General and Introductory Materials
Part 3 Theological Issues

Chapter d36 Liturgy and Culture

Preliminary Questions




The Vatican Council and Inculturation


The Process of Inculturation

Popular Devotions

Liturgical Style in North America

Global Christianity

Franciscan Liturgical Style

To Think About

Preliminary Questions

Do you speak more than one language? Have you lived for any length of time in a cultural context not your own?

In what way does the Mass reflect American Culture?  If you have traveled to another country, in what way was the Mass there "different" (ways other than "different language")?

How can the liturgy be "inculturated" and "catholic" at the same time? In what way will the "Roman Rite" remain "Roman"?

A remark by Samuel Torvend (in his review of The Virgin of Guadalupe: Theological Reflections of an Ango-Lutheran Liturgist by Maxwell E. Johnson in Worship July 2002, Volume 81, Number 4 p 347) I find very much to the point:  Torvend writes:  "A colleague of mine who teaches Asian Religions argues that when religious phenomena enter the United States they are reconfigured by three deeply-held cultural values:  commodification, individualization, and simplification."  What role do these three cultural values play in your own prayer? 

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Second Vatican Council. Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.  Chapter I, 39-40.

Consilium. Instruction on Translation of Liturgical Texts. January 25, 1969.

Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. Instruction, Inculturation and the Roman Liturgy, January 25, 1994. Washington D.C.: Office for Publishing and Promotion Services USCC, #823-1. [Reprinted in Origins, April 14, 1994 23:43, pp 745-756. The official Latin and French texts of this document, "The Fourth Instruction on the Orderly Carrying Out of the Constitution on the Liturgy," can be found in Notitiae 332 Vol. 30:3 (1994), pp 80-151, together with a commentary and introduction (in Italian). The entire issue of Notitiae is devoted to this document on inculturation.]

Mark R. Francis, CSV. Local Worship, Global Church: Popular Religion and the Liturgy,  Liturgical Press (February 6, 2014)  ISBN-13: 978-0814618790 $17.96.

Mark R. Francis, CSV.  "Liturgical Inculturation in the United States and the Call to Justice," in Living No Longer for Ourselves: Liturgy and Justice in the Nineties, edited by Kathleen Hughes and Mark R. Francis. Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1991. Pages 107. paper, $12.95. [Fr. Francis sketches the tension in the constitution on the Sacred Liturgy between classicist and modern concepts of culture, evident in the document's homage to the "noble simplicity of the Roman rite," and that rite's incompatibility with American cultural norms.]

Mark R. Francis, CSV.  Liturgy in a Multicultural Community. The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, 1991.

Vincent J. Miller, Consuming Religion:  Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture
.  A Continuum Book  ISBN 0-8264-1531-8  (available on for $16.47 new; $12.95 used)

Jeremy Carrette and Richard King  Selling Spirituality:  The Silent Takeover of Religion.  A Routledge Book ISBN 0-415-30209-9 Dwight W. Vogel (Editor) Primary Sources of Liturgical Theology: A Reader.  A Pueblo Book.    ISBN 0-8149-6178-5   [A collection of essays by Casel, Chauvet, Chupungco, Collins, Dalmais, Guardini, Kavanagh, Kilmartin, Power, Schmemann, Taft, von Allmen, Wainwright, etc.]  (Publisher $49.95.  Available from for under $33.00  Used from under $20.00)

Chupungco, Anscar J. O.S.B. Cultural Adaptation of the Liturgy, New York: Paulist Press, 1982. $4.50. ISBN: 0-8091-2452-1.

Chupungco, Anscar J. O.S.B. Liturgical Inculturation: Sacramentals, Religiosity, and Catechesis, Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, A Pueblo Book, 1992. $14.95. 6120-3.

Chupungco, Anscar J. O.S.B. Liturgies of the Future: The Process and Methods of Inculturation. Paulist Press, New York, 1989.

Hawn, C. Michael.  One Bread, one Body:  Exploring Cultural Diversity in Worship. The Alban Institute, 2003.  ISBN 1-56699-277-X.  $17.00

Insituto de Liturgia and the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions. "Guidelines For Multi-lingual Masses," Bishop's Committee on the Liturgy Newsletter. Volume XXII, June\July 1986.

Jordon, Brian, J. "Multicultural Liturgy," Church. National Pastoral Life Center, New York, Vol. 9 Num 2, Summer 1993.

Power, David N. "Liturgy and Culture Revisited," Worship, 69:3 (May 1995), pp 225-243.

Shorter, Aylward. Toward a Theology of Inculturation. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, New York, 1988.

Sosa, Juan J. "Reflections from the Hispanic Viewpoint," in The Awakening Church, Lawrence, J. Madden (editor), Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1992, pp 121-124.

Taves, Ann. The Household of Faith. University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, 1986.

Third international consultation of the Lutheran World Federation's Study Team on Worship and Culture, held in Nairobi, Kenya, January 1996.   Nairobi Statement on Worship and Culture:  Contemporary Challenges and Opportunities.  (Gives principles for inculturation)  The text can be found at

Zoghby, Elias. "The Universal Catechism Proposed by the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops, Considered From a Cultural and Pastoral Viewpoint, Conciliuem: Synod 1985- An Evaluation. T. & T. Clark Limited, Edinburgh, 1986.

Here is a link to a very important bi-lingual (English/Spanish) book on Hispanic wedding customs

Weekend course 2010 -- Liturgical Spirituality in a Consumer Society

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"Religion is the substance of culture and culture the from of religion." Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology, 3 vols. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951-63), 3:248ff.

Culture: A network of relationships constituted by distinctive modes of interaction. (Ann Taves, The Household of Faith, pp vii.)

Culture: The totality of socially transmitted behavior patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and all other products of human work and thought. (Amrican Heritage Dictionary.)

Culture: Anthropologists and other social scientists define human culture as learned behavior acquired by individuals as members of a social group. The concept of culture was first explicitly defined in 1871 by the British anthropologist Edward B. Tylor. He used the term to refer to "that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society." Each human society has a body of norms governing behavior and other knowledge to which an individual is socialized, or enculturated, beginning at birth. (Toolworks Multimedia Encyclopedia, Grolier Inc., 1992.)

Culture is the particular way in which a human group interprets life and relates with nature, God, the world, and other peoples. Culture is not accidental, but an integral part of human life. Culture is lived and expressed through traditions, language, relationships, food, music, and religious expressions. It embraces the totality of the life of the group and the life of each individual who belongs to it; therefore, all human beings relate and respond to God and express this faith from and within their culture. (United States Catholic Conference, Department of Education. Principles for Inculturation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Washington: Office for Publishing and Promotion Services, 1994. Publication No. 022-2.)

"Individualism in America is the most pressing cultural force with which the church must contend if it is to speak of and experience community as foundational to liturgy, sacraments, and social justice. The sociological analysis of American culture by Robert Bellah et al. in Habits of the Heart (University of California Press, 1985) has documented well the priority Americans give to the individual over the community as a primary source of meaning and value. Self-reliance, independence, and rugged individualism have been so much a part of our cultural heritage that we are nearly blind to the role the community plays in our becoming fully human persons, living fully human lives. Individualistic values encourage active virtues, such as assertiveness, independence, and competitiveness, which make us givers and takers; however, they discourage the passive virtues of dependence patience, and long-suffering, which make us receivers. The Christian sacraments require a community where-in all give and all receive." (Richard M. Gula, "A Reconciling Community: The Context for Penance," Church (Summer 1990) p 23.)

Differing cultural perspectives    I was watching the Pope celebrate the Eucharist at Washington Nationals Park, Thursday April 17, 2008, and as the Mass was ending and the Pope exiting, the EWTN commentator said: "The Mass is almost completed here â€" a Mass that I think that everybody thought Pope Benedict will see as being striking in its departure from almost everything that over the past thirty years Pope Benedict has written about regarding sacred liturgy and music. It was a rather an overweening and preening case of multi-cultural exhibitionism."  [I wasn't too sure what "overweening" means; the dictionary says:  overweening  = arrogant, conceited, pompous, haughty.]

Regarding the same celebration, Fr. Jeremy Harrington OFM, [former Minister Provincial of the Cincinnati Province of Franciscans and currently the head of the Commiseriate of the Holy Land in Washington DC] wrote in our province's newsletter:  "I was impressed by the variety of music and cantors and lectors of various cultures. The program for the liturgy reported that the Archdiocese of Washington has 580,000 Catholics, of whom 200,000 are of Hispanic ancestry and 100,000 of African and Caribbean descent. Mass is celebrated in more than 20 languages in the archdiocese. The Intercessory Prayers were in English, Tagalog, Korean, Vietnamese, Igbo and Spanish. One of the hymns after Communion was "My God and My All" by Bro. Rufino Zaragoza, OFM, of the St. Barbara Province. The chorus is in English but each verse was in a different language. Also after Communion, Placido Domingo sang Panis Angelicus, which was thrilling apparently even to Pope Benedict, who came down from his chair to thank him. The weather was perfect, sunny with a slight breeze. To protect my bald spot, I wore my ball cap before Mass and during Mass a brown beanie, which Br. Simon found for me. After an inspiring morning, we were home by 1:30. Like thousands of other participants, we were enthusiastic and grateful to be with Pope Benedict and to have an experience of the Church in its wonderful diversity and richness. "

Two men experiencing the same liturgy.  One man's "overweening and preening case of multi-cultural exhibitionism" is another man's "experience of the Church in its wonderful diversity and richness."  It all depends on what is happening "under the iceberg." 

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Book Review by John F. Haught, In America Magazine, December 11, 2006, page 11

The story of the Vatican's struggle with modern science since Copernicus will not inspire confidence that the church has faced this challenge successfully. In Roman Catholicism and Modern Science, Don O'Leary, a neuroscientific researcher at University College Cork, shows the history of modern Catholic magisterial encounters with heliocentrism, evolution, Big Bang cosmology, quantum mechanics and biotechnology to be one of habitual postponement. It is not O'Leary's intention to discourage, but his restrained display of texts and facts documenting the magisterium's general reluctance to look science squarely in the faceâ€"until it is too late not to appear ludicrousâ€"is not inspiring.

The author's citation of lines from the Rev. Jerome J. Langford's well-received Galileo, Science and the Church (1992) encapsulates the impression most readers will get from reading O'Leary's own sobering chronicle:

The Church's reaction to scientific advance has seemed to follow the same pattern for centuries. The scientific discovery of theory is announced, and theologians react defensively. The scientific evidence gains acceptance, and theologians begin to investigate ways of incorporating the new insights either by changing their interpretation of Scripture or by doing a bit of reorganizing of their pet world-views. Usually by the time theologians get around to accepting a scientific discovery, they are years behind the times.

Example: The Church and Usury.

Economic progress during the Middle Ages necessitated financial loans. As the Jews were ostracized from most professions by local rulers, the church and the guilds, they were pushed into marginal occupations considered socially inferior, such as tax and rent collecting and money lending. This was said to show Jews were insolent, greedy usurers. Natural tensions between creditors and debtors were added to social, political, religious, and economic strains.

... financial oppression of Jews tended to occur in areas where they were most disliked, and if Jews reacted by concentrating on money lending to gentiles, the unpopularity - and so, of course, the pressure - would increase. Thus the Jews became an element in a vicious circle. The Christians, on the basis of the Biblical rulings, condemned interest-taking absolutely, and from 1179 those who practice it were excommunicated. But the Christians also imposed the harshest financial burdens on the Jews. The Jews reacted by engaging in the one business where Christian laws actually discriminated in their favor, and so became identified with the hated trade of money lending.[5]

Peasants who were forced to pay their taxes to Jews could personify them as the people taking their earnings while remaining loyal to the lords on whose behalf the Jews worked. Gentile debtors may have been quick to lay charges of usury against Jewish moneylenders charging even nominal interest or fees. Thus, historically attacks on usury have often been linked to antisemitism.

In England, the departing Crusaders were joined by crowds of debtors in the massacres of Jews at London and York in 1189-1190. In 1275, Edward I of England passed the Statute of Jewry which made usury illegal and linked it to blasphemy, in order to seize the assets of the violators. Scores of English Jews were arrested, 300 hanged and their property went to the Crown. In 1290, all Jews were expelled from England, allowed to take only what they could carry, the rest of their property became the Crown's. The usury was cited as the official reason for the Edict of Expulsion.

In 1745, the Catholic teaching on usury was expressed by Pope Benedict XIV in his VIX Pervenit, which strictly forbids the practice as such, although he adds that "entirely just and legitimate reasons arise to demand something over and above the amount due on the contract" - such reasons could include the risk of loss, the time value of money in the modern economy, etc. ( )

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The Vatican Council and Inculturation

Constitution on the Liturgy, Chapter 1.


37. Even in the liturgy the Church has no wish to impose a rigid uniformity in 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 in fact the Church admits such elements into the liturgy itself, provided they are in keeping with the true and authentic spirit of the liturgy.

38. Provisions shall also be made, even in the revision of liturgical books, for legitimate variations and adaptations to different groups, regions, and peoples, especially in mission lands, provided the substantial unity of the Roman Rite is preserved; this should be borne in mind when rites are drawn up and rubrics devised.

39. Within the limits set by the editio typica of the liturgical books, it shall be for the competent, territorial ecclesiastical authority mentioned in art. 22, § 2 to specify adaptations, especially in the case of the administration of the sacraments, the sacramentals, processions, liturgical language, sacred music, and the arts. This, however, is to be done in accord with the fundamental norms laid down in this Constitution.

40. In some places and circumstances, however, an even more radical adaptation of the liturgy is needed and this entails greater difficulties. Wherefore:

1. The competent, territorial ecclesiastical authority mentioned in art. 22, § 2, must, in this matter, carefully and prudently weigh what elements from the traditions and culture of individual peoples may be appropriately admitted into divine worship. They are to propose to the Apostolic See adaptations considered useful or necessary that will be introduced with its consent.

2. To ensure that adaptations are made with all the circumspection they demand, the Apostolic See will grant power to this same territorial ecclesiastical authority to permit and to direct, as the case requires, the necessary preliminary experiments within certain groups suited for the purpose and for a fixed time.

3. Because liturgical laws often involve special difficulties with respect to adaptation, particularly in mission lands, experts in these matters must be employed to formulate them.

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Inculturation is an ongoing reciprocal process between faith and culture. It is a way of looking at the customs, rites, and rituals of people to discover in them the active and saving presence of God. Through inculturation the church affirms what is good in a culture; purifies what is false and evil; strengthens what is weak; educates what is ignorant. (Ibid.)

Referring to Pope John Paul's plea for an evangelization that takes root in different cultures, the instruction chooses the word inculturatio in preference to the word aptatio or adaptation, used in the conciliar Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. A text cited from Redemptoris Missio states that "through inculturation the Church gives the Gospel body (corporat) in different cultures and at the same time leads peoples with their own cultures into its own community." (John Paul II, "Litterae Encyclicae de perenni vi mandati missionalis," AAS LXXXIII (1990) 300 (no. 52). Insisting that inculturation is not some external adaptation, the encyclical defines inculturation as the "transfiguration of the true goods of human culture through their reception into Christianity and at the same time the insertion of the Christian name into various cultures." (Loc. cit.: "Inculturatio intimam significat transfigurationem verorum cultus humani bonorum per ipsam oerum receptionem in rem christianam itemque nominis christiani inserionem varias in culturas.")Based on this, the reason given by the instruction for the choice of the word inculturatio is that it expresses something deep-rooted and permanent, rather than accommodations that are purely formal and temporary. On the one hand, evangelization and liturgy assume cultural realities into the life of the Church. On the other, they insert the truth of the gospel into the fabric of living cultures. (Power, David N. "Liturgy and Culture Revisited," Worship, 69:3 (May 1995) pp 225-226.)

An analogy that has excited interest in a broader context is that found in the conciliar Decree on Mission, Ad Gentes. The document compares the embodiment of the church in local cultures to the incarnation of the Word in particular culture, but the implication of this analogy for liturgy has been largely unconsidered. (Ibid. p 228.)

It is difficult, however, to know the exact meaning of the words: "He who took flesh in his people's culture brings to each culture in history the gift of purification and plentitude." ("El, que se encarno en la cultura de su pueblo, trae para cada cultura historica el don de la purificacion y de la plenitud." Ibid., no, 228.) On the one hand, this underlies the historic and concrete reality of the life of the incarnate Word. On the other, it could suggest a transcendence of cultures that allows Christ to enter into them all, without attending enough to the concrete diversity among cultures. (Ibid. P 231.)

Both gospel and culture envisage the total life of a people and the gospel cannot be transmitted except in incarnated or inculturated forms. (Ibid. p 233.)

From the beginning, this one Church has been marked by a great diversity which comes from both the variety of God's gifts and the diversity of those who receive them. Within the unity of the People of God a multiplicity of peoples and cultures is gathered together. (CCC 814)

"(6)... A faithful translation, therefore, cannot be judged on the basis of individual words: the total context of this specific act of communication must be kept in mind, as well as the literary form proper to the respective language. (7) Thus, in the case of liturgical communication, it is necessary to take into account not only the message to be conveyed, but also the speaker, the audience, and the style. Translations, therefore, must be faithful to the art of communication in all its various aspects, but especially in regard to the message itself, in regard to the audience for which it is intended, and in regard to the manner of expression." (Consilium, Comme le prévoit, instruction on the translation of liturgical texts for celebrations with a congregation, January 25, 1969. Notitiae 5 (1969) 3-12. DOL numbers 843-844.) E.g. Holy Spirit as a "refrigerator" in Palestine and in Alaska. A "cold, damp wind" is perhaps more welcome in Palestine than in Alaska.

"My experience in psychotherapy convinces me that the act which requires the most courage is the simple truthful communication, unpropelled by rage or anger, of one's deepest thoughts to another. We generally communicate most openly only to those who are our equals in power."  Rollo May, Power and Innocence: A Search for the Sources of Violence, (New York: W.W. Norton), 1972, p 245.

"In keeping with the economy of the incarnation, the church is supposed to make itself at home among each people in the radically human way that Jesus was at home in Nazareth." (Eugene Hillman, "Religious Ethnocentrism," America 164:11 (March 23, 1991) 317-319.)

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The Process of Inculturation

Tip of the pistol change: When liturgy was primarily (exclusively?) vertical (for God) and pious devotions were horizontal (for us) as God was one, liturgy was one; as we are diverse, devotions were diverse. When liturgy is "for us and for our sanctification" it is as diverse as the "our" and the "us".

The two phases of liturgical inculturation: De-culturation â€" Negative: removing those things which cover and cloud the structure of liturgy. Like taking the paint off a good piece of wood furniture. Inculturation â€" Positive: cultural adaptations. Like refinishing a good piece of wood furniture.

Current inculturation: The gospel will critique and affirm elements in a culture. Catholic: for eight centuries "Catholic"= not tied to any one culture; = universal.

Greek philosophy, Plato, unchangeable is the real, Sacred Heart (seat of emotions), body and soul, natural law, etc. Roman political system, hierarchy, Roman vestments, Constantine's court ritual, Roman architecture, Roman judicial system, Canon Law, etc. Medieval Europe: hosts, genuflection, pipe organs, Romanesque architecture, gothic architecture, etc. North American positive values: hospitality, generosity, freedom, spontaneity; liberty, equality; tolerance, separation of Church and State, civil religion (holidays like Thanksgiving, "In God we trust" on money, bible in court room, etc.), technology and the human sciences, rapid communication, etc. North American negative values: excessive individualism, efficiency, legalism, materialism, consumerism, alcoholism, drugism, egoism, escapism, militarism, narcissism, nationalism, racism, sexism, pace of living, rush and hurried, value production over people, etc.

Adaptation to age: Children -- Directory for Masses with Children, TLD pp 194 ff. Adolescents. Third age.

Adaptation to special needs of Catholics: Seeing impaired; Hearing impaired; Special physical adaptations; Special symbolic adaptations.

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Liturgical Style in North America

Individualism -- liturgy is communal worship. It is personal, but not individual. Efficient -- our desire for "efficiency" can get in the way of symbolic action.

The Constitution on the Liturgy introduces a new element into the Roman rite: local adaptation. The Fathers of the Council stated: "Provided that the substantial unity of the Roman rite is preserved, provision shall be made, when revising the liturgical books, for legitimate variations and adaptations to different groups, regions and peoples, especially in mission countries" (SC 38).

While these provisions of the Council were intended primarily for "mission countries," our experience of the past ten years has shown us that the principles must also be applied in those countries which are the heirs of Roman culture. As the Word of God took flesh in a specific cultural setting, so our liturgical prayer must take flesh in a specific time and place.

This cultural incarnation of the Roman rite is a new process for us in North America. It calls us to examine our culture critically in the light of the Gospel, and to determine which elements of our culture are either in harmony with gospel values or are found wanting. Our Franciscan liturgical style must speak to the culture of North America: adapting and encouraging what is good; eliminating and criticizing what is deficient.

It is no doubt very legitimate to ask whether there is a North American culture. Are we not a people of many different ethnic origins? In adapting our liturgical style to North America, therefore, we must be conscious of our ethnic differences and allow the various ethnic prayer-traditions to enrich our liturgical rites.

Although it may be too early in our liturgical development to describe a North American liturgical style, we do have instances where our culture is in harmony with our Franciscan liturgical style. We see ourselves as a warm hospitable people, and we want to be "at home" at prayer. We want our liturgies to be characterized by a certain freedom and spontaneity. We want our liturgies to be an authentic expression of the individuals who gather together to pray. We want our prayer to raise us above our culture to an internal experience of the mystery of the transcendent God.

There are areas, however, where our Franciscan liturgical style must criticize our culture. An excessive individualism can cause us to see our achievements as the result of our own work and so lead to the loss of our spirit of thankfulness. Love for ritual, parades, and pageants can lead us to a ritualism which is more concerned with empty forms than with their content and prayer function. Our technology and love for efficiency and "getting the job done" destroys the spirit of contemplation which allows us to stand back from things, to see them as they really are, and to let them speak to us. Concern for law and order and sense of obligation can cause us to ask "does it count?" "is it allowed?" and thus to overlook the ritual quality of the prayer.

In the document Environment and Art in Catholic Worship, published by the United States Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy, we read:

A culture which is oriented to efficiency and production has made us insensitive to the symbolic function of persons and things. Also, the same cultural emphasis on individuality and competition has made it more difficult for us to appreciate the liturgy as a personal-communal experience. As a consequence, we tend to identify anything private and individual as "personal." But, by inference, anything communal and social is considered impersonal. For the sake of good liturgy, this misconception must be changed. (EACW 16).

Quality is perceived only by contemplation, by standing back from things and really trying to see them, trying to let them speak to the beholder. Cultural habit has conditioned the contemporary person to look at things in a more pragmatic way: "What is it worth?" "What will it do?" Contemplation sees the hand stamp of the artist, the honesty and care that went into an object's making, the pleasing form and color and texture. (EACW 20.)

In planning and celebrating our prayer-life, we must be attentive to our cultural heritage and be willing to make a critique of it in the light of the Gospel. Otherwise, we run the risk of letting ourselves be dominated by our culture and letting it dictate our prayer forms to the detriment of our Franciscan spirit. (The above is taken from the introduction to Franciscans at Prayer.)

Native Americans:   "Out here in the West we often incorporate smudging, drumming and dancing into diocesan liturgies and celebrations."

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Global Christianity

At the 2007 meeting of the "Liturgy and Culture Study Group" of the North American Academy of Liturgy, we discussed Whose Religion is Christianity: The Gospel Beyond the West, by Lamin Sanneh.  Several points which I found particularly interesting are: 

Page 89 - One important difference between Islam and Christianity is that Islam is an Arabic religion whose scriptures are revealed in Arabic to Arabic speaking people.  To be a good Muslim one must know at least some basic Arabic.  Where as "Christianity is a translated religion without a revealed language." (Sanneh p. 97)

Page 95 - "The Bible ... influenced speech patterns among Christian Communities." (Sanneh p. 95)  One night when I was returning home from Cincinnati, my car would not start after I had stopped at a filling station.  AAA extended service permitted me to have the car towed the remaining 200 miles to Tell City.  During this two hour drive, I had the opportunity to talk to the driver of the tow truck.  He was a born again Christian, whose one book was the King James Bible.  He could not only remember the exact moment of his conversion to Jesus and could describe it in great detail, he also spoke with the words, praises, and cadences of the King James Bible.

"The Maasai of East Africa, to take another example speak in their so=named African Creed of believing as a community rather than as individuals, and instead of casting their creed in cognitive abstract terms of the seen and unseen, of Christ as eternally begotten of the Father, God from Go, light from light, begotten not made, etc., they speak of a journey of faith in a God who out of love created the worlds and us, of how they once knew the High God in darkness but now know this God in the light.  The creed continues with God's promises in Scripture momentously in Jesus, "a man in the flesh, a Jew by tribe, born in poor in a little village, who left his home and was always on safari doing good, curing people by the power of God," until finally he was rejected by his people, tortured and nailed, hands and feet, to cross, and died.  Then the irony of the historical Jesus is clinched with stunning understatement with the words, "He lay buried in the grave, but the hyenas did not touch him, and on the third day he rose from the grave."  A note of eschatological joy and hope swells to conclude the creed:  "We are waiting for Him (Jesus).  He is alive.  He live.  This we believe.  Amen."  The Jesus of the African Creed is a solid historical figure, steeped in his Jewish culture, swept up in the controversies of the day, put to death without being shamed, witnessed to by Scripture, anointed and abiding through the Holy Spirit, a channel of God's grace, and present the world through sacrament, mission, and service to one another.

There is a little sign in the creed, as there is in the Nicene Creed, of the words smelling of the litigious lamp, of the scars of bitter theological battle, of rubbing in the noses of the vanquished, of haunting, heresy, or of the West's twilight mood.  Maasai ideas of God are not as prickly, and it is as such that hey have shaped the outlook of their African Creed.  Such evidence is assurance, too, that the indigenization and inculturation of the gospel stand to benefit the wider church."(Lamin Sanneh Whose Religion is Christianity, pp 59-60)

"The heart, the sages say, is the toughest part of the body.  Tenderness is in the hands." (Lamin Sanneh Whose Religion is Christianity, pp 65)

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Franciscan Liturgical Style

In one sense there is no such thing as a "Franciscan liturgy." Whenever friars assemble for the liturgy, we make visible the Body of Christ: "It is through the liturgy that the faithful are enabled to express in their lives and manifest to others the mystery of Christ and the real nature of the true Church" (CSL 2). When we assemble for liturgical prayer, we are expressing, not the brotherhood, but the Church. Therefore, there is no "Franciscan" liturgy.

On the other hand, although we have no "Franciscan" Church or "Franciscan" Gospel, we do have a special vocation within the Church and we have a special Franciscan way of living the Gospel. Just as our Franciscan tradition, our Rule, our Constitutions give us a certain characteristic "style" of Gospel living, so our Franciscan spirit should find expression in a characteristic Franciscan style of liturgical prayer.

This style is not a rigid set of rules restraining individual freedom. "Francis, being himself a strong and independent personality, as few others have ever been, always esteemed the value of the person, with its rights and singular endowment" (Plan for Franciscan Living, p 76). Franciscan liturgical style places a high value on personal talents and needs and is marked, as was the spirituality of Francis, by a "profound and loving respect for the human element in everything" (Ibid.).

1. Apostolic

"Our entire Fraternity is missionary, with everyone in the Fraternity sharing the missionary vocation" (Missions 1). Our Franciscan vocation calls us to be pilgrims and strangers in this world, and our liturgical prayer reflects the Church as pilgrim. While cathedral liturgies can give us a glimpse of the splendor of the kingdom yet to come and while their magnificence in stone and vestment can reflect the Church triumphant and the stability of the institutional Church, our Franciscan liturgical style reflects the Church on the move. Pilgrims and travelers cannot become slowed down and wearied by carrying too much baggage.

Furthermore, our liturgy is concerned with the local Church in a special way. We are concerned with these people in this place. "Our mission is not to lands but to people -- to particular and local communities -- to whom the Father, speaking through the Church, sends us" (Missions 7). Whether our missionary vocation is exercised in foreign lands or in the cities of North America, our vocation is toward the people; "we desire to be their brothers, their friends, their servants" (Ibid). Our liturgical prayer, consequently, must place a high value on hospitality and openness.

2. Fraternal

"Brotherhood and unity in the name of Christ offers a special witness to the coming of the kingdom and constitutes the primary form of our apostolate by which we manifest and proclaim the Word of Life to the world" (Formation 25). We become special witnesses to the coming of the kingdom when, responding to the gospel call to do penance, we realize that we are all sinners. Francis, conscious of sin as our human condition, realized that the call to conversion is a grace of God. Conversion, penance, is our way of living out the saving action of Christ and letting it take root in our lives. As we journey together following the call to repentance, we must strive to create among ourselves "true bonds of friendship, respect, and mutual acceptance" (Vocation 14).

This experience of brotherhood finds expression in our liturgical style. A cathedral liturgy emphasizes the vertical and hierarchical structure of the Church: bishop, presbyters, deacons, laity. Our liturgical style, however, emphasizes the horizontal: as the People of God, we are all brothers and sisters. While never denying the hierarchical model of the Church, our liturgy is especially concerned with forming community. It is characterized by courtesy, gentleness, and a special concern to meet and accept people as they are and to call them all to penance. Francis exhorts us in the Rule of 1221:

We Friars minor, servants and worthless as we are, humbly beg and implore everyone to persevere in the true faith and in a life of penance: there is no other way to be saved. We beseech the whole world to do this, all those who serve our Lord and God within the holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, together with the whole hierarchy, priests, deacons, subdeacons, acolytes, exorcists, lectors, porters, and all clerics and religious, male or female; we beg all children, big and small, the poor and the needy, kings and princes, laborers and farmers, servants and masters; we beg all virgins and all other women, married or unmarried, we beg all lay folk, men and women, infants and adolescents, young and old, the healthy and the sick, the little and the great, all peoples, tribes, families and languages, all nations and all men and women everywhere, present and to come; we Friars Minor beg them all to persevere in the true faith and in a life of penance (Rule of 1221, 23).

Francis, poor and naked, wished to follow the poor and naked Christ as he reveals himself in the poor and needy. Our call to conversion as individuals and as members of the Franciscan brotherhood summons us to follow Francis "to make ourselves neighbor of absolutely every person by helping any who come across our path" (Missions 7).

3. Evangelical

The gospel call to repentance motivates the friars to reform their own lives and to call the whole Church to gospel penance. The papacy recognized in Francis an instrument for the reform of the Church. In our own day, Pope Paul VI addressed the 1967 General Chapter in these words: "From the day that the figure of Christ crucified in the church of San Damiano addressed the youthful Francis, saying to him: ‘Francis, go and repair my Church which is falling into ruins' (Celano, Life II, 10), Francis becomes the restorer of crumbling sacred walls, first materially and almost symbolically; then later morally, through fidelity and sanctity, he becomes the support of the ecclesiastical edifice. This is the Franciscan affirmation of loyalty to the Holy Catholic Church" (Osservatore Romano, June 24, 1967).

The exemptions given our Order are meant to free us from local jurisdiction in order to proclaim the Kingdom. It is to enable us to "express our identity more adequately and to devote ourselves to the common good of the whole Church with special generosity" ("Directives for the Mutual Relations between Bishops and Religious in the Church," Sacred Congregation for Religious and for Secular Institutes and the Sacred Congregation for Bishops, May 14, 1978, n. 22).

Our liturgical style must be true to this call to fidelity. Faithfulness and obedience to the universal Church must never become locked in by one place or one culture. We are called to be trans-cultural, running out in front, calling all men and women to the Kingdom and its values. While bishops must be concerned with stability and with safeguarding tradition, our concern must be to open doors that the tradition may be a living tradition, an expression of a Church ever in need of reform, ever young through continual rebirth.

4. Creational

Our Franciscan heritage makes us particularly sensitive to material things and their use in liturgical celebrations: water, light, oil, color, bread and wine. How Francis loved the world! He appreciated the gifts of his Father -- water, fire, earth, sky, sun and moon -- in a unique and privileged way. Francis thrived on the awareness of the symbolic function of persons and things.

This symbolic openness, which is characteristic of our Franciscan liturgical style, is important to our century and to our culture. "Liturgy has suffered historically from a kind of minimalism and an overriding concern for efficiency, partly because sacramental causality and efficiency have been emphasized at the expense of sacramental signification. As our symbols tended in practice to shrivel up and petrify, they became much more manageable and efficient. They still ‘caused,' were still ‘efficacious' even though they had often ceased to signify in the richest, fullest sense" (EACW 14). Our Franciscan liturgical style is characterized by the awareness of the importance of the symbolic function of the material objects used in our prayer. We should never let considerations of efficiency lead us to a minimalism in the use of the material elements in our liturgical prayer; rather, we should allow them to signify fully.

5. Praise-filled

Francis' love of creation led him to praise the Creator. Francis was uniquely aware that creation finds its culmination in Christ Jesus. Jesus is the plan for humankind, he is the revelation of the Father, he is the praise of the Father.

The prayers of Francis are prayers of praise. Francis gives praise in the Spirit to the Father for the wonders worked in Jesus. Our praise of the Father is essentially this: allowing the Spirit to incorporate us into Christ. Our Franciscan liturgical style is therefore characterized by this Spirit-filled praise of the Father and by the depth and intensity of our conformity to the poor Christ. Our liturgies should never become weighed down with heavy didactic verbiage or ponderous confessions of guilt and unworthiness. Rather they should be praise-filled: filled with the loving, spontaneous praise of children playing before their loving Father. Praise is the icon of Franciscan living. [From:  Franciscans At Prayer]

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To Think About

1. From an Anglo perspective, what elements of the celebration of the eucharist would be different in an African-American community, in a Hispanic-American community?

2. Give three instances where an element of your culture enhances the Gospel message. Give three instances where an element of your culture impedes the Gospel message.

3. Reflecting on your experience of Eucharist last Sunday, list three elements of that liturgy which were not elements of your culture or elements of the culture of Jesus.

4.  Thursday, January 11, 2007, I spoke to a priest who has been ministering in the foreign missions for many years and ask him the following:  "I was at the North American Academy of Liturgy meeting in Toronto last week, and I was asked what people in in the missions use for chalices, specifically, are all chalices gold or are other materials in use?  I have African friends through my website and they tell me that (1) gold is expensive, and (2) they use whatever they can, and (3) they are not really concerned with such issues as they are busy with gospel issues and keeping people alive.  What has been your mission experience?"

He replied:  "In the Philippines a great variety of materials are used for chalices. Gold is seldom available, unless a priest has some chalice donated from abroad. For rural areas, the material must be durable and cheapâ€"like stainless steel for example. Only a few priests use wood due to the climateâ€"mold grows on it very quickly and it looks ugly. Tell the bishop that wine is so expensive nobody receives under both speciesâ€"except the priest.  Ask him to get the church to allow some other kind of wine other than grape wine.  I also suggest that rice flour makes good bread for the Eucharist.  Let Inculturation take place."

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Copyright: Tom Richstatter.  All Rights Reserved.  This page was created by Fr. Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M.  Every effort has been, and is being made to acknowledge sources when the ideas are not my own.  Any failure to comply with the United States Copyright Act (Title 17, United States Code) will be corrected immediately should I become aware of it.  This site was updated on 06/10/15 .  Your comments on this site are welcome at