When Catholics attend Mass, they often believe that what they see is the way it is for the entire Catholic world. When they are at a parish where the pastor does not have much faith and the Mass is said very casually, they believe that this is how Catholicism is universally. People then often lose faith after seeing a rushed “performance” week after week that seemingly has no relevance. Yet, one ought not to let the poor Catholic life of some parishes spoil living, vibrant ones where the priests are faithful, the Mass is respected, and the people are devout. Such is the case with Mass in China.
Upon entering a church in China, one may frequently see a gift area that sells various Catholic items, such as books, rosaries, statues, and pictures. Many Catholics are happy to make use of these articles which aid in their spiritual growth. It is unfortunate that many Catholics do not have this opportunity in many churches around the world. Proceeding further into the church, one will notice many statues, holy water, pictures of the pope, a tabernacle, stained glass windows, religious paintings, and other markers that clearly indicate that it is a catholic church, perhaps more so than churches in other countries. Typically, there is a group of elderly Catholics faithfully chanting prayers, such as the rosary, in the local dialect of the city, not the standard Mandarin Chinese. Although the words are unrecognizable by any foreign visitor, the sound of peaceful prayer allows one’s soul to enter into the Spirit of God, which is especially helpful before the start of Mass.
Sunday Mass is something special to see in China (though daily Mass is also special). During the entrance hymn, the priest walks around, sprinkling the people with holy water. After this, the altar will be incensed by the priest as he circles it. Many altar servers will be seen assisting the priest. The Mass begins normally. The congregation, in general, responds willingly and enthusiastically. One can say, “And with your spirit” joyfully without getting an awkward feeling that less enthusiastic Catholics are looking, because most Catholics are praying with the same enthusiasm.
The priest also will be seen having a similar enthusiasm as he incenses the Bible, reads it with interest, incenses the gifts, and sings many parts of the Mass. There is no doubt that this enthusiasm of the priest and the respect for God he has assist in the faithful participation of the congregation during the Mass. In many parishes in China, this can be felt.
During the distribution and reception of Holy Communion, the respect for Jesus in the Eucharist is recognizable. Communion-plates are generally used to protect the Eucharist from falling to the ground. Priests, deacons, and nuns are the ones who most often distribute the Sacrament. The people line up to receive Jesus in the Holy Sacrament. Catholics in a state of grace receive the Sacrament while Catholics who are not in a state of grace receive a blessing from the priest instead. Even non-Catholics approach the altar with their arms crossed to receive a blessing. These moments are very happy.
After the Mass has ended and the recessional hymn has finished, the congregation often recites the Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be. One senses that one is in a true Catholic environment. Considering all that has been mentioned so far, how could one not sense the Catholicity in the air?
Being a Catholic in China, one is not alone but part of a family. The priests, the people, and the Mass all are part of this. Perhaps one may ask the question, “What is the Mass like in China?” The answer is simple: it is Catholic.