There is a beautiful Philippine tradition of celebrating a nine-day novena in preparation for Christmas. Originally, it was known as Misa Aguinaldo or the Misa de Gallo (Rooster’s Mass) in Spanish, and these later came to be known in Tagalog as Simbang Gabi, or the “Dawn Mass”, rather similar to the Rorate Masses in honour of Our Lady which is celebrated before dawn, especially in Advent. De Aguinaldo means a special bonus or payment or some special service, thus faithful wake up early for nine days before Christmas to make this their “Aguinaldo” to God for the great gift of Jesus. The priests of our Institute honour this great tradition by celebrating the Simbang Gabi Masses in the 3 chapels in the barangays or villages near our Seminary, but at a time when more people are able to attend.
These celebrations culminate in the Vigil Mass of the Nativity of the Lord, celebrated with great joy and solemnity in the temporary chapel of the Seminary. The Religious Family of the Incarnate Word, comprising the Fathers, Seminarians and Novices of the Institute of the Incarnate Wordand also the Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matara were joined by the people of the local villages. The overflowing crowd made necessary the placement of chairs and benches in the corridors and the open area outside the temporary chapel.
By the grace of Almighty God, the forecasted storm, Tropical Strom Nina, did not make an appearance until long after all the festivities were over.
The Mass itself was celebrated by the Fathers of the Seminary, accompanied by music from the combined choir of the IVE brothers and SSVM sisters. Comprising well known and familiar carols and the Tagalog version of the Pater Noster, the people managed to sing along, with only the Ordinary, following an established custom here, being of the de Angelis.
After the Mass, the Christ Child was held by Fr. Diego Ibrarra, IVE, the Rector of the Seminary, for the veneration of the faithful.
A joyous festival of carols followed, with the combined IVE choir, and the IVE brothers singing carols in their respective languages. The carols in Tagalog were good naturedly joined in by all the Filipinos present.
This was followed by carols by the Spanish-speakers and a selection presented by the brothers from Sri Lanka and India.
The night ended with a song to the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose YES to God allowed the Word to be made Flesh and gave us the reason for the celebrations.
*Maligayang Pasko is Merry Christmas in Filipino language.