Misa de Gallo
Misa de gallo (pronounced MEE-sah day GAH-yoh) means “roost-er’s mass” in Spanish. Both the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking peoples of the world refer to MIDNIGHT MASS on Christmas Eve as the rooster’s mass. The Portuguese term for “rooster’s mass,” missa do galo, closely resembles its Spanish cousin.
This curious name for Midnight Mass comes from a bit of old European folklore. According to a traditional tale JESUS was born at the stroke of midnight. The task of announcing this miraculous event fell to the roosters. The first rooster fluttered to the roof of the stable and proclaimed in a human voice, “Christ is born!” The second followed, crying out, “In BETHLEHEM!” Since the rooster was the first creature to call humankind to worship on the eve of Jesus’ birth, people throughout the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking worlds honor the animal by referring to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve as the “rooster’s mass.”
Perhaps elements of this legend inspired the scheduling of Midnight Mass itself. Since early medieval times Roman Catholic priests have celebrated three Christmas masses. Rules dating back to the fifth century A.D. ordained that the first Christmas mass be celebrated ad galli cantum, that is, when the rooster crows (see also PLYGAIN). Few roosters crow as early as midnight. Instead, the belief that Jesus was born at midnight determined the hour at which the first mass was held.
Roman Catholic churches in the PHILIPPINES offer nine rooster’s masses on the nine nights preceding Christmas. This practice remains from colonial times. In the Philippines and other areas colonized by the Spanish, missionaries instituted a special novena for the nine days before Christmas. A novena is a prayer service offered on nine consecutive days. The missionaries deemed the novena necessary in order to impress upon the recent converts the importance of the upcoming feast day. In the Philippines the Christmas novena is called Simbang Gabi, a Tagalog phrase which means “night mass.” The Filipinos also use Spanish terms for these masses, referring to them as misas de gallo, “rooster’s masses,” or misas de aguinaldo (MEE-sahs day ah-ghee-NAL-doh), which means “Christmas present masses” or “GIFT masses.” The “gifts” refer to the SHEPHERDS’ offerings to the infant Jesus. These nine early morning masses are also celebrated in some parts of Central America and the Caribbean.
In the Philippines the rooster’s masses begin on December 16 and usher in the CHRISTMAS SEASON. A festive rather than solemn mood pervades these observances, in spite of the fact that the masses begin at four in the morning. At four a.m. church BELLS ring, marching bands play, and fireworks explode, rousing anyone who is still in bed and reminding everyone to attend mass. Young people who went to parties the night before may stay out long enough to attend the masses before returning home. After the service many stay to socialize with one another and share the traditional breakfast of salabat (ginger tea) and puto bum-bong (sweetened rice cakes). Although the last of these nine masses occurs in the early morning hours of December 24, Roman Catholic churches in the Philippines still offer Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.