The misa de aguinaldo devotion runs its own liturgical calendar. It is not concerned about what happens in the universal liturgical calendar from 16 to 24 December; and the universal calendar is not concerned about it. For nine days before Christmas, the Philippines, as well as all other Hispanic countries that keep the tradition alive, iterates each dawn the Votive Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary, with Gloria and Credo. The liturgical timeline that the misa de aguinaldo inevitably creates parallel to the universal calendar represents an organic liturgical development which ultimately traces its roots to the transfer of the Annunciation from 25 March to 18 December in the Visigothic Rite: a history that melds together endurance throughout the Muslim occupation in Iberia; migration into the New World under the pennants of the conquistadors and in the footsteps of the missionaries; and survival from various plots hatched not only to geld away its gladsome expectation, but to eliminate it once and for all from the face of the earth.
If not for the fact that the Sacred Congregation of Rites issued a rescript forbidding the omission of feast days and Sundays sandwiched in the midst of the nine-day misa de aguinaldo duration (on such occurrences, the feast day and the Sunday should be celebrated with greater solemnity), we would say that the mutual exclusion is absolute because the misa de aguinaldo does not even admit commemorations of the Advent ferias and Sundays. It would only allow one feast to alter it: that of the Expectation of the Blessed Virgin, which has its own Alleluia verse and Preface denomination, on 18 December.
In the usus antiquior, this centuries-old coexistence is still observed, nay, honoured. The 2017 Ordo of the Philippines for the Old Rite (click the thumbnail to the right to open the extract) indicates the general rubrics for this observance, copied from older ordines and enriched with received practices. The misa de aguinaldo, as can be seen even in the arrangement of the entries, unfolds parallel to the progress of Advent.
This parallel timeline, however, has become rather unconscionable and embarrassing nowadays to the postconciliar Filipino liturgical establishment. This embarrassment does not owe its existence from a spontaneous postconciliar epiphany, but rather evolved from a plenary decision struck in 1953, predicated on a 1906 rescript of the Sacred Congregation of Rites, and eventually reinforced by the 1960 rubrical reforms. (More on this in a separate post.) While it is existentially ironic, it is not difficult to divine why purveyors of a rite allegedly restored to a pristine dynamism of its core elements would progressively deem unacceptable as-is a harmonious coexistence that had once arisen from the legitimate needs of bygone Christians and subsequently bequeathed to their heirs. We now discover unfolding before our eyes the reality that a fifty-year-old paradigm, untethered from the time-honoured foundations that bestowed solidity upon what it indiscriminately supplanted, liberated from the oft-maligned fossilising rigidity of an unvarying millennia-old liturgical cycle, would reject the peculiarity of the misa de aguinaldo. And with this, alas!, we witness various attempts to reconcile the misa de aguinaldo with the flow of time, so to say, as though it were a pernicious anomaly detrimental to the faith, and not a beautiful expression of the liturgical diversity and enculturation in the Roman Rite.
Amid the optimistic lilt of José Marí Chan’s now-sanctified Christmas in our hearts, Filipino liturgists engineer a Frankenstein liturgy where the readings are abstracted from the Sunday (because the misa de aguinaldo purportedly cannot have precedence over the Sunday), but with the white vestments and the Gloria of the misa de aguinaldo (because we obviously need to leave enough cues for the faithful to continue believing that it is business as usual). This is not Catholicism. This is liturgical tourism. Perhaps, Malacañang can apprentice its DoT employees in our liturgical establishment in order for them learn about better techniques of approaching their target market.
The misa de aguinaldo is in a trajectory distinct from, yet in harmony with, the rest of the liturgical calendar. It has no precedence over any Sunday precisely because no Sunday has any precedence over it. Parallel lines do not meet. The parallel timelines need not bicker about which of them cancels which. Let us, therefore, pray that the misa de aguinaldo of today, what is now almost universally called simbáng gabí, rediscover its roots, that, rather than trying to reconcile itself with the flow of time, it would reconcile itself with tradition.
Ut in omnibus laudetur Dominus.