15th Annual Simbang Gabi Commissioning
& Parol-Blessing Ceremony

The pomp and pageantry that add so much joy and spiritual vibrancy to the celebration of Christmas “Filipino style” will soon be in full display again at the upcoming “15th Annual Simbang Gabi Commissioning Mass and Parol-Blessing Ceremony” to be held Friday, December 9, 7:30 PM at St. Mary’s Cathedral. This event heralds the beginning of Simbang Gabi, a novena of masses being held in various parishes across the Archdiocese of San Francisco as a spiritual preparation for Christmas (December 15-23 or December 16-24). Father Dave Pettingill will be the principal celebrant. During the Mass, participating representatives carrying their parol will be blessed by the celebrant and “commissioned” to share the “Light of Christ” with their parish community. Parishioners across the archdiocese are invited to bring their own parol and creche (nativity scene) for a special blessing after the Mass. Light Filipino food will be served after the Mass in the Cathedral’s Patrons’ hall.

Historical Background of Simbang Gabi

The Nativity of Jesus was first celebrated in the Philippines in 1565. Introduced by Miguel Lopez de Legazpi (the first Spanish Governor of the Philippines), the Christmas celebration began with a Novena of Masses starting on December 16 and ending on December 24 with a noche buena (Christmas family dinner) after the midnight Mass. This novena was called Misa de Aguinaldo or Gift Masses. Since each of the novena Masses started at dawn with the cock’s crow, the Masses later became known as Misa de Gallo. The Christmas novena became one of the best-loved and most celebrated traditions in all parts of the Philippines. To this day, in most rural areas in the Philippines, people attend the Misa de Gallo celebrated at 4:00 or 5:00 o’clock in the morning.

The faster pace of life in metropolitan cities like Manila necessitated some adjustments in the time of Misa de Gallo. Some churches began to offer Christmas novena Masses in the evening at around 7:30 to enable those unable to attend the Mass at dawn to attend the evening Mass in preparation for the coming of the Messiah. The name Misa de Gallo was later changed to Simbang Gabi (Night Mass). Today, whether the liturgies are celebrated at dawn or at night, the novena of Christmas Masses is now called Simbang Gabi.

Filipino-Americans have brought Simbang Gabi to the United States and have found it to be an effective way to build a community of faith, to express who they are as a people, to celebrate their religious tradition and culture, and to reach out to Filipinos in the parish, particularly those who are not active in church. Because Simbang Gabi brings out so many beautiful Filipino values and evokes nostalgic memories of the Philippines, people are willing to make special effort to participate in the novena, in spite of the cold weather or a tiring day at work. Choir members come an hour earlier each night to practice the songs, giving them the opportunity to know each other better and enjoy singing familiar Tagalog and English carols. Active Filipino lay ministers take turns to be greeters, ushers, lectors, and Eucharistic ministers. Others get involved in decorating the church with parol.

Parish representatives carried their parish parol during the procession in last year’s Simbang Gabi Commissioning Mass.