Liturgy and Inculturation Since Vatican II: Where Are We? What Have We Learned?

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Theological Symposium. Thursday, January 21, 2016

Liturgy and Inculturation since Vatican II:

Where are We? What Have We Learned?

Mark R. Francis, CSV, SL.D., Catholic Theological Union, Chicago


It should come as no surprise to students of history that more than 50 years after the reform of the liturgy set in motion by the Second Vatican Council we are still in the process of implementing much of what this great council gave to the Church. It is important to remember that the reforms set in motion by church councils sometimes take a while to filter down to the local level. After the Council of Trent, for example, it took over a hundred years for its decrees to be implemented in parts of Europe and the Americas. But it is also clear that the participants at Vatican II left the council changed by their experience. They had gained a new vision of the Church and its relationship to the world. This new vision is reflected in the council documents. These documents announced the end of the Catholic Church’s retreat and isolation from the world and a new engagement that would enable a real dialogue between the Church and human cultures. As the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et spes) so eloquently affirmed, the Church desires to share “the joys and hopes, the griefs and anguish”1 of not only Catholics but of the whole global human family. This announcement was prophetic, exciting, and yet also extremely ambitious for an institution that had long identified itself, consciously and unconsciously, with Europe and European culture.

1 Gaudium et spes, 1. All quotations from the documents of Vatican II will be taken from Austin Flannery,


The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World also made a statement in 1965 whose repercussions are still not sufficiently appreciated. “The church has been sent to all ages and nations and, therefore, is not tied exclusively and indissolubly to any race or nation, to any one particular way of life, or to any set of customs, ancient or modern.”2 Fifty years have passed, but the consequences of this affirmation have yet to be realized by everyone in the

church. This is understandable since it dramatically altered the self-understanding of the Catholic Church as a uniquely Western European institution. To appreciate just how marked a shift this represented, think about how traumatized a traditional Catholic apologist of the early twentieth century such as Hilaire Belloc would be by this shift. Writing in the period just before Vatican II, he resolutely declared that “Europe is the faith, and the faith is Europe.”3 The documents of Vatican II roundly contradict that statement.

As Karl Rahner pointed out, the discovery that the Catholic Church is truly a world church is perhaps one of the most important insights of the Council.4 It was a prophetic insight. Since the Council, the “center of gravity” of Catholicism has moved from both Europe and North America. According to statistics released by Georgetown’s Center for Advanced Research in the Apostolate (CARA) in 2014 only about 300 million of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics were European or North American. This accounts for less than 30 percent of the total. The

overwhelming majority, 950 million Catholics, live in Asia, Africa and Latin America.5 If present trends continue, by the year 2023, only one Catholic in five will be non-Hispanic


Ibid., 58

3 Hilaire Belloc, Europe and the Faith (New York: Paulist Press, 1920) 261.

4 K. Rahner, “Towards a Fundamental Theological Interpretation of Vatican II,” Theological Studies 40 (1979) 716-27.


European, or Euro-American. This shift in a century is the most rapid and sweeping demographic transformation ever to occur in the long history of the Roman Catholic Church.6

In light of this movement of the majority of the Catholic population to the global south there is an urgent need to continue to reflect on the impact of Vatican II’s teaching on the church’s relationship to human cultures. One of the most obvious places where this relationship is experienced is in the liturgy.

The organization of my reflections on liturgy and inculturation will be simple. I will begin with a brief review of the dramatic change wrought by the Second Vatican Council’s teaching on culture—especially as it was applied to the liturgy and to the organization of the Church. I’ll also speak of both the resistance to this teaching and the turns taken by magisterial teaching on liturgical inculturation in the years following the Council. I will then briefly describe attempts at implementing inculturation in three different nations: Zaire (Republic of the Congo), India, and the Philippines. Finally, I will try to sum up what we have learned and offer some suggestions for moving forward that are consonant with the teachings of Vatican II.

Sacrosanctum Concilium and the “Magna Carta” of Inculturation

Any discussion about liturgical inculturation naturally needs to turn to the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum concilium) the first document of Vatican II. Articles 37-40 of the Constitution constitute what has been called the “Magna Carta” of liturgical inculturation. The title given to this section of the Constitution is: “Norms for Adapting the Liturgy to the Cultures and Traditions of Peoples.” In 1963, the neologism “inculturation” had not yet fully entered the liturgical lexicon. The two Latin words usually translated in English as “adaptation”

6 On these amazing demographic changes see Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom: The Coming of


–accommodatio and aptatio—occur in this section of the Constitution and would later be largely interpreted by the term “inculturation.” They would also be employed in the subsequent

praenotanda to the various rites in order to describe possible changes in the celebration of the

liturgy in light of specific pastoral and cultural contexts. As Fr. Anscar Chupungco has pointed out, “adaptation” as it is used in the conciliar documents could be considered a synonym for

aggiornamento or updating. This is illustrated by the very first article of the Constitution that

announces one of the primary aims of the entire Council is “to adapt (accommodare) more suitably to the needs of our own time those institutions that are subject to change” (SC 1). Inculturation, when viewed as aggiornamento, could be considered to be at the very heart, not only of the liturgical reform, but of the entire program of Church renewal proposed by the Council.

How, then, do the documents of Vatican II, and specifically the Constitution on the Liturgy understand this process of updating, adapting, or inculturating Catholic worship? First, there is a formal recognition that human culture needs to be taken into account in both

understanding and celebrating the liturgy. Culture, in the Liturgy Constitution, is understood not in a strictly classicist, Eurocentric way, but in the anthropological sense that would be more fully explained later in subsequent documents of the Council, especially Lumen Gentium, Ad Gentes, and Gaudium et Spes.

It is important to keep in mind that this understanding of the relationship between culture and liturgy did not drop from the sky during the Second Vatican Council. SC 37, the first article of the “Magna Carta” paraphrases a statement found in Pope Pius XII’s 1951 encyclical


Evangelii praecones missionary work. 7 The Constitution of the Liturgy takes up his assertion that “Whatever there is in the native customs that is not inseparably bound up with superstition and error will always receive kindly consideration and, when possible, will be preserved intact” (59). Article 37 of SC weaves this general comment of the Pope into a pointed application to the liturgy.

Even in the liturgy the Church has no wish to impose a rigid uniformity on

matters that do not affect the faith or the good of the whole community; rather the Church respects and fosters the genius and talents of the various races and

peoples. The Church considers with sympathy and, if possible, preserves intact

the elements in these peoples’ way of life that are not indissolubly bound up with superstition and error. Sometimes the Church admits such elements into the

liturgy itself, provided they are in keeping with the true and authentic spirit of the liturgy (SC 37).

Between Pope Pius XII and Vatican II, then, there was a move from a general statement about the need for the Church to be open to non-European cultures to a specific reference to the liturgy as a place where local culture may find room for expression. Given the insistence in magisterial teaching over the previous four hundred years on liturgical uniformity as necessary for the unity of the one true Church, the Council’s application of Pope Pius’ words specifically to the liturgy was nothing short of revolutionary.

In a parallel fashion we can also see the Council’s development of Pius’ thought on participation in worship enunciated in in his 1947 encyclical on the liturgy Mediator Dei. While

Mediator Dei promoted lay participation in the celebration of the liturgy, it is taken for granted

that the language of the Mass would remain in Latin with the people following the liturgy with the translations in their hand missals. For those without the necessary education incapable of

7 The document is found at the Vatican web site:


engaging in the rite even with a translated text, “They can adopt some other method which proves easier for certain people; for instance, they can lovingly meditate on the mysteries of Jesus Christ or perform other exercises of piety or recite prayers which, though they differ from the sacred rites, are still essentially in harmony with them” (MD 108).8 This concession for those lacking the erudition to fully participate in the liturgy is roundly rejected by SC. In fact, it makes active participation (participatio actuosa) more than just a nice “extra.” Rather, after years of clerical monopoly of “doing” the liturgy, the Council affirms that participation of all the baptized is of its very essence by proclaiming in article 14 that: “The Church earnestly desires that all the faithful be led to that full, conscious and active participation in liturgical celebrations called for by the very nature of the liturgy.” All the baptized are supposed to be able to actively engage in the rites. Logically, then, the rites themselves need to be adapted or “inculturated” to allow this to happen.

Both of these examples help to show how the council was not only inspired by previous magisterial teaching but also went beyond it by announcing a new relationship between liturgy and culture. The insistence on full, conscious and active participation of the assembly (SC 14) is the underlying objective that was to guide the reform of the liturgy and is the reason for the necessity of “adapting” or “inculturating” the rites. For this reason, the section in the Constitution preceding articles 37-40 entitled, “Norms based on the Teaching and Pastoral Character of the Liturgy” asserts that in the liturgy “God is speaking to his people and Christ is still proclaiming his Gospel” (SC 33), hence the importance that this proclamation be

understood. Therefore, the Constitution insists that “The rites should be marked with a noble simplicity; they should be short, clear and unencumbered by useless repetitions; they should be



within the peoples’ powers of comprehension and as a rule not require much explanation” (SC 34). The issue of communication and intelligibility, then, was at the forefront of the concerns of the Constitution in the reform of the liturgy. From this flows the call for the wider use of the vernacular in SC 36. It is also here that a sharing and decentralization of authority over liturgical matters takes the form of remanding to the “competent territorial ecclesiastical authority” (these would later be the national bishops’ conferences) the responsibility of providing vernacular translations from the Latin liturgical texts (SC 22, 2).

The one proviso on this call for renewal and revision was found in article 38: “provided that the substantial unity of the Roman rite is preserved.”9 This “substantial unity” is not

specifically defined, although it is reasonably interpreted in article 39 as being “within the limits set by the standard editions (editiones typicae) of the liturgical books.” Inspired by the

concessions for adaptation/inculturation given in numbers 37-40 of the Liturgy Constitution, the General Instruction on the Roman Missal and the praenotanda of the other sacramental rites allow both the priest/celebrant and the national bishops’ conferences leeway for adapting the liturgy without threatening the substantial unity of the Roman Rite. Departing from a hallmark of the post-Tridentine liturgical norms that equated unity with uniformity, the Constitution on the Liturgy opens the possibility of enriching Roman Rite Catholic liturgy with non-European cultural expressions. Article 40 provides for the possibility of experimentation that would take place over a designated period of time and then evaluated. It also stipulates that consent for any major changes in the rites proposed by Bishops’ Conferences that went beyond the adaptation allowed by the standard editions of the liturgical books was to be obtained from the Holy See.

9 On a more focused study of the meaning of “substantial unity” see my “Another look at the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy and the Substantial unity of the Roman Rite” Worship 88:3 (May, 2014) 217-239.


Resistance to both Decentralization and Cultural Diversity in the Liturgy

Almost immediately after the promulgation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, however, there was resistance to this new understanding of the relationship between liturgy and culture. This challenge to an explicitly stated desire of the council is well documented in Archbishop Piero Marini’s book The Challenging Reform.10 It concerned the question of who had the authority for the translation of the liturgical books into the vernacular. Sacrosanctum

Concilium has clearly placed the responsibility for such translations in the hands of the national

bishops’ conferences (SC 22, 36, 39, 40). The Roman Congregation for Divine Worship, however, by editing Pope Paul VI’s motu proprio, Sacram Liturgiam, placed translations under its own authority. This controversy illustrated how difficult it was for some to accept the

Council’s teaching on cultural pluralism and on decentralizing and sharing the responsibility for the liturgical life of the Church. Fifty years after the Council this is far from a resolved issue. A recurrent theme of Pope Francis in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii gaudium, for example, is his call for decentralization within the church.11 In the area of liturgy, this decentralization proposed by Pope Francis would, in effect, return to the responsibility for translation and inculturation back to the Bishops’ Conferences as the Council intended.

Although a centralizing tendency is present in the Congregation’s 1994 “Fourth Instruction for the Right Application of the Conciliar Constitution on the Liturgy” called

Varietates Legitimae, or “Inculturation and the Roman Liturgy” written to interpret articles

37-40 of Sacrosanctum Concilium, this document presents a rather balanced understanding of the

10 Piero Marini, A Challenging Reform: Realizing the Vision of the Liturgical Renewal (Collegeville: The

Liturgical Press, 2007) 19-39.

11 Pope Francis “Excessive centralization, rather than proving helpful, complicates the Church’s life and


relationship between culture and liturgy. It embraced the neologism “inculturation” reflecting papal teaching, especially Pope John Paul II’s Redemptoris Missio. A notable development in

Varietates legitimae is the presentation of inculturation as dialogue; a dialogue between the

Roman liturgical tradition and local culture. “The term ‘inculturation’ is a better expression to designate a double movement: ‘by inculturation, the Church makes the Gospel incarnate in different cultures, and at the same time introduces peoples, together with their cultures, into her own community.’ (VL 4).12

Inculturation, then, involves a “double movement” that enriches both the liturgical tradition of the church and local cultures. It goes beyond a superficial “adaptation” of the liturgy to culture and is described as a dialogical process. One of the principal historic precedents for this kind of a dialogue was the Franco-Germanic peoples’ reception of the classic Roman Rite in the 9th Century under Charlemagne. While Roman liturgical usage was introduced to his Franco-Germanic subjects, it was not received without change. From the Franco Franco-Germanic point of view the liturgy imported from Rome was incomplete. For this reason liturgists at the imperial court enriched the Gregorian Sacramentary sent by Pope Hadrian to Charlemagne with prayers and rites that included local saints and reflected the more dramatic and fulsome liturgical style popular north of the Alps.13

This was the kind of dialogue between the Roman Rite and local culture that was presupposed by both the framers of Constitution on the Liturgy and the subsequent magisterial documents. This dialogue respects both the liturgical tradition of the church and local culture—

12 The Liturgy Documents: Volume Two, “Inculturation and the Roman Liturgy” (Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 1999) 118.


and necessarily changes both. This double movement was anticipated in the 1969 Roman document that guided the first generation of translations of the liturgy known by its French title

Comme le prévoit (Instruction on the Translation of Liturgical Texts for Celebration with a

Congregation). Not only were the translators directed to faithfully convey the message of the liturgical text, but there was an acknowledgement that

The prayer of the Church is always the prayer of some actual community, assembled here and now. It is not sufficient that a formula handed down from some other time or region be translated verbatim, even if accurately, for liturgical use. The formula translated must become the genuine prayer of the congregation and in it each member should be able to find and express himself or herself (CP 20).14

The final paragraph of this document was crucial for appreciating the understanding of those charged with the translation of the liturgy before 2001. It speaks of creativity by evoking the principal of organic progression announced in article 23 of the Constitution of the Sacred Liturgy.

Texts translated from another language are clearly not sufficient for the

celebration of a fully renewed liturgy. The creation of new texts will be necessary. But translation of texts transmitted through the tradition of the Church is the best school and discipline for the creation of new texts so “that any new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already in existence”(CP 43).15

The call for the composition of new texts in vernacular languages, guided by the tradition of the Roman Rite, is another example of inculturation as a “double movement” spoken about in Papal teaching on inculturation and explained in Varietates legitimae. It was clearly the intent of the initial period of liturgical reform to locate both the translation of the editio typica as well as the creation of new liturgical texts and ritual elements that corresponded to the genius of the

14 Ibid., “On the Translation of Liturgical Texts,” 238. 15 Ibid., 242.


various peoples within the purview of the national bishops’ conferences, subject to the confirmation of the Holy See. Let’s briefly look at three examples of these attempts.

Zaire (Democratic Republic of the Congo)

One of the most notable efforts at liturgical inculturation since the Council was the adaptation of the Roman Rite of the Eucharist for the dioceses of Zaire, today’s Democratic Republic of the Congo. This particular version of the Roman Rite was proposed to the Holy See after extensive study and experimentation that began in 1969 and finally approved in 1988.16 Cardinal Joseph Malula of Kinshasa, who long enjoyed a reputation for wanting to make the Catholic Church both truly African and truly Catholic was a key supporter of inculturation. His reaction to the pomp and splendor of the Papal liturgy that accompanied the election and enthronement of John Paul II gives an indication of his conviction that inculturation was an urgent necessity in Africa.

All that imperial paraphernalia. All that isolation of the Pope. All that medieval remoteness and inheritance that makes Europeans think that the Church is only Western. All that tightness that makes them fail to understand that young countries like mine want something different. They want simplicity. They want Jesus Christ. All that, all that must change.17

This comment by Cardinal Malula expresses the dis-ease that many Africans and other non-Western Catholics experience with the Roman Rite. Without adaptation to local cultural values it is perceived as a “foreign” expression of the faith that has little to do with the African experience. The Episcopal Conference of Zaire in its introduction to the new liturgical book described the goal of framing a new form of the Roman Rite.

16 Congregatio Pro Culto Divino, "Le Missel Romain pour les diocèses du Zaïre," Notitiae 24



The liturgy described here represents a way proper to the particular church of Zaire, in the African-Zairian context, to celebrate the Christian Eucharist in a triple faithfulness: faithfulness to the apostolic tradition, faithfulness to the basic nature of the Catholic liturgy itself, and faithfulness to the genius of the African and Zairian cultural patrimony. 18

What, then, distinguishes this Zairian or Congolese Rite of Mass from the order of the Mass presented in the editio typica? 19 It needs to be emphasized that despite some structural differences and the use of African symbols, it is still patterned on the Roman Rite as the official title makes clear: “The Roman Missal for the Dioceses of Zaire.” Nevertheless, there are parts— both prayers and ritual elements—that flow directly from African sensibility, spirituality, and cultural values: the invocation of saints and ancestors at the beginning of the celebration, the placement of the penitential rite as a preparation for the exchange of peace and the preparation of the gifts, the use of dance and African images and metaphors in prayer texts that are not derived directly from the editio typica. The introduction of the new liturgical role of the anonciateur or “announcer” calling the assembly to worship is also a particularly African addition to the Eucharistic liturgy that evokes the role of a servant announcing the arrival of a chief before an important meeting.

The Roman Rite for the Dioceses of Zaire is one of the first official attempts at

inculturating the Roman liturgy in Africa. Its focus on the community of believers, attention to modes of African expression—especially the use of local proverbs—respect for ancestors and for movement and dance in worship, are all aspects of this rite that, as the only officially approved African variation on the Roman Rite, has been very influential in the liturgical inculturation

18 Conférence épiscopal du Zaïre. Missel romain pour les dioceses du Zaïre. Présentation générale de la liturgie de la Messe pour les diocèses du Zaíre, n. 2. (Kinshasa, 1988).

19 See Jean Evenou “Le Rite Zairois de la Messe,” L’Adattamento Culturale della Liturgia, Metodi e


proposed in other areas of the continent.20 This celebration has enriched the entire church by helping Christians around the world see that a deep, holistic spirituality nourished by a conviction that all of creation conveys the presence of God cannot be easily divided between sacred and secular.

The publication of the Zaire Rite was a milestone in the process of inculturation of the liturgy in Africa but unfortunately it seems that official encouragement for continuing the needed dialogue between culture and the faith has all but stopped. Due to the dramatic changes in both Zaire (the Congo) as well as the rest of Africa, what was proposed in the 1980’s may no longer be answering the needs of African Christians whose society has changed and who are today strongly influence by urbanization and globalization.21 The Catholic liturgy needs to take into account the fast-growing charismatic renewal in Africa that is naturally attractive to many Africans because of its conviction that the power of the Spirit of God is at work in the world and reaches out to the faithful in the form of healings and prophesying. Unfortunately, in Africa as well as in other areas of the world, because of the centralization that we have already noted, there seems to be a lack of enthusiasm to continue exploring ways for the liturgy to speak more

effectively to the African soul. As Spiritan Fr. Elochukwu Uzukwu noted almost twenty years ago: “Three decades after the convocation of Vatican II, the score sheet on inculturation or the localization of the Church in Africa remains unimpressive. Apart from the official Roman

20 See Nwaka Chris Egbulem, The Power of Africentric Celebrations: Inspirations from the Zairean

Liturgy (New York: Crossroads, 1996).

21 See Floriberte Mavungo Ngoma, O Praem, Missel Romain pour les dioceses de Zaïre: Description


approval of the ‘Roman Missal for the Dioceses of Zaire’ official interest in the practical application of inculturation has been very limited.”22

Liturgical Experimentation in India23

In some ways, the experience of inculturating the liturgy in India was similar to that of Africa. There was a flurry of experiments in the 1960’s and 1970’s and then relative inaction on an official level after the first initiatives. The Indian experience, though, is more complex than that of Africa given the long history of Indian Christianity. This complexity is due to the presence on the subcontinent of several families of rites (Syro-Malabar, Syro-Malankar and Latin) and the complex multicultural context of India. For that reason I will limit my remarks to the Latin Rite Church which is itself divided by geography, caste, and tribe.24

The call for cultural adaptation of the liturgy enunciated by Vatican II was

enthusiastically embraced in India soon after the end of the Council. In 1966 and 1967 the Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI) set the liturgical reform in motion by establishing the National Biblical, Catechetical and Liturgical Centre (NBCLC). This centre produced a proposal for areas of liturgical inculturation, endorsed by the Indian bishops (CBCI) who then sent the document that was then approved of the Consilium. This document became known the “Twelve Points of Liturgical Adaptation,”25 and opened the door to particularly Indian liturgical

22 Elochukwu Usukwu, Worship as Body Language: Introduction to Christian Worship: An African

Orientation (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1997) 30.

23 See Jonathan Tan “Beyond Sacrosanctum Concilium: The Future of Liturgical Renewal in the Asian Catholic Church,” Studia Liturgica 44 (2014) 286-294; for a more ecumenical perspective, Paul Collins, Christian

Inculturation in India (Padstone, Cornwall UK: Ashgate, 2007) 137-166.

24 See Jose Matthew Kakkallil, “Liturgical Inculturation in India,” Questions Liturgiques 77 (1996) 109-116.

25 Consilium, “Rescript on liturgical adaptations to Indian culture, 25 April, 1969.” Documents on the


gestures and other symbols. Among the Indian cultural practices permitted in the Eucharist were semi-prostration instead of genuflection, an Indian style of incensing, offerings of flowers and fruits, and the use of Indian musical instruments.

This initial burst of enthusiasm for inculturation in India, though, offers a cautionary tale. The reception of the 12 points document was very uneven. As well-known Indian theologian and liturgist Jesuit Fr. Michael Amaladoss pointed out, the lack of a general reception and application of these points was due to the way they were developed. The twelve points were not arrived at from the bottom up, but from the top down. They were “a product of a committee of experts” who had designed the process of adaptation from above.26 Further experiments with an Indian order of Mass and readings from Indian spiritual classics from the high Vedic culture of India during the liturgy were well intentioned, but they represented to tribal peoples and Dalits a spiritual tradition that was both alien and oppressive. The Congregation for Divine Worship called a halt to these experiments in 1975 at the urging of those in both India and Rome who were nervous about syncretism and opposed to the “Sanscritization” of the Latin Rite Catholic liturgy.27

Still, at least for many in India, Catholicism and the liturgy need to undergo a version of what Fr. Aloysius Pieris has called “inreligionization” since most cultures in Asia are inspired and shaped by one or more world religions.28 In this case, Hinduism is part of a common Indian spiritual heritage that needs to be taken into account in order for the liturgy to form intellectual and spiritual points of reference. Amaladoss has said, “For me Hinduism is not another religion.

26 Michael Amaladoss, “The Liturgy: Twenty Years After Vatican II,” Vidyajyoti (1983) 238.

27 See Virginia Kennerley, “The Use of Indigenous Sacred Literature and theological Concept in Christian Eucharistic Liturgy in India,” Studia Liturgica 19:2 (1989) 152

28 Aloysius Pieris, Fire and Water: Basic Issues in Asian Buddhism and Christianity (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1996) 67-69.


It is part of my own heritage. It is the religion of my ancestors… So I do not look at its scriptures, symbols, and methods as something foreign to me.” 29 Work must continue to see how the Catholic liturgy, in the context of the extraordinarily rich religious traditions of India, can faithfully proclaim Jesus Christ and his Gospel using a variety of authentic Indian voices. This is not only a liturgical issue, but one that is crucial to any effective efforts at making the Latin Rite a credible Indian expression of the Church.

The Philippines

Much work in liturgical inculturation has already been done in the Philippines. The most important leader in this field—both internationally and in the Philippines--was Dom Anscar Chupungco, OSB who suddenly died in January 2013 leaving a void in the liturgical community that will be difficult to fill. Former preside of the Pontifical Liturgical Institute in Rome and long-time secretary of the Bishops Committee on the Liturgy of the Philippines, Fr. Anscar was a chief architect of the Misa ng Bayang Pilipino (“Mass of the Filipino People”). This proposed Filipino Mass arose out of class project that began in the 1970’s at the Maryhill School of Theology in Manila that he describes as

an attempt to inculturate the 1975 Roman Order of Mass in the context of the culture and traditions of Filipino Catholics. Its chief aim is to communicate more fully to the Filipino faithful the spiritual and doctrinal wealth of the Roman Order of Mass by re-expressing, through dynamic equivalence, its theological


After several years of work on this project that involved liturgists, theologians, pastors, sociologists, cultural anthropologists and experts in linguistics, the Misa ng Bayang Pilipino was

29Michael Amaladoss, “Inculturation and Liturgy,” Vidyajvoti 68 (2004) 654.

30 Anscar Chupungco, “Shaping the Filipino Order of Mass,” in Worship: Progress and Tradition (Washington DC: The Pastoral Press, 1994) 129.


reviewed by an ad-hoc committee of bishops, and in 1976 was unanimously approved by the Conference of Catholic Bishops of the Philippines and submitted for confirmation to the Congregation for Divine Worship. While still awaiting confirmation, in 1991 the project was reviewed, emended and again, unanimously approved by the Bishops’ Conference and then sent to the CDW for approval. To date, no response from Rome has been received.

They key to understanding this project was the method of “dynamic equivalence” in translating both the prayer texts and the ritual. For example the way the epiclesis of the Eucharistic prayer is expressed is through the use of the word “lukuban” that signifies the blessing, care, and protection through the action of overshadowing, like the action of a bird brooding its eggs. “Used for the epiclesis on both the Eucharistic elements and the assembly,

lukuban expresses the transforming action of the Holy Spirit.”31 Ritually, a change in the order of receiving communion is proposed. In the Roman Rite it is prescribed that the priest receive communion first, before the communion of the servers or the assembly. Given the importance of hospitality in Philippine culture, the usual practice of a good host of the meal is to wait until his guests have eaten before taking food. For this reason the priest receives communion last, after members of the assembly.

As Fr. Anscar has pointed out, this dynamic equivalent approach to inculturation is far from radical. It does not create liturgical forms and texts out of “whole cloth” but seeks express the basic content of the Roman Rite respecting components of culture that allow the content of the rite to be more clearly communicated. While elements from popular religious culture inspire

31 Ibid., 135.


ritual elements in the celebration, the “substantial unity” of the Roman Rite is not in danger of being compromised.

While we cannot discount the need for more radical liturgical creativity along the lines of what is proposed in SC 40, given the conservative nature of this approach, it is disappointing that there has not been a response—either positive or negative—to the Misa ng Byang Pilipino from the Roman Congregation of Worship. This seems to illustrate the special reluctance displayed by the Congregation in approving proposals for inculturation of the Order of Mass. The Tagalog Wedding Rite-- Ang Pagdiriwang ng Pag-iisang Dibdib, employs much the same dynamic equivalent approach to Rite of Marriage and was approved by Rome in 1983.

Conclusion: Liturgical Inculturation. Where are We? What Have We Learned?

The experience of the last fifty years has provided some very valuable lessons for the whole Church in regard to liturgy and inculturation. It seems, though, that despite the call for inculturation at the various continental synods of bishops (Africa, Asia, America, Oceania) the urgency present at the beginning of the liturgical reform to inculturate the liturgy seems to have dissipated. To what do we owe this apparent lack of movement in an area that was obviously an important part of the program of liturgical renewal of Vatican II? As we saw even at the

beginning of the liturgical renewal, the main cause of this lack of enthusiasm for inculturation comes from the Congregation of Worship.

A good example of an intervention from Rome that both expresses these reservations and inhibits local churches from pursuing liturgical inculturation more vigorously is found in the “Fifth Instruction on the Right Implementation of Sacrosanctum Concilium,”known as Liturgiam


Rite embedded in its Latin vocabulary and syntax. This method of translation, called formal correspondence, is centered on the Latin text and necessarily pays less attention to the demands of the target language. The method employed by the previous instruction, Comme le Prévoit— dynamic equivalence—sought to respect both the content of the liturgical texts that were to be translated as well as the ways in which this content could be understood and celebrated by local cultures. As Anscar Chupungco pointed out, Liturgiam authenticam “is one of those rare Vatican documents that entirely ignore their predecessor.”32

There is no time to dwell on the many limitations of Liturgiam Authenticam since both distinguishd scholars from many fields and bishops concerned about the ability of our liturgy to speak to men and women today have offered their own devastating critiques of this document. 33 I would just like to point out two erroneous presuppositions advocated by LA that present

insurmountable difficulties for liturgical inculturation: the notion that the Roman Rite is not itself a cultural product and is somehow automatically universal and that the “unitary expression” or ordinary formal style of the Rite needs to be conserved across cultures.

LA 5 affirms that “the Roman Rite is itself a precious example and an instrument of true inculturation” because it is “marked by a signal capacity for assimilating into itself spoken and sung texts, gestures and rites derived from the customs and the genius of diverse nations and particular Churches – both Eastern and Western – into a harmonious unity that transcends the boundaries of any single region.” While it is true that there is evidence of multiple cultural influences in the Roman Rite, LA gives the impression that the same process that assimilated

32 Anscar Chupungco, What, Then, Is Liturgy: Musings and Memoire (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2010) 204

33 See the devastating commentary on LA by Peter Jeffrey, Professor of Music History at Princeton University, Translating Tradition: A Chant Historian reads Liturgiam Authenticam (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2006). Also Bishop Donald Trautman, “The Quest for Authentic Liturgy,” America (October 22, 2001).


these cultural influences into the rite—the late classical Roman, Byzantine Greek, Syrian, Franco-Germanic, Medieval Western European—now render the Rite so universal that it no longer needs to engage the other cultures in which it is celebrated; that the “double movement” called for in Varietates Legitmae in no longer needed. We have seen that in Africa, India, and the Philippines local bishops and theologians have regarded this “universal rite” as far from

automatically universal and therefore in need of inculturation. Clearly, the process of cultural dialogue that historically characterized the Roman Rite needs to continue especially with those cultures into which the demographic center of Catholicism itself has shifted—those cultures of Asia, Latin America,m and Africa.

In speaking about possible liturgical creativity, LA is also adamant that anything new from other cultures introduced into the Roman Rite resemble its formal structure and theological content. “New texts composed in a vernacular language, just as the other adaptations legitimately introduced, are to contain nothing that is inconsistent with the function, meaning, structure, style, theological content, traditional vocabulary or other important qualities of the texts found in the

editiones typicae (LA 107).” In other words, original prayer compositions must sound like they

have been translated from the Latin. This simply does not show much respect for the genius of local cultures and their languages. Given these strictures, real liturgical inculturation is

impossible and the ability of the liturgy to evangelize is compromised.

What else have we learned from the last fifty years? The complicated experience of inculturation in India teaches us that direct and respectful contact with what the Roman Canon calls the “plebs sancta Dei ” – “the holy common people of God” is an absolute necessity for any attempt at inculturation to bear fruit. In fact, this may be the better place to start and not in a committee composed of various experts, no matter how well intentioned they may be. In many


places, this “democratization” of the inculturation process needs to start with an evaluation of and respect for popular religious practices that have grown up alongside the official liturgy of the church. 34 Attention, then, needs to be paid to the actual experience of people at prayer and how they relate to the sacred. The growing charismatic movement in many parts of the world, with its emphasis on taking the Bible seriously in invoking the action of the Spirit in healing and ecstatic prayer is ignored at our peril.35

Finally, the experience of liturgical inculturation in the Congo has also taught us that even if we arrive at the point of having satisfactorily inculturated our liturgy that the need for inculturation never ceases. The profound changes that are taking place in society because of globalization and urbanization, new discoveries in science and technology, growing

commercialization and secularization, all point to the perhaps uncomfortable fact that

inculturation cannot be a “one time” project, but must be an on-going endeavor promoted by the Church because we must continue to read the signs of the times.

Just as the previous incarnations of the Roman Rite adopted aspects of local culture to better express the truth of Christ, attention to culture and social change needs to be a continuing concern when we gather to pray. We ignore the dynamic nature of both our local and global context at the risk of worsening the “disconnect” between the way we worship and the way we live our Christian lives—precisely the gulf that the liturgical reforms of Vatican II atempted to bridge.36 As Catholics of the Roman Rite we cannot afford ourselves the luxury of thinking that

34 For both a history and evaluation of the relationship of popular religion and the liturgy see my Local

Worship, Global Church: Popular Religion and the Liturgy (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2014).

35See for example, Edward L. Cleary The Rise of Charismatic Catholicism in Latin America (Gainesville:

University Press of Florida, 2011) and Philip Jenkins, The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the

Global South (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006).

36 See Paul De Clerck’s insightful article on the need for such flexibility in “Les prières liturgiques.


now that we have made some minor changes in the standard editions of the liturgical books, ritually and textually, that we do not need to continue to help our worship become a true expression of the people with whom we celebrate Christ’s paschal mystery.

“The Church has been sent to all ages and nations and, therefore, is not tied exclusively and indissolubly to any race or nation, to any one particular way of life, or to any set of customs, ancient or modern.”37 This affirmation of the Second Vatican Council still needs to be received and implemented through liturgical inculturation. I can think of no better way of ending this presentation than to give the last word to Fr. Anscar Chupungco. In a talk he gave just a year before his death in Bacalod City he said:

… the Church, after the example of Christ, has the duty to incarnate itself in the culture of its people; …our local [Filipino] culture possesses beauty, dignity, and nobility worthy of divine worship. We ought to revere our ancient Christian traditions, but that does not mean that we should live in the past and ignore the present reality of the Church in the modern world.38


Gaudium et Spes 58

38 Anscar Chupungco, “The Constitution on the Liturgy: History and Highlights,” in Josefina Manabat

(ed.) Liturgy for the Filipino Church: A Legacy of Life and Teaching Anscar J. Chupungco (Manila: San Beda Graduate School of Liturgy, 2014) 397.




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