Many of us opened our WhatsApp recently with absolute dismay to see masquerade not only attending mass but dancing with some of the priests present joining in the Egungun dance. Later, this video became viral on Facebook and other social media. Various questions have been asked, and different answers have been given. Some even doubt that the episode took place in a Catholic Church. Some of these have been clarified:
1. The video showed the mingling of Egungun dance with the Solemn sacrifice of the Mass. The event took place in a Catholic Church of the Roman Rite. There were members wearing the current uniforms of the Catholic Laity Council of Nigeria and that of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It has been confirmed that the event took place in Nigeria. According to information, it took place at Sugu in Adamawa State during the Silver Jubilee celebration of a Sister. It was said that the masquerade has no link with fetishism but normal part of any outstanding ceremony. It was even said that “it is an ordinary human being behind the grassy masquerade attire.Furthermore, it was said that the event took place after communion when the Sister was ushered in to cut her cake.
2. If the event looked innocent to the priests and the people of Sugu, Adamawa state, it did not look innocent to the millions of people who have seen the video. It may not be linked to anything fetish, and it was even said it is not even spiritual but “a form of entertainment during important ceremony in the part of the country.”
3. Since we saw only a part video and nothing about what transpired in the preparation towards the actual celebration. For instance, was the Bishop aware of the event and sanctioned the mixture of Egungun and Mass rituals? In this regard the view is that since the Catholic Church has been promoting inculturation, what took place should be commended that an Egungun would come to a Catholic Church. We must add also that it seems the priests present were quite at home as they joined the Masquerade in his other worldly dance. The real question is, “what did the people present feel about all these?” We do not know, and so what matters now is what those who have seen the video now feel. There have been various commentators both in support and against. Is there a valid explanation?
4. The bible already reminds us that “My people die for lack of knowledge.” It is necessary to note that the Mass is the most sacred prayer for Catholics. Catholics believe that at Mass God comes down to us – in other words, “the word became flesh and dwelt among us.”. So, if Jesus is truly present at Mass, with what reverence should we welcome and adore Him? Was this the case during that Mass with Egungun in attendance? By the way, did the Masquerade attend mass or just made a guest appearance? Whatever the case, while all are welcome at our worship, especially all seekers, a masquerade in full regalia is not a seeker but a purveyor of a distinct culture. The Mass is a special type of value and it is dangerous to allow the two to mix freely in the same arena. At another arena, values can intermingle and even co-mingle, but the Mass is a special type of event and nothing should be allowed to distract people’s attention from its nobility and sublimity. The presence of the masquerade is tantamount to an encroachment in another’s sacred place and space, an encroachment that left Masquerade at Mass many befuddled, confused, dismayed and gasping for fresh air of sanity and reasonableness.
5. Priests can and may promote relevant and good culture but bringing in a Masquerade to grace the Mass and display his dancing and cultural dexterity, is tantamount to a cultural coup d’état. Many Catholics that regularly attend Mass are still grappling with how to better understand the nature of the Mass, what then should they make of it when a Masquerade dances in. Should they join in the dance or just applaud, should they be dismayed or accept the show as good because their pastors are present and even taking part in it? This is part and parcel of relativism; when anything goes, all sorts of things will creep in and we would be left with a mixture of culture and faith very much like water and oil. It is true that the faith took root cultures and makes her contribution to that culture as we find in Europe and Latin America. Many of us also expect a distinct contribution of African culture to the Christian faith. This I good and necessary, but we also expect that the Christian faith will shape and transform some of the values of Mother Africa.
6. If the Masquerade is remotely linked to tribal religion, then its presence at Mass, be it after Communion is religious recklessness. If it is a form of entertainment as it has been suggested, then it is spiritual carelessness. The Mass is not an entertainment event. We may be well aroused, elated, uplifted and even entertained by some of the rituals, but their goal is not to entertain us, but to lead us to union with God. Entertainment should be shifted to the playground! If there is no field for entertainment, then as is done in many places, the celebration of the Mass should be concluded, all ministers disrobed, and the place be reconfigured to suit the nature of the next function which could be social or cultural. The Masquerade didn’t fit in at the Mass or in the Church, it could just not blend on fit it. It may have entertained the people, but it drew attention away from the Master. This must not be!
7. The goal of inculturation is also not entertainment, but that harmonious relationship between two values such that they benefit each other, while the spiritual ennobles the traditional, the traditional helps to make the spiritual fully at home among the people. Masquerades are welcome at Mass and at the table of the Lord, but first, let them be bathed in the waters of Baptism and there would be no need to conform to the world or imbibe prevailing values and do what others are doing. Christians are called to be different, “to be the light of the world”, the light shining in the dark and only by Christ’s light do we see. St. Paul warns us “Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Rom 12:2)
8. Finally, the Mass is our common patrimony, it belongs to all of us, it is universal, we may use different languages, the format is largely the same, the essence one. If the Mass is celebrated in such a way that people begin to wonder if this is still the Mass, then something is wrong. In the name of inculturation, we should not succumb to relativism, or indifference. In the words of Rollo May “the most tragic of all, in the long run is the ultimate attitude “It doesn’t matter.” Our faith matters, therefore, let us safeguard it from irrelevancies and non-essentials.
• Rev. Fr. Richard Omolade is a priest of Ibadan Archdiocese and a Lecturer at the Seminary of St. Peter and Paul, Bodija, Ibadan.