December 14, 2018

Filipino Simbang Gabi tradition will take place on Dec. 16-24

By Natalie Hoefer

The Filipino Catholic community invites all to join in a Christmas tradition of their culture, a nine-day novena of Masses called Simbang Gabi, beginning on Dec. 16 and ending on Christmas Eve.

The name, in the Tagalog language spoken in the Philippines, translates to “Dawn Mass,” says Deacon Wilfredo de la Rosa, a native of the Philippines, who ministers at Holy Angels Parish in Indianapolis.

“It is a Catholic tradition in the Philippines in preparation for the birth of Christ,” he explains. “I was told by my parents that it has been practiced since the time of the Spaniards who colonized the Philippines 300 years ago.

“It used to be called Misa de Gallo. Gallo translates [from Spanish] to ‘rooster,’ which crows at dawn to start a new day. The Masses were held at dawn to give the farmers time to worship and afterward eat breakfast before going to the field.”

In recent times, he says, the Masses in the Philippines begin at 4 a.m. Rather than waiting for roosters to crow, church bells ring a half hour before Mass.

Since the archdiocese’s Filipino Catholic community has no established church home, the Simbang Gabi Masses will take place in the evening at nine churches in the Indianapolis area.

Deacon de la Rosa, his wife Melinda and their four sons moved to the United States in 2007 after a 12-year wait for permanent residency visas. He recalls practicing the Simbang Gabi tradition in his native country.

“There is an atmosphere of joy and excitement as families gather in and around a brightly lighted church that is decorated with the Nativity scene, called a ‘belen,’ ” he says.

“All the churches are always overflowing with the faithful. Outside the church are food vendors who offer the usual rice cake, called ‘bibingka’: a purple cylindrical cake, called ‘puto bumbong’; and ginger tea, called ‘salabat.’ Chain restaurants like McDonalds and Jolibee open their doors for breakfast.”

The Filipino Catholic community and the archdiocese’s Intercultural Office have joined to hold a Simbang Gabi reception in years prior. This is the first time they have coordinated a nine-day Mass schedule, with a reception after the Christmas Eve Mass.

The pastors of the nine parishes involved have been informed of the tradition. Since those participating in the nine days of Masses often do so for personal intentions, the pastors have been asked to pray for those intentions during the prayers of the faithful.

The final Mass of Simbang Gabi is the 10 p.m. Christmas Eve Mass at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral. Archbishop Charles C. Thompson will be the principal celebrant. All will then be invited to a simple ‘noche buena’—midnight meal—in the cathedral rectory parlor after the Mass.

The Simbang Gabi Mass schedule is as follows:

  • Dec. 16: 6 p.m. at St. Gabriel the Archangel Church, 6000 W. 34th St., in Indianapolis
  • Dec. 17: 5:30 p.m. at St. Luke the Evangelist Church, 7575 Holliday Dr. E., in Indianapolis.
  • Dec. 18: 5:30 p.m. at St. Monica Church, 6131 N. Michigan Road, in Indianapolis.
  • Dec. 19: 6:30 p.m. at St. Simon the Apostle Church, 8155 Oaklandon Road, in Indianapolis.
  • Dec. 20: 6 p.m. at St. Jude Church, 5353 McFarland Road, in Indianapolis.
  • Dec. 21: 5:45 p.m. at Our Lady of the Greenwood Church, 335 S. Meridian St., in Greenwood.
  • Dec. 22: 5 p.m. Mass at St. Louis de Monfort Church, 11441 Hague Road, in Fishers (Lafayette Diocese).
  • Dec. 23: 5:30 p.m. at St. Christopher Church, 5301 W. 16th St., in Indianapolis.
  • Dec. 24: 10 p.m. at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral, 1347 N. Meridian St., in Indianapolis, with small reception to follow in Cathedral rectory parlor.

(For questions or more information, contact Deacon Wilfredo de la Rosa at, or Maria Solito at

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