Sault Ste. Marie Bishop Thomas Dowd consecrates the oil at the annual Chrism Mass at Holy Cross Mission on Manitoulin Island. Photo by Michael Erskine, the Manioulin Expositor

Chrism Mass celebrates Indigenous ways

  • March 19, 2024

Sault Ste. Marie Bishop Thomas Dowd asked his priests to take a road trip last week to Wiikwemkoong on Manitoulin Island to celebrate the Chrism Mass.

Long travelling hours between parishes are a given in the northern Ontario diocese and the location of the Chrism Mass typically rotates between Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie and North Bay. The entire territory is, according to Dowd, “slightly larger than the United Kingdom and slightly smaller than New Zealand.” 

But Wiikwemkoong, a territory of the Anishinaabe First Nation peoples, is the site of the first Catholic community in northern Ontario. This year marks the 150th anniversary of Bishop Jean-François Jamot being installed there as the first Vicar Apostolic of Northern Canada.

Dowd thought the anniversary would be a good occasion for priests and faithful to gather in what he calls the “grandmother community” of the vast diocese.

“We asked the pastors to recruit one delegate per parish or mission in order to be part of the experience, so that we were gathering people from all across the diocese,” he told The Catholic Register.

The organization of the March 13 diocesan gathering began several months ago, shortly after Dowd approached Chief Rachel Mantitowabi with his idea and a gift.

“We made a request, and it was sealed with a gift of tobacco, which was received. That is a customary way of creating an agreement, having an alliance, you might say,” Dowd said.

In addition to the Chrism Mass celebrated at Holy Cross Mission, a cultural day hosted by the band council introduced the 57 visiting priests to the history and traditions of the Anishinaabe.

“The band was very helpful. They designed the posters that went up around the community to invite people. They took care of organizing the entire cultural morning. It really gave the cultural leadership a chance to showcase to all these visitors whatever they wanted to showcase.”

Rosella Kinoshmeg, a community elder and active parishioner at Holy Cross, was part of the planning committee, along with Fr. Paul Robson, SJ, parochial administrator.

“We figured, well, if they’re going to be here, why can’t we have something,” Kinoshmeg told The Register

“So, we organized an information session for the people that came to visit because a lot of these priests in the diocese are not from Canada.”

A majority of Sault Ste. Marie priests are incardinated outside the diocese, mostly India and Africa.

In addition to a historical presentation, dancers demonstrated local dances and then everyone, at the encouragement of Dowd, was invited to participate.

“The people were invited to dance, much like at a powwow. So, the intertribal dance, well, we were the tribes. We got up, all the tribes of the earth, you might say,” said Dowd.

“I went to the microphone and said, ‘If the bishop can dance, you can dance.’ 

“The concluding dance was a round dance, so a whole bunch of people were holding hands and dancing around in a circle. It was just a lot of fun.”

After a community lunch, priests and laypeople made their way from the high school to Holy Cross.

The Chrism Mass, typically celebrated in Holy Week, is the liturgy at which priests gather with their bishop to renew their vows and the holy oils that are used in the sacramental celebrations throughout the year are blessed.

Dowd explained a unique element to the holy oils in the diocese.

“Normally, with the chrism oil, you take olive oil and add perfume. Canon law doesn’t define what that perfume is, so, we mixed in cedar instead of balsam. In our diocese, when the kids get confirmed, they’re going to smell like cedar.”

The Chrism Mass celebrated in Wiikwemkoong included many Indigenous elements, as the liturgy has been celebrated there for many years.

Ojibwe thanksgiving prayers were incorporated after the proclamation of the Gospel and consecration, there was a smudging, or purification, during the penitential rite, and the offertory procession was accompanied by a hand drum song, performed by local musician Danielle Roy.

“The liturgy itself incorporated elements of Indigenous heritage in ways that they have been doing it in this community for decades,” said Dowd. “It had a very natural feel.”

Kinoshmeg said “the church was packed” and “there were some hymns in French and English and in our language, that we all thank together. I was very happy with that.”

The Anishinaabe elder thought the entire day was one of reconciliation.

“When the non-Indigenous people come, and they learn more about the Indigenous people there is a sharing of information. I know I spoke to many people, and everybody came and told me how happy they were. That’s how they thanked me for the occasion. They said, thank you for your introduction. Thank you for all this. And people were very grateful.”

Dowd has not committed to a regular return to Manitoulin Island for the Chrism Mass, but is grateful that March 13 “left people feeling very positive, with lots of smiles after the Mass.”

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