A Catholic Home - Celebrating Simbang Gabi

Photo: Rachel Bauer Photo: Rachel Bauer

Traditional Filipino novena of Masses deepens spiritual preparation for Christmas

As we await the coming of the Baby Jesus, our Filipino brothers and sisters are celebrating a novena that expresses their love for God and honors the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The nine days of Masses are a way of keeping the Filipino people connected to their faith, their community and their heritage. So often we come to know cultures through their traditional foods. This Advent, I hope more of us participate in Simbang Gabi and at the table afterward.

Simbang Gabi, or “night Mass,” began during the early days of Spanish rule over the Philippines. The Masses were offered in the evening after the farmers had put in long, hot days in the fields. Though exhausted, they came anyway. As a compromise, the friars switched to mornings, sometimes as early as 3 a.m. In the Philippines, the novena concludes on the morning of Christmas Eve at a Mass sometimes called Misa de Gallo, which is Spanish for “Rooster’s Mass.”

Filipino-Americans brought this spiritual tradition to the United States, but the Masses were shifted to evenings to accommodate work schedules.

The people display star-shaped lanterns, or parols, in their homes and as part of the procession at the beginning of Mass. The parol represents the star of Bethlehem and reminds us that Jesus is the light of the world.

About 80 parishes in the Archdiocese of Seattle will take part in the novena, which runs from Dec. 15–23 this year, according to Philip Tran, director of multicultural communities for the archdiocese. Approximately 1,000 Filipino Catholics are expected to participate in a Simbang Gabi commissioning Mass at St. James Cathedral, with traditional dishes served afterward. This year’s commissioning Mass will be at 11 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 13.

At St. Edward Parish in south Seattle, Father Felino Paulino’s heart is full in anticipation of the novena. His parish is 60 percent Filipino, and many of his parishioners attend each of the nine Masses and bring traditional rice-based foods for hospitality afterward. The parish has been participating in the novena for more than 20 years.

“We have special Filipino songs and readings to honor the Blessed Mother,” he said. “The archbishop comes one of the nights. We have bibingka and other rice pastries” like those available after novena Masses in the Philippines.

In keeping with Simbang Gabi, here is a recipe for meat adobo from Mia Sazon of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in West Seattle. She prepares and serves marienda, or a light lunch, for the gathering after the commissioning Mass. Because she is serving a crowd, she offers a quick and easy version of the dish.

Quick and easy adobo

  • 2 pounds meat, cut into 1- or 2-inch chunks. Try boneless pork shoulder (butt), boneless country-style pork ribs, boneless chicken thighs, chopped whole chicken, or a combination of pork and chicken. For vegetarian, use fried firm tofu, baking potatoes, or a mix.
  • 6 cloves garlic, finely crushed
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 4 whole dried bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Pinch of salt

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Cover the bowl and marinate for at least one hour or overnight in the refrigerator.

For stovetop cooking: Place all ingredients in a medium-size pot, cover and simmer at medium heat for about 45 minutes or until fork-tender.

For oven cooking: Transfer all ingredients to appropriate baking dish and cover loosely. Bake at 300 degrees for one hour, or until fork-tender.

For vegetarian dishes, bake the tofu version about 15 minutes. Bake potato adobo for 20 to 30 minutes or until fork-tender.

Add water in 1/2-cup increments as needed to prevent scorching, or if more sauce is desired. Serve hot over steamed white or brown rice.

Northwest Catholic - Dec. 2014

Janet Cleaveland

Janet Cleaveland is a member of the Proto-Cathedral of St. James the Greater in Vancouver.


Website: blogs.columbian.com/small-plates/author/jcleaveland/