Filipino Community Prepares for Christmas with Simbang Gabi

Catholics in the Filipino community worldwide are marking the 500th anniversary of the birth of Christianity in the Philippines this Advent season during the annual, nine-day celebration of Simbang Gabi.

Simbang Gabi is a religious event for Filipinos and all, no matter what language one speaks or country they were born in. Held during the days leading up to Christmas Day, Simbang Gabi means night or dawn Mass. It consists of nine days of prayer, worship, fellowship and preparation for the coming of the Lord.

The devotion will be celebrated in nine churches throughout the Jacksonville area of the Diocese of St. Augustine beginning Dec. 15. The Masses will conclude Dec. 23, with a Mass celebrated by Bishop Felipe Estévez at St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church in Orange Park, followed by a sit-down dinner.

Spanish friars introduced Simbang Gabi at the start of the Catholic evangelization of the Philippine islands. In 1587, Friar Diego de Soria petitioned Pope Sixtus V, then leader of the church, for permission to have the Masses outdoors because the churches were too small to accommodate the crowds. The request was granted, and Simbang Gabi became a permanent practice.

Simbang Gabi Masses in Jacksonville will begin at 7 p.m. each night at the following locations:

Dec. 15 – Christ the King Catholic Church (742 Arlington Road N, Jacksonville)

Dec. 16 – Holy Spirit Catholic Church (11665 Fort Caroline Road, Jacksonville)

Dec. 17 – St. Joseph Catholic Church (11757 Old St. Augustine Road, Jacksonville)

Dec. 18 – Blessed Trinity Catholic Church (10472 Beach Blvd., Jacksonville)

Dec. 19 – Holy Family Catholic Church (9800 Baymeadows Road, Jacksonville)

Dec. 20 – Sacred Heart Catholic Church (5752 Blanding Blvd., Jacksonville)

Dec. 21 – Mary, Queen of Heaven Catholic Church (9401 Staples Mill Drive, Jacksonville)

Dec. 22 – St. John the Baptist Catholic Church (2400 Mayport Road, Jacksonville)

Dec. 23 – St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church (1649 Kingsley Ave, Orange Park)

Epiphany Catholic Church in Lake City is hosting its first-ever Simbang Gabi Mass on Dec. 17 at 6 p.m. For the faithful living in the western counties of the diocese, Holy Faith Catholic Church will host all nine nights of Simbang Gabi at 7 p.m., and so will St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in Palm Coast (the first Mass on Dec. 17 will be held at St. Stephen’s Chapel, and the rest will be held in the main church).

“Everyone is invited to join us in this beautiful faith tradition with our community,” said Father Alex Carandang, associate pastor of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Jacksonville. “The Filipino community is very welcoming. Every gathering offers food and camaraderie where everyone is family.”