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'Simbang Gabi' a manifestation of the Filipinos' strong faith in God, says bishop.

By Christina Hermoso

As the nine-day age-old Filipino Christmas tradition of 'Simbang Gabi' begins today, a Catholic Church leader said the observance mirrors "the Filipinos' strong faith in God."

"More than being an inherited custom and a cherished tradition, the 'Simbang Gabi' is both an act of sacrifice and sharing which we do for the love of God and our neighbor," said Balanga Bishop Ruperto C. Santos.

"It is an act of sacrifice as mass goers forgo extra sleep and rest. We offer nine holy masses at the break of dawn. We pray more and fervently often in the company of our family and friends. 'Simbang Gabi' leads us to spend extra time for God with our family and sacrifice personal comforts for God. Attending the masses is a clear manifestation of the Filipinos' strong faith in God," Santos said.

The prelate, who chairs the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines-Episcopal Commission on Migrants and Itinerant People (CBCP - ECMI) shared that overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) view 'Simbang Gabi' as "a time for sharing."

"Our OFWs observe the 'Simbang Gabi' as a time for sharing. During the offertory in every mass, they offer gifts such as food and clothes for the needy in our parishes. In Kuwait, for example, our OFWs offer designated items to help distressed Filipino workers. Like last year, the offertory during the 'Simbang Gabi' in Manama and Awali, Bahrain as well as from our churches in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Al Ain and Tas Al Khaiman in UAE and in Doha, Qatar were generously offered to those who suffered from the previous natural calamities in the country," Santos said.

'Simbang Gabi' reminds and makes us our brothers' keepers and good Samaritans. It connects our OFWs with us. In foreign countries, especially as we have in Paris and Nice in France; Vienna in Austria; Bonn, Frankfurt and Cologne in Germany; and across Italy; the 'Simbang Gabi' mirrors our strong Catholic faith, our deep religious devotion and profound love of the Holy Eucharist," Santos stressed.

As in the past years, thousands of devout Catholics are expected to attend today the first of the nine-day "Simbang Gabi" dawn masses, which will be held in all Catholic churches across the country and in many parts of the world.

Considered as one of the oldest but well observed Christmas traditions in the Philippines, church bells will peal before the break of dawn for the duration of the 'Simbang Gabi' which are held at 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. with the final mass, the Misa de Gallo (rooster's mass) on Dec. 24, Christmas Eve, traditionally held shortly before midnight.

To accommodate the needs of the faithful on different work schedules, anticipated 'Simbang Gabi' masses were held starting last night at around 7 p.m. in many parishes as well as in chapels in shopping centers.

An Old Tradition

Also known as Misa de Aguinaldo (gift mass), churchgoers offer the gift of sacrifice in waking up before the break of dawn for nine consecutive days to attend the dawn masses for different intentions: in thanksgiving, as a form of worship, or for a petition. Others, in traditional Filipino belief, attend to obtain special graces upon completing the nine-day masses.

The 'Simbang Gabi' is an old tradition with deep roots in the country's religious culture, dating back to 1565 when Spanish "conquistador" Miguel Lopez de Legazpi celebrated the first Feast of the Nativity. The practice originated in Mexico when in 1587, Fray Diego de Soria, prior of the Convent of San Agustin Acolman, asked permission from the Holy Father to hold Christmas masses for the farmers who wake up very early to work. During the 16th century, Pope Sixtus V decreed that the dawn masses should also be held in the Philippines every 16th of December. At that time, it gave the farmers a chance to hear mass before working in the fields.


Bishop Ruperto Santos (CBCP / MANILA BULLETIN)
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Title Annotation:Faith
Publication:Manila Bulletin
Geographic Code:9PHIL
Date:Dec 15, 2018
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