Constructing an Asian Theology of Liturgical Inculturation from the Documents of the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences (FABC)

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Jonathan Tan Yun-ka

JONATHAN TAN YUN-KA, a Chinese Malaysian, received his M.A. degree from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. He is presently pursuing a Ph.D. in Religion and at the Catholic University of America, Washington D.C. His research interests include the areas of contextual, comparative and liturgical theologies as well as studies in liturgical music. His article, “The Ancestor Veneration Rites of the Contemporary Malaysian Chinese Community and Inculturation” recently appeared in the East Asian Pastoral Review 35 no. 3/4 (1998).


This essay seeks to construct an Asian theology of liturgical inculturation1 which is at the “service of life”2 in Asia from the various documents of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC).3 Such a quest to construct an Asian theology of liturgical inculturation from the documents of the FABC is grounded in the way the FABC has developed a rich and profound contextual theology based upon certain foundational themes which the FABC has identified as central to the construction of an Asian contextual theology in dialogue with the pluralistic and diverse Asian milieu.4 These foundational themes include a focus on the local church as the locus of theologizing,5 the building of the Kingdom of God in Asia,6 a triple dialogue of the Christian Gospel with Asian cultures, religions and the poor,7 and the overarching vision of harmony as the fruit of such dialogue.8 This rich and deeply profound Asian contextual theology of the FABC portrays a vision of Christianity which is at the same time catholic (i.e., it is faithful to its founding stories) and local (i.e., these founding stories are being appropriated, contextualized and fused into the local Asia milieu). The tradition handed down within the founding stories of Christianity is viewed not as fixity, i.e., ahistorical, normative, objective and absolute, but rather as a tradition which is first and foremost the transmission of Christian living in the spirit of Jesus’ ethics of the Kingdom of God as recorded under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in the Christian Gospel.9 Fidelity to this tradition goes beyond the mere proclamation of the catholicity of the unique redemptive roles of Jesus Christ and the Church Universal. It also calls for a fidelity to: (i) the realization of Jesus’ radical vision of the Kingdom of God in the kairos of the Asian Sitz-im-Leben, and (ii) the need to appropriate effectively the evangelical tradition of the Kingdom of God into the wider picture of the Asian human drama here and now. 10

It is undeniable that the Christian Gospel with its message of the Kingdom of God has had a marginal impact on the lives of many Asians, since Christians make up only approximately 2% of the total population of Asia, with a disproportionate number of Christians living in the Philippines. As the FABC Office of Theological Concerns put it bluntly:

The Christian communities in this part of the world, taken together, do not make up more than 2% of the entire population of Asia. Except for the Philippines, of whose 60 million population 83% are Catholic and 89% Christian, Christians are minorities in every Asian nation. The Church in Asia is truly a little flock, pusillus grex, an infinitesimal minority in an ocean of people who profess other religious faiths or belong to other religious traditions.11

Because of this, the theological effort of the FABC is centered mainly on the construction of a local theology which is able to contextualize the Christian Gospel within the Asian milieu in dialogue with the Asian religions, cultures and peoples, especially the poor. At the same time, this effort is also a call for a hermeneutical appropriation of the soteriological message of the Kingdom of God in new socio-cultural circumstances and communities with their own traditions, customs and needs. The 1991 FABC Theological Consultation did not mince their words when they concluded: “We need a new hermeneutic suitable for the Asian idiom” (article 13).12

In constructing its uniquely Asian contextual theology, the FABC has acknowledged that the Asian continent comprises a rich and colorful mosaic of many of the world’s ancient religious, philosophical and socio-cultural traditions.13 These traditions are still very much alive and influential because they are able to nourish the present spiritual needs of millions of Asians. In addition, they are very much intertwined within the socio-political and cultural lives of these Asians. At the same time, the Asian contextual theology of the FABC also seeks to confront the challenges of modernization, urbanization, globalization, post-modernism, secularization, economic and environmental exploitation, poverty, social injustice, political oppression, communalism, ethnic and caste discrimination, as well as other traumatic forms of social, cultural, economic and political breakdowns in the Asian social fabric.14 By emphasizing the need to evangelize through a dialogical encounter with the three-fold Asian reality of diverse cultures, religious traditions and the multitude of the poor, the FABC is seeking to appropriate and interpret the message of the Kingdom of God in the Christian Gospel in a manner which retrieves and contextualizes the founding stories of Christianity in the present Asian reality, and which addresses the needs and issues of the here and now.

The contextual theology of the FABC is also well placed to respond to the socio-cultural flux which is shaped by and shaping the Asian local churches in all their political, socio-economical and religio-cultural complexities.15 In particular, the local church in many parts of Asia has been perceived as a corpus alienumplanted by colonial-era missionaries in the local soil. As article 13 of the 1991FABC Theological Consultation put it in highly blunt terms:

Prejudices are very much alive in Asia. As a social institution the Church is perceived as a foreign body in its colonial origins while other world religions are not. The lingering colonial image survives in its traditional ecclesiastical structures and economic dependence on the west. This gives ground for suspicion. The Church is even sometimes seen  as an obstacle or threat to national integration and to religious and cultural identity... The Church remains foreign in its lifestyle, in its institutional structures, in its worship, in its western-trained leadership and in its theology. Christian rituals often remain formal, neither spontaneous nor particularly Asian (emphasis added). 16

In any attempt to redress such a negative perception, more attention should be given to the importance of the liturgy as a principal public expression of these local churches. This public face of the liturgy reveals its ecclesiological orientation, because liturgy is not “an abstract set of prayers and rubrics which is eternally valid for all times and places, but rather the manner in which people in specific historical, social and cultural circumstances express their faith through symbolic ritual.”17 As the FABC Office of Theological Concerns has pointed out: “liturgy is the expression and celebration of the faith and is at the same time also the fountain of faith in the local Church.”18  In other words, it is “always an act of the Church’s self-understanding and self-expression,”19 as well as the most fundamental expression of Christian living, because it is at the very core of human life: “it expresses life and shapes life.”20  In this regard, one is reminded of the ancient axiom which was formulated by St. Cyprian of Carthage: ecclesia facit eucharistiam, eucharistia facit ecclesiam (Ep. 63). Similarly, the Second Vatican Council has also pointed out that liturgy is:

the outstanding means whereby the faithful may express in their lives and manifest to others the mystery of Christ and the real nature of the true Church...  [Liturgy] marvelously strengthens their power to preach Christ and thus shows forth the Church to those who are outside as a sign lifted up among the nations, under which the scattered children of God may gather together, until there is one sheepfold and one shepherd (Sacrosanctum Concilium, article 2, emphasis added).21

This conciliar vision of liturgy reveals the ethical dimension of liturgy in which the local church is challenged to live out its faith beyond the actual liturgical celebration, thereby reuniting the “doing of liturgy” with daily Christian living.22 In practical terms, the liturgy of the Asian local churches faces a twofold challenge. First, it has to maneuver very carefully through centuries of injustices, oppression and suffering, to avoid being an unwitting accomplice to the painful reality of pervasive communalism, caste, ethnic, gender and other socio-economic divisions in many Asian countries.23 Second, rightly or otherwise, the liturgy is one yardstick by which others will come to judge the authenticity of the Asian local churches’ desire to be truly local and catholic, i.e., being a part of the local landscape while maintaining ties with other local churches throughout the world.24 The challenge which Aloysius Pieris posed to the Sri Lankan Catholic Church is especially apt to the Asian local churches to take a hard look at their liturgies: “Show me how you celebrate your Eucharist and I shall tell you what kind of church you are.”25

Hence, liturgical inculturation in Asia has far-reaching ecclesiological and missiological consequences which go beyond merely translating the editiones typicae of the various liturgical rites into the various vernacular languages.26 It is also more than just an anthropological issue, or a socio-pastoral response to socio-cultural pluralism and diversity. It is neither an archaeological exercise in retrieving archaisms, nor an excuse to impose the cultural expressions of one dominant ethnic community upon other communities. In addition, it is not an excuse to instrumentalize the liturgy to promote a socio-political or religio-cultural agenda, however laudable that may appear to be. In the Asian context, liturgical inculturation faces the challenge of bringing about a greater awareness of the ethical dimension of the local church’s liturgy to recognize and respond to the rich diversity, current religio-cultural realities and socio-cultural challenges  of a  multiethnic, multilingual, multireligious and pluricultural Asian milieu, such that the liturgy is able to be a source of harmony, unity and communion rather than the cause of pain and division.

At the same time, one looks in vain in all the documents of the FABC for any significant discussion of liturgical inculturation beyond its many brief references and allusions. Of these, a brief but highly significant reference to the need for liturgical inculturation may be found in the important document from the FABC Office of Theological Concerns (formerly the FABC Theological Advisory Commission) entitled Theses on the Local Church: A Theological Reflection in the Asian Context:

A very important area of inculturation is the liturgy of the Christian community. Liturgy expresses the faith of the Church (lex orandi lex credendi). Liturgy must be the outcome of the faith-experience in a particular cultural environment. In turn, such liturgical experience should flower in a Christian life that is fully inculturated. Therefore, true liturgical inculturation of the Christian community cannot be done from without and introduced through an external and artificial process; it should spontaneously spring forth from the life of the faith lived fully in the context of the culture and the life-realities of the people. Nevertheless, given the long estrangement of the liturgical life of Asian local Churches from their cultural traditions, at this stage of transition to a fully inculturated ecclesial life, certain liturgical experiments and models are very legitimate and necessary in order to facilitate the process of inculturation by the whole community. These experiments, however, should not reflect only the concerns of a few experts, but rather should be in dialogue with the whole Christian community (Theses on the Local Church, Thesis 8, article 8.03).27

As a matter of fact, the eminent missiologist Stephen Bevans has noted that explicit reflections on the general theology of inculturation are “relatively sparse.”28 According to Ladislav Nemet, this lack of any significant discussion is not surprising because it arises out of the preferred FABC approach to inculturation as “a more complex encounter between the Gospel and a local church in the wholeAsian reality, made up of religions, cultures, poverty and the poor” (italics in the original).29 Nemet summarized the approach of the FABC as follows:

The process of inculturation is no longer a question of a search for external adaptation to Asian reality and way of living, but a question of an existential nature: being and living in Asia and with Asians, becoming involved in all the aspects of life, collaborating with all the forces which are working actively to build up the Kingdom.30

Notwithstanding the fact that the FABC has not formulated any specific theology of liturgical inculturation, one could perhaps say that its Asian contextual theology is well placed to undergird the construction of an Asian theology of liturgical inculturation. There are several essential theological themes from the contextual theology of the FABC which are particularly relevant to construct an Asian theology of liturgical inculturation.

1.  A TRINITARIAN VISION OF HARMONY IN THE LITURGY

First, the contextual approach of the FABC to theologizing and its emphasis on the universality of divine grace and salvation provide the fundamental orientation for an Asian theology of liturgical inculturation, viz., everything which is good, holy and harmonious in the social, cultural and religious heritages of the Asian peoples reveal the Spirit at work in them.31 Such an approach is rooted in the vision of a unitive and creative harmony which, at the most fundamental level, encompases both the primeval vision of cosmic harmony and unity which holds together the diversity and plurality of the Asian milieu32 as well as the marvellous vision of harmony and unity in the Trinity.33 If one accepts that: (i) “the Church is at its deepest level a communion (koinonia) rooted in the life of the Trinity, and thus in its essential reality a sacrament (mysterium et sacramentum) of the loving self-communication of God and the graced response of redeemed mankind in faith, hope and love” (FABC III, article 7.1),34 (ii) “its eucharistic assembly is the paradigmatic realization of its inner life as participation in the mystery of Christ, the people of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit: the Church from the Trinity (Ecclesia de Trinitate)” (Theses on the Local Church, Thesis 4, article 4.02), 35 and (iii) liturgy is “always an act of the Church’s self-understanding and self-expression,”36 therefore at its deepest roots, liturgical worship is, or ought to be, trinitarian in orientation. 37

In addition, on the basis that “the harmony of the universe finds its origin in the one Creator God, and human harmony should flow from the communion of Father and Son in the Spirit, and ought to be continually nourished by the “circumincession” (perichoresis) in divine life” (Asian Christian Perspectives on Harmony, article 4.11.3),38 the trinitarian image of perichoresis39 enables an Asian theology of liturgical inculturation to bring forth a perichoretic vision of harmony which nourishes the dynamic, mutual, relational and revelatory communication of “God-for-us”40 in the liturgies of the Asian local churches. Such a perichoretic vision of harmony also expresses beautifully the harmony and relationality between the universal ordo41 of the catholic liturgical tradition and the local Asian milieu in a manner of “an eternal movement of reciprocal giving and receiving, giving again and receiving again”42 which seeks to mirror the “ecstatic, relational, dynamic, vital”43 communion arising out of a “divine dance”44 between the three persons of the Trinity.

In other words, the trinitarian dimensions of an Asian theology of liturgical inculturation calls for a critical, creative, unitive and perichoretic harmony which enables the received ordo of the catholic liturgical tradition and the local Asian milieu to be “irresistibly drawn to the other, taking [its] existence from the other, containing the other in [itself], while at the same time pouring self out into the other.”45 This means that the received ordo of the catholic liturgical tradition and the Asian context are related in a manner of “being-in-one another,” and “permeation without confusion,” without any “blurring of the individuality” nor any separation of either, but “only the communion of love.”46 When such a vision of harmony is realized, the liturgy of the Asian local churches is able to be authentically Asian, yet remaining truly catholic, “distinguishing the two aspects without separating them, uniting them without separating them, in the manner in which in Christ the two natures are united without separation and are distinguished without confusion.”47

Descending from the summit of transcendental reflection to the valley of mundane pragmatism, the foregoing vision of harmony in any Asian theology of liturgical inculturation calls for the overcoming of liturgical xenophobia, because liturgical inculturation ought not to toss the baby out of the bath water by ignoring completely the 2000-year heritage of catholic liturgical traditions. Rather, this vision of harmony calls for a creative synthesis of the positive local elements with the positive elements from the rich liturgical heritage of the ordo of the catholic liturgical tradition in a spirit of creative harmony, careful discernment, fraternal critique, mutual conversion, friendly sharing and critical borrowing.

2.  CHRISTOLOGICAL FOUNDATIONS OF LITURGICAL INCULTURATION: THE INCARNATION AND THE PASCHAL MYSTERY

Second, the trinitarian dimensions of an Asian theology of liturgical inculturation also point to its christological foundation in the mystery of the Incarnation as well as the Paschal Mystery: “[t]he mystery of the incarnation and the paschal mystery are at once the foundation and the model for the deep insertion of local Churches in the surrounding cultures, in all aspects of their life, celebration, witness and mission.” (FABC Theological Consultation, article 35).48 It draws its inspiration and power from the example of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, the Son of God who took human flesh “in a particular place at a particular time of history, two thousand years ago in Palestine,” and who was “deeply inserted in the culture of his people.”49 In the mystery of the Incarnation, God assumed human condition in the person of Jesus and participated concretely in the way of life, as well as the religious and cultural traditions of the Jewish people,50 thereby employing humankind’s cultural forms and modes of expressions in spite of their manifest inadequacy to reveal Godself.51 At the same time, the paschal orientation of the christological foundation of an Asian theology of liturgical inculturation invites both the received ordo of the catholic liturgical tradition and the Asian milieu of the local church to engage in a process of a mutual conversion and transformation which involves an experience of death and resurrection.52 In other words, both the received ordo of the catholic liturgical tradition and the Asian milieu of the local church have to die to their  prejudices and fears in respect of each other, and rise from the ashes of such an experience of conversion to a new and transformed life of mutual enrichment and sharing.

On a practical level, the incarnational and paschal orientations of the christological foundation of an Asian theology of liturgical inculturation give rise to several important observations. Just as the mystery of the Incarnation and the Paschal Mystery both reveal a dynamic and personal encounter between the human reality and the divine in the person of Jesus Christ, an Asian theology of liturgical inculturation also seeks to initiate and foster a dynamic and personal encounter between the human reality and the liturgy of the local church. Following the example of Jesus Christ, who neither repudiated his humanity nor his Jewishness,53 the liturgy of the local churches should avoid the temptation of repudiating the distinctive Asian milieu with its rich myriad of ancient social, cultural, linguistic, ethnic and religious traditions. Rather, following the footsteps of Jesus who grounded his message of the Kingdom of God in the context of Jewish life experiences and the Jewish wisdom tradition, such a liturgy would be at home with local Asian life experiences and the age-old Asian wisdom tradition. In this regard, the local churches could learn how to contextualize their liturgies within their Sitz-im-Leben from the way in which Jesus framed his Good News of the Kingdom of God using ideas and cultural elements with which his hearers were familiar, e.g., images of the Palestinian countryside (e.g., birds of the air and lilies of the field), everyday activities (e.g., fishing, sowing, baking bread, sweeping the house and tending sheep), social-cultural reality (e.g., Pharisee and Publican), proverbs and poetry (e.g., the Beatitudes), as well as Jewish religious life (Temple, religious festivals and the Torah) as means of proclaiming the Christian Gospel, thereby grounding the Christian Gospel within a particular human culture, viz., the Jewish culture.54

At the same time, although Jesus was deeply conditioned by the cultural milieu of the Jewish people, nevertheless he also challenged and at times broke away from that cultural milieu. For instance, women travelled in the company of Jesus and his disciples, something which no religious teacher of his day would have risked or tolerated (Luke 8:1-3).55 Moreover, while using positive elements of the Jewish culture to proclaim the Good News, Jesus also criticized those negative elements and social-religious institutions, e.g., the rigid Sabbath observance. He invited his hearers to embrace a new way of life with its transformed values, symbols and realities. Hence, there is also a need for an element of prophetic critique and conversion in an Asian theology of liturgical inculturation, such that it is not afraid to criticize negative socio-cultural elements in particular Asian contexts, e.g., caste discrimination in liturgical worship.56 This is because Asian cultures are also similar to the Jewish culture which permeated the world in which Jesus lived, “in the sense that, along with many lofty ideals, visions and values, they contain also oppressive and anti-human elements, such as caste, which goes against the equality of all human beings, discrimination towards women, etc.” (Theses on the Local Church, Thesis 6, article 6.08).57

3.  PNEUMATOLOGICAL FOUNDATION OF LITURGICAL INCULTURATION: A NEW PENTECOST

Third, the pneumatological foundation of an Asian theology of liturgical inculturation draws its inspiration from the Pentecost event in shaping inculturated liturgies which are able to bring together diverse ethnic, linguistic and cultural communities which constitute many of the Asian local churches.58 One of the many challenges which confront an Asian theology of liturgical inculturation is the difficult task of ensuring that the inculturated liturgies of the Asian local churches do not degenerate, unwittingly or otherwise, into “chaotic heterogeneity and individualism” in an all too eager effort to avoid a “monolithic uniformity” which fails to respect the multicultural, multiethnic and multilinguistic identity of these local churches.59 In this regard, an Asian theology of liturgical inculturation could look to the Pentecost event as the exemplar of unity and harmony par excellencebetween the catholicity of the received ordo of the catholic liturgical tradition and the immense diversity of the multiethnic, multilinguistic and pluricultural Asian milieu. Indeed, the Pentecost event beautifully exemplifies the image of the manyunited into the one body of Christ:

Pentecost manifests the Church’s unity in the midst of diversity which is Catholic fullness (catholica unitas). It grounds the authentic catholicity of the Church in the creative power of the Spirit. The Spirit alone enables the Church to be one amidst the diversity of peoples and races and amidst the multiplicity of human situations. For the mystery of the Church’s catholicity, as it is actualized in history, is ultimately rooted in the presence and action of the Spirit (Theses on the Local Church, Thesis 10, article 10.10).60

In other words, both the Spirit and the Pentecost event inspire and empower a relationship of authentic harmony and unity between elements of catholicity and local diversity in the inculturated liturgies of the Asian local churches.

4.  THE PRAXIS OF DIALOGUE IN LITURGICAL INCULTURATION

Fourth, the praxis orientation of an Asian theology of liturgical inculturation calls for a methodological commitment to the triple dialogue of the FABC, i.e., dialogue with the local cultures, religions and the poor. Within an Asian theology of liturgical inculturation, this triple dialogue invites every party to set aside their preconceived notions and other prejudices about each other, so as to be able to listen to, learn from and share with each other their hopes, dreams, challenges, strengths and weaknesses. In other words, this triple dialogue should be a bi-directional encounter of mutual critique, enrichment and conversion for both the Asian local church’s liturgy as well as its Sitz-im-Leben among the local peoples with their religio-cultural traditions including their rich popular religiosity and devotions,61 as well as their life challenges and aspirations. In the absence of such a dialogue, an Asian theology of liturgical inculturation runs the risk of ending up merely as a uni-directional process of selective purification, fulfilment and instrumentalization of certain aspects of the local Sitz-im-Leben so as to appropriate them for the liturgy.62 Worse still, the absence of a dialogical encounter of mutual critique, conversion and enrichment could result in the instrumentalization of the liturgy itself to serve the socio-cultural norms of the local Sitz-im-Leben such that the prophetic voice of the ethical dimension of the liturgy is lost.

The praxis of triple dialogue plays an essential role in an Asian theology of liturgical inculturation precisely because the hermeneutical task of liturgical inculturation is necessarily perspectival. Paraphrasing the words of the sacramental theologian David Power, “it is done within the preunderstandings of the interpreter, or the interpreting community, though it is ready to let these preunderstandings be challenged.”63 Power also emphasizes that being perspectival does not mean that it is purely subjective:

Representations have their own power within them, to which people are invited to open themselves. However, they do come with their preunderstandings, and these are bound up with the conditions of their own being. There is thus an encounter between the world to which the participant belongs culturally and historically, and the world being presented in the language of the tradition.64

Transposing this to the  present discussion, one could perhaps say that the dialogical underpinnings of an Asian theology of liturgical inculturation is perspectival in that it respects the “preunderstanding” of the Asian Sitz-im-Leben.The praxis of triple dialogue allows the received ordo of the catholic liturgical tradition and the diverse and pluralistic Asian Sitz-im-Leben to enter into a dialogical encounter in respect of their worldviews with each other as equal partners. Therefore, such an encounter should result in a desire to strive, not for the hegemonic imposition of one worldview over another worldview, but for the perspectival interpretation and mutual critique of each worldview in respect the other. The desired outcome is the promotion of solidarity, relationality and communion, not only at the local level between the liturgy of the local church and the world around it, but also at the catholic level between the liturgy of the local church and the liturgies of other local churches throughout the world in a marvellous vision of unitive, relational and collaborative harmony.

5.  THE LOCAL CHURCH AS THE LOCUS OF LITURGICAL INCULTURATION

Finally, the task of constructing any Asian theology of liturgical inculturation is the task of the local church which is rooted and immersed in the local reality of the Asian peoples with their cultures, religious traditions, struggles and aspirations for a better future.65 Just as each Asian local church has to be truly Asian while called at the same time to be also truly catholic, i.e., in communion, harmony and unity with other Asian local churches as well as the See of Peter in the local church of Rome,66 the liturgy of each Asian local church has also to be truly Asian while appropriating creatively at the same time the received ordo of the catholic liturgical tradition which is at the root of the local church’s catholicity and communion with other local churches throughout the world. Just as each Asian local church has full autonomy in its missionary endeavors,67 therefore it should have full autonomy to carry out its programme of liturgical inculturation in dialogue with the religions, cultures and the poor of its Sitz-im-Leben. This would enable it to shape its ownordo of liturgical worship in partnership with its dialogue partners, and at the same time fulfill the vision of the FABC that “the Church is called to be a community of dialogue. This dialogical model is in fact a new way of being Church” (BIRA IV/12, article 48).68

NOTES

1.The focus of the discussion which follows is the development of a broad approach to the construction of an Asian theology of liturgical inculturation using the foundational themes of the Asian contextual theology of the FABC. The articulation of its detailed methodology is beyond the scope and intent of this essay.

2.This “service to life” draws its inspiration from the theme of the Sixth Plenary Assembly of the FABC (Manila, 1995): “Christian Discipleship in Asia Today: Service to Life.” The Final Statement of the Sixth Plenary Assembly of the FABC may be found in Franz-Josef Eilers, ed., For All The Peoples of Asia Volume 2: Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences Documents from 1992 to 1996 (Quezon City: Claretian Publications, 1997) 1-12. A Report of the Sixth Plenary Assembly of the FABC may be found in the FABC Papers No. 74: Christian Discipleship in Asia Today: Service to Life. A Report of the Sixth Plenary Assembly of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, 1995 (Hong Kong: FABC,1995).

3.Many of the important documents of the FABC have been collected and published in a convenient two-volume collection: Gaudencio B. Rosales & C.G. ArŽvalo, eds., For All The Peoples of Asia: Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences Documents From 1970-1991 (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1992, hereinafter referred to in this essay as FAPA I) and Franz-Josef Eilers, ed., For All The Peoples of Asia Volume 2: Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences Documents from 1992 to 1996 (Quezon City: Claretian Publications, 1997, hereinafter referred to in this essay as FAPA II). Essays and other articles which summarize and evaluate the important theological themes which are raised in these documents include the following (in chronological order): Peter C. Phan, “Human Development and Evangelization (The first to the sixth plenary assembly of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences),” Studia Missionalia 47 (1998) 205-227; Felix Wilfred, et al, “Document: What the Spirit Says to the Churches. A Vademecum on the Pastoral and Theological Orientations of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC),” Vidyajyoti 62:2 (1998) 124-133; Jacob Kavunkal, “Local Church in the FABC Statements,” Jeevadhara 27 (I997)  260-271; Sebastian Painadath, “Theological Perspectives of FABC on Interreligious Dialogue,” Jeevadhara 27 ( 1997) 272-288; Stephen Bevans, “Inculturation of Theology in Asia (The Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, 1970-1995),” Studia Missionalia 45 ( 1996) 1-23; Ladislav Nemet, “Inculturation in the FABC Documents,” East Asian Pastoral Review 31 ( 1994) 77-94; Petrus Maria Handoko, Lay Ministries in the Mission and Ministry of the Church in Asia: A Critical Study of the FABC 1970-1991 (Rome: Gregorian University Press, 1993); Jacques Dupuis, FABC Focus on the Church’s Evangelizing Mission in Asia Today, FABC Papers no. 64 (Hong Kong: FABC, 1992), reprinted in Vidyajyoti 56 (1992) 449-468; FABC Theological Advisory Commission, Theses on the Local Church: A Theological Reflection in the Asian Context, FABC Papers No. 60 (Hong Kong: FABC, 1991); Antonio B. Lambino, Dialogue, Discernment, Deeds: An Approach to Asian Challenges Today, FABC Paper No. 56 (Hong Kong: FABC, 1990) and Felix Wilfred, “Fifth Plenary Assembly of FABC: An Interpretation of its Theological Orientation,” Vidyajyoti 54 (1990) 583-592.

4.At the same time, one has to bear in mind the fact that the Asian local churches, despite many similarities, are not homogeneous, and therefore “the FABC can speak only in general terms and cannot address itself specifically to concrete situations.” Felix Wilfred, “The Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC): Orientations, Challenges and Impact,” in FAPA I, xxx.

5.Extended discussions on the nature and tasks of the local church may be found in FABC I, arts. 9-12 (in FAPA I, 14), FABC III, arts. 3.1, 32, 7.1 and 8.1 (in FAPA I, 54, 56-7), FABC V, arts. 3.3.1, 8.1.1-8.1.4 (in FAPA I, 281, 287-8), Asian Colloquium on Ministries in the Church, arts. 25-27 (in FAPA I, 72-3), BIRA IV/12, arts. 48-50 (in FAPA I, 332-3), and Theses on the Local Church: A Theological Reflection in the Asian Context, FABC Papers No. 60 (Hong Kong: FABC, 1991). Unless otherwise stated, all references to Theses on the Local Church in this essay refer to the pagination in the monograph FABC Papers No. 60.

6.Significant highlights of the FABC’s theology of the Kingdom of God may be found in FABC V, arts. 1.7, 2.3.9 (FAPA I, 275, 279), BIMA IV, art. 5 (in FAPA I, 292), BIRA IV/2, arts. 8.1-8.2 (in FAPA I, 252), BIRA IV/10, art. 6 (in FAPA I, 314), and Theological Consultation, arts. 30, 33, 39 (in FAPA I, 342, 344).

7.Important references to the FABC’s theology of dialogue include FABC I, arts. 12,14,15, 16,19, 20 (in FAPA I, l4- 15), FABC V, art. 3.1.2, 4.1 (in FAPA I, 280, 281-2), CPW III, art 4b (FAPA I, 142), BIRA I, art. 12 (in FAPA I, 111), BIRA IV/3, art. 16 (FAPA I, 261), BIRA IV/4, art. 2 (in FAPA I, 300), BIRA IV/7, art. 16 (FAPA I, 311), BIMA I, art. 10 (FAPA I, 94), and Theological Consultation, art. 46 (in FAPA I, 345).

8.Comprehensive presentations of the FABC’s theology of harmony may be found in Asian Christian Perspectives on Harmony, FABC Papers No. 75 (Hong Kong: FABC, 1996), reprinted in FAPA II, 229-298, FABC VI, art. 10 (in FAPA II, 5), BIRA IV/1, art. 13 (in FAPA I, 249), BIRA IV/10 (in FAPA, 313-315), BIRA IV/11, particularly arts. 5-l l, 15 (in FAPA I, 318-320, 321), and BIRA V/1 to V/5 (in FAPA II, 143-177). Unless otherwise stated, all references to Asian Christian Perspectives on Harmony in this essay refer to the pagination in the monograph FABC Papers No. 75.

9.In a similar vein, the FABC Office of Theological Concerns has pointed out: “the Gospel is always found in an inculturated form. Gospel is not an abstraction. It exists in the concrete as the faith of a people appropriated and expressed in their cultural context.” (Theses on the Local Church, Thesis 5, article 5.10, in pp. 21-2).

10.See arts. 1.7 & 2.3.9 of FABC V (in FAPA I, 275, 279), art. 5 of BIMA IV (in FAPA I, 292), art. 8.1-82 of BIRA IV/2 (in FAPA I, 252-3), arts. 6-9 of BIRA IV/10 (in FAPA I, 314), and arts. 29-33 and 39 of 1991 FABC Theological Consultation (in FAPA I, 341-342, 344).

11.Theses on the Local Church, 4.

12.FAPA I. 337.

13.See art. 7 of FABC II (in FAPA I, 30).

14.See Asian Christian Perspectives on Harmony, 6-13; Theses on the Local Church, Thesis 6, arts. 6.03-6.04, 6.08 (in pp. 23-24, 25); and Felix Wilfred, “The Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC): Orientations, Challenges and Impact” in FAPA I, xxv-xxix.

15.See arts. 4 and 12 of FABC I (in FAPA I, 13-14).

16.FAPA I, 337.

17.John F. Baldovin, Liturgy in Ancient Jerusalem, Alcuin/GROW Liturgical Study vol. 9, Grove Liturgical Study vol. 57 (Bramcote, Nottingham: Grove Books,1989), 5. As the Consilium pointed out: “The prayer of the Church is always the prayer of some actual community, assembled here and now. It is not sufficient that a formula handed down from some other time or region be translated verbatim, even if accurately, for liturgical use.” See Consilium, Instruction Comme le prŽvoit: On the Translation of Liturgical Texts for Celebrations with a Congregation, 25 January 1969, art. 20, in International Commission on English in the Liturgy, Documents on the Liturgy 1963-1979: Conciliar, Papal and Curial Texts (Collegeville: Liturgical Press,1982, hereinafter referred to in this essay as DOL) 123:857. All numerical references to the DOL refer to the document number followed by the paragraph number in the marginal column.

18.Theses on the Local Church, 55.

19.Kevin Irwin, Context and Text: Method in Liturgical Theology (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1994) 48.

20.Subhash Anand, “The Inculturation of the Eucharistic Liturgy,” Vidjyajyoti 57 (1993) 271.

21.DOL 1:4.

22.See Irwin, Context and Text, 56, 311, 331, 345-6 and Subhash Anand, “Inculturation in India: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow” Indian Missiological Review 6 (Mar 1997) 30-32. This issue has been posed by a prominent liturgical theologian as follows: “What kind of (moral) activity is characteristic of people of faith, people who have been formed by liturgical worship? If no notable difference can be discerned on the level of Christian living, then one must ask if there is any significance at all to what goes on in worship or in the faith life of the church.” See John F. Baldovin, “Liturgical Renewal after Vatican II: Pastoral Retlections on a Survey,” in John F. Baldovin, ed., Worship: City, Church and Renewal (Washington, DC: Pastoral Press, 1991) 195.

23.For an overview of the caste controversy and its social and ritual implications in the Indian liturgy, especially of the Syro-Malabar Church, see Subhash Anand, “Inculturation in India: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow,” Indian Missiological Review 6 (Mar 1997) 22-23 and E.J. Thomas, “Caste and the Syrian Rite in Keralam,” Jeevadhara 23 (May 1993) 227-233. A discussion of the position and role of Chinese women in the local churches of East and North-East Asia may be found in Kwok Pui Lan, “Mothers and Daughters, Writers and Fighters,” in R.S. Sugirtharajah, ed., Frontiers in Asian Christian Theology (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1994) 147-155 and Kwok Pui Lan, “The Image of the ‘White Lady’: Gender and Race in Christian Mission,” Concilium 6 (1991): 19-27. For a discussion of the issue of ethnic communalism and its implications for liturgical Inculturation in Malaysia, see Jonathan Tan Yun-ka, Towards A Theology of “Muhibbah” as the Basis for Cross-Cultural Liturgical Inculturation in the Malaysian Catholic Church (MA Thesis, Graduate Theological Union,1997) 117-119,134-145.

24.For an example of such a discussion, see Jojo M. Fung, Shoes-Off Barefoot We Walk: A Theology of Shoes-off (Theologi Buka Kasut) (Kuala Lumpur: Longman Malaysia,1992) 42-44.

25.Aloysius Pieris, “Inculturation: Some Critical Reflections,” Vidyajyoti 57 (1993) 645.

26.It has been pointed out as early as 1969 that “texts translated from another language are clearly not sufficient for the celebration of a fully renewed liturgy. The creation of new texts will be necessary” (Consilium, Instruction Comme le prŽvoit: On the Translation of Liturgical Texts for Celebrations with a Congregation, 25 January 1969 art. 43, in DOL 123:880).

27.Theses on the Local Church, 28-9.

28.Stephen Bevans, “Inculturation of Theology in Asia (The Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences 1970-1995),” Studia Missionalia 45 (1996) 4, 8 and 17.

29.Ladislav Nemet, “Inculturation in the FABC Documents,” East Asian Pastoral Review 31 (1994) 94. Cf: Ladislav Nemet, Inculturation in the Philippines: A Theological Study of the Question of Inculturation in the Documents of CBCP and Selected Filipino Theologians in the Light of Vatican II and the Documents of the FABC (Th.D. Dissertation, Pontificia Universitas Gregoriana, 1994).

30.Nemet, “Inculturation in the FABC Documents,” East Asian Pastoral Review 31 (1994) 93.

31.See art. 11 of FABC II (in FAPA I, 31) art. 8.2 of FABC III (in FAPA I, 57) and art. 12 of BIRA II (in FAPA I, 115).

32.See art. 3.1.10 of FABC IV (in FAPA I, 181), art. 10 of FABC VI, art. 6 of BIRA IV/11 (in FAPA I, 319) and art. 4.3 of Asian Christian Perspectives on Harmony (p.46).

33.art. 7 of BIRA IV/11 (in FAPA I, 319).

34.FAPA I, 56.

35.Theses on the Local Church, 16-7.

36.Irwin, Context and Text, 48.

37.For a comprehensive discussion on the trinitarian dimensions of Christian worship, see Jean Corbon, The Wellspring of Worship (New York: Paulist Press, 1988) 1-74. A briefer discussion may be found in Catherine M. Lacugna, “Trinity and Liturgy,” in Peter E. Fink, ed., The New Dictionary of Sacramental Worship (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1990) 1293-1296.

38.Asian Christian Perspectives on Harmony, 53.

39.Catherine LaCugna had articulated an excellent definition of perichoresis:Perichoresis means being-in-one-another, permeation without confusion. No person exists by him/herself or is referred to him/herself; this would produce number and therefore division within God. Rather, to be a divine person is to be by nature in relation to other persons. Each divine person is irresistibly drawn to the other, taking his/her existence from the other, containing the other in him/herself, while at the same time pouring self out into the other. Cyril of Alexandria called this movement a “reciprocal irruption.” While there is no blurring of the individuality of each person, there is also no separation. There is only the communion of love in which each person comes to be (in the sense of hyparxeos) what he/she is, entirely with reference to the other. Each person expresses both what he/she is (and, by implication, what the other two are). and at the same time expresses what God is: ecstatic, relational, dynamic, vital. Perichoresis provides a dynamic model of persons in communion based on mutuality and interdependence. The model of perichoresis avoids the pitfalls of locating the divine unity either in the divine substance (Latin) or exclusively in the person of the Father (Greek), and locates unity instead in diversity, in a true communion of persnns (italics in the original).

In Catherine M. LaCugna, God For Us: Trinity and Christian Life (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1991 ) 271.

40.It was LaCugna who pointed out that the trinitarian image of perichoresis is all about how the Trinity is “God-for-us.” See her extensive discussion in ibid., 270-278.

41.In this discussion, the term ‘ordo’ refers to the fundamental ritual patterns and elements which constitute and shape the liturgy as a public and communal human activity which enables the local assembly of worshippers of all ages and places to experience the presence of the Risen Christ and the Kingdom of God in the here and now through the incarnational and transformative power of proclamation and ritual action which are juxtaposed with the human experiences of familiar and domestic elements such as festive food and drink, perfumed oil and running water, eating and bathing. For an in-depth discussion of the term ‘ordo,’ see Gordon Lathrop, Holy Things: A Liturgical Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993) 33-83.

42.LaCugna, God For Us, 272.

43.These images are taken from LaCugna, God For Us, 271.

44.According to LaCugna, “the image of ‘the divine dance’ has been used to translate perichoresis” (God For Us, 27l ). She gives the following beautiful description of this “divine dance:”

Choreography suggests the partnership of movement, symmetrical but not redundant, as each dancer expresses and at the same time fulfills him/herself towards the other. In interaction and inter-course, the dancers (and the observers) experience one fluid motion of encircling, encompassing, permeating, enveloping, outstretching. There are neither leaders nor followers in the divine dance, only an eternal movement of reciprocal giving and receiving, giving again and receiving again. To shift metaphors for a moment, God is eternally begetting and being begotten, spirating and being spirated. The divine dance is fully personal and interpersonal, expressing the essence and unity of God. The image of the dance forbids us to think of God as solitary. The idea of trinitarian perichoresis provides a marvelous point of entry into contemplating what it means to say that God is alive from all eternity as love (God For Us, 272).

45.LaCugna, God For Us, 271.

46.ibid.

47.Mariasusai Dhavamony, Christian Theology of Inculturation (Rome: Editrice Pontificia Universitˆ Gregoriana, 1997) l69.

48.FAPA I, 343.

49.Ibid.

50.Theses on the Local Church, Thesis 10, art. 10.05, p. 34.

51.Joseph Fitzpatrick, One Church Many Cultures (Kansas: Sheed & Ward,1987) 115.

52.See art. 9 of CPW II, in FAPA I,139, and Thesis 10, arts. 10.06-10.09 of the Theses on the Local Church, in pp. 34-35.

53.Jesus was historically, geographically, religiously and culturally a first-century devout Jewish male who was born to a Jewish woman in first century C.E. Palestine. He spoke the languages of the Jewish people (Hebrew and Aramaic) and adopted the lifestyle was that of an itinerant Jewish teacher. He also celebrated Jewish festivals (e.g., going to the Temple to celebrate the annual Passover festival, see John 2:13), observed Jewish traditions, customs, rituals and worshipped in the Temple and synagogues. As Anscar Chupungco explained:

[Jesus], in assuming the condition of man, except sin, bound himself to the history, culture, traditions and religion of his own people... [Jesus] assumed what not only what pertained to the human race, but also what was proper to the human race. He inherited its natural traits, its genius, its spiritual endowments and its peculiar mode of self-expression. He was a Jew in every way, except in sin. The historicity of the incarnation demanded that he identify himself with his own people in heart and mind, in flesh and blood (In Anscar Chupungco, Cultural Adaptation of the Liturgy (New York: Paulist Press, 1982) 58-9).

54Donald Senior & Carroll Stuhlmueller, The Biblical Foundations for Mission (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1984) 147-8 and Joseph Osei-Bonsu, “Biblical/Theologically Based Inculturation,” AFER 32:6 ( 1990) 346. Eugene Hillman explained it as follows:

Jesus of Nazareth, God’s good news, was not presented through alien linguistic and religious systems brought down from heaven. The message came through the flesh of a particular ethnic group; it was verbalized in a provincial dialect intelligible to the people on the spot. It was expounded in metaphors fashioned from the experiences of shepherds and fishermen against a background of preconceptions and assumptions that were hardly universal (Eugene Hillman, Many Paths: A Catholic Approach to Religious Pluralism (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1989) 47).

55.Gerald O’Collins, Interpreting Jesus (Ramsey, NJ: Paulist Press, 1983) 70.

56.See Subhash Anand, “Inculturation in India: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow,” Indian Missiological Review 6 (Mar 1997) 22-23 and E.J. Thomas, “Caste and the Syrian Rite in Keralam,” Jeevadhara 23 (May 1993) 227-233.

57.Theses on the Local Church, 25.

58.See Theses on the Local Church, Thesis 5, article 5.11, p. 22.

59.See Theses on the Local Church, Thesis 10, article 10.10, pp. 35-6.

60.Theses on the Local Church, 35-36.

61.At this point, one would do well to remember that many communities of Asian Catholics also have a rich tradition of popular religiosity and devotions which often fall in the margins of the formal liturgical framework (e.g., the cult of Our Lady of Velankanni in India, St. Anne in Malaysia, Our Lady of Perpetual Succour in South-East Asia and Santo Ni–o in the Philippines). Any dialogue with Asian religions and cultures has to involve and engage also the diverse traditions of popular religiosity and devotions of these communities of Asian Catholics. The relationship between popular religiosity and liturgical inculturation is complex and lies beyond the scope and intent of this essay. For an in-depth discussion of this relationship and bibliographical references, please refer to the chapter entitled “Popular Religiosity and Liturgical Inculturation” in Anscar J. Chupungco, Liturgical Inculturation: Sacramentals, Religiosity, and Catechesis (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1992) 95-133.

62.E.g., the Thai Buddhists were highly critical of the callous use of Thai-Buddhist symbols by the Thai Catholics in their liturgical worship under the guise of inculturation. See Aloysius Pieris, “Western Models of Inculturation: How far are they applicable in non-Semitic Asia?” East Asian Pastoral Review 22:2 (1985) 116-24.

63.David Power, Sacrament: The Language of God’s Giving (typescript), Chapter 1, 33. This book is scheduled to be published by Crossroad in 1999.

64.Ibid.

65.See art. 12 of FABC I, in FAPA I,14.

66. See arts. 10 & 11 of FABC I, in FAPA I,14.

67. Theses on the Local Church, Thesis 8, art. 8.02, in p. 28.

68.FAPA I, 332.

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