Followup: Misa de aguinaldo and the canonical hours

The misa de aguinaldo is a purely devotional custom that is not linked in any way to the Office of the day. Its vestments are white, while that of the Masses of Advent are purple. Gloria is sung throughout, which is suppressed throughout Advent. Credo is sung throughout, which is only sung on Sundays throughout Advent. The misa de aguinaldo does not commemorate the Advent Mass; the Advent Mass does not commemorate the misa de aguinaldo. One appreciates here the principle of parallel actions in the liturgy that Dr Kwasniewski so eloquently observes in the usus antiquior, something that agents in the modern liturgical establishment are loathe to value and esteem.

This being the case, we shall address the discussions that our previous article generated, primarily on the anticipation of the misa de aguinaldo. People have a tendency to look at the misa de aguinaldo in the evening of the previous day as an anticipation, precisely because it has been marketed as such. In that previous article, we avoided applying the term ‘anticipated’ on the evening misa de aguinaldo, because that would imply that horologically, it is in an actually and morally exceptional temporal locus.

Anticipated Masses are admittedly a paradigm that developed after the Council, intended to accommodate the shifting occupational availability of Catholics. Anticipated Offices, however, are not prior to the Council. In the usus antiquior, if there was a need to move the Mass earlier, the Church predicated permission on the movement of the Offices to an earlier time. Take for example the norms established by the statutes of the then Conciliar Seminary of Nueva Cáceres. In order for the Mass of the Easter Vigil to be said at 6 o’clock in the morning (so the people can break fast early), the seminarians had to finish reciting all the minor hours, from terce to none, including prime, at dawn.

An anticipated Sunday Mass, therefore, is properly ‘anticipated’ because, historically and traditionally, Sunday Masses are said after the hour of terce, which is 9 o’clock in the morning. Terce, unlike matins and lauds, is, by practice, not anticipated the day before. So, saying the propers of Sunday in the evening of Saturday, when the hours preceding terce have not yet been recited, even practically and morally, is indeed an anticipation.

An evening misa de aguinaldo, on the other hand, at least from the perspective of the usus antiquior, is morally still within the bounds of the canonical hours where it has been historically and traditionally celebrated. And what are these bounds? As we have said before, the misa de aguinaldo is sung in the darkness between lauds and prime, before the dawn of the nine days of Christmas. If the misa de aguinaldo starts at, say, 12 noon of 15 December (being before the allowed hour of anticipation for matins and lauds) that would indeed be an anticipation.

Another factor that contributes to this perception is the fact that, in the usus recentior, the misa de aguinaldo has unique readings assigned for each day, whose beginnings were first expressed in 1975, based on the Boletín Eclesiástico. This somehow invites the thought that if the propers are said outside the astronomical boundaries of the days they are assigned, then anticipation is a real thing. Again, it is not only the set of propers that makes the misa de aguinaldo what it is. It is marked, first and foremost, for its joyous solemnity (Gloria and Credo) in honour of Mary (Votive Mass of the Virgin) at an early time of the day (the darkness preceding dawn).

The usus antiquior does not have this problem, because the readings said throughout the nine days are the same. The only change that happens is during 18 December, when the celebrant reads the Alleluia verse from the feast of the Expectation, and changes the elogium of the preface to in Exspectatióne. One here asks: Why admit the feast of the Expectation, when the misa de aguinaldo does not admit even the Advent feria? And the answer is: Because, unlike the Advent feria, the feast of the Expectation is a proper feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and is intimately linked to her perpetual virginity, being, in fact, the reason why we have the misa de aguinaldo in the first place.

These having been said, we shall abstain from comparing the set of propers of the two forms of the Roman Rite. Still, there is difficulty in our liturgical establishment accepting the independence of the misa de aguinaldo from the general calendar, and vice versa. This failure to reconcile the two results in Frankenstein liturgies where elements from the misa de aguinaldo are transplanted into the Sunday Mass. It is not uncommon to attend evening Sunday Masses where the vestments are white and Gloria is sung, but the readings are for the Sunday of Advent. It is, indeed, akin to forcing a 1-cm2 square fit into a 1-cm2 circle, an exercise in frustration.

Before we end, allow us this admonition: If people perceive these words authoritative, we say: Thank you, but authority does not reside in us. Having traced its history and pedigree all the way back to the Tenth Council of Toledo, we are merely appreciating the nuances behind the present-day arrangements of the misa de aguinaldo. Whether the evening misas de aguinaldo are legitimate, is a question our bishops can answer and moderate, as they have so done in their capacity and proper jurisdiction.

Ut in omnibus laudetur Dominus.

Misa de aguinaldo and the canonical hours

This weekend, the Philippine Church will once again begin the misas de aguinaldo. This term, unfortunately, is rather antiquated, and is only used nowadays in ordines. Its successors are misa de gallo, which denotes the series of nine Masses celebrated at dawn from 16 to 24 December, and simbáng gabí, which denotes those celebrated in the evening from 15 to 23 December.

As we have said elsewhere, misa de aguinaldo has two elements: misa and aguinaldo. The first element, misa, is fairly easy. It refers to the devotional Masses once celebrated in Spain in honour of the perpetual virginity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The second element, on the other hand, aguinaldo, is rather tricky. It encodes two meanings: first, aguinaldo means carol, which refers to the popular hymns sung by the faithful within the context of the misas de aguinaldo; second, aguinaldo means gift, which refers to the acts of charity performed after such Masses.

Ditties and strains, the carol-part of aguinaldo, which the people sung during the Masses eventually grew more and more vulgar and caricaturesque (just listen to Rin, rin) to such a point that the master of ceremonies of Seville, D. Diego Díaz de Escobar, reported these abuses to the Sacred Congregation of Rites, which in turn responded, recommending their full extermination. Under this pretext, D. Felipe Pardo, then-archbishop of Manila, visited a short-lived suppression upon the misas de aguinaldo in the archdiocese. Acts of charity, on the other hand, the gift-part of aguinaldo, which pious men and women exercised after Masses of this wise, took varied forms. Saint Simón de Roxas fed seventy-two poor people in honour of the seventy-two years that the Blessed Virgin Mary ever Virgin lived on earth before her most glorious Assumption. The cathedral chapter of Toledo distributed gifts of money, poultry and fish (dinero, gallinas, and besugo) to the different people—the subchoirmasters, the beadles, chandlers, the sweepers, the embroiders, the upholsterers of the sanctuary, etc.—who rendered service to the chapter and to the cathedral.

We have said before that the misas de aguinaldo operate on a parallel calendar that is not concerned about what happens in the universal liturgical calendar for nine days before Christmas. The universal calendar, reciprocally, is not concerned about it. How the Masses came to be celebrated at dawn, we may never fully discover, but from the acts of the cathedral chapter of Toledo, we discover that in the 16th century, the aguinaldos were distributed on Christmas Day after the Dawn Mass of Christmas, which is sung after prime, which is the name of the canonical hour of the Divine Office that is normally prayed at 6 o’clock in the morning. However, in order for the second Mass of Christmas to be said at dawn, prime is said earlier than the usual time. This giving of aguinaldos after the Dawn Mass of Christmas is a most fitting culmination of the nine-day misas de aguinaldo that preceded it.

So, while the misa de aguinaldo is not concerned with what happens in the general calendar, it is, however, concerned with what happens in the horological cycle of the day. This immemorial custom teaches us to sanctify the hours when the world is awash in the darkness that precedes the nine days before Christmas. These hours, we know, can be referenced against the canonical hours: the misa de aguinaldo is celebrated between the hour of lauds and the hour of prime. Normally, this should be between 3 o’clock and 6 o’clock in the morning. In the past, however, the celebrations were sometimes pre-posed to as early as 2 o’clock after midnight. While we can deduce only part of the rationale, we understand that this is acceptable, primarily because, in practice, matins and lauds are anticipated as early as 2 o’clock in the afternoon of the previous day.

If we consider this anticipation of matins and lauds, we discover that the dark hours between lauds and prime practically expands from three (3 to 6 AM) to twelve (6 PM to 6 AM). Now, simbáng gabí comes to mind!

Throughout history, the misas de aguinaldo were celebrated in the darkness before dawn, at the time between lauds and terce (or prime, if we fine-tune) in order for Christ’s faithful to look forward towards the morning of the nine days before Christmas. We look forward to the sunrise of the nine days before Christmas, because these are sunrises that foreshadow the great and magnificent birth of the Sun of Justice on Christmas Day.

The Sistine indult that granted indulgences to the misa de aguinaldo only states that the Masses are celebrated nine days before Christmas. The fact that it simply mentions the number of days (and not the dates themselves) enables these possible adjustments, so long as they are morally within the duration of darkness between the hour of lauds and the hour of prime.

It is these two reasons that allow us to appreciate as well the wisdom behind the misas de aguinaldo celebrated in the evening from 15 to 23 December. While they may not fully fit in the schema of the usus recentior which follows a different reckoning for its Divine Office, they perfectly fit in the reckoning of the usus antiquior, where the duration between lauds and prime is practically extended by the anticipation of the nocturnal hours at 2 o’clock in the afternoon of the previous day.

So, Filipino brethren in the True Faith, as we celebrate the nine-day misas de aguinaldo, let us remember that we attend Mass every dawn from 16 to 24 December, or in the evening from 15 to 23 December, we sanctify the dark hours that precede the sunrise of the nine days before Christmas, to honour the perpetual virginity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. To this act of hyperdulia, we unite as well the noble intentions for the exaltation of Holy Mother Church, for the propagation of the Catholic faith, and for the constancy of those newly converted to the faith in the aforesaid faith, as well as for the constancy of the Filipinos in the faith, and for the preservation of religion in the archipelago.

Ut in omnibus laudetur Dominus.


Sacred Congregation of Rites, Decree 2659 (16 January 1677).
Ángel Fernández Collado, La catedral de Toledo en el siglo XVI (Toledo: 1999) cap. 5.
Sixtus Pp. V, Brief Licet is (5 August 1586).
Felipe Pardo, O. P., Decree on the suppression of the misa de aguinaldo (12 October 1680).

Expired indult: ‘killing’ the misa de aguinaldo

_DSC0106When it comes to Holy Week, there is a chronological milestone separating two ritual variations locked in perpetual disagreement. That milestone is 1955. When it comes to the misa de aguinaldo, a similar milestone exists. That milestone is 1956. The effects of these milestones are still felt today, albeit the former is more pronounced in communities attached to the usus antiquior, while the latter, rather curiously, produced an incident that would later be a minor concern to the modern Filipino liturgical clique. Let us understand why such happened to a tradition that “we Filipinos have owned as a distinguishing mark of our faith”.


The misa de aguinaldo came to the archipelago with the Spaniards. Its natural proclivity to exuberance and solemnity many times arrested the attention of ecclesiasts to such a point that the Franciscans labouring in the Philippine vineyard, friars who belonged to the strict Alcantarine family, arguably the most beloved of all the religious corporations during the colonial era (a fact that encouraged Rizal to rank P. Dámaso Verdolagas, one of the antagonists of the Noli, among the sons of Saint Francis, if only to taint the reputation of the Minorites), banned its celebration in their mission churches as early as 1655. In 1680, in the wake of the rescript of the Sacred Congregation of Rites deploring the musical abuses in the misa de aguinaldo, the archbishop of Manila forbad its celebration. Only for his priests to resume after his death (or probably during the years he was banished from his see).

So the misa de aguinaldo survived, more or less, in parishes and cathedrals able to support the demands of the celebrations: nine days with misas cantadas, very early in the morning when the sun has not yet risen, in the light of beeswax candles, accompanied by a músico or a banda. We qualify this survival with barely. When the Spaniards left, the custom was practically dead in many places. American priests tried to resuscitate it, but made little success. All those anecdotes about all of our Catholic ancestors waking up early to hear Mass at ungodly hours nine days before Christmas—for three centuries!—should now retire to the realm of myth.

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Awe and longing of creation

La O
Nuestra Señora de la O

Today is the third day of the misa de aguinaldo. That means we are six days away from Christmas. Before the 1960 rubrical changes raised the dignity and rank of the Advent ferias from 17 to 23 December, many countries in the Spanish realm kept the feast of the Expectation of the Blessed Virgin on 18 December, a holdover of the feast of the Annunciation transferred from 25 March by the Tenth Council of Toledo. Images of the Expectation of the Blessed Virgin usually depict Mary gravid.

The feast eventually assumed the title of Nuestra Señora de la O, literally, Our Lady of the O. What inspired Spaniards to use O traces a rather interesting history, which is ultimately, and surprisingly, choral in provenance. In summary, for seven days beginning on the eve of the feast, that is, from 17 to 23 December, at Vespers in the cathedral of Toledo, at the inchoation of the Great Antiphons, the dignity charged with the intonation prolonged the interjection O, and the rest of the choir joined with its lengthening, signifying with “these profound suspirations of longing” the “desire and yearning of the world for the Redeemer” [1]. For more details, read this.

Catedral de Toledo
Dives Toletana

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An attempt to suppress the misa de aguinaldo

Adoración de los pastores
Adoración de los pastores | Anónimo (Taller de Bassano) | desp. 1575

On 16 January 1677, the Sacred Congregation of Rites issued a rescript in response to the complaints filed by the ceremoneer of Seville, Don Diego Díaz de Escobar. One of the issues Díaz de Escobar reported was the custom of celebrating the misas de aguinaldo with Gloria and Credo and with only one collect, wherein layfolk joined the choir in singing carols that provoked laughter. The Congregation called this, and all other practices quoted, an abuse “repugnant to the rubrics and to the opinions of those to whom these were related,” and “ought to be destroyed altogether.”


Felipe Pardo
Sr. D. Fr. Felipe Fernández de Pardo, O. P. | Anónimo | s.f.

So, when the rescript arrived in the Philippines, the archbishop-elect of Manila, Fray Felipe Fernández de Pardo, wasted no time in stopping the abuse. Fray Felipe had been prior of the Dominican convent in Manila once, and provincial of the entire Order in the Philippines twice. Three years into the vacancy of the see of Manila following the death of the Dominican Fray Juan López, the King of Spain named Fray Felipe archbishop. On 4 August 1677, he received the royal decree naming him archbishop of Manila. The cathedral chapter, seeing that the friar was doubtful about his own capacity to discharge the office owing to his advanced age, required that he accept the promotion. This he did on 11 November, after having ascertained that the traditional terna was not proposed—the King nominated only him.


Pope Innocent XI confirmed the appointment of Fray Felipe as archbishop of Manila on 8 January 1680. While the bull of confirmation was still in transit to the Islands, Fray Felipe finally decided to issue the decree banning not only the practice of singing carols during the misa de aguinaldo, but the misa de aguinaldo itself. To prevent any pretence at celebrating the misa de aguinaldo, he forbad not only Sung Masses, but also Low Masses. Carols, even those whose subject is the divine, he prohibited. Below is the text of the decree with our translation.

Decree of prohibition ESDecree of prohibition EN

The prohibition is threefold: music, instrument, and carol. The third is what interests us. We will not discuss here the merit of lumping with the ban even those musical pieces that are about the divine. The original Spanish uses the word chanzoneta, which, according to the DRAE, descended from the French chansonnette, and signifies a “four-line verse or composition in light and festive verse, formerly generally created in order to be sung in Christmastide or in other religious festivities”.

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‘Tinkering with’ the misa de aguinaldo

La Virgen de la Expectación
La Virgen de la Expectación | Mateo Gilarte | 1651

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.

At the consecration in the sixth of the misas de aguinaldo, 21 December 2014.

At the aspersion before Mass for the IV Sunday of Advent, 21 December 2014.

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.


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