Asian Wedding Tradition: Honoring the Ancestors

In many Asian cultures, especially in Vietnamese and Chinese families, the ancestors hold a very special place in the home. There you’ll find a small altar where pictures of grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, siblings, and extended family who have died are displayed, incense is burned, and gifts, such as fruits, are given in remembrance of these loved ones.

Honoring Ancestors as a Wedding

Although this Asian wedding tradition developed from Buddhist roots, many Asian Catholic parishes have incorporated the custom since it complements the Catholic tradition of honoring the saints, our ancestors in faith. A Catholic understanding of this tradition is very different, however, from the Buddhist belief of reincarnation or from an animistic view of the world—where the dead continue their existence among the living as ghosts and spirits, needing to be appeased and consulted before every major decision.

As Catholics we believe that with death, “life is changed, not ended,” as we profess at funerals. Our loved ones live in a new way with Christ, and we can remember them and pray to them for their intercession since we are all part of the communion of saints with them.

The wedding couple and their families honor the ancestors by standing before a small table where photos or a list of the names of the ancestors are displayed. There they offer burning incense—usually in the shape of incense sticks rather than the typical grains you find at most churches—bowls of fruit, flowers, and other gifts, bowing several times before the altar to the ancestors. In some Catholic churches, relics of the saints are also placed on the altar to the ancestors. This helps to remind us that our faith in Christ unites us together even in death and that all the saints and angels pray with us every time we gather at Christ’s altar.