SALT LAKE CITY — For the past 10 years, the Misan Bayan Filipino Catholic community in the Diocese of Salt Lake City has observed the 400-year-old tradition of the Simbang Gabi, a novena of Masses that are celebrated in the days leading up to Christmas.
This year each of the nine Masses of the novena was celebrated at a different parish, beginning Dec. 15 at St. Jerome Catholic Newman Center in Logan and ending Dec. 23 at St. Joseph the Worker Parish in West Jordan.
In the Philippines, the Masses traditionally are celebrated at 4 a.m. In Utah, because of the winter weather, the Masses are scheduled in the evening. Regardless, the celebration of the Simbang Gabi “is above all an expression of the Filipinos’ filial devotion to Mary, the mother of God,” said Arlita Llenares, who gave a brief introduction of the tradition before the Dec. 18 Mass began.
The 2019 Simbang Gabi theme was “Celebrate, Live and Share the Word of God.”
“With this theme, we share a message of the Church to reflect on how we use the Word of God to achieve a transformation in our hearts and in our communities,” Llenares said.
“Simbang Gabi” cam be translated as “Night Mass,” explained Fr. Martin Diaz, rector of the Cathedral of the Madeleine, which hosted the Dec. 18 celebration. This was the ninth year that one of the Simbang Gabi Masses was celebrated at the cathedral.
The Mass began with members of the community carrying in parols (traditional star-shaped “lantern” ornaments that represent the Star of Bethlehem, which guided the magi to the place where Jesus lay in the manger). The parols were hung alongside the pews, with the largest parol placed in front of the Advent wreath near the altar.
The Filipino choir provided the music ministry for the Mass, singing in both English and Filipino.
In his comments at the beginning of the Mass, Fr. Diaz said, “As we continue our Advent journey, it is so appropriate that we unite ourselves with the Mother of our Savior as we await the birth of her Son. During this Eucharist, may we continue to seek her motherly intercession for our own needs and the needs of our global family. In imitation of Mary, may we give birth to Jesus in our daily lives, especially to those in darkness.”
Following the Mass, a reception was held in the basement of the cathedral, featuring some traditional Filipino foods and hot chocolate.