Varietates Legitimae 36-37: More on Unity and Authority

36. The process of inculturation should maintain the substantial unity of the Roman rite. (SC 37-40) This unity is currently expressed in the typical editions of liturgical books, published by authority of the supreme pontiff and in the liturgical books approved by the episcopal conferences for their areas and confirmed by the Apostolic See. (Cf. Vicesimus Quintus Annus, 16) The work of inculturation does not foresee the creation of new families of rites; inculturation responds to the needs of a particular culture and leads to adaptations which still remain part of the Roman rite.

The note here gives a commentary from John Paul II to the CDWDS: “This is not to suggest to the particular churches that they have a new task to undertake following the application of liturgical reform, that is to say, adaptation or inculturation. Nor is it intended to mean inculturation as the creation of alternative rites…. It is a question of collaborating so that the Roman rite, maintaining its own identity, may incorporate suitable adaptations.”

So there will be, at this time, no organic development of new rites.

With three reference documents, VL37 is interesting in pounding in the importance of authority, first of the CDWDS, then bishops’ conferences, then bishops. “No other person” follows:

37. Adaptations of the Roman rite, even in the field of inculturation, depend completely on the authority of the church. This authority belongs to the Apostolic See, which exercises it through the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments; (Cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium, 22; Canons 838.1 and 838.2; John Paul II, apostolic constitution Pastor Bonus, 62, 64.3: AAS 80 (1988), 876-877; Vicesimus Quintus Annus, 19) it also belongs, within the limits fixed by law, to episcopal conferences (Cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium, 22 and Canons 447ff and 838.1 and 838.3; Vicesimus Quintus Annus, 20.) and to the diocesan bishop. (Cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium, 22, and Canons 838.1 and 838.4; Vicesimus Quintus Annus, 21.) “No other person, not even if he is a priest, may on his own initiative add, remove or change anything in the liturgy.” (SC 22) Inculturation is not left to the personal initiative of celebrants or to the collective initiative of an assembly.*

Likewise concessions granted to one region cannot be extended to other regions without the necessary authorization, even if an episcopal conference considers that there are sufficient reasons for adopting such measures in its own area.

* The situation is different when, in the liturgical books published after the constitution, the introductions and the rubrics envisaged adaptations and the possibility of leaving a choice to the pastoral sensitivity of the one presiding, for example, when it says “if it is opportune,” “in these or similar terms,” “also,” “according to circumstances,” “either … or,” “if convenient,” “normally,” “the most suitable form can be chosen.” In making a choice, the celebrant should seek the good of the assembly, taking into account the spiritual preparation and mentality of the participants rather than his own preferences or the easiest solution. In celebrations for particular groups, other possibilities are available. Nonetheless, prudence and discretion are always called for in order to avoid the breaking up of the local church into little “churches” or “chapels” closed in upon themselves.

This notion should get more attention:

(T)he celebrant should seek the good of the assembly, taking into account the spiritual preparation and mentality of the participants rather than his own preferences or the easiest solution.

We’ve seen this in other documents (RCIA, OCF, Pastoral Care of the Sick) as we’ve examined the leeway given to the local community in the celebration of the sacraments and other rites.

What did you think of the caution about “breaking up the local church into little ‘churches’ or ‘chapels’ closed in upon themselves”?

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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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