Thursday, March 25, 2010

Problems With Korean Ancestral Rites

The ancestral rites, performed a number of times during the year, is a very important cultural event in the life of many Koreans. The Catholic Church looks upon the rites as a beautiful custom and hopes this form of respect and prayer for the dead will continue. However, for many it is not always performed without problems.

At the time of the rites, ancestors are believed to be again present to their relatives, who gather from different parts of the country to remember what the ancestors have bequeathed to them: their last words, their wisdom, the family precepts, their good works--all becoming part of the family reflection.

In the old Korea, a distinction was made between the Ordinary Koreans and the noble classes in the practicing of the rites. Up until the change of the social status system of Korean society, the common people would have the rites only for their parents. After the change all were free to observe the rites going back four generations Considering the efforts required to do this, we can more easily understand the value of filial piety for the Korean.

Because of the many religions that have come into the country, the Confucian rites for the dead have not always gone well. The financial condition of the household and the long hours spent preparing the meals are part of the problem, but the most serious problem occurs when family members have different religious beliefs. Some consider bowing to be idolatry; others will not eat the ceremonial meals. Because of these difficulties, a family that comes together to honor the dead, expecting an atmosphere of peace and harmony, will often find, instead, a family in conflict.
A writer, recently commenting on these difficulties, criticized the behavior of those who see the rites as a form of idolatry. It should be a time of harmony, remembering the dead, and renewing the bound of family, but when anyone in the family group has difficulty in participating, everyone in the family suffers.

The Catholic Church has made the move from opposition to acceptance, and the writer wonders what more can be done so that all can participate in the rites to strengthen the family bonds of love and unity.

It was suggested that scholars of the different religious groups in the country could get together and work out ways to help all to participate in these rites. The Catholic Church could do it, and it would be a blessing if some of the other groups that have difficulties with the custom could work to remedy the problems. Families would then be able to come together and celebrate the ancestral rites in an atmosphere of harmony and peace.

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