This is a response to Anscar Chupungco’s talk, “Liturgical Studies and Liturgical Renewal.”

What we have before us is a talk at the opening of a school, not a research paper with footnotes. Father Chupungco’s task is not to adduce proofs or debate points or solve problems, but rather to edify and inspire the gathering for the work it has to do. I would say that truth-telling is the essential starting place for this exercise, and Chupungco tells the truth unflinchingly. With this talk, he joins Father Robert Taft SJ and other highly respected scholarly voices in pushing back against the assertion that the liturgical reforms of Vatican II were poorly done and must begin all over again.

Chupungco succinctly sums up key elements of the liturgy constitution, Sacrosanctum Concilium and calls his listeners to undertake their work in responsible fidelity to them: “The student should know how to critique liturgical developments in the light of Vatican II’s liturgical principles, like the central position of the paschal mystery, the place of God’s word, active participation with all this implies (use of the vernacular, congregational singing, lay ministry) and the ecclesial dimension of the sacraments and sacramentals.” His advice, in the end, is simple. Yet we cannot hear it often enough: “Review history, study the theology of the liturgy, be familiar with culture, and be imbued with pastoral zeal for the Church.” It is something of a shame that Chupungco’s general contributions to liturgical studies are  overshadowed by his unique role as leading scholar in the field of inculturation. He was, after all, the editor of the 5 volume Handbook of Liturgical Studies (Liturgical Press), which covers every aspect of the Catholic liturgy, he served for many years as head of what is perhaps the most prestigious liturgical institute in the world, and all his writings reveal a mastery of the great tradition which inculturation seeks to pass on in new ways.

Yet it is understandable that his name is first of all identified with inculturation because this is a hot topic today. Alas, inculturation is also “on the chopping block,” as the saying goes, as one of the “dubious novelties” introduced by Vatican II. There is more at stake here than many observers who favor a return to older forms are willing to admit. The greatest growth—astounding growth, in fact—in the post-Vatican II church has been in Asia and Africa. Would this have happened had these regions not enjoyed the benefit a liturgy that was indeed clear, understandable, and expressed in the language and idioms of their own cultures? Of course not. Not in today’s postcolonial world. Let us be clear: if the Catholic tradition is to thrive in the third millennium it will be because it has been successfully inculturated in the global south. This is not welcome news for those who want a more “Roman” roman rite, but it’s the truth. When Chupungco defends inculturation, he is doing everyone a service.

I can only hope that more leadership of the kind we see in this talk will be forthcoming in the days ahead—disciplined, virtuous, responsible. If it is, perhaps we shall experience a new springtime for the liturgy yet. After all, winter is not a time when trees are dead. Rather, their vitality is concentrated in the roots, so that they can withstand the cold and put forth leaves, flowers and fruit in due course.


  1. Truth-telling, Ms. Ferrone?

    You’ve GOT to be kidding me!!!

    At this juncture, Fr. Chupungco is certainly entitled to express his difference of opinion with the Holy Father & the CDW on whether or not the “inculturation” of the liturgy since Vatican II has ultimately been a good thing for the Church.

    I will state unabashedly, however, that Fr. Chupungco is NOT telling the truth when he delivered FALSE polemics against his “adversaries” – accusing them of “mere romantic attachments to the past that close the eyes to the reality of the present time”, and other such complete nonsense.

    There is undoubtedly some room and latitude for bringing certain aspects of culture into the liturgy – e.g. properly dignified and reverent music during the Mass. However, restraint is also proper, so that the Mass still clearly reflects, instills, and conveys that the Heavenly Liturgy has come down to earth.

    Even when speaking to his advocates, Fr. Chupungco MUST honestly represent the positions of those who oppose his.

    That was NOT done in a truthful manner in MANY instances of Fr. Chupungco’s recent speech. And, his deceptive polemics will do nothing but turn these discussions into emotionally heated debates. I’m wondering if he intended to do that very thing….

  2. Rita,

    Thank you for this insightful reflection. I agree that Fr. Chupungco’s advice to the student of liturgy is simple and wonderful. I am not sure how any one can argue with knowing liturgical history, studying the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, knowing the centrality of the paschal mystery and the Word in our life, etc.

    One thing I learned from my undergraduate studies (those good Franciscans) was that as a universal Church, we must always be in conversation with each other (culture, scholars, pastoral ministers, other faith traditions, etc). It is in this prayer and dialogue we come to know God more deeply and are challenged to live the gospel more faithfully.

    Timothy Johnston

  3. Thank you Rita.
    I write from Japan, where back in the mid 1980’s I was assigned to a parish where my predecessor had resolutely refused to follow the changes authorized by Vatican II. Right till the day he died he said Mass in what we now call the ‘Extraordinary Form”. So one of my first tasks was to implement the changes. The support I got, in finally providing them with a liturgy that was theirs, was to say the least heartwarming. They were hungry for liturgical celebrations that were in a language they could understand, and promoted their active participation. I still remember an old lady in her eighties, who came in one day before Mass and handed me, in cash, $10,000, to help cover the cost of redecorating the Church. I hadn’t asked for financial help since SVD colleagues in the vicinity had promised me enough financial support to cover costs. She also let me know there was more money available should the need arise.
    Over the years I have also experienced liturgies celebrated by colleagues from the Philippines, Indonesia and India, here in Asia, and in other locales by priests, sisters and lay people from Latin America and Africa. The cultural riches these people have brought to the liturgy in distinctively culturally based uses of symbols, and from their musical traditions is a precious gift to the universal church. Such ‘inculturation’, so strongly promoted by Fr Chupungco, but sadly misunderstood by those who image of the Church is eurocentric, (or even more regretably takes the particular predelictions of the present Pope as the final norm and standard), such ‘inculturation’ has made an inestimable contribution to the growth of the Church in Africa and Asia.
    As Peter Jenkins, among others, has pointed out in his book “The Next Christendom”, there has been a demographic shift in the balance of population of the Christian and more specifically Catholic community, ultimately this will also produce a cultural shift. Then finally perhaps will those who are uncomfortable with the way the Church is becoming a church of “one heart, many faces” become more open to the gift to the Church that “inculturation” undoubtedly is.
    A little more study of history, in which Fr Chupungo is more than well versed, and colleagues who have studied under him have testified, wouldn’t be out of place for some who comment from a “Traditionalist” (!?!?) standpoint.

    1. Fr. Brendan, in all of this inculturation debate, the question is not one of inculturation, but what you inculturate. It would be most helpful if a blog like this would incorporate a video clip on what you mean by inculturation. Language is a separate issue. While there may be extremes in the traditionalist movement that demand that the Mass be exclusively in Latin in the older form, most people who advocate for the “hermeneutic of continuity” are quite pleased with the vernacular, if the translations are good and faithful to Catholic doctrine.
      For example, in my mind the 1965 Roman Missal which very much in continuity with the 1962 missal, but it allowed for the vernacular for all the people’s heard and sung/spoken responses. It allowed a procession of gifts and the General Intercession were an option. The option of the Kyrie, Gloria and Collect as well as the prayer after Communion from the presiding chair was possible as an option, not a mandate. Most have no problem with the new lectionary which most believe to be a very excellent enrichment. Facing the people or the priest joining the people in facing the same direction were clear options. Latin was maintained for all the parts of the Mass the priest did silently or in a low voice including the canon. The added canons we have are great. The Second one even older than the Roman Canon as well as the third I believe.
      So what’s the problem with this sort of “continuity?”
      What I cannot comment on because no one seems to actually say what they are is other “inculturations.” Could you give us some clue from the Japanese perspective? I believe music a separate issue as well–good vernacular music of the particular culture is certainly to be encouraged–but why not sing, in addition to these, the actual parts of the Mass including the “introit, preparation of gifts antiphon as well as the communion antiphon prescribed for every Ordinary Form Mass and yes in the language of the people–add the metrical hymns in addition to these as traveling music prior to the introit, after the preparation antiphon and in addition to the communion antiphon and sing your heart out at the recessional with whatever is sacred?

  4. Fr. McDonald, you say above that “language is a separate issue.” It is true that the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy approached the vernacular under the rubric of “updating to the times.” But since that time (immediately following the Council) the subject of translating into the mother tongue has so firmly migrated into the category of inculturation in church discourse that the Fourth Instruction on the Right Implementation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Varietates Legitimae) calls the vernacular “the first measure of inculturation” without demur or qualification. It seems to me therefore that the inclusion of language in the area of inculturation is not only conceptually necessary today but also supported by our documents.

    Second, I would offer one observation on your summary of some of the features of the 1965 Missal (which I don’t have in front of me, so I take your precis as my guide). It seems anomalous to me that the 1965 Missal included the General Intercessions only as an option, when the restoration of the Prayer of the Faithful was specifically called for by Sacrosanctum Concilium. Perhaps this would be one example of how the subsequent editions of the Missal actually moved closer to the intentions of the Council, while moving farther from the Missal of 1962.

    Finally, let me offer a comment which may illuminate the complexity of the question of inculturation as thinking about this subject has evolved since the Council. You said “the question is what do you inculturate” but IMHO that’s not really the best way to think about this. It suggests a sort of “plug and play” ecclecticism, mechanical rather than organic, if you will. Rather, inculturation of the liturgy is about incarnating the effects of the deep evangelization of a culture, in its entirety, in the Church’s worship. Art, music, language, and ceremonial will all be affected.

    The “what” of the “substantial unity” that is preserved when the liturgy is inculturated lies not primarily in the details of the Roman Rite but in its fundamental theological orientation, the paschal mystery, the praise of the Father through the Son and in the Holy Spirit, the action of Christ in the Church as his Body, and so forth. (In this last point, I am following the thought of Father Burkhard Neunheuser, OSB, in his wonderful essay “Roman Genius Revisited” found in Liturgy for the New Millennium, a Commentary on the Revised Sacramentary.)

    The foregoing does not supply the examples you are looking for, but I trust that others can supply some.

    1. Thank you Rita for your thoughtful response and it is helpful. Again, videos would help. But I do want to make clear I understand linguistic, architectural, musical and ceremonial proposals and practices. I get Maryknoll’s magazine that shows a lot. The question, though, how is the Catholic liturgy of the Latin Rite going to unite Catholics of the Latin Rite and transcend cultures. I recognize that most of our Latin Rite heritage is European, but in terms of the “basics” of the Mass, structure and ceremonies maybe even language with the dead language of Latin for some parts, could help transcend our differences. I do think the rethinking that is going on in high places and now in low places like blogs indicates quite a shift in thinking and hermeneutics is occurring and at odds with only 45 years of development. Are we prepared?
      Finally, the 1965 missal evidently was intended to be a transitional missal, I don’t know if other countries had it. It only contained the Roman Canon, prayed in Latin, low voice and with the 1962 rubrics. The Roman Canon has sufficient “general intercessions” built in, so even today, the general intercessions could be omitted when Eucharistic prayer I is prayed. The other Eucharistic prayers are not so structured, so the General Intercessions would be important with them.
      The procession of the gifts technically could be accomplished in the 1962 missal without much difficulty. I haven’t tried it yet, but might. I have made announcements in the 1962 Mass after the Prayer after Holy Communion. I wasn’t tarred and feathered for it. And I could pray the General Intercessions as the conclusion of my homily in the EF Mass.
      I’m not suggesting that the EF Mass be the norm, the OF Mass is and the 2002 Latin Edition, which, with its somewhat revised order and GIRM has yet to be published in English. We’re still waiting for a 2002 English Missal, so we’re stuck with what ever was the last revision of the 1970 missal, which has seen revisions over the years.

  5. “The greatest growth—astounding growth, in fact—in the post-Vatican II church has been in Asia and Africa. Would this have happened had these regions not enjoyed the benefit a liturgy that was indeed clear, understandable, and expressed in the language and idioms of their own cultures? Of course not…”

    Hmmm… and you know this for sure…how? It’s easy to claim that something is true when there is no alternative against which to test it. I’ve also heard it said that had we not introduced the new Missal in 1970 we would have lost far more Catholics over the next 40 years. An interesting claim, but absolutely impossible to prove.

    I’ve never heard a reasonable explanation of how exactly the Church survived and often even flourished during the 2 millenia prior to what we call “inculturation”. That there were problems posed by the Modern era is certain. What’s in doubt is whether we undertook an appropriate solution.

    1. Jeffrey Herbert, hello. I know this because I read the literature concerning the history of missions. Missionary efforts were indeed hampered during the Tridentine period by the inflexibility of Rome; this is widely known. In the 20th C. Pope Pius XII and Pope John XXIII were both concerned about this, though they would put it in different terms. The global expansion of Christianity prior to Vatican II was inextricably linked with colonialism. You left out a key sentence of mine in your response: “Not in today’s post-colonial world.” An enormous shift has taken place in the collapse of empires and the shift from colonial governance to self-governance since the 1960s. We cannot pretend that the situation on the ground is the same as it was. Todd’s question about “flourishing” — which is a good one — even notwithstanding, the need for a strategy different from “imposition” is abundantly evident. That different strategy is called inculturation.

  6. “An interesting claim, but absolutely impossible to prove.”

    Well, there is the matter of asking people what keeps them in church …

    As for your last comment, consider that the Church indeed did “inculturation” well for centuries, considering that Paul of Tarsus may be considered a patron saint. And as for the notion of a “flourishing” Church, I can only read the history of China and the Jesuits in the 1600’s and wonder what a Christian Far East, or at least a strong presence of Christianity there, may have done for the world. Today we have one billion unevangelized Chinese, not to mention India, and other nations. And a fraction of the world’s people is considered “flourishing”? Please.

  7. Rita;

    What you have read may certainly be true. My trouble is with your claim that without a heavily inculturated liturgy this could not have happened. Even you claimed that the post-colonial world is a far different place than the pre-colonial world. Are there other factors (I’m thinking particularly of global communications and expanded cultural contact- the so called “shrinking world”) that may have had some place in the more rapid spread of Catholicism throughout the third world and Asia? My trouble with your very definitive claim – “Of course not. Not in today’s postcolonial world” – as though inculturated liturgy is the only explanation for this, and without it such Evangelization would have ceased. Where is the evidence for such a claim? I would say it is, perhaps, a contributing factor..

    1. Well, you read me as talking about a “heavily” inculturated liturgy, but actually I didn’t say that. This isn’t really the place to take up the distinctions offered in Varietates Legitimae (“more profound” is I think the term that is used); my comment was more general.

      But, I’d like to respond to what I think is the crux of your comment. It is always difficult to say what would have happened had something NOT been the case historically, when it was indeed the case. Alternative history is a speculative exercise mostly indulged in by war historians, not historians of the liturgy. In my brief comment above it was my intention to bring attention to something that I believe is often overlooked or discounted when the liturgical reform is evaluated by its critics. Do factors other than the liturgy bear on the question of evangelization? Absolutely. But I continue to believe that historians of future generations who look back on this period will find that the reform of the liturgy (which set out to inculturate the liturgy, among its other aims) was instrumental in encouraging the outstanding growth we have seen. With all due respect, it does not seem to me that expanded contact with the West or improved technology has much to do with it. But thank you for offering your thoughts, and acknowledging, at least in part, the reasonableness of the claim that I’ve made.

  8. “Enculturation” – I have heard this word spoken so many times since the early 80s. If, as a Filipino I reflect on this and see our history of 300 years of Spanish evangelization, I would say that the Spanish Missionaries have done a great job in spreading Catholicism in this country. For that I am grateful. The Catholic religion has been planted deep in our national collective consciousness in so much so that we are the only country in the world where Catholic principles are expressed in almost every facet of life and even in our constitution, despite of separation of church and state. I am glad that the Spanish missionaries did not have the “enculturation” concepts as espoused by today’s’ gurus of enculturation otherwise they would have ended up “dialoguing” with the Filipino natives rather than converting them to Catholicism. I am tired of this enculturation thing. I have loved my faith not because I think I am a Filipino or some members of other nationalities, I think I am a Christian and a Catholic because I believe in Christ, in his message, and I adhere to the teachings of the Roman Pontiff. I am tired of this enculturation thing. Scholars will enjoy these discourses but we ordinary Catholics are tired of this. It has produced so much artificiality and almost fabricated practices to appear enculturated. Why do we allow ourselves to be the specimens of experimentation of this so called “enculturation”. It has been injurious to our Catholic Identity and has lessened our power to witness to this dying world which Christ died for in order to save.

  9. Thank you Herbert. When I was reading “enculturation helped the spread of Catholicism”, I was wondering if the cultural expression being spread was actually Catholicism.

    The question I have is: Do these cultural innovations more fully or less fully present the truth of Almighty God to the faithful?

    Full disclosure: I am hostile to the implemention of Vatican II which I experienced. I am not hostile to the actual documents of the council. We are supposed to bring Christ to the world, but we have to be very cautious inviting the world into our liturgy. Lex Orendi, Lex Credendi.

  10. Thank you Tony. The Catholicism we have here in the Philippines is a product of 300 years of evangelization conducted by the various mendicant orders from Mexico and Spain, and also the Jesuits. The form and cultural expressions were typically Mexican-Spanish. The religious art, the buildings and even the festivals were laced heavily with Spanish influences. But we never had problems with that. In fact I am very comfortable with that and I would say the other folks too. But in the seventies saw the entrance of abrupt changes and also there appeared this concept of “enculturation”. They said that Filipinos were not able to fully grasp the meaning of Catholicism because of these influences. So they began to experiment and innovate. For instance they changed the songs, then instead of letting the altar servers wear the Roman vestments they let the servers wear the “barongs” the Filipino native formal shirt. Instead of shoes they let them wear slippers made of native fibers. There are lots of these its too tiring to mention. But for us lay faithful, these do not change anything, except that they appeared so artificial, inconsistent, absurd. Why do we have to unlearn what we have learned and experiment on new things to the detriment of faith. The Spanish missionaries who came to the Philippines centuries ago, were well aware of enculturation in real sense of the word and different from the promoters of todays Gurus of “enculturation.” These Spanish missionaries know the norms of the universal church and they were well aware that there are certain elements in the culture that can be Christianize and there are certain elements in the culture that must be discarded because they are not reconcilable with the faith. In fact there is a so called “Misa ng Sambayannang Filipino” in the Philippines. This is the enculturated Mass that has never been approved by the Holy See. I do not know why there is a haste to fabricate and invent new rites to cater to the concept of enculturation. This has cause so much pain for the faithful. Thats why I am praying that the Lord will prosper the project of Pope Benedict XVI of Liturgical renewal. This is the hope that will save our liturgy. For indeed as we pray that is also how we believe.

  11. Rita,
    Congratulations! You have given us a good summary and the kernel of the talk. Thank you for clarifying some issues regarding the talk. I hope you’ll not get tired of this, walking with people who want to know the truth.
    I am proud to be a Filipino for you commented that Fr. Anscar is telling the truth unflinchingly. Filipinos should be proud that we are not only known in the boxing arena, but also in the arena of disciplined, virtuous, responsible, and may I add, committed liturgical scholarship. I am proud to be Filipino. I am proud of Fr. Anscar. Rita , thank you for boosting our morale.

  12. “The greatest growth—astounding growth, in fact—in the post-Vatican II church has been in Asia and Africa. Would this have happened had these regions not enjoyed the benefit a liturgy that was indeed clear, understandable, and expressed in the language and idioms of their own cultures? Of course not…” Rita, I almost fell out of my seat after reading this! The missionaries in Mindanao which is where the majority of Muslims live made a lot of conversion in the years BEFORE Vatican II. Now, for example, the Apostolic Vicariate of Jolo after if was erected in 1958, still remains the same. Why? Barely any converts to Catholicism. What caused it? Priests do not work towards conversion but towards peaceful coexistence, liturgies being planned with so much inculturation (Muslim dance included). So did liturgical inculturation work effectively of bringing the men and women towards the Church? NO WAY. How did I know? I used to work there for so many years and know things…

    1. Eugene, no need to fall out of your seat.

      You seem to think that because Anscar Chupungco is from the Philippines and because he is an expert in inculturation, this means (A) that the Philippines is our primary example of inculturation, and (B) that if evangelization isn’t booming there, it means that inculturation has been a failure.

      Neither of these things have I either said or implied. Chupungco is a world figure (of whom Filippino Catholics may be justly proud), teaching in Rome. What I am talking about is world data, broken down by continents, not by nations. Come, take a look.

      From 1978 to 2000, the Catholic population in Asia increased by 69.83% (especially growing in the Middle East). In Africa during that same period, the Catholic population increased 137.44%.


  13. “These are impressive numbers. They exceed the birth rate. Why is this growth happening if liturgical inculturation is driving people away?.” So you indeed are implying that liturgical inculturation helped in Asia and Africa even though in your earlier reply you said that you were not implying “that if evangelization isn’t booming there, it means that inculturation has been a failure.” So which is which? Did liturgical inculturation helped in the numbers or were you just assuming? I mentioned the sorry state of Mindanao and how inculturation worked wonders there. I did not read it. I experienced it. And for us Filipinos being proud of Fr. Chupungco? Maybe the new and younger priests who are “remodelling” 70s churches, who are back wearing laced albs and surplices are an indication that Chupungco’s liturgy is losing ground in the Philippines. Call it nostalgia. I call it signs of the times. Now that is updating.

  14. Eugene, you seem to think that the Philippines is the only country in Asia. If you are too confused to make sense out of what I said above, reread it. It’s very clear.

  15. I agree with Ms. Rita. Inculturation is a way to make the liturgy more comprehensible & more culturally understandable to people of a particular culture. By means of inculturating ones belief, growth in terms of believers takes place. Rather than making generalizations where people have changed to another religion or were disappointed because Priests have allowe’d Muslims to show their dance as a way to show respect show respect towards their culture. Blaming the problem in Mindanao due to inculturation is too much as a claim. The problem between the praceful coexistence ofMuslims & Christians there has other deep and historical reasons other than inculturation. Rituals that shows the culture of both Muslims & Christians has. Een deemed a good steps for many missionaries over there like the Jesuits who themselves have done lot of experiments in their missions including Mindanao. Rather than blame inculturation, we must commend it for bringing about better understanding & respect towards both Muslims & Christians. I believe the tasks done by missionaries in Mindanao is not to convert but allow for peaceful coexistence between our Muslim brothers & Christians.

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