Different Yet the Same

One of the great privileges of my mission ministry is to worship with people in their own languages and cultures. Here in the Archdiocese of Boston, we bring as many of our cultural communities together on World Mission Sunday, the second to last Sunday in October, so that each can experience the richness of our universal Church.

When I go to the missions, the exposure to the Mass celebration in a different language and circumstance is more personal and specific as it is one language and way of worship that I encounter. Of course, it doesn't matter if I don't know the language -- I know the Mass! As a cradle Catholic, I can pretty much recite the whole thing, minus the readings and homily, in my head. Now that we have technology, I need only to use my smart phone and I can also have those formerly missing pieces, too.

So, while in Malawi in December and our group representing the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States (TPMS USA) was escorted to our seats at the side of the mud-brick sanctuary, I understood what was about to happen. As the choir began to sing, we stood. Altar servers, liturgical dancers (very common in East African Masses), and clergy approached the altar as the crowd sang and moved almost as one. The beginning of that Liturgy was a very exciting moment for people who aren't able to celebrate Mass on a regular basis!

As the celebrant made the sign of the cross, the congregation fell into a reverent silence. It was such a change in atmosphere that I found myself looking around to see if something else had occurred! Then, something very striking happened: as the priest began the Confiteor, the crowd, young and old, fell to their knees.

People who had been dancing and singing just a moment before in such joyful exuberance were kneeling to tell God how sorry they were for the general sins they may have committed, asking His pardon and grace to make them worthy to later receive Him in the Eucharist. It was a stunning moment of devotion and humility.

The Introductory Rites continued, the Liturgy of the word came about, all as I expected. One thing that did not surprise me, having been to enough Masses in African countries, was the length of Father's homily, which was about twenty-five minutes. If you had walked an hour or more to get to Mass, would you be satisfied with just ten minutes of how to apply God's Word to your life?

Father knows that this is his time to feed his flock. And they are hungry for it.

- Maureen Crowley Heil is Director of Programs and Development for the Pontifical Mission Societies, Boston.