Philippine church guidelines for Simbang Gabi at Christmas this year

Catholic guidelines Simbang Gabi
The Manila Cathedral inside the historic walled city of Intramuros.

The Philippine Catholic church has released instructions on the celebration of Aguinaldo Masses, Misa de Gallo, or Simbang Gabi for the Christmas season that is being celebrated amid the Covid pandemic.

The practice of novena Masses – Aguinaldo Masses, Misa de Gallo, Simbang Gabi – traditionally held at dawn from December 16 to 24 is considered one of the powerful expressions of the Filipino Catholic faith.

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For Filipinos, the celebration of the Lord Jesus Christ’s coming in the flesh starts with Aguinaldo Masses or Simbang Gabi on December 16.

The church explains the value of participating in the novena masses even amid the quarantine restrictions: “These are solemn votive Masses of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, whom Filipinos honor with great devotion as they prepare for the festivities of Christmas. By way of exception from the sober character of Advent liturgy, the said Masses are festive (white vestments, singing of the Gloria, ornamentation).

“In the past months, we have been limited and sometimes even prevented in our participation from the liturgical celebrations of the church due to the Covid-19. Social distancing is necessary to help stem the spread of the virus. Evening Curfew hours have also been imposed in almost all places to prevent people from big gatherings.

“During this time of the pandemic, the Church has adjusted the forms of important seasonal celebrations of the Sacraments and the liturgy. We have witnessed these in the Lenten, Easter Triduum and Easter time in which the secondary elements of the celebrations have been modified but still maintaining the essential elements of the Sacraments especially of the Eucharist.

“It is also in this context that we are issuing these guidelines concerning the Aguinaldo Masses or Simbang Gabi and Christmas celebrations. These adjustments are applicable only during this time of the Pandemic. These adjustments are done because of the great number of Mass-goers during the Simbang Gabi, and the limitations in the number of mass-goers due to the strict social distancing demanded by the IATF as a safety protocol in the prevention of the spread of the virus. It is our great desire to help our faithful find spiritual nourishment, which they so desire and need, from the liturgical celebrations of the church during this season in this time of the pandemic.

1. It is important to understand and consider the original nature of the Aguinaldo Masses, Misa de Gallo or Simbang Gabi. These were nine consecutive early morning or dawn Masses. People would wake up early in the morning and participate in Mass before they would start to work. It was only in the Martial law years that these Masses were transferred to the previous evening, because of the curfew hours that prevented the people to go to church early in the morning. The practice became popular and beneficial to many catholic workers. Even after the evening curfew hours were lifted, the practice of the Simbang Gabi persisted until today. The spiritual benefits drawn from this practice has helped our faithful prepare themselves spiritually for the festivities of Christmas and combat the strong spirit of the commercialism of the season.

Since it is necessary to implement social distancing even in our liturgical celebrations, and this will prevent us from accommodating the many who would participate in these Masses, we recommend that for Simbang Gabi, the Masses in the evening can start as early as 6:00 pm and for the morning the last Aguinaldo Masses, Misa de Gallo or Simbang Gabi Mass can be at 6:00 am. The Bishop of the place in consultation with the pastors of the parishes and in coordination with the LGU could schedule more Simbang Gabi Masses in different venues which can be large enough to accommodate more people and still observing social distancing.

We still encourage the live streaming of these liturgical celebrations for our faithful who are still unable to join us, physically, in our Aguinaldo Masses, Misa de Gallo and Simbang Gabi.

2. The Bishop of the place in consultation with the Commission on Liturgy and the priests of the diocese, need to decide if it is helpful as a pastoral accommodation during this time of the pandemic, the “anticipation” of the following day during evening Simbang Gabi Masses will be allowed, with the exception of the “anticipation” of Monday during the evening Masses of Sunday. This is to emphasize the primacy of the Sunday over the weekday celebration. During the evening Simbang Gabi Masses of the Sunday, the readings and prayers of the Sunday ought to be used. While during the weekday evening Simbang Gabi Masses, the readings and prayers of the following day will be used. The Gloria is prayed/sung and white vestments are used. The Creed is said only on Sundays of the Simbang Gabi, not on weekdays.

3. On Christmas Eve, the Vigil Mass of Christmas may be celebrated from 6:00 in the evening. The last Mass of December 24 would take the liturgy of the Midnight Mass of Christmas. The dawn Mass of Christmas may also be celebrated the early morning of December 25.

4. Since the kissing or touching of images is still prohibited during this time of the pandemic, families may be encouraged to bring their family image of the infant Jesus during the Christmas Masses.

5. In the midst of the meaningful and popular Filipino symbols of the Advent and Christmas seasons, it is important not to lose sight of the basic components of the celebration, namely the Word of God and Holy Communion.

“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. He became one with us even in the suffering and darkness of human sinfulness, helplessness, and illness to bring us to the kingdom of light and salvation of the Father.”

The church guidelines were issued as a statement from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines released on November 27, 2020, and signed by Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles, D.D.

Philippine churches reopened for mass gatherings under strict quarantine guidelines to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Here is a list of churches to visit for Simbang Gabi this Christmas.

You can also try the drive-in Holy Mass offered in Tacloban City parish.

TELL US in the comments below, what is your most memorable Simbang Gabi experience?

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