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.