Thursday, December 9, 2010

Questions on the Simbang Gabi

The much revered Filipino Christmas Novena, which is known as Misa de Aguinaldo, is a novena of Masses in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is celebrated from December 16 to 24 and is intended for the preservation of the Catholic Religion in the Philippine Islands:“pro constantia Indorum in fide et pro religionis conservatione in his partibus, quae causa gravissima sane et pubblica est; quippe maxima est ratio quae pro Religione militat”.

Fr. Virgilio Hernandez wrote: "The First Plenary Council of the Philippines, in 1953, applied for a papal indult under the following conditions: 'On the nine days preceding the Nativity of our Lord, i.e., from December 16 to 24, the solemn votive Mass Rorate Coeli Desuper is sung especially in parish and convent churches, but only once a day with great solemnity and with a big attendance of the faithful'.[Acta et Decreta Primi Concilii Plenarii Ins. Phil., Manilae, 1953, n. 356; J. Ylla, OP, Indultos y Privilegios de Filipinas, UST Press, 1940, p. 24.] With the promulgation of the 1960 Code of Rubrics, the Philippine Hierarchy, under its president Archbishop Julio Rosales of Cebu, wasted no time and decided to elevate in the same year to the Holy Father a suppliant letter 'humbly asking that, in spite of the promulgation of the new Code of Rubrics, and for as long as the same grave reason, namely the conservation of the Faith [in the Philippines] continued, the Aguinaldo Masses be allowed to be sung for nine days preceding the Nativity'.[Cf. Ibid., pp. 470-471.] On 24 March 1961, the petition was granted for a period of five years."

However, while the Simbang Gabi on Sundays continue to enjoy the marks of festivities like the Gloria and the white vestments, the readings and prayers would have to be of the Sunday of Advent. Although this complies with the present liturgical rules, this has not been the case with how the Misas de Aguinaldo were celebrated for centuries. Even Fr. Hernandez said: "Both in Spain and in the Philippines, these Masses 'de Aguinaldo' were celebrated in the early hours of the morning. As early as the 17th century, they are said to be celebrated 'summo mane' (= very early in the morning), 'ad auroram' (= at dawn), and 'antequam dies illuxerit' (= before daybreak). They are celebrated, both on weekdays and Sundays, and, like solemnities, festive and solemn elements like 'Gloria' and 'Credo' are sung." Even in the past, the Mass Rorate Caeli Desuper is used even on Sundays on that one Misa de Aguinaldo. The Advent Mass was celebrated in all the other Masses of the day.

To my opinion, it is best to remain faithful to the directives of the original indult than to admit the present practice of using the text of the Sunday of Advent when the Simbang Gabi falls on the Lord's Day. Why do? It is because the present cycle of readings for Sundays is different from the Weekday cycle of readings. Thus, it is always happens that in the duration of one novena, there would be two annunciation narratives without a visitation narrative or two visitation narratives without an annunciation narrative. Admittedly, the weekday lectionary of the present liturgical reform is an improvement over the former practice when the same readings for the Sunday are repeatedly read during the weekdays. But when the Sunday lectionary is resumed in the Simbang Gabi, it becomes more of a break (and even a distraction)in the smooth continuity of readings that leads to the night of Christmas.

Besides, having the Mass of the Sunday of Advent with the external trimmings of the Gloria and the white vestments looks really absurd. Having the Votive Mass of the Blessed Virgin on a Sunday is more consistent with the continued singing of the Gloria and the use of white vestments. In fact, isn't this what an indult is all about? It is supposed to be a special permission to digress from the ordinary way in which the liturgy is celebrated. Both the documents of the Federation of Tagalog Diocesan Liturgical Commissions and of the Archdiocese of Manila constantly invoke the demand of pastoral care with regards the principles governing the Simbang Gabi. The continuity of readings is definitely beneficial for catechesis during the Simbang Gabi.

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