Liturgical Life in the U.S.: Questions about Diversity

“How is liturgical life in the U.S. shaped by — and attentive to — the multiethnic, multilingual, multicultural context in which it takes place? Which specific formats and experiences have proven valuable?  How sensitive and open are Catholic worship services to so-called minorities (imagined and real?).  And what might the global church — and specifically German-speaking Catholics in Europe — learn from the U.S. church in this regard?”

These are just some of the questions raised for me by a German Catholic magazine.

I have my ideas, but how would you answer?



  1. “How is liturgical life in the U.S. shaped by — and attentive to — the multiethnic, multilingual, multicultural context in which it takes place? ”

    Hmm . . . Recourse to the Church’s universal liturgical language for the restoration of unity?

  2. When people don’t know the meanings of Latin words or how they are put together for added meanng then saying or listening to its sounds is not using a language at all. It is just babble.

    1. @Ann Olivier – comment #2:
      Ann, even if I think that Henry Edwards’s response to my question is only one possible one among many, I did disagree with you on a language that is not known being “just babble.” Charismatics will disagree, with their (biblically-based) practice — in which I gladly share — of speaking and singing in tongues. And there are also many human beings — e.g., among the elderly, and the physically and mentally disabled — for whom “language” and “meaning” as you understand them do not exist. Yet, I do not think they “just babble” when they worship.

  3. I would respond by lamenting the fact that every group of minorities (real or imagined) is allowed to “inculturate” the liturgy, but my own White American, European-based culture is conspicuously exempt from that allowance. Not fair.

    1. @Cameron Neal – comment #4:
      We have numerous ethnicities whose masses are steeped in the music, art, and ethos that is native to them. But, how quickly the disturbed cry ‘that’s so Euro-centric’ goes up when we employ Gregorian chant, Anglican chant, polyphony and anthems in a mass that has its ritual roots in the heritage of those of us who are Euro-Americans! It would be crude for any of us in our day and time to disparage black, asian, Mexican, etc. cultural expressions, but disparaging our own European culture by any and all is quite tolerated, accepted without so much as raised eye-brows.
      Too, I have observed that, really, the music of most of the ethnic groups in our land is not actually black (African), or Viet-Namese, Chinese, Korean, or Mexican: it is a rather bad adaptation of shoddily orientalised or Africanised western music. One will never hear music that is truly and historically oriental at any of our various ethnically oriental churches. Even the famous mariachi band music which is ubiquitous amongst our Spanish brethren is not representative of true Spanish music. (Far from it!) The mariachi band is Maximillian’s and Napoleon III’s last laugh, for its inspiration was the military bands which played at the marriages (‘mariachi’) of the hated French occupiers. Most of the Hispanics in our midst have disowned their true Spanish musical heritage. It would, after all, be SO Euro-centric.

  4. Liturgical inculturation is not restricted to the Eucharistic liturgy. In fact, most cultural adaptations to the Roman Eucharistic liturgy are in no way foreign to what is allowed in the Roman liturgy. There are, however, many “para-liturgical” practices among ethnic groups which, unfortunately, many American liturgists and pastors find an ’embarrassment’ and do no permit in their parishes– various devotions (Divine Mercy, rosary, Sacred Heart, Forty Hours, etc etc), various Blessings [many of which are found in our Book of Blessings],e.g., Epiphany House Blessing, Blessing of Easter food, blessing of wine, homes, objects, couples’ engagaments, etc etc. All these extra-Eucharistic practices not only express ethnic identities/sensibilities but can also foster a greater appreciation for the Eucharist and how the Eucharist can be lived in everyday life, and the mutual exchange/sharing of these practices can enrich our own spiritual lives. But just as civil American culture tends to see itself as a ‘melting pot’, so too has our liturgical life. A better, more helpful image, I believe, instead of ‘melting pot’ would be ‘mosaic’– where groups retain aspects of their own unique identity and contribute that identity to the making of a beautiful whole. Like a Body with many parts working together for the good of the whole. That would not mesh with a “one key opens all doors” kind of liturgical spirituality, it would require more openness, sensitivity and work but the benefits coud be surprising and outweigh any reservations. And it would be one more reminder of the richness of our faith.

  5. I live in a very rich, multicultural and multiethnic community in San Diego, CA and my church community has done an outstanding job of celebrating our diversity while trying to maintain the richness of each culture. The community is rich with Filipino American, Vietnamese, Hispanic, and Anglo-Americans. We have a Vietnamese and Hispanic mass where the mass is celebrated in the native tongue. The majority of the masses are English speaking. What has worked well? Our Confirmation mass is beautiful where it merges the communities with a reading in Spanish, a reading in Vietnamese, and the Gospel in English. Our worship aid has each alternate translation to read along with. That would be a highlight for me. Where we have issues is that we do not have Hispanic priest while we do have a priest from Vietnam. The Hispanic culture appreciates our pastor for his attempt to respect and support our Hispanic community but I feel as though they feel somewhat alienated. We have 2 English speaking priests and a Vietnamese and Filipino priest who have learned English as a second language. One of the issues I have is that while our English speaking masses are chanting the Propers (which as a parent of teens feels that it furthers the gap) and incorporating more Latin into the mass, the other communities do not have that same conditions for liturgy. In a sense, I am feeling alienated at mass. All of that being said, I look at our youth and they are very embracing of each culture. I think there is more opportunity to embrace and understand the struggles and traditions of each community’s culture, especially with feast days and customs. God bless our Pastor and clergy who support the cultural differences and diversity but face the challenges to bring all into one Body at the Communion Table.

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