‘Who is waiting for you?’ | Filipino Catholics celebrate Simbang Gabi

Ben Nelms | Catholic News Service
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Two figures dressed as Mary and Joseph made their way down the center aisle of Vancouver's Holy Rosary Cathedral. At various points, they stopped and asked a parishioner playing the part of an innkeeper for a place to stay. Invariably the reply was negative. Finally, the two figures reached the foot of the altar and asked the congregation if they had any room for Christ. The congregation said they did have room for Christ, and only then did the entrance procession for the first Simbang Gabi Mass of the year begin.

Simbang Gabi refers to nine Masses in honor of Mary, traditionally celebrated in the nine days before Christmas by Filipino Catholics around the world. The Filipino community of Vancouver began the novena with a Mass celebrated Archbishop Michael Miller at the cathedral.

The scene of Mary and Joseph asking for a place to stay was a standard feature on the first night of Simbang Gabi. It would help the faithful focus on making room for Christ in their hearts.

Archbishop Miller told the congregation that Mary and Joseph repeatedly heard there was no room to spare because the people they met did not want to be bothered. The world was in darkness and needed the light of Christ, he said.

Archbishop Miller asked the congregation to pause and silently ask themselves: "To whom should I bring this light this Christmas? Who is waiting for you? ... We've all received so much from Him, let's not hoard that light," he said.

The remaining eight Simbang Gabi Masses were celebrated in a different Vancouver parish each night. Host parishes assembled a special choir for their evening of Simbang Gabi. Celebrating the Masses in the evening was a slight deviation from tradition. Normally, Simbang Gabi Masses are celebrated at dawn.

Michael Goco, a member of the Filipino Catholic organization Sambayanang Pilipino Society of British Columbia, which organized the novena, said, "In a practical way, traveling from parish to parish gives more communities throughout the archdiocese an opportunity to experience this gift and tradition of the Filipino community." He added that it "puts us, the 'pilgrims' who attend this Mass as well, in the place of Mary and Joseph, who invite these parish communities to open their hearts for Christmas."

The tradition of Simbang Gabi Masses is traced back to the arrival of Spanish missionaries in the Americas and the Philippines. At the time they had a tradition of celebrating pre-Christmas novena Masses in honor of the Annunciation. Those Masses were known as "Misa de Gallo" or "rooster Mass," because they were celebrated at dawn. 

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— Catholic News Service 

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