Richness of cultural heritage on display at Lockridge for Simbang Gabi

27 Jan 2022

By The Record

The procession of clergy walks down the church aisle.
The procession enters Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Lockridge carrying a traditional Parol, a star-shaped lantern representing the Star of Bethlehem. Photo: Feby Plando

The multicultural strength of Perth parishes was on full display recently at Lockridge Parish in the nine days leading up to Christmas, where the Filipino community came together for Simbang Gabi, the traditional Advent celebration of the Philippines.

Simbang Gabi (Filipino for ‘Night Masses’) dates back centuries to the arrival of Spanish/Mexican missionaries in the Philippines in 1668 and is a time when families and friends join to honor and exalt the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Holy Catholic Church.

As the community has grown and flourished here in WA, they have brought along the richness of their cultural heritage and on Thursday, 16 December, the parishioners of Lockridge Good Shepherd Church were joined by Archbishop Costelloe SDB to celebrate the first weeknight mass of the novena.

“What Mary teaches us, as Jesus did, is that the most deeply and truly human response to confusion and doubt and to worry and uncertainty, is simply to entrust ourselves to God, with even more passion and even more commitment,” Archbishop Costelloe shared in his homily.

Good Shepherd parishioners joined together in song: carols are so integral to Filipino Christmas celebrations that in the Philippines, carols start playing as early as September. Photo: Feby Plando.

“Tonight, in this special Mass, at this moment, let us open our hearts as Mary did, to receive these gifts of grace that the Lord really wants to give us, so that like Mary, we too can then become bearers, carriers of God’s grace and peace to all those we love and to all those we meet.

“What a wonderful gift, a wonderful Christmas gift this would be for us to offer those we love and all those we encounter in our daily lives,” he said.

Just like other cultures, Filipino’s share gifts in honor of Jesus’ birth, and the Aguinaldo (Christmas gift) of toys, candy and money are given to children by their relatives or godparents during Simbang Gabi, along with their blessing: the tradition of ‘Mano’, where once the children have shown their respect, the back of the elder’s hand is brought up to touch the child’s head in blessing.

One modern change to Simbang Gabi that makes it much more compatible with Australian life is the fact that it is celebrated in the evening, rather than at dawn: during the original celebration, also known as Misa de Gallo (Mass of the Rooster), Church bells across the Philippines started ringing as early as 3.00AM, waking parishioners for Mass at four, and in some rural areas, a brass band would play during that hour while the priests went door to door.

No Filipino celebration would be complete without a feast and the first night of Simbang Gabi was no exception. Photo: Feby Plando

Though it is hard to imagine many would easily wake so early for Mass, in the Philippines, it allowed the farmers and fishermen to attend before the day’s work and liturgically, the interplay of light and dark with the rising of the sun represented the spiritual victory of Jesus’ birth.

The traditional Paról’s (Christmas lanterns) date back to this time, when they were hung from houses along the village streets to light people’s way to Mass, the iconic star-shaped lantern symbolising the Star of Bethlehem that led the Magi to the manger where Christ was born.

The Filipino community of Good Shepherd Parish lit their own beacon of hope for friends and family back home, with the proceeds of the collections taken over the nine nights of the novena given to selected charities in the Philippines, the Home for the Aged Foundation in the Diocese of Iligan and the Children’s Home run by Missionary Sisters of Catechism.

Families were thrilled to be able to pose for a photograph with Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB after Mass. Photo: Feby Plando.