1. Legitimate differences in the Roman rite were allowed in the past and
were foreseen by the Second Vatican Council in the Constitution on the
Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium, especially in the missions.
"Even in the liturgy the church has no wish to impose a rigid uniformity
in matters that do not affect the faith or the good of the whole
community." It has known and still knows many different forms and
liturgical families, and considers that this diversity, far from harming
her unity, underlines its value.
2. In his apostolic letter Vicesimus Quintus Annus, the Holy Father
Pope John Paul II described the attempt to make the liturgy take root in
different cultures as an important task for liturgical renewal. This
work was foreseen in earlier instructions and in liturgical books, and it
must be followed up in the light of experience, welcoming where
necessary cultural values "which are compatible with the true and
authentic spirit of the liturgy, always respecting the substantial unity
of the Roman rite as expressed in the liturgical books."
a. Nature of this Instruction
3. By order of the supreme pontiff, the Congregation for Divine Worship
and the Discipline of the Sacraments has prepared this instruction: The
norms for the adaptation of the liturgy to the temperament and
conditions of different peoples, which were given in Articles 37-40 of
the constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, are here defined; certain
principles expressed in general terms in those articles are explained
more precisely, the directives are set out in a more appropriate way
and the order to be followed is clearly set out, so that in future this will
be considered the only correct procedure. Since the theological
principles relating to questions of faith and inculturation have still to
be examined in depth, this congregation wishes to help bishops and
episcopal conferences to consider or put into effect, according to the
law, such adaptations as are already foreseen in the liturgical books; to
re-examine critically arrangements that have already been made; and if
in certain cultures pastoral need requires that form of adaptation of the
liturgy which the constitution calls "more profound" and at the same
time considers "more difficult," to make arrangements for putting it
into effect in accordance with the law.
b. Preliminary Observations
4. The constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium spoke of the different
forms of liturgical adaptation. Subsequently the magisterium of the
church has used the term inculturation to define more precisely "the
incarnation of the Gospel in autonomous cultures and at the same time
the introduction of these cultures into the life of the church."
Inculturation signifies "an intimate transformation of the authentic
cultural values by their integration into Christianity and the
implantation of Christianity into different human cultures."
The change of vocabulary is understandable, even in the liturgical
sphere. The expression adaptation, taken from missionary
terminology, could lead one to think of modifications of a somewhat
transitory and external nature. The term inculturation is a better
expression to designate a double movement: "By inculturation, the
church makes the Gospel incarnate in different cultures and at the
same time introduces peoples, together with their cultures, into her
own community." On the one hand the penetration of the Gospel into
a given sociocultural milieu "gives inner fruitfulness to the spiritual
qualities and gifts proper to each people ..., strengthens these qualities,
perfects them and restores them in Christ."
On the other hand, the church assimilates these values, when they are
compatible with the Gospel, "to deepen understanding of Christ's
message and give it more effective expression in the liturgy and in the
many different aspects of the life of the community of believers."
This double movement in the work of inculturation thus expresses one
of the component elements of the mystery of the incarnation.
5. Inculturation thus understood has its place in worship as in other areas of the life of the church. It constitutes one of the aspects of the
inculturation of the Gospel, which calls for true integration in the life
of faith of each people of the permanent values of a culture, rather than
their transient expressions. It must, then, be in full solidarity with a
much greater action, a unified pastoral strategy which takes account of
the human situation. As in all forms of the work of evangelization,
this patient and complex undertaking calls for methodical research and
ongoing discernment. The inculturation of the Christian life and of
liturgical celebrations must be the fruit of a progressive maturity in the
faith of the people.
6. The present instruction has different situations in view. There are in
the first place those countries which do not have a Christian tradition
or where the Gospel has been proclaimed in modern times by
missionaries who brought the Roman rite with them. It is now more
evident that "coming into contact with different cultures, the church
must welcome all that can be reconciled with the Gospel in the
tradition of a people to bring to it the riches of Christ and to be
enriched in turn by the many different forms of wisdom of the nations
of the earth."
7. The situation is different in the countries with a long-standing
Western Christian tradition, where the culture has already been
penetrated for a long time by the faith and the liturgy expressed in the
Roman rite. That has helped the welcome given to liturgical reform in
these countries, and the measures of adaptation envisaged in the
liturgical books were considered, on the whole, sufficient to allow for
legitimate local diversity (cf. below Nos. 53-61). In some countries,
however, where several cultures coexist, especially as a result of
immigration, it is necessary to take account of the particular problems
which this poses (cf. below No. 49).
8. It is necessary to be equally attentive to the progressive growth both
in countries with a Christian tradition and in others of a culture marked
by indifference or disinterest in religion. In the face of this situation,
it is not so much a matter of inculturation, which assumes that there
are pre-existent religious values and evangelizes them, but rather a
matter of insisting on liturgical formation and finding the most
suitable means to reach spirits and hearts.