Catholic churches in hundreds of different locations in the Philippines, and even at the corridors of malls and shopping centers have become venues for holding Masses in the hope of faithful earning favors from the Jesus Christ of having petitions granted.
Considered as one of the oldest Catholic traditions, the observance starts on the sixteenth of December culminating on Dec. 24, with the faithful enduring the coldness of the morning and harboring big hopes that by completing the attendance to the Masses they will have gained the favors for their wishes and petitions to be granted.
Church bells will peel as early as 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. for nine days with the Misa de Gallo celebrated on Christmas even shortly before midnight.
Mass attendance is “a gift for the Child Jesus, a sacrifice that requires dedication and discipline,” a Church official said.
The tradition of Simbang Gabi traces its roots to Mexico in 1587, with the pope granting the petition of Fray Diego de Soria to hold Masses outdoors as the church could not accommodate the large number of attendees to the evening Mass.
The ‘Simbang Gabi’ is an old tradition with deep roots in the country’s religious culture, dating back to 1565 when Spanish “conquistador” Miguel Lopez de Legazpi celebrated the first Feast of the Nativity.
Originally, Simbang Gabi (or Dawn Mass) came to be known as Misa de Aguinaldo and Misa de Gallo (Rooster’s Mass).
The religious tradition has come to be known as “Misa de Aguinaldo” for the attendance and the sacrifice in attending the nine-day midnight Mass has come to be considered as a gift (aguinaldo) to Jesus whose birth. The practice made in preparation for receiving the greatest of God’s gift to mankind in the person of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the World.
Misa de Gallo, the other name of Simbang Gabi, has come to be identified with the rooster crowing at the break of dawn which has come to signal that it was time for the farmers and the fishermen to get up and work. These folks drop by the church first before going to work and ask for grace for a good harvest.
Over generations, Simbang Gabi has undergone some adjustments that considered the realities of the times. Many parishes in the United States celebrate Simbang Gabi around 7 o’clock in the evening, not just in the morning to accommodate the needs of people on a great variety of work schedules.
The Catholic leadership has encouraged the faithful to attend Simbang Gabi Masses as the practice “is a great source of spiritual nourishment as we prepare for the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ”.