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By (Most Rev.) Rex Andrew C. Alarcon, DD

The Misa de Aguinaldo is a privileged votive mass, that is, a mass that does not correspond to the liturgical calendar but has a special intention. It is celebrated for a ‘grave or weighty reason’ (pro re gravi) and with massive attendance of the faithful. The prayers are not strictly those of the Advent season, but in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The color of the vestments of the priest during the Misa de Aguinaldo is white, instead of the violet that is proper of Advent.

The spirit of the Mass is that of anticipation for Christmas, like Mary expecting the Birth of her Son, Jesus. In Spain, the 18th of December, used to be the feast of Nuestra Señora de la Esperanza and the Nuestra Senora de la O, Mary the expectant mother.

Among the characteristics of the Misa de Aguinaldo are:

• It is a ‘novena mass’, nine-day masses from December 16 to December 24.

• It is celebrated very early in the morning (summon mane); at dawn (ad auroram); before daybreak (antequam dies illuxerit).

• Its mood is festive. The Gloria is sung.

• It is attended by a large number of people.

The tradition of the Misa de Aguinaldo originated from Spain, particularly Seville and Granada; and also, from Mexico. But the practice of the Misa de Aguinaldo has disappeared in Spain and Mexico as the privilege was withdrawn. The Philippines, in 1961, was granted by the Vatican an extension of five years. The permission was not revoked. The practice continues up to this day.

The reasons for allowing the Misa de Aguinaldo were: “for the perseverance of the natives in the faith and for the preservation of Religion in this part of the world; certainly, for a very weighty reason – the advancement of Religion.”

The word Aguinaldo originally referred to gifts given during the Christmas Season until Epiphany, also known as the Feast of the Three Kings. Gifts given at other time of the year are not called Aguinaldo. Thus, the Misa de Aguinaldo, is like a gift of the faithful to the Lord. In Tagalog, the Mass is called Simbang Gabi as the mass is celebrated while it is still dark.

The Misa de Gallo, in Spain, refers to the Midnight Mass of December 24. Thus, the Misas de Aguinaldo culminate with the Misa de Gallo. One, however, finds that the terms are often interchanged in current usage in the Philippines.

New forms of the Misa de Aguinaldo or Simbang Gabi have been added, like the mass in the evening, anticipating the dawn mass, e.g. Dec. 15 evening Mass. This is to cater to those who find it difficult to attend the dawn masses, yet wish to celebrate the novena in preparation for Christmas.

The celebration of Misa de Aguinaldo prepares the faithful, with Mary the expectant Mother, to enter into the mystery of the Birth of the Son of God into the world, – a very important historical event that even secular historians took notice of. In fact, even the reckoning of dates has reference to the birth of Jesus. The initials B.C. signify Before Christ and A.D., Anno Domini, means ‘In the year of the Lord.’

For many Filipinos, the start of the celebration of the Aguinaldo masses sparks a heightened sense of anticipation for Christmas, the birth of Jesus – the Messiah.

(The source of this article is: VILLARROEL, Fidel, OP, The Aguinaldo Masses: Origins, Setbacks and Survival, Philippiniana Sacra, Vol XXXIV, No. 102 (Sept.-Dec., 1999) 487-509.)


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