Asian New Year at a Catholic Theology School

Each Thursday at St. John’s School of Theology and Seminary, we have ecumenical Midday Prayer. It is a half-hour service based loosely on the ecumenical consensus on the structure of the Liturgy of the Hours, as seen in the reformed Roman office as well as the major Protestant hymnals of recent decades. So: opening verse, hymn, psalms, reading, short homily, perhaps a hymn or choral piece, intercessions, Lord’s Prayer, collect, exchange of peace – more or less. We use RitualSong 2 and Psalms for All Seasons, and Worship 4 is on hand if we need it. Andre Heywood conducts the Chapel Choir in which all Liturgical Music students participate and do lab conducting.

Asian New Year is February 16, this year, and the idea came from three of our Vietnamese Trappist monks (Br. Andrew, Br. Thomas, and Br. Emmanuel) to celebrate it on Thursday, February 15. But that is the first Thursday in Lent, so I suggested we schedule it for February 8, in “carnival” season, which was this past Thursday.

Planner Janice Kristanti, who is Indonesian, did a masterful job at integrating uniquely Asian elements into a larger framework that was welcoming to the entire community and made possible their participation. Janice said, “We hoped that we would show our authentic culture to the community because the celebration of Asian New Year means so much to us. We hoped that everyone in the community would be drawn in.”

We began with the song “We Are Many Parts” by Marty Haugen which, as Janice notes, “highlights diversity in the Body of Christ.”

Then Janice sang a psalm refrain from Indonesia, first in Indonesian and then in English, and all repeated in either language. Janice sang Indonesian psalm verses, with the leaflet indicating where to find the translation in Psalms for All Seasons. Then Psalm 23 to BROTHER JAMES AIR, stanzas 1 and 3 from PFAS sung in Korean by a Benedictine monk from Korea, stanzas 2 and 4 sung by all in English. Reading read in Vietnamese by a Vietnamese Trappist monk, English translation printed in the leaflet. Homily by another Vietnamese Trappist – impressively, in English. Then several Vietnamese students sang a song from their homeland, “The Way of Love,” while all processed to take a Scriptural “word of blessing” from a tree. Intercessions read in Indonesian, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Korean, with translation in leaflet. Lord’s Prayer from PFAS to the Orthodox-style tone we’ve learned this year by Rimsky-Korsakov. (Ecumenical revised translation, by the way – “save us from the time of trial.”) Exchange of Peace, and on to the Convivium meal prepared by Asian students.

This is the key: both commonality and diversity. The liturgy, with its given structure, is our friend. It makes it possible for the community to own and claim the celebration as their own, while allowing the familiar framework to stretch so as to bring out a particular character. As Janice puts it,

“We want that people in the community to hear our languages and see the cultures (from traditional clothes, and Asian ornaments in the prayer) while at the same time acknowledging the culture of the English-speaking community. This intercultural experience is a form of hospitality in itself.”

Edwin Chr. Van Driel of Pittsburg Theological Seminary, in “A Theology of Seminary Worship” (Worship 91, May 2017), takes up the challenge of worshiping in a way that unites, enriches, and has theological integrity. He argues that worship should not be about expressing who we are, in all our diversity or whatever, but who God is and what God is doing for us. He writes,

“Its motivation is not democratic but theocratic. The goal is not to bring as many voices as possible to the table but to hear from as many other traditions what they are learning about God.”

I suppose a Catholic might want to put that just a bit differently, with a less dialectical relationship between God and humanity. The frequent statement of the 20th-century popes comes to mind, that worship is for the glorification of God and the sanctification of the faithful. But Van Driel’s larger point is a good one: it is God who raises up diverse gifts within the unity of his people. It is on us to recognize and honor that.

Van Driel writes about the recent revitalization and reform of worship at Pittsburgh Theological School,

“[W]e did not want to suggest that worship is conducted on behalf of a particular group or for the sake of a certain cause. It is a fine line to walk, but by being explicit about this policy we underscored that worship is conducted for God’s sake, and as we drew on a great diversity of resources we did so for the sake of the richness that is in God.”

I think Janice and the other Asian planners succeeded admirably at doing just this for our grad school community this week. This Midday Prayer was the entire community’s worship, not simply the Asian community’s. But the entire community rejoiced to see its common worship, and some of its familiar repertoire, enriched by particularly Asian gifts.

As Janice says,

“ I was amazed and humbled by people’s positive reaction both in liturgy and at the convivium meal. They all seem to have a great experience by both learning our culture and worship together as one community in Christ. Overall, I think this prayer experience was a testament of how faith intersects with the culture, and this interconnection bears so much fruits to us and the community.”




  1. This is a beautiful idea and practice…a psalm response in two languages sung simultaneously…what a remarkable way to pray. And healing as well. Thank you for this description.

  2. Excellent. Asian New Year would seem to be a fitting time for the celebration of #25 in the Missal section “Various Needs and Occasions,” should the celebration of Mass or its prayers, antiphons, and readings be an option. Given the stature of the observance of a civil new year in the Roman Missal, it would seem that any weekday would be fitting. For Asian Catholic parishes in the US, why not a Lenten Friday?

    1. Because Lent is a privileged season, VNO Masses could only be celebrated on its weekdays “at the direction of the Diocesan Bishop or with his permission” (GIRM 374).

      1. While Lenten ferias are privileged (in the sense that they take higher precedence than memorials of both types), it’s not clear to me that GIRM 374 addresses them directly in the context of votive Masses for VN&O; impliedly (by omission), it doesn’t appear to.

      2. GIRM 374 only addresses Lenten Sundays. #376 may be more germane to the point, but it doesn’t mention Lenten weekdays. Technically speaking, though today, tomorrow, and Saturday are “violet” days, they are not listed nor counted as part of the 40 Days of Lent. They are listed as weekdays “after Ash Wednesday,” a warm-up time, or pre-season, if you will.

      3. “Technically speaking, though today, tomorrow, and Saturday are “violet” days, they are not listed nor counted as part of the 40 Days of Lent.”

        While they might or might not be “counted as part of … 40 Days of Lent”, they certainly are neverthless part of the season of Lent. Otherwise, the Friday after Ash Wednesday would not have preceptual abstinence and take precedence over memorials (No. 28 of the universal norms on the liturgical year and calendar clearly including these days within Lent proper). What they aren’t is part of “Paschaltide” in the U.S. reckoning for completion of the Easter Duty, which apparently still retains its preconciliar period of the First Sunday of Lent to Trinity Sunday (that period varying from country to country depending on what its bishops worked out with Rome in the past).

      4. PS: It occurred to me to try to date the source of the current American reckoning of the time period for fulfilling the Easter Duty. I knew it was a papal indult in the 19th century, but didn’t remember it was from Pius VIII in 1830, after petition from the first provincial council of Baltimore (see link below for source in English), and the US bishops apparently didn’t see a need to displace the indult with a narrower rule after Vatican II, so the indult still provides an unusually long period of time to fulfill the duty (I read that Canada follows the same period, but I don’t know the source) – though I do believe that some people after Vatican II assumed the indult period was tied to the “Easter season” and therefore ended with Pentecost after Vatican II, but the indult in fact was expressly tied to Trinity Sunday rather than the “Easter season”:

      5. The ordo compilers who decide to tack their nifty V1 onto Lenten ferias are reading GIRM 374 and 376 together. 374 identifiers an upper threshold for diocesan bishops’ discretion (not even they can permit or direct VNOs on the days of section I in the table of liturgical days). 376, on the other hand, grants discretion to rectors and celebrants for days beginning in section III of the table, but not those of higher rank. Ergo, for the days in section II, VNOs can only be celebrated at the direction or permission of the diocesan bishop.

  3. “Its motivation is not democratic but theocratic. The goal is not to bring as many voices as possible to the table but to hear from as many other traditions what they are learning about God.”

    ar replied: “I suppose a Catholic might want to put that just a bit differently, with a less dialectical relationship between God and humanity.”

    Isn’t that what Catholic means, to blend all the voices, all the cultures, all the peoples into one hymn of praise to God? How much less dialecrical can you get then “theocratic”? I suppose you could make a case that the object for Catholics is indeed to gather as many voices as possible, but the author negates that only to make God the central focus, not unlike what the Popes have taught.

    So I am confused. What differences do you think a Catholic would want to make?

    1. A very beautiful practice going on at St John’s. Our Domestic Church tries to “celebrate” Holydays/Holidays from many faith & cultures. It has always strengthened our Catholic faith.

      The wisdom of my wife would be that when we embrace God we will embrace more than those we see in the pews on the weekends. For us that is exciting!

      For Lent, People of God, let’s abstain from the labels of Catholic, Muslim, Jewish…etc. and love our brothers and sisters.

    1. And yet God has created us as social beings with an impulse to worship in community, introverts notwithstanding. Also, Christian unity has a fairly high standing in the Church’s array of “occasional” Masses, if not non-Eucharistic celebrations.

      1. I believe that early Christians celebrate an agape feast as a type of liturgy. These “Conviviums” (big Latin word for a post-Latin Church) certainly fit in the same mold as an agape. Coming together with folks of other faiths or religions, sharing a meal after a simple prayer, and getting to know each other and where each are coming from is the first step. Food is the great leveller. (Ethnic) church festivals also play this out well.

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