‘Key word is simba, not gabi,’ archbishop reminds Catholics as ‘Simbang Gabi’ nears

December 15, 2023 - 12:43 PM
Catholics attend the traditional “Simbang Gabi” at the Diocesan Shrine and Parish of St. Joseph in Las Piñas City on December 16, 2022. (CBCP News/Michael Dalogdog)

A Catholic archbishop said that the faithful can fulfill the ‘Simbang Gabi’ devotion regardless of the time of day or night they attend Mass.

Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan said the timing of the Mass doesn’t diminish the spiritual significance of the devotion.

“The key word is simba not gabi. The indispensable part of this nine day pre-Christmas tradition is the Eucharist,” Villegas said.

“No matter the time of day or night, it is the Lord who comes at every Mass to speak in the Liturgy of the Word and to feed us with His Body and Blood from the Eucharistic table,” Villegas said.

The archbishop provided the reminder in a four-page catechesis presented in a question-and-answer format, addressing the tradition for the Catholics of the archdiocese.

Simbang Gabi is a centuries-old Filipino tradition of honoring Mary, mother of Jesus, with a nine-day series of daily Masses leading to Christmas.

According to Villegas, it was an “indult” or privilege granted by the Vatican to celebrate votive Masses of the Virgin Mary at dawn prior to Christmas “in order to thank God for the gift of Catholic faith and intercede for its preservation in the Philippines”.

Through the years, the time for celebrating Simbang Gabi evolved, particularly during the martial law curfew in the 1970s, which restricted dawn activities.

The church leader said that this period brought about a broader understanding that the essence of Simbang Gabi doesn’t reside in the dawn time but rather in the Mass itself.

Villegas encouraged the Catholics to focus on the “essentials,” reminding them that the most important aspect of Simbang Gabi is not the time it is celebrated but rather the participation in Mass.

“Attending Mass for nine days and preferably receiving Holy Communion in the state of grace during those Masses no matter the time of the day is the most important way to prepare for Christmas,” he said.