It was a surprise going down to our local mall, Riverbanks in Manila, as they are already playing Christmas songs (and we are not even out of September).  The songs are mostly American, I had to tolerate Mariah Carey screeching All I want for Christmas is you as I patiently waited in line to pay for three lemons. I am sure that the last – ‘you’ that came from the divas mouth lasted at least 2 min’.  Shopping malls are a big part of Phillipino culture – every city has a couple of these huge shopping centres, with seemingly one around every corner in Manila.  People slock thre at the weekends to socialise, eat, drink, browse and occasionaly actually buy things!  The richest guy here, a Chinese immigrant called Henry Sy, started the SM chain of malls from nothing – according to the Phillipino blog People he started off selling smuggled shoes on the pavement, he business is no worth $7 billion.  Going to the shopping mall on Sunday you will be in for a big suprise. In many malls Mass is celebrated before they switch on the escalators and open the shops.

Disclaimer – I am not responsible for the shaky camera work this time !  Clip taken off youtube.

These popular masses in malls were sanctioned by the Archbishop of Manila in 2007.  This could be seen as a visionary and creative attempt to literally bring religion into the marketplace, and these masses are well attended. Mass attendance seems strong to me here, but I have been told that in a population that recently surpassed 100million, only about 15% regularly partipate in the sacraments. The churches seem full because there are relatively few churches for such a large Catholic population.  So maybe it is necessary to bring mass to the people in the form of these mall masses –  but I have reservations.  Prior to the Second Vatican Council, the Holy Eucharist was celebrated only in churches and other places of worship – too restrictive – and starting in the 1950s, Church authorities began allowing Eucharistic celebrations in schools, to get children to participate. Now mass in shopping malls has arrived in the Philippines because on week-ends and statutory holidays these places are literally invaded by hundreds of thousands of people.

Good idea or not? Again I can see both sides of the argument, bringing it to the people versus the banalasation of a sacred and dignified rite. I think a crucial role for the Church is in offering a critical stance on consumerism. In fact this maybe more focused and helpful than just ranting against the evils of secularism.  The recent General Congregation of the Jesuits stated that the consumerist cultures in which people live today do not foster passion, but rather addiction and compulsion. They demand resistance (GC35 decree 2/21).  – and  a compassionate response. My own country – Britain – has a real problem with child well-being and unhappiness, so much so that UNICEF has just released a report  on the affects of consumerism on family life – basically expressing concern over patterns of ‘obsessive consumerism’ and how they affect children :

The Government must now show strong leadership in order to support families to fight back against the ways in which the UK’s materialistic culture embeds inequality in our society, affects family time and relationships, and has a negative impact on children’s well-being.  UNICEF  Child Well Being in the Spain, Uk & Sweden

So Mass in malls? commercialisation of Christmas ?  what do you think……