Ringing in the New (Lunar) Year with Mass and culture

Bishop Johnston dangles lucky red envelopes from a stick during the traditional acrobatic dance of the Lan—a dragon-lion—and the Snake after the Mass for Tet, the Vietnamese New Year. (Megan Marley/Key photo)

By Megan Marley

KANSAS CITY — Church of the Holy Martyrs celebrated the New Year a bit early this year.

Tet, the Vietnamese lunar New Year, fell on Friday, Feb. 16 this year. The Vietnamese parish usually celebrates at a special Tet Mass with Bishop the Saturday closest, but that conflicted with the Rite of Election of Catechumens usually held the first Saturday of Lent, this year on Feb. 17. So the New Year’s celebration was moved ahead to Feb. 10. And boy, what a celebration!

The church was decked out with large yellow chrysanthemums and flowering apricot branches festooned with decorations and artificial firecrackers. Mass began with a grand entrance to Vietnamese hymns, the procession led by youth in vibrantly colored traditional garb and flanked by uniformed members of the Vietnamese Eucharist Youth Movement. During Mass, Bishop Johnston’s homily was given in English and Vietnamese, and the Presentation of the Gifts included a solemn presentation of the gifts of first harvest.

A similarly spectacular procession out of church after Mass segued to the Bishop’s return to the front of the church to hand out $1 bills in bright red paper envelopes to the children and then adults, as a wish for good luck in the coming year.

After the envelopes were distributed, half the crowd went downstairs to a feast of traditional New Year’s foods, while the other half braved the chilly outdoors to watch and cheer as Bishop Johnston fed lucky envelopes to the dragon-lion during the traditional dance on the front steps of the church.

In his homily, Bishop Johnston thanked the community for once again inviting him to celebrate with them, and commented on the beauty of the decorated church.

“To come from the outside where it’s still grey, and cold, and nature is asleep, it’s wonderful to come in here and see the church so beautifully decorated and signs of spring that we’re awaiting. It’s a sign for all of us what the Lord does for us, when Jesus lives in our hearts,” he said.

He went on to state that the New Year is a moment that is liminal, a word taking its roots in the Latin word ‘limen’, a threshold.

“A liminal moment is a transition from one moment to another, it’s where a threshold is—when we begin a new year, that’s a threshold, isn’t it? We begin in one moment we end a year, and as through a doorway we begin a new year,” he said.

Bishop went on to say at this liminal point of Tet, there were three main points from the readings for Mass to take on into the new year.

The first point was gratitude for time, “a creature of God that we measure by the movement of the stars and the planets.”

“It’s that order of the cosmos, the planets and the stars by which we measure our own lives, the passing of the days, the passing of the years,” Bishop Johnston said. “So we thank God first of all for time, the gift of creation, and the time that measures it.”

Drawing from the reading of St. Paul to the Philippians, his second point used the analogy of an artist with a blank canvas, to use the new year as a fresh start to serve God.

“If we pursue the true, the good, the beautiful, in our own lives and in our families, we will paint a beautiful picture in the New Year ahead of us,” Bishop Johnston said.

His third point from the Gospel compared worry and fear to parasites.

“Think of it this way: worry is the tapeworm of the spiritual life,” said Bishop Johnston. “It’s a parasite, it lives inside of you and eats away, but it does no good.”

He followed this by explaining that Jesus teaches us to turn to the Father with our needs, sufferings and problems.

“Instead of worrying and fear, Jesus teaches us to first seek the kingdom…when we do, everything will follow.”

He concluded by encouraging families to seek the kingdom together and let their love of Jesus spill over from there into public life, and to entrust their family to Mary’s protection.

“May the gift of this new year bring us all closer to Heaven, where time will give way to eternity. Amen.”



March 18, 2018
Newspaper of the Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph