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You are here: Documents > General Principles > Fourth Instruction on the orderly carrying out of the Constitution on the Liturgy  Back one page.

Table of Contents
Table of ContentsChapter I. Process of Inculturation Throughout the History of SalvationChapter III. Principles and Practical Norms for the Inculturation of the Roman RiteEndnotes

Chapter II. Requirements and Preliminary Conditions for Liturgical Inculturation

a. Requirements Emerging from the Nature of the Liturgy

21. Before any research on inculturation begins, it is necessary to keep in mind the nature of the liturgy. It "is, in fact the privileged place where Christians meet God and the one whom he has sent, Jesus Christ" (cf. Jn. 17:3).[39] It is at once the action of Christ the priest and the action of the church which is his body, because in order to accomplish his work of glorifying God and sanctifying mankind, achieved through visible signs, he always associates with himself the church, which, through him and in the Holy Spirit, gives the Father the worship which is pleasing to him.[40]

22. The nature of the liturgy is intimately linked up with the nature of the church; indeed, it is above all in the liturgy that the nature of the church is manifested.[41] Now the church has specific characteristics which distinguish it from every other assembly and community.

It is not gathered together by a human decision, but is called by God in the Holy Spirit and responds in faith to his gratuitous call (ekklesia derives from klesis, "call"). This singular characteristic of the church is revealed by its coming together as a priestly people, especially on the Lord's day, by the word which God addresses to his people and by the ministry of the priest, who through the sacrament of orders acts in the person of Christ the head.[42]

Because it is catholic, the church overcomes the barriers which divide humanity: By baptism all become children of God and form in Christ Jesus one people where "there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female" (Gal. 3:28). Thus church is called to gather all peoples, to speak the languages, to penetrate all cultures.

Finally, the church is a pilgrim on the earth far from the Lord (cf. 2 Cor. 5:6): It bears the marks of the present time in the sacraments and in its institutions, but is waiting in joyful hope for the coming of Jesus Christ (cf. Ti. 2: 13).[43] This is expressed in the prayers of petition: It shows that we are citizens of heaven (cf. Phil. 3:20), at the same time attentive to the needs of mankind and of society (cf. 1 Tm. 2: 1-4).

23. The church is nourished on the word of God written in the Old and New Testaments. When the church proclaims the word in the liturgy, it welcomes it as a way in which Christ is present: "It is he who speaks when the sacred Scriptures are read in church."[44] For this reason the word of God is so important in the celebration of the liturgy[45] that the holy Scripture must not be replaced by any other text, no matter how venerable it may be.[46] Likewise the Bible is the indispensable source of the liturgy's language, of its signs and of its prayer, especially in the psalms.[47]

24. Since the church is the fruit of Christ's sacrifice, the liturgy is always the celebration of the paschal mystery of Christ, the glorification of God the Father and the sanctification of mankind by the power of the Holy Spirit.[48] Christian worship thus finds its most fundamental expression when every Sunday throughout the whole world Christians gather around the altar under the leadership of the priest, celebrate the eucharist, listen to the word of God, and recall the death and resurrection of Christ, while awaiting his coming in glory.[49] Around this focal point, the paschal mystery is made present in different ways in the celebration of each of the sacraments.

25. The whole life of the liturgy gravitates in the first place around the eucharistic sacrifice and the other sacraments given by Christ to his church.[50] The church has the duty to transmit them carefully and faithfully to every generation. In virtue of its pastoral authority, the church can make dispositions to provide for the good of the faithful, according to circumstances, times and places.[51] But it has no power over the things which are directly related to the will of Christ and which constitute the unchangeable part of the liturgy.[52] To break the link that the sacraments have with Christ, who instituted them, and with the very beginnings of the church,[53] would no longer be to inculturate them, but to empty them of their substance.

26. The church of Christ is made present and signified in a given place and in a given time by the local or particular churches, which through the liturgy reveal the church in its true nature.[54] That is why every particular church must be united with the universal church not only in belief and sacramentals, but also in those practices received through the church as part of the uninterrupted apostolic tradition.[55] This includes, for example, daily prayer,[56] sanctification of Sunday and the rhythm of the week, the celebration of Easter and the unfolding of the mystery of Christ throughout the liturgical year,[57] the practice of penance and fasting,[58] the sacraments of Christian initiation, the celebration of the memorial of the Lord and the relationship between the Liturgy of the Word and the eucharistic liturgy, the forgiveness of sins, the ordained ministry, marriage and the anointing of the sick.

27. In the liturgy the faith of the church is expressed in a symbolic and communitarian form: This explains the need for a legislative framework for the organization of worship, the preparation of texts and the celebration of rites.[59] The reason for the preceptive character of this legislation throughout the centuries and still today is to ensure the orthodoxy of worship: that is to say, not only to avoid errors, but also to pass on the faith in its integrity so that the "rule of prayer" (lex orandi) of the church may correspond to "rule of faith" (lex credendi).[60]

However deep inculturation may go, the liturgy cannot do without legislation and vigilance on the part of those who have received this responsibility in the church: the Apostolic See and, according to the prescriptions of the law, the episcopal conference for its territory and the bishop for his diocese.[61]

b. Preliminary Conditions for Incluturation of the Liturgy

28. The missionary tradition of the church has always sought to evangelize people in their own language. Often indeed, it was the first apostles of a country who wrote down languages which up till then had only been oral. And this is right, as it is by the mother language, which conveys the mentality and the culture of a people, that one can reach the soul, mold it in the Christian spirit and allow to share more deeply in the prayer of the church.[62]

After the first evangelization, the proclamation of the word of God in the language of a country remains very useful for the people in their liturgical celebrations. The translation of the Bible, or at least of the biblical texts used in the liturgy, is the first necessary step in the process of the inculturation of the liturgy.[63]

So that the word of God may be received in a right and fruitful way, "it is necessary to foster a taste for holy Scripture, as is witnessed by the ancient traditions of the rites of both East and West."[64] Thus inculturation of the liturgy presupposes the reception of the sacred Scripture into a given culture.[65]

29. The different situations in which the church finds itself are an important factor in judging the degree of liturgical inculturation that is necessary. The situation of countries that were evangelized centuries ago and where the Christian faith continues to influence the culture is different from countries which were evangelized more recently or where the Gospel has not penetrated deeply into cultural values.[66] Different again is the situation of a church where Christians are a minority of the population. A more complex situation is found when the population has different languages and cultures. A precise evaluation of the situation is necessary in order to achieve satisfactory solutions.

30. To prepare an inculturation of the liturgy, episcopal conferences should call upon people who are competent both in the liturgical tradition of the Roman rite and in the appreciation of local cultural values. Preliminary studies of a historical, anthropological, exegetical and theological character are necessary. But these need to be examined in the light of the pastoral experience of the local clergy, especially those born in the country.[67] The advice of "wise people" of the country, whose human wisdom is enriched by the light of the Gospel, would also be valuable. Liturgical inculturation should try to satisfy the needs of traditional culture[68] and at the same time take account of the needs of those affected by an urban and industrial culture.

c.The Responsibility of the Episcopal Conference

31. Since it is a question of local culture, it is understandable that the constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium assigned special responsibility in this matter to the "various kinds of competent territorial bodies of bishops legitimately established."[69] In regard to this, episcopal conferences must consider "carefully and prudently what elements taken from the traditions and cultures of individual peoples may properly be admitted into divine worship."[70] They can sometimes introduce "into the liturgy such elements as are not bound up with superstition and error ... provided they are in keeping with the true and authentic spirit of the liturgy."[71]

32. Conferences may determine, according to the procedure given below (cf. Nos. 62 and 6569), whether the introduction into the liturgy of elements borrowed from the social and religious rites of a people, and which form a living part of their culture, will enrich their understanding of liturgical actions without producing negative effects on their faith and piety. They will always be careful to avoid the danger of introducing elements that might appear to the faithful as the return to a period before evangelization (cf. below No. 47).

In any case, if changes in rites or texts are judged to be necessary, they must be harmonized with the rest of the liturgical life and, before being put into practice, still more before being made mandatory, they should first be presented to the clergy and then to the faithful in such a way as to avoid the danger of troubling them without good reason (cf. below, Nos. 46 and 69).

Table of ContentsChapter I. Process of Inculturation Throughout the History of SalvationChapter III. Principles and Practical Norms for the Inculturation of the Roman RiteEndnotes

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You are here: Documents > General Principles > Fourth Instruction on the orderly carrying out of the Constitution on the Liturgy  Back one page.

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All contents © copyright, 1998-2018
The Catholic Liturgical Library