Varietates Legitimae 4: Preliminary Observations

The remaining five sections of the introduction to VL consist of the CDWDS’s “Preliminary Observations.” As we run through them, we can ask: are they accurate? An inaccurate diagnosis may well lead to principles unsupported by what is true.

First up, based on Sacrosanctum Concilium, Pope John Paul offered a definition of inculturation:

4. The constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium spoke of the different forms of liturgical adaptation. (SC 37-40) Subsequently the magisterium of the church has used the term inculturation to define more precisely “the incarnation of the Gospel in autonomous cultures and at the same time the introduction of these cultures into the life of the church.” (John Paul II, encyclical Slavorum Apostoli, 1985, No. 21; his 1987 discourse to the Pontifical Council for Culture plenary assembly, no, 5) Inculturation signifies “an intimate transformation of the authentic cultural values by their integration into Christianity and the implantation of Christianity into different human cultures.” (John Paul II, encyclical Redemptoris Missio, no. 52)

Inculturation, then, is a dialogue. It presumes a mutuality of enrichment: the Gospel borrows means and expressions from the culture, which is, in turn, transformed by the Gospel. The Church rejects the term “adaptation,” which not only gives the sense of something transitory, but also implies the Church changes to adapt to the culture, and no movement on the part of the culture or its people is expected:

The change of vocabulary is understandable, even in the liturgical sphere. The expression adaptation, taken from missionary terminology, could lead one to think of modifications of a somewhat transitory and external nature. (Cf. ibid and Synod of Bishops, Final Report Exeunte Coetu Secundo, 1985, D 4.) The term inculturation is a better expression to designate a double movement: “By inculturation, the church makes the Gospel incarnate in different cultures and at the same time introduces peoples, together with their cultures, into her own community.” (Redemptoris Missio, no. 52) On the one hand the penetration of the Gospel into a given socio-cultural milieu “gives inner fruitfulness to the spiritual qualities and gifts proper to each people …, strengthens these qualities, perfects them and restores them in Christ.”(Gaudium et Spes 58)

The optimism of Vatican II, especially as it was incarnated in Gaudium et Spes, leads one to think that Christian-compatible values encountered in non-European cultures serve well to be incorporated into the Church and its liturgy:

On the other hand, the church assimilates these values, when they are compatible with the Gospel, “to deepen understanding of Christ’s message and give it more effective expression in the liturgy and in the many different aspects of the life of the community of believers.” (Gaudium et Spes 58) This double movement in the work of inculturation thus expresses one of the component elements of the mystery of the incarnation.(Cf. John Paul II, apostolic exhortation Catechesi Tradendae, 1979, No. 53)

Nothing really surprising here. John Paul II built on the foundation of the Vatican II. The Church affirms a mutual development of its own liturgy in the context of a non-European culture. So far, so good.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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