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Crossing Lines between the Novus Ordo &
Tridentine Mass in China

Marian T. Horvat, Ph.D.
My friend Jan recently had some questions about the articles TIA has published on the Chinese Patriotic Association (CPA, the so-called Catholic church controlled by the communists) and the Underground Catholic Church.

A cross being ripped off a building in China

Another cross removed recently from a Catholic Cathedral in Henan Province

"It appears you are correct," she said, "in your accusation that the Vatican is betraying the Underground Church, asking two of its Bishops to resign or step down in favor of communist-appointed ones. Further, it appears there will be a Chinese-Vatican agreement where the communist government will be allowed to choose the bishops (the Pope only would retain a final say); the illicitly ordained bishops (some married and with children) would be recognized and the Underground Church essentially forced to join the CPA or close down."

"However," my friend Jan continued, "I have heard that the Patriotic Association says Masses in Latin (the Tridentine rite) while the Underground Church says the Novus Ordo. What is going on? Shouldn't you be pointing out the Underground Church's betrayal of tradition? And why would they do that anyway?"

A confused situation

You are correct, Jan, that the situation in China is becoming steadily worse for the Underground Catholic Church, which has suffered decades of persecution for its refusal to accept the authority of the communist government over the Catholic Church and have professed loyalty to Rome and the Holy Father.

You are also correct that these faithful Chinese Catholics have been betrayed by the Vatican and the Pope, not just Francis but also his predecessors John Paul II and Benedict, who have recognized the CPA's bishops, supported their seminaries, funded their initiatives and encouraged rapprochement between the false CPA and the authentic Underground Catholic Church.

A complex liturgical situation

On one hand, the Chinese Patriotic Association had first proscribed the liturgy in the vernacular that was mandated by Paul VI after Vatican II, precisely to oppose the directives of a "foreign power" (the Pope). Therefore, ironically, the communist-controlled CPA, whose bishops were chosen by the government and whose teachings of the Church's full doctrine (on abortion, morals, private property, etc.) were forbidden, had the Tridentine Mass.

communion in hand in the CPA Churches

Communion in the hand now given regularly in the communist-controlled CPA churches

On the other hand, the Underground Chinese Church, in its aim to remain faithful to Rome and the Pope, adopted the Novus Ordo services. It was only some of the Underground Church Bishops and priests who put it into practice, especially not the older more traditional clergy or those in countryside parishes. But, some of the young priests, supported by conservative groups like the Mindszenty Foundation that would provide funds for Underground Church seminarians to come to study in foreign seminaries, would learn the Novus Ordo Missae.

Those young men would return to serve the Underground Church, quite aware that they could face prison, labor camps and persecution from the communist authorities for their "fidelity" to the Pope. Unwilling to follow the government-sanctioned CPA, they believed they must follow Rome, without recognizing the "protestantization" of the new liturgy or recognizing the ambiguities of Vatican II, which led to a progressivist and erroneous doctrine.

Nuances in the picture

However, most of the men ordained by Underground Bishops, as well as the Prelates themselves, lacked this progressivist teaching and continued to say the Tridentine Mass, especially in the countryside provinces. The faithful, comfortable with the hierarchical pre-Vatican II Church, also desired the pomp and ceremony of the old rite.

People in religious and civilian garb posing in front of a building for pastoral formation

Vatican sponsored formation for CPA catechists in Rome introduces the new liturgy & teachings

Since in the 1980s Rome had given the Underground Church faculties to ordain Bishops’ successors without Rome's approval as well as to ordain priests without the required lengthy seminary training, many of these new clergy lacked Vatican II training. This was, in fact, one of Benedict XVI's complaints in his disastrous 2007 Letter to Chinese Catholics, in which he revoked those very privileges necessary for the Underground Church's survival and encouraged the Underground Church to turn to "those not in communion with the Pope [the CPA]" for their spiritual needs.

It seemed as if Benedict were saying: "These badly trained priests are still clinging to the old rites and ways. They need to be better trained by those who have accepted the innovations of Vatican II." And, by that time, most of the CPA was well on its way to saying the Novus Ordo Missae, as you will see below.

The conclusion: Many Bishops and priests of the Underground Church still say the Tridentine Mass, but are being strongly pressured by Rome to abandon it and say the Novus Ordo.

Novus Ordo becoming dominant in the CPA

Now, regarding the CPA, the picture is also nuanced. Since the mid-1980s there has been a push from the Vatican – which was sending funds and offering tacit support to the communist-controlled CPA – to abandon its practice of saying the Tridentine Mass and introduce the Novus Ordo and reforms of Vatican Council II.

chinese cpa bishop Jin Luxzian and Zing Wenzhi

Bishop Jin Luxzian, with his hand-chosen successor Joseph Zing Wenzhi, push for the Novus Ordo

This task was taken up by Fr. Jin Luxzian, who after spending nearly three decades under house arrest, in re-education camps and prison, emerged from that "re-education" in 1982 as a strong supporter of dialogue and compromise with the communist government.

Luxzian agreed to be illicitly consecrated by CPA bishops and became bishop of Shanghai without Vatican approval and received the seminary of Shanghai to orient. Shunned and distrusted by the heroic exiled Card. Kung, the new bishop Jin Luxzian was, however, supported and approved by John Paul II.

Under his policy of accommodation with Rome, the Chinese government allowed Bishop Jin Luxzian to translate the Mass into vernacular and emphasize the role of the laity. So, the first Chinese-language Novus Ordo Mass was celebrated in Shanghai on September 30, 1989.

Cardinal zen offering his first novus ordo Mass in China

In 1989, Fr. Joseph Zen, today a cardinal, offered the first New Mass in China

Who was the priest who celebrated that New Mass? It was none other than Fr. Joseph Zen, today Cardinal. So, Card. Zen, now lauded as a hero of the resistance to the present-day Rome-Beijing accord, has championed from the beginning the installation of the Novus Ordo Missae and Vatican II reforms in China.

A CPA New Missal was officially authorized by the Vatican on a national level in 1993 and, soon afterwards, the New Mass in Chinese with the priest facing the people was being disseminated throughout the CPA.

Since 1985, Fr. Thomas Law Kwok-fai, appointed to the Hong Kong Diocesan Liturgy Commission, was given responsibility to implement the Novus Ordo on mainland China.

To bring the CPA priests up-to-date with post-Vatican II liturgy, he has published articles on a popular website to help them understand the spirit and meaning of the Mass in the context of the Vatican Council II. Many of his students have obtained degrees in liturgy and now they carry on the task of teaching seminarians the Novus Ordo.

CPA seminarians from China being trained in Rome

CPA seminarians being trained in Rome

Another consequence of the concessions made by Benedict XVI to the CPA in his 2007 Letter was the government's relaxation on travel restrictions for the clergy. Thus, the number of mainland priest who traveled to Hong Kong to receive training increased exponentially, stimulating the Novus Ordo in the CPA.

Gradually the Novus Ordo in Chinese is being introduced to all the CPA parishes, according to Fr. Law Kwok-fai. Only a few parishes in Shanghai, the world's most populous city with 24 million people, conduct Mass in Latin for elderly parishioners, once in the early morning, and the same process is occurring throughout the CPA.

In summary, we see the original situation reversed. Today the CPA, supported by John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis is promoting the Novus Ordo liturgy and Vatican II innovations.

It is the few faithful in the Underground Church, realizing the betrayal by the Vatican, who have the potential to keep or return to the Tridentine Mass. Let us pray that they will make a strong resistance not just to the shameful Rome-Beijing coming accord, but also to the Novus Ordo Mass and bad doctrine that came from Vatican II.


Group of CPA seminarians in China

CPA seminarians in China now being formed to follow the Vatican II liturgy 



Posted March 16, 2018

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