The part of Rwanda I am currently in has a large population of Congolese immigrants. Several Rwandans have told me that their celebrations are quite different from the Rwandans’. They call the mass the “Congolese Mass,” which got me excited and prompted me to clarify if they meant the Congolese/Zaire Rite. Admittedly, my heart sank a little when I learned that the Congolese celebrate the Roman Rite, not Zaire Rite, in Kiswahili. The Congolese Mass is like the Hispanic Masses in the US, similarly celebrated by immigrants, they said. Nevertheless, I was told that the Congolese are more festive, love color, and dance a lot; Rwandans tend to be more subdued. Curious to experience a Congolese Mass for myself, I told a friend I’d go to one this morning. He looked a little dismayed. “It is Palm Sunday, so there will not be a lot of dancing because it is the passion,” he warned. I decided to go anyway.
The Mass began right outside the main entrance of the Church. It was a short procession into the Church. I couldn’t understand all of what was sung, but there were enough “Hosannas” that I could figure out where we were in the rite.
Inside the Church, the Mass went on as usual. The Gospel was proclaimed as a dialogue between five people— the priest and four lectors. The congregation knelt at the appointed moment, then stood again.
It was right then, at the completion of the Gospel, that things got interesting. One altar server took an altar candle away and into the sacristy!
I couldn’t understand the homily, so I can only surmise that the removal of the candle was symbolic of Christ’s death and burial. Reducing the number of candles from two to one, right after the reading, seemed to say that Christ as “light of the world” is momentarily dimmed, but not completely extinguished.
I missed the exact moment the candle was returned to its place, but it was back by the Preparation of the Gifts—just in time to remind us that Christ is with us, now, in the Eucharistic liturgy! I was so struck by the movement of the candle that I found myself meditating on its meaning vis-a-vis the Gospel text and the context of Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo throughout the rest of the liturgy. I now wonder if this is part of the larger Congolese community’s tradition or an innovation of this one. (If anyone else has seen this done before on Palm Sunday elsewhere, please let me know in the comments!)
The remainder of the liturgy proceeded in a familiar way. I was hoping to see some dancing, and finally did during the post-communion hymn. The choir and people waved their palms and clapped along as they sang.
What was your Palm Sunday experience?