Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

Mass With Fr. Peter Abas in Borneo

February 12th, 2011, Promulgated by Bernie

The language is different, the hymns are different, and a few gestures are different but the Mass is the same. Mass as it is celebrated in Borneo is the same Mass we celebrate here in Rochester. There is an entry procession, the sign of the cross, a liturgical greeting, readings, and a homily. The Eucharistic Prayer can be easily followed. Communion is as we know it and there is the final blessing and dismissal. It’s all the same as here except, unlike many Masses celebrated here, there is a very comfortable sense of propriety and reverence. I was struck by the evident preparation and mental adjustment to participation by fulfilling one’s role. Everyone has a role to play and those roles are liturgically defined by space, symbols, timing, and gestures. It’s all quite comfortable and not at all stiff or overly formal. It reminded me of the TLM of the past which fit like a comfortable glove. These folks seem to be naturally attuned to appropriateness and reverence.

Far eastern cultures are good at that -reverence, harmonious arrangement. Active participation there seems to be each person or group performing his or its role with serious purposefullness. Missing is the tug of war that we often experience in our liturgies as we try to blur distinctions and eliminate hierarchy with strange deviations from the norm of assigned roles. There, you really get a sense of what St. Paul meant when he wrote that each person has his own unique role to play as a member of the Body of Christ, contributing to the smooth functioning of the whole Body. Every role in the Liturgy is important over there. Every ‘job’ has a distinguishing sash or neck band. Even the parish societies wear different colored shirts. No one tries to ursurp a role not appropriate to him, or is forced to assume a role not his.

Of course, bowing is a big part of the culture in Borneo. Even in everyday life people bow to each other out of reverence and respect for age and position. They don’t shrink from respect for hierarchic ranking. They affirm their own valuable worth by participating in the ritual that acknowledges differences in responsibility or age. It’s a celebration of meaningful differences that make up the rich fabric of a society. The Mass, as well,  used to be celebrated with much bowing. Not anymore. Our Masses have become as equalitarian as a stop-off on the way home from work. Bowing doesn’t admit into its presence back-slapping and a false, leveling debasement. In the Mass of years past there were degrees of bowing –a ‘profound’ bow for this, a waist bow for that, and a head bow for everyone -and everything- else. In Borneo (and Cambodia, Japan, etc.) one bows lower to a person of more advanced age or position.  There is a reciprocal bow -appropriately measured- in this ritual exchange of reverence. Bowing was reciprocal in the Mass of years past, as well. I read once an opinion that American culture began to coarsen when bowing faded from use in the Roman Catholic Mass. If possibly so, it’s worth a try at restoration.

I’ve provided a link to a video I made of clips I took while attending two of Father Peter Abas’ Masses in Borneo. It’s not a professional video but perhaps it might communicate some of the flavor of the joyful and yet reverent worship offered by the people of Father’s parishes.

(Above is a video clip of Sunday Masses in Borneo offered by Father Peter Abas.)

These folks can’t afford hymnals so the hymn texts are projected onto the front wall. They don’t have an organ, either, so they use their own instruments -there’s a bass sax in there somewhere, I think. You may notice that during the procession of gifts Father is handed a rather large plastic bag of rice along with other things. These are intended for his use, I believe, but I didn’t get a chance to ask him about it. The same took place at the Cathedral Mass we attended in Borneo and at Masses in Cambodia. Notice also, at the end of the video, the ‘coffee hour’ made-up of local dishes.

I have some pictures and clips, I’ll share, of the Mass at the Cathedral in Kota Kinabalu to celebrate the Chinese New Year. There is a large community of Chinese in Borneo. I also have some images I’ll share later from the Masses we attended in Cambodia.

I hope you find this all interesting. One of the pleasures of travelling is attending Mass in different cultural settings. The local people never fail to express their pleasure at your presence.


5 Responses to “Mass With Fr. Peter Abas in Borneo”

  1. Kyle G. says:

    Really interesting! Unfortunately there is a deplorable lack of information on the web regarding the way Catholic culture has developed in East Asia.

    I have always wondered how much of the cultural deference to Buddhist monks in has been transmitted over to Catholic priests, especially in Southeast Asia. For instance Buddhists monks must beg for their food and offer blessings in exchange for sustenance. It seems to me that the offering of rice to the priest is probably an excellent example of inculturation. These topics are of great interest to me since I am studying linguistics to work as an ESL instructor in parts of East Asia.

    As an aside keep up the good work on this blog. I have been a reader for over a year now and you guys never cease to provide good material. Keep up the good work!

  2. Bernie says:

    Stayed tuned Kyle G., I have some interesting clips and pictures I’ll share of a Mass we attended in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Some things that I would find unacceptable and distracting here seemed quite natural there. There is a tendency in the West to copy traditions practiced in the East because they are seen as being more meaningful. That’s a horrible mistake and an insult to the cultures the practices are stolen from.

    I didn’t think of a connection between Buddhist monks begging for a rice offering/giving a blessing or prayer -a relatively common scene in Cambodia- and the offerings at the preparation of the gifts. Good observation.

    The trip has made me think more carefully about the issue of incluturation and the Liturgy. Incense is a major player in Eastern religions. At some Masses we attended there were sticks of incense burning in front of the altar -lit before Mass began and usually arranged with flowers, on the floor.

    Thank you for your comment.

  3. BethB says:

    Hi my name is Beth. I am a parishioner of Holy Nativity Terawi where Fr. Peter is our Rector, though I lived in New York and Washington DC and studied Theology at the CUA before returning to Sabah. Just want to thank Bernie for the beautiful piece written about our Parish Celebration but also want to respond to the question of whether the sack of rice offered during the presentation of gifts is an inculturation of the Eastern Culture (Buddhist culture) or not. The offering of “goods” such as rice or sugar, coffee etc is not an inculturation of the Buddhist Culture but rather “practicallity.” Since our Parish is a new Parish and a new Rector, our Rector does not have the luxury of “helper” yet to do his shopping unlike the more established Parishes in the Diocese of Kota Kinabalu. It is therefore the decision of the Parish Council to help Fr. Peter by having practical gifts offered during Mass for his use to ease his chores.
    In fact, much of liturgical practice you all saw during our Mass is partly inherited from the Mill Hill Fathers who first brought the faith to Borneo. Catholicism in this part of the world is the fruits of the labor of the Mill Hill Missionaries.

  4. Bernie says:

    Thank you BethB for taking the time to comment and to enlighten us about the gifts at the offertory procession. Very interesting.

    “Hello” to all at Holy Nativity Terawi. We felt very welcomed during our visit. I keep making the mistake of calling Holy Nativity, Holy Family. Must have been the ‘family’ atmosphere!

    You have a terrific pastor in Father Peter. We miss him!

  5. BethB says:

    Hi Bernie, Hello to you too and we thank you for coming to our Parish in particular and to our country in general. You are all very welcome here and I hope that you will make a return trip back to Sabah. I hope if you ever make it back to Sabah that you will let me know and you don’t have to stay in a Hotel. I have enough rooms in my house for you all to stay and much closer to the Church. Fr. Peter Abas is a real blessing to us here and we have missed him so much during his more than 14 years absence from our midst. I agree with you totally. Fr. Peter Abas is a very talented priest. These days, its not easy to find priests that take their priesthood as true calling the way Fr. Peter does. Most priests that I know of treat their priesthood as Profession rather than calling or vocation. That truly set Fr. Peter Abas apart from the rest. He takes his priesthood very seriously as a true calling and he truly cares. We love him very much and we praise and glorify God for blessing us with a terrific priest. He is a rare breed indeed.

    Grace and Peace,

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