Summary: Authentic inculturation means that we Christianize the culture in which we live.

18 July 2011

The Spirit of the Liturgy

I recall from grade school days when some particularly hard-hearted kid wanted to get under my skin, he would say “Prove it!” to anything I might advance. We see this in the Hebrews fleeing from Egypt. They trusted Moses until they got into a jam, and then demanded that he work some great sign to prove that God loved them and Moses was God’s prophet. We see this in the scribes and Pharisees and Sadducees that dogged Jesus everywhere he went. They continually demanded that he prove everything by working a sign, a miracle. Notice that he called them “an evil and adulterous generation.” He was not talking about people born within a 25 year period. What “generation” means in Biblical language is people who all think and act in a certain manner. And the way they acted was evil and adulterous. The word adultery is used here in the way Hosea used it. Anyone who turned away from the true God to worship a false god is called adulterous by the prophets. That meant anyone who rejected Jesus was a member of an adulterous generation, because Jesus was the Son of God and prophet of God.

There has always been an effort by such people to force Catholicism to conform to the surrounding culture, to perform the kind of signs that the culture understands. The secular culture is always trying to tame the Church, to get us to stray from our mission of changing society to conform to the vision of Christ. Back on July 4, we briefly considered the heresy of “Americanism,” which encouraged the Church to conform to American expectations about religion. The Holy Father writes, “whenever people talk about inculturation, they almost always think only of the liturgy, which then has to undergo often quite dismal distortions. The worshipers usually groan at this, though it is happening for their sake. An inculturation that is more or less just an alteration of outward forms is not inculturation at all. . .Moreover, it frequently insults cultural and religious communities, from whom liturgical forms are borrowed in an all to superficial and external way.” There is a true kind of Christian inculturation. “The first and most fundamental way” in which inculturation should take place “is the unfolding of a Christian culture in all its different dimensions: a culture of cooperation, of social concern, of respect for the poor, of the overcoming of class differences, of care for the suffering and dying; a culture that educates mind and heart in proper cooperation; a political culture and a culture of law; a culture of dialogue, of reverence for life. . .This kind of authentic inculturation of Christianity then creates culture in the stricter sense of the world, that is, it leads to artistic work that interprets the world anew in the light of God. As the Greeks so rightly saw, culture is, before all else, education, taking that word in its deepest sense as the inner opening up of a man to his possibilities, in which his external abilities are developed in harmony with his gifts.”

Let me give an example. I have too often heard it said that one of the reasons we need to use pop music in Church is that the music of the Church–what we might call the musical Catholic culture of the past 2000 years–is too difficult and strange. “People don’t like and won’t sing Gregorian chant,” for instance. Well, you disproved that theory just a couple of minutes ago. The Gospel acclamation we just sang is a mode II chant from the 1908 Graduale Romanum. It is one of the easier ones, but we can all sing it with some enthusiasm. Moreover, it has a little jubilus on the syllable “Ya” which is the Hebrew nickname for God. I recently produced a little collection of eighteen such chants which can be used in our Masses.

The Holy Father particularly draws attention to the cultural manifestation we call “authentic popular piety.” He says that popular piety fuses the mystery of Christ to the experience of a people. “Think. . .of devotion to the Passion” in Latin American cultures. In this devotion, “these suffering peoples, after the cruelty of the [bloodthirsty] gods of the past, gratefully look upon the God who suffers with them as the answer to their deepest longings. Think, too, of Marian devotion, in which the whole mystery of the Incarnation, the tenderness of God, the participation of man in God’s own nature, and the nature of God’s saving action are experienced at a profound level. Popular piety [he says] is the soil without which the liturgy cannot thrive.” We must not hold such piety in contempt, thinking it is somehow opposed to true liturgical piety.

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