How to Celebrate a Multicultural Mass
Words by Erwin Cabucos
The saying of the mass as a cultural experience complements the spiritual dimension of the sacrament. It is after all a holy gathering that, not only deepens people’s union with Christ, but it calls all peoples into communion with one another. The mass by its essence is a celebration of unity of all peoples regardless of backgrounds, colour and nationality. If fact it should celebrate the richness of the cultural diversity of the people, as indicated by the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “…it must be proclaimed, celebrated, and lived in all cultures in such a way that they themselves are not abolished by it, but redeemed and fulfilled…” (CCC 1204). This richness is recognised within the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. This very richness, as well, contributes to the deep experiential dimension of the celebration where the person from the cultural group feels the sense of belonging and acceptance as the person outside the cultural group is made aware of the presence of people from other cultures thus actualising the calling for tolerance and harmony.
But how does this take place within the liturgy? What parts and aspects of the Mass that could be enhanced or changed a little to highlight the multicultural tone of the celebration? First, it should tap the potential of the people within the parish: who are we as a parish? What cultural groups exist within our community? What talents and skills are they willing to share? Second, it should utilise objects, artefacts and other symbolic items that reflect colours, smell, and sounds of different cultures. Third, what elements of the Mass that our liturgical team are willing to be varied for multicultural purposes? What aspects of the liturgy can we change a little in order to make way for multicultural themes of the celebration?
The following are specific examples as responses for the above questions. These are ways in which the Catholic mass could be infused with multicultural theme:
1. Songs in other languages. The priest welcomes the parish choir or language groups within the community to sing in their own language. The projector shows the translation of the song, so that the whole congregation understands the meaning of the hymn, at the same time, enjoys the melody originating from another part of the world. Depending on the number of linguistic groups that are present in the parish, but the line-up of the songs could go from Spanish entrance hymn, Filipino offertory hymn, Samoan communion song, Korean thanksgiving song, and a common language or English recessional song.
2. Readings in other languages. The first or second reading could be read in other languages provided that the English of common language translation is projected on the screen. The choice of language for this particular purpose will be emanating from the majority of multicultural language group that exists in the parish. The heart of the person who belongs from that language group is sure to swell by the act of recognition given by the community to his or her culture. This is a true celebration of cultural diversity in the personal and social levels.
3. Prayers of the faithful in different languages. As not all language groups in the parish could be represented in the selection of songs, the prayers of the faithful could accommodate that opportunity. Ensure however that the English or common language translation of each prayer is projected onto the screen. Each prayer must end in English, too, such as: “Let us pray to the Lord, Lord hear our prayer.” It is indeed welcoming to hear prayers in different languages: Hindi, Kirundi, Indonesian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Tongan, Hungarian, German and Italian.
4. The Our Father in people’s own languages. The priest will simply allow people to say the Lord’s Prayer in their own language. It is amazing to hear people say the ‘Our Father’ in Portuguese, Japanese, French, Egyptian, Indonesian and Tongan versions uttered in harmony at the same time – the ambience is phenomenal.
5. The Offertory from a specific cultural group. Some parishes who have had the pleasure of experiencing such richness are, not only entertained but also blessed by the diversity of such ritual. In the planning stage, approach a cultural group to integrate dance in their procession of gifts. The Pacific Island groups such as the Samoan can easily render an Islandic dance with hints of Taualuga and haka moves as dancers carry the gifts of bread, wine and other symbolic gifts, e.g. mat, a bunch of banana and a village torch towards the altar. It is rather a theatrical experience to hear the drums to the beat of the dance, smell the Frangipani flowers in the isle, and see the swaying hands and body of the dancers amidst the congregation. The Mass becomes a gathering of cultural and spiritual ritual, indeed.
6. Flags of nations at the opening and closing procession. The sanctuary becomes a United Nations podium. The language group themselves can provide the flag of their country as consulates and embassies of nations will have readily available flags for such purpose. Have the flags processed during entrance and recessional times. The priest becomes a master of international confraternity of nations as much as he represents Christ as the leader and saviour of all nations.
7. National symbols including buntings, flags, confetti and pinatas. Decorate the church with pictures, colours and symbols from each nation to flamboyantly display the cultural colours that are valuable within cultural groups. Little flags or buntings planted along the pathway to the church could be done. Lanterns from China, Japan, Philippines or Malaysia are colourful. The Spanish pinatas and artefacts could also serve as decorations around the church.
8. Religious icons from other countries. Traditional icons of Mary from other Catholic nations abound: images and representations of the child Jesus and Madonna can be found in Vietnam, Italy, Philippines, France, Korea and many of the Africal countries. The anti-colonial representations of Mary also exists in Mexico, Ghana, and other Asian and African countries, to show their freedom of religious expressions away from Western and European ideological imposition of their religiosity. These non-Caucasian images of Jesus and Mary could be displayed in the church in this occasion.
9. Food celebration at the hall. The parish hall could be filled with the sharing of delicious food specialty from different cultural group within the parish. A note for bringing a dish to share for the Multicultural Day prior to the celebration will be enough to motivate language groups to bring their country’s delicacies. The food to be enjoyed by the parish community on that day will be as authentic as the people themselves. It is what they eat.
10. Talent celebration. Tap the different groups in the parish to prepare a musical or performance number from their culture. Tell performers that talents could include dance presentation, singing and instrumental presentations, cooking lessons, games and sport from each country. All these could happen right after the mass at the parish space, hall or grounds where families could spend the day together in picnic mats and shades. It could also mean sharing of literature and films as well as businesses that thrive in the local community from that language groups.
11. Invite the local press. The good thing about involving the local press is having the opportunity to be featured in the local radio, press or Internet websites about the opportunity of the parish to be perceived as an inclusive community, hence chances of increasing church friends, stakeholders and eventually numbers. Jesus’ message of love, peace and harmony are indeed shown and promoted. Prior to the event, the parish council could prepare for pictures and press release documents for newspapers and TV stations to use as they publicize the event in town.
12. Should the priest dress up in a cultural way? He doesn’t need to, but on this day, the homily should appropriately touch on the link of Jesus’ gospel to the everyday experience of cultural significance including the contributions of migrants into the country, the refugee situation and the call to social justice, the social justice teachings of the church, recognizing the cultural groups that made efforts to have the event possible. Most of all the examples and gestures of the priest should exude the spirits of tolerance, inclusivity and love of Christ to all. After all, Christ is the savior of all nations.