This issue of Let’s Talk deals with a variety of topics related to multiculturalism and worship. The editors thought it helpful at the beginning to clarify some of the terms that are fast becoming commonplace in our dialogues about worship.
The following is an excerpt from Liturgical Inculturation: Sacramentals, Religiosity, and Catechesis by Anscar J. Chupungco. It is reprinted with permission from The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN.
Over the years different technical terms have been tried in liturgical circles in an attempt to express as accurately as possible the relationship between liturgy and culture. They belong to the peculiar terminology used on different occasions by anthropologists and borrowed gratefully by theologians, missiologists, and liturgists.
Each of these technical terms, when used of the liturgy, refers to a particular facet of the relationship between liturgy and culture. However, none is comprehensive enough to express the full spectrum of that relationship. There is no hard and fast definition of these terms, yet care should be taken not to use them synonymously lest they lose their proper nuance.
Coined from the word “indigenous,” this term refers to the process of conferring on Christian liturgy a cultural form that is native to the local community. In the seventies D. S. Amalorpavadass advanced the use of this term in the liturgy. What he really meant was adaptation of the Christian liturgy in the framework of the culture of India. Indigenization, he explained, aims “to give to our liturgy a more Indian setting and complexion.” For him “indigenization” was in fact another word for “Indianization.”
Vatican II’s decree Ad gentes inspired liturgical writers to refer to adaptation as “incarnation.” In imitation of Christ, who by virtue of the incarnation made himself one with the Jewish nation, the local Church should strive to identify itself with the people among whom it dwells. As Christ became a Jew in all things save sin, so the Church should become not merely a Church inbut the Church of a particular locality.
This term was introduced into the active vocabulary of the Church in 1972 by the World Council of Churches. Derived the word “contextual,” it fittingly expresses the need for the Church to be relevant.
The life and the mission of the Church will be relevant on condition that they relate to contemporary society. The environment and setting in which the local church lives are the contexts that shed light on its theology, sacramental life, and missionary activity.
Since in some parts of the world human oppression is the dominant feature of daily life, the context in which the local Church lives and works is deeply affected by the struggle for political, economic, and cultural freedom.
Although contextualization is directly concerned with the situation of oppression and deprivation, it cannot be said to ignore the interaction that takes place between liturgy and culture. Context is a vibrant expression of human culture.
According to G. De Napoli, the term “inculturation” was coined in 1973 by G. L. Barney, a Protestant missionary who was professor at Nyack Alliance School of Theology in Nyack, New York. Stressing the need to keep the Christian message intact throughout the course of cultural exchange, Barney used the term in the context of frontier missions. He dutifully reminded his fellow missionaries that in the process of inculturating the supracultural components of the gospel into a new culture, their essential nature should neither be lost nor distorted.
In his enlightening work Toward a Theology of Inculturation, Shorter defines acculturation as “the encounter between one culture and another, or the encounter between two cultures.” One important aspect of such an encounter, he explains, is that the communication between the two cultures comes about “on a footing of mutual respect and tolerance.”
We may compare acculturation to a chance uninvolved meeting of two strangers or to a casual hello and good-bye meeting of two persons. We may illustrate it with the formula A+B=AB. The two elements of this formula are merely placed side by side, so that neither undergoes any substantial or qualitative change. Thus they can withdraw any time from each other without any notable consequence.
Shorter defines “inculturation” as “the creative and dynamic relationship between the Christian message and a culture or cultures.” He lists three of its notable traits. First, inculturation is an ongoing process and is relevant to every country or region where the faith has been sown. Second, Christian faith cannot exist except in a cultural form. And third, between Christian faith and culture there should be interaction and reciprocal assimilation.