Syncretism, Paganism = Native American Spirituality - Yes or No?

In thinking about many of the comments I have heard since starting my postings, there seems to be a Catholic world view that Native Spirituality is “New Age”, it is “paganism” and that any attempts to connect world views as a means of understanding the Catholic context are simply dismissed as sycretism. I obviously do not agree with these ideas…Native American spirituality stands on its own, it is not new age. Native Spirituality is concerned about right relationships (eco-theology) and does not worship things - so it is not pagan as understood thousands of years ago (and today I don’t think one will find a Hindi or pagan who believe that creation is the creator…so no, Native American indigneous thinkgin is not pagan…and finally to introduce sweet grass as an aboriginlal symbol for aspects of the mass is not - dare I say - syncretic…so my challenge is that I want fellow Catholics to re-think and accept the challenge of revisiting their assumptions about Native American spirituality and its conversation and meaning within a Catholic context…

Trickster (Aboriginal concept for transformational/conversion)
Bruce Ferguson (regular name :slight_smile:

It might be best for you to consult your Bishop about things.

Introducing such things as sweet grass into the Mass simply isn’t going to happen. What has sweet grass got to do with the Mass? Bread and wine, as in Jesus’ last Supper…and even from a medical viewpoint, I as a celiac cannot expect wheat to be replaced the grains that don’t make me ill, rice or corn. :slight_smile: The Mass is the Mass as for millions upon millions of people throughout the centuries and throughout the ages. In the Church, olive oil won’t be replaced by eucalyptus oil of my country even though it is more healing. What you suggest is parochial. The Church is universal. We’ll save the eucalyptus oil for our own time for its healing and antiseptic benefits. :slight_smile: We can’t change the Mass to suit every local custom or materials. And certainly, no one in CAF has the least authority for changing the Mass.
Do we trust the Holy Spirit or not. It comes down to that? The Mass is defined in Canon law and in Church law, through a mandate give by Jesus to the first Pope and thus to all popes who follow him. Do we believe that or shall we challenge Christ on that?

Bruce, what makes you so certain that indigenous people will come even if the Church were to indigenize the Mass? People are people, and if they will not come to Jesus in His Church as the Holy Spirit has led the Church, don’t imagine they will be drawn and faithful just because it is remade in their image and taste.

May the Holy Spirit of God be with you.

Ah, my wonderful friend Trishie…you certainly can be trusted to speak your mind and that is what I like about you :slight_smile: Sweet grass is already used in Catholic masses and that is a fact. The mass is the mass you are right…BUT… how the mass is celebrated is what we are talking about…I want to emphasis that to you Trishie cause you don’t seem to be hearing me on this…an “aboriginal mass” would be a mass (lock, stock and barrell)…no one is or has ever talked about changing the liturgy…rather I am just promoting the idea of using the great flexibility the church allows us to explore with respect to finding concepts and cultural symbols that capture the meaning of the catholic ceremony or symbol within our own culture…so Trishie, I would suggest that the “mass is the mass”…but it is not as black and white as you present it.

I am interested in your concept of parochial in a church that is universal… what do you mean by “parochial”…that would mean local to me…and we need a balance of local expresssion within a universal prayer or liturgy, that is what is so beautiful about our faith community. a global and universal catholic communion who prayers around the world every minute of every hour of every day year in and year out…so I am interested in how you see local (parochial- and my understanding of the word could be wrong) as opposed to the universal nature of our church.

Again, Trishie, I have to emphasis to you…you are not getting the message here…cause what you say about the liturgy is true! I agree with you. I am not talking about the liturgy or changing the mass! I am talking about the symbolisms we use as a means of making the liturgy more meaningful within an aboriginal context. Our only disagremeent is that you seem to believe that i and my culture have no right to express ourselves through our culture (and those are gifts of God’s spirit too) in the Mass. I disagree with you on that.

The mass was incredibly diverse prior to the reformation. It has had the tridentine format for only 500 years of the 1500 year history of our churcch and the mass since the second vatican council is more consistent to the overall history of the chruch…the tridentine mass was a reaction of creating a unversal format that would stand up against anglicanism adn protestantism…it was to be in latin and therefore a great symbol of unity within the roman rite.


Where are the Native Americans? I thought they were in reservations! Would they like that?

Last week, I watched the Episcopal and Ordination Mass for the new Bishop of Bismarck, North Dakota on EWTN.

A young man played a native american flute, (I’ve seen performances, and pictures of native american flutes). I don’t know, if he was native american, or if the piece he played was native american. However, I do know, Bismarck, North Dakota has a sizable native american population. The piece was hauntingly beautiful. Even though, the church was packed, it was a ticket only Mass, people were closing their eyes, and looked lost in prayer while the flute was played.

I think, there is room in our beloved Church for native american things. You are entirely right, trickster, it’s not new age!

They’re all over the place! :slight_smile:

Here in Canada, we have parishes devoted to the First Nations people, including their unique culture, like this parish for example:

Pfaffenhoffen…you lost me on that one! There are both urban Native Americans and those who live on the reservations…there are strong movements within the Aboriginal communities that look into our catholicism as well…there is a strong inner sense of the need for forgiveness, reconciliation and creating 'right relations"…I think our people want to be ourselves whatever that looks like for the individual…as an Aboriginal Canadian (Native American) I am also Catholic and to be my full self I cannot set aside my blood or my faith…

Hope that helps…if I missed your meaning here…message back.


Thanks Asian for sharing that…do you know if the Bishop is Native American as well…I know that the US has just created its first Native American archbishop which speaks volumes…I agree with you too…

Bruce Ferguson
Trickster (Aboriginal Concept for Transformation and Conversion)

Zeroing in on one thing, in what way is sweet grass being used in mass? I can certainly see it being used for the sprinkling of holy water, for example, or maybe as a sort of incense.

Actually, apparently it’s native to Europe as well and already has a traditional use related to Christianity:

Holy grass was strewn before church doors on saints’ days in northern Europe, presumably because of the sweet smell that arose when it was trodden on.

By “holy grass” the article means sweet grass. The article also lists “Mary’s grass” as a synonym, which is intriguing.

On the other hand if you mean consumption of something made from sweet grass as a substitute for an element of the Eucharist obviously that is not an option.

Pfaffenhoffen lives in Norway, and english isn’t his first language. I get the impression, his knowledge of Americans, Canadians, etc is mostly from TV. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

Thanks Daizies, I wasn’t aware of the website and I have noted it as a “favourite” on my computer…but I have heard of the church in Edmonton…so thanks for sharing that.

Bruce Ferguson
Trickster (Aboriginal Concept for Transformation/Conversion)

I thought he lived in Germany. I guess he can clarify. :shrug:

I don’t know, if Bishop Kagan, Archdiocese of Bismarck, North Dakota, is Native American.

Actually, North America had 2 Native American bishops:

Bishop Donald Pelotte, died January 7, 2010. God rest his soul. Here’s a link to his obituary, where they mention Native American dancers at a Mass, he celebrated.

Archbishop Charles Chaput, late of the Archdiocese of Denver, now with the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Yes, Archbiship Chaput was the one I was curious about…

Curious? I’m not an expert, however, he was our Archbishop for 14 years. Wonderful shepherd, and not afraid to speak his mind about issues.

It already has, actually, at least the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Denver at a Mass on the feast of Blessed Kateri celebrated by Archbishop Charles Chaput, which I attended. He incensed the altar and us with a clamshell of sweetgrass grass and sage using an eagle feather fan which he is legally allowed to touch/possess because he is also partially Native American.

So, yes, it’s best to consult with Bishops about how Mass is conducted.

Very interesting points Aelred Minor…I don’t have the answer…I also participate in indigenous ceremonies and we use a grass that when burned offers a very sweet smell…hence the name “sweet grass”…nothing too mystical about that :slight_smile: so to hear that the Europeans had a similar concpet is indeed interesting…thank you for bring that to my attention…I’ll look into i tmore…;

Playing a flute is not new age. But how about burning specific herbs? Where does paganism end and Catholicism begin?

What is the reason for burning those herbs? Is it to clear the air of negative energy?

Yes you are absolutely right Aelred…the idea of trying to traditionalize the Eucharist is just plain silly…and that won’t happen.

There is an interesting thought and that is “table theology” one of the things the Hebrew and Aboriginal cultures have in common is that we are very much about including food in all of our gatherings…including our spiritual ones…potlatching is also about eating…feasts - well they are feasts - and even the sun dance where sun dancers were fasting, there was still a lot of food for the rest of us non-sun dancers…

So, I think that we should look at invention of ceremony (outside but complimentary to the liturgy) where we can re-explore those ceremonial and ritual linkages…thanks for bringing those things up…you got me thinking in a new direction …

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