Asian cultures welcome Christmastime Liturgies

January 15, 2019

Daniel Cardinal DiNardo celebrates Christmas Eve Mass with the Vietnamese Catholic Community of Galveston-Houston at the George R. Brown Convention Center. Photo by Thanh Nguyen. 

HOUSTON — Surrounded by hundreds of red and white poinsettia and brightly lit Christmas trees, Daniel Cardinal DiNardo celebrated Christmas Eve Mass with the Vietnamese Catholic community in the George R. Brown Convention Center.

Three days prior, Cardinal DiNardo also celebrated the Grand Archdiocesan Simbang Gabi Culmination Mass with the Filipino Catholic community at St. Ignatius of Loyola Catholic Church in Spring Dec. 21.

In downtown Houston, the expansive convention hall grew intimate with the voices of the Vietnamese choir and orchestra with diverse instruments that helped lead worship with liturgical music.

The annual celebration hosted by the Vietnamese Catholic Association of the Archdiocese included a penance service, traditional Christmas carols, procession and adoration of the Infant Jesus and concluded with Mass concelebrated with dozens of Vietnamese priests and clergy. The procession included many Vietnamese consecrated religious men and women, parish and ministry leaders and Knights of Columbus.

A major highlight of the event includes Cardinal DiNardo blessing the Infant Jesus in the manger of a living nativity scene, complete with a stable covered in palm fronds, young actors and child angels in ornate costumes. Members of the Vietnamese Eucharistic Youth Movement also assisted with the procession.

Father Thu Ngoc Nguyen, vicar for Vietnamese Catholics in the Archdiocese, said the Mass was “beautiful” and carried “a sense of unity among the Vietnamese Catholics.”

“The Christmas Eve Mass helps unite all the Vietnamese Catholics together to celebrate the importance of our Catholic faith,” he said.

Father Nguyen, who is pastor of Christ the Incarnate Word Catholic Church in Houston, said those who attended appreciated the children’s living nativity scene and that his favorite part was “seeing the joy and peace on the faces of those that attended the Mass.”

There are at least nine Vietnamese parishes that offer pastoral care to an estimated 36,000 Vietnamese Catholics in Galveston-Houston.

In Spring, the Filipino Mass concluded a series of novena Masses of Simbang Gabi, a beloved “pre-Christmas” tradition for Filipino Catholics, which is a devotional novena of Masses offered in anticipation of the Nativity and in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

In the Philippines, the Masses are usually held in the early hours of the morning, but in Houston the Masses are celebrated in the evening to let more attend. In 2018, at least 30 parishes participated in the Simbang Gabi celebrations. At least four parishes, including Notre Dame, Corpus Christi, St. Dominic and Sacred Heart in Manvel, celebrated Masses every day during the novena.
In his homily, Cardinal DiNardo encouraged the Filipino Catholics to remain committed to Christ just as the Blessed Virgin Mary was.

“Mary doesn’t put anything to herself; she places everything in faith, in the hands of the Lord,” he said. “I can’t tell you how anything is more important today. When we’re in a culture right now where everyone is trying to scream out their own truth, and trying to be their own identity, what does Virgin Mary teach us? ... Place yourself in the hands, in the arms, of the Lord. She did that all the time, every day. That’s why we still honor her so much.”

“The Virgin Mary in her life of belief is not a sideline through the Gospel, it’s at the heart of the Gospel,” he continued. “Mary is the one privileged person, who because she had the gift of being conceived without sin, her freedom was an open, open freedom to the Lord, and she responded well by saying ‘Yes.’”

The intercessions or prayers of the faithful were also offered in several different Filipino dialects, representing the diversity of the Filipino people. There are an estimated 50,000 Filipino Catholics in the Archdiocese.

Cardinal DiNardo also thanked the Filipino community for their “close adherence to the faith.”
“The Filipino community has always been very generous, in giving your sons to the priesthood and daughters to consecrated life,” he said. “The Filipino community is also very intent on family life and the importance of families.”

He called the Filipino Catholics a model and example for communities in Houston.

“We have such a rich diversity of peoples here... Thank you for keeping alive the traditions and customs of the Catholic faith as given in the Philippines,” he said. “I’m glad you brought it all here, I think it’s important that we celebrate.

He also recognized the young people in attendance that evening.

“I’m also glad to see some young people here,” he said. “How are you going to carry the customs on, unless young people learn to live that at home, but also in the Church?”

At the conclusion of the Mass, Cardinal DiNardo told the Filipino Catholics to “keep alive that sense of community, of language, this song, music, Christian culture.”

“Don’t ever lose that, that’s a beautiful relationship, and may God bless you to be like the Virgin Mary,” Cardinal DiNardo said. “May you always be willing, like Mary, to go out and greet and help someone like Elizabeth, all your days. That will increase your joy, and it will bring to this Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston such an increase of Christian holiness, which we need so badly now in the Church.”