Built of Living Stones 42-43: Inculturation in the US

What did inculturation mean particularly for Catholics coming to the New World, to the United States?

§ 42 § When the Gospel was first brought to America, it arrived clothed with expressions of European Christian culture and piety. Grateful for these invaluable gifts, the Church in America slowly, and often reluctantly, developed an appreciation for native music, language, and art and accepted them for use in the service of the liturgy. Today the Church in the United States is again exploring how to translate the Gospel and to build churches in conversation with complex, secularized cultures that have sometimes rejected religion and attempted their own forms of human transcendence through intricate electronic modes of communication, art, and architecture.(Cf. Evangelii Nuntiandi 42; Catechesi Tradendae 53; Irish Episcopal Commission for Liturgy, The Place of Worship: Pastoral Directory on the Building and Reordering of Churches [PW] (1994), no. 3.7) Secular cultures in industrial and post-industrial countries have been particularly difficult to evangelize since they often treat human dignity selectively, attempting to control the mystery that animates the human thirst for meaning and purpose, and ignore those who do not fit their economic or social purpose. The Gospel requires that particular care be taken to welcome into the Church’s assembly those often discarded by society—the socially and economically marginalized, the elderly, the sick, those with disabilities, and those with special needs. In building a church, every diocese and parish must wrestle with these and other complex questions raised by the Church’s mission to evangelize contemporary cultures.

§ 43 § Parishes in the United States today often find their places of worship shared by people of varied languages and ethnic backgrounds and experience vast differences in styles of public worship and personal devotion. What can sustain Christian communities in this challenge of hospitality is the realization that a pluralism of symbolic, artistic, and architectural expression enriches the community.(CCC 1157-1158; cf. SC 119)

This is a rather progressive text, and a potentially difficult one for many Catholics, as it associates uniformity with some aspects of contemporary economics and other expressions of Western culture. Many people of various ideologies have difficulty with the principle of unity in pluralism. And this would not be a unity in spite of disparate elements. The Church’s teaching on evangelization suggests various elements combine to enrich the Body; indeed they express different parts. Even so, the notion that churches should be appealing, accessible, and able to be an evangelical tool for the greater mission of the Gospel–this is paramount among human concerns.

All texts from Built of Living Stones are copyright © 2000, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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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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