General and Introductory Materials
Part 3 Theological Issues

Chapter d39 Hispanic Liturgy

Preliminary Questions

Bibliography

Baptism of Infants

Culture or Mere Tradition

 

Head and Heart

Priest Laity/Ratio

 

 

 

Godparents

Conversion to Pentecostalism

To Think About

Preliminary Questions

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Bibliography

Rite for Quinceanera may be found at : www.usccb.org/quinceanera.

 

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Baptism of Infants

General Comments on Assignment 9, Fall Semester 2007

After reading your papers for Assignment 9 (Baptism of Hispanic Infants) I would like to make the following comments. These comments were inspired by things that one or several of you mentioned in your papers and they are items that I think are of importance to each of us and therefore I will put them in this file rather than repeating them in my response to each of your postings.

One way that I understand "learning" is "putting ideas together with ideas you already have in order to get new ideas."  In reading your papers I was happy that many of you gave evidence of the fact that you had read the chapters in the text book regarding inculturation; and your papers show that you have thought about this material, supplemented it with other readings and internet documents.  Several of you interviewed knowledgeable people and discussed the issue with them.  I believe this is a good strategy. Your papers showed that you could use resources well and quoted some excellent resources, (for example the books by Jake Emperor.)

The statistics that your quoted in many of your papers show the importance of an awareness of Hispanic culture in order to be able to minister to American Catholics, the majority of whom may be Hispanic. But even more important than reflecting on Hispanic culture is the fact that in doing the assignment I hope that you became aware of your own culture and how it influences your values and ministerial decisions. Does a fish know that it is wet? Probably not, unless it is removed from water, and then it would know that something is wrong. We are often in a similar situation to the fish; we take our American cultural setting for granted and only when we step out of it do we realize that it was there in the first place. We are called to minister in a multi-cultural church. To do so competently we must be aware of our own culture so that when we preach we know when we are preaching Christ and when we are preaching Americanism.

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Culture or Mere Tradition

The fact that a cultural group has "always done it this way" does not necessarily mean that this practice is a part of their culture.

For example, in the United States infant baptism has traditionally been performed by pouring a small amount of water over the forehead of the infant. Today we are encouraging parents to have their infants baptized by emersion. Is this changing cultural identity or it simply remedying a situation in which a minimal symbol which spoke primarily of washing away original sin is being replaced by a fuller symbol which speaks also of being buried with Christ and rising to new life from the womb of mother Church?

For example:  If an element of the Hispanic "baptismal set" that the Godparents provided for the Baptism of their Godchild was the "shell" with which the priest poured the water, and now that the baby is being baptized by emersion and the "baptismal shell" is no longer useful have we changed a cultural element?

In reading your papers I looked to see if you made clear distinction between the cultural and the merely "We've always done it this way..."

The Catechism of the Catholic Church devotes three paragraphs to "liturgy and culture." Paragraph 1204 quotes the 1963 Constitution on the Liturgy, numbers 37-40 which states that "the celebration of the liturgy, therefore, should correspond to the genius and culture of the different peoples." Paragraph 1205 quotes John Paul II, 1988, stating that the Church has the power to adapt to various cultures if it wants to; and paragraph 1206 states that inculturation is very difficult and "In this matter it is clear that diversity must not damage unity"  (i.e. it is a dangerous and difficult road that should rarely be taken.  It seems clear from the Catechism that there has been a reversal in thinking on this matter in the 25 years following the Second Vatican Council.   [One of you mentioned that the interesting fact that the word "Hispanic" is not found in the index of the Catechism.]

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Head and heart

One important cultural element is the role that the intellect and the emotions play in the liturgy. The liturgy of North Europe is often characterized by a cold intellectualism.  It is straight forward, "sober", to the point, without needless repetitions.  It starts on time; it gets the job done; and then we go home.  In the Latino culture the affect plays a much larger role. (This issue is not unrelated to the priest/laity ratio and the role of popular devotions.)

While the affective exuberance of Hispanic liturgy can be "annoying" to German-American Catholics, the "cold functionality" of Anglo liturgy can be less than satisfying for Hispanics.  I have spoken with many of my Franciscan confreres after they have returned to the United States to retire after many years of ministry in the Philippines or South America; these good German friars have told me how hard it is to become re-accustomed to liturgy in the United States.   "American liturgy is so dead and boring!" is the comment I often hear them make.

For example:  time.   Germans are very precise and want things to start on time.  [In the sacristy of our parish we have an "atomic clock" which is precise to a millisecond so that every service starts precisely on time as God intends it to!]   In other cultures "human presence" is of a higher value than mathematical time units.  A celebration begins when everyone is ready  for it to begin.  This difference in cultures can have some interesting effects. For example, I was once invited to preach the homily at the "Mass of Thanksgiving" for one of the newly ordained from St. Meinrad. He was a Hispanic priest who had been working and an Anglo and Hispanic parish outside of Seattle, Washington. His relatives and friends together with the entire parish were invited to the celebration. The good Germans, of course, arrived on time and filled all the seats in the church. As the new priests' Hispanic family, relatives, and friends arrived they had to stand along the back wall and in the side aisles.  Consequently, as I preached my homily, I was very aware that all the Anglos were comfortably seated and all the Hispanics were uncomfortably standing! The resulting situation presented a visual picture of social structure that I am sure was not intended by the Anglo members of the parish.

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Priest/Laity Ratio

Today in the United States we often speak of the "priest crisis" and remark that the Church is very different today because we no longer have the number of priests we one had. (For example, when I was ordained in Cincinnati in 1966 there was one priest for every 600 Catholics. Today in the Archdiocese there is one priest for every 1,600 Catholics.) However, when we speak of the "priest shortage" we are sometimes unaware that the situation in many Hispanic countries is much more critical than here in the United States. Several weeks ago I was visiting my confreres at Sacred Heart parish in Indianapolis and an eighty year old priest was there, home on vacation from his mission in Brazil. He told me that when he was young he was the pastor -- and only priest -- for eighty parishes. Now that he is semi-retired he has only thirty parishes. When I asked how often the laity have the opportunity to celebrate the Eucharist or to receive Holy Communion, "Usually two or three times a year."

It is not hard to see the connection between a non-Eucharistic church – one with few priests, only occasional liturgy, and corresponding distance from the hierarchy, Church structure and theology -- and a Church in which popular religion and devotion are embedded in a culture and handed on in that culture from Grandmother to Grandchild. It is in this historical context that the Vatican Council suggested that the Roman Liturgy could profit from the affectivity of popular devotions. And, at the same time, popular devotions could be enriched by the healthy corrective of liturgical orthodoxy.

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Godparents

Father Gy (one of the principal authors of the Rite for the Baptism of Infants) told us in class (1972 in Paris) that it was his intention simply to eliminate Godparents from the Rite, as Godparents are no longer necessary and no longer fulfill an actual ministry. Formerly infants were baptized so quickly after birth that the mother was not yet sufficiently recovered physically to be able to be present for the baptism and the Godparents presented the child to the priest in the absence of the parents.  And because of the danger that the parents might die and leave no social structure to care for the child in their absence, the Godparents would be the ones designated to adopt the child and bring it up as their own. As these two functions are no longer necessary in today's society, it seemed that Godparents at infant baptism were no longer necessary.  [Not that we are not speaking of "sponsors" in the RCIA, but "Godparents."]

However, when this plan was presented to the Hispanic liturgists on the committee they pointed out that in Hispanic countries the Godparents play an additional important role:  the Godparent plays an economic role in the life of the child.  In selecting a Godparent for the infant, the parents often request this role of someone who can be of economical advantage to the family.   In accepting to be Godparents, the persons agree to cover the cost of the Baptism, the party, the gifts for all present, and the gift to the parish priest.  In addition it is understood that they will give a substantial gift to the child on its birthday each year, at Christmas, and other significant occasions.  In return for this economic support a familial relationship is established, not only with the child, but also with its biological parents, and they became co-mothers and co-fathers.

One can tell what is important in a culture by the way in which the language of the culture names things. In English we simply have the words Godmother, Godfather, Godson, Goddaughter.  Spanish not only has specific names for each of these relationships but also has nouns for the relationship between the biological father and the Godfather, the biological mother and the Godmother and the parents to the Godparents. The fact that the language has names for these relationships indicates their importance to the culture.

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Conversion to Pentecostalism

The issue of evangelization and the fact that many Hispanics are joining the Pentecostal Churches is an important issue.  Is this due to the way that evangelicals proselytize?  If so what can we learn from them?

Is it because in the Catholic Church for too many years has entrusted evangelization only to priests and nuns, and now that there are fewer priests and nuns there is less evangelization?  Is it because the Catholicism -- which is in large part identified with North America and Europe  --  is so highly intellectual and complex that it is beyond the grasp of "simple folk"?  How much theology does one need to know to get to heaven? How much theology does one need to know to become a Roman Catholic?

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To Think About

 

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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 trichstatter@franciscan.org