Saturday, December 24, 2005

My first "Simbang Gabi"

Filipino ParolI'm at my folks house in the SF Bay Area. After a miserable drive up the 5 north in the middle of the night (let's just say it took longer than I planned) I took oodles of delicious naps yesterday, and yes, watched LOTS OF TV. I was a "heppy gel."

This morning at 5:00 am though, I went with them to attend my first Simbang Gabi ("Church at Night") which is really, well, mass in the morning. It's a Filipino tradition where there's a novena -- nine masses -- every morning nine days before Christmas. And a little "snack" afterwards.

This is the first year my parents' church (and the church of my childhood), St. Edward, put on their first Simbang Gabi. Although I only had an hour and half of sleep (okay, I'm a late night bird, but we all knew that), I'm so glad I went! First of all, I was shocked that half the church was full, mostly with Filipinos, but with a smattering of other nationalities too. And they all looked so festive as well!

Mom said Father Keyes would sing the whole mass, which I have to say I truly loved. My favorite period in Music History was Renaissance/Medieval and I LOVE gregorian chant... I often tell people I learned more in that Music History class than I ever did in 12 years of Saturday CCD (catechism) classes.

During the Eucharistic Prayer, where there is much repetition of the same chant, it was very meditative... and when the chant changed you knew it was for something wonderful being said, or in preparation for a response... I so appreciated it. (You'd think someone who professes to want to compose a Missa Brevis would remember what the actual names of these parts of the mass are... oh dear, I'll have to look it up later.)

I have a feeling I would have loved to hear the mass in Latin.

In any case, I've never heard The Lord's Prayer in Tagalog before: "Ama Namin". Father Keyes says he already knows it after these nine masses -- now I want to learn it too!

But the best part of it for me was during communion when the choir (yes! singing Tagalog!) sang a song that had the same musical structure as the OPM (Original Pilipino Music) have written... kind of a pop/romantic structure, but I'm sure after Father Keyes edict (12/5/05) that "the purpose of Music in Liturgy is to bear the word of God" it is truly an appropriate song for the mass.

Whatever it was, it made me cry. Here I am, 35 years after first stepping foot in St. Edward, weeping because the two things I hated so much in my life -- church and being Filipino -- had finally been joined to make me feel so very... rich.

Happy too, I guess. It made me proud that this little Filipino community (okay, in Newark it has become huge, but it wasn't always like that!) made a new tradition this year that brought them back to their past and celebrated their culture! That's so unusual, as we usually like to ignore it try to be as American as possible... but the tide is at last turning.

I was so proud to be in the lineage of a great tradition. It really was overwhelming. And I did feel sad that I had no children to pass it on to... last night when I was telling my mom about babysitting Kate, she did say, "It's such a shame you don' t have children. You are so good with them."

For once, I didn't feel like she was being critical... just expressing a feeling. And I could respond in kind: "It is, Mom. But maybe I'm supposed to be with many people's kids and share myself in other ways."

That felt good to say that. There was no sting in those feelings at all, and we really connected. I truly felt heard and seen.