Today Crux news is reporting that in Pope Francis’ preface to a new collection of essays titled Pope Francis and the Roman Missal for the Dioceses of Zaire: A Promising Rite for Other Cultures [English trans.], the pope called the Zairean Rite a “promising model” for the proposed Amazonian Rite and liturgical inculturation more broadly.
This is huge news! Especially since at times the pope himself has appeared to cast some doubt on Querida Amazonia’s call for the creation of a new liturgical Rite in the Amazon.
That the pope has become very interested in the Zaire Rite should be no surprise. In fact, the Rite was celebrated by the pope at St. Peter’s Basilica one year ago today!
As someone who has studied the Western Non-Roman Rites as well as the Zaire Rite and its formation in detail, I know that the Zaire Rite is a good example of liturgical inculturation. Sadly, it also remains pretty much the only model, at least with regard to the Eucharist.
As Fr. Neil Xavier O’Donoghue recently noted in an earlier post on the proposed Amazonian Rite, the process of liturgical inculturation is – rightfully – a slow one. In fact, the Zaire Rite is in some ways unfinished. It represents the inculturation of one, albeit important, part of the Christian ritual and sacramental system – the Eucharist – but it has largely left untouched the other rites and sacraments. Furthermore, its reception and celebration, I have been told, has not been uniform in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with some areas preferring to use the “typical” form of the Roman Rite.
Attempts at liturgical inculturation after Vatican II, including that of the Zaire Rite, also reveal a reticence on the part of Roman authorities to allow for modest, let alone farther-reaching, forms of liturgical inculturation. One need only point here to Varietates legitimae (1994). It seems that a Eurocentrism at best, or a sort of liturgical imperialism at worst, has long guided the process of liturgical inculturation in Rome, even after Vatican II. The title of the Zaire Rite can serve as a helpful example of this. As Nwaka Chris Egbulem has noted:
On April 30, 1988…the Congregation for Divine Worship gave the formal approval of the Zairean rite of the Eucharist with the official title ‘Missel Romain pour les Dioceses du Zaire’ (Roman Missal for the Dioceses of Zaire). The Zairean church did not propose this title, nor is the title well accepted in Zaire. The title was suggested and forced on the Zairean church by the Roman Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
What is needed today, and what bishops from the Amazon to Africa to Asia appear to be asking for, is a policy toward liturgical inculturation that is informed by postcolonial theory and indued with a spirit of liberation. Pope Francis’ actions appear to point to the movement of such a spirit in the halls of the Vatican.
The Zaire Rite should absolutely be considered a prophetic model for liturgical inculturation. It is perhaps one of the best liturgical gifts given to the Church after Vatican II. But what it also shows is that in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and beyond the vision of the council has only been partially fulfilled.
 Nwaka Egbulem, The Power of Africentric Celebrations: Inspirations from the Zairean Liturgy (New York: A Crossroad Publishing Company, 1996), 47.