Up with the roosters: Pre-dawn Masses celebrate Advent

Mary Larsen/Town Crier
Early arrivals at Mountain View’s St. Joseph Parish await the start of a pre-dawn Mass last Dec. 24.

It’s 5:30 a.m. Most people are home asleep or brewing coffee or perhaps starting their commute. Others are in church.

Last Dec. 24, more than 100 faithful of all ages turned out at Mountain View’s St. Joseph Parish for the ninth of nine pre-dawn Masses that make up the tradition of Simbang Gabi. The final Mass, on Christmas Eve, is known as Misa de Gallo (Spanish for "Rooster’s Mass").

Introduced by Spain to its colonies, including the Philippines, the novena of early Masses leading up to Christmas were traditionally celebrated before farmers went to work in the fields.

In the Bay Area, it is celebrated where there are high concentrations of Filipinos. The Rev. Engelberto Guzman Gammad, pastor of St. Joseph Parish, said that though most early-bird attendees were local, some families had come to the Mountain View Masses from as far away as Fremont and Morgan Hill. Most attendees were Filipino, but perhaps 10 percent were not, and included parishioners of a variety of other area churches. Everyone is welcome.

"They’re getting better attended year by year," said Mountain View resident Matt Caligaris, "and you’re also getting more non-Filipinos like us going."

Caligaris has been attending for approximately 10 years. He and his wife usually go to eight of the nine Masses, opting for their usual Mass at St. Athanasius on Sunday. Caligaris said he lives close enough to walk to St. Joseph and jog back, though his wife usually drives on to work afterward.

"It adds a whole spiritual dimension to Advent that gets lost in all the Christmas shopping and all that stuff," he said. "And also, you see some pretty sunrises coming home."

Spiritual banquet

St. Joseph Parish, known for its elaborate stained-glass windows, was in full Christmas dress that Christmas Eve morning, the altar decorated with dozens of poinsettias and a tree adorned with tiny white lights.

Most present were Catholic, but not all. Rick Wolfram, a member of the Mountain View Baha’i community, said he appreciates joyous celebrations of many faiths. He summed up the event as one of "incredible music, community and love. … I Ioved to hear O Come, All Ye Faithful (including the Latin) and O Holy Night. (It was a) great way to start the holiday."

After the Mass, the crowd headed downstairs to Father Doyle Hall for a feast fit for a king. Never mind that it was by then only 6:45 a.m. - people lined up for buffet tables filled with Filipino specialties, meat, fish, fruit and desserts.

"The after-Mass banquet was not coffee and donuts," Wolfram later posted on Facebook, "but rather a Filipino spread with everything from roasted salmon to a whole pig. I settled for fruit, coffee and a special rice cake."

"I think it’s a great devotion," Caligaris said. "I encourage anybody who’s interested to go and try it out. I can’t say enough good things about it."

In 2019, St. Joseph’s Simbang Gabi is scheduled 5:30 a.m. Dec. 16-24. St. Joseph Church is located at 582 Hope St. For more information, call 969-3104.

A number of other churches in the Diosese of San Jose also celebrate Simbang Gabi, including Mountain View’s St. Athanasius. For the St. Athanasius schedule, call 961-8600. For information on Simbang Gabi elsewhere in the area, call the Diocese of San Jose at (408) 983-0100. 

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