Friday, November 23, 2018

The Life and Work of Mgr. Li Jingfeng, Bishop of Fengxiang (Part 2)

The first part of this article offered a brief biography of the late Mgr. Li Jingfeng, Bishop of Fengxiang, China, together with his letter to the general synod of 2012 and his preface to a Chinese-Latin textbook. Today we will look at what this good bishop did to promote the usus antiquior in China, and his rather sharp criticisms of the deleterious effects of the introduction of the Novus Ordo in his country.

Traditional Liturgy
Paradoxically, as if facing persecution by the Communist Party was not enough, Bishop Li also had to defend his diocese against what he perceived to be the harmful influences of Western missionaries, who began to enter China in greater numbers in the 1980s after the “opening-up” policy went into effect. He blamed some of these religious for bringing with them a “corrupt faith” and a “liberal” attitude toward Church law and tradition.

In particular, he worked energetically to oppose the liberal liturgical reforms that were brought into China by these religious. As a clandestine Church, China had had restricted communication with the Vatican, and thus the great changes of the ‘70s and ‘80s had mostly passed them by, and many dioceses did not yet celebrate the Novus Ordo Missae.

His Pastoral Letter for the Year of Faith (15 August, 2012) blames a flawed interpretation of the “spirit of Vatican II” for creating a “Protestant” attitude toward liturgical law. Most of all, it blames the influence of liberal western missionaries for disrupting the sound traditional piety of Chinese Catholics in the name of “progress” and “inculturation.”

“In the 1980s, after the opening-up policy, foreigners started coming to mainland China and brought with them the pollution of the West. When the government discovered this, it took action to correct it. But who was keeping watch over the corruption brought by people into the Church? At that time, some Western religious came to China. When they saw Chinese Catholics piously kneeling on the ground and praying the Rosary and Stations of the Cross before the liturgy, they said: ‘You are all so behind the times, acting like that, kneeling and saying so many prayers. We stopped doing that a long time ago!’ Not wanting to witness this, they would leave the church and go back home until the Mass began and our Catholics had stopped saying their prayers. Moreover, during Mass they always either stood or sat, which our priests and lay Catholics despised.

I once wrote a letter to the Apostolic Delegate in Hong Kong: ‘The rubbish brought into civil society has been cleaned up by the state. But whose duty it is to clean out the trash brought into the Church? Your religious who came here, they walked out because they disapproved of our way of praying. Their influence is extremely dangerous. I urge you not to let this kind of religious come to mainland China.’ But the Apostolic Delegate did nothing. So this kind of religious kept coming as before, and always protested against our way of praying. Now that several decades have passed, finally we have come to understand that the faith of certain people overseas was corrupted long ago.”

The same pastoral letter addresses the question of inculturation. He points out that recent efforts at “inculturation” often turned out to be merely an imposition of Western liberal values:

“Some people make use of the fashionable word ‘inculturation’ to argue that everything should be localized. But how should we understand inculturation? We may well ask whether we still see a genuine Chinese culture in China. But putting aside the question of Chinese culture for the moment, the meaning of the word ‘inculturation’ is ambiguous. It is a new word that became common after the Vatican II, derived from the Latin word ‘inculturatio.’ ‘Cultura’ means culture, but the meaning of the prefix in- added before it is hard to tell clearly. ‘In’ has two meanings: ‘in something’ and ‘into something.’ Therefore the choice to render it in Chinese as ‘localization’ is not necessarily appropriate.

Some people think that inculturation entails assimilation to local things. But a small error can lead to a great misconception. ‘To enter into a culture’ and ‘to become like that culture’ are two absolutely different things. As for Chinese culture, can it still be seen in our modern society? Customs, ways of thinking, food, clothing, living arrangements, travel, and morality, is there any of these domains in which we do not imitate the West? Are the cornerstones of Chinese culture, such as the Three Obediences and the Four Virtues, the Three Principles and the Five Moralities, [1]  still seen and practiced in today’s China? To the contrary, in the eyes of modern Chinese people, this whole culture can be summarized in one phrase: undesirable feudalistic doctrines. What is desirable is Western culture. The Western people wear camisole dresses at weddings, and so we are imitating it. Western people practice homosexuality, and we are starting to imitate it. Is this Chinese culture?

A classic example of inculturation in a Chinese context: altar boys wearing the jijin, the hat worn by the clergy when saying Mass in China, where it was traditionally considered a matter of shame for a man to appear in public without a hat. (From an article we originally published last August.)
In 2011, there was a local Church feast celebrated in an Asian country, and the Pope sent a cardinal as his representative to participate in the opening ceremony. The cardinal only saw benches and chairs but no kneelers, so he asked: ‘Does your Eastern culture not believe it is important to kneel to venerate and worship God? Why is there not a single kneeler in the church? Is this your inculturation of the Gospel?’ This should come as a great rebuke to us! [....]

We can see how Buddhism has entered into local culture. For example, there are many Buddhist ideas and phrases in our language; in this case there was a real entering into Chinese culture. Can we do as Matteo Ricci and Xu Guangqi did, who made the Gospel of Jesus Christ enter into Chinese culture, so that everyone will know the salvation of Jesus? Can we make the Gospel of Christ become part of Chinese culture? This is the real meaning of inculturatio.”

On 10 Oct 2011, Bishop Li published called “The Inviolability of the Sanctity and Dignity of the Church’s Liturgy,” (Chinese text here), in which he instructed Catholics on the nature of the sacred liturgy. Citing decades of conciliar and papal teaching, he forcefully urges the necessity of obeying liturgical law, and warns against the dangers of the liberal “reform” movement imported by Western clergy. Here are a few excerpts:

“9. What can we do to help correct liberalism?

Here I want to quote some words from the introduction of Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical Caritas in Veritate, as the basis of an answer to this question. ‘Love — caritas — is an extraordinary force which leads people to opt for courageous and generous engagement in the field of justice and peace… ‘Caritas in veritate’ is the principle around which the Church’s social doctrine turns, a principle that takes on practical form in the criteria that govern moral action...: justice and the common good.

Justice: Ubi societas, ibi ius… Love is to give, to offer what is ‘mine’ to the other; ... justice [is] to give the other what is ‘his’... I cannot ‘give’ what is mine to the other, without first giving him what pertains to him in justice.

The common good: To love someone is to desire that person’s good and to take effective steps to secure it… It is a good that is sought not for its own sake, but for the people who belong to the social community and who can only really and effectively pursue their good within it.’

‘The social community’ the Pope mentions certainly includes the Church, and the appearance of liberalism in the Church is precisely what the Pope meant by a ‘lack of love’.

As pastors of souls, if priests do not celebrate according to liturgical rubrics, then as the Holy See pointed out, they ‘insult the dignity of the believer’ (Liturgicae Instaurationes). The Pope said: ‘To love someone is to desire that person’s good and to take effective steps to secure it.’ Now let us look at these priests, who lack love. Can they say they desire the good of lay Catholics and that they take effective steps to secure it? … The reason why the clergy who disobey the liturgical regulations do not care about justice and the common good, and choose to insult the dignity of believers, is that they do not have the love mentioned above. [....]

Now let’s see how to correct liberalism in the liturgy. It is simple: the priest must love the Lord with his whole heart, and the Church, lay Catholics, the Sacrament and the liturgy, justice, the common good, his own vocation, and his priestly identity, imitating the Apostle Matthew who left the tax-collector’s desk at the call of Christ, imitating Zacchaeus who gave up worldly thoughts and climbed into the sycamore tree of love to see our sorrowing Lord Jesus. In this way we can overcome liberalism without difficulty, conform our actions to the Church’s teaching, restore respect for the sacred and sublime character of the priest, and console our sorrowing Mother Church and her vulnerable flock of believers.”

The same letter puts forward the traditional Roman liturgy, with its strictly regulated ceremonies, as a powerful antidote against liturgical liberalism:

“I feel it is necessary to talk about a very realistic fact. Pope Benedict has granted the whole Church freedom to celebrate the Tridentine Mass. The rituals of this form are complicated and difficult. But priests around the world, in ancient and modern times, in China and overseas, have been able to celebrate this Mass in exactly the same way according to the liturgical rubrics, without exception. How can we explain this? Recently, our priests and seminarians watched videos of the Tridentine Mass being celebrated in different places around the world (the United States, Ireland, Britain, Rome, the SSPX). They exclaimed afterwards: ‘This is amazing! These priests from different places and differents times celebrate the same ritual with exactly the same gestures, and their rite is also identical to the Tridentine Mass we celebrate here! How can this be?’ I said: ‘It is simple: that they all love the Lord and the Church with their whole hearts, and love to obey Church teaching. There is nothing else.”

Roman Missal

While forming his priests for a correct celebration of the new rites in conformity with the mind of the Church, Bishop Li also fostered in his priests devotion to the traditional Latin liturgical tradition, which was used generally by the Church in China until the 1980s and 90s.

Bishop Li’s devotion to the old rite led him, in 2012, to publish a Chinese-Latin edition of the Missale Romanum 1962, (Parvum Missale Tridentinum 1962 Sinice Explicatum - A Small Tridentine Missal, 1962, Explained in Chinese) whose use he encouraged in his diocese. This Missal is used in several dioceses of mainland China where the traditional Mass is offered. It may be the only edition on the mainland, though there is another printed in Hong Kong.

Bishop Jingfeng made it clear in his writings that he saw Summorum Pontificum not merely as a permission, but as a challenge to all priests of the Roman rite: “As priests of the Church, if we are not able to celebrate the sacrifice and to venerate God in the official language of the Church, what does that say about our identity as priests!” The Missal was accompanied soon after by a volume of liturgical instruction for priests, published on Dec. 1, 2012. These and all his books can be found here.


Bishop Li died on 17 November, 2017, at the age of 95. A young Catholic who witnessed his holy death had this to say. (

“Our beloved bishop loved God in his whole life. For his steadfastness in faith, he had been jailed for years. Even though he was under all kinds of pressures and suffered injustices, his love for God was not shaken. He was firm in his faith, never changed, even until the last moment of his life on earth.

His firmness in the principle of faith, his love and seriousness in Church liturgy and Church traditions have deeply influenced my faith and vocation.

We were happy our beloved bishop had received the Precious Blood at 6:50 am this morning, before he departed at 7:20 am. In the prayers of priests and the faithful, our Lao Zhujiao rested in peace!”

[1]The Three Obediences (obedience to the father before marriage, to the husband in marriage, and to sons in widowhood) and the Four Virtues (morality, proper speech, modest manner, and diligent work) apply to women. The Three Principles express the hierarchical order of society: the monarch is the principle of the subject; the father is the principle of the son; the husband is the principle of the wife. The Five Moral Rules are: charity, gratitude, humility, prudence, and honesty. 

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