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Catholicism, Race and Culture

A New Saint, and a Native American Catholic Mass

At the end of the first 52 weeks of my journey, I found the Kateri Center of Chicago, which serves American Indian Catholics throughout Chicago.  I tried to visit, but unfortunately, due to a mixup in times, I missed out. I did, however, go to a Native American Mass in the second 52 weeks of my journey, but never got around to writing it up. When I found out about the Kateri Center, I also found out about Kateri Tekakwitha. Last week, I saw a story that Kateri Tekakwitha had been granted sainthood.  

So, here is the story of my time worshipping in a Native American Mass at St. Benedict’s Church. Enjoy!

Inside St Benedict’s Church, there was a chapel where mass took place.

The small chapel was filled with a dozen dark stained wood pews. In the front of the chapel was an altar, covered with Native American images and crosses. Stained glass windows surrounded the chapel; dream catchers with colored ribbons hanging from them hung on the walls between the windows. Blue missals were tucked in holders behind the pews. These missals contained all the instructions and text that would be needed to follow along during the mass.

The congregation was a mixture of different kinds of people  – Caucasian, African-American and Native American. The first time I looked around, I saw only women and children. Later I noted that one man had joined us. As per usual, I wondered about the background of all the people and how we all ended up worshipping together in a Native American Catholic Mass.

The worship leaders moved around preparing for mass.  Incense was lit. One wore a brown robe; he appeared to be a monk of some sort. The other wore a white robe with blue and gold stripes and a picture of Jesus on the back. He appeared to be a priest. An usher handed out a green piece of paper with a hymn on it.

Before the service, the sound of a fan began. The fan cooled down the sanctuary, and windows were opened as the chapel filled. Even with the infusion of air, the smell of incense filled the church.

The service opened with a mention of the Trinity. This was familiar. Then, a prayer. During the prayer, we moved together as a congregation – facing each direction. First north, then east, then south, then west. The prayer called on The Great Spirit to bless the service. At the end of the prayer, we touched the earth; it seemed that we were grounding the prayer in a realization of the place that we stood.

We all shared in the incense that was burning, as one of the worship leaders waved the incense smoke towards us with a feather.

Another prayer referencing the Trinity. Then a reading from Exodus. Then we sang from the green sheet of paper. The name of the song: Glory and Praise Forever.

Then, a reading from Corinthians 13:11-14:

Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss.All God’s people here send their greetings. May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

And another familiar one, for Christians, or anyone who has ever attended a sporting event, John 3:16:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

The homily followed, including a reflection of on the concept of the Trinity. The priest described Jesus as “the full vivacity and possibility for us.”

Familiar.

The call and response replaced the phrase “Lord, hear our prayer,” with “Great Spirit, hear our prayer.”

Culture and Faith influencing each other.

Time for Communion

In the pew behind me a little girl, maybe 3 years old says, “Are we done?”

Familiar. Children don’t generally hold back their true feelings, even during worship.

The priest prepares communion; I pass, as I always do in Catholic services; the faithful takes communion from one cup.

We say the Lord’s prayer in unison.

Familiar. In a favorite sort of way. Speaking together in unison is one way to feel close to those others in the chapel who just happened to choose this service on this day, as I did.

Then, the passing of the peace. We shook hands and greeted those who were gathered on that morning.

Familiar.

We all were asked to flash the peace sign to those who are farther away.

New. Interesting.

Then we sang. The ending hymn, familiar: How Great Thou Art.

Then, announcements. This Native American Mass happens once a month in this location, apparently. The priest visits from different places; today the Father was visiting from a seminary in Mundelein, IL.  There is a prayer circle that happens twice a week during lunch. I make a mental note to try to attend one.

Throughout this journey, one thing that has always intrigued me has been the interplay of culture, community, religion, and experience. Today I learned some new things about how respect for the faith traditions of a cultural community can evolve and change, based on the experiences of the faithful.

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