Built of Living Stones 40-41: Inculturation

Inculturation: one of the guiding themes of Vatican II, but in application, not always an easy affair:

§ 40 § The rich history of Catholic worship space traces a path through every people and place where the liturgy has been offered. Innumerable monasteries, cathedrals, and parish churches stand as witnesses to an organic growth of the liturgical and devotional life of the Church throughout the world. Since the Church is not wedded to a single architectural or artistic form, it seeks to engage the genius of every time and place, to craft the finest praise of God from what is available. (SC 123; GIRM 289) The rich dialogue between the Church’s liturgy, as a singular expression of divine revelation, and a local culture is an essential ingredient in the evangelization of peoples and the celebration of the Roman Catholic liturgy in a given time and place. The liturgy is proclaimed, celebrated and lived in all cultures in such a way that they themselves are not abolished by it, but redeemed and fulfilled.(CCC 1201-1206; Catechesi Tradendae 53)

§ 41 § Inculturation is the incarnation of the Christian message within particular cultures which have their own sense, artistic expressions, vocabulary and grammar, and conceptual frameworks.(Catechesi Tradendae 53) All ancient and modern evangelizing strategies in art and architecture are acts of inculturation to enable church buildings to proclaim the creative and redemptive meaning of the Gospel in every time and place.

It’s a bit curious that the US Bishops reference Catechesi Tradendae, a catechetical document, and not Varietates Legitimae (see sidebar here), a liturgical document. At any rate, Pope John Paul II does give a lengthy discursion on inculturation in the 53rd section of his 1979 apostolic exhortation. The section it cited in its entirety by the US bishops. I won’t cite it; I’ll send you to the Vatican link to read it there. One of the Holy Father’s points is that Christianity developed in a certain cultural milieu, and we can’t dismiss that aspect of human culture any more than we can ignore the culture receiving the Gospel. The revelation of God is broader than mere human culture. I think we must also keep in mind potential flaws in inculturation historically. Even if some cultural aspect was adopted, say, seventeen centuries ago it doesn’t mean it might not have been an error for that time, or a poor fit in ours. And the cultures in which we live are the ones in which the opportunity for redemption and fulfillment still exists. We cannot save ancient Rome, pre-Islam Africa, or the first millennium Middle East.

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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