CBCP hopes Filipinos will not lose sight of the season’s essence amid pandemic
The celebration of Aguinaldo Masses, “Misa de Gallo,” or “Simbang Gabi” will be entirely different this season in the wake of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
In compliance with the government health protocols to avoid spreading the virus, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) issued instructions on how the traditional Simbang Gabi will be celebrated.
But while the faithful will be experiencing a different kind of Christmas celebration this year, the CBCP expressed hope that the faithful will not lose sight of the essence of the season.
“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 essence of the season in the simple, sober, silent but strong and loving truth of the God who comes to us in Jesus’ incarnation,” CBCP president Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles said in the “Instructions on the celebration of Aguinaldo Masses, Misa de Gallo or Simbang Gabi” dated November 27.
“He became one with us even in suffering and darkness of human sinfulness, helplessness, and illness to bring us to the kingdom of light and salvation of the Father,” Valles added.
In the instruction, the CBCP head recommended that for Simbang Gabi, the Masses in the evening may start as early as 6 p.m. and for the morning the last Aguinaldo Mass must be at 6 a.m.
Valles said the bishop of the place, in consultation with the pastors of the parishes and in coordination with the local government unit (LGU) may schedule more Simbang Gabi Masses in different venues which can be large enough to accommodate more people but still observing social distancing.
The prelate said the live streaming of the liturgical celebrations are also being encouraged for the faithful who are unable to join physically the Simbang Gabi.
The bishop of the place, Valles said, in consultation with the Commission on Liturgy and the priest 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.
He said that on Christmas Eve, the Vigil Mass of Christmas may be celebrated from 6 p.m. and the last Mass of December 24 taking the liturgy of the Midnight Mass of Christmas.
Valles added that the dawn Mass of Christmas may also be celebrated early morning of December 25.
Since the kissing or touching of image is still prohibited during this time of the pandemic, he said families may be encouraged to bring their image of the infant Jesus during the Christmas Masses.
Valles said the instruction is being issued due to the great number of mass goers during the Simbang Gabi and the limitations in the number of mass goers set by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Infectious Diseases (IATF) to prevent the spread of the disease.
“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,” he said.
“It is also in this content that we are issuing these guidelines,” Valles added.
He said is it also their great desire to help the faithful find “spiritual nourishment” which they so desire and need from the liturgical celebration of the church during the season in this time of the pandemic.
Traditionally held at dawn from December 16 to 24, the Simbang Gabi kicks off the Christmas season in the Philippines.
It is a nine-day novena of Masses held prior to Christmas Day, usually at 4 a.m. In urban areas such as Metro Manila, aside from the early morning Mass, they also have an anticipated Mass on the eve of Dec. 15.