By Georgiana Francisco | Correspondent
Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., celebrated the ninth and last Mass of the Simbang Gabi, a long-treasured Filipino Christmas tradition, in St. Charles Borromeo, Cinnaminson, Dec. 11. This was the first time in nine years the parish, which has a large Filipino population, has held the novena of Masses in honor of the Blessed Mother at 5 p.m. in the afternoon rather than at the original “dawn Mass” time of 5:30 in the morning.
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“It certainly helped increase attendance,” said Father Daniel Kirk, recently-appointed pastor of the parish.
The Mass, which was celebrated on Gaudete Sunday, the third Sunday of Advent, began with the parish Filipino Choir singing joyously as nine “little angels” carrying large, colorful paper stars and a white paper lantern on long sticks, processed down the center aisle, then planting the stars before the sanctuary. In front of the altar, sat a tall, multi-colored ceramic rooster, symbolic of when, at the first sound of dawn and the crowing of the rooster, the entire family would get up and walk to the nearest parish church for Mass. Also during this time, colorful lanterns are hung in every door, window, tree branch, and street corner.
The liturgical significance of Simbang Gabi emanates from the Season of Advent, a time of spiritual preparation and purification so that one can be worthy of the coming of the Christ Child. Simbang Gabi traditionally starts every Dec. 16 and is one of the longest and most important religious celebrations in the Philippines, lasting more than 600 years. Catholic churches across the Philippines celebrate the nine Masses outdoors in order to accommodate the faithful.
Filipino immigrants brought this unique tradition with them to the United States where its observance continues to grow significantly, especially in New Jersey.
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