Vatican II and the Liturgical Renewal: An Unfinished Agenda

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By Keith F. Pecklers, S.J.

Keith Pecklers, S.J. is Professor of Liturgy at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and Professor of Liturgical History at the Pontifical Liturgical Institute of Sant Anselmo. He is the author of numerous articles and several books including Dynamic Equivalence: The Living Language of Christian Worship (Liturgical Press) and Worship (London: Continuum/New Century Theology). He is a visiting lecturer at the East Asian Pastoral Institute, Manila.

Historical Background

The radical transformation that occurred at Vatican II (1962-65) would have been unthinkable, had it not been for the 50 or so years of renewal marked by the biblical, ecumenical, liturgical, and patristic movements. In the 18th century the Jansenist-influenced Synod of Pistoia (1786) argued for liturgical reforms not unlike what was proposed at Vatican II, but the Pistoia reforms were launched independently by the bishop without any catechesis or preparation of the clergy and faithful; the results were palpable. The Synod was condemned in 1794 by Pope Pius VI and Scipione de Ricci was deposed as bishop of Pistoia-Prato six years later (Pecklers 2003:325-38). Vatican II was successful precisely because it grew organically as the call for reform emerged and was tested over a 50-year period in the movements mentioned above.

Those years prior to the Council were not without struggle, however. Like most social movements, the liturgical movement (founded in 1909) had its strong opponents and was only authenticated by the encyclical Mystici Corporis (1943) which spoke of the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ, and then four years later by the encyclical Mediator Dei (1947). Mystici Corporis was an important step forward precisely because that doctrine of the Mystical Body of Christ offered the theological underpinnings for the liturgical movement. Membership in the one body of Christ implied social responsibility, and the foundation for Christian service was corporate worship in the Mystical Body of Christ. Mediator Dei was significant in that it was the first encyclical ever to be devoted entirely to the liturgy. And since it affirmed the work of the liturgical movement (albeit with a few cautions) it soon became known as the movement’s "Magna carta." Be that as it may, only by hindsight was the Church able to look back with gratitude to the women and men who spent their lives as liturgical pioneers.

In the late 1940s and into the 1950s, the Holy See began granting a number of liturgical concessions when requested by the various episcopal conferences around the world. In 1949, for example, permission was granted to translate the Roman Missal of Pius V (1570) into Mandarin Chinese while India received permission for a shorter Eucharistic fast. Liturgical experimentation and further localized concessions continued throughout the 1950s which included a shorter form of the breviary, permission to celebrate Mass in the evening, culminating in the promulgation of the revised Holy Week Rites in 1955.

Concomitant with regional requests for revision of liturgical law there was afoot an international network of liturgical contact through the organization of international liturgical congresses. The first was held in the Rhineland at the great Benedictine Abbey of Maria Laach (1951), followed by Odilienberg (1952), Lugano (1954), and especially Assisi (1956) which gathered over 1,400 participants from five continents including over 80 bishops and 6 cardinals. The Assisi Congress was pivotal for what would transpire liturgically at the Second Vatican Council because when the time came to formulate the invitation list for the preparatory commission on the Liturgy, it was precisely the Assisi roster of participants that was consulted.

In many respects the Assisi Congress signified a certain maturing on the part of the liturgical movement. Cardinal Gaetano Cicogani, Prefect of the Congregation of Sacred Rites, presided over that historic assembly, and despite his various attempts to squelch the groundswell for greater liturgical participation and vernacular worship, congress delegates would not diminish their enthusiasm for liturgical change. Every major speaker spoke in favor of the vernacular to thunderous applause by the participants and the disapproval of Cicognani. At the end of the week when the Assisi delegates traveled to Rome for an audience with Pope Pius XII, he reaffirmed Latin as the language of the Church and especially of the Sacred Liturgy. Rumors had been circulating that the Pope would actually announce major vernacular concessions so there was widespread disappointment as delegates left the audience hall.1

Pius XII died just two years later on the 9th of October 1958 and Angelo Roncalli was elected Pope choosing the name John XXIII. Elected at age 78, he was to have a transitional papacy and little change was expected. Within just a few months however, the aged, newly elected pope announced the Second Vatican Council on 25 January 1959, and a preparatory commission on the liturgy was established with the same Cardinal Cicognani as President and Annibale Bugnini, C.M. (+1982) as Secretary. The major players at the Assisi Congress soon received letters inviting their collaboration.

The Preparatory Commission was divided into 13 sub-commissions that would deal with different areas of specialization. Topics included the mystery of the liturgy and its relation to the Church’s life, the Mass, concelebration, the Divine Office, the sacraments, and sacramentals, revision of the liturgical calendar, and the use of Latin. The more problematic sub-commissions were two: the one dealing with Latin since it necessarily involved the controversial subject of vernacular worship and the sub-commission on liturgical music, largely because of the artistic temperaments of a number of members who were less than open to negotiating with others on their opinions. Work in the various sub-commissions led to the preparation of a schema that, with very few changes, was presented to the bishops at the Council as the proposed Constitution on the Liturgy.

Vatican II’s Liturgy Constitution: Sacrosanctum Concilium

Sacrosanctum Concilium was approved on 4 December 1963 by an astounding vote of 2,147 in favor and 4 opposed. Significantly, it was the first document to be promulgated by the Council and it was the first time that a church council ever dealt with liturgy in a systematic way and in a separate document, with special attention to the liturgy’s theological dimensions.

The document itself was the product of long and intense discussions that reflected many different perspectives. Discussion of the proposed Constitution continued through 15 general congregations from the 22nd of October through the 13th of November 1962 with 297 written proposals and 328 oral interventions before it was finally approved (Chupungco 1996:498). Fundamentally, it represented a balance between "sound tradition" and "legitimate progress" (Art. 23). Thus, it is accurate to say that the Constitution is a compromise document, attempting to appease both conservative and progressive camps. We see this, for example, in its treatment of the use of Latin. While Latin is to be retained in the Latin rites, episcopal conferences are given permission to decide "whether and to what extent" the vernacular can be used (Art. 36).2 Other examples of a via media include discussion on receiving the chalice and the use of Gregorian chant. Regarding the chalice, it states that while the discipline of Trent is to be retained (i.e., withholding the chalice from the laity), bishops may be able to permit clergy, religious, and laity to receive from the chalice according to specifications made by the Holy See (Art. 55).

It also must be noted, however, that the document is much more than a via media. In some cases it calls for a complete revision of liturgical books and not a mere superficial editing of what was present in the Tridentine liturgy (Chupungco, 500).3 And while the Constitution does not use the term "inculturation," it does acknowledge the need to allow for "legitimate variations and adaptation to different groups, regions, and peoples, especially in mission lands" (Art. 37). Several paragraphs later, the text is even more forthright: "In some places and circumstances, however, an even more radical adaptation of the liturgy is needed"(Art. 40). In other words, it may not be enough simply to adapt the Roman Rite to particular cultures or circumstances.

Sacrosanctum Concilium recovered the importance of liturgical theology and spirituality with special emphasis on the Christological center of all Christian worship (Art. 7). Sacred Scripture was likewise restored as the source for all liturgical renewal with patristic theology and practice as its guide and inspiration. The rites were to be restored to their pristine beauty and be celebrated with "noble simplicity." Consequently, they should be clear so that they don’t need much explanation and remain free of useless repetitions (Art. 34). Most importantly, since liturgy is to be "the source and summit" of the Church’s life (Art. 10), the assembly’s "full, conscious, and active participation" within the liturgy will be an essential goal of all liturgical formation.

It is also significant that the principle of collegiality is clearly operative in the Constitution. There is an underlying sense that liturgical matters pertaining to the local church are best dealt with by episcopal conferences or even diocesan bishops themselves (Art. 22). This is a far cry from the Tridentine emphasis on liturgical centralization located in what was then called the Congregation for Sacred Rites. Theological justification for such liturgical de-centralization lies in that fact that the diocesan bishop is empowered to shepherd that local church and not merely serve as a sort of district representative or middle-manager; thus, the bishop (or episcopal conference) should have the authority to make appropriate liturgical decisions (Art 41, Chupungco, 507-8).

Implementing the Liturgical Reforms of Vatican II

If members of the Preparatory Commission and the Council Fathers found their task to be daunting, the greater challenge was yet to come. The reforms would need to be implemented and the whole Church formed in a new worship style, language, and form. In 1964, Pope Paul VI formed what was called the Consilium, charged with the task of revising existing liturgical books so that they were in harmony with the directives of the Council. Even more important would be the editing and revision of the Latin editio typica (of postconciliar liturgical books), which would then be translated into vernacular languages by regional commissions. The Consilium also worked on composing new liturgical texts such as three new Eucharistic Prayers in 1968 (Chupungco, 508-10). The Consilium was eventually incorporated into the newly formed Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship in 1969.

Reforming the liturgy in a post-Conciliar Church was part of a much larger agenda that would work in tandem with an overall renewal of the Church’s life. Unlike its Tridentine form, Vatican II worship was to reach out widely to embrace all of God’s world. Liturgy, then, was necessarily concerned about life outside of the sanctuary walls: human liberation, justice, and mercy for the poor and oppressed, dialogue with other Christians and with believers who are not Christian. It was also about the Church’s relationship to non-believers and to the secular cultures in which it dwells.

Both the Consilium and the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship existed to facilitate and enable the implementation of the reforms on the international level, but the greater challenge would be implementation on the local and regional levels. For example, the Holy See initially found it difficult to understand why the churches of Latin America could not use the same vernacular liturgical books as the Church in Spain. But linguistic (not to mention historically cultural) issues soon made it clear that there were too many variances to support just one translation in Castilian Spanish from the Editio typica. Distinct Spanish editions would be needed corresponding to particular liturgical situations of the different cultures.4

For some, perhaps for many pastoral leaders in those years, the implementation of a new liturgy unleashed a freedom and zest for liturgical creativity. Much of this experimentation of the 1960s and ‘70s emerged at the grassroots level, some of which was more successful than others. Critics of the Council have argued that the reforms came too quickly and the faithful were unprepared for what would emerge. As we look back over these past 40 years, few would disagree that mistakes were made. In some cases, liturgical changes were introduced without understanding why. Many bishops returned home from the Council enthusiastic about the prospect of a renewed liturgical life, but felt largely unprepared for the task of implementation. Thus, the results around the globe have been largely uneven. Even today, the kind of liturgical participation and careful preparation envisaged by the Council is barely visible in some countries while it is abundantly present in others.

The Current Liturgical Climate

On the 4th of December 2003, the Church marked the 40th anniversary of the promulgation of Sacrosanctum Concilium. The event was celebrated throughout the world with public lectures and symposia along with special publications to remember the occasion. I participated in one such anniversary event in Rome: a study day revisiting the document that was co-sponsored by the Pontifical Oriental Institute and the Pontifical Liturgical Institute of San Anselmo.

One of the more memorable talks came from Catalan liturgical scholar Ignacio Calabuig, O.S.M. of the Marianum in Rome, who worked in the Secretariat of the Consilium just after Vatican II and wrote an important commentary on the Rite of Dedication of a Church and Altar. Leaving his prepared text, Calabuig made an impassioned plea to the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Francis Cardinal Arinze, and to the Secretary of the Congregation, Archbishop Domenico Sorrentino, both of whom were seated on the dais.

With great emotion and at times on the verge of tears, Calabuig recalled the hope and promise of those early days after the Council. He lamented the fact that in recent years, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments had worked not within a climate of collegiality but rather of suspicion, leading to a breakdown in communication with episcopal conferences and liturgists alike. He criticized the lack of consultation with credible experts in the publication of some recent documents and argued that the Congregation’s reneging on solid Conciliar liturgical principles had provoked an unhealthy climate of mistrust and conflict. Calabuig concluded by begging that the door to authentic renewal of the liturgy be re-opened and that trained liturgical experts be again consulted, so that the Council’s agenda and mission might be discovered anew and implemented. The large audience of Roman professors and students broke into sustained applause (including Archbishop Sorrentino), with the exception of the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation.

Calabuig’s statement echoes the sentiments of those who were involved in implementing the liturgical reforms 40 years ago. Even before the Second Vatican Council had ended there were voices of dissent and conservative critics bent on the Council’s demise and some of the greatest resistance came from within the Roman Curia itself. French bishops expressed their grave concern over such a threat in a strongly worded statement to the Council’s Liturgical Commission. On the 7th of February 1964, Archbishop Joseph-Marie Martin of Rouen, President of the French Liturgical Commission, sent a memorandum to Cardinal Paolo Giobbe on behalf of the Commission.5 The issue regarded the topic of liturgical translation and rumors that the Roman Curia was attempting to reverse the Council’s decision on the matter:

The Council did not decide that the Assemblies would propose this or that concession for the vernacular for approval by the Apostolic See; ... Neither did the Council state that the bishops conferences would submit translations for approval by the Apostolic See; it agreed that the translations would be approved by the bishops’ conferences, that is all. ... People are saying just two months after its promulgation, the Constitution is beaten in the breach, that the decisions made by the episcopal assemblies may be effectively neutralized by the Roman Curia, that the role of the bishops’ assemblies is being undermined at the very moment of its establishment by the Council, that the decisions of the Council are being contested even before the Council has finished.6

If one employs the solid principles of Vatican II as the barometer, there appear to be more shadows than light in the past 10 years as far as the liturgical world’s relationship to the Roman Curia is concerned. Some argue that the Church is suffering from "a liturgical malaise." Tensions between the International Committee on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) and the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments are widely known, culminating in the 2001 Vatican instruction Liturgiam Authenticam. Noted liturgical scholar Nathan Mitchell writes that the rules for translating liturgical texts found in that document "are a spectacular example of ecclesiastical micromanagement that may well turn the already difficult process of crafting a worthy, idiomatic and memorable English liturgy into an endlessly unedifying sideshow" (Mitchell 2004:10). Lest we think that the problem is limited to the English-speaking world, however, I am told by colleagues in Europe that similar tensions are also present in the relationship between their liturgical commissions and the Congregation.

Since the 1980s the Church has witnessed a growth in traditionalist or conservative movements leading to an unfortunate polarization within the Church between "conservatives" and "progressives." As liturgy is the heart and lifeblood of the Church it should come as no surprise that this polarization has been felt most acutely within our worship. Such divisiveness, of course, weakens the body of Christ and our common witness in the world. Today, around the world one can observe a growing interest in Latin Mass and the Tridentine Rite of 1570, concerns over placement of the tabernacle, kneeling for reception of communion, and debates over the orthodoxy of liturgical translation. And within the liturgical world itself conservative lobbyists have emerged with the ardent desire to correct the Council by "reforming the reform" (i.e., the recent work of Kocik 2003).

For their part, a number of bishops and episcopal conferences have expressed concerns not unlike the lament of those French bishops 40 years ago. They contend that the Council’s liturgical agenda is being challenged both within the Roman Curia and by influential conservative groups within the Church. This may explain why there is a marked difference in tone, style, and competency between the Conciliar/post-Conciliar texts when compared with more recent Vatican documents such as Dominus Iesus or Liturgiam Authenticam.

At the Asian Synod of 1998, several bishops addressed the issue of liturgical authority and competence within the framework of collegiality. In one intervention, Bishop Francisco Claver, S.J., recently retired Apostolic Vicar of Bontoc-Lagawe in the Philippines and well-known lecturer at the East Asian Pastoral Institute, spoke of liturgical language as an issue of trust and dialogue:

Why do we have to send vernacular translations of the liturgy to Rome for approval? Or to the bishop of the place, for that matter, if he doesn’t speak the language in question? Don’t we trust our people enough to speak the language of orthodoxy? But in truth the best judges of the correctness, even theological, of translations and texts are the faithful and clergy of the place where the language is spoken (Claver 2002:101).

Bishop Remigius Peter of Kumabakonam, India, echoed Claver’s concerns in reporting on his small group’s discussions at the Synod: "Speaking of translation, it was observed that the local churches make use of the services of experts in church matters as well as of experts in the local languages to translate liturgical texts. Many expressed their experience of inordinate delay by the Roman commissions in approving translations" (Peter 2002:130).

Several years ago, one of my Korean students at the Pontifical Liturgical Institute posed a rhetorical question during a lecture: "Does anyone in the Congregation for Divine Worship understand Korean?" The answer, of course, was "no." Thus, it is not difficult to understand why bishops are annoyed when they learn that their proposed liturgical texts are given to seminarians in Rome to check for literal faithfulness to the editio typica. And that they are less than pleased to discover that their texts, discussed and approved by their episcopal conference, have been rejected by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments based on the judgment of those seminarians. Clearly, such behavior does not reflect the vision and intent of the Council.

Thus, I would argue that the issue of liturgical translation and of the competent authority to judge liturgical matters for the local Church is fundamentally an issue of collegiality. This implies dialogue and trust with good fraternal exchange between diocesan bishops, their episcopal conferences, and the Congregation for Divine Worship. It would seem self-evident that bishops to whom the Holy See has entrusted the leadership of local churches should be sufficiently competent to judge what will best suit that particular church or region, assisted by cultural anthropologists, liturgists, and other experts. Implied here is a close working relationship between bishops, episcopal conferences, and the Congregation for Divine Worship. Such a relationship based on trust is non-negotiable for authentic liturgical inculturation that is both faithful to the Church’s tradition and at the same time expressive of the cultural genius of that particular community.

There are no easy solutions to the current liturgical malaise, but history is always a great teacher. Whether one considers the Modernist crisis of the early twentieth century or attacks against biblical and moral theology in subsequent years, the Spirit of God guides the Church and the doors opened at the Second Vatican Council cannot be closed again. To paraphrase the Papal Master of Liturgical Celebrations, Archbishop Piero Marini in his statement on the 40th anniversary of the Liturgy Constitution, it was the Holy Spirit who brought about the liturgical movement in the first place and guided liturgical deliberations at the Council, and it is that same Spirit who leads the Church along its path even still. Thus, we need to see Sacrosanctum Concilium not as a closed document but rather as an invitation to plumb its depths and dedicate ourselves ever more intentionally to its effective implementation in a new century and millennium.7

An Unfinished Agenda: Looking Toward Our Liturgical Future

There is much that remains to be done and the prioritizing of key liturgical issues for the future will vary according to the different regions of the world. In other words, there are certain problems needing attention in some cultures that will be less present in others. Nonetheless, there are some major areas of importance that extend across cultural boundaries and I would like to mention five: liturgical formation, the changing role of the laity, the task of liturgical inculturation, liturgy as the foundation for dialogue, and the challenge of globalization.

Liturgical Formation

Forty years after the Council we have yet to understand just what our liturgical participation demands when we gather together each Sunday for our common celebrations. What it demands, of course, is nothing less than everything. Not only do we need to offer our hearts, minds, voices, and entire bodies as we participate fully and actively in the liturgical celebration, but we need to commit ourselves fully to the service of human liberation wherever oppression exists in its myriad forms both in our own countries and throughout the world.

This formation is needed not only among the laity, but also among clergy and religious. Amazingly, there are still some parts of the world (including certain colleges in Rome) where seminarians are not taught the craft of presiding at the rites nor are they trained in liturgical preaching. Good presiding and preaching does not come with the grace of ordination, of course. It is a learned art that takes time, practice, and regular feedback. This is a crucial part of liturgical formation and will influence the credibility of Sunday worship either positively or negatively.

The Changing Role of the Laity and Liturgical Ministry

In his keynote address in Bangkok at the Second International Meeting on Jesuits and Liturgy, noted Jesuit scholar Michael Amaladoss spoke of the need to make those in the assembly feel that they are agents of the celebration and not merely passive spectators.8 Of course, the presiding minister has an important role to play as leader of the ritual but it should not be a dominant role. Fundamentally, we are speaking here about liturgical participation based on solid baptismal theology. Christian initiation both unleashes the Spirit’s gifts for the good of the Church and serves as the common denominator for all ministry.

Increasing numbers of lay Catholics are theologically trained and pastorally astute. This is revealing itself in the fact that lay women and men are assuming administrative positions within the Church that had formerly been occupied by clergy. In Japan, for example, the Executive Secretary for the Liturgical Commission of the Japanese Bishops’ Conference is a married layman, Toshimitsu Miyakoshi. In the Philippines, Josefina Manabat is the newly appointed Dean of the Graduate School of Liturgy at the Benedictine San Beda College in Manila. In Taiwan, the Director of the newly founded Liturgical Research Center at Fu Jen University in Taipei is another laywoman, Ling-Chu Teresa Chien. Such positions of leadership would have been unthinkable 40 or 50 years ago and are positive signs that the Conciliar Church is coming of age.

The expanding reality of priestless parishes around the globe is offering further avenues of pastoral responsibility for lay women and men. On 11 July 2004, a story on the front page of the Sunday New York Times reported that Catholic Ireland is facing a serious shortage of priests. Whereas Ireland had traditionally been known for its tremendous surplus of clergy earlier in the 20th century that situation is radically different today. In 2004 only 8 seminarians are to be ordained; 193 priests were ordained for the Irish Church only 14 years ago in 1990. Today Ireland has a total of 3,238 diocesan priests and their average age is 60; presumably, most will retire in the next 10 or 15 years. Looking around the globe, with the exception of Africa and some countries within Asia, the situation of active clergy is not all that different (Alvarez 2004:A-1).

Putting a positive spin on the clergy shortage, the Reverend Eamonn Fitzgibbon who directs a pastoral center in Limerick, Ireland remarked: "At this time, we are being given a chance to explore a new way to be a Church" (Alvarez, A-1). I am inclined to agree. As we consider declining numbers, do we see this growing reality as a gift or a threat? Is it possible that the Spirit is leading us in new directions so that the current crisis can actually become an opportunity for the Church? We have learned much about lay leadership from the Basic Ecclesial Communities of Latin America and Asia but need to pay greater attention to the importance of lay leadership as priestless parishes are more the norm rather than the exception.

One ecclesiological problem remains, however, and it begs our attention as increasing numbers of parishes are left without resident clergy. With ever greater frequency, Sunday Mass is being replaced by Communion Services led by lay ministers. The problem, of course, is not that such liturgies are led by the non-ordained but rather, that the Church is increasingly being denied the Eucharist (the Mass) which is the heart of our life as Catholics. Put differently, we are gradually becoming a non-Eucharistic Church. These services offer communion from the tabernacle for those present but ultimately are an inferior substitute for the Eucharistic celebration itself: what Vatican II called the "source and summit of the Christian life." If we are to remain a Eucharistic Church of the future, then this problem will need to be faced squarely and preferably sooner rather than later.

Liturgical Inculturation

Inculturation of the Church’s worship will be an essential part of our future if our liturgy is to remain a credible force in shaping the Christian life. The genius of the Roman Rite was precisely that it corresponded to and, indeed, flowed from the genius of fifth century Roman culture. In other words, liturgical texts and forms followed a structure that was consistent with Roman literary forms known within secular culture. The frustrations mentioned above regarding Vatican delays in approving liturgical translations from the editio typical point to a far more systemic question: is it fair, even possible, to import Roman texts into a non-Roman world and simply translate them into local idiom, or is not something more substantial needed?

This issue was raised quite strongly by the Indonesian bishops at the Asian Synod and has been raised elsewhere by a number of Asian theologians and liturgical scholars. The bishops lamented the fact that the Roman importation of liturgical rites impedes the possibility of more local, inculturated rites that grow within an indigenous community. They concluded: "Clinging too much to the ‘substantial unity of the Roman liturgy’ may end up in rigidity that obstructs proper incarnation of Christian faith" (quoted by Tan 2002:61). As Jonathan Tan notes in his commentary on the bishops’ statement, the fundamental problem is that simply translating texts into the local languages of the people does not make such rites "local liturgies." They remain Western liturgical rites and therefore foreign to the Eastern genius. Thus, the bishops conclude:

In order to promote the inculturation process the universal Church has to be more open and ready to change its own pattern of thinking, and to allow local Churches the freedom to think and act in response to concrete life situations, guided by the Spirit and led by the local hierarchy. Rigid rules and regulations, in discord with local conditions, will put restrictions on the interest of inculturation and will hamper the result of inculturation (quoted by Tan, 61-2).

The Church’s historical consciousness is helpful here. The Christian East succeeded in maintaining its rich liturgical diversity over two millennia and resisted numerous Western attempts to suppress Oriental liturgical practices in favor of Roman centralization.9 In the West, the Church of Milan held firm in celebrating its Ambrosian Rite much to the frustration of Rome, demonstrating that one can be truly Catholic without needing to be "Roman." Interestingly, one of the fears in abandoning the use of liturgical Latin both at the Council of Trent and again at Vatican II, was that some bishops had equated Latin with being Catholic. In other words, to be Catholic was to pray in Latin and abandoning Latin would be tantamount to abandoning Catholic orthodoxy. Thus when the 84-year-old Melkite Patriarch of Antioch Maximos IV stood up to address the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council, he deliberately refused to speak in Latin and chose French instead, arguing that Latin was not the language of the East (Pecklers 2003a:185).

That historical reference is important because today, when Asian or African churches make a point similar to that of the Indonesian bishops, ( i.e., asking for truly local liturgies that emerge from the genius of their people), Roman Congregations become concerned and fear the loss of liturgical unity. But the Eastern and non-Roman Western rites remind us that unity and diversity need not be mutually exclusive. The preference for upholding the substantial unity of the Roman Rite was seen in 1988 when the Holy See approved an inculturated Eucharistic rite for the Church in Zaire. Reluctant to call it the "Zairean Rite," Rome called it "The Roman Missal for the Dioceses of Zaire," even though when celebrated in its fullness, the rite does not look very Roman at all. On the popular level it has consistently been called the "Zairean (or Congolese) Rite."

At the conclusion of the Asian Synod and as a concrete fruit of their deliberations, participants made the following proposition on the subject of "Inculturation":

For many Asian Catholics, the official liturgy is often experienced as alien and does not touch their hearts. This points to the need for inculturating the liturgy in such a way that the liturgy becomes more meaningful and nourishing for people in the setting of their own cultures. Consequently, local Churches need the authority and freedom to inculturate the liturgy by adapting it to the local cultures while recognizing the need for dialogue and communion with the Holy See, the principle of unity in the Church. The Synod requests the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments to grant Episcopal and Regional Bishops’ Conferences the authority or competence to approve translations of liturgical texts in the vernacular which are to be ultimately forwarded to the said Dicastery.10

As we consider both the present and future challenges of inculturation, we have but scratched the surface. The Second Vatican Council has set a path for us, opening the door to recovering the integral relationship between liturgy and life. But that agenda of a full and comprehensive liturgical inculturation remains largely unfulfilled. What is clear is that commitment to the work of human liberation in the wider sphere of interreligious dialogue will provide the framework for judging and critiquing our efforts (Phan 2003:128).

Dialogue as Constitutive of Authentic Christian Worship

Liturgy is the heart of all dialogue and the two realities are inseparable elements in the renewal of our post-Conciliar Church. Our liturgical participation compels us to explore points of convergence with Anglicans, Lutherans, and other Christians, but also with Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, followers of Shinto, Tenrikyo, and of other traditions very different from our own. Such exchange leads to mutual enrichment without compromising on our own beliefs or traditions. But this dialogue must begin first of all within our own church so that the polarization that currently exists can give way to healing way to healing and our common witness in the world be credible. Until such respectful dialogue is reached within the Church our liturgical participation along with our witness within the world will be anemic at best.

The Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner spoke of the "Liturgy of the World" as a way of articulating liturgy’s dialogue with human society. I would suggest that Rahner’s terminology is especially helpful as we consider the important role that common worship can play in dialogue both with other Christians and non-Christians as well.11 Since there are significant challenges to participation in one another’s official acts of worship (especially in dialogue with non-Christian religions), new ritual forms may be needed that translate over religious boundaries. Through periods of common silence and meditation these new rituals would leave room for an encounter with the transcendent while affirming what we hold in common as people of faith. Michael Amaladoss writes:

With regard to other religions I think that we should explore the possibilities of common prayers and celebrations rather than participating in each other’s official ritual. In our dialogue with people who follow ideologies rather than religions we may have to evolve secular celebrations that focus on basic human values.12

Thus, we will need both pastoral sensitivity and liturgical flexibility in determining what forms of common prayer will be possible and efficacious. Whatever form it takes, common worship as an important component within the interreligious dialogue would seem to be an essential ingredient.

The Challenges of Globalization and Implications for Worship

The influence of globalization is intrinsically related to the combined task of liturgical inculturation and interreligious dialogue. Today in Kyoto, Starbucks Coffee shops are designed with the same decor as what can be found at any Starbucks property in Seattle. Even the same jazz music of Miles Davis plays lightly in the background! In Bangkok, the same fast-food hamburger chains that one finds in London or Paris can be found on Silom Road alongside street vendors who serve up fried fish, rice, and vegetables. Some countries like China and India that were poor 15 or 20 years ago are witnessing rapid growth and poverty reduction. The economic growth taking place in Shanghai at the moment, so clearly evident in the ever-changing skyline of Pudong (Shanghai’s financial center along the east bank of the Huangpu River) bears testimony to this. Obviously, economic growth in developing countries is a positive result of this phenomenon. But globalization needs to be better focused so that it can also assist the poorest countries of the world that remain in dire straits.

Globalization has been sharply criticized for provoking increased inequality and the degredation of the environment, giving rise to a host of energy and environmental issues, for example, food and water access, and migration. Globalization can also exacerbate the divisions already present within society, with some groups profiting more than others. Within the shadow of Shanghai’s elegant Pudong district lie some of the city’s most desperate slums; the contrast between the two realities is striking. Moreover, there are the already existing ethnic divisions and separatist movements that could easily worsen with the inequality brought on by globalization, wreaking further havoc on the already fragile social cohesion that exists in certain areas. If liturgy is to be intimately engaged with the world and especially with the plight of the poor and all who suffer, liturgists and pastoral agents will need to consider carefully the challenges offered by globalization so that our liturgical communities can both model authentic human relationships based on equality and reverence, and seek to maintain the cultural integrity and genius of each local community. All this must be exercised in a climate of hospitality that leaves no room for partiality.

Other examples could be drawn from different cultural contexts. Suffice it to say that as we consider the important task of liturgical inculturation within the world Church and as we commit ourselves more intentionally to the task of ecumenical and interreligious dialogue, attention to the phenomenon of globalization will be of paramount importance.


The future of the Church is clearly in Africa and Asia, and we need to listen to those churches as they speak to us in their own voices. What this means in the concrete is that those of us who are Westerners will need to abandon the ready-made answers and strategies to problems and situations which we do not understand. Then, together as learners rather than experts, we will be able to listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches in all their cultural diversity.

As we look back over these 40 years we need not be discouraged by apparent obstacles to authentic liturgical renewal that we have encountered along the way. Much has been accomplished and there is much for which to be grateful. We live with a renewed understanding of what it means to be baptized into Jesus Christ and his paschal mystery. And we live with a renewed worship which is infinitely better than what preceded it. We can take courage that it is indeed the Spirit who is guiding the Church and that same Spirit will guide our liturgical future, as well. In the words of Archbishop Piero Marini:

The people of God are always on pilgrimage and all of us need to walk forward with joy, certain that the Spirit surrounds us like a cloud and guides us like a column of fire. May we experience the liturgy of the Council as the column of fire of the Spirit who continually renews the heart of the Church on her pilgrim way towards the Kingdom, filling her with beauty ever new, with joy and hope.13


1. For a fuller discussion of vernacular promotion at the Assisi Congress see Pecklers 2003a:78-83.

2. Art. 36. On the vernacular debate at the Council see Pecklers 2003:170-225.

3. See Art. 50 on the revision of the Order of Mass.

4. One simple example can be found in the translation of the greeting "The Lord be with you." In Spain the translation uses the second person plural vosotros (i.e., El Señor esté con vosotros) while in many Latin American countries the third person plural "ustedes" is used. (i.e. "El Señor esté con ustedes.")

5. Giobbe later became a member of Consilium and then the Congregation for Divine Worship. The "Memorandum was probably sent to other offices of the Roman Curia, as well."

6. "Memorandum by the Liturgical Commission of the French Episcopate," 7 February 1964, in Piero Marini, Consilium ad exsequendam Constitutionem de Sacra Liturgia: October 1963 to March 1965 (Document N.II), (unpublished manuscript), 443.

7. See Marini’s Presentation: "The Fortieth Anniversary of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy," in the volume published by the Centre national de pastoral liturgie, Renouveau liturgique * Documents fondateurs (Paris: Editions du Cerf, 2004) (Collection Liturgie, n.14).

8. Michael Amaladoss, S.J. "Inculturation and the Liturgy" (unpublished manuscript).

9. See Taft 1998; See also the post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation of Pope John Paul II, Ecclesia in Asia: (no. 21-B) as quoted in Kroeger and Phan 2002:155.

10. "Proposition 43: Inculturation," edited by P. C. Phan, The Asian Synod: Texts and Commentaries, 159.

11. See Bishop Francisco F. Claver’s helpful piece "The Liturgy of the World: Ecumenical and Interreligious Dialogue And Its Challenges for Christian Worship in the Postmodern Age" in Pecklers 2003:148-63.

12. Michael Amaladoss, S.J., "Inculturation and the Litugy" (unpublished manuscript).

13. Piero Marini, "The Fortieth Anniversary of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy."


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Mitchell, Nathan

2004 "The Council’s Call" in America (19-26 January).

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2002 "Report of Group Discussions: English Group A" edited by P. C. Phan, The Asian Synod: Texts and Commentaries (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis).

Phan, Peter C.

2003 In Our Own Tongues: Perspectives from Asia on Mission and Inculturation (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books).

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Tan, Jonathan Y.

2002 "The Responses of the Indonesian and Japanese Bishops to the Lineamenta" edited by P. C. Phan, The Asian Synod: Texts and Commentaries (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis).

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