Saturday, April 20, 2013

Some Thoughts on Inculturation

This post at NLM provided an opportunity for me to comment: Usus Antiqiuor in Japan: A Latin-Japanese Missal

While before I might have subscribed to the view that Latin might be useful as the lingua franca of clerics and the intellectuals of the Roman-rite churches, I've never thought that the liturgy should be celebrated in Latin in missionary countries. I think as long as I've had an opinion on the question, I've thought that a hieratic version of the native vernacular should be employed in missionary countries, holding up the work of the Jesuits in China as an example. (I think the Roman rite was celebrated in Korean in Chosun Korea as well?)

Now, my opinion may have even shifted some more, in so far as I speculate about decisions that were made in the past - some version of a hieratic vernacular should have been used for nations who do not have Latin as a mother tongue (nations of Germanic ancestry) - and even some Romance language nations may not have been familiar enough with Latin to justify its continued use in the Roman-rite liturgy. (I would thus disagree with those traditionalists who maintain that Latin should be the universal liturgical language of the Roman rite churches.)

Still, the celebration of the Roman-rite liturgy in places like Hong Kong or Japan may seem quaint or peculiar to us now, but we should ask, why are some Asians (or non-Asians, for that matter) attracted to such liturgies when they do not understand the language? Are they looking for a sense of sacred that contemporary vernacular liturgies lack? Some may be older, familiar with the use of Latin in the Roman rite before Vatican 2. It may just be nostalgia at work, or the desire to pray in a familiar milieu, but their interest may be more than that. What lessons can we learn about the Pauline reform of the Roman rite and what corrections should we seek?

Today the New Evangelization may may require greater inculturation, but this inculturation should be tempered with a knowledge of the past and the artistic traditions of the Christians who lived before us. Inculturation should always be accompanied by the inspiration to give our best and an appreciation of the "true, good, and beautiful," as we seek those translations and native art forms which can be adapted. Not being gifted with language I will not say that much about it - while the revision of the English translation may have been warranted, I do question whether it could have been done better. (Without, perhaps, fully embracing a more archaic form of English - I would not be opposed to this in principle, even though it might strike some as being artificial - but it may not be pastorally effective.)

Do we need to rediscover forms of music and art that are simple but beautiful? (Simple does not necessarily mean modernist.) We should be more attentive to the moral dimension of music and its effects on the person, particularly the emotions, not mistaking affective appeal for authentic Christian spirituality. While it may be clear to many that "Christian" rock cannot be adapted for use in the liturgy, we should also reconsider the use of music that is derived from Romanticism. I am not a music scholar or musicologist so I cannot expound more on this; some music is compatible with the "stillness" that we need in order to attend to the presence of the Lord, and some music is not. (A comparative study of the different forms of singing that were adapted as Christianity spread over the world would be useful. Did they originate in pre-existing religious traditions? Or were they adapted from other uses? Was a distinction between sacred music and profane music always preserved?)

As for the shift in architecture - there are some posts at New Liturgical Movement on the "Other Modern." Perhaps some modernism is useful, provided that it is coupled with a proper sense of ornamentation that draws the Christian to the presence of God. (Modernism + austere, bare liturgical environment: far from the ideal.)

Perhaps some thoughts on vestments and sacred vessels later...

*What of Latin as the language of theology, scholarship, and documents of the Church of Rome? Should all priests be familiar with Latin (and Greek and Hebrew)? Or should there be different tracks for priests according to their talents and abilities?

Bill Maher interviews Fr. Reginald Foster:

Dom Cassian Folsom on Forms of Eucharistic Reservation

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