MANILA (UPDATE) - Filipinos trooped to their local churches as the 9-day dawn masses or Simbang Gabi began early Wednesday.
The faithful are required to wear face masks and face shields in most churches, which government allowed to fill 30 percent of their seating capacity. Strict physical distancing measures were implemented inside places of worship.
Several churches such as the Manila Cathedral and the Sto. Domingo Church put up LED screens in their patios for worshipers who were not allowed to go inside.
Dawn masses are also streamed online for those who would not be able to attend it in person.
"Kapag nananampalataya ang isang Pilipino, wala namang pandemyang pwedeng makapigil dyan. In fact, 'yan 'yung pinagsasaligan natin ng pagasa at syempre si Hesus ang reason para sa season na ito," historian Xiao Chua told ABS-CBN's Teleradyo.
(When a Filipino worships, no pandemic can stop him. In fact, we rely on faith and of course Jesus is the reason for this season.)
"Mas dama mo po pag nagsisimba po... Sana po mawala na po ang COVID at sana po maging safe ang lahat ng tao dito," one worshiper at the St Peter Parish in Commonwealth said.
(You can feel it more when you attend mass in person...I prayed for COVID to end and for everyone here to be safe.)
Chua said it was part of the Filipino culture to believe that a wish would be granted if they complete the 9-day dawn masses.
"Although hindi 'yan official stand ng Simbahang Katolika, very Filipino 'yan eh, may ginagawa kang panata, sakripisyo, kukumpletuhin mo," he said.
(Although it's not the official stand of the Catholic Church, it's very Filipino to complete a vow, a sacrifice.)
"Yung nominal Catholics, mga 'di nagsisimba pag regular Sundays, 'yan ay nagsisimba pag Simbang Gabi, ganun ka-espesyal ang Simbang Gabi."
(Nominal Catholics, or those who don't go to regular Sunday mass, attend Simbang Gabi, that's how special it is.)
Filipinos adapted Simbang Gabi or Misa de Aguinaldo from the Spaniards, Chua said.
"These are 9 days novena for the Virgin Mary. Iba pa 'to sa (It's different from) Misa de Gallo which is the Christmas morning mass," he said.
"Ito ay in-adapt natin kasi yung mga magsasaka sa umaga bago pumunta sa work, 9 days before Christmas, eh yun yung panahon nila para sumamba."
(We adapted this because it was the only time farmers back then could worship before they went to work 9 days before Christmas.)
Quezon City Police, meantime, deployed 3,200 personnel to churches, malls, train stations, and public areas teeming with crowds.
--With reports from Lyza Aquino, Jervis Manahan, Lady Vicencio, and Anjo Bagaoisan, ABS-CBN News