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 Pentecost. 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 (the Body and Blood of Christ) 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 in Latin "Procedamus in pace" (“Let us proceed in
peace”), 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.