Mystery Worshipper: Anthony Mary
Church: Sacred Heart of Jesus
Location: Pudong, Shanghai, China
Date of visit: Sunday, 17 January 2010, 10:30am
A large, new red brick church with a very traditional looking tower at the side. The front has a modern verandah and the interior had been modernised.
The Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association was established in 1957 and is under state control, not papal authority. Pope Pius XII decreed in 1958 that clergy who acceded to its attitudes and activities were automatically excommunicated, although the Vatican has stopped short of declaring the laity schismatic. In a letter of 27 May 2007 to the Catholics of China, Pope Benedict XVI bemoaned the fact that "persons who are not ordained, and sometimes not even baptised, control and make decisions concerning important ecclesial questions" but acknowledged that circumstances may require that the faithful "for the sake of their spiritual good, turn ... to those who are not in communion with the Pope." There has been some movement toward reconciliation between the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association and the Vatican in recent years, with some bishops (including the Bishop of Shanghai) becoming quietly reconciled with Rome and subsequently ordaining clergy and consecrating bishops who are likewise thus reconciled. The liturgy follows Pope Paul VI's 1969 revision of the Roman Missal. Sacred Heart Church celebrates mass on Saturday evenings in English, and in Chinese and English on Sundays. Weekday masses are in Chinese.
Pudong is a district in the eastern part of Shanghai. It is a special economic zone and, as such, is the financial and commercial hub of China. Pudong gleams with modern skyscrapers and tall apartment blocks as well as some older housing and markets. There is a high concentration of expatriates among the population.
The Revd Francis Fang, pastor and parish spiritual leader, assisted by the Revd Anthony Li, assistant leader. There were also several acolytes, readers and eucharistic ministers, mostly European/American.
What was the name of the service?Mass (English)
How full was the building?
Completely full. I counted about 700 present.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Two teenagers greeted me with a smile and offered me the mass and song books.
Was your pew comfortable?
Average pew. Good space for kneeling on comfortable kneelers.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Many people praying and lots of families greeting each other. There was an air of expectancy. It was a wonderful atmosphere for worshipping in China.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Although we had been given books, most of the service was also posted on a screen to the left of the sanctuary. This seemed to be for the particular benefit of the Chinese members.
What musical instruments were played?
Keyboard, violin, guitar, trumpet and (I think) castanets. There were about 20 musicians in all, both singers and instrumentalists, of about a 50/50 Chinese and European mix. They were all very enthusiastic.
Did anything distract you?
As the mass began, a man in front of me took a call on his cell phone – but he made it brief and it didn't happen again. And there were the usual children and babies, but in a congregation of 700 they were no big deal!
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was the modern Roman rite with modern music, celebrated with dignity and joy. Incense was used at the appropriate places. Most of the mass was sung to a setting that I could easily join in with, and the hymns were also very accessible. Everything was done strictly according to the missal – which doesn't always happen in the West!
Exactly how long was the sermon?
10 minutes – there was a clock to time it!
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – The priest spoke English with a heavy Chinese accent, but his English was good. I understood almost everything he said.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Taking the gospel as his theme (John 2:1-12, the wedding at Cana), he began by saying that Christians are a happy people. He then showed why this should be, drawing out various themes associated with this gospel passage. I had never heard this aspect of the story put so well. Remarkable theology and preaching in only 10 minutes!
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The eucharistic prayer. Everyone knelt and there was hushed silence. It was both reverent and deeply spiritual. At the conclusion everyone stood and sang the Lord's Prayer with enthusiasm. I felt I had glimpsed heaven.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Everyone shook hands during the exchange of peace as though Shanghai had never heard of swine flu! I had been avoiding handshakes, especially when traveling, and was taken aback by this.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The crowd was too big for any meaningful fellowship. I did line up to chat with the priest, who was very friendly. My enquiry about a bulletin or leaflet led him to introduce me to a woman from Singapore. She was very outgoing, took my email address, and messaged me later that day with the church website and other information.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Nothing was offered – except by hawkers on the street selling Chinese delicacies.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – I doubt I would ever take up residence in Pudong. But if I did, this is exactly the sort of church I would belong to. The community feeling was very tangible. I have no doubt that had I determined to do so, I could easily have made some new friends for fellowship and future involvement. But I was a one-time-only visitor.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, indeed. Especially when I reflected that Christianity has only emerged from persecution in China within the last 20 years and is still not easy to practice. The sense of the Catholic Church being international and not congregational was very real, despite the shadow under which the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association must operate.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The enthusiastic and joyful singing. Although the music was modern, it was far from banal – which cannot be said of some Catholic churches elsewhere!