Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

Mysteries of the Rosary in a Hong Kong church

June 14th, 2010, Promulgated by Bernie

While in Hong Kong in May, my wife Pat, and I attended Sunday Mass at Rosary Church in Kowloon. The origins of this church go back to the time of the Boxer Uprising –1900– when British military regiments were mobilized to Hong Kong and stationed in Kowloon. A Father Spada secured property from a Canossain mission to serve the needs of the Catholic military and laity. In 1901 a church was built but was soon too small to meet local and expatriate needs. In 1903 a Portuguese Catholic made a generous donation for the building of a new church. The foundation stone of the new structure was laid in December of 1904. Rosary Church was completed in 1905. A large scale renovation took place in 1991. The parish has about 2,600 registered members.

Click on image for a sharper, larger display.

One of the noteworthy things about this church, in addition to its architectural style, are the tondo paintings over the altar depicting the Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious mysteries of the Rosary. The five Luminous Mysteries were recently added below the others. (If you know of any church in the Rochester diocese that assigns such a prominent place to the Mysteries of the Rosary, please let me know.) The paintings were rather small and so the scenes depicted are not easily discernible from very far away. Nonetheless, the upfront presentation of the Mysteries of the Holy Rosary is quite appropriate, liturgically, and not just because a church might be named for the Rosary.

The Mysteries of the Rosary are in fact celebrated as feast days in the Church’s calendar –at least many of them are: the Annunciation, Nativity, Baptism of Christ, the Triduum, Resurrection, Ascension, Pentecost, Assumption, etc..

"Festival Days" represented in the squinch areas of an Orthodox church.

This reminds me of the Byzantine or Eastern Orthodox canon for the decoration of churches. The Eastern Church adopted a canon whereas the Western Church never did. In the Eastern the feasts  —Festival Days— of the Church calendar are usually represented in the naos (nave) of the building in the pendentive or squinch areas below the dome, if the church has a central dome. The Festival Days of the Church are, in addition, often depicted in a row running the width of the iconostasis screen (the wall of icons that represents the point at which heaven and earth meet), above the Deacon and Royal Doors.

"Festival Row" of an iconostasis screen.

Images of the Mysteries of the Rosary are a great way to decorate the interior of a church near the chancel area, as the entire Gospel is constantly on display. The whole year is visually presented even as the assembly celebrates just one of the feasts or just one of the days of the Liturgical year.

We understood not a word of the Chinese language used at Mass in this church but the images of the mysteries depicted over the altar helped us to actively participate when the spoken word took over as the dominant means of expression in the ceremony. Without any real conscious effort we were able to mediate on the truths of the Faith even as the rest of the congregation listened to those truths proclaimed by the reader or expounded upon by the priest. If those images helped us, who understood not a word of the language, how much more did they enrich the participation of those in attendance who did speak the language?


Book Suggestion: Orthodox Worship: A Living Continuity with the Synagogue, the Temple and the Early Church by Benjamin D. Williams and Harold B. Anstall.

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8 Responses to “Mysteries of the Rosary in a Hong Kong church”

  1. John Larish says:

    What a wonderful experience the writer and his wife had attending mass in China. They truly experienced the universality of the Catholic Church.

  2. Bernie says:

    Hi John,

    It is especially nice to participate in the Mass in a country where Catholics are in a small minority. Hong Kong is not quite in that category… still. We remember Sunday Mass in Upper Egypt where Christians in general are a small minority and Roman Catholics particularly rare. The Coptic Church is, of course, the main Christian Church in Egypt. We recall the parish priest greeting us after Mass (a Catholic Coptic liturgy)and mentioning how thankful he was that we sought out the church as the locals needed the solice obtained from contact with ordinary Catholics from the larger Church. (Most Catholic tourists no longer seek out a church on Sundays.) The priest, by the way, was a Franciscan from Italy.

    We did not get to Mass in Shanghai even though there are several. The churches there –Patriotic Catholic Churches– are not in union with Rome and the one that is, is outlawed. We thought it best not to go looking. Quite frankly you never know who’s listening. I was willing to go to the Patriotic Church to observe but Pat was not and she must be obeyed!

    There were no Christian Churches in the other parts of China we visited. Those places are somewhat off the beaten track.

  3. Bill B. says:

    Most interesting. Question (background first). I remember ‘back in the day” that the Red Chinese government did not recognize the Roman church. There was this Government backed “Catholic” one and an underground one that recognized the Pope. A priest I knew went to Red China and went through some trials to find the underground priest. They spoke Latin to communicate. So, has the church come out of hiding now or is there some kind of recognition? I would have thought a church like that would have become a museum of western error.

  4. Bill B. says:

    Answered my own question five seconds after I asked question. I forgot that Hong Kong was a Royal Crown Colony belonging to the Queen. No need to answer question. A retired goof!

  5. Bernie says:

    Bill B.
    Hong Kong belongs to China now but is an “autonomous” territory/region which means, in effect, that it is allowed to maintain much of what was in place when it was under British rule. The Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong is in union with Rome, as far as I know. I don’t think the Patriotic Church operates in Hong Kong, but I’m not really sure. “Mainland” China is different. The real Catholic Church in China is not legal. I’m not sure as to what extent it operates in the open and is simply denied permits to build churches, or to assemble in public, dispense literature, open schools, etc. as the Patriotic Catholic Church can. Someone with more knowledge of the situation could perhaps comment for us.

  6. Bernie says:

    A reader informs me that “Holy Rosary Church (now closed on Lexington Ave and part of “The Cathedral Community”) had its stained glass windows depicting the fifteen mysteries of the Rosary. When the Luminous Mysteries were introduced, I believe icons of each of the luminous mysteries were placed on the front of the choir loft banister.”

  7. benanderson says:

    another great post, Bernie!

  8. Nerina says:

    I agree, Ben. I’m getting smarter all the time. Thanks Bernie!

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