Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Simbang Gabi in the Philippines (it was once prohibited)

Misa de Aguinaldo at the Cultural Center of the Philippines Main Theatre.

When we were young, the early morning masses were held at four o'clock in the morning. The Christmas season then was cold, and we had to wear a thick sweater or jacket before stepping out of the house and walk ten blocks to the church.  

We eagerly waited for the midnight mass of  Christmas eve because of a 'walking star' when the chuurch lights were turned off. We were awed by the lighted star lantern descending from the choir loft to the 'belen' at one side of the altar. 

In our Ilocano country in Zambales, there was no 'Simbang Gabi'. It was Misa de Aguinaldo for the early morning mass, and Misa de Gallo for the midnight service. That Filipino term came into our consciousness when we started to sing Christmas songs in the national language. 

Probably 'Simbang Gabi' became a literarily and politically correct term during the martial law years. In the 'Guidelines on the celebration of Simbang Gabi in the Archdiocese of Manila' issued by Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales and Cardinal Luis Antionio Tagle on 15 November2010 and 25 November 2013, respectively, '[t]he adjustment from dawn to evening [during the martial law years] was in view of the curfew hours imposed during the martial Law regime.Today, this practice continues to be kept and has become popular even if the curfew hour restriction is no longer in force. Many of the faithful who follow the urban rhythm of work find it easier to join in the evening instead of the dawn Masses. This adjusted time of Simbang Gabi allows them to continue receiving spiritual nourishment and appreciation of the Christian meaning of Christmas amidst secularized celebration."

There had also been other changes in recent times. This week, for example, we saw posters announcing that the Simbang Gabi will be held at 6:30 in the evening from 15 to 23 December in our village chapel. These come, we suppose, in the realm of 'anticipated masses' of early Saturday evenings for the regular Sunday masses.

"From the beginning," the Guidelines say, "Simbang Gabi has always been celebrated at an early hour from 4 to 5 o'clock in the morning. It is this Mass alone that is considered Simbang Gabi or Misa de Aguinaldo. Other Masses celebrated during the nine days before Christmas are celebrated as Masses of the Advent Season, and should follow the norms of liturgy of the Advent season. If the Misa de Aguinaldo is celebrated from 8:00 o'clock in the evening onwards, it should be motivated by genuine pastoral care for the spiritual benefit of the faithful."

In addition: "The celebration of Misa de Aguinaldo at other times, e.g. morning, midday, or late afternoon, is not in keeping with the liturgical norms of the Archdiocese of Manila and is to be regarded as an abuse. Therefore, only the dawn, and when pastorally required, the evening Masses are considered Simbang Gabi or Misa de Aguinaldo." 

We'd like to think that the Simbang Gabi scheduled on 15-23 December was cleared with the Archbishopbric of Manila.

Today, the Catholic Church is dealing with time schedules of these traditional Mass celebrations to cope up with the changes in the lifestyles and working environment of the faithful.

Belens with Mary and Joseph in Filipino attires.

History tells us that there were events that caused for the suspension or even prohibition of conducting the Misa de Aguinaldo:

More than a century after the Christianization of the Philippines, Fray Juan Sanchez (1683-89) was writing about the Missas de Aguinaldo being contaminated "with practices that were superstitious, and contrary to the holy rites of the church."  

On 12 October 1680, Fray Philippe Pardo Archbishop-elect of Manila issued a decree prohibiting the Missas de Aguinaldo, "[b]ecause of the excesses and undisciplined manner of their previous celebrations, so many learned and devout ecclesiastics entertained doubts about it."

"Following the example of the Archdioceses of Mexico where the celebration is already prohibited, the Manila Prelate consulted authorities among the Religious and issued the corresponding mandate. The Prelate received news that the celebration of the Holy Masses which are sung during the nine (9) days preceding the birth of Our Lord is already prohibited. The Archdiocese, on its part, must comply with such prohibition.

"He therefore orders that, for the present, the Misas de Aguinaldo must not, in any form, be sung or recited. No musical festivity is to be held in the Churches, no musical instrument is to be played nor any religious song to be sung regardless of its nature. Non-compliance is to be punished.

"The prelate likewise commands that the Royal Decree be posted on the door of the Churches in Manila and that parish priests be sent copies of said decree for their information and compliance." [Anales, f.120; pp 131-132].

The revolution of 1898 upset the church-state relationship that prevailed in the governance of the Philippine islands for more than 300 years. 

Christmas in Manila and the celebration of the Missas de Aguinaldo were affected by the disturbances created by the conflict among the Filipino, Spanish and American armed forces.

Archbishop Bernardo Nozaleda issued Circulars in December 1898 to the parishes of Manila and the suburbs, the chaplains of the schools,and the rectors or priors of the different religious orders not to celebrate the 'Aguinaldo Masses and the one called Gallo' for the reasons and causes that known to all' [he did not state them], and 'the exceptional circumstances and pains that the Church is currently experiencing in this country.' 

In Zambales and other places where there were no Roman Catholic priests for many years after 1898, there could have been no Missas de Aguinaldo or Gallo. Probably, only the Aglipayan parishes celebrated these traditional Chrismas rites until the church of Rome has began filling up again the vacant parishes with secular and regular clergy,

  • Anales Ecclesiasticos de Philipinas, 1574-1682. Philippine Church History, A Summary Translation, Vol.2. Manila: Roman Catholic Archbishop of Manila and Rev. Fr. Ruperto C. Santos, STL, 1994.
  •  Box 1.b.5 Decretos, Oficios, Consultas (1826-1841, 1868-1896). Folder 1 – Decretos (Libro de Gobierno, Ordenes y Oficios) 1862-1896. Archdiocesan Archives of Manila.
  • Sanchez, Juan, et al. (1683-89). Felipe Pardo as archbishop. The Pardo Controversy. The Philippine Islands, 1493-1898 : explorations by early navigators, etc. (Blair, E.H. & Robertson, J. A., Eds., Bourne, E.G., Tr.).   39(1):245-246. Mandaluyong, Rizal: Cachos Hermanos, 1973. 
  •  The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Manila. Guidelines on the Celebration of Simbang Gabi in the Archdiocese of Manila.  http://www.rcam.org/news/1187-guidelines-on-the-celebration-of-simbang-gabi-in-the-archdiocese-of-manila

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