Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Misa de Gallo

It never ceases to amaze me how, year after year, the churches are always full for the Misa de Gallo.

It's not an easy tradition to carry out, mind you. The Masses typically start at half past four in the morning. The sky is still deep velvety black and the air still retains its nippy bite. And yet never have I gone to a church or chapel that was not packed to the rafters and overflowing with devotees. Not in Manila, not in Cebu, not in Davao, and certainly not in Dumaguete.

Oh, to be sure, not everyone has pure and high motives of worship for going to the pre-dawn Masses. For some, it's the superstition of a sought-after wish. For others, it's the pull of their peers. And still for others, because that's the way it's always been. My own reasons incorporate a little of each.

But can we really divorce Misa de Gallo from its religious underpinnings? A purely agnostic, anthropological reason might fall back on the Filipino's love for communal activity. But, at 4:30 in the morning? Surely there are better, more secular ways to celebrate than listen to a sermon at that hour.

Not all our reasons might be noble, but such a sacrifice cannot be carried out without some degree of holiness seeping in. Whatever the primary reasons, it achieves some bit of its true purpose.

So early in the morning, the body is still in repose and the soul is still composed. Unfettered by worries and unhampered by distractions, it's a much easier time for prayer . In those quiet moments, waiting for the Misa de Gallo can be a contemplative experience. That atmosphere lends to the nature of a vigil, which the Masses are. It heightens the anticipation for the coming Christmas season.

To the uninitiated, here's a secret: it actually becomes easier once you've done your first set. In fact, it becomes something to look forward to. I'm a latecomer to the tradition, having been introduced to it only five years ago by the Fortunatos in Cebu. Since then, I've completed this Christmas novena without fail despite any initial doubts attending on the first day. It has its own strange attraction; the wait for Christmas now seems incomplete without the Misa de Gallo.

As I step into the church once again this year, at dawn before the rooster's crowing, I see that many others feel the same way.

And I know that all will be well.