Confucius remarked: “The Emperor Wu and his brother, the Duke of Chow, were indeed eminently pious men. Now true filial piety consists in successful carrying out the unfinished work of our forefathers and transmitting their achievements to posterity.
In Spring and Autumn they repaired and put in order the ancestral temple; arranged the sacrificial vessels, exhibited the regalia and heirlooms of the family, and presented the appropriate offerings of the season.
The principle in the order of precedence m the ceremonies of worship in the ancestral temple is, in the first place, to arrange the members of the family according to descent. Ranks are next considered, in order to give recognition to the principle of social distinction. Services rendered are next considered as a recognition of distinction in moral worth. In the general banquet those below take precedence of those above in pledging the company, in order to show that consideration is shown to the meanest. In conclusion, a separate feast is given to the elders, in order to recognise the principle of seniority according to age.
To gather in the same places where our fathers before us have gathered; to perform the same ceremonies which they, before us, have have perfomed; to play the same music which they before us have played; to pay respect to those whom they honoured; to love those who were dear to them –in fact, to serve them now dead as if they were living, and now departed as if they were still with us– this is the highest achievement of true fillial piety.
The performance of sacrifices to Heaven and Earth is meant for the service of God. The performance of ceremonies in the ancestral temple, is meant for the worship of ancestors. If one only understood the meaning of the sacrifices to Heaven and Earth, and the signification of the services in ancestral worship, it would be the easiest thing to govern a nation.