Should celebration of Catholic masses be allowed in shopping malls?

The archdiocese of New York City (NYC) recently implemented a ruling that puts an end to a 26-year tradition of the Filipino community in that city of celebrating their Simbang Gabi pre-Christmas late night masses at the Philippine Center in Fifth Avenue. Last December 2011, NYC Archbishop Timothy Cardinal Dolan had allowed the masses to be celebrated in the Kalayaan Hall of the Philippine Center one more time only because plans had been made and notices already sent out to community members by the time discussions about the future of this practice had started.

Existing Canon Law states that Catholic masses may only be celebrated in a sacred place of worhip — such as a church. Nevertheless, representatives of the Filipino community had reportedly remained hopeful and prayerful that the tradition would eventually be allowed to continue despite this…

[Simbang Gabi committee member Ave Pimo] said both the Consulate and the community will continue “hoping and praying” that Dolan will change his mind with Christmas still five months away.

Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle, who was in New York on a personal trip in May, reportedly advised the Fil-Am leaders to not give up and continue writing Dolan and the archdiocese to let them know and understand the sentiments of the community.

That the Archbishop of Manila himself would appeal on behalf of a tradition that hardly justifies itself as an exception to Roman Catholic Canon Law is quite notable. Canon 932 of the Vatican’s Code of Canon Law stipulates…

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Can. 932 §1. The eucharistic celebration is to be carried out in a sacred place unless in a particular case necessity requires otherwise; in such a case the celebration must be done in a decent place.

§2. The eucharistic sacrifice must be carried out on a dedicated or blessed altar; outside a sacred place a suitable table can be used, always with a cloth and a corporal.

The Canon Law is evidently open to broad interpretation as it does not explicitly state any exclusions or inclusions in the rather sparse guidelines it spells out above. However, provides some sensible guidelines around this law…

The key to interpreting the rule involves necessity. In all of the permitted examples referenced above, there was a real need to offer Mass outside of a Catholic church. If such a Eucharistic celebration were not permitted, the Mass could not take place.

So it logically follows that if a Catholic church is readily available, under normal circumstances it is difficult at best to justify the celebration of Mass elsewhere. Using a private home, when the residents are fully capable of coming to the parish church, or saying Mass in the parish garden, when the crowd could easily fit inside the church building, would not be in accord with either the code or the norms of the GIRM. If Mass can be said in the church, then it should be said in the church!

We see that the Church is realistic about the many difficult situations that Catholics face throughout the world, and is not hesitant to make accommodations so that they can participate in the celebration of the Eucharist insofar as it is possible. At the same time, however, the sacred nature of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is to be upheld as much as it can. The Church thus engages in a balancing act, always with the good of the souls of the Catholic faithful in mind. Whenever possible, they should not be deprived of the great privilege of participating in the Mass.

Clearly, exceptions to Canon 932.1 are justifiable under difficult situations. Pity then the average Filipino shopper. It is indeed “difficult” to abide by their sworn duties to their state religion with the glitz and glamour of shopping paradisos beckoning at every traffic clogged street corner of their country’s cities. But thanks to the pious hearts of the nation’s retail taipans, Filipinos need not worry as Catholic masses are standard omni-convenient services provided by the typical Filipino mall. Indeed, the logic seems pretty sound as far as Filipino logic goes:

Why go to church when our malls got it all?

Indeed, in the Philippines it is more fun because you can shop-and-pray. As can be noted in this year’s Holy Week 2012 Mall Hours in Metro Manila shopping mall walk-through masses are pretty well institutionalised in the Philippines. Every major mall in Metro Manila is represented in this quaint schedule.

It makes perfect business sense of course. Going to Church is as much a national pasttime in the Philippines as going to the mall. What better way to build “customer intimacy” (businessspeak for securing a controlling hold on a person’s testicles) with the Filipino than by providing a service that commands their pretentious attention on the hallowed floors of their other place of worship?

You can see this strategic genius at work in this mass schedule for a “Thanksgiving Mass and Blessing” published by SM Marikina under, get this, the “Promos and Events” section of their website. You have to read it to believe it…

As a celebration for the completion of the graduating students, a dedicated Holy Mass and Blessing shall be included on the weekly Sunday Masses. A featured icon of St. Thomas Aquinas, Patroness of Students, shall be enthroned at the Altar.

But of course if you were a mall operator, you’d want to offer a “Thanksgiving Mass” to the thousands of students graduating from around nearby schools. People in a mood to celebrate tend to be people who are also in the mood to spend.

13 Replies to “Should celebration of Catholic masses be allowed in shopping malls?”

  1. Then again we look upon the typical Filipino who is prayerful but who has double standards as well.

    I’ve never been comfortable going to Mass in shopping malls. It’s too unholy for me.

    1. I can cite a lot of churches in Manila that should as well be malls with the junk they peddle in an around their premises. Man, they even peddle forgiveness.

      Much as I’m aware that Mass is a community thing, I’d rather pray alone in a church that is also quiet and gives a feeling of reverence than a crowded, noisy stuffy place plagued with body odor, halitosis, and wailing babies. As if having meditation interrupted by a queue of beggars and solicitors with envelopes was not enough.

  2. Ganyan talaga ang nangyayari kapag gumagawa ng sariling batas ang katoliko, may canon law pa silang nalalaman eh likha lang ng tao yon, kaya sila mismo nalilito at nagsasariling kaloob. Bible a precised teaching of words of God. So why do they Canon Law after all? unless they are not the chosen people to teach the words of God.

  3. Rockwell , Megamall and Greenbelt have facilities like you are not in a mall. Glorietta is the worst though. No separation whatsoever from shopper and alleged church goer. What’s the point? I agree with Hugh that part of going to church is quiet time with God and not avoiding shoppers walking by.

    1. I think the mosque and church areas in Greenhills are pretty well done. The “dibidee” thing is well away from the hubbub of the shopping.

  4. I worked for a while for a small paper here, and they liked to party frequently (which may have something to do with why they’re out of business). And every time they’d have a function, usually at one of the nicer hotels, they’d start the festivities by having a mass, which is a real buzz kill from my point of view. I think if you’re in a church mood, then go to church, unless the extremity of your circumstances prevents it. This is one of those rare occasions when the church actually has a sensible perspective on things.

  5. Try lowering yourself on the floor at the direction of mecca at a mall and people there will look at you funny while they wont bat an eye when you kneel and clasp your hands in prayer at the same setting.

    Another cancerous aspect of Filipino “piety” is its ignorance of other religions except Catholicism and one branch of Protestantism.

  6. I always frown on a ban on religion or religious activities anywhere. The issue here would be proper use of the premises for certain purposes. Religious activities in malls are OK for me. But purpose-built halls for such would be better, so it could be segregated from the shopping environment.

  7. I find it a big disservice. I understand why His Eminence would like the Fil-Ams in his flock to go to mass under the roof of a Traditional house of worship to be able to join the larger portion of the family.

    However, not everyone can be acommodated by every parish’s schedule of masses.

    I work in a call center and when I have work on weekends, the schedules when we attend mass won’t cut it.

    Luckily, our parish holds mass in a nearby mall that better suit my sched

  8. I simply avoid mall masses altogether. Call me a selfish heathen, but I just can’t stand the noise and interruption. Maybe it’s the propriety of the whole thing, but like I said, I hate going to noisy churches too. Local Catholic places of worship in Metro Manila just don’t have that spiritual feel to them, IMO, what with all the noise and other racketry the local clergy have thought up.

    Why can’t they be like that nice little Greek Orthodox basilica in Paranaque, for example? It’s quiet, masses are appreciably solemn, and it’s appropriate. Same with the INC followers: services in proprietary locations. Mall masses to me are like masturbating in your parents’ bedroom. Just saying.

  9. Let see, Jesus didn’t sit around the temple or synagogues waiting for people to come to him; he went to where the people were. Today, Malls are where people congregate, forget Cannon Law, Minister to people where they are At! Only Bishops need Cathedrals and Churches – the last Supper was held in a rented Room!

  10. At least most malls have decent air conditioning for mass/mall-goers. Air conditioned churches are an uncommon site here in the hot as hell Philippines.

    Of course you wouldn’t just go to church for the air conditioning; but the point is, if the Protestants and other religious groups can provide a steady stream of cool air to promote a more conducive setting for prayer and worship, why can’t the damn Catholic church do the same?

    It’s pretty obvious that many Catholic friars are more concerned with other matters, such as feeling up the altar boys than to be up to speed in facilities which enhance the overall church-going experience.

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