Two weeks ago, I was privileged to attend Mass at the St. Kateri Shrine in Fonda, New York. It was a dual celebration: today is ten years since the canonization of St. Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American saint. The celebration on October 9th was held on Indigenous Peoples Weekend, acknowledging the history and legacy of the Native peoples who were already living and thriving in the Americas at the time of Columbus’ landing in what is now the Bahamas.
It was a chilly, fall day with bright blue skies and vibrant, colorful leaves, mostly still waving from their branches. Mass was held outdoors in the pavilion, a roof the only cover from the elements. As mass is celebrated, an occasional breeze flutters in, and really reminds you of Creation and the Creator. I had time before the mass and so I wandered the grounds a bit, spent some quiet time in the candle chapel, contemplated the words of Handsome Lake, an Iroquois Prophet whose words appear in the Peace Grove; I made a small cross from sticks and twine, reminiscent of St. Kateri’s own according to the sign on the table.
But mostly, I simply settled in with a subdued awe in the anticipation of the mass, the quiet celebration of Kateri’s canonization and difficult life that she never shunned from nor complained about. My eyes were drawn constantly to the bright colors of the Native dress, the feathers adorning and the large eagle feathers carried and used for the Mohawk rituals.
Between the Greeting and the Liturgy of the Word was the Sweetgrass Blessing, the burning of plants and herbs, assisted in its smoking by the motion of the eagle feather. We were invited to proceed up, as if for communion to receive the smoke. I felt as though I was part of something bigger, something ancient, and of course, I was, and I felt honored and humbled to be there. The four sacred plants used in Mohawk ceremonies are cedar, tobacco, sweetgrass, and sage.
Throughout the mass whenever hymns or songs were presented they were by the Mohawk Choir of Akwesasne. I couldn’t understand the words but the meaning was clear. Their voices carried on the wind and through the chapel and transported me far away and very near.
Sister Kateri Mitchell, who played a part in the 2006 miracle for St. Kateri Tekakwitha’s elevation to sainthood was there to share the prayer of the faithful and to talk about the miracles associated with the saint. I have met her before and was happy to see her and talk to her briefly on this day.
Following the mass, there was the annual burning of the prayer petitions. The Bishop said the prayer over them and that concluded this remarkable day.
I have found that attending mass in other cultures deepens my own faith and commitment to my own prayer and meditations. I have included some links throughout this post in the hopes that you will read more about St. Kateri Tekakwitha and her people and their journeys.
The Lord's Prayer in the Mohawk Language
Takwaién:a karonhiá:ke tehsí:teronTakwaién:a karonhiá:ke tehsí:teron
Tsi ní:ioht né karoniá:ke tiesawennaráhkhwa
Takwá:nont né kenwénte
Sasa'nikónr:hen né ionkwarihwané:ren
Tsi ní:ioht ní:'i tsonkwa'nikór:henhs
Bothé:nen ionkhi'nikonhrasksá:tha nón:kwe.
Nok tóhsa aionkwa'shén:ni né karihwané:ren
Akwé:kon é:ren shá:wiht né io'taksens
Asekenh í:se sáwenhk né io'taksens
Asekenh í:se sáwenhk né kanakeráhsera'
Tsi nienhén:we e'thó naiá:wen