Book Review: The Roman Rite in the Algonquian and Iroquoian Missions

Claudio R. Salvucci. The Roman Rite in the Algonquian and Iroquoian Missions: From the Colonial Period to the Second Vatican Council. Massinahigan Series, vol. 5. Merchantville, NJ: Evolution Publishing, 2008.

I would like to preface my review of The Roman Rite in the Algonquian and Iroquoian Missions with some personal data that may highlight why I have been so interested in these pre-Vatican II examples of what we would today call “liturgical inculturation.”

I have had the privilege of serving occasionally as the liturgical leader of prayer for the Gichitwaa Kateri (“Blessed/Saint Kateri [Tekakwitha]”) Catholic Church located in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. This community gathers on Sunday mornings at 10 AM for multicultural worship that integrates the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite with Dakota and Anishinabe languages and cultural/spiritual practices.

I am frankly in awe of the impact Fr. James Notebaart, former director of the Office of Worship for the Archdiocese, occasional contributor to Pray Tell, and long-term pastor of this parish, has had in overseeing the liturgical inculturation developed and manifest at Gichitwaa Kateri. Some of the examples of liturgical inculturation appearing in the celebration of Lord’s Day Eucharist at the parish include:

The use of a structure of curved willow branches serving as a tabernacle to house the consecrated elements;

“Smudging,” a ceremony of blessing/purifying worshipers by smoke generated through burning sweetgrass (in other cultures: cedar, sage and/or tobacco) waved in the direction of individual worshipers by an eagle feather;

While English remains the foundational language, certain elements of the liturgy (especially common sung texts) occur in native languages;

A ceremonial offering of water enacted by female members of the community;

Drumming conjoined to native chants;

The dedication of bread and wine intended for consecration with prayers offered in the four compass directions.

In our conversations about worship there, Fr. Notebaart made it clear that none of the customs developed at Gichitwaa Kateri were imposed upon the community because of his mandate. Rather modifications of the Roman Rite were requested by members of the community, discussed, tried in practice and refined before becoming a regular part of Sunday worship.

It is this experience of inculturated liturgy that led me to learn what I could of the “Mission Masses” or “Indian Masses” celebrated prior to Vatican II in various mission parishes, mostly in French-speaking Canada, but I found very little written about these worship practices other than the bare fact that they existed. It was therefore with great delight that I discovered Claudio R. Salvucci’s The Roman Rite in the Algonquian and Iroquoian Missions, a fascinating work of research based on liturgical manuscripts in use at various missions edited and published from the mid-1800s through the early 1900s, as well as historical sources that describe liturgical and devotional customs in these mission communities.

After an introduction in which the author discusses the terminology he employs for these liturgies, opting for “Indian Mass” to designate the liturgy of the missions as a whole and to identify variations within a particular mission as “uses,” he offers a short summary of the history of the Indian missions from the 1600s to the present day. Salvucci then lists the liturgical and historical sources he employed for his study, including the Book of Seven Nations, Kaiatonsera Teieriwakwatha, Niina Aiamie Masinaigan, a Collection of Huron Songs, the Maillard Manuscript, the Paroissien Micmac, the Indian Good Book, and Aiamie Kushkushkutu Mishinaigan. From these sources he explores liturgical (primarily the Indian Mass with its proper calendars and hagiography, but also noting other sacramental liturgies and the Divine Office) and devotional (music and hymnody, rosaries, chaplets, devotional wampum, prayer sticks) practices. In a series of appendices, Salvucci transcribes in detail the Mass of Trinity Sunday according to the Akwesasne Use (Mohawk/Latin) and provides the texts of the (sung) Ordinary of the Mass according to the Kanesatake Use (Mohawk), the Lorette Use (Huron), the Oka Use (Algonquin), and the Old Town Use (Penobscot).

Readers will soon become aware that the author brings a certain traditionalist bias to his reading of the liturgical history of the “Indian Mass”: “Change [in liturgical practice] is certainly allowable and perhaps sometimes even required, yet not by cycles of revolution and restoration but by a process of organic growth and maturation. This process is one of centuries, not years, as successive generations work to distill the best of what their ancestors had to offer and work also to filter out of liturgical practice what is merely trendy from what is timeless” (90-91). In the light of this principle, it is interesting to note that the author nonetheless offers in “Appendix C” a proposed “Adaptation of the Indian Mass to the Novus Ordo Missae” (133-134).

The author modestly notes the limited nature of this study and suggests what future research might explore: “One can only do this subject justice by diligent study not only of the published sources but the copious manuscript archives at Kahnawake, Oka, Odanak and other missions as well as of the chancery archives of bishops who oversaw them. Also crucially important would be to visit those locations and interview priests, choir members, and parishioners who still retain the living connections to some of the traditions described here…. Yet even a project of such limited scope has its place, if it be only to inspire researchers and liturgical historians to more deeply study the Indian Masses as a legitimate, organic development of the Roman Rite in North America. And then, please God, to use this knowledge to encourage future development that will be faithful to the Catholic traditions and sensibilities of the native peoples of the New World” (xiv-xv). In the light of my own experience with a living expression of such organic development, I can only share the author’s holy desire.

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