Q: Can a Catholic partake of food offered:
1) during the Qing Ming festival?
2) during the seventh month Hungry Ghost festival?
A: Whenever a question of this nature is asked of us, it is always good to obtain guidance and direction from sacred scripture. 1 Cor 10:27-30 gives us sound Christian advice, but we should also take into consideration the other reasons why these gatherings take place in our culture.
St Paul cautions us against being a scandal to others in this matter, and for good reason. We Christians certainly do not believe that spirits or ghosts (hungry or sated) eat foods offered. But what we do in the presence of our non-Christian friends and relatives can be a cause of scandal to them. In their Taoist or Chinese religious beliefs, such foods are indeed either consumed or “blessed” by these spirits, and their partaking of such foods provides for them a blessing in life or for good fortune. This is particularly true in the case of the foods offered at the Qing Ming festival.
If these relatives of ours are inviting us to this meal for the purpose of receiving these “blessings”, and if they specifically ask that we participate in their rites and rituals a propos to these foods, we should refrain from partaking in these meals, chiefly because we believe that our blessings come from God alone and none other.
Simply sharing these meals without explaining our faith may easily cause them to think that Catholicism has elements of syncretism, which is not the case.
St Paul did say that if those who invited us to eat at these meals never mention anything about such motivations for such meals, that we are to eat whatever is placed before us.
As baptised Catholics, we should not be participating in rituals and rites pertaining to worship in other faiths. But outside of these rites and rituals, it would not be considered wrong or illicit to partake of these foods, especially if such meals have a greater purpose of forging and strengthening familial bonds and ties.
We certainly do not want to be guilty of misinterpreting the faith and belief of our relations who are of a different religion. So that we do not assume too much, perhaps it would be good to clarify how they interpret their beliefs as far as such foods are concerned so that any possible scandal can be avoided.
Fr Luke Fong