February 14, 2014

‘Chuc mung nam moi’: Archbishop celebrates lunar New Year Mass with Vietnamese Catholic Congregation

Children in traditional Vietnamese costumes perform a traditional drum dance during the Feb. 2 reception held after the Vietnamese Mass celebrating the Lunar New Year. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

Children in traditional Vietnamese costumes perform a traditional drum dance during the Feb. 2 reception held after the Vietnamese Mass celebrating the Lunar New Year. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Natalie Hoefer

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin looked out upon the Vietnamese Catholic Congregation at St. Joseph Church in Indianapolis.

“Chuc mung nam moi,” he said, receiving an outburst of applause. He had just wished the Congregation “Happy New Year” on Feb. 2, the day of this year’s Vietnamese lunar New Year. (Related: See a photo gallery from this event)

The celebration is known as Tet Nguyen Dan or “Tet.” In the U.S., it is celebrated over the course of three days, said Father Minh Duong, associate pastor of St. Joseph Parish and chaplain of the Vietnamese Catholic Congregation in Indianapolis.

“For the Vietnamese Catholic Church, we spend the first three days [of the New Year] to pray for different things—peace in Vietnam and the world on the first day, the second [day] for ancestors and those who passed away, and the third day we pray for work and for employment,” Father Duong explained.

Chau Kachelmyer, a member of the Vietnamese Catholic Congregation, spoke of the celebration as a combination of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve in the United States.

“People enjoy eating, drinking and social activities,” she said. “But mostly, it is time for family reunions and paying respect to our ancestors as well as our parents and family members.”

The Mass incorporated two Vietnamese New Year traditions—the honoring of ancestors, and picking a bud from a tree.

“Honoring our ancestors is an important part of the new year traditions,” said Father Duong. “We show respect and gratitude for our ancestors and deceased. We thank them for all they’ve done for us.”

To honor this tradition, four generations—represented by two members per generation—processed up the aisle to a shrine, bowed to the sound of a gong, and placed a burning incense stick in a bowl of sand before a small shrine.

“The first bow is to show we honor God,” said Kachelmyer. “We ask him to take care of us, him who made the whole universe.

“The second bow is for Vietnam. We ask God to care for it. And the third bow is for our ancestors,” she said.

As for picking a bud from a tree, Father Duong explained that in Vietnam, this tradition is done on the lunar New Year to bring luck through the upcoming year.

To incorporate the tradition into the Tet Mass, a tree with flowers and scrolls with Scriptures passages tied to the branches was brought forward. The archbishop blessed the “Tree of the Word of God,” and the congregation was invited to come forward and pick a scroll from the tree.

“We reviewed both of those [ideas] in the planning and preparation of the liturgy,” said Father Patrick Beidelman, executive director for the archdiocesan secretariat for Spiritual Life and Worship, of the ancestral remembrance and the Scripture-bearing tree. “Both were very consistent with what we’re about when we come together to celebrate Mass.”

St. Joseph Church, which serves as home to the Vietnamese Catholic Congregation in Indianapolis, was filled beyond capacity, with temporary seating also filling the narthex.

“We usually have around 150 [people] come to Masses on Sunday,” said Father Duong of the two Vietnamese Masses held at St. Joseph Church each Sunday. “But for this Mass we usually have over 300 people.”

Archbishop Tobin began his homily with a comment about the special occasion.

“It is wonderful to celebrate this day with you, a feast of family, a feast of community, a feast of faith. A feast when we think about the gift of time.

“Our lives and each day is a gift,” the archbishop continued. “Not only do we have breath to live, but we have the possibility to choose how we will live, how we will accept each day, what will be the most important values in our lives. So on this day we ask how shall we live, what choices shall we make?

“As we stand in these new days in a new year, we should wish each other happiness and prosperity and good fortune. We should remember our fathers and mothers in faith because Mary remembered Abraham and his wife, Sarah, and all the people of Israel who led her to God. Mary, through her mother and father, came to know that God is faithful.

“So today we give thanks to God for our ancestors, our fathers and mothers in faith. We thank God not only for our families, but for all the holy people who have gone before us. We thank God for St. Andrew and the martyrs, who witnessed to Jesus by their blood and confirmed the faith in Vietnam.

“We ask our Mother Mary to help us not to be afraid, to know what is important, and to live as a daughter and son of God,” the archbishop concluded.

Having the archbishop celebrate the Mass was special to the Vietnamese Catholic Congregation, said Father Duong.

“We were very excited to see him here. Everyone was very happy with that, especially on the first day of the New Year,” he said. “Most people, especially the elderly people in attendance, told me that the lunar New Year Mass that the archbishop celebrated is the most sacred and solemn they have seen in their life.” †

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