The Advent Masses of St. Kateri's Mission

November 6th 2023 marked the 350th anniversary of the death of Catherine Gandeaktena, who with her husband founded the Mohawk mission now known as Kahnawake, the jewel of the Eastern Woodland Indian missions and the home of the Canadian National Shrine of St. Kateri Tekakwitha. 

This coming year in 2024, the Archdiocese of Quebec will also be celebrating 350 years as a diocese. In light of these milestones of the Canadian Church, the liturgical year of 2023-2024 is an excellent occasion for a more in-depth look at Kahnawake’s liturgy and its place in the diocese of Quebec.

The Indian missions along the St. Lawrence River had developed their own unique liturgical traditions that differed from the French Canadian parishes around them. While in all likelihood a mission priest simply used the same Missale Romanum as his diocesan counterparts, each Native mission schola sang from a manuscript or printed Graduale whose propers differed rather dramatically—and not just in language but also in the chants and the texts—from the Graduals used in the rest of the diocese.

Most of the surrounding Canadian missions like Kanesatake in Oka, QC had a handful of Masses that were used throughout the year: generally one to three Masses for Sundays, one for Our Lady or the saints, and a Mass of the dead. However, by the late 1800s, Kahnawake and its daughter mission Akwesasne had developed a much more elaborate liturgy with over two dozen different Sunday Masses for the liturgical year and over a dozen more Common Masses for the Saints.

We will now look at the Masses for Tsi Rathonniane, the name for Advent in the ecclesiastical dialect of Mohawk standardized over the centuries and still used liturgically at Kahnawake. The information that follows is taken mainly from the Kaiatonsera Teieriwakwatha (1890), a printed parish-book for Kahnawake and Akwesasne, as well as from a Kahnawake hymnal printed in 1971, and an earlier Mohawk parish-book (Book of Seven Nations, 1865) from Kanesatake.

There are two Masses appointed for the Sundays of Advent at Kahnawake, consisting of an Introit and an Alleluia and verse. Both of these Masses used Mohawk-language settings of the Mass of Sundays of Advent and Lent, in the first tone. The relationship between the Mohawk Kyrie and Sanctus, and the Kyrie and Sanctus from the 1896 Graduel Romain from Quebec, as shown below, are easily seen. "Takwentenr" is from the Mohawk verb for "to have mercy, to take pity", and "Sewenniio" is the common translation for Dominus/Lord, literally "You who are Master."

But aside from the typical translation issues, the Ordinaries are the same in the Mohawk and Latin text. It is in the propers that the liturgies differ substantially. 

The first Mohawk Mass of Advent is, from the first words of its Introit, the Tsionkwe okon. Its introit shares the same melody as the Roman Introit for Advent I, Ad te levavi, although the Mohawk text seems to be that of the Roman Advent II, Populus Sion:


The Alleluia and verse of this Advent Mass appear to match the Alleluia and verse of Advent I in the Roman Rite:

But these are the only true Propers given for this Mass. In the Indian missions, it was very typical to sing hymns in place of the Gradual, Offertory and Communion chants—a practice that went all the way back to the first Jesuit missionaries in the 1600s. 

For this first Sunday the Gradual hymn cited is Karo kase, Iesos, which is the Mohawk version of O Come Divine Messiah. The hymns for the Offertory and Communion are Iesos rakeni sanikonh…. (153) and Okaristiianoron (190). The Book of the Seven Nations identifies these hymns as Volo manere seraphim, and O l’auguste sacrement!; the latter of which appears in contemporary French hymn collections.

The second Advent Mass at Kahnawake is the Teshannhohonti Karonhiake; a translation of the Roman Introit Rorate Caeli.

The Alleluia melody is from the Advent IV Alleluia of the Roman Rite, and the accompanying verse is taken from the Veni Domine, also of Advent IV:

But unlike the first Mass whose propers ended with the Alleluia and Verse, another long chant unexpectedly follows: the Tesannhohonti. This is a Prose setting of the Rorate Caeli which appears to have been used instead of an Offertory hymn; it generally matches the commonly known Advent Prose whose first stanza begins Ne irascaris, Domine, though a quick comparison also reveals some significant melodic and textual differences, particularly in the second stanza. This Prose is supposed to have been a composition of the 1600s that appeared in some of the French diocesan liturgical books; if that is correct, there is little surprise about its appearance in French Canada.


The Gradual hymn is Iesos oriwiio (146), and a final hymn, Twanikonhrarak (184), is probably for Communion.

Of course, we know there are four Sundays in Advent, not two—so with only two Advent Masses, what was done on the remaining Sundays?

The Use of Kahnawake did something rather unusual here and simply repeated the two Masses again: so the Tsionkwe okon is reused for Advent III and the Teshannhohonti Karonhiake is reused for Advent IV. [Iontaw: (sk. 273) = Introit (p. 273).] As we will see, this alternating pattern is very typical of the Kahnawake liturgy and we will see it repeated in other liturgical seasons as well.

Yet, though the same Mass Propers are reused in the second half of Advent, these Sundays show changes in the accompanying hymns.

For Advent III we see a new gradual hymn Karonhiake (109), identified in the Book of Seven Nations as Vole amour divin and also appearing in the Algonquian-language missions as well. The Offertory and Communion hymns for Advent III, the Satseniaron (110) and the Twatiaken (188) I have not been able to identify.

In Advent IV Iesos karo (110) takes the place of the Gradual; it is identified in the Book of Seven Nations as Venez Céleste Epoux, which served as the Offertory hymn for Advent II in the mission of Kanesatake. But at Kahnawake the Offertory for Advent IV is the Prose Teshannhohonti Karonhiake (Rorate Caeli) again. The Communion hymn is Kento hetsitwasennaien (183) or Adorons ici notre Dieu, a hymn for the elevation and for benediction, as seen in the Dictionnaire de noëls et de cantiques (1867).

This are the Advent Sunday Masses as they were celebrated at Kahnawake—largely derived from the Roman Rite propers but with enough differences to regard it as a distinct liturgical use.

Finally, one remaining characteristic worth calling attention to is that the Introit of Gaudete Sunday does not appear at all during Advent III in Kahnawake. Thus there would be no strict internal reason why rose vestments would be used there, or why the spirit of penance would be lightened on this Sunday as it is in the Roman Rite. But, of course, it is certainly possible that the mission observed Gaudete Sunday all the same, simply following the widespread custom in Quebec and elsewhere.


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