A Mohawk-Themed Mass in Honor of St. Kateri

A Mohawk-Themed Mass in Honor of St. Kateri April 14, 2015

NativeAmerChurch(Photo property of narrative.ly)

One of our freelance writers, Garan Santicola, recently wrote an article about Native American Catholics for the website Narratively, which describes itself this way: “Narratively is a platform devoted to untold human stories. We avoid the breaking news and the next big headline, and focus instead on slow storytelling, exploring one theme each week and publishing just one story a day. Our network of talented and passionate storytellers and editors comb our world’s big cities and hidden corners for the characters and narratives that mainstream media aren’t finding—the underdogs and overlooked tales that enlighten us, connect us, and capture our imagination; stories that would otherwise fall through the cracks.”

The piece gives great insight into how Native Americans are integrating the symbols of their pre-Christian spirituality into the practice of their Catholic faith without diluting the Catholicism.

Here is an excerpt from the article:

It is the morning of Sunday, April 27, 2014, at the Saint Regis Catholic Mission Church on the Canadian side of the Akwesasne Reservation. Cars jam into the parking lot of the property, which abuts the Saint Lawrence River – a large, slow-moving waterway dotted with islands as far as the eye can see. The grass that stretches around the church and rectory is already green, while purple buds on leafless trees only hint at the arrival of spring.

The predominantly Mohawk crowd files into the 200-year-old stone church for an inculturated feast day Mass that promises to blend elements of their own indigenous spiritual practices, such as smudging and prayers to the Creator, into the rituals of the Catholic faith.

Some wear traditional dress: colorful shirts for the men and dresses for the women – with leggings, breechcloths, ribbon-work, beaded collars and symbolic tribal and clan-related patterns embroidered into the fabric.

The otherwise simple interior of the church is adorned with similar regalia: leather, splint and sweet-grass baskets with intricate beadwork, homemade blankets draped over railings, and braided sweet-grass and four-color medicine wheels hanging from wooden beams.

Soon, brother-and-sister altar servers Nathan and Amanda Rourke lead Father Jack Downs and Father Anthony Osuji in a procession up the center aisle as the Mohawk Choir sings them in. The celebrants and servers take their places on the altar, where Father Osuji commences the introductory rite of the Mass. An energetic Nigerian priest, he leads the congregation in joyful worship with his orotund voice and accented but well-spoken English.

After the introductory rite, Osuji steps aside as members of the community come forward to perform a smudging ceremony, wherein the sacred plants of cedar, sage, sweet-grass and tobacco are burned together in a bowl to carry prayers to the Creator.

As the smudge is prepared, Bernice Lazore, a Mohawk elder wearing traditional dress in the red, white, yellow and black of the four directions medicine wheel, stands from her seat in the choir at the front of the church, walks to the pulpit and prays:

Creator God, may the smoke of the sacred plants rise up
to you. May it spread through the universe and be a sign
of our faithfulness. Bless all of us. Let the smoke of the
sacred plants make us clean and make us worthy to walk
in your presence. We ask you Lord to hear us as we pray.

The smoke from the smudge rises past a nearby statue of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha and beyond a large archway that displays the words Ahonwasennaien Iesos Okaristiiakon, which means “Blessed be Jesus in the Holy Eucharist.” Lazore leads the congregation in the Four Directions prayer as all turn to the east and offer tobacco for spring, earth and new life. Then to the south to offer sweet-grass for summer, fire and adolescence. Next to the west to offer cedar for autumn, water and adulthood. Finally to the north, with sage for winter, wind and the elders.

You can read the whole article here.

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