By Tracy Cabrera
Quiapo church gets a head start in Simbang Gabi.
MANILA — Despite the Covid-19 pandemic and the strict health safety protocols being implemented by government to prevent its spread, Catholic churches across the country has opened its doors to the faithful for the traditional Aguinaldo masses, or Simbang Gabi, according to the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).
Beginning at sundown today, December 15, masses will be celebrated in the parishes or live streamed on Facebook and other social media sites for churchgoers who choose to stay in their homes amid the health crisis and strict government rules on physical social distancing and prohibition of crowd gatherings.
Regulations by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) will be strictly implemented in churches, CBCP public affairs executive secretary Father Jerome Secillano announced.
Simbang Gabi, or popularly known as Misa de Gallo which means ‘Mass of the Rooster’, is a tradition introduced by Spanish friars in the 17th century to local agricultural communities so that farmers could attend mass before heading off to the fields early in the morning.
Filipinos usually associate the experience with cold mornings, snacks of hot chocolate, rice cakes and puto-bungbong after attending the dawn masses, as well as spiritual favors for those who complete the nine dawn celebrations with special intentions.
The Simbang Gabi will be held from December 15 to 23 to accommodate the throngs of people who usually attend the nine-day series of masses and the Misa de Gallo will start on tomorrow, December 16, and end on Christmas Eve, December 24.
But schedule of these masses will differ from parish to parish, according to Secillano.
Some churches may hold the anticipated Mass while others may not, he added.
Dawn Masses usually start at 4 in the morning but some parishes may schedule these at 3 a.m. instead.
At Quiapo Church or the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene in Manila, masses will be held hourly from 6 to 8 in the evening and from 5 to 6 in the morning said the Basilica’s vicar Reverend Fr. Douglas Badong.
To accommodate those who may not be able to enter Quiapo Church, the city government will sponsor an 8 p.m. mass at Liwasang Bonifacio near city hall.
The Manila Cathedral will also hold masses at 8 in the evening and 4:30 in the morning as well as the Christmas Eve mass at 8 in the evening. Christmas Day masses, meanwhile, are scheduled at 8 and 11 in the morning and 4 in the afternoon and 6 in the evening.
Churchgoers who will attend any of the masses will be asked to write down their contact details (names, addresses and cellular phone numbers) on a piece of paper and drop this in a box outside the church entrance for contact tracing purposes in case of a Covid-19 transmission.
In Cebu City, city police chief Colonel Josefino Ligan said that 167 police personnel will be deployed in 35 churches to ensure that the public will observe minimum health safety standards.
Ligan reminded churchgoers that minors below 15 years old and senior citizens above 65 years old will not be allowed entry since they are the most vulnerable to coronavirus infection.
“They will be asked to show an identification card to prove they are not under 15 years old or above 65 years old,” the police chief said.
Aside from securing churches, Ligan added that policemen would be on patrol to look out for burglars and to check bus terminals and the port area for their security.
Cebu City mayor Edgardo Labella has ordered the suspension of the use of quarantine passes during the Simbang Gabi and Misa de Gallo.
“Basically, we only have to continue what we are doing right now. We have to enforce the health protocols (to prevent the spread of the virus),” said Fr. Ric Anthony Reyes of the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño de Cebu, the most prominent church in Cebu province.
As kissing or touching of images is still prohibited during this time of the pandemic, the CBCP encouraged families to bring their own image of the Infant Jesus during the masses.
“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,” CBCP president Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles, CBCP enthused.
Valles said the church guidelines and adjustments “are done because of the great number of mass goers during the Simbang Gabi and the limitations in their number due to the strict social distancing demanded by the IATF.”
Despite the limitations, the CBCP said what should not be lost are the basic components of the celebration: the Word of God and Holy Communion.
To avoid overcrowding in churches, Ligan advised people to follow the masses online. (AI/MTVN)