Midnight Mass: Manila

It's just past midnight on the 25th here in Manila, and from my perch on the 19th floor of my building, I can see a dozen or 20 separate fireworks displays going off around town and sweeping out to the Laguna to the south. I've been able to see, or at least hear, displays every night this month, but tonight was very much a culmination -- until New Year's, that is.

Even Santa thinks traffic has been naughty lately.

This evening found me walking along the nearly deserted streets of the city (until just last night absolutely crammed with traffic) to the vaguely-Brutalist St Francis church in the neighboring city of Mandaluyong. It's actually quite a pleasant place inside: columns of cement separating walls of windows that open like Venetian blinds to let in air on three sides, serving to make the Mass feel a bit more like a crowded, but not unpleasant, picnic than anything else. The interior had a lightness and breeziness to it that belied the basic facts of a packed-to-overflowing crowd and temperatures of 77 F at midnight, despite the fans going at full blast.

Sorry, regardless of my relative religiosity, taking tourist pictures of a Christmas mass in progress seems tacky... so enjoy another picture of a Christmas tree instead!

Just before the mass began, we were gently advised that see-through blouses would be among the items of apparel (including shorts, to be fair -- the professor would be proud) that were not quite up to code, especially for Communion. I stood in the back, having arrived just before mass began, glad I was wearing pants.

Interestingly, the entire mass, with the exception of the sermon (which itself is excepted at a number of points whose theological importance seemingly needed to be stressed), was in English. The language is common to the degree that I haven't felt the least need to start learning Tagalog (though I plan to soon, anyway), but I was surprised at how much it was used in a context where there wasn't a whole lot of particular need for it.

The other interesting bit was the pageantry. Early in the mass, a series of costumed dancers performed to a hymn sung in Tagalog. They seemed to be in the traditional dresses of various native Philippine groups, but I could only barely see them, and wasn't in much of a position to ask about it, so the meaning remains murky to me. The Gospel of Luke was used to tell the Christmas story, and live actors took their place in the manger. After reading about the shepherds tending their flocks, the priest saying the mass brought the baby Jesus to Mary. It was, I thought, a fascinating comment on the role the Church sees itself as playing -- both as shepherd to its flock and as conduit between the flock and the Lord. Here, Mary, the human, could not have held her son were it not for the priest. The role of the Church here is indeed still strong enough to have major influence on both societal mores and on public policy, and that strength was not shied away from tonight.

Some of the crèche scene in front of the San Miguel brewery.

At the end of the mass, another dance was done, this by teenagers in colonial-era garb. The men's clothes looked, to my Western eyes, very much like that of the commonly-portrayed Mexican colonial-era peasant: long white shirt and pants, wide-brimmed straw had, colorful sash over one shoulder. Some of the young men held cloth stars on poles, others red-painted wooden horses; the young women carried arches of flowers.

These guys are probably 10 or 12 feet tall.

And so it was. The fireworks have died off now, about quarter after one, and I'm off to bed. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!