An Illegitimate Rite: "The Mass of the Earth"

Source: FSSPX News

On Saturday, October 12, 2019, a ceremony was held in the church of Santa Maria in Traspontina that caused a lot of reaction, especially due to the presence of the Pachamama statues. Further reaction was caused because of the strange decorations that were installed there and the dances that took place.

As several in the media have pointed out, this ceremony was in fact the celebration of an Amazonian rite, that of the “Mass of the Earth without Evil” (Missa Da Terra sem Males), a work composed by Bishop Pedro Casaldáliga.

The Author

Bishop Casaldáliga was born on February 16, 1928 in Spain. He entered the congregation of the Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, founded by St. Anthony Mary Claret. Ordained a priest in 1952, he was appointed bishop of the diocese of São Félix do Araguaia in 1971, from which he retired in 2005, at the age of 77. He also became known as an involved poet.

During his investiture, he published a fierce column in which he denounced the government’s economic development policy. He attacked the activities of multinational and agro-industrial companies, describing the social and environmental ravages caused by their greed. Instead of a miter, he wore a peasant’s simple straw hat, and as a crosier he carried a Tapirapé Indian ceremonial stick. Having always been at the progressive vanguard of the struggle for the Indian peoples of Brazil, he is an indispensable representative of liberation theology.

Circumstances of Composition

The “Mass of the Earth without Evils” was composed in 1978, a year that the Brazilian Church declared a “Year of the Martyrs.” At the cost of misusing the meaning of words, the term “martyr” as used here refers not only to the missionaries who recently lost their lives in their struggle for Indian rights, but also the thousands of Indians “martyred” by the colonial enterprise supported by the Church throughout the centuries.

This curious Mass was celebrated for the first time on April 22, 1979, in São Paulo Cathedral, in the presence of some forty bishops. It was performed with indigenous music from various parts of South America. It is this rite that was celebrated in a church in Rome on October 12th.

Content of the Mass

Most of the text of this liturgy consists of an official denunciation of colonialism and forcing the Church to make her mea culpa. The Indians are presented as being, ultimately, closer to Christianity in their original state, than they were after the missionaries converted them.

Indigenous societies are therefore regarded as the depositories of true Christianity, as if they were a work released by the hand of God and not slave societies of the devil. On the contrary, the colonialists, including the missionaries who accompanied them, are considered agents of destruction. This inversion is expressed in unequivocal terms in a “penitential memorial,” where the different peoples of the forests shout out to the Church so as to accuse her. Who then answers:  “And we, traitors of the Gospel, carrying the Cross in your lives like a sword, we have brought the mission to you. The bell of the Gospel sounded like a knell. Traitors of the Gospel and the Incarnate Word, we have given you a foreign culture as a message. We have broken the peace of your life ... We have deceived you by imposing baptism on you as the mark of human livestock, blasphemy of baptism, violation of grace, denial of Christ ... Who were we to speak to you? We missionaries of nothingness have been carriers of death.”

The general message of this blasphemous verbiage is that the Church must face her past errors and sins and repair them through a new engagement. Pedro Tierra, one of the preface writers of the Mass, writes bluntly and without shame: “The Church who blessed the sword of the conquistadors and sacralized the extermination of entire peoples (sic), puts on ashes and does penance... The story continues, and the Church maintains deep ties with the oppressed of America. May our penance transform this link into a march forward alongside the people, on their way to liberation.”

The Earth without Evils

The very name of this mass composed of any piece designating a belief of the Tupi-Guarani people, a kind of utopia that they believed possible. This belief is retrieved and recycled into a biblical vision of the Kingdom of God reinterpreted in the light of Marxist ideology. The preface of the Mass explains that the earth without evil is a “utopia built by the struggle of all the oppressed, a free homeland for all men.”

This appropriation of anticolonial overtones culminates in the last lines of the Mass: “Amerindian America, you always live your crucifixion: one day your death will end in resurrection. We, the poor of this world, are struggling to create the earth-without-evil. It is she who gets up every new day.”

From the Conversion of the Missionary

The incorporation of Tupi-Guarani elements into the rhetoric of liberation theology promotes a significant change in missionary practice. Normally, the appropriation of indigenous cultural elements is intended to better reach the natives. But here the real target is more the missionary community itself.

Indeed, progressive missionaries have engaged in some kind of revitalization process. They are trying to redefine their vocation in order to make sense of it and make it legitimate in a postcolonial context. They’re trying to convince themselves that they can completely transform their relationship with indigenous peoples by going beyond the dialectic of power and subordination in which they have locked themselves.

Thus, progressive missionaries are redefining their work with indigenous peoples by presenting themselves as crucial political allies in their struggle for survival and self-reliance. Basically, their relationship with aboriginal peoples no longer has conversion as its objective.