CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Waiting is part of Christmas

HONG KONG (SE): Christmas worldwide begins first in The Philippines with the celebration of the Simbang Gabi, or night Mass, a novena of nine Masses before Christmas.

Traditionally celebrated in the dark hours before dawn, as the population has become more urbanised, the custom of gathering in the evening has become popular in the cities.

The Filipino community in Hong Kong opened the novena on the evening of December 15 at the Diocesan Pastoral Centre for Filipinos in Central, in an atmosphere far from its traditional rural setting in the half light of the breaking dawn and the flicker of candlelight.

But as Father Midas Tambot explained it is a celebration of faith and an expression of wanting to share that faith, so the setting is not of the essence.

Even though the novena begins during Advent, a time of waiting, the Simbang Gabi embraces the waiting as part of the celebration of the joy at the birth of the saviour.

The violet vestments of Advent are discarded for the white of Christmas and all join in the singing of the Glory be to God.

Father Midas called it a time to express our trust in the Christ, as ultimately faith is a matter of trust.

He quoted Jesus as saying in the scriptures, “You have to trust me and believe what I teach.” He called this a direct challenge to us to ask ourselves if we really believe in his word and trust in his person.

But he also pointed out that we have some wonderful testimonies to listen to, especially John the Baptist, as we are told that no one is greater than the Baptist.

But Jesus himself told his followers, “I have testimony greater than John” and he then sent them back to the Baptist to tell him what they had heard and what they had seen.

Father Midas added that it is not only the Baptist from whom we have testimony, but also from God the Father himself, whom the scriptures tell us spoke as a booming voice from the heavens, “This is my beloved son, listen to him.”

But Father Midas stressed that even to listen to these testimonies, we need faith, as nothing else can convince us.

“However, even though we can say that I believe, we still need witnesses,” he continued, “in order to preserve what is right and to do what is right, as we are called to witness in action.”

He added, “This is why Jesus said, ‘I need you to be my witnesses’.”

But Father Midas assured his congregation that giving witness is not always the startling or extravagant gesture.

“This is a celebration,” he said, “please do not leave tonight with a sour look on your face. We smile when we leave a celebration. This is a witness to our joy.”

He concluded by saying, “Be generous with your smile.”

A bit of extra joy was brought to the celebration by the beautiful voice of Janette Mariano as she led the gathering in adding a bit of musical beauty and joy to the evening.

The novena continued each night up until December 23.

The custom of celebrating the Simbang Gabi was brought to The Philippines from Mexico by Spanish friars and it has since become an integral part of the national Christmas tradition.

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