2 December 2012

Nigeria: Holy Mass in the Face of Terror

Some print media that reported the bomb attack on St. Rita's Catholic Church, Kaduna, Nigeria on October 28, 2012 presented the parish priest, Fr. Mike Boni Bazza (OSA), who celebrated Mass that Sunday morning as a priest who has deep faith in the Holy Eucharist.

This is demonstrated in the words of Fr. Boni who even in a pool of blood could tell the weeping and panicking worshippers: "it's well, it is well!"

In hospital, he told journalists, "I was covered with blood". Doesn't this incident remind us of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross? Is it not really true that the blood of martyrs is the seed of Christianity? Let our brothers and sisters who may be so scared to go to church on Sundays take heart and meditate on the Holy Mass of Jesus Christ on the Cross of Calvary.

The Holy Mass we celebrate every day is a memorial of the passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the Mass we celebrate the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Holy Eucharist. Perhaps we can contemplatively join the disciples on the road to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem and feel the presence of Jesus who had to explain the word of God to them before the breaking of bread. That eventually opened their eyes to recognize that it was Jesus who had been walking with them all along!

Even in the face of terror, Jesus walks side by side with us. May the word of God enkindle the light of faith in us and make our hearts burn within us. May we like the disciples exclaim, "It is the Lord" at every breaking of bread by the priest on the altar and the reception of Holy Communion (Luke 24, 13-35)!

The liturgy of the word

The Mass begins in the name of the Blessed Trinity (Father, Son and the Holy Spirit). The priest greets the faithful "the Lord be with you" while the bishop greets the faithful "Peace be with you". The faithful wishe the Spirit of the celebrant the same abiding presence and peace of the Lord, "and with your spirit".

After, this the faithful is invited to examine their conscience and confess their in order to worthily celebrate the sacred mysteries. The glory of God is resounded in the "Gloria", the celebrant says the opening prayer and the readings from the sacred scriptures are read and proclaimed. This is followed by the homily, the creed and the prayers of the faithful. The word of God is a key that opens our hearts to believe that Jesus is truly present in the Holy Eucharist.

The bishop, the priest, the religious and the laity have the obligation to proclaim the word of God in season and out of season. This proclamation must go beyond the homily at mass. This proclamation must be sounded in our witness of life. Everything we do should reflect the word of God that we preach and hear.

The pulpit is an opportunity to re-enact the manifesto of Jesus Christ as prophesied by the Prophet Isaiah: "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind and to release the oppressed from their bondage (Luke 4, 18; Isaiah 61, 1).

Our daily activities in the world should be a "practical pulpit" to witness to Jesus.

The Liturgy of the Holy Eucharist

This liturgy begins with offertory. It is traditional that we offer the fruit of our labour and sweat during mass. This is an indication that we have contributed to the bread and wine that the priest is offering for the living and the dead. We must therefore believe in ourselves and our nation.

The Holy Eucharist is a celebration of life. Whatever we do and say must reflect the Holy Eucharist.

At mass, when we celebrate the Holy Eucharist, we reenact the passion of Christ in his suffering, betrayal and crucifixion. Judas sold Jesus and Peter denied him three times. Jesus was spat upon, crown with thorns, flogged and weighed down with the burden of the cross that made him fall three times before reaching Golgotha, his final altar for the bloody sacrifice in which he became the priest and the victim.

He was nailed to the cross and still prayed for his executioners instead of cursing them. He even excused them saying: "forgive them Lord, for they know not what they are doing" (Luke 23, 34). We pray for the fortitude and courage to emulate Jesus so that in our pain and troubles on this pilgrim way, we may have the capacity and the energy to cry in a loud voice like Jesus: "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit" (Luke 23, 46) and like the Psalmist cry out: "Into your hands I commit my spirit; redeem me, O Lord, the God of truth (Psalm 31, 5).


Jesus is the priest and the victim who offered himself for the salvation of the world. A priest who offers the sacrifice is a victim in as much as he says, "this is my body". We are the bread broken and shared for others and the wine poured forth to cheer the hearts of people.

While in the Vatican City, Rome, for a colloquium, Archbishop Felix Alaba Job and Msgr. Michael Ekpenyong told me of the wonderful experiences of the Eucharistic Congress that took place in Abuja from November 16-18, 2012. Most inspiring was the call of the Nigeria bishops for peace, unity and renewal of heart.

This was practically demonstrated with the bishops taking the lead. What else can I say when the Catholic Shepherds of Nigeria asked for forgiveness for whatever offence or sin we have committed against one another. In one of the propositions of that congress, we are encouraged to demonstrate our faith openly even in the face of adversity for whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Jesus will save it (Luke 9, 24). May God heal the wounds of our hearts and that of our nation!

Fr (Prof) Omonokhua is the Director of Mission and Dialogue of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, Abuja, and Consultor for the Commission for Religious Relations with Muslims (CRRM), Vatican City, Rome

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