Asian Liturgy Woes

The Catholic English-speakers think they’re getting picked on? What about non-Western cultures in Asia? Father William Grimm has an interesting commentary on UCA News today.

Bishops there have had to convince Rome that some European gestures and words are better left on the other side of the Urals. One doesn’t kiss an altar in Japan … and get away with it as a gesture of anything less than sexual. Fr Grimm:

It appears that since sex enters the picture, the curial officials involved have finally agreed to back down and allow some form of bow instead.

The slavish translators have run into another Japanese roadblock: there is no word for “spirit,” except with two connotations I don’t think belong in the liturgy: as a spook or ghost, or in the sense of a hyper-patriotic spirit. With typical bureaucratic hubris:

The curial response to native Japanese speakers who try to point out that difficulty has been that they just do not know their own language well enough.

Check out this quote from a Roman document of a different era:

Make no endeavor and in no way persuade these people to change their rites, habits and mores as long as these are not very manifestly contrary to religion and good mores. Indeed, what would be more absurd than to introduce Gaul, Spain, Italy or some other part of Europe to China? Bring not these things but the faith, which neither rejects nor harms the rites and customs of any nation provided they are not perverse but which rather desires them to remain intact.

And because it is almost the nature of men to prefer in estimation and love their own things, and especially their own nation, to things that belong to others, there exists no cause of hatred and alienation more poignant than the tampering with native customs, above all, of those which men have grown accustomed to from the memory of their forefathers. Especially is this true when you substitute and bring in the mores of your own country in place of those you have removed. Therefore never interchange the practices of these people with European practices; rather with great diligence become accustomed to their practices.

From the permissive and over-accommodating 60’s and 70’s? Nope. It goes back to ’59. Really.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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6 Responses to Asian Liturgy Woes

  1. Sean says:

    The Chinese bow and say “zhu ni ping an” “peace be with you”

    It’s a pleasant and appropriate experience.

    Hugging and kissing would be very odd in a Chinese context.

  2. David D. says:

    These guys seem to be doing okay.

    • Todd says:

      As for the music, the tempo was a bit slower than I would have taken it, but it was sung by the whole assembly. I also note the alleluia was treated as its own rite, that the deacon approached the ambo after the music was completed. Not quite a smooth transition into the incensing of the Book, either. No kissing the altar, though.

      The question is: does every Asian parish have the capability of pulling this off every Sunday? I know we Americans don’t. Not even the TLM folks.

      The Roman Missal has to be flexible enough to provide for the most common (some would say least common denominator) situations clergy and people will find themselve in, and still be generous enough for the addition of solemnity and higher quality when the circumstances merit.

  3. David D. says:

    Do you really think the tempo was too slow given that this was a large group singing in a large space?

    Doubtless this was a special occasion (a pontifical Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Tokyo I believe). That would seem to suggest that the congregation was familiar with the chants prior to the Mass. Perhaps this is how and what the small Catholic minority in Japan sings.

    By far the best congregational singing I’ve experienced was at a well established EF Mass that I attended for several years. At a minimum, the congregation would sing the dialogues, the Asperges (Vidi aquam in Paschal time), and Credo I or III along with other feast or season appropriate pieces (the simple tone Marian antiphons, Rorate Coeli, Parce Domine, etc.). The choir chanted the Gregorian Propers and most weeks sang a polyphonic setting of the Ordinary. In other weeks, the congregation would chant the Ordinary in alternation with the schola (Mass XI for most Sundays, Mass IX on other occasion and Mass XVII during Advent and Lent. To me this seemed like sufficient variety without being overwhelming. Of course, in attending other EF Masses I’ve discovered that the level and quality of congregational singing varies quite a bit from location to location just as it does in the OF.

  4. Brendan Kelleher svd says:

    As David D notes, the video is of a Pontifical High Mass at the Cathedral in Tokyo, a once a year event. The main celebrant is the Apostolic Nuncio. The core of choir probably comes from a study center devoted to promoting Gegorian Chant. Here in Nagoya, at my local parish, and in the seminary a passable rendition of the “Missa de Angelis” can be heard once or twice a year. Overall though, I have noticed that among our seminarians and priests, while those who use the alphabet, eg. Filipinos and Indonesians, Vietnamese and to a certain degree Indians have little trouble singing in Latin, the Japanese and Chinese, possibly also because the sound range of both languages is different, really struggle, and some of their attempts to speak or sing in English can result in some unintended pronunciations that make them incomprehensible. However, one caveat can be added here, from my work teaching English to children who have spent some years overseas, particularly as grade-schoolers, I find that many speak and sing excellent English.
    Regarding other Japanese “liturgical woes”, Rome’s frequent demonstrations of insensitivity and even, one could say, culpable ignorance, are numerous. Those involved with producing the latest revision of the Roman Missal consistently find Rome rejecting their suggestions, and no substantial explanation is ever offered. They are never even told who are the “Japanese” experts in Rome whom they have consulted. All we know for certain is that it is not a former member of the SVD Japan Province who now serves on our General Council, who has a facility in Japanese that few foreigners can match.

  5. Mike K says:

    Sometimes, I believe these directives are being issued specifically so that the translations end up sounding so bad, that Latin ends up being the only alternative.

    Here’s another thought: in the US, some EF adherents complain about the use of white vestments in funeral Masses. They say that black is more appropriate, partly because we mourn for the loss of the person (etc.).

    Well, I hope the Japanese bishops don’t also have to fight for the right to use the traditional Japanese color of mourning. That color would be…white.

    P: The Lord be with you.

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