Rorate Caeli

The liturgical "reform" in China

UCAN has just published an article that details some of the painstaking work that went into dismantling the Traditional Latin Mass in China.

One of the ironies of the "Patriotic Church" schism of the 1950's was that it prevented the liturgical reforms of the post-Vatican II era from reaching mainland China until the 1980's. It took the supposed "rapproachment" between the "Patriotic Church" and the Holy See to break down this "isolation," enabling foreign missionaries and priests from Chinese enclaves outside of the mainland to come in and "educate" the Chinese Catholic faithful in the mainland about the post-Conciliar reforms.

The rapid near-extinction of the Traditional Latin Mass in mainland China was a process that unfolded contemporaneously with, but far away from, the liturgical wars in the West, and remains almost unknown to most friends of the traditional Rites.

Another irony: the first priest to "officially" celebrate the Chinese Novus Ordo Mass in the mainland (and in a "Patriotic" seminary at that), Fr. Joseph Zen Ze-kiun SDB, would later on become Bishop of Hong Kong and Cardinal. As Bishop of Hong Kong he was one of the more outspoken critics of the Chinese government's control over the "Patriotic Church"; he was also somewhat supportive of the Traditional Latin Mass, at least in his last years in office.

Hong Kong liturgy expert looks back on 20-year journey

HONG KONG (UCAN) -- For 20 years, Father Thomas Law Kwok-fai has guided Catholics in mainland China as well as Hong Kong on liturgy.

Father Law currently chairs the Hong Kong Diocesan Liturgy Commission.

Things have changed greatly in the 20 years since he, Salesian Father Joseph Zen Ze-kiun (now cardinal and retired bishop of Hong Kong) and American Jesuit Father Edward Malatesta began teaching liturgy, Bible and philosophy at the Sheshan Regional Seminary outside Shanghai.

The Hong Kong diocesan priest counts Sept. 30, 1989, on which the seminary celebrated its first Chinese-language Mass, as a great milestone in his journey with the mainland Church.

After that “very good” start, Father Law says, the seminary held a Chinese Mass once a week, until eventually all Masses were celebrated in Chinese. The Second Vatican Council (1962-64) had allowed use of local languages for Mass instead of Latin, which for centuries had been the liturgical language of the Roman Catholic Church.

Gradually the Chinese Mass was introduced to all Shanghai parishes. Nowadays, according to Father Law, only a few parishes conduct Mass in Latin, once in the early morning for elderly parishioners.

Over the years, the liturgy expert has made use of new media technologies as they emerged.

Some priests in Hebei and Shanxi provinces did celebrate Chinese-language Masses before 1989, using books the Hong Kong and Taiwan Churches donated, but Father Law discovered the priests had not studied post-Vatican II liturgy.

“So we published explanatory materials with pictures to help them understand the spirit and meaning,” he recalled.

With cooperation from the Church in Taiwan, Father Law then produced videotapes that showed a Chinese Mass and explained the meaning of each section in the context of post-Vatican II liturgy.

Today the liturgy commission maintains a website through which it offers blogs on liturgy and spirituality, and downloads including prayers and revised Sunday Mass books. Previously, such books had to be carried by hand, the chairman noted.

Despite the impact Father Law has made on the devotional life of Chinese Catholics, he describes himself as "only a teacher who introduced them to (post-Vatican II) liturgy” through mainland seminaries.

Some of his students, however, have obtained degrees in liturgy during the past decade and now carry on the task of teaching seminarians and promoting liturgical development.

Father Law was appointed to the Diocesan Liturgy Commission in 1985, after studying liturgy at the Pontifical University of St. Anselmo following his priestly ordination on June 30, 1979. He was given responsibility for teaching liturgy and helping to promote liturgical reform in mainland China.

Four years later he arrived in Sheshan at the invitation of Jesuit Bishop Aloysius Jin Luxian of Shanghai.

Reforms initiated by Vatican Council II had yet to reach the mainland, due to China's isolation and religious repression under the communists, who came to power in 1949.

Father Law and his two companions immediately began preparing for the Chinese Mass, giving lectures on liturgy, Church history and tradition, and Vatican Council II. Practically, they instructed seminarians in how to serve at the altar, and prepare the readings and hymns in Chinese, Father Law recalled.
He has also taught at mainland seminaries in Beijing, Jilin, Shenyang, Shijiazhuang, Taiyuan, Wuhan and Xi’an.

Around 1993, the liturgy commission launched a campaign through which Hong Kong parishes have sponsored at least 100,000 sets of Mass books that have been distributed to many mainland dioceses.

Besides “going in,” the commission also serves those who “come out.” After the government relaxed travel restrictions for mainland residents in 2003, the number of mainland priests and nuns the commission welcomed in Hong Kong, something it had been doing since the mid-1990s, increased sharply.

Father Law and his commission staff members have received more than 200 visitors during the past year alone. A typical one-week itinerary includes visits to diocesan organizations and churches along with presentations on all seven sacraments, and the priest said some of the visitors feel renewed in their vocation.

“Love does not harbor any intentions,” Father Law remarked after three decades of dedicated service.

An article (with pictures) on the then-Fr. Zen's celebration of the Chinese Novus Ordo in 1989 can be found here.


  1. I've always wondered if any isolated community could be still using the old missal.
    At the following link you can find a beautiful photo reportage about the tibetan catholic communities in the PRC:

  2. How sad. The faith, having survived the Chairman now confronts the even more deadly persecution of the Vatican II "reforms" complete with its church and seminary emptying, faith destroying, vernacular liturgy. Plague follows upon plague and yet I think the Church in China will yet be heard from and one day astound the world.

  3. Anonymous10:25 AM

    The same collapse that accompanied the "deforms" of Vatican II in Europe will happen, or has already happened in China....declining Mass attendance, declining vocations, declining sense of the sacred, loss of Catholic identity and tradition.
    These Salesian priests and others who think hey did such a great service bringing the "reforms" of Vatican II and the "New Mass" to China have done just the opposite.
    They have helped destroy the Faith.

  4. Anonymous11:14 AM

    When the communist barbarians had eased the burden imposed on the Chinese Catholics the conciliar barbarians came and have been trying to finish job of the former. Lord, have mercy.

  5. Xin Feng4:17 PM

    This is a good post, but your commentators are ignorant fools. Does Rich seriously think the Vatican II reform are more deadly than the Chairman? What offense and stupidity. Under Mao the one true Church nearly die. 40 million Chinese people die. In 1949 there are 3 million Catholic in China. Today there are 15 million maybe more.

    I am so tired of foreign Catholic who have no understand of China tell us that our Church is no good. Go worry about your Catholics. In China, the Church grow, the priest grow, the laity grow. What about your? Fool! you like the chairman so much then move to North Korea.

  6. Anonymous7:45 PM

    The Chinese should retain the Old Rite, the Novus Ordo is a Protestant rite not a Chinese one.!!!!

  7. No, for all its flaws, the Pauline Mass is a Catholic rite. It would require an extensive bowdlerisation to turn Paul VI’s Missal into something a Protestant could accept.

  8. DM Reed7:49 PM

    Xin Feng,
    you seem very defensive, and a little xenaphobic. The problem that Rich identified isn't so much with the Church in China (although there are many outstanding issues related to the appointing of bishops in China) but with the 'reforms' mentioned in the article. Rich and the rest of us are just seeing what played out in our countries 30 years ago thanks to the 'reforms', play out in yours.

  9. "No, for all its flaws, the Pauline Mass is a Catholic rite. It would require an extensive bowdlerisation to turn Paul VI’s Missal into something a Protestant could accept."

    Obviously, you've never been to a service in the (Lutheran) Church of Sweden...

  10. One of the best explanations of why internal persecution is more deadly to the faith than external is in Pius X's encyclical on The Doctrines of the Modernists:

    (No one will)"err in accounting them the most pernicious of all the adversaries of the
    Church. For, as We have said, they put their designs for
    her ruin into operation not from without but from within;
    hence, the danger is present almost in the very veins and
    heart of the Church, whose injury is the more certain, the
    more intimate is their knowledge of her. Moreover they
    lay the axe not to the branches and shoots, but to the very
    root, that is, to the faith and its deepest fibers. And having
    struck at this root of immortality, they proceed to disseminate poison through the whole tree, so that there is no part
    of Catholic truth from which they hold their hand, none
    that they do not strive to corrupt."

    One may read the complete encyclical at:

    One may disagree that what has happened to the Church since the Council is an internal persecution, but it makes no sense to assert that external persecution is the more deadly of the two.

  11. Xin Feng:

    I would never minimize the persecution carried out by the communists in China since many millions were murdered, however, they were only able to kill bodies while the reforms carried out in the name of Vatican II have killed souls.

  12. Anonymous2:26 AM

    Xin Feng was a bit over-the-top, but his point about the growth of the Chuch in China since the adoption of the NO is fair. I was there last year and I attended a Saturday night and Sunday morning mass at the cathedral in Shanghai. Both masses were full, the priests were young, and I was told that it's almost always standing room only. The Church is growing there like crazy despite the reforms. Maybe it would be growing quicker if the traditional liturgy were available?

  13. Obviously, you've never been to a service in the (Lutheran) Church of Sweden... ***

    Sure. I could easily be a typical Swede. Hardly anyone on earth has ever been to a Lutheran Church of Sweden service.

    Anyway, anybody who thinks the Pauline Missal is Protestant or would be acceptable to a Protestant without significant changes and excisions can't know much, if anything, about Protestantism.

  14. Anonymous6:30 PM

    "It would require an extensive bowdlerisation to turn Paul VI’s Missal into something a Protestant could accept."

    This statement might well be true, but the real problem has been that Paul VI's Missal has turned Catholics into people who find Prostestantism something they could accept.

  15. Anonymous10:27 PM

    Anon 18:30. And that is exactly the object of the exercise!

  16. Anonymous3:18 PM

    Jordanes said, "Anyway, anybody who thinks the Pauline Missal is Protestant or would be acceptable to a Protestant without significant changes and excisions can't know much, if anything, about Protestantism."

    There are many, many people who will disagree with you...this aspect has been written about extensively.

    In my personal I once went to a Lutheran service. I thought it was a mirror image of the NO mass. Great if you are ecumenical, I went away feeling that catholics were sold out.

  17. Anonymous1:42 AM

    Again I say that it was exactly the object of the deliberate protestantization of the Catholic liturgy to desensitize Catholics to the errors of non-Catholic "religions". That it has succeeded beyond all expectations is clear. Only a return to the TLM, en masse, will begin to turn the tide back in our favor. It took a hundred years to wrest the Faith from the English by changing the liturgy, but it worked. They are simply implementing the same stategy worldwide. Of course, the denial of the defined dogme Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus lies at root of it all. Fight, children of light, fight!


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