Simbang Gabi 2009
For the Church in the Philippines, December 16-24 is a special period in Advent. During these days, we celebrate the Simbang Gabi, a. k. a. Misa del Gallo — a series of Masses that begin at 4 AM. These are masses where the Gloria is sung and the vestment worn is white. By intent then, these are days that already share in the joy of the Christmas feast.
The readings for December 17-24 have been fixed; this will be affected only in the cases when a Sunday (usually the 4th Sunday of Advent) falls within these days. In that case, the Sunday readings prevail. For the Church in the Philippines where the Simbang Gabi begins on the 16th of December, the readings for that day is fixed by the CBCP (see Ordo). The readings for the Simbang Gabi of December 16 are as follows:
Reading OT: Isaiah 56:1-3.6-81
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 67:2-3. 5. 7-8
Gospel: John 5:33-36
Below is an illustration of the way the Infancy Narratives in Matthew and Luke have been distributed throughout December 17-24.
Note that because of the particular way that the Genealogy in Matthew begins the series of readings, the regal character of Jesus’ birth is emphasized. The repetition of the number "14" in the genealogy cries out the letters daleth (4), wav (6), daleth (4) which are the consonants for the name "David" (or Dod, "Beloved") Matthew also presents Jesus as the New Israel, but this is seen in the episode of the Escape to Egypt which is read during the feast of the Holy Family (Year A). On account of the feast, however, the role of Joseph as the "Custos redemptoris" is given more emphasis.
From December 19-24, we find a series of annunciations beginning with the angelic announcements to the future father of the precursor and the future mother of the redeemer. This is followed by announcements made by human beings to other human beings — that of Mary to Elizabeth and of Zecharias to his son John. The pattern angel –> human –> human will be repeated on the birthday of Jesus where a host of angels announce the good news to shepherds and the shepherds go to Mary to tell her about the "word".
From December 24-25, the Liturgy foresees several Masses each having their own characteristics. December 24 has the day mass (falling in the series of December 17-24) and a Mass that is celebrated right after the Evening Prayer I for Christmas. It is called a Vigil Mass2. This is to be distinguished from the Midnight Mass, the first of the three Christmas masses
For this year’s Simbang Gabi, only two dates are different from that of last year, December 20 and 21. December 20 this year falls on the fourth Sunday of Advent. You can find relevant articles for this here. Note that the Gospel readings for December 20 and 21 are the same, Luke 1:39-45 or "Mary’s Visit to Elizabeth". So for the Sunday homily, I would suggest that the reading from Paul, Hebrews 10:5-10 be used for preaching instead.
Readings for December 21
Old Testament: A Choice Between Song of Songs and Zephaniah
Song of Songs 2:8-14. This section of the Song of Songs merits a place in the Advent readings because of the way it has been interpreted by the Fathers of the Church. Here, the bride who symbolizes the Church hears her spouse the Beloved calling — the coming Lord — who invites her at the start of a new spring-time to have a tryst in the "clefts of the Rock." The felt absence of the spouse during the winter is now replaced by the excitement and joy of an encounter longed for and desired.
Zephaniah 3:14-18. Zephaniah worked during the reign of Josiah (640-609), a time of renewal in Jerusalem. It was during this time when the book of the Law was discovered in the Temple that was then under reconstruction (2 Kngs 22:3-10). What followed this discovery was a covenant renewal headed by the king (23:1-3) that began religious reform in Judah (23:4ff). In this background, Zephaniah’s call for conversion and announcement of the Day of the Lord is to be understood. Zephaniah 3:14-18 is part of the book’s closing chapters. In fact, the original book of prophecies closed with the psalms of rejoicing. The Day of the Lord is not only a day of judgment but also a day of rejoicing for the people of Judah. Interesting in these verses are the translations for vv. 17-18 which portrays the God of Israel as a victorious warriior dancing in celebration in the midst of His people.
Gospel Reading: Mary’s Visit to Elizabeth
Luke 1:39-45. The gospel reading is about Mary’s visit to Elizabeth. She who has received the Word of God in her womb now goes to the hill country of Judea, hurrying like a missionary, to a cousin in need. Her greeting of "Shalom" not only reaches Elizabeth but also the yet unborn John. The peace that Mary brings is the peace that the Lord within her gives. Elizabeth, one of those who have been waiting for the Salvation promised from of old, receives the Holy Spirit upon hearing Mary’s word and she recognizes her as "Mother of my Lord."
For the rest of the Simbang Gabi readings, please see this page.
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- The ORDO’s specification of Isaiah 53 is a mistake. Isaiah 53 is more for Good Friday rather than for Advent. However, in some of the Christmas sermons of Augustine, Isaiah 53:1 is used to describe the wonder of Christmas. Apart from this, all the passages in Isaiah 53 is not used for Christmas. [↩]
- This would look strange for those in the Philippines who grew up during the Martial Law era. Because of the 12 MN curfew, the Christmas Midnight Mass was moved to an earlier hour. For that reason the Vigil Mass of December 24 practically disappeared. [↩]