I’ve been reflecting quite a bit on this question this year. In June, I presented two keynotes on the topic of multicultural liturgy at the Collegeville Conference on Music, Liturgy, and the Arts; at this week’s conference of the National Association of Pastoral Musicians, I’ll lead two workshops on multicultural skills for liturgical leaders; and this October in San Jose, the national conference of the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions will examine the topic on the diocesan level.
As a person who grew up and lives in California, being “multicultural” is simply a way of life, and it seems natural that our liturgies would reflect to some extent our multicultural population. We succeed in some areas and fail at others when it comes to authentic intercultural expression of the liturgy, but it’s usually never a question of whether or not the liturgy will be multicultural. It simply is because of who is there.
So in the communities I’ve worked at in California, here are some of the overarching questions we’ve had to struggle with before we could even tackle the mechanics of how to do multicultural liturgy. What are your insights to these questions?
- What does multicultural liturgy look like?
- What do we even mean by “culture”?
- How do you avoid tokenism?
- How do you avoid making cultural expression the central focus?
- Can worship even take place outside of culture?
Finally, does it really matter? As much as this topic is slotted into conferences and publishing schedules, multicultural liturgy seems to be the least popular of liturgical issues. Attendance at workshops on multicultural liturgy tends to be low, and editorial surveys find the topic at the bottom of readers’ lists of concerns.
I don’t hear it too often these days, but as recently as six or seven years ago, I heard from some colleagues who live and work on the East coast that the issue of multicultural liturgy has nothing to do with them and their experience of Church since their communities are typically homogenous, that is, of mostly European descent with very few immigrants from other parts of the world. Is that really true? Is this really just a concern of those on the West coast, in the Southwest, and in communities with more recent immigrants and indigenous peoples? Do these “white” communities really have, as one woman said to me, no need for cultural expression in the liturgy since she herself didn’t have a culture? And more importantly, are communities homogenous because the demographics of their area reflect that or because they do not provide liturgical opportunities for those from other cultures and who speak other languages? For example, as diverse as my diocese is, we still have entire deaneries that are home to as many Spanish-speaking people as there are English-speaking people. Yet, many of the parishes in these areas provide no liturgical or pastoral ministry in Spanish, but those that do find their Spanish-speaking assemblies growing to the same number (and often outnumbering) their English Mass attendance. It’s a kind of chicken and egg quandary.
So, what is your experience in your part of the world? What makes for true multicultural liturgy? And does it really matter?