The first of nine predawn Masses began yesterday and is set to culminate in the Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. This practice is rooted in the history of the Philippines, brought over centuries ago by Spanish colonists, recorded for the first time in the 17th century.
Before Ferdinand Marcos imposed martial law in September 1972, the Simbang Gabi was celebrated only at 4 am. Because of the curfew, the Catholic Church was eventually compelled to adjust the schedule and began holding the Mass at 5 am or even later, a decision many Filipinos still deplore.
“The curfew destroyed the whole tradition,” Fr Genaro Diwa, director of the archdiocese’s Ministry for Liturgical Affairs, said.
For the faithful who take part in the Simbang Gabi there is another problem, namely the danger posed by street gangs and individual criminals who pray upon people going to Mass under the cloak of darkness to carry out robberies or abductions.
For this reason police usually steps up its patrols along the main roads that lead to places of worship, advising people to move in groups and choose well-lighted places.
Law enforcement is also forced to increase measures against illegal fireworks.