Simbang Gabi novena full of music and hospitality
I made it this year! I went to 10 among the more than 70 churches in the Chicago area and one in Terre Haute, Indiana, to be part of the “Simbang Gabi” (Tagalog for Night Mass), a Filipino tradition of a novena of Masses in preparation for Christmas. Simabang Gabi is a very popular nine-day Filipino devotion from Dec. 16 to Dec. 24. This tradition is also called Misa de Gallo (Mass of the rooster). It was introduced by the Spanish friars so farmers could go to mass before they go to work in the fields.
Filipinos decorate the church or adorn their homes with paról, which are colorful star-shaped lanterns. This is believed to have originally been used by worshippers to light their way to church in the early morning, as well as to symbolize the Star of Bethlehem.
I remember as a child the number of people who attended Misa de Gallo was so large that worshippers were spilling out of the church. The atmosphere was so festive, with vendors selling native delicacies along the streets.
It might be safe to say that where there are Filipino communities actively involved in their parish life, there has to be a Simbang Gabi. When I searched this Advent devotion on the Internet, I was amazed with the enormous number of churches celebrating this novena all over the world: the Philippine Embassy in London, the United Kingdom, which posted the schedule of 20 parishes celebrating Mass; 25 Churches in the Archdiocese of Singapore; Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW), who attended St. Bernadette Church in Paris, France, almost filling up the Cathedral.
The devoted Filipino Catholics go to different churches where Simbang Gabi is celebrated to complete the nine Masses, believing that their special petition/wish will be granted. Do I have a wish too? You bet! I wish to meet single, young Filipino women who might consider the possibility of becoming a Sister Providence!
Simbang Gabi has become an annual opportunity for inter-parish gatherings. In some dioceses there is a “traveling choir” invited to sing Filipino Mass songs. Filipinos are reminded of the deeper meaning of this religious tradition not to mention the cultural enrichment of the parish. The intercession prayers are usually in the various major languages of the parishioners or different Filipino dialects.
Filipinos love to celebrate with food galore. These past nine days surely made up my whole year of not having Filipino pansit (fine rice noodles) or eggroll (lumpia), or sweet sticky rice for dessert/pastries (bibingka/suman). I can’t tell a lie. These are one reason that I go to Simbang Gabi.
When guests join the Simbang Gabi, they experience the Filipino close-knit family values, joy, creativity and hospitality. In some parishes, they provide entertainment with folk dances and songs presented by grandmas/grandpas (lola/lolo), children and parents. The Simbang Gabi is an effective way of relieving the nostalgia of being away from families and extended families among Filipinos abroad.
Amidst all these gatherings, I remember and pray for the millions of migrant workers who left their homelands, dealing with insurmountable obstacles and setbacks so they can provide a decent life for their families back home and who like Mary, with Joseph, took the available stable to give birth to the Savior of the world.
May the blessings of Christmas help us recognize, appreciate and respect the many faces of God incarnated in our racial and cultural diversities. May we bring reconciliation and God’s love to wherever we are.
Maligayang Pasko! Merry Christmas!
Sister Editha Ben