IEC Gathering Focuses Light on Local Issues in the Philippines

Archbishop Jose Palma

As readers are likely aware, the 51st annual International Eucharistic Congress is wrapping up this weekend in the City of Cebu, Philippines. Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron addressed those gathered on Tuesday.

However, it is a gathering that took place prior to the Congress that seems to be garnering attention.

A report published on the news site, based in the Philippines, has the details:

A proposal to incorporate local customs, such as the kissing of the hand, into the Holy Eucharist to make the Mass more relevant to Filipinos had been languishing in the Vatican since 1991, Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma said on the sidelines of a theological symposium held in Cebu City on Thursday.

The symposium was among the activities held in the run-up to the 51st International Eucharistic Congress (IEC) set from Jan. 24-31 at the newly built IEC pavilion.

The Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship has yet to respond to the proposal submitted 25 years ago by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), Palma said.

“I cannot understand why it is taking a long time for Rome to decide,” the Cebu archbishop said, adding that the celebration of the Eucharist was not just a personal matter among priests, but was meant for the community as well.

The criticism was extraordinary since the symposium held at Cebu Doctors’ University was organized by the Vatican itself, with its plenary lectures and recommendations by hundreds of delegates expected to form the theological backbone of the IEC.

Mark Francis of the Catholic Theological Union spoke at the symposium and noted that the Vatican itself was to blame for the lack of action.

Fr. Mark Francis blamed the Congregation for Divine Worship, an agency of the Holy See directly under the Pope, for delaying the liturgical reforms meant to make the Church more in tune with modern times to allow members fuller participation in the Mass.

Francis, who heads the Catholic Theological Union in the United States, said the lack of inculturation, or cultural adaptation of the Mass to local or native cultural forms, has made this liturgical celebration alien to most Catholics in the Americas, Africa and even Asia, where the Catholic population now overwhelms that of Europe.

“The main cause of this lack of enthusiasm for inculturation comes from the Congregation of Worship,” Francis said.

Archbishop Piero Marini,
Archbishop Piero Marini,

On Monday, Archbishop Piero Marini, president of the Pontifical Committee for International Eucharistic Congresses weighed in at a press conference marking the second day of the Congress. The Media Office of Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines offered a report: 

Inculturation was pushed after Vatican II, Marini said, but the process of approving the liturgies for Zaire, India and the Philippines was “slow.”

Moreover, inculturation needs information. “It is necessary but it is difficult. You have to be prepared. It’s not so easy,” he told CBCP News.

What about the abuses pointed out by critics of liturgical innovation, such as the heavy use of acoustic instruments during youth masses? Marini replied: “The problem is what are the abuse[s]? How is the so-called youth mass? This is the problem. To inculturate, it is necessary to know.”

Christmas itself is an inculturated celebration, the Vatican official argued.

“It was a pagan feast for the light. The light was coming, the victory of the sun. So they celebrated this victor, the pagan people, and then they translated it in our, the Roman Rite. So we celebrate on 24 and 25 of December, not because Christ was born on 25 or 24, but because it was an inculturated feast,” Archbishop Marini said.



  1. Archbishop Marini says that Christmas “is an inculturated celebration” of a pagan feast for the light. I have no problem with such inculturation; but the Archbishop may have got his historical background wrong. Rather, the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus may derive from the earlier celebration of his death and resurrection on 25 March.
    An early tradition is that Jesus died on March 25 (the eighth day before the calends of April, according to Tertullian: An Answer to the Jews, VIII:17). According to the Roman Martyrology, we celebrate St Dismas, the good thief, on March 25.
    According to Augustine, “He is believed to have been conceived on the 25th of March, upon which day also He suffered” (De Trinitate IV, 5:9) – he links the conception of Jesus with his being laid in a tomb in which no person had yet been laid, and links this with December 25.
    William Tighe writes: “Rather, the pagan festival of the “Birth of the Unconquered Sun” instituted by the Roman Emperor Aurelian on 25 December 274, was almost certainly an attempt to create a pagan alternative to a date that was already of some significance to Roman Christians (
    See also
    So it may be that the inculturation went quite the opposite direction!

    1. @Padraig McCarthy:

      Tighe and others are not yet convincing in their arguments. They state that there is no evidence that Christians took over pagan festivals, but fail to state also that there is no evidence that they didn’t. As Paul Bradshaw would say, “We simply don’t know.” Tighe himself admits that the first documented evidence of Christians celebrating Christmas on 25 December appears to be in 336, over sixty years after Aurelian instituted his feast.

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