China is a beautiful country that is filled with history and culture begging to be explored. From the Great Wall of China to the luscious gardens and striking temples all throughout the country, there are so many historical marvels to explore. On top of that, China has some of the world’s biggest and most modern cities, which are often sights to behold in their own right.
While there is a lot of beauty to unpack in China, it does come with a few restrictions. The Chinese government is known globally for its censorship, and one area where that can be seen is in the practice of religion. After all, China is officially an atheist country. Freedom of religion is technically protected in China’s constitution, but there are definitely limitations to what that freedom looks like.
We spent a chunk of time living and working in China, spending the majority of our time living in Shanghai. As devout Catholics, we had many questions ourselves about what we would encounter during our time in China, and we had to figure this all out for ourselves! This post is going to provide you with all you need to know as a Catholic trying to get to Mass in Shanghai, China. For more information on Shanghai itself, make sure you check out our detailed Shanghai Travel Guide.
Is Catholicism Legal in China?
Many western Christians visiting China for the first time are unsure of what to expect when it comes to practicing their faith. After all, with China declaring itself an atheist country and the Chinese Communist Party being in control, these are reasonable questions! Luckily, the Chinese Constitution does protect the Freedom of Religion, and Christianity is legal throughout the country.
The 5 Religions Recognized by The Chinese Government:
The Chinese government officially recognizes five religions: Buddhism, Catholicism, Daoism, Islam, and Protestantism. These religions are all allowed to be freely practiced, as long as church leaders conform to rules and regulations imposed by the Chinese government.
Attending Catholic Mass in Shanghai is perfectly legal and accepted, and there is even a growing community of Catholics within the city. We attended Mass every Sunday and on many weekdays, and we remember seeing a decently sized congregation.
How Many Catholic Churches Are There in Shanghai?
Shanghai is the biggest city in China with a population of over 26 million people. In most countries, you could expect a city of this size to have a fairly large amount of Catholic churches…but not in China. The number of Catholic churches in Shanghai ebbs and flows, but it is usually around five or less. St. Ignatius Cathedral is the biggest Catholic church in Shanghai as it is the seat of the diocese, and this is the best place to attend Mass in Shanghai. Locally, it is more commonly known as Xujiahui Cathedral, and it is absolutely stunning.
While you could attend Mass at one of the other churches in the city, I recommend sticking to St. Ignatius Cathedral. It is conveniently located, offers Masses in English, and has a robust community of believers that are very welcoming to guests.
How to Attend Mass in Shanghai
As I just mentioned, there are not many Catholic churches in Shanghai. We think that the best option by far is St. Ignatius Cathedral (Xujiahui Cathedral), which is very conveniently located within the city and is run by a great community. We attended Mass at this church over 20 times and wouldn’t consider going anywhere else in Shanghai.
What to Expect at Mass in Shanghai
If you are a practicing Catholic, Mass in Shanghai will look exactly like you’d expect Mass to look like just about anywhere. The church is Roman Catholic, and the liturgy is exactly the same as it is anywhere else in the world. As far as the Mass itself, there are no noteworthy differences you should be aware of!
One detail that you should be aware of, however, is that the parish is very traditional and maintains pretty strict modesty standards. You should be sure to wear long pants or a long skirt, closed-toed shoes, and a shirt that covers your shoulders. There are members of the congregation who might actively try to tell you not to enter the church if you don’t meet that dress code.
Other than that, we just recommend blocking out a little bit of extra time to visit the church before or after Mass. The Cathedral itself is truly stunning, and there is a tranquil prayer garden right outside of the church. We liked to say a rosary in the prayer garden after Mass on Sundays before crossing the street and grabbing lunch in the big shopping mall.
Are Chinese Catholic Churches in Communion with the Pope?
As a devout Catholic, you might wonder whether or not the Chinese Catholic Church is in full communion with the Vatican. After all, the Chinese government does exercise some control over how the practice of religion unfolds within its borders, and there have been rumblings over the decades of some censorship issues.
Factually speaking, Catholic Churches in China are not in full communion with the Vatican, although they would like to be. To be in full communion with the Vatican, all bishops in China would need to be selected by the pope, yet the Chinese government has always kept that privilege to itself. In recent years, there has been progress between the Vatican and the Chinese government, but the Chinese Catholic Church still is not in full communion with the Vatican.
With that being said, the Mass fully satisfies your Sunday Obligation, and you are absolutely allowed and encouraged to receive the Eucharist while in China. While the churches are not in full communion with the pope, attending Mass at a Chinese Catholic Church is a much better option than not attending Mass at all.
Hopefully this post answered any questions you have about attending Catholic Mass in Shanghai. Finding ways to practice your religion is certainly challenging in some places, but attending Catholic Mass in Shanghai is very easy as long as you know where to go. If you have any questions about attending Mass in Shanghai, don’t hesitate to reach out. Send me an email at [email protected] or drop a comment below.