A Jesuit in the new world.


One of the memorials that was in October was skipped this year due to falling on a Sunday. It was unfortunate that Father Isaac Jogues day was glossed over, especially for someone who lives in the area that he preached. In the northeast of the United States and Canada Isaac Jogue’s is an important saint, and likely two of the most meaningful of the saints in this region are him and Saint Kateri Tekakwitha. Kateri is one of the Indian converts influenced by Father Jogue’s. In this wilderness area one does not simply think of these saints as Church figures, they are in these mountains forever linked to this environment that is the New World. It is in this New World environment that I imagine Isaac Jogues and his companions, I picture them entering into this New World, encountering a new civilization, and journeying from that Old World. In that view of the Saint, I envision of their comparison of these two civilizations of old and new; and I can’t help but compare the Church in those two different environments. My thoughts don’t simply end at that comparison though, but they begin to drift towards that modern comparison of the church and it’s Mass before and after Vatican II.

In that Old World was the civilization built through the centuries with the Church at its center. There were the artistic achievements, the scientific achievements, the architectural, musical and everything else that contributed to the grandiose backdrop that was Europe. In that environment the Tridentine Mass takes place in cathedrals that are the focus of their towns. That Mass takes place in a civilization that revolved around the Church, and it is impossible to separate Europe’s achievements and society from that Church. The splendor of that Mass is the splendor of the Church that shaped and guided that Old World.

Turn then though to that priest setting foot on a New World, sparsely inhabited, wild with a splendor of nature, unexplored, and inhabited by a people like Europe has never seen. Imagine that priest going about saying his first Mass on this new continent. Here there are no cathedrals, no cities, none of the art of the old world and that includes it music. There is splendor, but of a different kind. I did read that when these Jesuits arrived in the New World they built settlements, and those settlements did include churches. I also did read though that unlike the Franciscans of the Southwest, these Jesuits did not stay in those settlements for long. They tended to move about quite frequently. Their approach to this New World was different from the church missionaries of the south west. To people like Isaac Jogues life frequently was spent journeying by canoe, and I have heard when they said Mass in their voyages by canoe; that altar frequently was a canoe turned over. What a difference it saying Mass outdoors, in the wild, on a canoe altar. Different from the southwest missions, and nothing remotely similar to that Tridentine Mass of Europe’s cathedrals. Even if it was that Tridentine Mass being said, in a New World it was said in a new way.

It is that comparison of the Mass of Europe versus the Mass of Isaac Jogues that I view the current two forms of the Mass, and I view that comparison in that New World. I cannot living in these woods forget that influence of those Jesuits, and see just a little of their influence in the way Mass is said here today. That does not mean that I disagree with those traditions of the Tridentine, or agree with all that goes on with the contemporary. Many times I am not a fan of that new Mass and the way it is closed in around the local community. I simply acknowledge that sometimes things are done differently here because this simply is a different place that where older traditions developed. This new place has its new traditions too, and at one point that involved a Mass said on a canoe in the open air, and under a canopy of maple trees. No cathedrals, no marble statuary, no altar rail, no stained glass, no pipe organ, no choir, and probably not even that many parishioners. It was after all a Mass being said in a new world, and said in a new way to meet the demands of that time.

I also, in thinking of the life of Isaac Jogues that Jesuit from Europe, wonder how his explorations influence the modern Jesuits in America. How do they incorporate his traditions into their own? I wonder too, can a Jesuit from a New World travel to Old Europe without bringing saints like Isaac with them? For them the journey is a bit like history in reverse.

Much of this might be a ramble, and it might simply be connecting things that are not really connected. Vatican II did not come about simply to incorporate Isaac Jogues experiences into the Church, and the new Mass likely has little to do with a Mass said on a wilderness expedition. They simply are some thoughts I had on that Jesuit priests feast day while staring at the wood lands and lakes and rivers he used to travel through.

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