There is a standing joke in my parish back in Chicago. We always complain about the length of the announcements after Mass. Even while I have been away this year, the joke continues. I get text messages and emails from parishioners asking me if I have found a parish in the world with longer announcements.
Well… I finally have. It really has been a recurring theme of Africa, but today was exemplary. You have to remember, that many places in Africa are comprised of congregations with a great number of people who are illiterate. Therefore, the announcements are the only means of communication with the people. They use this time to exercise very simple activities required by Church law, such as announcing upcoming weddings. These announcements are made in order that the community may have sufficient time to object to the marriage if there is sufficient cause. In general, Africa is an oral culture, and as such, still puts a greater emphasis on spoken, rather than written communication.
But today exceeded anything I have ever seen in my life. Mass seemed like an excuse to gather for the real event, the announcements. The Mass started at 6:30 AM. Communion was finished by 8:00 AM. The congregation was released at 9:45 AM.
What could fill an hour and forty five minutes?
I still wonder myself.
There were four different collections during the announcements, each enhanced with a guest speaker, a song by the choir, and then a procession of the money. As if the excessive collections weren’t bad enough, the style was truly unique. In a manner of jubilant shouting/preaching that I have only read about before this, the priest got up in front of the community and prayed wildly until the community had given enough money into the collection plate. It was like a game. The community sat. He prayed. He got loud, admonished the community, then praised the community, and for everyone who gave a big monetary note, he rejoiced to God extolling the individual’s name. I thought I was in a American Protestant revival more than a Catholic Mass.
There were other activities that varied from my expectation as well. After three hours of sitting in the Church, I began to notice something odd, at least odd for me. There were no children around. While the third collection was taking place, I went to find out why. The reason became very clear. All of the children were gathered in another place where they receive instruction about what church was (rather than being in the church.) Separate services for children and adults are practices that I have customarily associated with American Protestants, never Catholics. Even when the Catholic parishes that I know take children out of Mass, they always return to celebrate the Eucharistic Prayer.
Different cultures do thing in different ways.
One of the big things that Africans do differently than American Catholics is to take advantage of the liturgical rite known as the Song of Thanksgiving. This is an optional rite that can be found in the liturgical books, but rarely celebrated in America. It happens after the Communion Rite. One of the reasons that the announcements were so long today was because the parish has an elaborate way of celebrating the Song of Thanksgiving. After the fourth collection was over… (ahem) FOURTH collection… the people began to line up to give “thanksgiving.” At least four groups gathered, marched to the altar, were received by the priest, prayed over, and then released, each time accompanied with a song by the choir.
I’m exhausted just thinking about all of it.
I don’t want it to seem as if I am complaining. St. Sabina’s was enormously hospitable to me all week long. I have been living at St. Sabina’s at through the generosity of Msgr. Boyo, and worshipping with the community all week long. They have made me feel enormously welcome, with the exception of the fellow who tried to stop me from receiving communion today. Hee apparently doubted that a white person was actually Catholic. (I mean come on! It isn’t as if we have had _________ consecutive popes who were Caucasian!)
What I most appreciated about the community of St. Sabina’s was their support for me, through prayer. After the long Mass at St. Sabina’s, I went another Mass at Mother of God outstation, an outstation of St. Sabina’s.
On more than one occasion, the priest asked the community to keep me in their prayers. He even changed his homily to incorporate my presence.
“Seek and you shall find, ask and it shall be given.” Jesus said in today’s gospel.
Father saw this pilgrimage that I am on as an embodiment of that scripture passage. To him, he was impressed that an American sought to understand who Catholics of Nigeria actually were. What is more, instead of sitting back in America reading a book about Nigerians, I came to find out for myself.
I am always surprised by those who I encounter on this pilgrimage seem to be as encouraged in their faith by my presence as I am by theirs. They are tickled that they have been considered worthy enough for me to visit. To me it doesn’t seem that big of a deal. They are part of the Body of Christ, the Church. They are the People of God, Citizens of Heaven. There are no second class accouchements to that entourage.
I have sought, and I have found. There are parishes in the world where the communities have longer announcements than my home parish of St. Ignatius. St. Sabina’s is such a place. As far as asking… the only thing for which I would hope to ask is that others in the Church would be open to receiving the gift of faith that the community of St. Sabina’s has. It is contagious. It is life giving, and best of all, it gives you the energy to be able to sit through a three and a half hour Mass.
Since this is my last blog entry for Nigeria, I have included a Google Earth pictorial for all of the Churches that I have visited in Nigeria. If you have downloaded Google Earth, you can view the pictorial by clicking here.