The Traditional Sound of a Filipino Christmas

Posted on 20 December 2020
By Fr. Dedert Duarte

A page from Fr. Gaspar de San Agustin, OSA’s Conquistas de las Islas Philipinas (First Book), published posthumously in 1698 by Imprenta de Manuel Ruiz de Murga. Courtesy of the Biblioteca Nacional de España.

At least in Panay Island, Misas de Aguinaldo would not be complete without the Misa Pastoril resounding all over the churches every morning from December 16th – 24th.

Misa Pastoril is a Latin mass setting composed for Aguinaldo Masses. Commonly called Misa Pastorella or Misa de Aguinaldo, it is an Ordinary of the Mass set into music: Kyrie (Lord, Have Mercy), Gloria (Glory to God), sometimes the Credo (I Believe/Profession of Faith), Sanctus (Holy), and Agnus Dei (Lamb of God). It originated from pastorela, a musical form with a simple and happy rhythm. It is classified as a form of lyric poetry describing the life of shepherds common in the Occitan, Catalan, and Galicia regions in Spain. It acquired a religious form when the rhythm was applied to Catholic religious celebrations such as the villancicos de pastorela during the Christmas season. In Spanish colonial churches, its theatrical character was applied by the missionaries in developing the posadas or the Nativity dramas (which became panunuluyan in the Philippines).

Pastorela crossed over from stage to altar when the Ordinary of the Mass (i.e., Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Agnus Dei) acquired its popular rhythm (i.e., the predominance of 6/8 time, allegro, or allegretto pastorale). In Spain, various Misas Pastorelas were composed and are performed until today in concerts during Christmas and sung during the Misa del Gallo or Christmas Midnight Mass (e.g., They are best accompanied by pipe organ, tambourines, castanets, and drums.

In the Philippines, for example, there are Misas Pastorelas that survived in Pampanga, Bicol, Leyte, and Panay Island, among others. There are also compositions in Filipino by Fr. Eduardo Hontiveros, SJ, and, now, by Fr. Benildus Maramba, OSB and Ferdinand Bautista, respectively. In some churches, there were attempts to sing it in the vernacular but it was reverted to the original Latin due to public demand!

Here is the Misa Pastoril sang all over Panay Island:

KYRIE: (Jaro Cathedral)

GLORIA: ((St. William Parish Choir Passi City, Iloilo)

SANCTUS: (St. William Parish Choir Passi City, Iloilo)

AGNUS DEI: (Jaro Cathedral)

Circulating copies of Misa Pastoril in Panay Island bear the names of Spanish composers Pablo Hernandez or Bernardo Calvó Puig. But when I checked the original scores of Hernandez and Calvo, their compositions were entirely different. Thus, the search for the composer of Misa Pastoril in Panay is still on!


Example of a compilation of misa pastoril by Spanish composer Cosme José de Benito in 1869. From the Biblioteca Nacional de España.

About the Author

Fr. Dedert Duarte is a church historian from Roxas City, Capiz. He is currently finishing his doctorate degree in the Faculty of Theology at the Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster in Germany.


Share this: