Posted by: rbbadger | October 5, 2009


Well, we are at the end of the Chuseok holidays.  The Chuseok holidays take place when the moon is at its brightest.  Like with Seollal, it is an occasion for the family to gather together, to offer the memorial rites to the departed ancestors, and generally spend time together.  For the oldest male relative’s family, this can sometimes be quite a burden, as it is at his house that the family gathers.  Traffic becomes an utter nightmare as people journey to see their families.

In our school, the majority of our Korean teachers come from Protestant backgrounds, so their families no longer observe the memorial rites.  A Catholic friend of Gwangju told me that his family no longer observe them, but that they just gather together and go to Mass on the day of Chuseok to pray for the souls of the ancestors.  They also might visit the graves as well.  I am certain, though, that some Catholic families do observe the traditional rites.  I’m uncertain whether or not the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of Korea has given any guidance on the matter.  The Chinese Catholic Regional Bishop’s Conference (Taiwan) and the Diocese of Hong Kong have.  A summary of their guidance may be found on the website of the Archdiocese of Singapore Liturgy Commission.

For those who observe the rites, some food and drink is set out on a table with a tablet bearing the name of the deceased.  The table would look a bit like this.


The controversy over these rites points to a great difficulty faced by many, I am sure.  In the 19th century, the Catholic Church in America was faced with some similarly difficult questions, not only what does it mean to be American or what does it mean to be Catholic.  The question facing the Church in America was basically “what does it mean to be an American Catholic, precisely as American and precisely as Catholic?”  Often, the bishops adopted pastoral practices which were hardly sensitive to immigrants, especially if they hailed from places in central and eastern Europe where the bishops and priests dress like this:


Some of the bishops, eager to show that they were loyal Americans, didn’t quite know what to make of these Eastern Rite Catholics.  Because their worship was and is a bit different from the Roman Rite, some of them felt that this would only serve to make the Catholics look even odder.   How many of these Eastern Rite Catholics were treated is something which always saddened me when I learned about it.  Not a few of them left the Catholic Church and joined the Orthodox Church instead.  One of their priests, Alexis Toth, converted to Orthodoxy and has since been canonised as a saint by them.

The questions faced by the Church in America in the 19th and 20th centuries, questions to which there are still no easy answers, is faced by many Korean Catholics today.  For a country with a much longer history and a much richer culture than ours, answering these questions is probably a bit more difficult. 

We have been enjoying a few days off.  It is amazing how the city empties out on these big holidays.  Actually, I like to be in Seoul for the holidays, as it is less crowded.  It is a good time to visit the palaces.  Going to other places in the country can be difficult, given the fact that just so many people are travelling.  The traffic jams on the expressways are amazing.



  1. I cannot find it now but the CBCK does provide a guide.

    It was a serious issue when the Catholicism was first introduced into Korea and became a major reason of persecution and martyrdom. Holy See forbid ancestor worship, since Koreans superstitiously believed the actual ghosts of ancestors came in the ritual and ate the food. They even opened the doors for the ghost of ancestors easily coming in.

    The first persecution in Korea occurred in the year of Shinhae, so it is named Shinhae persecution (신해박해, 辛亥迫害, 1791). It was initiated by arresting Catholics who refused to worship ancestors and Confucius. They were the first martyrs in Korea. They were tortured and executed at Pungnam-mun(풍남문, 豊南門) where the Catholic Church of Jeondong (Jeonju diocese) was built later on.

    Now, Holy See allowed a Catholic ritual which removed the characteristics of the superstition. So it is rather a Catholic ritual of remembrance and prayer for the repose of one’s ancestors.

  2. By the way, I wish you had a happy Chuseok.

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