Eucharistic Communion and Rituals of Communion in Igbo Culture

An Integrative Study of Liturgy, Faith, and Culture

by Mary-Reginald Ngozi Anibueze (Author)
©2020 Monographs 250 Pages


This book elucidates the dynamism of culture and how cultural expressions are often intertwined with religious expressions. The Catholic Church, while conscious of the profound cultural diversity within her membership, earnestly seeks to inculturate the gospel message in these cultures, for a better expressed, experienced, and lived Catholicism in the modern world. Relational and theological expressions of Eucharistic communion increase in wealth and meaning when Christians of different races and cultures are able to understand the global call to unity and interconnectivity in the world today. Relating the clear theological and relational aspects of Eucharistic communion to the traditional rituals of communion expressed in Igbo culture enriches both the encountered faith and lived culture. The rituals of communion in Igbo tradition studied in this book, namely, Emume Iwa Ọjị (Kola nut Ritual), Emume Iri Ji Ọhụrụ (New Yam Festival), and Ịgba Orikọ (Ritual Meal of Reconciliation), are still prevalent and valued among the Igbo people. These rituals pilot and determine the wellbeing of present and future generations of Igbo people. This integrative study of liturgy, faith, and culture, establishes the theological and relational aspects of both the traditional rituals of communion in Igbo culture and the Christian understanding of Eucharistic communion, for a truly inculturated Eucharistic theology.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Foreword
  • Acknowledgment
  • Introduction
  • PART I Culture and Inculturation: A Christian Understanding
  • 1 Inculturation: An Evolving Process
  • Related Terms for Inculturation
  • Aim and Scope of Inculturation
  • Methods of Inculturation
  • 2 Theological Basis for Inculturation
  • Biblical Allusions to Inculturation
  • Magisterial Teachings on Inculturation
  • The Second Vatican Council on Inculturation
  • Synod of Bishops of Africa on Inculturation
  • Inculturation and Nigerian Catholic Bishops’ Conference
  • 3 The Dynamism and Meaning of Culture
  • Concepts, Aspects, and Elements of Culture
  • Culture and Religion
  • Christ and Culture
  • Significance of Inculturating the Christian Faith and Culture
  • PART II The Ethnological Context: The Igbo and Igbo Catholicism
  • 4 The Igbo: Tradition, Religion, and Culture
  • The Igbo
  • Geographical Location
  • Language
  • Socio-political and Economic Structures
  • Igbo Traditional Religion
  • Communality in Igbo Culture
  • 5 Rituals of Communion in Igbo Culture
  • Emume Iri Ji Ọhụrụ (New Yam Festival)
  • Ịgba Orikọ (Ritual Meal of Reconciliation)
  • Emume Ịwa Ọjị (Kola nut Ritual)
  • Significant Role of Igbo Rituals of Communion
  • 6 The Igbo and Encounter of Catholicism
  • Catholicism and Igbo Culture: The Problem of Methodology?
  • The Beginning of Liturgical Inculturation in Igbo Catholicism
  • Igbo Catholicism Today: A Conflict of Faith and Culture
  • PART III Eucharistic Communion in Catholic Theology
  • 7 Catholic Teachings on Eucharistic Communion
  • Eucharistic Communion in the Post-Apostolic Period
  • The Greek Fathers and Eucharistic Communion
  • The Latin Fathers and Eucharistic Communion
  • Ecumenical Councils on Eucharistic Communion
  • Eucharistic Communion and Contemporary Theology
  • Modern and Post-modern Notions of Eucharistic Communion
  • 8 Theological and Relational Interpretations of Eucharistic Communion
  • Eucharistic Communion and Thanksgiving
  • Eucharistic Communion and Meal Sharing
  • Eucharistic Communion and Fellowship
  • Eucharistic Communion and Reconciliation
  • Eucharistic Communion and Unity
  • PART IV Eucharistic Communion and Igbo Rituals of Communion: An Integration of Liturgy, Faith, and Culture
  • 9 Igbo Catholics and Liturgical Inculturation
  • Liturgical Inculturation: An Evolution
  • Creativity in Liturgical Inculturation: The Case of Igbo Catholicism
  • Inculturation of Igbo Rituals of Communion and Eucharistic Communion in the Liturgical Life of Igbo Catholics
  • Integrating Liturgy, Faith, and Culture
  • 10 Liturgy and Life: Integration of Eucharistic Communion and Igbo Rituals of Communion
  • Impact of the Eucharistic Communion in Igbo Catholicism
  • Renewed Interest in Human Interrelatedness
  • Liturgy as an Avenue for Integration of Faith and Culture Par Excellence
  • Conclusion: A Way Forward and Hope for the Future
  • Proper Dialogue between the Christian Faith and Igbo Culture: Yes We Can
  • Research and Training on Igbo Cultural Activities and Religious Values: All Hands on Deck
  • Commitment in Encouraging Active Participation in the Liturgy: Not a Burden but a Joy
  • Enhancing the Igbo Eucharistic and Cultural Communal Life: We Become What We Receive
  • Index


Inculturation is a hot property these days. Everyone agrees it is a good, but nobody knows exactly why they think so. Everyone agrees it might be beneficial, but nobody knows exactly how to go about it. It would seem, then, that it behooves us to look at a particular case instead of flailing at the abstraction, and to follow a particular competent guide instead of wandering perplexed. This book concerns a specific case, and Mary-Reginald is that guide.

Cheap inculturation is easy to do: shuffle the pieces on the board, replace one element with an anomalous substitution, make the whole event over in our own image. Worthwhile inculturation is more costly, which is why Mary-Reginald levies three taxes upon the reader in preparation. First, her detailed scholarship guides the reader through the literature that has sought to define inculturation, and after looking at its aim, scope, and method, she recounts theological bases for it in magisterial teachings. In many ways, this is the most challenging chapter because it surveys the field and establishes a vocabulary. Second, the reader must be led to appreciate the tradition, religion, and culture of the Igbo people in West Africa. This she gives as a gift from her own personal life as a Nigerian. If we are not to thrash at abstractions, we must look at the ethnological specifics of geography, language, socio-political structures, economics, and traditional religion. Only then can we be prepared to even somewhat appreciate what rituals of communion ←xi | xii→mean to the Igbo people, one of which Mary-Reginald has chosen to concentrate on: the Kola nut ritual. Why? Because she is seeking an enrichment of the understanding of eucharistic communion in light of the Kola nut ritual. Therefore her third task is to take the reader through Catholic teaching on the subject, beginning with its foundation in the post-apostolic period but focusing especially upon its treatment by the second Vatican Council and modern theologians. Once these three tasks have been performed—a definition of terms, an account of the African experience, and a theology of eucharistic communion—then we can look profitably at the integration of liturgy, faith, and culture in the particular case study of eucharistic communion and rituals of communion in Igbo culture.

In a parable, Jesus compared the conditions of a soul in which the gospel is sown to the conditions of soil on which a seed is sown. A seed on the path will be devoured by birds, a seed on rocky ground will die without depth of soil, a seed in the thorns will be choked, but a seed in good soil will produce grain a hundredfold. Mary-Reginald believes that the first evangelization of the Igbo people was sown at an insufficient depth; it focused almost exclusively on external active participation; it consisted of tinkering with the ritual instead of putting down deep liturgical roots. A shallow inculturation resulted in the failure of Igbo Christians to grow into the full richness of eucharistic communion. Inculturation is promoted for a more effective, fruitful evangelization, and the seed must be accompanied with faith, persistence, loyalty, and courage.

What if we could make a deeper inculturation of the gospel—plant it deeper in African soil? Would it not lead to a more fruitful enrichment of both the local Church and the universal Church? Perhaps seeing the gospel take root in another land the reader could drop his own cultural baggage and find his way out of the dead ends to which some liturgical reforms have led his own culture. Thus the inculturation of the gospel would not only benefit the Igbo people, but the Igbo people would benefit northern and western Christians (Europe and North America) by modeling eucharistic communion for them. Inculturation is the evangelization of a culture, not the exportation of one particular culture. The only thing being exported is the Paschal mystery, which evangelism transports into the valley of the shadow of death, which falls everywhere, over every culture. But the seed of the gospel can be planted everywhere, too, in every culture. And because the trees that grow up as a result take their nourishment from different soils, different climates, different cultures, the Church in another land will produce the same fruit but with a different taste. In the case of eucharistic communion, this is a taste that could be shared by the African Church with us. This is catholicism at work in Catholicism.

←xii |

Like those instruction booklets that come with English in the first half and French printed upside down in the second half, this book can be read one way and then another. After reading about methods appropriate to ritual studies, cultural theory, social research, and the comparative study of religion, the book can be turned upside down (or perhaps it will be the reader who is turned upside down) and the reader will find a book written by a woman of deep spiritual faith about active participation in liturgy, eucharistic mystagogy, the place of women in domestic religion, and a history of the missions in Africa. An integrative study is all about unification. Mary-Reginald unites her Nigerian Igbo identity and her religious identity as a Daughter of Divine Love. In her person, Africa and Christ unite. Therefore this book is personal, and not abstract, the very thing we need!

The common good is often described by a metaphor of the body: if the heart is healthy, then the good of that particular organ is good for the whole body, too. I make application by suggesting that if the local Church in a continent becomes healthier, it is not only for the good of the African Church, it’s for the good of the entire Catholic body, too. Mary-Reginald’s scholarship and wisdom makes her an insightful guide to the Church’s teaching on evangelization and culture, and the Igbo rituals of communion that she describes in such fond detail just might have the effect of revitalizing your own experience of eucharistic communion, making you healthier, too.

David W. Fagerberg

Prof., Department of Theology

University of Notre Dame


A book project of this level is almost never accomplished singlehandedly. The present work is no different. Thus, it behooves me to at least mention a number of persons to whom gratitude is due.

First of all are my parents, Benedict Chukwuemeka and Regina Ijedinma Anibueze, who bore me and taught me to aspire for excellence in all things; for their unconditional love and encouragement, they will forever remain my idols. To Mother Ifechukwu Udorah and all Daughters of Divine Love who were kind and supportive of my academic endeavor, I extend my appreciation.

My most profound gratitude goes to Prof. David Fagerberg, whose scholarly accomplishments, critical thinking ability, and exceptionally clear pedagogy attracts and inspires me. Prof. Fagerberg provided me with relevant materials for the entire span of this project and also wrote the forward of this book. I am also deeply grateful to other mentors who inspired, nurtured, and contributed to the completion of this project, especially Professors Elochukwu E. Uzukwu, Maxwell E. Johnson, Patrick Chibuko, and Nathan D. Mitchell.

Words cannot express my indebtedness to Rev. Martins C. Emeh, J.C.L., who devoted his linguistic talents to the reading of the final drafts of this book. Thank you for providing constructive feedbacks as well as ensuring that the Igbo language is accurately written and punctuated in accordance with standard ←xv | xvi→morphology. You are a rare gem. To my precious and beloved family: Chika Anibueze, Nneka and Olusegun Obasun, Chinwe and Chijioke Orji, who persistently supported and encouraged me all the way, I remain ever grateful.

Ultimately, I owe the completion of this book, in good health of mind and body, to the Triune God and the Blessed Mother, Mary, whose unfathomable love urge me on.

←0 |


The timely call of the Second Vatican Council (convened 1962–1965) for incarnating the Gospel message in different cultures demonstrates an authentic response of the Church to the command of Christ, which is to spread the Gospel message to the ends of the earth. Documents accruing from this historic Council, by way of theological and pastoral continuity, have emphasized ways of realizing the Church’s openness to cultures and peoples of the world by ushering in a new method of evangelization of the Christian faith in the Church, often referred to as inculturation.1 The word inculturation is new in its terminological use, but is as old as the word evangelization in its contextual point of emphasis in the life of the Church.2 The Council views inculturation as an openness concomitant with the universal and unique nature of the Paschal Mystery of Christ, which by divine will is meant to reach the ends of the earth. The Christian faith thus becomes concretized in every culture so that the faith not only expresses what it believes, but also believes what it expresses.

Since the end of this Ecumenical Council, inculturation has been the dominant concern of African theologians, and has received numerous endorsements from the popes and the bishops of Africa. The Church and African theologians aim to make the message of the Paschal mystery of Christ find a home with and among all the peoples of the earth, as well as to make all peoples of the earth find ←1 | 2→a home in the paschal mystery of Christ. However, the Church in Africa, with all its rich cultural endowments, faces each day the challenge of how to inculturate or integrate the Christian faith with the cultural praxis of the people. African theologians have embarked on this enormous task of inculturation and, for decades, have struggled to integrate faith with culture in various areas of theology. The most exemplary area of inculturation on the continent has been liturgical celebrations, a ritual act in which the faith is expressed, celebrated, and lived out. The quest for an inculturated faith in Africa is still in progress due to the diverse nations, cultures, and traditions that comprise the continent. Given this diversity, here I examine in-depth one particular nation and cultural group, in order to propose new ways for integrating the Christian Faith with that culture.

The Igbo culture is one of the richest not just in Nigeria, but in all of West Africa,3 due to the diverse rituals that accompany almost all of their daily activities. Most ritual activities have contemporary religious underpinnings simultaneously intertwined with aspects of the culture.4 Like other nations in Africa with rich cultural traditions, the Igbo have struggled for an inculturated theology, a theology that incorporates the traditional genius of the people into Christian life. Part of this struggle is the cognitive orientation of the notion of inculturation among the Igbo people as simply a way of replacing Western ritual elements with Igbo ritual elements, especially in liturgical celebrations. In addition, there is a struggle for a reorientation of the intellectual attitude used by missionaries during their evangelization of Igboland, an attitude that saw most Igbo traditions as “fetish, pagan, and idolatrous,” resulting in a disconnect between a proper understanding of the faith in the light of the culture of the people. These struggles and disconnects are responsible for the lack of a deep-rooted Christian faith among many Igbo Christians.

In this work I examine the Igbo traditional rituals of communion and the Christian Eucharistic faith expression. In doing so, I provide valuable insight into the process of inculturation, and create possible ways for dialogue between the genius of the people and the Christian faith. More specifically, I examine the Emume Ịwa Ọjị (Kola nut Ritual), Emume Iri Ji Ọhụrụ (New Yam Festival), and Ịgba Orikọ (Ritual Meal of Reconciliation) rituals. Of the three, the Kola nut ritual is the most revered and pervasive ritual of communion, to the extent that no other ritual of communion can be celebrated without the Kola nut. While these rituals have in the past been performed and intended for local cultural practices, they have evolved over time, such that they currently encompass Christian religious aspects and can be discussed in light of the Eucharist. Through an analysis of these three traditional rituals, I show it is possible to integrate the religious elements of ←2 | 3→these rituals with the relational and theological aspects of the Christian Eucharistic communion.

The Eucharist is the central reality of the Christian faith in Catholicism, and a gift in which Christ lives and works, furthers his mission of divinizing humanity, and wills to renew and transform the structures of all cultures. The Eucharist is the fons et culmen (source and summit) of the Christian life.5 Relationally and theologically, the Eucharist is “a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, and a bond of charity.”6 Eucharistic communion, the core of a Christian’s relational life, therefore expresses communal solidarity, mutuality, and interpersonal relationship. These relational and theological expressions of Eucharistic communion increase in wealth and meaning when Christians of different races and cultures are able to understand the universal call to unity and interconnectivity in post-modernity. Given this understanding of the Eucharist, the application of the theology of the Eucharist to the semina verbi in Igbo traditional rituals promotes active participation in the Eucharistic liturgy and fosters growth of the Christian faith among the Igbo.

Rituals are indispensable features of a religion and constitute the living core of the religion. A ritual is a medium of communication within a particular group. As Uzukwu asserted, “it is a programmed way of acting that characterizes an ethnic group so that participants express their being part of the group through the ritual gesture.”7 The life of the Igbo is surrounded with religious rituals which they undergo individually from the cradle to the grave. These include, inter alia, initiation rituals, communal sacrificial rituals, reconciliation rituals, burial/funeral rituals, and thanksgiving rituals. These rituals define the life of the individual and community, as they establish a bond of communion among participants and serve as an avenue of communication between the human and the spiritual worlds, as well as between humans and spirits believed to be present at the rituals, who oversee the whole ritual action.8 The Igbo rituals of communion bear similarities with the Christian Eucharist, which has had to align with the cultural realities of the people it seeks to address, namely, Igbo Catholics.9 As such, I examine and analyze the three rituals of communion in order to understand how these rituals, through sound catechesis, could help deepen the liturgical life of the Igbo, as well as foster a truly inculturated Igbo Catholicism. Furthermore, since the rituals of communion in Igbo culture are unexplored systematically in relation to the Eucharist, which is central in Christian ritual and the symbol of communion, this work undertakes that task. Notably, the three rituals are prevalent among the Igbo, give direction to their lives, and determine the wellbeing of their present and future generations.

←3 | 4→

Through this integrative study of Igbo rituals of communion with the Christian Eucharistic communion, I seek to correct misconceptions and false beliefs about Igbo rituals and facilitate a better understanding of the Igbo culture in the light of faith. I hope to reeducate the Western audience responsible for the disconnect between faith and culture, as well as the African audience, which still needs a mental reorientation of the possibility of an inculturated Christian faith. Therefore, I show on one hand how the theological and relational aspects of Eucharistic communion foster a mental orientation whereby the Igbo people are re-educated to appreciate their culture. On the other hand, I show how the Igbo rituals of communion can enrich the Christian faith and offer it a new expression.

The book has four main parts with ten chapters. Part I has three chapters. I first explain the meaning, methods, and relevance of inculturation, with an elucidation of other related concepts, such as indigenization, contextualization, acculturation, translation, adaptation, interculturation, and incarnation. Next is the discussion on the theological basis for inculturation and magisterial teachings on inculturation. The last chapter discusses the dynamism of culture with the aim of ascertaining the role that culture and rituals play in the transmission of the Christian faith.

Part II, with three chapters, gives a detailed background of the Igbo people of Nigeria. Chapter 4 will help the reader appreciate the tradition, religion, culture, and geographical location of the Igbo. There is an explication of the meaning of rituals, and a discussion of the three Igbo rituals of communion; Emume Iwa Ọjị (Kola nut Ritual), Emume Iri Ji Ọhụrụ (New Yam Festival), and Ịgba Orikọ (Ritual Meal of Reconciliation) in more detail. Having drawn the significance of the role of the abovementioned rituals of communion, I end the chapter by examining the advent of Catholicism in Igboland. Discussing these Igbo rituals of communion lays the foundation for the integration of faith and culture I present in Part IV.

In dealing with Part III, I consider, within a historical framework, the concept of Eucharistic communion in Catholic theology, with a focus on Eucharistic features that center on communion, such as thanksgiving, meal sharing, fellowship, reconciliation, and unity, in the two chapters. I subsequently apply these Eucharistic themes in the integrative study of the Eucharist and Igbo rituals of communion in the next chapter.

Part IV, the heart of the work, has two chapters. I discuss the integration of Eucharistic communion and Igbo rituals of communion in the liturgical life of Igbo Catholics. I draw similarities and differences, where necessary, from both. I then demonstrate how the Igbo rituals of communion act as a lens for understanding the theological and relational aspects of Eucharistic communion, and ←4 | 5→the impact of this encounter in the liturgical life of the Igbo people. Overall, my primary goal in this book is to integrate the understanding of Eucharistic communion with Igbo traditional rituals of communion, thereby enriching the culture with the Christian Gospel of faith. I also aim to contribute to scholarship in the areas of theology, liturgy, and inculturation. The conclusion, which is a summation of the main insights gleaned from this discussion, provide a set of recommendations on the prospect of pastoral action to integrate faith and culture in Igbo Catholicism.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2020 (September)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2020. XVI, 250 pp.

Biographical notes

Mary-Reginald Ngozi Anibueze (Author)

Mary-Reginald Ngozi Anibueze, DDL, earned her Ph.D. in Theology, with a specialty in Liturgical Studies, from the University of Notre Dame. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Religion and African and African American Studies at Berea College, Kentucky.


Title: Eucharistic Communion and Rituals of Communion in Igbo Culture