Two nights hence, specifically on Wednesday the 16th, predominantly Christian Philippines will start its Simbang Gabi of the nine-day Midnight Masses, with the last service called Misa de Gallo, the Spanish for “Rooster’s Mass.”
But the heretofore predawn services have been altered by Catholic Church officials, given the pandemic where health protocols remain implemented, including physical or social distancing and avoiding crowds which may facilitate transmission of the deadly, though asymptomatic, coronavirus.
Catholic bishops in the Philippines have issued instructions on the celebration of Masses for Misa de Gallo, or Simbang Gabi, during this year’s Christmas season – a tradition that sees Christians gather for a service on Christmas Eve.
Misa de Gallo is a series of predawn services traditionally held from Dec. 16-24 in the Philippines to honor the Blessed Virgin Mary which culminate with Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.
We hear Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines president Archbishop Romulo Valles, in a statement, say: “In the past months, we have been limited and sometimes even prevented in our participation [at Masses] … due to COVID-19. Evening curfew hours have also been imposed in almost all places to prevent people from big gatherings.”
He adds the Catholic Church has adjusted itself and the liturgy according to prescribed protocols by the government’s Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Infectious Diseases in response to the pandemic, which has killed and infected thousands since March 17 when the government clamped a strict lockdown in this country of 110 million.
The bishops have also brought the usual Midnight Mass forward to 6pm to make sure churchgoers are home at 8pm when the curfew starts.
“It is also in this context that we are issuing these guidelines concerning the… Christmas celebrations. These adjustments are being done because of the great number of (those going to Mass) during the Simbang Gabi and the limitations on (their) number [during the pandemic],” Archbishop Valles has said.
The guidelines forced the bishops to move the usual 4am Masses to 6am to comply with curfew hours set by the government.
In the denominations of Western Christianity, the term “Christmas season” is considered synonymous with Christmastide, which runs from December 25 (Christmas Day) to January 5 (Twelfth Night or Epiphany Eve), popularly known as the 12 Days of Christmas.
It is believed the tradition started in the Western World from about 430AD under Pope Sixtus III in the Basilica of St Mary Major. Midnight mass became widely popular by the 12th century. There are also services generally held at dawn, and during Christmas Day.
While there is nothing in the Bible to dictate that Christians need to go to mass on Christmas Eve, the tradition is believed to have started to honor Jesus’ birth, started in the Philippines which received the Cross during the 16th century following the arrival of Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan who sailed under the flag of Catholic Spain.
This year, clergymen have also been advised to hold Masses in larger areas for physical distancing purposes.
“The local bishop in consultation with the pastors of the parishes and in coordination with the LGU [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,” the bishops’ statement said.
The usual kissing and touching of images, especially of the Baby Jesus, remain prohibited.
“Families may be encouraged to bring their family image of the infant Jesus instead during the Christmas Masses,” the bishops said.
While certain practices are prohibited to prevent the spread of coronavirus, the bishops reminded churchgoers not to lose sight of the “basic components of the celebration” — the Word of God and Holy Communion.
The bishops also reminded churchgoers that while Christmas preparations this year were not as “frenzied and stressful” as usual, they must not lose sight of the season’s true meaning. (AI/MTVN)
(To be continued)