Chapter I. Process of Inculturation Throughout the History of Salvation
9. Light is shed upon the problems being posed about the inculturation
of the Roman rite in the history of salvation. The process of
inculturation was a process which developed in many ways.
The people of Israel throughout its history preserved the certain
knowledge that it was the chosen people of God, the witness of his
action and love in the midst of the nations. It took from neighboring
peoples certain forms of worship, but its faith in the God of Abraham,
Isaac and Jacob subjected these borrowings to profound modifications,
principally changes of significance but also often changes in the form,
as it incorporated these elements into its religious practice in order to
celebrate the memory of God's wonderful deeds in its history.
The encounter between the Jewish world and Greek wisdom gave rise to
a new form of inculturation: the translation of the Bible into Greek
introduced the word of God into a world that had been closed to it and
caused, under divine inspiration, an enrichment of the Scriptures.
10. "The law of Moses, the prophets and the psalms" (cf. Lk. 24:27 and
44) was a preparation for the coming of the Son of God upon earth. The
Old Testament, comprising the life and culture of the people of Israel,
is also the history of salvation.
On coming to the earth the Son of God, "born of a woman, born under
the law" (Gal. 4:4), associated himself with social and cultural
conditions of the people of the alliance, with whom he lived and
prayed. In becoming a man he became a member of a people, a
country and an epoch "and in a certain way, he thereby united himself
to the whole human race." For "we are all one in Christ, and the
common nature of our humanity takes life in him. It is for this that he
was called the 'new Adam."'
11. Christ, who wanted to share our human condition (cf. Heb. 2:14),
died for all in order to gather into unity the scattered children of God
(cf. Jn. 11:52). By his death he wanted to break down the wall of
separation between mankind, to make Israel and the nations one
people. By the power of his resurrection he drew all people to himself
and created out of them a single new man (cf. Eph. 2: 14-16; Jn. 12:32).
In him a new world has been born (cf. 2 Cor. 5:16-17), and everyone can
become a new creature. In him, darkness has given place to light,
promise became reality and all the religious aspirations of humanity
found their fulfillment. By the offering that he made of his body, once
for all (cf. Heb. 10: 10), Christ Jesus brought about the fullness of
worship in spirit and in truth in the renewal which he wished for his
disciples (cf. Jn. 4:23-24).
12. "In Christ ... the fullness of divine worship has come to us." In
him we have the high priest, taken from among men (cf. Heb. 5:15; 10:
19-21), put to death in the flesh but brought to life in the spirit (cf. 1 Pt.
3:18). As Christ and Lord, he has made out of the new people "a
kingdom of priests for God his Father" (cf. Rv. 1:6; 5:9 10). But before
inaugurating by the shedding of his blood the paschal mystery,
which constitutes the essential element of Christian worship, Christ
wanted to institute the eucharist, the memorial of his death and
resurrection, until he comes again. Here is to be found the fundamental
principle of Christian liturgy and the kernel of its ritual expression.
13. At the moment of his going to his Father, the risen Christ assures
his disciples of his presence and sends them to proclaim the Gospel to
the whole of creation, to make disciples of all nations and baptize them
(cf. Mt. 28:15; Mk. 16:15; Acts 1:8). On the day of Pentecost, the coming
of the Holy Spirit created a new community within the human race,
uniting all in spite of the differences of language, which were a sign of
division (cf. Acts 2:1-11). Henceforth the wonders of God will be made
known to people of every language and culture (cf. Acts 10:44-48).
Those redeemed by the blood of the Lamb and united in fraternal
communion (cf. Acts 2:42) are called from "every tribe, language,
people and nation" (cf. Rv. 5:9).
14. Faith in Christ offers to all nations the possibility of being
beneficiaries of the promise and of sharing in the heritage of the people
of the covenant (cf. Eph. 3:6), without renouncing their culture. Under
the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, following the example of St. Peter (cf.
Acts 10), St. Paul opened the doors of the church, not keeping the
Gospel within the restrictions of the Mosaic law but keeping what he
himself had received of the tradition which came from the Lord (cf. 1
Cor. 11:23). Thus, from the beginning, the church did not demand of
converts who were uncircumcised "anything beyond what was
necessary" according to the decision of the apostolic assembly of
Jerusalem (cf. Acts 15:28).
15. In gathering together to break the bread on the first day of the
week, which became the day of the Lord (cf. Acts 20:7; Rv. 1: 10), the
first Christian communities followed the command of Jesus who, in the
context of the memorial of the Jewish pasch, instituted the memorial of
his passion. In continuity with the unique history of salvation, they
spontaneously took the forms and texts of Jewish worship and adapted
them to express the radical newness of Christian worship. Under the
guidance of the Holy Spirit, discernment was exercised between what
could be kept and what was to be discarded of the Jewish heritage of
16. The spread of the Gospel in the world gave rise to other types of
ritual in the churches coming from the gentiles, under the influence of
different cultural traditions. Under the constant guidance of the Holy
Spirit, discernment was exercised to distinguish those elements coming
from "pagan" cultures which were incompatible with Christianity from
those which could be accepted in harmony with apostolic tradition and
in fidelity to the Gospel of salvation.
17. The creation and the development of the forms of Christian
celebration developed gradually according to local conditions in the
great cultural areas where the good news was proclaimed. Thus were
born distinct liturgical families of the churches of the West and of the
East. Their rich patrimony preserves faithfully the Christian tradition in
its fullness. The church of the West has sometimes drawn elements
of its liturgy from the patrimony of the liturgical families of the East.
The church of Rome adopted in its liturgy the living language of the
people, first Greek and then Latin, and, like other Latin churches,
accepted into its worship important events of social life and gave them
a Christian significance. During the course of the centuries, the Roman
rite has known how to integrate texts, chants, gestures and rites from
various sources and to adapt itself in local cultures in mission
territories, even if at certain periods a desire for liturgical uniformity
obscured this fact.
18. In our own time, the Second Vatican Council recalled that the
church "fosters and assumes the ability, resources and customs of each
people. In assuming them, the church purifies, strengthens and
ennobles them.... Whatever good lies latent in the religious practices
and cultures of diverse peoples, it is not only saved from destruction
but it is also cleansed, raised up and made perfect unto the glory of
God, the confounding of the devil, and the happiness of mankind." So
the liturgy of the church must not be foreign to any country, people or
individual, and at the same time it should transcend the particularity of
race and nation. It must be capable of expressing itself in every human
culture, all the while maintaining its identity through fidelity to the
tradition which comes to it from the Lord.
19. The liturgy, like the Gospel, must respect cultures, but at the same
time invite them to purify and sanctify themselves.
In adhering to Christ by faith, the Jews remained faithful to the Old
Testament, which led to Jesus, the Messiah of Israel; they knew that he
had fulfilled the Mosaic alliance, as the mediator of the new and eternal
covenant, sealed in his blood on the cross. They knew that, by his one
perfect sacrifice, he is the authentic high priest and the definitive
temple (cf. Heb. 6-10), and the prescriptions of circumcision (cf. Gal. 5:
1-6), the Sabbath (cf. Mt. 12:8 and similar), and the sacrifices of the
temple (cf. Heb. 10) became of only relative significance.
In a more radical way Christians coming from paganism had to
renounce idols, myths, superstitions (cf. Acts 19: 18-19; 1 Cor. 10: 14-
22; 2: 20-22; 1 Jn. 5:21) when they adhered to Christ.
But whatever their ethnic or cultural origin, Christians have to
recognize the promise, the prophecy and the history of their salvation
in the history of Israel. They must accept as the word of God the books
of the Old Testament as well as those of the New. They welcome the
sacramental signs, which can only be understood fully in the context of
Holy Scripture and the life of the church.
20. The challenge which faced the first Christians, whether they came
from the chosen people or from a pagan background, was to reconcile
the renunciations demanded by faith in Christ with fidelity to the
culture and traditions of the people to which they belonged.
And so it will be for Christians of all times, as the words of St. Paul
affirm: "We proclaim Christ crucified, scandal for the Jews, foolishness
for the pagans" (1 Cor. 1:23).
The discernment exercised during the course of the church's history
remains necessary, so that through the liturgy the work of salvation
accomplished by Christ may continue faithfully in the church by the
power of the Spirit in different countries and times and in different