Chapter IV. Areas of Adaptation in the Roman Rite
52. The constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium had in mind an
inculturation of the Roman rite when it gave norms for the adaptation
of the liturgy to the mentality and needs of different peoples, when it
provided for a degree of adaptation in the liturgical books (cf. below
Nos. 53-61), and also when it envisaged the possibility of more
profound adaptations in some circumstances, especially in mission
countries (cf. below Nos. 63-64).
a. Adaptations in the Liturgical Books
53. The first significant measure of inculturation is the translation of
liturgical books into the language of the people. The completion of
translations and their revision, where necessary, should be effected
according to the directives given by the Holy See on this subject.
Different literary genres are to be respected, and the content of the
texts of the Latin typical edition is to be preserved; at the same time the
translations must be understandable to participants (cf. above No. 39),
suitable for proclamation and singing, with appropriate responses and
acclamations by the assembly.
All peoples, even the most primitive, have a religious language which is
suitable for expressing prayer, but liturgical language has its own
special characteristics: It is deeply impregnated by the Bible; certain
words in current Latin use (memoria, sacramentum) took on a new
meaning in the Christian faith. Certain Christian expressions can be
transmitted from one language to another, as has happened in the past,
for example in the case of ecclesia, evangelium, baptisma,
Moreover, translators must be attentive to the relationship between the
text and the liturgical action, aware of the needs of oral communication
and sensitive to the literary qualities of the living language of the
people. The qualities needed for liturgical translations are also required
in the case of new compositions, when they are envisaged.
54. For the celebration of the eucharist, the Roman Missal, "while
allowing ... for legitimate differences and adaptations according to the
prescriptions of the Second Vatican Council," must remain "a sign and
instrument of unity" of the Roman rite in different languages. The
General Instruction on the Roman Missal foresees that "in accordance
with the constitution on the liturgy, each conference of bishops has the
power to lay down norms for its own territory that are suited to the
traditions and character of peoples, regions and different
communities." The same also applies to the gestures and postures
of the faithful, the ways in which the altar and the book of the
Gospels are venerated, the texts of the opening chants, the song
at the preparation of the gifts and the communion song, the rite
of peace, conditions regulating communion with the chalice, the
materials for the construction of the altar and liturgical furniture,
the material and form of sacred vessels, liturgical vestments.
Episcopal conferences can also determine the manner of distributing
55. For the other sacraments and for sacramentals, the Latin typical
edition of each ritual indicates the adaptations which pertain to the
episcopal conferences or to individual bishops in particular
circumstances. These adaptations concern texts, gestures and
sometimes the ordering of the rite. When the typical edition gives
alternative formulas, conferences of bishops can add other formulas of
the same kind.
56. For the rites of Christian initiation, episcopal conferences are "to
examine with care and prudence what can properly be admitted from
the traditions and character of each people" and "in mission
countries to judge whether initiation ceremonies practiced among the
people can be adapted into the rite of Christian initiation and to decide
whether they should be used." It is necessary to remember,
however, that the term initiation does not have the same meaning or
designate the same reality when it is used of social rites of initiation
among certain peoples or when it is contrary to the process of Christian
initiation, which leads through the rites of the catechumenate to
incorporation into Christ in the church by means of the sacraments of
baptism, confirmation and eucharist.
57. In many places it is the marriage rite that calls for the greatest
degree of adaptation so as not to be foreign to social customs. To adapt
it to the customs of different regions and peoples, each episcopal
conference has the "faculty to prepare its own proper marriage rite,
which must always conform to the law which requires that the ordained
minister or the assisting lay person, according to the case, must ask
for and obtain the consent of the contracting parties and give them the
nuptial blessing." This proper rite must obviously bring out clearly
the Christian meaning of marriage, emphasize the grace of the
sacrament and underline the duties of the spouses.
58. Among all peoples, funerals are always surrounded with special
rites, often of great expressive value. To answer to the needs of
different countries, the Roman Ritual offers several forms of
funerals. Episcopal conferences must choose those which
correspond best to local customs. They will wish to preserve all
that is good in family traditions and local customs, and ensure that
funeral rites manifest the Christian faith in the resurrection and bear
witness to the true values of the Gospel. It is in this perspective
that funeral rituals can incorporate the customs of different cultures
and respond as best they can to the needs and traditions of each
59. The blessing of persons, places or things touches the everyday life
of the faithful and answers their immediate needs. They offer many
possibilities for adaptation, for maintaining local customs and
admitting popular usages. Episcopal conferences will be able to
employ the foreseen dispositions and be attentive to the needs of the
60. As regards the liturgical year, each particular church and religious
family adds its own celebrations to those of the universal church, after
approval by the Apostolic See. Episcopal conferences can also, with
the prior approval of the Apostolic See, suppress the obligation of
certain feasts or transfer them to a Sunday. They also decide the
time and manner of celebrating rogationtide and ember days.
61. The Liturgy of the Hours has as its goal the praise of God and the
sanctification by prayer of the day and all human activity. Episcopal
conferences can make adaptations in the second reading of the office of
readings, hymns and intercessions and in the final Marian
62. When an episcopal conference prepares its own edition of liturgical
books, it decides about the translations and also the adaptations which
are envisaged by the law. The acts of the conference, together with
the final vote, are signed by the president and secretary of the
conference and sent to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the
Discipline of the Sacraments, along with two copies of the approved
Moreover along with the complete dossier should be sent:
a) A succinct and precise explanation of the reasons for the
adaptations that have been introduced.
b) Indications as to which sections have been taken from other
already approved liturgical books and which are newly composed.
After the recognition by the Apostolic See has been received according
to the law, the episcopal conference promulgates the decree and
determines the date when the new text comes into force.
b. Adaptations Envisaged By No. 40 of the Conciliar Constitution on the Liturgy
63. Apart from the adaptations provided for in the liturgical books, it
may be that "in some places and circumstances an even more radical
adaptation of the liturgy is needed, and this entails greater
difficulties." This is more than the sort of adaptations envisaged by
the general instructions and the praenotanda of the liturgical books.
It presupposes that an episcopal conference has exhausted all the
possibilities of adaptation offered by the liturgical books; that it has
made an evaluation of the adaptations already introduced and maybe
revised them before proceeding to more far-reaching adaptations.
The desirability or need for an adaptation of this sort can emerge in
one of the areas mentioned above (cf. Nos. 5361) without the others
being affected. Moreover, adaptations of this kind do not envisage a
transformation of the Roman rite, but are made within the context of
the Roman rite.
64. In some places when there are still problems about the participation
of the faithful, a bishop or several bishops can set out their difficulties
to their colleagues in the episcopal conference and examine with them
the desirability of introducing more profound adaptations, if the good
of souls truly requires it.
It is the function of episcopal conferences to propose to the Apostolic
See the modifications it wishes to adopt following the procedure set out
The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the
Sacraments is ready to receive the proposals of episcopal conferences
and examine them, keeping in mind the good of the local churches
concerned and the common good of the universal church, and to assist
the process of inculturation where it is desirable or necessary. It will do
this in accordance with the principles laid down in this instruction (cf.
above, Nos. 3351), and in a spirit of confident collaboration and shared
65. The episcopal conference will examine what has to be modified in
liturgical celebrations because of the traditions and mentality of
peoples. It will ask the national or regional liturgical commission to
study the matter and examine the different aspects of the elements of
local culture and their eventual inclusion in the liturgical celebrations.
The commission is to ensure that it receives the appropriate expert
advice. It may be sometimes opportune to ask the advice of members of
non-Christian religions about the religious or civil value of this or that
element (cf. above Nos. 30-32).
If the situation requires it, this preliminary examination will be made in
collaboration with the episcopal conferences of neighboring countries
or those with the same culture (cf. above Nos. 33-51).
66. The episcopal conference will present the proposal to the
congregation before any experimentation takes place. The presentation
should include a description of the innovations proposed, the reasons
for their adoption, the criteria used, the times and places chosen for a
preliminary experiment and an indication which groups will make it,
and finally the acts of the discussion and the vote of the conference.
After an examination of the proposal carried out together by the
episcopal conference and the congregation, the latter will grant the
episcopal conference a faculty to make an experiment for a definite
period of time, where this is appropriate.
67. The episcopal conference will supervise the process of
experimentation, normally with the help of the national or regional
liturgical commission. The conference will also take care to ensure that
the experimentation does not exceed the limits of time and place that
were fixed. It will also ensure pastors and the faithful know about the
limited and provisional nature of the experiment, and it will not give it
publicity of a sort which could have an effect on the liturgical practice
of the country. At the end of the period of experimentation, the
episcopal conference will decide whether it matches up to the goal that
was proposed or whether it needs revision, and it will communicate its
conclusions to the congregation along with full information about the
68. After examining the dossier, the congregation will issue a decree
giving its consent, possibly with some qualifications, so that the
changes can be introduced into the territory covered by the episcopal
69. The faithful, both lay people and clergy, should be well informed
about the changes and prepared for their introduction into the
liturgical celebrations. The changes are to be put into effect as
circumstances require, with a transition period if this is appropriate (cf.
above No. 61).