There have been many ludicrous attempts by liberals and some neo-conservative Catholics in order to hamper the spread of the Traditional Latin Mass. Due to the lack of space and time I will not get into these objections in this post. Rather in this post we shall focus upon one of their must ludicrous lies; namely that the Mass of Saint Pius V (The Traditional Latin Mass) is not, nor ever can be compatible with the people of Asia. As an Asian I find this idea completely ridiculous as well as unhistorical and even uncultural. As we will see the Traditional Latin Mass and the Asian culture are very much compatible. It is for this main reason why I believe it to be imperative for the Traditional Latin Mass to be promoted in all of Asia.
Asia and Asians from the lands of Mongolia down to the islands of Indonesia are very much known for their customs of respect in many different areas of life. The Koreans, Japanese and the Chinese, for instance, would bow upon the monuments of their heroes and of their ancestors, and in the cases when they are not Christian, to their pagan idols in adoration. In many ways these gestures are very similar to the bows of the Traditional Latin Mass which likewise have many reverential gestures and actions in honor of the heroes and ancestors in our Faith, namely God (whom we worship), as well as the angels, saints, and relics whom we venerate at Mass and at the altar.
The Traditional Latin Mass goes beyond a mere bow, going even as far as to direct the priest to kiss the altar, in honor God and the Saints. The Traditional Latin Mass also serves as a direct continuity in regards to the adoration of the false gods (which are found in paganism) to the worship of the True God without any loss of reverence. This is true in regards to the fact that this particular form of the Mass affords a lot of genuflections and bows whenever the Holy Name of Jesus is pronounced, the Trinity is mentioned, during the Consecration, during the Agnus Dei and amongst many others. The Latin Mass also directs the laity to kneel for far more occasions than what is usually found in a standard Novus ordo. From the start of the Latin Mass it affords the Faithful brief moments of sitting and standing for the Epistle and the Gospel respectively, followed by the Post-Communion, in which afterwards the Faithful would rise up once more in order to receive the Final Blessing (during which one genuflects in order to receive it). We should not forget to mention the genuflection during the “et incarnatus est” of the Creed, as well as in the Last Gospel, wherein the Beloved Apostle of Christ (St. John) mentions our Lord’s incarnation. Many of these liturgical gestures were inherited from the various traditional religious orders, such as the Franciscans, due to their great reverence and devotion to that sublime mystery of the Incarnation.
It should also be mentioned that it is a documented fact that the Japanese Tea Ceremony, as John Dougill (Professor of British Studies in the University of Ryukyu in Kyoto) notes, has been influenced by the traditional Latin Mass.
‘A modern-day descendant of the tea master Sen Soshitsu, has argued persuasively for the Catholic influence, and once the connection is pointed out the similarities are striking. Raising the tea to head height as a token of respect, for instance, and wiping the bowl after drinking with a white cloth. There is indeed in the whole ritual a sense of two or three gathering together in spiritual union.’1
It is unfortunate to note that many of these traditional gestures are not observable in the New Mass, which explains the diminishing attendance of Japanese Catholics, as well as the general decline in the number of Catholics in that region, despite some growth. For many Japanese, the Catholic Church is a foreign institution as they see it today, since its ceremonial aspects do not touch upon the traditional values of reverence that the Japanese have always possessed. For them, the Novus Ordo has been intrinsically “un-Japanese”, in the sense that they think that the lack of these gestures which is sadly lacking in most Novus Ordo Masses do not represent in the traditional historical gestures which are often found in Japanese or even general Asian cultures for that matter.
In the Philippines (where I was born and where I currently live) the culture and the traditions often seem more Hispanic than what is typically Asian to the minds of most men in the West. This is not necessarily true. Rather the truth is that Filipino culture is an amalgamation of the two elements. On the one hand, Filipino culture displays a strong Hispanic Catholic piety that is very familiar to the Latin-Americans and the Spanish, with the observance of parish fiestsas, being kept with exuberance and pomp, with processions and public ceremonies. But, on the other hand, the Filipnos are wont to show a modicum of respect for elderly people that reflects Asian practices, with honorific salutations and answers (the po and opo in the Tagalog region of the Philippines) that is almost analogous to the san, an honorific title in Japan for elderly and for superiors.
In the Philippines (where I was born and where I currently live), the culture and the traditions are Hispanic more than what is typically Asian to the minds of most men in the West, however it is not fully Hispanic nor Asian in the strictest sense, but instead it is a successful amalgamation of the two elements. On the one hand, Filipino culture displays a strong Hispanic Catholic piety that is familiar to the Latin-Americans and the Spaniards, with the observance of parish fiestas, being kept with exuberance and pomp, with processions and public ceremonies. But, on the other hand, the Filipinos are wont to show a modicum of respect for elderly people that reflects Asian practices, with honorific salutations and answers (the po and the opo in the Tagalog region of the Philippines) that is almost analogous to the san, an honorific title in Japan for elderly and for superiors.
The natives (later to be called Filipinos) have been well accustomed to the Latin Mass for over four centuries since the beginning of the Spanish era, for it supplemented the animistic worship in which the natives themselves once dabbled in. Whereas the Catholic Mass offered them an iglesia for them to go in during the Mass, and with it came the santos in wood and ivory (sometimes stone), processional floats often rendered in silver, and intricate architecture that the iglesia catolica has offered them, and they later used it in domestic and civic architecture.
This is very similar to the other Asian cultures, namely the Chinese, Japanese, and Korean, in which the Mass mirrored and in many cases surpassed their reverence and respect to their superiors, whether it be human or spiritual. In the case of Filipinos the Mass supplemented what was needed to be supplemented and even supplanted what were the inferior forms of worship and art, and preserved what was laudable, as Catholics have done in many other countries and cultures.
With regards to the traditional Asian Buddhist Music and Gregorian chant, one must also note a certain sobriety and somber atmosphere in the performance of these chants, which gave a sort of continuity with the Asians, moving from their old religion to the new and salvific religion.
The question of inculturation
There is also the question of inculturation which is something that has been insisted by many Bishops in regards to places such as Asia as is also the case with other regions such as Africa in regards to the liturgy. Since the post-concilliar era, it has been imperative for some bishops to add a local flavor to the Sacred Liturgy, by adopting various indigenous, sometimes pagan and sometimes secular, cultural practices and assimilating them into the Mass. This is sadly often seen in the Mass of Blessed Pope Paul VI.
This form of inculturation is problematic. This is chiefly due to the fact that it denies the universality of the Catholic Church and undermines the sufficiency of its own liturgy in making the faithful understand its meaning and purpose. But it also reveals something, that it is an admittance that the Mass, and in this case the New Mass is used to try to make it attractive to them, and therefore the Mass is “dressed in tribal clothing.”
Proper inculturation is the proper application of local and indigenous aesthetics to the Mass, and should never impede the ceremonial aspects of the Mass, in such a way that the Mass is invaded by a character that is very much at odds with the Catholicity of the Mass. The Roman Catholic qualities belonging to the Mass should be preserved, while being amalgamated enough in the public eye and in cultural practice, sometimes appropriating some laudable elements from the culture that it is trying to penetrate into.
In other words the foundations and principles should never be touched or even changed, while certain externals can be, so long as it does not lead to liturgical innovation.
Good examples of inculturation in the Holy Mass and its environment
There are notably good examples of inculturation, one of which is the attempt of the Jesuit Father Matteo Ricci in employing traditional Chinese architecture in building churches. The chapel that he built, which is now the non-extant and is now occupied by the baroque Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Beijing, is known for resembling a traditional Chinese temple, with an exception of having a cross atop its roof to distinguish it as a Christian edifice, and not a pagan one. Fr. Matteo himself wore mandarin clothing in order that the Catholic religion be absorbed into the Chinese way and the Chinese culture, ultimately converting it for Christ.
Also, there has been rounds of a recording made in the aforementioned Cathedral of a traditional Catholic Mass done with traditional chanting of the Imperial Era. If we can hear closely, the standard incipit of what is probably the Gloria has been rendered in Gregorian Chant, while the rest are sung in traditional Chinese chant.
A Vietnamese church has also been spotted by Regina Magazine a while back, featuring a church in the traditional temple style, but with a cross, symbolizing that it is a church.
A Thai church has also been spotted, with the same motif (quite amusingly, there is also a Buddhist temple, where the Gothic style has been utilized).
Bad examples of inculturation in the Mass
There are, however, bad examples as well, and they seem to be commonplace, not in the Latin Mass but in the newer rites.
An example would be the “Chinese New Year Mass”, commonly held in many Chinese Catholic communities, in which the pagan elements of the Chinese New Year are incorporated in the Mass. I recently saw a picture wherein the Mass incorporated dragon dancing within the celebration.
Another would be the Misa Ng Sambayanang Pilipino or in English, “The Mass of the Filipino People”. This unapproved rite has been popular in many Filipino communities, and it is one of the worst forms of inculturation to wreak havoc on the Church, for it is absolutely a debasement of the texts of the Mass, and inserts unnecessary elements into the Mass, such as the mano po (an act of reverence by young people to their elderly by grabbing their hands and gently pressing it to their forehead) of the lectors to priest before reading the Epistle, among others. It also may include liturgical dancing.
Old-timer Filipino Catholics reminisces the old Mass
I once attended a New Rite parochial Mass a few days before our fiesta, and I got to witness an awarding ceremony to an old soprano choir singer who sang during the old Mass and the Sacraments and burials.
The man who was on the microphone then told the congregation with joyous acclaim that (and I quote from memory):
” …she would sing during the Mass in Latin, yes during that time the Mass was in Latin! She would sing the Rorate Caeli (he then sang the few lines of the Rorate), the Salve en Castellano (he then sang: ¡Dios te Salve, Dios te Salve!) , the Salve o Dos Voces by Maestro Mingote (he then sang the Salve) and the Salve by L. Bordese. In funerals, she sang the Requiem, the Dies Irae, the Domine Iesu Christe, the Libera Me! (He sang at least a portion from these chants). At every graveyard, at every niche she will accompany Padre and sing beautiful songs in Latin.”
During our Confirmation class, a catechist once said:
“Ay! If were in charge I wanted the days were women wore veils and the Mass in Latin”
Is the Traditional Latin Mass compatible with Asians too? – A summary
We therefore can conclude that the traditional Latin Mass is and has always been compatible with the Asian community, for the following reasons:
– The Mass contains many genuflections and bows, as well as many gestures of respect to the Most High God and His Ministers, in the same way of respect (and in many cases even greater respect) of Asians to their local heroes, and their pagan deities.
– The Mass brought civilization to areas in Asia which would have been otherwise dark or barbaric. It tamed an archipelago of 1,400 islands, now called the Philippines. It also supplanted many types of primitive worship with something better.
– The Mass retained what could’ve been retained in a culture, and supplanted those that are not. Examples include Chinese architecture and Chinese art in a Catholic Mass.
-The Mass influenced the masses in Asia (pun intended), such as in Japan with the Japanese Tea Ceremony.