After yesterday’s perambulation about the Temple of Heaven and the surrounding park, much of me wanted to sleep this morning. However, while staying at the inn, which was my residence the first few days I was here, I was shown a Catholic Church at the west end of the alley (“hutong”) where the inn is located. So, in spite of being tired, I set my alarm for 5:30, and was out the door and joining the early morning multitude of humanity at 6:00 to walk to the 7am mass. I arrived at about 6:55.
On the way, I noticed that there were students from Beijing No. 2 Middle School heading to the school. These were not students from the International Division, but from main school. I believe they were going to rehearsal for the opening-day ceremony. (I am noticing that for a Confucian society, ceremony and protocol is a large part of life.)
When I entered the church, a Gothic revival church most recently rebuilt in 1905, but which dates back to the 1600s, the 6am mass was ending; there was not an empty seat. Worshipers were shoulder to shoulder, without a trace of the “Thou wilt not sit too close to thy neighbor,” all too typical in American Catholic churches.
As the 6am mass ended, the people left the church reverently, making the sign of the cross and genuflecting from the waist or bending the knee.
No sooner had the 6am mass ended than the 7am began. There was a hymn, the readings, the responsorial psalm, the homily — nearly a half hour — prayers and then the Eucharist. I could recognize “Amen” and “Alleluia, as the mass was in Mandarin. With the sign of peace, all simply pressed the palms of their hands together, turned to those around them and bowed. I could not quite make out the phrase for “Peace be with you.” And, again, there was ne’er an empty seat. Also, and I found this particularly noteworthy, confessions were ongoing throughout the service, until the time of the Eucharist, when the two priests hearing confessions then had to attend to matters at the altar.
A demographic feature I noticed, and perhaps I shouldn’t be too surprised about this, while there was a smattering of young faces in the pews, the vast majority were older or elderly. Undoubtedly, these persons have seen and been through a lot of history, turbulence, upheaval and violence, here in the Middle Kingdom.
As the mass ended, I had to smile as the closing hymn (or at least the tune), sung in Chinese, was “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” Also, as I left, the church was filling up for the 8am mass. I found out after I got home and read a history of the church, there is an English mass at 4pm.
After the mass, there was a book stand set up outside the entrance to the church. There, with the help of a kind lady, I was able to purchase a New Testament (New Jerusalem Bible) in Chinese and English, a facing-page translation. Now I can begin to do some language work and character study.