A Chinese Inculturated Mass

Today, in celebration of the 2012 Spring Festival, we attended our parish’s Chinese Inculturated Family Mass which has been the parish’s practice for some years now.

The church is decked out with Chinese banners and all in red!

What is a Chinese Inculturated Family Mass?

It’s a Catholic Mass – complete in form and substance. But some sections, especially the choice of songs, are sang in Mandarin. Here’s a video of the entrance song as the celebrants file in.

The Chinese culture is cognizant of the special role ancestors play. Even after they have passed on, it is believed that they continue to watch over and guide their descendants. In many Chinese houses, it is normal to find a family altar just for the ancestors with pictures of one’s dearly beloved. And on All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day or other special occasions, flowers and food are placed on the altar and  incense sticks are lit up as each family member bows 3 times slowly and respectfully before the altar.

Because the parishioners are largely Chinese, the parish took elements of this practice and incorporated it into the rites after the Mass.


Wine bottles, round fruits, red roses are given as offerings

What makes this Mass special is the Catholic rite of ancestor veneration done after the main Mass. At the back side of the church, an altar was set up. A large painting depicting Chinese saints martyred hangs over the altar. An urn is placed at the front to hold the incense sticks. I took pictures of the two signs that explain the reason for the altar and the Catholic prayers that can be said for one’s ancestors.


The Ancestor Veneration Altar with picture of Chinese martyrs above and an urn for incense sticks


An explanation for the rite of ancestor veneration

Mind you, the term is “ancestor veneration” as opposed to “worship”. It does not replace or seek to put this practice on the same level as worship of God. Far from it. It simply recognizes the filial piety of the Chinese people towards their elders.

Staunch Catholics may feel uncomfortable about what looks like an Eastern practice mixed with the Catholic faith. But if we go back to our Catholic belief that teaches that we are joined in spirit with those who have gone on before us, it makes sense to include and remember them inside the church.

Today was a time to come together as a community. The children loved the performance of the Dragon and Lion Dance Troupe which included my son. Everyone roared with laughter as one of the lions stood on its hind legs, trying again and again to get the 2 red envelopes with money (angpao) that hung from the ceiling. And when it successfully got each envelope with its mouth, the crowd roared and clapped.

This is one reason why I love my parish so much. It’s this kind of spiritual and cultural vibrance and inculturation that keeps one in the faith without losing sight of your roots.

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