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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 Churchs 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 anguish1 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.

Gaudium et spes, 1. All quotations from the documents of Vatican II will be taken from Austin Flannery,
Vatican Council II: Constitutions, Decrees, Declarations (New York: Costello Publishing Co., 1995).

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 Georgetowns Center for Advanced Research in the
Apostolate (CARA) in 2014 only about 300 million of the worlds 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
Hilaire Belloc, Europe and the Faith (New York: Paulist Press, 1920) 261.

K. Rahner, Towards a Fundamental Theological Interpretation of Vatican II, Theological Studies 40

(1979) 716-27.

Cf. Fewer priests for more laity but Africa is thriving, The Tablet (6 June, 2015) 28.

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 IIs teaching on the
churchs 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 Councils
teaching on cultureespecially as it was applied to the liturgy and to the organization of the
Church. Ill 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

On these amazing demographic changes see Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom: The Coming of
Global Christianity (Oxford University Press: New York, NY, 2003).

accommodatio and aptatiooccur 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
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 XIIs 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
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 Councils application of Pope Pius words specifically to
the liturgy was nothing short of revolutionary.
In a parallel fashion we can also see the Councils 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

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.

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 Marinis 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 VIs motu proprio, Sacram Liturgiam, placed translations under
its own authority. This controversy illustrated how difficult it was for some to accept the
Councils 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 Congregations 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 3740 of Sacrosanctum Concilium, this document presents a rather balanced understanding of the


Piero Marini, A Challenging Reform: Realizing the Vision of the Liturgical Renewal (Collegeville: The
Liturgical Press, 2007) 19-39.

Pope Francis Excessive centralization, rather than proving helpful, complicates the Churchs life and
her missionary outreach. Evangelii Gaudium, 32.

relationship between culture and liturgy. It embraced the neologism inculturation reflecting
papal teaching, especially Pope John Paul IIs 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 FrancoGermanic subjects, it was not received without change. From the 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


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

Anscar Chupungco, Liturgies of the Future (Mahwah NJ: Paulist Press, 1989) 7.

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 prvoit (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
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
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


Ibid., On the Translation of Liturgical Texts, 238.


Ibid., 242.

various peoples within the purview of the national bishops conferences, subject to the
confirmation of the Holy See. Lets 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, todays 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.



Congregatio Pro Culto Divino, "Le Missel Romain pour les diocses du Zare," Notitiae 24 (1988):454472
Time Magazine A Foreign Pope, 30 October 1978

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 elementsthat 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 expressionespecially the use of local proverbsrespect 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


Confrence piscopal du Zare. Missel romain pour les dioceses du Zare. Prsentation gnrale de la
liturgie de la Messe pour les diocses du Zare, n. 2. (Kinshasa, 1988).

See Jean Evenou Le Rite Zairois de la Messe, LAdattamento Culturale della Liturgia, Metodi e
Modelli, Analecta Liturgica 19 (Rome: Studia Anselmiana 113, 1993) 223-234.

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 1980s 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


See Nwaka Chris Egbulem, The Power of Africentric Celebrations: Inspirations from the Zairean
Liturgy (New York: Crossroads, 1996).

See Floriberte Mavungo Ngoma, O Praem, Missel Romain pour les dioceses de Zare: Description
analytico-critique pour une perspective de propagation formative (Rome: Thesis ad Laureum SantAnselmo, 2005).

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 1960s and 1970s 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


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

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

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.

See Jose Matthew Kakkallil, Liturgical Inculturation in India, Questions Liturgiques 77 (1996) 109-


Consilium, Rescript on liturgical adaptations to Indian culture, 25 April, 1969. Documents on the
Liturgy (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1982) 489.

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
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.

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


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

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 fieldboth 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 1970s 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


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

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


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 responseeither positive or negativeto 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
Authenticam. This document is wholly focused on transmitting the doctrinal riches of the Roman

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 Prvoit
dynamic equivalencesought 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

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


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 ritethe late classical Roman, Byzantine Greek, Syrian,
Franco-Germanic, Medieval Western Europeannow 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 shiftedthose 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 livesprecisely 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

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).

See 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).

See Paul De Clercks insightful article on the need for such flexibility in Les prires liturgiques.
Difficults, dfis et ressources,Nouvelle Revue Thologique 132 (2010) 67-85.

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 Christs 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

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.