By Josh Low
Filipinos from across the Archdiocese last month packed St Mary’s Cathedral in the lead up to Christmas over a series of nine evenings for the annual tradition of Simbang Gabi (Filipino for ‘Night Mass’).
Simbang Gabi is a religious tradition of the Filipinos, annually celebrated in anticipation of Christmas, as well as to honour the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Handed over by Spanish missionaries in the 1600s, it involves a devotional Novena of Masses celebrated either in the early morning before sunrise or in the evening after sunset.
Auxiliary Bishop of Perth, Donald Sproxton celebrated the first of the nine Masses on December 15, with each subsequent evening Mass celebrated by Emeritus Archbishop Barry Hickey, Fathers Conor Steadman, Nelson Po, Jean-Noel Marie, Brennan Sia, Geronimo Dalipe and Monsignor Michael Keating, before Perth Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB celebrated Mass for the culmination of the Novena on 23 December.
This year, each of the nine letters of the word ‘Christmas’ corresponded with the theme for each specific day related to the virtues of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The themes focused on Mary’s charity, humility, reverence, integrity of faith & life, (inner) silence, trust and fidelity to God, missionary zeal & discipleship, availability and presence to respond to God’s call and her service and servanthood.
St Mary’s Cathedral Assistant Priest Fr Jeffey Casabuena is the only Filipino priest at the Cathedral and led the organisation of Simbang Gabi this year.
Fr Casabuena explained that the idea behind Simbang Gabi is the celebration and preparation for Christmas in anticipation of Jesus’s coming as the Light of the World.
“Traditionally in the Philippines, the nine days before Christmas would see people wake up early in the morning to attend Mass and then go to the farms to work and welcome the dawn of the new day together.
“As the Gospel of John says, Jesus is the Light of the World, so it’s a beautiful tradition for Filipinos in symbolically welcoming the light of the world into our daily lives in the lead up to Christmas,” he said.
“This year we had both Filipinos as well as Australians from across the Archdiocese who were curious about the tradition in attendance over the nine days and filled the whole Cathedral almost every evening.”
Fr Casabuena said the Simbang Gabi tradition is both important and beautiful to the Filipino members of the Church.
“Since it is our tradition and something many of us grew up with, having it in Australia and here in Perth helps us to relive our own experiences back in the Philippines.
“The Church in Australia and the Archdiocese of Perth especially is open to multicultural practices of the Catholic faith so we don’t necessarily need to go back to the Philippines to experience our way of celebrating Jesus’ birth.
“It brings us to a greater love of the faith through uniting our two great loves of the Catholic Church and our Filipino roots,” Fr Casabuena said.
“I think it’s a great way for the Australian community to also be able to appreciate Filipino culture and our Catholic background and traditions.
“We have many Filipinos across the Archdiocese and my hope is that this tradition can continue long into the future for the Filipino people here in Perth.”