Re-Reading Sacrosanctum Concilium: Article 40

Vatican website translation:

40. In some places and circumstances, however, an even more radical adaptation of the liturgy is needed, and this entails greater difficulties. Wherefore:
1) The competent territorial ecclesiastical authority mentioned in Art. 22, 2, must, in this matter, carefully and prudently consider which elements from the traditions and culture of individual peoples might appropriately be admitted into divine worship. Adaptations which are judged to be useful or necessary should then be submitted to the Apostolic See, by whose consent they may be introduced.
2) To ensure that adaptations may be made with all the circumspection which they demand, the Apostolic See will grant power to this same territorial ecclesiastical authority to permit and to direct, as the case requires, the necessary preliminary experiments over a determined period of time among certain groups suited for the purpose.
3) Because liturgical laws often involve special difficulties with respect to adaptation, particularly in mission lands, men who are experts in these matters must be employed to formulate them.

Latin text:

40. Cum tamen variis in locis et adiunctis, profundior Liturgiae aptatio urgeat, et ideo difficilior evadat:
1) A competenti auctoritate ecclesiastica territoriali, de qua in art. 22 § 2, sedulo et prudenter consideretur quid, hoc in negotio, ex traditionibus ingenioque singulorum populorum opportune in cultum divinum admitti possit. Aptationes, quae utiles vel necessariae existimantur, Apostolicae Sedi proponantur, de ipsius consensu introducendae.
2) Ut autem aptatio cum necessaria circumspectione fiat, eidem auctoritati ecclesiasticae territoriali ab Apostolica Sede facultas tribuetur, si casus ferat, ut in quibusdam coetibus ad id aptis et per determinatum tempus necessaria praevia experimenta permittat et dirigat.
3) Quia leges liturgicae difficultates speciales, quoad aptationem, praesertim in Missionibus, secum ferre solent, in illis condendis praesto sint viri, in re de qua agitur, periti.

Slavishly literal translation:

40. Nevertheless while in places and circumstances, a more profound adaptation of the Liturgy may be sought, and therefore greater difficulty be avoided:

1) It is to be zealously and prudently considered by the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority (concerning which see article 22 § 2) which [elements], of that under consideration, from the traditions and genius of individual peoples could opportunely be admitted into divine worship. Adaptations, which are determined to be useful or necessary, are to be proposed to the Apostolic See, for introduction by its consent.
2) Moreover so that the adaptation be done with the necessary deliberation, faculty is granted to the same territorial ecclesiastical authority by the Apostolic See, if the case should require, to permit and direct in certain communities appropriate for this [purpose] and for a determined time necessary foreseen experiments.
3) Because liturgical laws are accustomed to carry with them special difficulties with regard to adaptation, especially in the Missions, in drawing them up men who are experts in the topic being treated are to be employed.

After articulating a rationale for liturgical inculturation in article 37, the Council Fathers sketched out what might be termed the “common” process of liturgical adaptation in articles 38 and 39. This process would apply when the cultural distance between the typical editions of the reformed liturgical books and the receiving cultures would not be too great (as, for example, would presumably be the case for Latin liturgical books received by contemporary worshipers in Italy employing the vernacular). Article 40 treats the situation in which a more “radical” adaptation would be needed (as, for example, might be the case in adapting the Latin liturgical books in Papua New Guinea for vernacular celebration). Articles 38-39 seem to foresee a “top-down” form of inculturation in which one begins (for the Roman Rite) with the reformed liturgical books, provides a vernacular translation of their content, and perhaps supplements that content with material particular to the culture or region (as, for example, when the Roman Missal for use in the dioceses of the United States includes a Mass formulary for July 4 “Independence Day”). Article 40 seems to foresee a “bottom-up” form of inculturation in which one begins with the religious practices of a given culture and attempts to find in them vehicles for Christian worship. (It should be noted that such processes had frequently taken place in the Roman Rite by “baptizing” or providing alternative ritual structures for established cultural patterns, e.g., the celebration of the Chair of Peter or of Advent fasting arising in response to the Saturnalia.)

Pray Tell readers might find it interesting to share their knowledge of how the more radical liturgical adaptations foreseen in article 40 have fared in the last 50 years.


  1. Interesting stuff…

    I really feel that Pope Francis’ decision to wash the feet of women might herald a new era in terms of what liturgical rules and laws actually mean.


  2. Your translation for “difficilior evadat” is curious. I think the Vatican translation is more correct. “evadere” has often the meaning of “to have an issue” or “to result in” or and is often used with an adjective to indicative what that result is.

  3. Mr. Canaris’ comment in #2: I went with Lewis and Short II.A.2 “to get away, flee, escape from” or II.B.2 “to escape, get rid of” as verb and then had to construe “difficilior.” I’m glad to know there’s a more idiomatic translation. Thanks.

    1. @Fr. Jan Michael Joncas – comment #3:
      Cheers. Sorry the first comment was typed rather quickly. Look under I.B.2 where there are many examples of this construction: Of abstract subjects: “ut ita fastidiosae mollesque mentes evadant civium, ut, etc.,” Cic. Rep. 1, 43 fin.: “si quando aliquod somnium verum evaserit,” id. Div. 2, 53: “vereor ne haec quoque laetitia vana evadat,” Liv. 23, 12: etc.”

      1. @Daniel Canaris – comment #4:
        Daniel Canaris’s translation also looks right to me, especially given that we are given evadat rather than evadatur.

        While we are on the Latin, I couldn’t help noticing that the adaptations are to be done by viri periti. Does this imply, following the kerfuffle about viri selecti in the foot-washing rite, that expert women are not given a voice here?

  4. The only radical adaptation I can think of off the top of my head is the Zaire Entrance Rite, which in fact returns to an earlier tradition of the Church (certainly visible in the first five or six centuries): the extended gathering rite. This has fared well. It has not been closed down by CDWDS, and indeed it would probably not be possible to do so now. It is a prime example of inculturation being permitted in the days before some in Rome got cold feet over such things.

  5. I can think of some pretty drastic adaptations that have occurred in Asia, which I have mixed feelings about. In several Asian cultures which promote filial piety via the veneration of ancestors, this has taken on an official stamp as a rite both within and outside of Mass. As is obvious to readers of this blog, this is pretty advanced both ritually and theologically and a far cry from the position opted for at the time of the Chinese Rites controversy, and even its early mitigation after the 1930s [I believe the practice also features in certain African countries as well, and IIRC, one of the more established controversies in the Roman Missal for Zaire were invocations like “holy ancestors, be with us/pray for us” (or something to that effect)].

    I have mixed feelings about the practice – on one hand, the Catholic tradition does allow a form of veneration that can go to great lengths, but on the other hand, I think at a popular level at least, such distinctions can be lost, and some elements that are incompatible with Christian faith (such as on the power of ancestors and so forth) can enter into worship. Then too, the practice can sometimes conflict with Christian understandings of the afterlife, which are quite frankly, different from understandings which gave birth to those practices.

    1. @Joshua Vas – comment #6:

      When someone denigrates those who remember their ancestors and even pray to them, I think not only of the way in which we invoke the prayers of the saints but also of the Jewish people and the way in which they felt (and feel) very strongly that, when consuming a ritual meal together, they are in a very physical sense eating and drinking their way into the tradition of their forebears. By consuming the ritual food and drink, you become bodily as well as spiritually united with your ancestors and their tradition.

      Without this understanding of the power of a meal with regard to one’s ancestors, it seems pretty clear that Jesus would not have taken a ritual meal and transformed it into a remembrance of himself but could well instead have left us the washing of feet as the Eucharist to be celebrated.

  6. India has been another story and I think it illustrates well some of the problems of inculturation. Although the heyday of inculturation that was present in the 70s has somewhat lapsed, the spirit is alive and well especially in the northern dioceses and via the so-called “experimental areas” as well as in many religious houses, even where it is not practiced in the parishes. I would put the levels of inculturation in 3 or 4 areas.

    a) Simple adaptions to the culture such as indigenous forms of decoration, forms of piety such as removing footwear, flag hoisting, in some areas certain customs regarding fasting or life-and-death rituals (births, marriages, funerals, etc.) that have been adopted from surrounding, largely Hindu, culture. Very few people dispute about these, although the biggest controversy occurred a couple of decades ago when bowing replaced genuflecting in most dioceses that had hitherto “held out”. Strictly speaking, the idea was for genuflecting to be replaced by either bows or prostrations, depending on the case, by the prostrations have gone the way of the dodo.

    b) Some of the more controverted aspects which are still primarily in externals but because of their close association to other religions or still vivid religious connotations are controversial and consequently, have not been introduced everywhere. These include for example, the replacement of Mass vestments with the saffron shawl, the use of the ’tilak’, the use of aarti and other points that are still conceded to the country under the 12 adaptions. Issues that are both outside and within the liturgy include practices such as the yoga.

  7. c) A more wholesale adoption of Hindu practices, often with underlying theology or philosophy. Such examples would be replacing or extensively restructuring forms of Christian prayer, both Eucharistic and otherwise, along the lines of Hindu services. Included in this would be modelling the Eucharist after a Hindu temple service, reading of non-Christian Scriptures in place of one or more of the traditional lections, use of very highly charged religious phrases such as AUM, more controversial aspects of Hindu architecture, and so forth.

    d) The last is more theological, and consists with replacing or significantly elements of what are perceived to be parts of the Jewish-Greco-Roman elements with Indian elements in theology. This is often closely bound up with (c)

    1) The first form has come from very highly Christianized areas of the South and South West, who are uncomfortable with adopting practices of close religious significance. Equally, among the sui juris Eastern Churches, conservative members have protested what they regard as a ‘dilution’ of their own spiritual heritage in favour of a pan-Idnian expression.
    2) The second form is occasioned by the identification of “Indian culture” with “Hindu culture” [while granting that there is a certain amount of construction that takes place in identifying “Hinduism”, that the pan-Hinduism one finds nowadays is a largely modern phenomenon, and that “Hinduism” does influence Indian culture to some extent] This has lead to criticism from 3 main sectors: (a) lower castes and those sympathetic to them, who have been critical of the “Brahmanical” and “Sanskritized” rites. This is quite old and has been around since DeNobili tried to adapt to the local culture back in the 17th century (b) rank-and-file parishioners who are alarmed at the growing political power of the Hindu religious right in some areas of the country, who basically promote the same equation of Indian and Hindu culture (c) several of the ‘new movements’ in the Church, often a reaction…

  8. 3) A third form has come from fundamentalist Hindus who charge that such close copying of Hindu rites are a ploy for religious conversions, OR object to the changed significance attributed to these symbols when they come into a Christian context
    4) The forth is the fundamental tensions that are pointed out between Hindu worship and Christian worship, even by sympathetic liturgists. Christian worship has, even in its most “vertical” forms, a certain level of “horizontal-ity” associated with it, from the fundamental nature of the Eucharistic. Thus runs in some instances counter to the extremely vertical form of Hindu worship that has provided the model for some of the restructured rites. The problem is some cases, is that tweaking more often than not results in something that does not find concrete resonance with the people it was aimed at.

    As for success, I think to some degree, it depends what people are looking for. Inculturation is strong in many seminaries and religious formation centers. The rites have been introduced at the parish level and are most successful in the northern dioceses, where there is a Hindu majority, and more successful in rural than in urban areas. Again, it depends what one barometer is, because some charge (and I think this is actually not without merit, from a simple sociological perspective) that while liturgists and theologians make distinctions, these are lost on most people in a rural context and consequently there are some very fundamental misunderstandings about Christian doctrine and worship.

    1. @Joshua Vas – comment #9:
      Mr. Vas, in this and your two previous postings, have any of the adaptations to which you refer been approved by the Conference of Catholic Bishops of India and subsequently confirmed by the Apostolic See? That, after all, is the subject of SC, art. 40.

      Or are you writing about unauthorized liturgical adaptations which are alleged to have taken place or are presently taking place in that country but which have not been approved by legitimate authority? Such are not the subject of SC, art. 40.

      Also, matters such as liturgical postures and gestures (genuflecting vs. bowing or prostration), and liturgical colors and fabrics, certainly do not qualify as examples of that more radical adaptation which is the subject of art. 40.

  9. Then too, I am not completely convinced that any great strides are made when “Indian” philosophical terms simply replace those that come from the combined Semitic-Greco-Roman heritage and I think a more balanced synthesis is needed there. I think the same goes for adapting certain aspects or symbols where the test should be the resonance it finds among the people – does, for example, the use of phallic symbols in a Eucharistic context, or a Sanskrit (which few people speak) term contribute meaningfully? Inculturation has worked best at the parish level when it has come from the people, and I think that shows in the fact that practices and forms of piety that have resonated with people have been accepted without much resistance and found widespread acceptance, while more advanced practices have not. The irony, in some ways I think, is that while some of these practices are bottom-up if one takes a macro view, they are top-down in one looks at the micro parish level, since they are usually introduced by clergy and religious. Lastly, I think there is a lot of merit in the point raised in (4): sometimes the rites become somewhat incongruous when multiple meanings from different traditions are superimposed on them.

    Apologies to all for this long musing spanning multiple posts. One final thing:

    PrayTell readers might be interested to see a couple of examples of such rites that have found their way onto YouTube:

    Eucharist (the the Presentation of Gifts): (2:00 onward might be more relevant)
    Daily Prayer:

    1. @Joshua Vas – comment #10:

      I found the offertory-puja you have posted to be very interesting given that the Mass combines not only different cultures but also languages. In particular, the priest closes the offertory-puja with the orate fratres in English. I have read that the Japanese language, for example, has difficulty expressing the meaning of this prayer. I wish Fr. Brendan Kelleher could clarify this for me; perhaps I am wrong. Even so, it’s not inconceivable that some languages or cultures might have difficulty expressing certain prayers of the Roman rite. Hence, some prayers might have to be said in a vernacular or Latin.

      A few options come to mind. Should inculturated rites simply skip prayers which do not translate well from Latin or another vernacular? Should suitable replacements be found? Or, must all the prayers of the Roman missal be included, even if paraphrased? I doubt there are ready answers to these questions.

      In SC 40, the Holy See reserves to itself (and perhaps its curial offices) the right to determine the liceity of inculturated rites (c.f.Aptationes, quae utiles […] de ipsius consensu introducendae.) If taken without any hint of leniency, this admonition appears to be a collision course between episcopal conferences and Rome.

      I also wonder if there are ideological clashes between some Indian priests who prefer to celebrate a fuller expression of the inculturated Mass, and other Indian priests who prefer to celebrate Mass with fewer or even no inculturations.

      1. @Jordan Zarembo – comment #17:

        This video (from the same Mass at the Saccidananda Shantivanam Ashrama as Joshua Vas’s example) includes not only the offertory but also the eucharistic prayer (EP for Reconciliation II) as well as the beginning of the communion rite.

        The Mass from the EP forward is the 1973 ICEL translation (no comment, just an observation.) Perhaps this Mass was filmed before the imposition of the new English translation.

      2. @Jordan Zarembo – comment #17:

        Jordan, others will be able to speak about other languages, but for the area where Shantivanam/Saccidananda is located, the prayer can be, and is translated into the local language (Tamil). I don’t know why he was celebrating in English – perhaps for the benefit of guests who did not speak the local language? The state where that ashram is located is actually one of the more conservative areas around – Communion on the tongue, very restricted use of EMHCs, etc. The priest-monk in the video is using the older translation because this was filmed in 2010.

        With regard to your 2nd question: in the Order of the Mass for India (not used in the video), several Roman prayers are replaced with biblically derived phrases. e.g. the Miseratur is replaced by Heb 13:20-21, the Sursum Corda has a text with some elements derived from the psalms, the Communion elements (such as the Agnus Dei, Ecce Agnus Dei) are replaced with Gospel phrases or Pauline quotations, and the blessing is replaced by the Pauline salutation. I have read comments by the late Fr. Amalorpavadass that the Roman prayers are not compatible with the S. Indian languages/culture, but not being well versed in that literary tradition, I cannot comment on the nature, except to say that the prayers as translated at present don’t sound clunky.

        There are indeed ideological clashes, though I would say those were much fiercer 2-3 decades ago. There were some famous incidents, such as at the consecration of one of the cathedrals in the South, when half of the clergy and episcopate in attendance simply walked out when the late Cardinal Parecattil, an advocate for inculturation, began with ‘Aum, Tat, Sat’. With widespread use in seminaries and formation centers, many more of the newer priests/religious have been/are being formed in the inculturation model.Interestingly, the Charasmatic Renewal in India has proved to be one of the biggest opponents and in certain places, a force for “conservative”…

  10. sometimes the rites become somewhat incongruous when multiple meanings from different traditions are superimposed on them.

    This is known as organic development, as opposed to rationalized artifice. These are somewhat competitive paradigms for penetrating a culture with a foreign symbol system. You can create a new culture, by introducing either new symbols or symbols from a different culture. Or you can transform an existing culture by reinterpreting existing symbols.

    IMO organic development is the Catholic way, despite the “incongruity” of competing interpretations. But enough symbols of “new” are written into our faith that artificially produced rationalized structures will always be welcome.

  11. Mr. Day’s comments at #13: I realized that my comment at #3 could have been read as my attempt to justify my translation rather than as I intended it: to explain my mistake. Thanks for pointing that out.

    And thanks to Mr. Vas for his extensive comments (no need for apologies). It is precisely this kind of information that can be of great service on a blog such as this to those of us who do not have access to these developments.

    Would there be any contributors out there who could offer similar extensive commentary on “more radical” liturgical inculturation experiments in, e.g., the Tagalog adaptations of the Filipino liturgy (I’ve only read scattered reports)?

    1. @Fr. Jan Michael Joncas – comment #15:
      I too am interested in reading more about the “more radical” liturgical inculturation taking place in the various churches. However, as I intended to say in my comment following Mr. Vas’ extended contribution, it would be most helpful to know which adaptations have received canonical approval and which ones are, instead, the subject of experimentation, whether authorized or not.

      1. @Fr. Ron Krisman – comment #16:
        Fr. Ron – link to Chupungo’s works on inculturation:

        To your request:

        1) Mass of the Filipino People – submitted to CDF in 1976 – still not approved – i.e. Tagalog language; sacrifice/meal are reflected; projects Filipino values; allows for both Filipino celebration and silence; beginning and end of eucharist people are blessed with a large cross that is then venerated with song; lectors blessed by presider; song precedes gospel reading; kneel during the General Intentions; candles are lit and church bells rung during sanctus; presider as leader receives eucharist last.
        2) Rite of Marriage – did receive *placet*

        As Chupungo says; inculturation is as old as the church of Jesus Christ.

  12. @Fr. Ron Krisman – comment #11:

    Fr. Ron: while I agree that certain postures are more properly covered by 39, I think the complete replacement of Mass vestments by another form of sacral vestment which does not have its origin in the Christian tradition does come under a more radical form of adaption. I agree that it is not the highest form of radical adaption envisioned in this article, which would seem more structural and textual.

    The most basic form of adaption is that which was approved in 1969, 12 points were approved for India containing a mixture of these things. [again I agree that not all of them come under article 40].

    (1) posture, footwear and layout of churches (2) replacement of genuflections (3) prostrations as part of the penitential rite and doxology at the EP (4) replacement of kissing (5) changing of the sign of peace (6) provision for greater use of incense (7) Use of ‘thali’ (tray) for the Eucharist [this is inspired by puja rituals] (8) replacement of vestments (9) use of oil lamps (10) elaboration of the entrance rite, mainly focusing on welcoming the celebrant but also including provision for a sign of peace (11) unstructured Prayers of the Faithful (12) the use of the aarti at various points in the liturgy. Although not explicitly approved, dance is often annexed to the aarti. Also approved somewhere around then were “Christianized” Hindu festivals – for example, Christ the Light on Diwali, Christ the Wisdom of God on Saraswati Puja, etc.

  13. Later approval was given experimentally for the use of the Eucharistic Prayers for India and the Order of the Mass for India which extensively incorporated various religious phrases . There were 2 or 3 versions of these prayers, and a separate Indian Order was developed for communities coming from the Eastern Churches of the South. Simultaneously, the NBCLC (the liturgical center for India) developed a lectionary for the Liturgy of the Hours that drew extensively on other religious (primarily Hindu) texts. There were other permissions which I can’t recall. The only one which did not get past the the Bishop’s Conference was the permission to read non-Christian Scriptures. But pretty much all these permissions were withdrawn sometime in the late 70s and early 80s but on the basis of the “experimental” use mentioned in art 40.2, they are used widely in religious houses, seminaries and certain parts of the country. I am not a canonist to determine whether this experimental use is actually licit or not, but this is the justification I have been given on inquiring.

    The experimental centers, as I have mentioned, use a large number of provisional “study and prayer” texts, and these centers can range from individual houses/ashrams/etc. and wider areas, including for all practical purposes whole dioceses. The texts are still circulated and can be obtained from the NBCLC – I cannot find their site online but it used to have copies. I have a copy of the LOTH that is marked “for prayer, meditation and study” and I don’t think my experience in atypical from clergy in certain regions.

    Aside from these more ‘official’ versions, inculturation has also made its way into worship aids, hymn books and so forth which come under the purview of Ordinaries. I don’t mean the use of classically-inspired musical genres from the different cultural heritage of India, but certain popular bhajans and kirtans from the Hindu tradition and/or phrases from that tradition in conjunction with Christian lyrics.

  14. Jonathan Vas, I thank you immensely for all this information.

    Now, for some speculation on liturgy and liturgical politics elsewhere in South Asia. Though Malcolm Cdl. Ranjith is a traditionalist favorite for his emphatic love of the EF, I suspect that ‘on the ground’ in Sri Lanka a non-inculturated OF in English according the the Roman rubrics would be crucial to maintaining unity between Sinhalese and Tamil Catholics in the face of the greater uneasy truce between Sinhalese nationalists and the Tamil Tigers (His Eminence was extensively involved in peace negotiations). I also suspect that Cdl. Ranjith would be quite against Tamil Hindu inculturation of the Mass for reasons of ecclesial stability (is there a Sinhalese Buddhist inculturation of the Mass?) In any event, idle but extremely interesting speculation.

    1. @Jordan Zarembo – comment #23:

      Jordan: Jonathan Vas, I thank you immensely for all this information.

      With regrets, Joshua, for getting your name wrong. My gray pudding is turning bad, I’m afraid.

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