How digital services are keeping the Christmas spirit alive

In the time of COVID-19, even time-honored traditions have had to adapt to the new normal. Christmastime 2020 has taken the digital route to keep the season’s spirit of Christian kinship alive.

The Misa de Gallo, the novena of dawn Masses that signify the start of the season in the Philippines, is now covered by safety protocols. In a circular the Catholic Bishops Conference (CBCP) also encourages live streaming of the liturgical celebrations as an alternative to church attendance, which is limited by social distancing rules. 

“The spirit of Misa de Gallo will not be lost even if we cannot celebrate in a bigger physical gathering,” says Fr. Pacifico C. Nohara, rector of the Basilica Minore del Santo NiƱo de Cebu. Churchgoers and devotees spreading out to the Pilgrim’s Center make an iconic December scene at the Basilica. Not this year. 

“Instead of being discouraged, we should find ways to keep the spirit and value of the tradition, such as utilizing present-day technologies,” he says.

The nine-day Masses are Filipinos’ unique way of professing the faith and the importance of Jesus in our lives,” he says. Waking up early to attend Mass is an act of sacrifice for the greater good, and a form of penance. 

Those unable to attend Mass physically can go online. “If you participate in the aguinaldo Masses virtually, these are also deemed significant and meritorious,” says Most. Rev. Jose S. Palma, Archbishop of Cebu. “Through technology and connectivity, the beautiful tradition of Misa de Gallo is preserved wherever the faithful may be.”

At the San Carlos Seminary College, Advent starts with the lighting of the Christmas Tree, accompanied by communal singing, games and other activities. This year attendance was limited, and the ceremony was broadcasted online.

Priest-formators also livestreamed Masses on their official Facebook account.

“We wanted to highlight the spirit of rejoicing, that we still have every reason to celebrate. Although the virus has robbed us of so many things that we’re so used to, it has not robbed us of that one thing that matters most—it is our love for the Lord Jesus Christ,” says Msgr. Joseph Tan, rector. “The internet is able to connect the Church to the faithful amid a very unusual time,” he adds.

The traditional kakanin peddled outside the church may be missing from the online Misa de Gallo; and the grand family reunions, with lavish Noche Buena and exchanging of gifts will be muted. But as Monsignor Tan emphasizes, that should not diminish the significance of Christmas: it is still about the birth of Jesus.

“Padayon lang kita sa pag-ampo ug pag-amping (Let’s keep on praying and let’s all keep safe),” says Archbishop Palma. “May all of us find joy and hope this Christmas season.”

Enabling these online celebrations are PLDT and Smart's fixed and wireless network superiority nationwide. PLDT’s nationwide fiber footprint is already at more than 422,000 kilometers. This infrastructure supports Smart’s wireless network by providing high-capacity fiber connections for its LTE base stations. At present, Smart's mobile networks serve 96% of the population and are available in 95% of the country's cities and municipalities.