I went to Catholic mass on Sunday, what with it being Easter and all. Even if I wasn't religious I'd have wanted to go, just to see the official state-approved Catholic mass take place. There are two strands of Catholicism in China: the underground Catholics and the state approved Catholics. The difference between state approved and the others is that state approved masses acknowledge the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association as the head of the church, and the other acknowledges the Vatican.
The mass setup was very similar, well the bits that I could understand were, anyway. That said, I was not overly impressed by the 40 minute homily in Chinese (compared to 10 minutes allocated in the standard RC 1 hour mass). It was interesting to note the age difference though; the Chinese congregation was on average much younger. This may be a result of the Cultural Revolution (1966 - 1979) during which all organized religion was banned. It appears many people who lived through this ban have not returned to the church, prejudices die hard after all, and if religion was frowned upon in China for nearly 15 years I imagine the stigma it caused was strong.
An interesting result of this division is that many young people in China see the Church as being cool and modern: For example, there is a lot of American religious propaganda, which links religion to the Westerners. Also, religion is a new concept which many Chinese parents do not follow (and perhaps criticise), so it is only natural that 'the kids' will want to try this out. For these reasons, the mass (despite following the Vatican setup) felt very different for me. Teenagers wandered in and out, holding hands, whispering and giggling to each other, women with babies sat at the back holding conversations under their breath and typically, the Church was too small for the number of attendees (although I'm getting used to cramping into small places in China by now!).
To me it was obvious that there was an air of casualness, not disrespect, in their engagement in the service, although to mix this congregation with our traditional Western Catholic mass members may cause the raising of eyebrows. Equally, we may be considered reserved in Chinese eyes - We're more reserved in restaurants, on the train, on the street, in shops, why wouldn't we be more reserved at mass?!
Helen and I spent the rest of Easter Sunday making (and eating) chocolate crispy cakes and watching Howl's Moving Castle, a very good anime film which has a bizarre but charming plot line. So all in all, a very different Easter to normal, and perhaps it will be one of my more memorable Easters!