Before Dawn, The Countdown Begins....
While the latter practice is kept as a private devotion in most locales -- and usually to a sparse extent, at that -- there is, of course, one massive exception: the famously-devout Philippines, now the world's third largest Catholic outpost, where the nine days of Masses for Simbang Gabi overfill glowing churches beginning at 3am... and often (as seen above) push congregations outside as the buildings can't fit everyone.
To boot, the pre-Christmas tradition once birthed what's likely the only McDonald's ad inspired by Catholic liturgy:
Much like Advent's other anchor feast in the wider Catholic world, as has been well-noted here over the years, the Filipino Novena has become a key marker of the modern reality of the Stateside church, to say nothing of its future.
Though Asians constitute roughly four percent of the nation's faithful -- in raw numbers, about 3 million or so of the whole -- consistent data over recent years has shown the community's disproportionate contribution to priestly and religious vocations on these shores, which is currently running some four times the size of the group's share of the pews.
Of course, the booming Hispanic ascent is well-known as it zooms toward becoming American Catholicism's majority bloc. Citing the needs of his local church, though, as a senior Northeastern prelate asked during a recent chat that touched on vocations, "Where I can find Chinese?"
To be clear, he wasn't seeking General Tso's, but seminarians to serve a growing community.
Accordingly, for the second time this week, the nation's largest cathedral -- LA's 4,700-seat Our Lady of the Angels -- was jammed again under cover of night, this time by the Filipino diaspora, as the most massive diocese in the five-century history of the Stateside church launched another year of its Simbang Gabi, led by Don José, his predecessor and auxiliaries:
In the LA church, this year's Novena is being marked in a majority of its 288 parishes. Yet while SoCal is the leader, it's anything but the exception -- for another year, a parol-lit procession through midtown Manhattan heralded the Novena's New York kickoff...
...culminating again in a packed St Patrick's Cathedral (shown here from a prior edition):
...and maybe if all this were somehow infused with politics, scandal or conflict, it'd finally begin to get the attention it deserves -- firstly among the Catholic chattering classes, let alone the wider world.
Well, either that, or maybe we'd be wise to focus less on following heat than celebrating and affirming the great examples of light abundantly present in our midst.
PHOTO: Reuters(1); St James Cathedral, Seattle(2)