Corpus Christi Wins in Africa

by Edward J. Quinn
originally printed in Maryknoll Magazine (November 1999)

When I started learning about liturgy decades ago, I was shocked that my favorite feast, Christmas, ranked only third in liturgical importance, behind Easter and Epiphany. Despite the Church's official emphasis, however, Christmas remains the favorite feast of most Western Christians.

I know people in the pews do their own ranking, but I was still surprised by which feasts most appeal to African Christians. At least in Tanzania, where I serve, the feast of Corpus Christi is far and away number one on the hit parade.

Fervor and emotion carry the day, and rightly so, when a celebration that coincides with the Sukuma people's traditional harvest festival involves dozens of flower girls and countless altar boys with participants singing and dancing as a long procession of the Blessed Sacrament wends its way through the town or village.

Palm Sunday comes next. Christians gather at a spot some distance from the church and whet their worshipful appetites, lustily belting out hymns and canticles as they receive their blessed palm branches. When the celebrant intones, "Procedamus in pace," the more nimble forget all about proceeding peacefully and dash for a seat in the church because they know a dramatized version of the passion of Jesus is in the offing.

Such total involvement gives the Palm Sunday liturgy a slight edge over Ash Wednesday, favored so much by Africans that the distribution of ashes extends well into Lent. But Africans agree, at least in part, with official Church liturgists. Christmas does not lead the parade.

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