Question and Answer on “Aguinaldo Masses”

based and adapted from the article
The Aguinaldo Masses: Origins, Setbacks and Survival
by Fidel Villaroel, O.P.
Philippiniana Sacra, Vol. XXXIV, no.102 (Sept.-Dec. 1999)

  • Is there a difference between the Aguinaldo Mass and Misa de Gallo?

The Misa de Gallo refers to the Midnight Mass celebrated on December 24. The Aguinaldo Masses are the votive Masses celebrated in the early hours of the morning nine days before Christmas.
The term Aguinaldo –a Spanish word—means a Christmas gift, or a gift given during Christmas Day, New Year’s Day or the feast of the Three Kings. There is no agreement among the experts as to why the early morning votive Masses before Christmas are called Aguinaldo masses. Either it could mean offering nine Masses to God on occasion of the birth of His Son, or it could also mean the rejoicing of the Church for the gift of His Son.

  • What are votive Masses?

In simple terms, these are Masses, which the official Liturgy of the Church leaves to the choice of the priest celebrant who follows a special liturgical text and offers the Mass for particular intentions. Examples of votive Masses are: masses for the dead, in times of natural calamities, or civil disturbances, for groups of persons (sick, migrants, etc), for a good harvest. Other types are those in honor of saints who are considered special intercessors for obtaining spiritual or temporal benefits. Still others are for living in a special manner some aspect of the Christian mystery like the Eucharist, the worship of Blessed Trinity or to honor specially the Blessed Virgin Mary. The liturgical text for votive Masses is included in the universal Roman Missal used by the Latin rite all over the world.

  • How do Aguinaldo Masses fit into this description of votive Masses since it seems to be a liturgical celebration confined to the Philippine churches?

The Aguinaldo Masses are special votive Masses in honor of Mary introduced by the particular church in some parts of Spain, Mexico and in the Philippines. Over time, these celebrations had been recognized by the Supreme Authority in the Church as privileged votive Masses celebrated for grave and weighty reasons and with big attendance of the faithful. This official recognition translates into the privilege of celebrating these votive Masses as daily Masses for the Advent season.

  • How did these votive Masses start in Spain?

There is no precise dating of the origin of the Aguinaldo masses in some parts of Spain. There is documentation (e.g. the Pope Sixtus V‘s granting of indulgences to those who participate in these Masses) to support that these Masses were being celebrated in the last decades of the 16th century. Other documentation exists that say that these Masses were celebrated very early in the morning, at dawn or before daybreak. From these documents it is clear that in Seville and Granada, Aguinaldo masses were celebrated during the 17th century.

  • What other details are mentioned in those documents shed light on the nature of the Aguinaldo masses?

Firstly, these were celebrated nine days before Christmas. They were celebrated in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary; the celebration was solemn (with Gloria and Credo); there was a great popular devotion to these Masses and were offered for grave reason or intention- for the recently sowed fields and the well being of the whole people.

  • How did the practice of the Aguinaldo Masses reach the Philippines?

Again, there is no precise record of when the Aguinaldo masses started in the Philippines. What is clear is that from Spain, through Mexico—where it was well established in the 16th century–, the religious missionaries brought this practice to the Philippine islands.  There is a written record by Fr. Ignacio Francisco Alcina, S.J. that Aguinaldo masses were already being celebrated in some parts of the Philippines in the beginnings of the 17th century.

  • Was the practice of the Aguinaldo Masses uninterrupted since then?

There was a period of about 9 years (1680 – 1689) when the practice of the Aguinaldo Masses was discontinued by order to the Archbishop of Manila Felipe Pardo. He simply implemented an order from Rome to suppress the Aguinaldo masses in Spain, the Azores Islands, Mexico and the Philippines. The cause of the suppression (in 1677) was the abuses resulting from the behavior of the assembly and the choir that were considered very improper for religious celebrations and places in the diocese of Seville.

  • How did the Aguinaldo masses resume after 1689?

There are no records of the exact year or the official authority that permitted the Masses again. What is accepted is that from then on the Aguinaldo masses were celebrated without interruption until our times. The First Plenary Council of the Philippines (1953) stated that “There is a legitimate tradition in these Islands coming from ancient times to celebrate the Masses popularly called de Aguinaldo Masses for the perseverance of Filipinos in the Christian faith and for the preservation of religion in this area of the world. For nine days preceding the Nativity of Christ the Lord, the solemn votive Mass Rorate Coeli desuper is sung with great solemnity and with massive attendance by the people, one Mass every day in the churches.”

  • What then is the main reason or intent of the celebration of the Aguinaldo Masses?

The “grave reasons” that our ancestors in Spain, Mexico and the Philippines adduced for celebrating these Masses, were the same reasons repeated in the Plenary Council of the Philippines (1953). These same reasons apply up to the present time: perseverance of the Filipino nation in the faith and the preservation of our holy religion in this part of the world.

(prepared on Dec 15, 2008  by Fr. Edgar F. Soria, JCD)


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