Chapter III. Principles and Practical Norms for the Inculturation of the Roman Rite
33. As particular churches, especially the young churches, deepen their
understanding of the liturgical heritage they have received from the
Roman church which gave them birth, they will be able in turn to find
in their own cultural heritage appropriate forms which can be
integrated into the Roman rite where this is judged useful and
The liturgical formation of the faithful and the clergy, which is called
for by the constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, ought to help
them to understand the meaning of the texts and the rites given in the
present liturgical books. Often this will mean that elements which come
from the tradition of the Roman rite do not have to be changed or
a. General Principles
34. In the planning and execution of the inculturation of the Roman
rite, the following points should be kept in mind: 1) the goal of
inculturation; 2) the substantial unity of the Roman rite, 3) the
35. The goal which should guide the inculturation of the Roman rite is
that laid down by the Second Vatican Council as the basis of the general
restoration of the liturgy: "Both texts and rites should be so drawn up
that they express more clearly the holy things they signify and so that
the Christian people, as far as possible, may be able to understand
them with ease and to take part in the rites fully, actively and as befits
Rites also need "to be adapted to the capacity of the faithful and that
there should not be a need for numerous explanations for them to be
understood." However, the nature of the liturgy always has to be
borne in mind, as does the biblical and traditional character of its
structure and the particular way in which it is expressed (cf. above Nos.
36. The process of inculturation should maintain the substantial unity
of the Roman rite. This unity is currently expressed in the typical
editions of liturgical books, published by authority of the supreme
pontiff and in the liturgical books approved by the episcopal
conferences for their areas and confirmed by the Apostolic See. The
work of inculturation does not foresee the creation of new families of
rites; inculturation responds to the needs of a particular culture and
leads to adaptations which still remain part of the Roman rite.
37. Adaptations of the Roman rite, even in the field of inculturation,
depend completely on the authority of the church. This authority
belongs to the Apostolic See, which exercises it through the
Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the
Sacraments; it also belongs, within the limits fixed by law, to
episcopal conferences and to the diocesan bishop. "No other
person, not even if he is a priest, may on his own initiative add, remove
or change anything in the liturgy." Inculturation is not left to the
personal initiative of celebrants or to the collective initiative of an
Likewise concessions granted to one region cannot be extended to other
regions without the necessary authorization, even if an episcopal
conference considers that there are sufficient reasons for adopting
such measures in its own area.
b. Adaptations Which Can Be Made
38. In an analysis of a liturgical action with a view to its inculturation,
it is necessary to consider the traditional value of the elements of the
action and in particular their biblical or patristic origin (cf. above Nos.
21-26), because it is not sufficient to distinguish between what can be
changed and what is unchangeable.
39. Language, which is a means of communication between people. In
liturgical celebrations its purpose is to announce to the faithful the
good news of salvation and to express the church's prayer to the
Lord. For this reason it must always express, along with the truths of
the faith, the grandeur and holiness of the mysteries which are being
Careful consideration therefore needs to be given to determine which
elements in the language of the people can properly be introduced into
liturgical celebrations, and in particular whether it is suitable or not to
use expressions from non-Christian religions. It is just as important to
take account of the different literary genres used in the liturgy: biblical
texts, presidential prayers, psalmody, acclamations, refrains,
responsories, hymns and litanies.
40. Music and singing, which express the soul of people, have pride of
place in the liturgy. And so singing must be promoted, in the first place
singing the liturgical text, so that the voices of the faithful may be
heard in the liturgical actions themselves. "In some parts of the
world, especially mission lands, there are people who have their own
musical traditions, and these play a great part in their religious and
social life. Due importance is to be attached to their music and a
suitable place given to it, not only in forming their attitude toward
religion, but also in adapting worship to their native genius."
It is important to note that a text which is sung is more deeply
engraved in the memory than when it is read, which means that it is
necessary to be demanding about the biblical and liturgical inspiration
and the literary quality of texts which are meant to be sung.
Musical forms, melodies and musical instruments could be used in
divine worship as long as they "are suitable, or can be made suitable,
for sacred use, and provided they are in accord with the dignity of the
place of worship and truly contribute to the uplifting of the faithful."
41. The liturgy is an action, and so gesture and posture are especially
important. Those which belong to the essential rites of the sacraments
and which are required for their validity must be preserved just as they
have been approved or determined by the supreme authority of the
The gestures and postures of the celebrating priest must express his
special function: He presides over the assembly in the person of
The gestures and postures of the assembly are signs of its unity and
express its active participation and foster the spiritual attitude of the
participants. Each culture will choose those gestures and bodily
postures which express the attitude of humanity before God, giving
them a Christian significance, having some relationship if possible,
with the gestures and postures of the Bible.
42. Among some peoples, singing is instinctively accompanied by
hand clapping, rhythmic swaying and dance movements on the part of
the participants. Such forms of external expression can have a place in
the liturgical actions of these peoples on condition that they are always
the expression of true communal prayer of adoration, praise, offering
and supplication, and not simply a performance.
43. The liturgical celebration is enriched by the presence of art, which
helps the faithful to celebrate, meet God and pray. Art in the church,
which is made up of all peoples and nations, should enjoy the freedom
of expression as long as it enhances the beauty of the buildings and
liturgical rites, investing them with the respect and honor which is
their due. The arts should also be truly significant in the life and
tradition of the people.
The same applies to the shape, location and decoration of the altar,
the place for the proclamation of the word of God and for baptism,
all the liturgical furnishings, vessels, vestments and colors.
Preference should be given to materials, forms and colors which are in
use in the country.
44. The constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium has firmly maintained
the constant practice of the church of encouraging the veneration by
the faithful of images of Christ, the Virgin Mary and the saints,
because the honor "given to the image is given to its subject." In
different cultures believers can be helped in their prayer and in their
spiritual life by seeing works of art which attempt, according to the
genius of the people, to express the divine mysteries.
45. Alongside liturgical celebrations and related to them, in some
particular churches there are various manifestations of popular
devotion. These were sometimes introduced by missionaries at the time
of the initial evangelization, and they often develop according to local
The introduction of devotional practices into liturgical celebrations
under the pretext of inculturation cannot be allowed "because by its
nature, (the liturgy) is superior to them."
It belongs to the local ordinary to organize such devotions, to
encourage them as supports for the life and faith of Christians, and to
purify them when necessary, because they need to be constantly
permeated by the Gospel. He will take care to ensure that they do not
replace liturgical celebrations or become mixed up with them.
c. Necessary Prudence
46. "Innovations should only be made when the good of the church
genuinely and certainly requires them; care must be taken that any new
forms adopted should in some way grow organically from forms
already existing." This norm was given in the constitution
Sacrosanctum Concilium in relation to the restoration of the liturgy,
and it also applies, in due measure, to the inculturation of the Roman
rite. In this field changes need to be gradual and adequate explanation
given in order to avoid the danger of rejection or simply an artificial
grafting onto previous forms.
47. The liturgy is the expression of faith and Christian life, and so it is
necessary to ensure that liturgical inculturation is not marked, even in
appearance, by religious syncretism. This would be the case if the
places of worship, the liturgical objects and vestments, gestures and
postures let it appear as if rites had the same significance in Christian
celebrations as they did before evangelization. The syncretism will be
still worse if biblical readings and chants (cf. above No. 26) or the
prayers were replaced by texts from other religions, even if these
contain an undeniable religious and moral value.
48. The constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium envisaged the
admission of rites or gestures according to local custom into rituals of
Christian initiation, marriage and funerals. This is a stage of
inculturation, but there is also the danger that the truth of the Christian
rite and the expression of the Christian faith could be easily diminished
in the eyes of the faithful. Fidelity to traditional usages must be
accompanied by purification and, if necessary, a break with the past.
The same applies, for example, to the possibility of Christianizing
pagan festivals or holy places, or to the priest using the signs of
authority reserved to the heads of civil society or for the veneration of
ancestors. In every case it is necessary to avoid any ambiguity.
Obviously the Christian liturgy cannot accept magic rites, superstition,
spiritism, vengeance or rites with a sexual connotation.
49. In a number of countries there are several cultures which coexist
and sometimes influence each other in such a way as to lead gradually
to the formation of a new culture, while at times they seek to affirm
their proper identity or even oppose each other in order to stress their
own existence. It can happen that customs may have little more than
folkloric interest. The episcopal conference will examine each case
individually with care: They should respect the riches of each culture
and those who defend them, but they should not ignore or neglect a
minority culture with which they are not familiar. They should weigh
the risk of a Christian community becoming inward looking and also
the use of inculturation for political ends. In those countries with a
customary culture, account must also be taken of the extent to which
modernization has affected the people.
50. Sometimes there are many languages in use in the one country,
even though each one may be spoken only by a small group of persons
or a single tribe. In such cases a balance must be found which respects
the individual rights of these groups or tribes but without carrying to
extremes the localization of the liturgical celebrations. It is also
sometimes possible that a country may be moving toward the use of a
51. To promote liturgical inculturation in a cultural area bigger that one
country, the episcopal conferences concerned must work together and
decide the measures which have to be taken so that "as far as possible,
there are not notable ritual differences in regions bordering on one