Anyone that reads my blog posts is aware that I have found a new love for the Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church and recently wrote a post about breathing with both lungs of the Church. Within this motif, I have found myself interested in experiencing how other cultures pray and worship Jesus Christ in the tradition of Catholicism. After all, Catholicism has been THE Universal Church from Acts 2.
This past Sunday, I was blessed to attend St. James Roman Catholic Church in Glendale, Arizona. They celebrate an African Mass on the last Sunday of every month. My uncle and aunt attend St. James and have invited me to attend this Mass for some time. The parish is within the boundaries of the Diocese of Phoenix, but is run by the Apostles of Jesus, an African order founded in Uganda and now headquartered in Kenya.
Knowing that I wanted to witness the preliminaries before Mass begun, I arrived about ten minutes early. My aunt was waiting for me in the back of the church, which is actually a multi-purpose building. Along with my uncle, we took our seats, I said my Before Mass Prayers, and waited with great anticipation for Mass to start. The 10 to 12 person choir was playing music as people entered. Most of the choir was dressed in African attire and some wore headdresses as well. The music for the liturgy would be sung in Swahili. I knew this was going to very different!
As Holy Mass started, the procession entered from the back and my uncle said, “Here they come!” Eight girls ranging from their teenage years to maybe 10 years old processed in wearing African attire and dancing to the very festive, yet reverent music being played by the choir. Behind the girls were two young teenage boys also wearing similar attire, but they were carrying spears and shields. Behind them were the three altar servers, lectors, extraordinary ministers of hospitality, and then the Deacon and Priest. I had a grin from ear to ear!
The only time I had seen this before was in the Catholicism Series by Fr. Robert Barron when he visited the site of St. Charles Lwanga and Ugandan Martyrs (see the video below and the video at the end).
After the priest said the opening prayer, the same group that just processed in came in again dancing to a different song. This was the Bible Procession. A man danced and carried the Book of the Gospels in a wicker basket on his head. In the African Mass, the Word of God is so important that it has its own procession. The whole congregation was focused on the Gospels. During the Kyrie Eleison, the first part was chanted in Greek, the second part was chanted in English, and the third part was chanted in Swahili.
Mass flowed as usual in the Roman Rite: First Reading, Responsorial Psalm, Second Reading, and then the Gospel, all being read in English, except the Psalm, which was sung in Swahili. For the Alleluia or the “Nilakweli”, the individuals that processed in were dancing in their places as the Deacon carried the Book of the Gospels from the altar to the ambo. The Pastor, Fr. Robert, gave the homily. It was Stewardship Sunday at the parish so he focused his homily on the narrow gate and stewardship. As with the Liturgy of the Word, the Nicene Creed and Universal Prayer (Intentions) were said in English.
As we sat for the Offertory, the dancers processed in again as the Bread and Wine was offered to the Deacon and Priest. It was yet another festive, but reverent song with the words, “We bring to you, we bring to you, Oh Lord receive…Our offertory Father…Bread and Wine…Our Life…All our relatives…And all our countries…Oh Lord receive them.” From that point onward, the Holy Mass was celebrated as it is in the Roman Rite.
The Liturgy of the Eucharist was very reverent and the music that accompanied (Holy, Holy, Holy; Memorial Acclamation; Great Amen; Lamb of God; and the two Communion Songs) was just as prayerful, sacred, and all sung in Swahili. You can see that the priests have a real love and devotion for the Holy Eucharist. The parish of St. James is blessed to have this order serving them.
The same group they processed previously led the procession down the aisle and out towards the vestibule as Mass concluded. After saying my After Mass Prayers, my uncle and aunt introduced me to Fr. Robert. He and I had heard many things about each other and it was finally good to meet him in person. After sharing with him how much I enjoyed Holy Mass, we left for lunch.
The one thing I can tell you about this particular Mass is that it was very reverent. Even though the music had a more festive rhythm to it, it was sung and played in a sacred way. The focus was never on the choir; the focus was always on the sanctuary.
It was a great experience and one that I hope to repeat in the near future. I would encourage you to attend an African Mass if one is in your area. As Catholics, it is our duty to learn from the other cultures that compose the Church. I believe it’s a vital component for the New Evangelization in the 21st century.
250th Blog Post