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3 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Simbang Gabi

Let's dive into this unique Filipino tradition!

Filipinos are people of tradition. One of these time-honored traditions is the Simbang Gabi which is celebrated starting from the 16th of December.

When the clock strikes 3 in the morning, people wake up, dress up, and go to church to hear Mass. They do it every day for nine days until December 24; then at midnight on Christmas Eve, Filipinos wrap up the season with a Misa de Gallo (Mass of the Rooster).

But did you know that there is a more appropriate name for the dawn masses celebrated from December 16 to December 24? These masses are called Misas de Aguinaldo, which connotes that the masses are our gift to God in preparation for receiving Jesus Christ. (Read: A List of Online Masses Available for Simbang Gabi)

My Pope Philippines explains this and three other things that you probably didn’t know about Simbang Gabi.

Simbang Gabi Is a Special Privilege

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‘Going to the Misa de Gallo’ (1942) by Cirilio Salonga (Photo from Lakbay ng Lakan Blog)

The Misas de Aguinaldo was celebrated in the Philippines as early as 1668 under the Spanish colonization. Religious missionaries brought this practice to the country but it is already existing in Mexico and parts of Spain. (Read: The 500-Year History of Catholicism in the Philippines)

In the 16th century, a monk of the St. Augustine Acolman convent in Mexico requested the Pope to permit the celebration of Masses outdoors due to a large number of faithful attending in the evening. In 1587, Pope Sixtus V granted indulgences to those who attended Masses held at dawn or before daybreak.

In 1953, the First Plenary Council of the Philippines made a formal petition to Rome to grant an extension of the privilege. It was granted on March 24, 1961, for another five years. Since then, Simbang Gabi has been celebrated year after year in the country.

Simbang Gabi Is Celebrated Especially for Filipinos

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The Rest on the Flight into Egypt, c. 1510, by Gerard David (Photo from America Magazine)

The nine days of Misas de Aguinaldo have been traditionally celebrated in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Aguinaldo Masses are special votive Masses in Church liturgy. (Read: Four IG-worthy shrines in the PH that are dedicated to Mama Mary)

The Aguinaldo Masses are special votive Masses in Church liturgy which are chosen by the celebrant for particular intentions (e.g., the sick, the dead, natural calamities, intercession of the saints). These masses were introduced by the particular churches, then later recognized to be celebrated for grave and weighty reasons and with big attendance of the faithful during the Advent season.

Simbang Gabi Was Banned for Some Time

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(December 13, 2019) Filipinos observing the traditional simbang gabi at the Our Lady of the Abandoned Church in Marikina City in 2018. (Photo by Walter Bollozos / The Philippine STAR / OneNews.PH)

While it is an annual tradition, Simbang Gabi was not celebrated from 1680 to 1689. Because of abuses in the liturgy in Seville, Rome suppressed the Misas de Aguinaldo in Spain, the Azores Islands, Mexico, and the Philippines. In the years of martial law, the curfew hours led to the dawn Masses being moved to the evening.

The new schedule was retained especially in city centers as many faithful still attend the evening Masses.

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