In the past seven days, I’ve run into two very interesting statements regarding liturgical inculturation. The first came about a week ago, in an article titled “To Believe Deeply, To Search Constantly,” by Abbot John Klassen, OSB, published in Conversatio, a bulletin for alumns, friends and benefactors of Saint John’s School of Theology·Seminary in Collegeville. Abbot John writes:
The central role liturgy plays in the life of our Church depends on inculturation as rituals and liturgical actions attune themselves to local conditions and situation. Inculturation without sufficient historical and theological awareness risks becoming a vehicle for the dominant culture rather than a window on the holy and transcendent. We benefit immensely from the skilled, ongoing probing of what liturgy means for the Church historically, pastorally, and theologically so that all the elements of liturgical practice work together.
The second statement, from Pope Benedict XVI’s ad limina address to the bishops of Northern Brazil, came on April 15, and was reported here by our friends on the New Liturgical Movement blog, and also here, on the blog of the Vatican Information Service. The VIS reports:
Benedict XVI emphasized that “if the figure of Christ does not emerge from the liturgy … it is not a Christian liturgy”. This is why, he added, “we find those who, in the name of enculturation, fall into syncretism, introducing rites taken from other religions or cultural particularities into the celebration of the Mass.”
The last lines in the papal statement are my point of concern, as much of what is done today even in the most direct and straightforward celebration of western-rite Christian liturgies (such as the use of liturgical vestments, genuflections . . . I won’t belabor the list), depends on the wholesale adoption of “cultural particularities into the celebration of the Mass.”
So I’ve had these two statements on the table before me, and at this point I’m just ruminating on both, trying to digest them together.