Vietnamese Catholics ape Buddhists by having ceremonies to mark the 49th or 100th day of death
A Mass in progress in a Catholic church in Ho Chi Minh-City. (Photo: AFP)
A man in my parish died in a road accident in the Holy Week.
His relatives later asked me to allow his nephew, who is a priest from a northern diocese, to celebrate Mass to mark the 100th day of his death at my church in the south.
My family is from the north, so I know people of northern origin pay assiduous attention to standing at ceremonies and take pride in their status in public.
In normal cases, I readily agree to let priests, who are close relatives of the dead, celebrate Mass at my church.
But in the above case, I declined their request as it was to mark the 100th day of death and I found something wrong with it.
Catholics are right to celebrate the anniversary of their relatives' deaths every year. But why do many ask priests to celebrate Mass to mark the 49th or 100th day of death?
Marking the 49th or 100th day comes from Buddhist belief, which says on those days the dead are reincarnated depending on their good or bad deeds in earthly life.
The souls of the dead are believed to be judged seven times, each time lasting seven days before they are liberated from evil. People mark the 100th day of death as a way to say goodbye to the ghosts who still linger in their houses.
The 49-day or 100-day ceremony means that the living people want the dead to be born again soon, saving them from hell through their good actions and prayers.
Of course, Catholics, thanks to God's Revelation that is fulfilled in Jesus' incarnation as a human, do not believe in reincarnation.
Faith in God's Word reveals that humans only have two lives - this life and the afterlife. The life after death is destined for eternity: going to either heaven or hell. Purgatory is a place where souls need to be purified because of their sins before entering heaven.
This earthly life only comes once. So, Christians must love it and live it out in a valuable and meaningful way. Otherwise, they will lose this life and be miserable in the next.
Jesus warned: What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? (Matthew 16:26).
Jesus' death put an end to the concept of many successive lives, which also clarifies karma. In the lens of retribution, one cannot explain the Passion because Jesus is the Most Holy One.
So, Christians do not believe in reincarnation and are not superstitious.
When celebrating the death anniversary on the 49th or 100th day, no one believes the dead are born again in other bodies.
Some people say celebrating Mass to mark the 49th and 100th day anniversary of death means we "baptize" or adapt Buddhist culture.
But can we baptize it?
The Church chose December 25, the day of worshiping the sun observed by pagans, to be the birthday of Jesus. It was reasonable to "baptize" December 25 into a Christian feast since the meaning of sun worship completely disappeared.
This is different from choosing 49th and 100th day Mass, marking the death.
The practice is implicitly imbued with the Buddhist sense of reincarnation and still very much alive among pagans. Should we choose those days to pray for the dead?
If we need more occasions to gather our family members to commemorate and pray for the deceased, why don't we choose the special numbers 3, 33 and 40 in the Bible?
Number three represents the fundamental mystery of the Holy Trinity and Jesus' resurrection from death, number 33 is the years Jesus lived in the world, and 40 is the years of the Jewish journey to the Promised Land and the days after Jesus' resurrection and ascension.
Another popular Buddhist practice is that people offer food, fruits and flowers to the dead on death anniversaries.
The Church does not prohibit its children from making those offerings if they only intend to show their filial piety to the deceased, but it forbids them from doing it with a sense to invite the dead to return and share with them since it is superstitious and contrary to the Catholic faith.
This article was summarized and translated by a UCA News reporter from a Vietnamese article published at giaophanlongxuyen.org. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.
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