CITY OF SAN FERNANDO – This coming Nov. 29 is the first Sunday of Advent, the beginning of the Catholic Church’s liturgical year, more significantly the start of the Christmas season.
With the health protocols vis-à-vis the coronavirus disease pandemic impacting on religious gatherings, especially as traditionally celebrated, the Archdiocese of San Fernando on Wednesday issued Circular Letter No. 74 comprising “Instructions on Advent, Simbang Bengi, and Christmas celebrations.”
Simbang Bengi, or the novena Masses leading to Christmas Day, can start as early as 6 in the evening, while those celebrated in the morning should not go beyond 6 a.m. said the first of the instructions.
Some parishes are said to have scheduled dawn Masses hewing to the traditional 4 a.m. time, hence their being known the olden days as “Misa de gallo.”
Parishes are also enjoined to schedule more Simbang Bengi Masses “to diffuse mass-goers and avoid crowding,” referencing to physical distancing protocols.
Although, such Masses are “best celebrated in parish churches, shrines, chaplaincies, and not in malls, hotels, offices, resorts, and private homes.”
“As pastoral accommodation, the ‘anticipation’ of the following day during evening Simbang Bengi Masses will be allowed (Dec. 15-23 evening). During these evening Masses the readings and prayers of the following day will be used,” the instructions said.
The Vigil Mass of Christmas on Dec. 24 may be celebrated from 6 p.m. The last Mass on the evening of Dec. 24 takes the liturgy of the midnight Mass of Christmas also called “Maitinis.”
Dawn Mass of Christmas may be celebrated at 4 a.m. or 5 a.m. of Dec. 25.
The circular added that the archdiocesan liturgical commission has prepared a prayer booklet entitled “Mibiebie Ya busal tamu (He dwelt among us) –Household Blessings and Prayers for Advent and the Christmas Season” in Kapampangan and English.
The faithful are encouraged to “bring Advent and Christmas ceremonies and prayers to the families, the domestic Church.”
With kissing banned during the pandemic, the tradition of kissing the image of the baby Jesus on Christmas Day is cancelled. The faithful are instead encouraged to “bring with them the family image of the infant Jesus laid in a manger during the Christmas Masses.”
Most emphatic is the archdiocese in “discouraging” all parishes, communities and religious organizations from holding Christmas parties, “gathering of people (being) an occasion usually prone to the spread of Covid-19.”
“This should be an expression of solidarity with those who are suffering during the pandemic. Let this also be an expression of charity by using allotted expenses for the poor and the needy,” urged the circular signed by Archbishop Florentino G. Lavarias on Nov. 25.
Lavarias also enjoined the parishes to continuouslypray the Oratio Imperata against Covid-19.