Bishop Burbidge joins 1,400 at Filipino community Mass for Simbang Gabi

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In the 16th century, Spanish friars introduced the people of the Philippines to Simbang Gabi — the custom of attending Mass on each of the nine days leading up to Christmas. Before the sun rose, and before they headed out to labor in the fields or set out to sea, people would gather to celebrate Advent.


Growing up in the Philippines, Sylvia “Beng” Magalong, a parishioner of Holy Spirit Church in Annandale, occasionally would go with her mother early in the morning to Simbang Gabi Masses. When she moved to the United States, attending Simbang Gabi became a way to remember her culture.


“I think it’s a form of evangelization,” said Magalong, who likes to invite family and friends to the celebrations.


After attending the Masses at other churches, she decided to coordinate a Simbang Gabi Mass at her own parish a few years ago. “I thought, why not let Holy Spirit be involved? It’s my way of getting closer to the Lord and getting to know what He wants me to do for Him,” she said.


This year, more than two dozen parishes are hosting more than 40 Simbang Gabi Masses in the diocese, held both early in the morning, as is tradition, and in the evening. Bishop Michael F. Burbidge celebrated a Simbang Gabi Mass at St. Timothy Church in Chantilly Dec. 23. Touches of Filipino culture pervaded the Mass and the reception afterward. Many men and women wore gauzy barongs, traditional Filipino shirts. During the offertory, the gift bearers carried not only bread and wine but also prutas, or fruits, a symbol of a good harvest and blessings received from God, according to the Office of Multicultural Ministries, which helped coordinate all the diocesan Simbang Gabi Masses. Hymns were sung in Tagalog the Filipino language.


Traditionally, parols, or Christmas lanterns, are carried during Simbang Gabi as a symbol of the star that led the Magi to Christ.


"At this Mass, we pray for ourselves and one another that strengthened with the gift of the Holy Eucharist we may go forth and imitate Mary our Mother and her humble, meek and obedient heart, so that we too may provide a fitting dwelling place for Jesus today, at Christmas and always," said Bishop Burbidge in his homily.


Bishop Emeritus Paul S. Loverde celebrated an evening Mass at Holy Spirit with hundreds of Filipinos Dec. 19, on the 52nd anniversary of his priestly ordination.


At the start of the Mass, he noted his joy at seeing Catholics celebrating their cultural heritage, just as his father had passed on Italian traditions to him. In his homily, Bishop Loverde preached on hope.


“It’s a word short in its spelling but very long in its meaning. Hope is ultimately a person, Jesus Christ … whose coming is very much the object of our prayer during this Simbang Gabi novena,” he said.


At the reception, friends and families ate lumpia, a kind of spring roll, pancit, a noodle dish, and ham, a Christmas favorite, said Magaolong. In honor of Bishop Loverde’s anniversary, Chuckie Ibay, a blind concert pianist and a parishioner of St. Mary of Sorrows Church in Fairfax, serenaded him and the crowd with a traditional Italian song.  


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017