Thursday, December 25, 2008

These Are Our Fellow Christians

Accidentally, as things often seem to happen here, we showed up for Christmas Eve Mass two hours early. Lucky break! After trolling up and down the aisle for a minute or two, we ended up scoring the last group of four seats with an unobstructed view of the altar. Yes, you heard that right...If we had shown up just moments later, we would have been staring at a column rather than the celebrant.

So how did we occupy our time while waiting for the service to begin? Isn't two hours an awfully long time to sit in a pew?

Actually, there was so much going on that the two hours kind of flew by...

The search for seats. Well after every seat had been filled, and people were were crammed into every inch of space in the back and on the sides of the church, new arrivals continued to wander and up down the main aisle, looking for seats. I did witness one touching moment, when an elderly woman with a cane was escorted in by one of the volunteers. The volunteer asked a young woman sitting on the aisle to give up her seat. This she did, without any sign of discontent whatsoever. I mean, she had scoped out one of the prime seats in the entire cathedral, and then was relegated to standing on the side in the midst of the ever-growing throng. Wow!

Translation time. When the program for the service came out, I went back and grabbed a pair. Now, these programs were, of course, all in Chinese (why should it be any other way?). This gave Julie and I an excuse to spend some time translating the Gospel. By the time we were done, we knew that it was a passage that ended with the birth of Christ, as opposed to a reading that chronicled the manger scene and subsequent events. Along the way, we identified a number of other words that are commonly used during the Mass. All of this helped to bring us closer to the liturgy. Right, Julie?

The Rosary lady. About 45 minutes before Mass began, I started to hear a murmur of what sounded like chanting. Listening in, I quickly realized that it was a collective saying of the Rosary starting up. Looking around, I spotted an older women standing in the center aisle, up near the front, leading the prayer. Alerting the rest of the crew, we joined in for what was a really nice experience. (During the prayer, I couldn't help but notice that the Hail Mary takes much longer to say in Chinese, while the Glory Be is way, way faster.)

The angels. Chinese Masses all seem to include a group of children who get dressed up as angels and process in with the priests, altar servers, and lay ministers. We had great fun watching the angels practice marching in and out, and then lining up in the center aisle right before Mass was to begin.

As for the Mass itself, it was beautiful. And definitely Chinese. What this means is that there is no line for communion. What happens is that as soon as the priest and the congregation proclaim..."This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are those who are called to His supper.."...As soon as these words are spoken, everyone in the congregation gets up and tries to make their way down the aisle. You are pushed, you are jostled, you are crowded. Eventually, though, you make it down to the front and get to have your own private moment with the priest and with the Lord Himself.

Amen!

~Steve

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