43. The Catholic Reform strengthened the structure and unity of the Roman Rite. Given the notable missionary expansion of the eighteenth century, the Reform spread its proper Liturgy and organizational structure among the peoples to whom the Gospel message was preached.
Rome’s balkanization/”Protestantism” seems to have surfaced in the hundreds of splinters from the mainstream Benedictines, Franciscans, and other orders with roots in the Medieval times. The fruitfulness of missionary efforts seems to depend less on liturgy and spirituality, and more on the lived witness (or lack thereof) of the missionaries themselves.
In the missionary territories of the eighteenth century, the relationship between Liturgy and popular piety was framed in terms similar to, but more accentuated than, those already seen in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries:
• the Liturgy retained a Roman character and hence remained, at least partially, extraneous to autochthonous culture. The question of inculturation was practically never raised, partly because of the fear of negative consequence for the faith. In this respect, however, mention must be made of the efforts of Matteo Ricci in relation to the question of the Chinese rites, and those of Roberto de’ Nobili on the question of the Indian rites;
• popular piety, on the one hand, was subject to the danger of religious syncretism, especially where evangelization was not deeply rooted; while on the other, it became more autonomous and mature: it was not limited to reproducing the pious practices promoted by the missionaries, rather it created other forms of pious exercises that reflected the character of the local culture.
The Jesuits, as one might suspect, pushed the envelope of inculturation in Asia. It would have been interesting to see how their focus on finding God everywhere and on the Spiritual Exercises would have fared over a span of centuries rather than a few decades.
All of the Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy is online at the Vatican site.