Missa de Aguinaldo or Simbang GabiBy Diocese of Boac • May 21st, 2008 • Category: Pastoral Letters
We are fully aware how important and significant to us Filipinos, both culturally and spiritually, the celebration of Christmas, as well as the period of preparation called Missa de Aguinaldo or Simbang Gabi or Missa de Gallo from December 16 to 24. In fact, it is one of the impressive expressions of our Catholic Faith.
The Simbang Gabi is our practice of nine-day Dawn Mass, complete with puto bumbong before returning home from Mass. The Missa de Aguinaldo are solemn votive Masses in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of our Redeemer, whom Filipinos honor with particular affection and great devotion, as we prepare for the celebration of the Birth of our Lord. In 1953, the First Plenary Council of the Philippines applied for a papal indult under the following conditions: “On the nine days preceding the Nativity of our Lord, i.e., from December 16 to 24, the solemn votive Mass Rorate Coeli Desuper is sung especially in parish and convent churches, but only once a day with great solemnity and with a big attendance of the faithful”. In contrast to the sober character of the Advent liturgy, these Masses are festive in character: white vestments, the singing of Gloria, Credo, Christmas carols and ornamentation. For us, the celebration of the Nativity of our Lord commences with these dawn Masses from December 16 onward.
In order not to deprive the faithful who live far away from the parish church of the spiritual benefits derived from the practice of Simbang Gabi, our bishops have found it opportune and legitimate to introduce, since 1997, this Christmas Liturgy similar to the Sunday Assembly in the Absence of a Priest. It is, however, understood that the norms issued by the Holy See and the local Ordinary on the Sunday Assembly in the Absence of a Priest apply in this Christmas liturgy with equal force.
For the nine-day celebration preceding Christmas, the chapel and the parish church, for that matter, may be decorated according to the local tradition. In place of the Filipino tradition of the music band that roams around the town before the Simbang Gabi, Christmas carols may be sung or played to greet the faithful as they come to the chapel and at the recessional. As a Filipino equivalent of the Advent Wreath, nine candles or lamps to signify the nine days may be lighted on or beside the altar one day at a time. Nine Christmas lanterns or parol, typical Filipino symbol signifying the star of David, may also be hung, one day at a time, at strategic places in the chapel/ church. A special lantern (parol) may be made to traverse the nave of the chapel/church at the Gloria on Christmas midnight to rest over the crib. Likewise, the practice in some parishes of gradually constructing or adorning the belen for nine days may be continued. On December 24, the traditional panuluyan may precede the night-liturgy in the chapel/church; it takes the place of the entrance rite of the Mass. Finally, at the end of the Eucharistic celebration, the image of the Infant Jesus is presented to the assembly for individual veneration on Christmas midnight and Christmas day.
Aside from the Christmas Liturgies in the Absence of a Priest, the Philippine Bishops have also granted its seal of approval for the faithful to sing the “Gloria” on the Third and Fourth Sundays of Advent, but only during the Missa de Aguinaldo or Simbang Gabi Masses and the Christmas celebrations in the absence of a priest.
The CBCP has also approved to permanently assign to December 16 the readings for Friday of the Third Week of Advent: Is 56: 1-3} 6-8 and Jn 5: 33-36.
NB: Please be reminded that we do not anticipate any Mass except Masses on Sundays, holy days of obligation or solemnities which have their own Vigil Mass and Evening Prayer I. Masses on ordinary days or week days are not anticipated.
 Acta et Decreta Primi Concilii Plenarii Ins. Phil. Manilae, 1953; J. Ylla, OP, Indultos y Privilegios de Filipinas, UST Press, 1940, p.24. For the rest of the other scheduled Masses during this period, Advent has to be observed in all its rigor.
The Second Plenary Council of the Philippines did not touch this papal gift or aguinaldo in view of the fact that the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacrament would not allow even the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception to take precedence over the Advent celebration when December 8 falls on a Sunday. The rationale for this that Advent in its totality may not be violated, in much the same way as Lent is to be kept integral.
 There may even be ten candles/ lamps with the 10th candle/ lamp lighted on Christmas midnight.