Chinese Dragons and makeshift altar to the dead in Mass time


During a Vietnamese Mass, at the start, two large colored paper dragons came down the isles and out the doors. They were beautifully made paper dragons but I wasn’t sure if it was ok to have them during mass time. The incense altar to the dead was more concerning. The priests would remove their caps and light up incense to the dead as their customs. I understand preserving some cultural traditions but I feel that perhaps it went to far. I could be wrong.:shrug:


The Church allows cultural traditions for the right reasons. Most people in the US are completely unfamiliar with other cultures when it comes to the Mass, as most of the cultural additions do not show up in the US, or only in very limited circumstances.


The incense replaces (or is used in addition to) candles and is most perfectly scriptural. Vietnamese custom is to do this inside of Mass, whereas Americans light the candles before Mass. It is only “to the dead” as far as the Communion of Saints.

If there are pictures of the deceased, liken it to lighting a candle near a picture of a loved one as a prayer for his soul.


They’re actually lions, not dragons, and are highly symbolic as they are traditionally believed to chase away evil spirits. It is a way of purifying the worship space before the Mass begins, in the same way that water and incense are used.


OK thanx


Argh. This makes me feel worse rather than better about this being used at Mass. Not exactly Christian symbology, is it?


Here’s a quick little article from EWTN about the use of incense.
I don’t see anything where incense “substitutes for candles” (do you mean votive candles?). I’m not saying those practices are wrong, I just am a little skeptical.
An excerpt is:
“In the General Instruction of the Roman Missal incense may be used during the entrance procession; at the beginning of Mass, to incense the altar; at the procession and proclamation of the Gospel; at the offertory, to incense the offerings, altar, priest and people; and at the elevation of the Sacred Host and chalice of Precious Blood after the consecration. The priest may also incense the Crucifix and the Paschal Candle. During funeral Masses, the priest at the final commendation may incense the coffin, both as a sign of honor to the body of the deceased which became the temple of the Holy Spirit at Baptism and as a sign of the faithful’s prayers for the deceased rising to God.”


No. I had one explain it to me and when I responded it wasn’t a Christian symbol all heck broke loose.


Neither is the [German] Christmas tree, but you’d be hard pressed to find a church sanctuary without it during Christmas. :wink:


I was waiting for someone to explain and compare it to the Christmas tree. Although St. Boniface has his hand in the tree symbol. I have yet found one that could explain it other than driving away evil spirits. When I asked if they thought it drove away evil spirits that is where the answers varied and I was left thinking of it as like a lucky horse shoe. I don’t think we should have processions of horse shoes to drive away evil spirits and promote luck.


Feel better please…

Jesus is the “Lion of the Tribe of Judah.” See Revelation 5:5. Maybe the person who invented the Chinese paper lion stumbled upon the truth.

There is also the lion in Daniel 7. The lion was often used as a symbol or royalty by ancient Jewish kings. St. Mark is often symbolized as a Lion. C.S. Lewis used a lion to symbolize Christ in Chronicles of Narnia.



Well that’s because hardly anybody identifies the traditional connotations of the Germanic origin with modern Christmas trees.

Whether paper lions are okay in Catholic worship depends entirely on whether the understanding as pagan “chasing away spirits” is maintained, or whether the symbol has been subsumed into a larger Christian meaning.


It’s both - “chasing away ***evil ***spirits” is part of larger Christian meaning.


Interesting answer:)


No, not just chasing away evil spirits. There is one who does that. If they made a connection and said the dragon/serpent thing was like a Christ figure to them, I could see the connection. I think, at least this one parish, it is a symbol of their country, heritage, and they wanted to use it no matter the meaning behind it.


I’ve never seen Christmas trees used in a liturgical procession either, just used as decoration in the church. If Christmas trees were used at the beginning of a liturgical procession, and then everyone thought “oh good, the Christmas trees chased away the evil spirits”, then that would be a valid comparison to the dragons.


The Church allows it’s Asian members to practice ancestor veneration.
Here is a really good article about it

Mexicans also practice ancestor veneration but we don’t usually incorporate these practices into the Mass. We make shrines to our dead in our homes and pray for them.


Thanks Catholiclife for the article and pics


The Church does more than simply “allow” some ethnic cultures to practice ancestor veneration. The Church mandates universal ancestor veneration to all the faithful. This is called the Communion of Saints, folks! Western cultures are more timid about this and do not build altars or burn incense, but all Catholics pray to those we believe to be in Heaven. I can talk to my Grandma and put a photo of her on my wall just as surely as I can pray to St. Patrick and buy a statue to put in a shrine.

In permitting veneration of ancestors the Church is merely enforcing the fact that she has always practiced this veneration in varied forms through her history. My parish in particular has a special celebration during the time of All Souls Day when we commemorate our dearly departed friends and family with candles and placards during the liturgy.


Wow. You mean all my ancestors are in heaven, guaranteed?
I don’t believe your statement is correct. I suspect that the Church would not go so far as to say that ancestor veneration (sometimes called “ancestor worship”) is the same thing as honoring the communion of saints.
Also, during All Souls’ Day, aren’t we supposed to be praying for the poor souls in purgatory? Not just venerating them?

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