Sunday, July 15, 2007

Mass in Malava

St. Teresa Church in Malava

Mass on Sunday, in Malava, at St. Teresa Parish starts roughly at 9AM. Many parishioners come from a long distance on foot and so the Mass will not begin until most have arrived and the church is full. Luckily, I live on the parish grounds so I can usually leave the house at 9 o’clock, or even a few minutes past, and still make it on time.

Mural of St. Mary and St. John at the foot of the cross

African Jesus shepherding his flock

When I arrive at the church I genuflect and look up at the crucifix hanging behind the altar and notice the African depictions of St. Mary and St. John at the foot of the cross, to the right there is also an African depiction of Jesus shepherding his flock. I am always aware that I will be the only white person at Mass and so I sit in the back, trying not to call attention to myself. Even still, within a minute or two the parents and children in front and on the sides of me turn around to get a look. The children stare, but when they see that I am looking back at them they smile and then hide their faces. Just before Mass begins, the church fills to capacity and many sit elbow to elbow. The choir, whose space is reserved in the first five rows, warms up by singing a couple of songs. Finally, they start a fast song that is uplifting and full of energy.

Liturgical dancers enter the church and dance up the aisle

All rise and a long procession begins up the center aisle. At the front of the procession are the altar boys followed by two rows of liturgical dancers. These young girls dance their way up the aisle and then divide in half when they come to the front, before the altar. Father Paul, the pastor, is last in the procession. He enters the back of the church in a cloud of incense smoke.

When Father Paul gets to the front of the church he begins the Mass in Swahili by making the sign of the cross.

Kwa jina la Baba,
(In the Name of the Father)
na la Mwana,
(And of the Son)
na la Roho Mtakatifu.”
(And of the Holy Spirit)

And all reply,

From this point, most of the Mass is sung. St. Teresa Parish has an amazing and talented choir. About twenty men and women sing everything a cappella with only the occasional accompaniment of a drum and tambourine. Even though I don’t understand most of the words they are singing, their passion comes through and they make the Mass come alive.

Father Paul gives one of his famous homilies

As the readings are read in Swahili I read along with my bible in English. The Gospel is read and Father Paul begins his homily. I never understand what he is saying to the people, but he always has a funny and entertaining story to tell that is relevant to the readings. Several weeks ago, on Trinity Sunday, he had a captivated audience as he explained the Trinity using maize.

The ushers stand in a line as "Our Lady of Perpetual Help" looks over their shoulders

The Mass then continues as the petitions are given during the prayers of the faithful and then the collection is taken up. The collection is done differently than in the US in that the baskets stay up by the altar while ushers dismiss row by row, to come to the front. The ushers wear colored sashes with “Malava Catholic Parish” on them, but because they cannot read in English the lettering is always upside-down. A typical offering is between twenty and fifty shillings, which is about thirty to seventy-five cents. It’s always a struggle for me to remember to bring my money in the morning and can be embarrassing when I forget. I am assumed by all to be very wealthy and it gives a bad impression when I have nothing to give while the poor villagers are offering up all they have.

The gifts are brought to the altar

When it comes time to present the gifts on the altar there are sometimes loud animal noises coming from outside the church. At Mass in the States, most of the time, the gifts are simply the bread and wine. In Kenya, the gifts are presented with another long procession that comes up the center aisle. The people dance as they carry gifts of fruit, vegetables, rice, maize, salt, sugar, eggs, soda, baking flour, and even toilet paper. Each gift is wrapped nicely in a black plastic bag. Some villagers even offer animals as gifts to place on the altar. Chickens are the most common, but there is also the occasional sheep. So that they don’t get loose in the church each animal must have it’s legs tied. This is usually done just outside of the church and the animals can be heard screaming and struggling to get free during the first part of the Mass. Two men will carry a large sheep upside by it’s legs as they bring it up the aisle. Sometimes it’s still “baa-ing.” It looks just like an animal sacrifice and it makes me laugh all the time. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to take a clear picture of this happening.

Gifts at the altar

After the gifts are brought, Father Paul consecrates the bread and wine and the choir leads in singing the “Baba Yetu” or “Our Father.” When it comes time to offer the sign of peace many children come over to where I am and are excited to shake my hand. Sometimes they just want to touch my skin to see if it feels to same as theirs. They offer the sign of peace by saying,

Amani ya Bwana (Peace of the Lord)
Amani ya Kristu (Peace of Christ).

Father holds up the Body and Blood of Christ

Father Paul then holds up the Body and Blood of Christ and the parishioners come up to receive the Eucharist. Surprisingly, the same organization that is used during the collection is lost when going up to receive Communion. The line is not single file but horizontal along the altar and many come all at once and then wait in clusters to receive the host.

Parishioners receive communion

Father Paul says to each,

Mwili wa Kristu
(Body of Christ)

And they reply

What is somewhat surprising is that only about half of the church receives Communion. Many of the villagers were not brought up Catholic, or even Christian, and can’t receive the Eucharist because they haven’t been Baptized. All the same, they come to church to offer their prayers for the community.

After Communion, the whole church bows as the Eucharist is placed back in the tabernacle and then all kneel as the choir leads in slowly singing a prayer of St. Ignatius Layola, the Anima Christi. The mood is very solemn and one of great reverence. It is really only at this one moment, during the Mass, that I feel one with these people. I don’t know every word that is spoken, but I understand. They are mostly the poor and uneducated, but I can see they understand. All language and cultural barriers have been broken down. Together we have all become brothers and sisters.

All rise and Father Paul again makes the sign of the cross and then says,”

Nendeni na amani (Go in peace)

All reply,
Tumshukuru Mungu (Thanks be to God)

Our countries and cultures have many differences, but during the Mass we all become one in Christ.


Anonymous said...

Amen! Amen! Amen!
Simply beautiful. Praise God. Bless you, Tim.

In peace,

Tim said...

Hey Tim!

I was at Mass this week and Fr. Ben brought up the story of Elisha and the she-bears. I couldn't help but laugh during his homily as I was thinking about our discussions about it during Bible Study. Hope you are doing well!


tricia said...

Tim: I was born in Kenya many moons ago. Your blog is beautiful and brings back many memories! Unfortunately, my Kiswahili has faded over the last 40 years.
I wonder if you can help me. I am looking for a Kiswahili translation of the Pentecost prayer: "Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts ofyour faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love." At Mass this Sunday, our prist has asked for the prayer in as many languages as possible for Pentecost. Can you please help me with this?

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