To Commemorate or Not

It was only a few days ago when we dismantled the tree, packed away the wreath and said goodbye to our lovely Christmas trinkets and ornaments. But for some, it is time to crawl into the store room (again!) and bring out other boxes marked CNY!!! Tanglungs, cherry blossom trees, rolls of auspicious writings and maybe some rat figurines?

The Lunar New Year will be celebrated in CDM on Saturday January 25 2020 with mass. This is preceded by a Lion Dance. The mass is followed by the veneration of ancestors and that much-awaited time where the little ones will receive their ang pau and oranges.

The Rite of Veneration of Ancestors has drawn mixed feelings from parishioners. The rite, which is conducted after the final blessing and dismissal, is a way of preserving Chinese culture.

In a Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation entitled Ecclesia in Asia dated November 6 1999, the then Pope John Paul II noted out that culture is the vital space in which we can come face to face with the Gospel.

“It is the result of the life and activity of a human group, so the persons belonging to that group are shaped to a large extent by the culture in which they live. (21)

“In the process of encountering the world’s different cultures, the Church not only transmits her truths and values and renews cultures from within, but she also takes from the various cultures the positive elements already found in them.

“Conversely, the various cultures, when refined and renewed in the light of the Gospel, can become true expressions of the one Christian faith.

“In every case inculturation must be guided by compatibility with the Gospel and communion with the faith of the universal Church, in full compliance with the Church’s Tradition and with a view to strengthening people’s faith. The test of true inculturation is whether people become more committed to their Christian faith because they perceive it more clearly with the eyes of their own culture.”

CDM’s weekly bulletin for the week of Jan 18-26 2020 provides an explanation. It says that the Chinese place great importance on filial piety, so commemoration to the ancestors is an important ritual during the Chinese New Year celebration.

“Honouring the ancestors on the first day of the New Year is a way of fulfilling our filial piety. It is a tradition of our Church to offer special prayers to our departed loved ones during Mass. The rite of commemorating the ancestors is in accordance, and not in contradiction, to the teachings of the Church.

“Pope Pius XII in his Encyclical of 8th December 1939 stated that ’the Liturgical ceremony of bowing in respect to the photographs or the tablets of our ancestors is both reasonable as well as permissible’.

“Hence, in accordance to this, Christians can honour their ancestors, as long as they do not have the idea of worshipping them as idols, as though the spirits of the dead are dwelling within the tablets. To pay respect to the tablets with the inscription of the names of the ancestors, is a sign of respecting the dead and by honouring our ancestors, we are merely showing that we are not forgetting our roots and our heritage.”