Christmas Octave Masses at St. Kateri's Mission

In a previous article we looked at the Mohawk-language Advent Masses from the Mission of Kahnawake,  a center of American Indian Catholicism that is now known as the Canadian National Shrine of St. Kateri Tekakwitha.

We now examine the mission's Mohawk-language Masses for Tsi Nahatonni, or Christmas, and its octave. (As an aside, it is worth mentioning that the Mohawk name for Christmas shows the same Iroquoian root as the famous Huron carol Jesous Ahatonnia—“to be born”).

Asonthen: The Night Mass

The first of these is the Asonthen, or Night Mass, for Midnight Mass on Christmas. Before the Introit of this Mass is listed a canticle Rawenniio tsi tionnhe, which is identified in the Book of Seven Nations as the Venite Exultemus “du Sault”—the Sault being the old French name of the mission of Kahnawake. 

The Introit Tekwanonweronnions Iesos that follows is based melodically on the Dominus dixit ad me of the Roman Midnight Mass, though it appears to use a different text. 

The Alleluia and Verse for this Mass, however, are not based on the Midnight Mass but instead are taken from the Roman Rite's Dies sanctificatus of the third Mass of Christmas:

The ordinaries for the Night Mass use the setting of the Takwentenr Kowa, literally “the great Kyrie”.

This setting is known to us as the Bordelais Mass, which the French Sulpician Claude Poncin (1725-1811) brought to Canada in 1750. It quickly became extremely popular in Canada, regularly appearing in Quebec’s diocesan Graduals throughout the 1800s—a fact which, along with the importance of the Christmas feast, helps explain why the Mohawk called it “great”.

Entiekehne: the Day Mass

The Entiekehne, or Day Mass, is the other Christmas Mass, based directly on the Puer Natus est nobis of Christmas day and the octave. The Mohawk name of this Introit is Sonkwatonnienni ne raksaa:

The Alleluia and verse are the same Dies sanctificatus as the Night Mass, though here, of course, in its correct position with the Puer Natus mass. 

Following the Alleluia is a chant in the fifth tone Onen wathonnohonti. The Book of Seven Nations identifies this Mohawk text as Votis Pater annuit, which is a Christmas Prose of the neo-Gallican Parisian Use.

In my 2008 book The Roman Rite in the Algonquian and Iroquoian Missions I discussed how neo-Gallican hymns from the Parisian Breviary, which had been extirpated in France by about 1875, nevertheless were still being used in the Micmac divine office in the early 1900s. 

So here in the Christmas propers of Kahnawake is additional evidence that not just Parisian Breviary hymns but also Parisian Mass sequences were still persisting in the Indian missions at the turn of the century. They probably did not endure long after that at Kahnawake—there is no trace of Votis Pater annuit in the hymnal of 1971. We know that the chant at Kahnawake was updated to conform with the Solesmes reforms of the early twentieth century, and it is a fairly safe assumption that this sequence did not survive that process. 

Two hymns close out the Day Mass: the Akwekon tetwariwak (listed in the Book of Seven Nations under “various Christmas songs” but unnamed), and Rotonni (Il est nĂ© le Divin Enfant). The ordinaries are from the Takwentenr Orennakaion, or Messe Royale of Henri Dumont:

Sunday in the Octave

The Mass setting for Sunday in the Octave of Christmas is not listed in the Kaiatonsera of 1892. As we would expect from the Roman Rite, the Entiekehne (Day Mass) propers were reused on this Sunday, which is confirmed by a note in the 1971 hymnal. By this date, however, the calendar of the Novus Ordo Missae had been promulgated, in which the Sunday after Christmas had become the Feast of the Holy Family. This change was reflected in the Kahnawake liturgy, as we will discuss in the next article.


For the Circumcision on January 1st, the Introit and the Alleluia of the Entiekehne are again repeated, as in the Roman Rite. The ordinaries were sung to the Mass of the Second Tone, and the hymns for Offertory and Communion are Tawatontat (“Air Polonais”) and Onkwe rotonhon (Quels bruits dans les airs). Prior to the Mass setting is also a note “Karo kase”, which refers to the Karo kase Satkon (as we find it in the 1971 hymnal) or the Veni Creator Spiritus, traditionally sung on New Years’ Day.

Finally, it is worth noting that the saints of Christmas Octave show their own sung propers from the Mohawk Commons of Saints: St. Stephen (Mass for a single martyr), St. John (Mass of an Apostle), and the Holy Innocents (Mass for many martyrs), but we will leave more in-depth discussion of these Common Masses for another time.

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