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). 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.
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. 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.
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). 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." For this reason the
word of God is so important in the celebration of the liturgy that the
holy Scripture must not be replaced by any other text, no matter how
venerable it may be. Likewise the Bible is the indispensable source of
the liturgy's language, of its signs and of its prayer, especially in the
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. 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.
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. 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. 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. To break the
link that the sacraments have with Christ, who instituted them, and
with the very beginnings of the church, 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. 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. This
includes, for example, daily prayer, 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, the practice of
penance and fasting, 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. 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
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.
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.
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.
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." Thus
inculturation of the liturgy presupposes the reception of the sacred
Scripture into a given culture.
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.
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. 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 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." 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." 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."
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).