Monday, August 29, 2005

Tsiatak Nihonon8entsiake (The Book of the Seven Nations)

Tsiatak nihonon8entsiake onk8e on8e Akoiatonsera: Ionterennaientak8a, teieri8ak8atha, iontaterihonnien nitha, iontateretsiaronk8a, iakentasetatha, iekaratonk8atokentisonha oni : kahiaton oni tokara nikarennake erontaksneha : kaneshatake tiakoson

Le livre des sept nations, ou Paroissien iroquois : auquel on a ajouté, pour l'usage de la mission du lac des Deux-Montagnes, quelques cantiques en langue algonquine.
[trans: The book of the Seven Nations, or Iroquois Prayer Book: to which is added, for the use of the Lake of Two Mountains mission, some hymns in the Algonquin language.]

Rev. Jean André Cuoq. Pub. Montreal, 1865.

The "Paroissien" is a French liturgical and devotional book described by Cabrol in his The Mass of the Western Rites as follows:

Prayer Books ("Paroissiens").(2)--The history and bibliography of these books is yet to be written...In them the Mass naturally has its place, whether the Latin text is given, with a translation, or whether we find merely explanations and commentaries, as was the usual practice at a certain period, when translation into the vulgar tongue was looked on with very little favor if not actually condemned.Today the liturgical movement has driven the faithful more and more towards requiring the complete text of the Latin Mass, with its translation. Thus certain prayerbooks are indeed real Missals for their use.

(2) The word cannot be translated literally. A "Paroissien" is a kind of abridged Missal which includes the office of Benediction, several Litanies, morning and night prayers, etc. Vespers of Sunday (and sometimes Compline) are also included. (Note by translator.)

Cuoq's Tsiatak Nihonon8entsiake was intended primarily for use at Oka (Mohawk Kaneshatake, English Lake of the Two Mountains),although it contains additional material from the Kahnawake mission as well. At Oka there were a significant number of both Iroquois and Algonquins, so both of these languages are represented in it, although the Algonquin material is mainly limited to hymns and the Ordinaries of the Mass.

This book is a greatly expanded edition of Cuoq's previous Ienenrinekenstha Kanesatakeha (1864).


  • intro matter.: Table of dates and Movable Feasts, table of Fixed Feasts
  • p. 3ff.: Mohawk-language Gregorian chant, including settings for the ordinaries of the Mass (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Agnus Dei), other liturgical settings (Asperges, Vidi Aquam, Te Deum, Requiem, Dies Irae, Veni Creator and many others) along with texts for hymns and litanies (some in Latin).
  • p. 109ff.: Book of songs for the Mass and Vespers—includes many of the Sunday readings for the entire liturgical year along with hymns.
  • pp. 295ff. Formulary of prayers by M. Marcoux, missionary of Sault St. Louis]. The Stations of the Cross, Rosary, and novena to St. Francis Xavier in Mohawk
  • pp. 411 ff. Supplement to canticles and prayers: hymns, prayers during Mass, the Algonquin Mass and chant for the dismissal (Ite, Missa Est).

Note on the Algonquin Mass

The Algonquin Mass is listed on pages 436-437, and features the text only (no chant) of the Terribilis, the Gloria, the Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei, as well as the Laudate Dominum (Psalm 117). A native-language Kyrie is notably absent; probably it was sung in the original Greek, which seems to have been a general characteristic of the Masses of the Algonquian linguistic family (cf. Durocher's Montagnais Missal, Belcourt's Ojibwa Anamihe-masinahigan). In Iroquoian Masses, the Kyrie was translated into the vernacular.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Canadian Plainchant

The Canadian Encyclopedia has a very informative online article on plainchant in Canada which serves a good introduction to some of the typical forms chant took in New France and some of the main printed and manuscript sources. Here is the most relevant section:

17th And 18th Centuries - The North American Natives

Seventeenth-century witnesses, including the Jesuit Relations, tell of the interest natives showed in sacred chants and plainsong near towns and missions (Abenakis in Sillery), sometimes even in brotherhoods (Ste-Famille). These apostolic and musical activities maintained links with France, in particular with the Chapter of the Chartres Cathedral.

Some missionaries brought manuscripts to the new world; among them is a 590-page manuscript, deposited at the archdiocese of Quebec City, featuring the Abenaki language, Latin, and French (Noëls, hymns), plainsong, secular music (Noëls, hymns) or polyphony (fauxbourdons, motets). It comprises the best known hymns (Veni Creator, Pange Lingua, Te Deum, Salve Regina, etc.), litanies, lections from Tenebrae, psalm tones, and various High Solemn Masses: Messe de la Vierge, Messe des morts, a two-part Messe royale, etc. Yvon Thériaut (L'Apostolat missionnaire en Mauricie, 1951), located a similar manuscript at the Indian reservation of Odanak (St-François-du-Lac, near Sorel).

Several song handbooks, among them a Graduale romanum (Paris 1697) approved by Du Mont and Nivers, once the property of the Séminaire de Québec, show Abenaki words added with a pen (sections of masses for the feast days of the Assumption and the Purification).

Thursday, August 25, 2005

On Pilgrimage to Kahnawake, and its significance

The idea for this site has nagged me incessantly for probably about a year now, but the final impetus to actually do it came just after visiting the very spiritual heart of American Indian Christianity.

The mission church of St. Francis Xavier stands on the outskirts of Montreal, on the south bank of the St. Lawrence River within the Mohawk reservation of Kahnawaké. The origins of the reservation itself date back to 1668, when Catherine Gandeaktena, her husband Francis Xavier Tonsahoten, and other Christian Iroquois settled at La Prairie near the French in order to be closer to the faith and farther from the scandalous behavior of their countrymen in the Iroquois homeland. Within less than a decade, this mission—having moved to Sault St. Louis—became a magnet for Catholic Iroquois and developed a reputation for holiness and piety. Among the Iroquois, the phrase "I am going to the Sault" became a synonym for adopting a reformed Christian life.

Since then, the mission of St. Francis Xavier has served as the focal point of Catholic life in Kahnawaké. But far from having a merely local significance, its importance is increasingly beginning to be felt across the North American continent. No small part of that is due to the contents of a marble sarcophagus off to the right in the Church. It is a simple but dignified tomb that houses the mortal remains of a woman who—please God—will soon be raised to the dignity of the altars and whose cult of universal veneration will be approved by the Catholic Church: Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha. In the mid-1670s, this young woman had departed the Mohawk village and come to live among the pious residents of the Sault. She lived a short but stellarly holy life, and her reputation over the years has grown ever greater as she has come to be accepted by many Indians today—even non-Catholic ones—as their powerful intercessor and patron saint.

Already by the presence of her holy relics, we can tell there is something extraordinarily special about this church.

But even as important as they are—and certainly the reason we were on pilgrimage to that spot—it was not the remains of Kateri alone that made me sink to my knees and kiss the church floor in gratitude to God for this wonderful place. Nor that made me almost tremble with excitement as I browsed the shrine museum behind the sacristy and beheld objects of great personal import: the original Chauchetière portrait of Blessed Kateri, the chalices, the stoles, the recordings of Mohawk Christian hymns, the Missals and Mohawk dictionaries, and (rapture!) a manuscript liturgical book opened to a page of Gregorian notation for Sanctus of the Holy Mass—in the Mohawk language.

Having barely begun my almost obsessive studies of the Catholic Indian Missions, a glorious and inexplicably ignored period of American history, and after having scratched and clawed through many search engines for any little bit of information I could uncover, here I was at last surrounded by the Native American Church in all its supreme glory. Here I was immersed in almost 400 years of living tradition, passed in an unbroken line from the Jesuit Fathers and Iroquois martyrs and confessors to this very day.

Here at Kahnawaké, the Catholic Church is not a museum piece to be studied, it is a tradition to be lived. That tradition was born in Jerusalem on that day of Pentecost, passed down through 1600 centuries through the holy Church of Rome, and then brought to this new land to be lovingly cherished and piously added to by the sons and daughters of the American continent.

To be sure, the Catholic faith in Kahnawaké has suffered over the last few decades—suffered through lack of interest, through a pagan resurgence, through scandals and injustices perpetrated by we all too sinful fellow members of the Body of Christ. In this respect it is no different from the faith in the rest of North America. Nothing like the clergy scandals of this country have touched Kahnawake to my knowledge, but in the course of the 20th century that community and so many others of Native extraction—many of which never needed to justify their Catholicism to anyone—were pressured into abandoning their cultures and even their native Catholic traditions.

But now it is time for Kahnawaké to come into its true significance—not just as a parish church, not just as a shrine and place of pilgrimage—but as the very spiritual heart of Native American Catholicism. A place where we cease treating Native Catholicism as either a impoverished backwater corruption of Latin Christianity or as an experimental laboratory of multiculturalism. Both errors stem from the same misunderstanding of history—that the Native Church is devoid of any independant history or patrimony of its own. It is time now to put an end to the extremes of "assimilationism" and "inculturationism" and simply take Native America's Catholic traditions as seriously as they deserve to be treated.

To that end, the mission of St. Francis Xavier has a special role to play. As the former capital and keeper of the fire of the Seven Indian Nations of Canada, Kahnawaké stands as the guardian of traditions both sacred and secular. It was founded by native Christians for native Christians. It was peopled by perhaps the most pious Catholic community in American history, and some of its greatest lights. It houses Kateri's mortal remains, and ever been the destination of pilgrims. It has a distinctive liturgical tradition which, hundreds of years before Vatican II, incorporated native language into the traditional Roman Rite. It has sent Iroquois lay missionaries far into the western wilds of Canada and the United States, to spread the faith of the Black Robes and their "Great Prayer" all the way to the Pacific Ocean. It even has its own native martyrs, though ones who lack any ecclesiastical recognition as such.

Every Rite within the Catholic Church is oriented to the heavenly Jerusalem through an earthly center: as Rome for the Latins, Constantinople for the Greeks, Antioch for the Syrians, Alexandria for the Egyptians, Axum for the Ethiopians, and very recently after a long exile, Kiev for the Ukrainians. Without such an anchoring center, the children of the Church are in danger of drifting.

It is fitting that Kahnawake be such a center for Native American Catholics today: to be the focus around which other missions like Akwesasne, Oka and Odanak can feel part of a larger and unified whole.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Introibo Ad Altare Dei.....

"I think it's because it was the wisdom of way back when, which some people seem to overlook: that we were allowed to be us and still be practicing Catholics. I just think it was so close to the spiritual...the spirituality of the natives…is so close. I just think it was an easy step for the Jesuits to convert."
—Carol Ross, member of the Mohawk choir at St. Regis in Akwesasne

If your Catholic education was anything like mine, you may remember that glib and rather inaccurate way some folks condescended to the old Latin Mass: "the priest had his back to the people!"

With such a characterization rattling around unchallenged in my young skull, you can surely understand that in those days I was not particularly anxious for a return to pre-Vatican II piety. It's only now as an adult, after having strayed and eventually by the grace of God wandered back into His fold, that a more mature study has begun to open my eyes to the wisdom, the symbolism, reverence and mysticism of the traditional Roman liturgy. Add to that study a parallel interest in the other rites of Catholic Christianity—Coptic, Syriac, Byzantine, Gallican—and a further conclusion becomes inescapable. The Church truly is, and has always been, a Catholic Church in more than name only. Not a Church for Europeans, not a Church for Middle Easterners, but a Church for the whole world, in which every culture, every race, every nation from Sweden to South Africa, from China to Canada has something worthwhile to contribute.

God willing, I'm hoping to accomplish a couple of things with this site. First of all, to promote what has remained the great forgotten story of North American history: the Catholic Indian missions, and how they embedded an intensely pious traditional Catholicism into their own native cultures and modes of expression. Secondly, I hope this to be a forum where those of us who share Carol Ross's respect for the "wisdom of way back when" can exchange ideas about how best to revive and restore venerable American Catholic traditions to the way we live our faith at the dawn of the third millennium.

Catholic traditions are not museum pieces to be studied—they are meant to be interwoven into the fabric of our everyday lives. I pray that all of us: American Indians, Anglo-Americans, and even second-generation immigrant children like myself, promote these traditions in a way not that inflates our own importance, but which best gives glory to Our Lord Jesus Christ.