Monday, November 24, 2008

2008 Simbang Gabi Singapore

by Carmelita C. Ballesteros

Simbang Gabi is one of the unique characteristics of a Philippine Christmas. Simbang Gabi means evening mass or night worship. When I was a girl back in the 20th century, my folks called it misa de gallo. It’s a Spanish term which literally means dawn mass – a mass that is celebrated at four in the morning as the roosters crow at dawn.

In preparation for Christmas, the nine-day Simbang Gabi is held in Catholic churches, cathedrals, and chapels all over the country. It begins on the 16th and culminates on the 24th of December.

In the Philippines, many churches in the provinces celebrate the Holy Mass as early as five in the morning on a daily basis. So a misa de gallo at 4:00 a.m. isn’t extraordinary. It is neither inconvenient for rural folk who go to bed early and get up early.

But for me, it’s always been a huge effort. As a girl, I was always teased as a sleepyhead. I loved to sleep, and it was a chore waking me up.

Sleep would be heavy on my eyelids. The chilly breeze of dawn would keep me curled up under my thin cotton blanket. But my mother’s insistent invitation to rise and shine would become my father’s intimidating threat of a day deprived of puto-bumbong and bibingka! So I’d perk up and jump up and say, “Wait! I’m coming!”

As children, my siblings and I went to the Simbang Gabi not in anticipation of Jesus Christ’s birthday, but in anticipation of breakfast after the Holy Mass. Around the church would be food stalls selling puto-bumbong and bibingka which came with steaming cups of bottomless tea.

It was an annual tradition I grew up with. It is a Christmas tradition most Filipinos grow up and grow old with. It is a special season for family togetherness – going to church, hearing mass, and sharing a simple breakfast of native delicacies.

Living abroad as an overseas Filipino worker (OFW), I’ve experienced many Christmases without Simbang Gabi. In Taiwan where I taught in a university, there were Christmases when I found myself teaching on Christmas. It was an ordinary working day for the Taiwanese.

Last year, I celebrated my first Christmas in Singapore. To my delight, there is Simbang Gabi in Singapore! It’s a multicultural city state which celebrates Chinese, Malay, Muslim, and Christian holidays.

Rev. Father Angel Luciano, CICM, a Filipino priest based at the Church of St. Michael, has made it his mission to spearhead the observance of Simbang Gabi since 1999. This is the 10th year that Father Angel is leading the Filipino flock in Singapore in remembering Simbang Gabi in the Philippines.

Ten churches are taking part in this year’s 10th anniversary of Simbang Gabi Singapore. All Christmas novena masses will be held at 8:00 p.m. starting at the Church of St. Anthony of Padua on December 15. Then the Simbang Gabi will move to the Church of Our Lady Star of the Sea on December 16.

Each night, the Simbang Gabi will be celebrated in a different church with an active Filipino community. (See schedule below.)

Fortunately, there are many Filipinos in the church I go to, the Church of St. Francis of Assisi on Boon Lay Avenue in the west side of Singapore. The Legion of Mary, headed by Yolanda Ligon of San Miguel Bulacan, is taking charge of the preparations for the Simbang Gabi which it will host on December 20.

A sister organization of the Legion of Mary is the San Lorenzo Ruiz Choir which sings regularly during the 7:30 a.m. mass every week.

Thus, the San Lorenzo Ruiz Choir has been tasked to prepare a very special repertoire for the Simbang Gabi.

Led by Manny Rosmeros, and accompanied on the organ by Marissa Esguerra, the choir has been rehearsing since September Christmas carols to be sung before the mass. It includes old-time favorites: Hark, the Herald Angels Sing; Joy to the World; Ang Pasko ay Sumapit; Noche Buena; Pasko na Naman; Himig Pasko; Silent Night; etc.

The choir’s main repertoire for the Simbang Gabi promises to be a marvelous treat of original Filipino Christmas compositions by Jesuit priests Manoling Francisco and Rene Oliveros as well as Rene Gozum. The arrangement is by Norman Agatep.

For the entrance hymn, the choir will sing Gumising. Then they will sing Unang Alay and The Seed during the offertory. As the congregation receives communion, the choir will sing Emanuel, Paglamig ng Hangin, and Di Ba’t Pasko’y Pag-ibig.

The recessional hymn will be Pasko Na, a happy song which rejoices in the birth of the Infant Jesus.

To cap the jubilation, everyone will be treated to arroz caldo (chicken porridge) and pansit bihon (sautéed rice noodles) after the mass. Food is absolutely free for everyone courtesy of Father Angel, the Legion of Mary, and their generous donors and sponsors.

On regular Sundays, about 500 to 600 parishioners attend each of the three scheduled masses at the Church of St. Francis of Assisi. On the evening of the Simbang Gabi, more than 2,000 people squeeze themselves into the church and the small parking lot in the churchyard.

People usually come one hour early in order to find a seat inside the church. Those who come late stand outside the church and listen to the mass through loud speakers.

Don’t they complain? No; they’re first in the queue to the arroz caldo!

Simbang Gabi Schedule (8:00 p.m. nightly)

1. Dec. 15, Monday. Church of St. Anthony of Padua, 25 Woodlands Avenue 1. Bus No.
912 or 912E (Berth 12). Contact Francis/Tony at tel. no. 97461255/91052930.

2. Dec. 16, Tuesday. Church of Our Lady Star of the Sea, 10 Yishun Street 22. Bus No. 804, alight at 2nd bus stop. Contact Lorena/Vivian at tel. no. 97414646/93226438.

3. Dec. 17, Wednesday. Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, 24 Highland Road. Bus No. 24, 60, 70, 76, 103, 136, 147, 156, and 317.

4. Dec. 18, Thursday. Church of Christ the King, 2221 Ang Mo Kio Avenue 8. Bus No. 22, 24, 135, 159, 162, and 853. Contact Ving/Allan/Robert at tel. no. 92278043, 96548467, and 93853396.

5. Dec. 19, Friday. Novena Church, 300 Thomson Road. Bus No. 54, 143, 162, 167, and 851. Contact Rey/Sarah at tel. no. 90863457/90762186.

6. Dec. 20, Saturday. Church of St. Francis of Assisi, 200 Boon Lay Avenue. Bus No. 502, 174. Contact Yolly/Alda at tel. no. 94876534/81893796.

7. Dec. 21, Sunday. Church of St. Michael, 17 St. Michael’s Road. Bus No. 13, 23, 26, 31, 61, 64, 65, 66, 107, 125, 133, 147, 853, 857, and 985. Contact Father Angel at tel. no. 63920592.

8. Dec. 22, Monday. Church of the Holy Trinity, 20 Tampines Street 11. Bus No. 8, 17, 18, 28, 34, 39, 59, 292, and 518. From Tampines MRT, walk towards Simei (2nd crossing). Contact Zap/Marie at tel. no. 82881025/94783985.

9. Dec. 23, Tuesday. Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, 31 Siglap Hill. Bus No. 2, 7, 24, 25, 26, 28, 30, 32, 33, and 854. Contact Lyn at tel. no. 96569968.

10. Dec. 24, Wednesday. Church of Saints Peter and Paul, 225A Queen Street. Bus No. 7, 14, 16, 36, 106, 111, 131, 162, 167, 171, 401, 502, 518, 700, 700A, and 857. Contact Jenny at tel. no. 62563163.

Father Angel Luciano, CICM and images of Simbang Gabi.

Father Manoling Francisco, SJ and one of his compositions.

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