By Tracy Cabrera
File photo of Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles celebrating mass in his diocese.
MANILA — The coronavirus pandemic may have upended the day-to-day lives of Filipinos, but it cannot dampen the Filipinos’ Christmas spirit and in view of this, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has reiterated its call not to allow children to attend church gatherings for the Yuletide season, particularly the Aguinaldo masses or Simbang Gabi.
The CBCP had earlier released a number of guidelines under November 27 Circular No. 20-82 on the celebration of the ‘Misa de Gallo” in line with the public health protocols being implemented by health authorities to stem the spread of the virus.
This means that the Simbang Gabi or pre-dawn masses, which signals the start of the traditional Filipino Christmas season, will still enforce social distancing, wearing of face masks and the ban on mass gatherings as well as prohibition of children aged 18 years old and below not to join in the church activities and event geared towards the celebration of Christmas.
While tradition has kept these masses from December 16 to 24 to be held as early as 4:00 in the morning, this year’s Simbang Gabi masses have been scheduled to start at 6:00 in the evening from the night before (the anticipated mass) while the last mass would be at 6:oo in the morning.
According to the CBCP, bishops, in consultation with the pastors of the parishes and in coordination with the local government unit, could schedule more Simbang Gabi masses in different venues which can be large enough to accommodate more people and still observe social distancing.
Bishops also encouraged the live streaming of the liturgical celebrations for those who would not be able to attend the masses physically. They also need to decide if it is helpful whether the ‘anticipation’ of the following day during evening Simbang Gabi Masses will be allowed.
“On Christmas Eve, the Vigil Mass of Christmas will be celebrated from 6:00 in the evening and the last Mass of December 24 will take the liturgy of the Midnight Mass of Christmas,” CBCP president Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles said.
Valles added that the dawn Mass of Christmas will also be celebrated in the early morning of December 25 and since kissing or touching of images is still prohibited, the prelate said families are encouraged to bring their family image of the infant Jesus during the Christmas masses.
In addition, Valles said that it is “important (for the faithful) not to lose sight of the basic components of the celebration, namely the Word of God and Holy Communion.”
He hopes that Filipino Catholics will see the “heart and essence” of the yuletide season.
“The celebration of Christmas may be different this year. We will not have the same frenzy and stressful preparations that we had before the pandemic. But we pray and help our faithful to see the heart and the essence of the season in the simple, sober, silent but strong and loving truth of the God who comes to us in Jesus’ incarnation,” Valles concluded in the CBCP circular.