The observance of the Holy Mass in the Catholic faith at the early hours of morning in anticipation of the Christmas observance is not actually an exclusive to the Filipinos. Several other Latin American countries which were under the influence of Spain like the Philippines in centuries past have their own traditions of the “Misa de Gallo.” But the Philippine version, also called the “Simbang Gabi,” has become quite notable in the global Christian community. As a token of esteem for this charming yuletide religious tradition, Pope Francis invited the Filipino community in Rome and Italy to join his celebration of the Simbang Gabi this Sunday evening at the Vatican.
The Manila Bulletin reports that Pope Francis celebrated the Simbang Gabi at St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City on the night of Sunday, December 15. The celebration is for the benefit of Filipinos in Rome and from other points of Italy who could make it. According to data from the Italian labor ministry, around 167, 000 Filipinos live in the country, mostly as OFWs. In fact, this is one of the key points of the Pontiff’s homily for that Vatican Simbang Gabi, which the Catholic News Agency (CNA) would state to be the first such celebrated at St. Peter’s Basilica.
“Your faith is leaven in the parish communities to which you belong, today,” said Pope Francis in his sermon. “I encourage you to increase opportunities for meeting to share your cultural and spiritual wealth, while at the same time allowing yourselves to be enriched by the experiences of others.” When later, the Filipino congregation presented the Holy Father with a statue of Mary as a gift for his coming birthday on Tuesday, December 17th, he cheekily urged them to continue being “smugglers of the faith.”
The institution of the Simbang Gabi or the Filipino Misa de Gallo during the Spanish colonial period was a gesture of pragmatism for Filipinos of the time, which were of a farming community. Spanish friars began celebrating the 9-day novena for Christmastime, along with the accompanying masses, before the sun rose, so that the Filipino farmers could immediately go to their fields at the conclusion to get more work done before the heat of noon. The Catholic News Agency noted that the tradition has since been spread from the Philippines by Filipino migration, to the point that other countries where they reside have begun celebrating Simbang Gabi in like fashion.
Misa de Gallo starts in the Philippines on the early morn of December 16, ending on December 24 with a more traditional Midnight Mass celebration or Misa de Aguinaldo following later on in the evening.
Image courtesy of Vatican News