For obvious reasons, non-essential activities are not allowed while we are in the throes of a pandemic. So why are we doing the traditional dawn masses? These are not essential activities of either our physical or spiritual life? Dawn masses are fringe practices of Catholics in countries that Spain colonized. They do not happen in the rest of the Catholic world.
During Spanish colonial times, the Indios, “us,” slaved away in farms of our Spanish conquerors that were once our ancestral lands. As farmers still do today, our ancestors worked the fields early after dawn to avoid the late morning sun’s scorching heat.
By celebrating the novena masses at dawn (to prepare for Christmas) Spanish authorities enabled “us,” Indios, to attend mass and still go to work in the colonial masters’ farms before sun-up. Dawn masses enabled “us” to work our masters’ fields on schedule and without complaining as sermons within these masses reminded “us” that our suffering as a colonized people was God’s will.
It is not surprising, therefore, that superstitious beliefs emerged, the most popular being one claiming that if you attended all nine masses, what you pray for will be granted...except, of course, freedom from your colonial masters. This belief has lived on to this day. I know of people who go to the Misa de Gallo with this belief in mind.
Catholic clerics still preach the same medieval Christianity to Filipinos today. Thus, we continue to live our religion in the fringes (devotions) and not in the core (justice, truth and love for others). How else explain the poverty of millions of Filipinos, many of them fanatic Catholics, and the wealth of a few, most of them “devout” Church-going Catholics?
hy does not see Covid-19 restrictions as an opportunity to shift the focus of Church life from fringe to core. Looking at the pictures of the masses in Pardo and Minglanilla, I see “devout” Catholics who are inconsiderate (unchristian?) to others, endangering their health by crowding outside churches.
God the Son did not come for our ritual worship, not even with the mass he wants us to remember him by, but to show us the way to a true and full human life. So, how about starting a more relevant tradition like a nine-day campaign for donations of cash or in kind that every parish would distribute to their poor on Christmas day? Wouldn’t this be less of a fringe and more of the essence of Christian faith?
It is sad to note that the Philippine Catholic Church is still hung up on the religion of devotions the Spaniards used to bring us to submission. It is sad that we will need another pandemic to finally make us less “devout” but more Christian.