lord’s Second Coming in glory.  It is penitential in tone.  Therefore, the color is purple - except for the Third Sunday of Advent whose theme is joy, where the color rose may be used - and the Gloria is not sung.) 

In the Philippines, the streets are lighted up with lanterns (the parol), signifying the star that led the wise men to Jesus:  Jesus is the only true Light of salvation for all of creation.  In the villages, streets, homes and chapels are decorated with fresh fruits, like bananas, and passersby may just freely pick them for food: all of creation participate in the abundant generosity and joyful hospitality of God.  The people are roused from sleep by the tolling of the church bells at 2:00 am, and a band may roam around the village streets to proclaim a new day of joy:  the Kingdom of God is at hand, and Mary, the Dawn of Salvation, has ushered it in.  Churches and chapels overflow with people, as whole families attend the Simbang-Gabi: a new community is gathered around the Eucharist, an eschatological family-community centered on Jesus, Savior and Lord.    The festive mood goes back to the homes after the mass, as people partake of their breakfast delicacies with families, neighbors and friends until sunrise of the new day:  for liturgy is a celebration of life, and a new way of living celebrated in festive meal points to the glorious meal in heaven.

Historically, Simbang-Gabi dates back to 1587, when a Fray Diego de Soria asked the Pope for permission to hold Yuletide masses outdoors, because the church could not accommodate the multitude attending the dawn masses.  Why dawn masses? So that the fisherfolks coming from the seas, and the farmers leaving for their farms would have a common time to celebrate the Eucharist and the novena together, at daybreak!  When Pope Sixtus V decreed through a papal bull that these dawn masses be held annually in the Philippines, the Simbang-Gabi tradition was born. Filipino Catholics would always bring this ingrained devotion and cultural faith-expression as one defining mark of their Catholic identity wherever they go, even if their sociological conditions and lifestyles have changed.  Here, in the Diocese of San Bernardino, Bishop Gerald Barnes has allowed Filipino communities to share this faith-life experience to all.  Some parishes in LA, in Chicago and New York are celebrating their Simbang-Gabi masses at 4:30 AM or 5:30 AM.  And they come as families, friends in multi-ethnic or national attires and in droves!

In November 11, 2011 all of us Filipino priests in the US will gather together for a 4-day national convocation and fun (November 8-11, 2011) in Los Angeles, California.  We will have common prayers and celebrations of the Eucharist, breakout study sessions, common meals, barrio fiesta and, of course, songs and a concert for friends and supporters.  This gathering has been spearheaded by Bishop Oscar Solis, first Filipino bishop in the US, to define and celebrate the Filipino priests’ contribution to the life and growth of the US Church.  This First National Assembly of Roman Catholic Filipino Priests in the US has, for its theme:  Paring Pinoy, Celebrating our Gifts!

In solidarity with our Filipino priests in the US, the Filipino Ministry-Diocese of San Bernardino, in its Simbang-Gabi 2010 celebrations, has this for its theme:  Celebrate our Filipino Giftedness to the Local Roman Catholic Church of San Bernardino!

Maligayang Pasko sa ating lahat!

1 comment:

  1. Does anybody have the schedule of masses for the Christmas vigil in San Bernardino?

    Merry Christmas!!


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