Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Celebrating of CNY

While I was walking to go inside St. Joe's this morning, I considered how many non-Chinese people might be wearing some sort of Chinese clothing today for the lunch in the parish hall. It might have been the practice of the useless rich to throw parties or dinners in which the attire and food of another culture becomes the theme (the British aristocracy dressing up like Indians?); this practice seems to have spread downwards to the middle class. Why can't everyone be Chinese "for a day"? But is it respectful to the members of that culture? Defenders would say they are paying tribute to that culture (or civilization). It seems a rather superficial way, one consonant with consumerism -- dressing up and enjoying the food. "But I also have Chinese friends!"

On FB I have now seen photos of two weddings in which the bride or members of her bridal party dressed up in saris. The brides were "white," while the grooms were Indian. The weddings took place in Catholic churches, and I suspect the brides and grooms were Catholic. In such instances, wearing clothing from another culture is usually intended as a way to show respect to the culture of the other person. In a way it might even be appropriate in certain cultures and situations that the bride do so, since she is leaving her family and entering a new household.* But, they are all living in the United States. (I note that the grooms did not wear Indian dress, but tuxedos. A compromise? Or were they not as interested in doing the ethnic thing as their brides?) Someone could say that clothing is insignificant with respect to representing a culture--one can wear the clothing or eat the food without embracing the culture's beliefs, values, and customs. The donning of foreign garb can thus be an acknowledgement of another's cultural and ethnic heritage and at the same time be a rather superficial action. The wearer may look different on the outside, but he is still the same on the inside. Similarly, for a member of that cultural or ethnic group, the act of wearing his native clothing can just be a symbol of ethnic pride or a matter of "remembering one's roots."

Maybe homogeneity with respect to clothing and food and other things (for the sake of preserving identity) should not be taken to an extreme -- it's the spirit of being assimilated that matters. Still, I had second thoughts about whether or not I would ask my bride to wear Chinese clothing for the wedding, if she were not Chinese. Would this phenomena of cross-cultural dressing be diminished once the cheap energy that enables consumerism is gone? Probably, except in multicultural communities with local clothing makers.  As the wearing of another culture's fashion happens only for special occasions, it does not seem to be a serious problem, if it is a problem at all. But if it becomes established as daily wear by members of that culture, it can be a means of upholding a different identity. Family lineage, association with others of that ethnicity, beliefs and customs are more important with respect to developing and reinforcing identity, but clothing is a symbol of a culture and represents a group. (That sort of association exists because we are not angelic beings, nor do we live by pure reason alone; we make use of the senses in our knowing.)

The observance of Catholicized ancestral rites during the Liturgy -- is this something that is done in China or Taiwan? When Pope Pius XII said the ancestral rites could be observed, was this immediately put into effect in China? Or have the Chinese and Taiwanese been slower to re-adopt such practices than Chinese-Americans? Do Vietnamese or Korean Catholics, either here or in Vietnam or Korea, do something similar? (I can't remember if the local Chinese Catholic community celebrates New Year in this way, with a special liturgy. It may just be something that was developed by the pastor of the local parish when he was an associate.) Was there a special liturgy dedicated especially to the new year in China? Members of the Roman-rite do not have a special liturgy for the New Year on the Gregorian calendar--that day is the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God (or the Feast of the Circumcision of our Lord).

In addition to the three customary bows (and the ringing of the Chinese bell), at Mass several of the faithful came up to place items in front of the ancestral tablet. The offering of food and other items to one's ancestors: I was again reminded of what St. Augustine said about the North African practice in the Confessions. Why shouldn't the reasoning also apply to the Chinese custom? (I don't think the medievals talk about the practice of making sacrifices/offerings to human beings.) Even if a sacrifice is not intended by Catholics (as it might be by Chinese who believe that the offerings do have an impact on the well-being of the deceased), does their observance lend credence to the superstition? And is there something wrong with the act itself? What if it is a gesture of gratitude instead? But the meaning of a gesture is determined by convention -- it cannot be changed arbitrarily by one person or even a group.

It seems that one can remember those who have passed during the Divine Liturgy. But the celebration of such rites within the Divine Liturgy? It may be better to do that outside of the Liturgy (before or after?). If we should have intentions for the New Year--should we be our secular peers who talk about New Year's resolutions and such? Conversion should always be on our mind--this is not something to be postponed to the new year. If we have something to prepare for Spring (as the Chinese seem to do), we can pray, as we do on Rogation Days in the EF, for good weather and growing season, adequate rainfall, and so on.

The priests were wearing red, as red is the color for celebrations/happy occasions in Chinese culture.

The Chinese Rites Controversy:
A piece by Richard McBrien (!) on Fr. Matteo Ricci and the Chinese rites controversy: Matteo Ricci after 400 Years.
CULTURE AND LITURGY: ANCESTOR VENERATION AS A TEST CASE by Peter C. Phan, The Catholic University of America

*A wedding is not a "bare biological fact"--since individuals are "dependent rational animals" who are formed through tradition, there is more to marriage (and the determining of compatibility) than an individual male encountering an individual female. It may be that both parties of an interethnic marriage are culturally Americans (or Uhmericans). Other times there may actually be differences in cultures (and ways of thinking) which become obvious only later, when the spouses are living together. In such cases, cultural conflicts may be resolved through compromise on both sides. Or one spouse may begin to adopt the other's culture. Now some feminists may demand that the husband accomodate the wife in all instances, but it seems to be more natural for the woman to do so.

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