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Simbang Gabi novenas begin in archdiocese

December 17, 2015
Valerie Schmalz

Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone and Bishops William J. Justice and Daniel Walsh, joined by about two dozen priests, celebrated the traditional Simbang Gabi Commissioning Mass Dec. 9 at St. Mary’s Cathedral.

Archbishop Cordileone noted the commissioning Mass and the Simbang Gabi novena begin just after Pope Francis opened the Jubilee Year of Mercy Dec. 8

“Jesus is the face of mercy,” Archbishop Cordileone said, the answer to many people who feel burdened. “Let us joyfully walk with him.”

The Mass began with a procession of representatives from all the parishes which will have Simbang Gabi with representatives carrying the parol, the colorful lanterns that are the symbol of the Christmas novena begun by farmers in the Philippines. After the homily, in the blessing of the parol and the people organizing the Simbang Gabi in their parishes, Archbishop Cordileone said, “Bless these parol as they go forth to spread the light of Christ.”

For the first time in recent memory, many prayers and hymns were sung in Tagalog at St. Mary’s Cathedral, with music by the St. Therese Choir, a group made up mostly of parishioners from St. Andrew, St. Peter, Pacifica and Church of the Good Shepherd. The songs in Tagalog were heart warming for the mostly Filipino attendees, because they were “songs we all know so we can sing along,” said Simbang Gabi organizer Nellie Hizon.

Hizon echoed the archbishop’s sentiments, saying, “We are celebrating Simbang Gabi this year within the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy. We search, we wait, for the coming of God’s Only Begotten Son.”

Over the years, the Simbang Gabi tradition has spread to many parishes in the Archdiocese of San Francisco so that now more than 40 parishes participate. At Hizon’s parish, St. Stephen, the first Filipino Christmas novena was held 20 years ago. The Masses are celebrated in the early morning, around 6 a.m. in some parishes, and in the evening at others.

Traditionally, Christmas Day in the Philippines is ushered in by the nine-day dawn Masses that start on Dec. 16. Originally, it popularly came to be known as Misa Aguinaldo or also known as the Misa de Gallo (“Rooster’s Mass”) in the traditional Spanish, and these Masses are also more popularly known in Tagalog as Simbang Gabi, or “Dawn Mass.”

Simbang Gabi has become one of the most popular traditions in the Philippines and is popular in California as well. “It is a significant moment not only because it strengthens relationships among family members and parishioners but also because it is the time where our faith is intensified, “according to Father Marvin Felipe, in a column about Simbang Gabi in 2011.

“This is the time where we mostly feel the presence of the Lord because it is the spiritual preparation for Christmas, the birth of Jesus Christ,” Father Felipe said.

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