The Filipino tradition of Simbang Gabi continues to attract more than just the Filipino population, if attendance at the final night of this year’s celebration is any indication. Holy Rosary Cathedral had few empty seats for the December 23 evening service. The cathedral congregation was liberally sprinkled with non-Filipino faces who came from all over the city.
“My wife, Claire, and I went to The Philippines a few years ago with some Filipino friends and took part in the tradition there,” said Joe Zerr, one of the faces in the crowd. “I guess it’s about being with Filipino friends. It’s a nice tradition.” Archbishop Donald Bolen again celebrated the closing mass and thanked the Filipino community for bringing their Catholic faith and “this beautiful tradition to the Regina Archdiocese.”
Simbang Gabi (Filipino for night mass) was first celebrated in Regina in 2014 at St. Mary’s Church when Filipino priest Reverend Danilo Rafael was pastor. He continued with the tradition when he moved to Holy Child Parish and again to Holy Rosary Cathedral where he now serves as rector. It was at Holy Child where the tradition caught on with the non-Filipino population even though most of the prayers and readings were in Tagalog, the Philippines language. A Filipino choir sings at the masses with traditional hymns.
The tradition appears to be growing in attendance in Regina as well as in several rural areas in Saskatchewan. Parishes with large Filipino populations, but non-Filipino priests as pastors, have celebrated the tradition in 2016 and it is believed the number of parishes participating grew in 2017.
The tradition of Simbang Gabi goes back to Spanish colonial times. In urban centers, parishes celebrate in the evenings for the convenience of workers in day jobs. The tradition is in anticipation of Christmas and to honour the Blessed Virgin. Each evening service in the nine days leading up to Christmas is followed with a pot luck supper. The food available after the Holy Rosary Cathedral service was a mix of traditional Filipino recipes and western foods and there was lots of it. People sat at the long tables traditional to church suppers, waiting for their table number to be called for them to participate in what can rightly be called a selection of gourmet buffet delights.