Post Storm Dawn Masses

by Juan L. Mercado


The novena  of  Christmas dawn masses  —  Simbang Gabi or   Misa de Gallo — starts December 16.  Few recall  that in 1587, Fray Diego de Soria of San Agustin Acolman, in Mexico , asked the Pope for permission to hold dawn masses. Galleons from Acapulco brought “Mass of the Roosters” tradition to us.

In the past,  mass was celebrated to allow farmers to pray  before tilling  fields at daybreak. Today, call center agents, police officers and newspaper distributors, ending their chores, attend the mass. So, do physicians and  nurses preparing for the next shift.   Some who reside in metro complexes, wake up early, attend mass, before battling traffic to office.  

Many recall  these dawn encounters. A  beggar lifted up her infant, swaddled in a thin sheet, as the wife and I passed by. Misa de Gallo ended earlier. “He’s two weeks old,” she said with gap-toothed smile.

What was her name again, this lady in faded hand-me-downs? She shared rice packets that the wife brought periodically. Without fail, she’d trudge back to say: “Salamat.” The other 31 would vamoose without a word.

The ancient text echoed in our minds: “She wrapped her child in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manager, because there was no room for them in the inn.”

“This liturgical  tradition is so Filipino”, Anglican diocesan committees of the Philippines notes.   ”The dawn mass honors the Babe by honoring His mother”.

“Non Roman churches have  adopted the practice”, adds  the blog  Anglican Use in the Philippines .  ”Methodists and United Churches,  for example,  “have nine days of dawn services. The Episcopal Church in the Philippines has the liturgy in its Book of Common Prayer.

In addition,  “Iglesia Filipina Independiente, which has its origins in the Roman Catholic Church, preserved the tradition. Some Orthodox missions in the Philippines have nine days of dawn Divine Liturgies.”

What is this all about?, asks ” Anna Quindlen in  a Newsweek article titled, “ Frankincense In Aisle Five”. A New York Times columnist, Quindlen is a  1992 Pulitzer Prize awardee.

A baby was born in a  Bethlehem  stable  two millennia back, Quindlen writes. “He  grew to be a man who healed the sick, raised at least one friend from the dead, was crucified by the ruling powers and was then himself resurrected. His name was Jesus.”              

Depending on where you stand, that story is of  a prophet or political agitator, either a myth or the great news. “What’s beyond dispute is that it has endured through the ages”. Horrific wrongdoing —   the Inquisition, Luther’s manifesto, Henry VIII’s marriages,  the Holocaust to  many schisms  have not destroyed it.

According to the story, the Messiah was sent to save us from our sins, but clearly not our silliness.  It is surprising to discover that some believe the enduring power of the story of the child  born in Bethlehem to be so shaky that it must be shored up by plastic cribs or  handouts.

Yet the holy day endured. Through plague and war, famine and invasion, the tale was told and the lesson learned, of love for neighbors, of charity toward the poor. Carols were sung in foxholes and prisons.

Jesus threw the money-changers out of the temple, saying that they’d made his father’s house into a den of thieves.  Does that sound like  someone who would hanker to be given pride of place among  teddy bears in Santa hats?   “The star of Bethlehem was nothing like a blue-light special”.

As the pope recently noted, “commercial pollution” is contrary to the message of Christmas. For those things, see Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the greatest story never sold. “Quindlen adds. If I ever go to Costco looking for religion, I’ll know my Christmas goose is cooked.”

“Climate change has finally caught up with Simbang Gabi,” notes the blog Anglican Use.  “In the past people reveled in the nippy atmosphere (17-18 C,  chilly for a tropical country).  Many wore sweaters, even in Manila .”

But Christmas 2010 ushered in a warm 25 C. Higher thermometer readings will prevail this Christmas, if  the conclusions by just-concluded Climate Change Conference of 190 countries in Doha , Qatar mean anything.

Given current measures, it is unlikely that the world would be able to keep global temperatures from rising more than two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) from pre-industrial times, New York Times reported.  Doha merely stated an intention to “identify and explore in 2013 options for a range of actions to close the pre-2020 ambition gap.”

“An appeal for action from the Philippine climate commissioner,  Naderev M. Sano, was one of the most moving moments of the conference, International Herald Tribune reported.  Days before, an out-of-season typhoon Pablo hit southern Mindanao.

It killed 902 people and left 890 missing, the National Disaster and Risk Reduction Management Council executive director Benito Ramos said they “Pablo” has injured 1,906 persons and damaged properties amounting to almost P7.2 billion. The toll will still rise.                 

Forget  Misa de Gallo 2012 in Southern Mindanao for now?

It’s true meaning is  reflected in  efforts to bring in urgent food, medicine and other vital supplies. Government,  international  agencies, like UN, and countries — Indonesia , Japan , the US — have rushed to help.

Even more  significant is the efforts by private  agencies  and  ordinary citizens to help out. “Because you did it for these, the least of my little ones, you did it to Me, the Christmas babe was to say.


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