Skip to comments.Indian and Christian cultures rise in ashes Traditions tweaked for annual ritual
Posted on 02/15/2005 6:18:05 PM PST by Land of the Irish
Blending Christianity with American Indian spirituality, Father Ed Cook made a cross mark on the foreheads of people at the Congregation of the Great Spirit on Wednesday after dipping his thumb into ashes made by burning more than just the palm leaves from the previous year's Palm Sunday.
"Turn away from sin, and follow the Gospel," Cook said to each person as members of the intertribal, predominantly American Indian congregation came forward to participate in a centuries-old Christian ritual.
In their Roman Catholic congregation, however, the palm ashes are mixed in advance with ashes from a large, clay firepot where sage, cedar, tobacco and sweet grass are burned at the start of each Mass in a fire that American Indians consider sacred.
"Those are all sacred and used in prayer," said Cook, a priest of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. "It just seemed like a natural thing if we are going to use ashes."
Each Ash Wednesday, just as at regular Sunday Masses, an elder uses eagle feathers to waft smoke from the firepot toward the four directions of the compass - commonly described as the four winds - during a purification ceremony in which the congregation alternately faces west, north, east, south and then west again.
The ash itself does not have a ceremonial use in American Indian life, but fire is such a part of the culture that the Ash Wednesday ritual fits in well, Cook said.
In ancient times in Europe and the Middle East, people who had sinned sat on the church steps and literally poured ashes on their heads as a sign of penitence, Cook said. That evolved into today's practice, where everyone receives ashes on the forehead because "we're all sinners, but we're going to turn away and follow the Gospel."
The Congregation of the Great Spirit, at 1000 W. Lapham Blvd. on Milwaukee's south side, serves about 400 registered households and many individuals and families who do not register.
Prayer requests, tobacco
After the ashes were distributed on Wednesday, tobacco was distributed among the congregants, and people took a pinch of it to either sprinkle into the sacred firepot in front of the altar or take outside and sprinkle on the ground. That ritual includes people silently asking God to grant the prayer requests that Cook invites people to make publicly at the start of his congregation's Masses.
Fasting and abstinence, a traditional Christian practice during Lent, blends well with native culture, he added. Members of the congregation fast at other times of the year to seek a vision, to get in touch with their spirit or the Great Spirit (God), or to prepare for a significant event such as a coming-of-age ceremony.
American Indian fasting traditionally means no food or water. Modern Catholic fasting requirements during Lent are not as severe - only one full meal allowed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and no meat on Fridays.
...sounds like a bad idea.
The whole article reads like Christ is an afterthought, at best.
How does Christ seem like an afterthought? Seems to me that they are all about the Gospel, and everythign else is an afterthought. Ya know, the way church SHOULD be...
Sorry if that's too pessimistic. Pessimists such as myself -- we tend to prefer the term, "realists" -- are often right and rarely disappointed. :-)
I don't know. Sounds an awful like like any other catholic church to me, at least those that I attended in my youth many years ago...