The Traditional Mass In Korea | Part Two

Source: District of Asia


Let us go deeper into our great investigation on Catholicism in Korea by looking at the emergence of the traditional world in the Land of Morning Calm.  To this end, we continue our conversation with João Silveira who presents us with the information gathered during his missionary trip to this country in March 2019.

Q – Paix Liturgique - How were the post-conciliar liturgical changes introduced in Korea?

R - João - The Korean Church, based on the Confucian culture, is a Church where obedience to authority is the rule.  As a result, the Korean episcopate immediately and rigorously adopted the post-conciliar changes, in particular the liturgical reform, which was applied, as Rome had requested, from its promulgation from 1964 to 1969.

Q - Paix Liturgique - So has the traditional liturgy completely disappeared from the country?

R - João - Yes, I think so because, I remind you, it is not in the Korean mentality to resist authority even when you are convinced that you should do so.  It can also be considered that since 1969 the traditional liturgy has no longer been celebrated in Korea.

Q - Paix Liturgique - Do you think that there have been any pockets of resistance left?

R - João - It is not impossible and what I am going to say down below probably makes it possible to believe it.  However, if traditional celebrations continued, it was in a semi clandestine manner, without being known to the episcopal and parish authorities.

Q - Paix Liturgique - Can you be more specific?

R - João - To our knowledge, some Korean faithful contacted the Una Voce association during these difficult years, but this did not have an visible result in the official framework of the Korean Church.

Q - Paix Liturgique - When did the rebirth occur?

R - João - As I will show, there were two kinds of rebirths in Korea.  First the "official" rebirth; then the second one, that took place during the celebration of a first Mass in the Extraordinary Form on May 13, 2009, two years after the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, in the Yongsan Church in Seoul, following a conference given by Professor Martin Mosebach in Korea as part of the Goethe Institute's activities.  The Mass was celebrated by Father Michael Bauer, pastor of the German parish in Shanghai, China, and it was Professor Mosebach himself who served the Mass, in front of an audience of more than 200 faithful who, for many, had never attended a traditional Latin Mass.  It was, for those I met, a historical moment.

Q - Paix Liturgique - And the first rebirth?

R - João - Historically, it was the Society of Saint Pius X that first reintroduced the traditional Mass in Korea in the 1980s following repeated requests from those faithful who had come into contact with Una Voce.  For a long time the Society came only occasionally to Korea, but since 1993 the celebration has become monthly in a chapel in Seoul.  Currently, the Mass is celebrated twice a month for about sixty faithful, with a priestly presence of 9 days around the celebration to ensure catechism, confessions and apostolate among families.  The two priests who serve Korea come from one of the Society priories in Manila (capital of the Philippines).

One of them is Father Thomas Onoda, a very apostolic Japanese priest.  The fruitfulness of this apostolate is not negligible because it has already generated 5 priestly vocations and several religious ones.  In addition to the Mass, there is worship.  It is moving to see all those Koreans who only speak their language sing Catholic hymns in Latin with all the fervour possible.  There is indeed a lot of piety in Korea and this could spread if the traditional liturgy were to spread not only in the megalopolis of Seoul but also throughout the country.

Q - Paix Liturgique - Is that all for the Society of Saint Pius X?

R - João - Not exactly, there is also what is called the "Resistance".  You know that in 2012 there was a split within the Society of Saint Pius X.  This had consequences in Korea where Father François Chazal, a priest from the Society of Saint Pius X, passed to the Resistance and continued his apostolate in Seoul.  The beginnings were difficult but today he offers a monthly mass that brings together 30 to 35 people, almost all of them Korean.  On the other Sundays, when Mass is not offered, the faithful gather in the chapel to recite the rosary.

Q – Paix liturgique - And what about the People of Summorum Pontificum?

R - João - I mentioned earlier the fact that the faithful had been in contact with Una Voce very early on.  While some of them were at the origin of the apostolate of the Society of Saint Pius X, others took advantage of the promulgation of the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum to establish on September 14, 2007 the Societas Liturgiae Traditionis Latinae (SLTL) which was the day of the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross and also the day of the coming into effect of the Motu proprio Summorum Pontificum of Pope Benedict XVI, promulgated on July 7, 2007.

Q - Paix liturgique - What was the purpose of this association of faithful?

R - João - It should be noted that mainly young people took action to launch this association.  Their first objective was to create study groups on the traditional liturgy.  For 3 years these groups met to get to know the riches of the traditional liturgy better and simultaneously sought to establish links with priests who shared their love of the “usus antiquior”.  Thus, a first Mass in the Extraordinary Form was celebrated on 31 October 2010, the day of the Solemnity of Christ the King.  From that date on, the Mass was celebrated at least once a month and when possible during the main holidays, at Christmas and Easter.

Q - Paix liturgique - What are those groups doing now?

R - João – The principal aim of SLTL is to make the traditional liturgy known to the Koreans for many do not know it. For that purpose, they set up a website that had over 7000 subscribers in 2019 spread in all the regions of the country.

Q - Paix liturgique – Is it with these people they reach out to that the apostolate of SLTL develops?

R - João – Yes, because they have to answer the questions. They also prepare the monthly Mass, form altar servers and set up choirs.

Q - Paix liturgique – What about priests?

R - João – To make their apostolate known to priests and to help those who want to celebrate the Latin Mass is an important activity of the SLTL. SLTL set up a group of seven priests among whom some are foreigners like Father Philippe Blot from the Foreign Missions of Paris.

Q - Paix liturgique – What is the weight of these groups?

 R - João - There is a lot of enthusiasm and volunteers for these activities but unfortunately, the oratory where the Mass is celebrated in Guanpo is a little far from Seoul and few faithful have the opportunity to go there to attend Mass.  However, on average more than 50 people attend Mass each month.  If it were celebrated in the centre of Seoul this figure would be much higher.

Q - Paix liturgique – Can you mention something about your celebrant?

R - João - The priest celebrant is Father Philippe Blot, a priest of the Foreign Missions of Paris, from the same family as the first missionaries who arrived in Korea in 1836.  Father Blot arrived in 1990 and since then, he has been working mainly with helping orphans who lived on the streets.  He is an enthusiastic priest about the traditional Mass and is very motivated to organize a celebration in Seoul... as soon as he gets the permission of the Archbishop.

Q - Paix liturgique – What impression do you keep from your mission in Korea?

R - João - I was very impressed by the seriousness and piety of Korean Catholics and even if I was a little surprised by what seemed to me to be an excessive obedience to their pastors, I am convinced that this will bring much fruit, because the day when Tradition will be officially integrated into the life of the Church of Korea it will cause a real tsunami in favour of the traditional liturgy, which corresponds so well to the Korean mentality and piety.

Q - Paix liturgique – But the groups you met are tiny compared to the rest of the Korean Church?

R - João - That's right, but I felt such enthusiasm among them, such a desire to share the treasure that they discovered, that they made me think of the first apostles who knew how to change the ancient world to make it a Christian world.

Q - Paix liturgique – So do you think these little embers will catch fire?

R - João – I must emphasize on the enthusiasm and missionary zeal of those I have met and I have seen that everywhere now small branches are catching fire in Korea for Tradition and this makes me believe that tomorrow this country will become more than Old Europe or the Americas a radiant home of a pious, authentic and traditional Catholicism in the continuity and fidelity to these many martyrs on whom the Church of Korea is based today.

Q - Louis Renaudin - Can you present us the survey that has just been conducted in Korea?

R - Paix liturgique – This survey was commissioned, like all the other surveys we have conducted for nearly 20 years, by a professional organization, which ran it between January 24 and February 7, 2019, from a significant sample of 2,346 people in all regions of South Korea.

Q - Louis Renaudin - I believe that this survey provided important information at first glance.

R - Paix liturgique – Indeed, from the beginning of this consultation, the pollsters were surprised by the number of people who declared themselves "Catholics".

Q - Louis Renaudin - Why is this surprising?

R - Paix liturgique – Well, according to official statistics known in Korea, the number of baptized Catholics would be around 12% of the population, as we indicated in the first part of this dossier.  However, from the first 1000 people surveyed, the number of "those who consider themselves to be Catholics" was significantly higher, which led us to broaden the survey base to more than 2300 people to check whether this trend was still valid and this was the case.

Q - Louis Renaudin - How many Koreans declare themselves Catholics in this survey?

R - Paix liturgique – 17% of those surveyed said they were "Catholics", almost 5 points more than the statistics currently available to us indicated.

Q - Louis Renaudin - How do you explain this?

R - Paix liturgique – It is difficult and perhaps even impossible, but we can nevertheless suggest two hypotheses, both of which assume that Catholicism is currently driving people away from Protestantism:

We know that Christianity is now the first religion in Korea, but that this very fragmented Christianity is mainly Protestant.  However, it seems, especially after the Pope's visit to Korea in 2014, that for a significant number of Korean Christians there is no clear distinction between Catholicism and Protestantism and that a significant percentage of them have not hesitated to consider themselves "Catholics" as their identity although they would not be considered so canonically.

A second hypothesis is a reflection on the statistics currently available in Korea.  These are based on the baptisms celebrated within the Catholic Church.  However, it is possible that Christians baptized in the Protestant community may consider themselves as Catholics in adulthood.  Even if they make a formal act of adhesion to the Catholic Church, their baptism is not repeated, and therefore not counted.

In any case, our survey indicates that 17% of Koreans declare themselves Catholics.

Q - Louis Renaudin - Do we know a little more about these Korean Catholics?

R - Paix liturgique – In short, we can say that young men declare themselves more Catholic than senior women, which is an element that is not found in Europe

Q - Louis Renaudin - Do these Catholics declare themselves to be practicing?

R - Paix liturgique – We already knew that Korean Catholics were pious and practicing.  The survey confirms this because it shows that more than 47% of Korean Catholics say they go to Mass every Sunday and only 4.5% of them say they never go.

Q - Louis Renaudin - Are the young people more religious?

R - Paix liturgique – No, the older ones declare that they go to church every Sunday (over 63%) while "only" 41% of young people aged 18 to 29 do so every Sunday.  If we combine all types of practice, every Sunday or more irregularly, we still reach the same level of practice, that is 85% of the faithful, seniors or juniors combined.

Q - Louis Renaudin - Do Koreans know the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum promulgated in 2007 by Benedict XVI?

R - Paix liturgique – Yes, and at a high level, because more than 63% of Catholics in Korea are aware of the existence of this text, which is quite considerable and generally superior to our regions of Europe (in France it is 58% of Catholics who are aware of it, 58% in Italy, 26% in Portugal, 40% in Great Britain,...).  It should be noted, however, that it is the seniors who are most familiar with the existence of the Motu Proprio, since more than 87% of Catholics over 60 years of age are aware of its existence, while "only" 57% of juniors between 18 and 29 years of age are aware of this text.

Q - Louis Renaudin - And what do Koreans think about the consequences of Motu Proprio?

R - Paix liturgique – Let us recall that in the title of the questions of our inquiry we specify, to characterize the extraordinary form, that it "is celebrated by the priest turned towards the Lord and that communion is received on the knees and on the tongue".  This is important because we saw in the previous remarks that for many reasons kneeling was banned from the liturgy in Korea.  However, despite this, more than 50% of the Catholics who responded to our survey would find it "normal" to celebrate both forms of the rite in their parishes.

Q - Louis Renaudin - Are there differences of opinion on this subject between seniors and juniors?

R - Paix liturgique – Absolutely, because if over 53% Catholics under 60 consider these celebrations normal, only 37% of seniors over 60 consider it normal and 50% even consider it as "not normal”.

Q - Louis Renaudin - What do you think this means?

R - Paix liturgique – I think it can mean two things:

- The seniors are more committed to total obedience than the youngest Koreans and that it is difficult for them to "appear to be disobeying" to what their hierarchy indicates...

- As in Europe, the seniors of Korea have been the actors of the post-conciliar reforms and are attached to them at least because it reminds them of their youth, whereas the younger ones do not have this nostalgia...

Basically, Korean Catholicism, with its particularities, is in line with the major trends of world Catholicism: the youth are more inclined towards traditional forms.

Q - Louis Renaudin - Are there differences of opinion on this subject between practicing and non-practicing Catholics?

R - Paix liturgique – Knowing that almost all Korean Catholics are religious, the difference is not significant.  However, while more than 53% of the "every Sunday" practicing Catholics are in favour of bi-formalism in their parishes, the others would be only slightly more than 46%.  Here again, it is consistent with the general trend: the more Catholics practice, the more "conservative" they are, in the sense of an attachment to a liturgical and catechetical customs.

Q - Louis Renaudin - Would this position lead Koreans to attend Mass celebrated in the Extraordinary Form?

R - Paix liturgique – Before answering, one must always have in mind what is considered to be a manifestation of opposition to official tendencies.  Catholicism also has its "populism"... However, two figures impressed me when I read the results of this survey.  The first is that only 7% of Korean Catholics would NEVER attend the "Extraordinary" Mass, this is the lowest figure we have found in the 30 surveys we have conducted in France and around the world since 2000.

Q - Louis Renaudin - And the second one?

R - Paix liturgique – More than 27% of practicing Catholics would attend EVERY WEEK a traditional Mass if it were celebrated in their Parish... A figure that puts Korean Catholics on the same level of expectation as French, Italian, American and Polish Catholics...

Q - Louis Renaudin - Here again, despite your remarks based on the great practice of Koreans, are there any differences between practicing and non-practicing Catholics?

R - Paix liturgique – Bearing in mind the reservations already formulated, yes, there is a difference because, in Korea, more than 38% of the every Sunday practicing Catholics would gladly go to Mass ALL SUNDAYS if it were celebrated in its extraordinary form... 38%!  Even, once again, if we can concede that this proportion partly reflects a message that the respondents want to convey (which should then be checked in concreto to see how it translates into a practice of traditional Mass actually offered in the parishes), it is considerable.  Do I need to point out that such a proportion, when Koreans hardly know the traditional Mass, 50 years after the conciliar reform of the liturgy, clearly indicates the reform’s failure?

Q - Louis Renaudin - It is indeed quite impressive.

R - Paix liturgique – Note that a majority of men would choose the traditional Mass with 42% ready to go every Sunday if it were allowed...

Q - Louis Renaudin - What thoughts do you have about these results?

R - Paix liturgique – I can only repeat that the attraction for Tradition is not a Franco-French particularity as it has been repeated to us by the narrow minded, nor even a European phenomenon but a universal expectation of the Catholic world.  We had received initial confirmation of this from our previous surveys conducted outside Western "old Europe", whether in Poland or even better in Brazil.  Today, with this survey carried out in an Asian country that is completely foreign to Greco-Roman culture, if not through the reception of Latin Catholicism, we realize that this keen interest is first of all based on the coherence of the faithful with their Catholic faith, and this in the form of a "return" of which the liturgy is the sign.  What we see in Korea confirms the failure of the new forms of Catholicism and the tendency for a significant proportion of practicing Catholics to reject it, which can observe on the whole planet.

Q - Louis Renaudin - A conclusion?

R - Paix liturgique – If we remember that Koreans today are at the forefront of science and intelligent modernity, respectful of the past, we will not be surprised that they will instinctively, tomorrow, be ready to choose to return to a strong lex orandi, and no longer soft, in conformity with a Catholic message of the same quality.


Click here to read The Traditional Mass In Korea | Part One
Click here to read The Traditional Mass In Korea | Part Three