Inculturation of liturgy sparks debate at this and past synods of bishops
By John L. Allen Jr.
Its not often that someone lifts the curtain to expose
the behind-the-scenes politics that go on at a Synod of Bishops, but Saturday
afternoon offered one of those rare glimpses behind the scenes -- though not
with respect to the current synod, but a previous one.
On Saturday Oct. 8, the synod took a break from regular business to mark
the 40th anniversary of the Synod of Bishops, created by Pope Paul VI in 1965.
After overviews from both a theological and canonical point of view, seven
bishops offered reviews of the regional synods held over the years (for
Holland, Lebanon, Africa, Asia, Oceania, America and Europe).
Undoubtedly the most intriguing was the summary read by Archbishop John
Atcherley Dew of Wellington, New Zealand, on the 1998 Synod for Oceania. Dew
was presenting a text prepared by Cardinal Tom Williams, the emeritus
archbishop from Wellington, New Zealand.
Williams is not present at the synod on the Eucharist.
For one thing, Williams text revealed, the synod for Oceania
almost didnt happen. In John Paul IIs original 1995 plan for
regional synods, Oceania would have been collapsed into Asia. Dew said that the
cardinals from Oceania made an appeal at a 1995 consistory for a separate
event, which was granted.
Williams said that to achieve a balanced membership in the
synod, given the smaller number of bishops from Oceania, John Paul II also
accepted a recommendation from the planning group to reduce the representatives
from the Roman Curia from 23 to 14.
Oceania, Williams said, is home to just 0.6 percent of the worlds
population, but has more than 25 percent of the worlds languages. Given
that diversity, inculturation is a high priority in the region, and the clash
between sensitivities on the issue in Rome and out in the trenches was quickly
|Read more NCR coverage of the synod on the Eucharist|
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Gregory: Little change expected but synod had honest talk of pastoral realities
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Draft propositions do not recommend changes in church discipline
Posted Oct. 18, 11:00 a.m.
Womens voices heard through interventions of 12 synod auditors
Posted Oct. 17, 12:15 p.m.
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Posted Oct. 17, 12:00
Outreach to Latin Mass Catholics proposed for final message
Posted Oct. 15, 9:32
Report #11: Problems acknowledged, synod bishops seek middle ground solutions. Posted Oct. 13, 1:15
Report #10: Despite frank talk, few breakthroughs expected from synod. Posted Oct. 12, 11:00 a.m.
Report #9: Key synod themes seem clear, but consensus may be elusive. Posted Oct. 11, 11:00 a.m.
Report #8: Inculturation of liturgy sparks debate at this and past synods of bishops. Posted Oct. 10, 11:30 a.m.
Report #7: Bishops of Global South link Eucharist and
justice, local cultures. Posted Oct. 8., 9:52 a.m.
Report #6: Discussion of celibacy and marriage clergy continue to hold center stage. Posted Oct.
7, 10:21 a.m.
Report #5: Environment, social justice emerge as eucharistic themes. Posted Oct. 6, 10:30 a.m.
Report #4: Divorced, remarried Catholics topics of frank synod discussions.
5, 3:00 p.m
Report #3: Priest shortage continues to roil synod of bishops. Posted Oct. 4, 2:01 p.m.
Report #2: Movements appeal for changes to make Eucharist more accessible. Posted Oct. 4, 2:00 p.m.
Report #1: Priest shortage takes center stage on synod's first day. Posted Oct. 3, 3:04 p.m.|
|Read The Word From Rome columns|
The final set of propositions; The case of viri probati; Some worry the synod lacked theological heft. Posted Oct. 21, 2:07 p.m.
Latin Mass a non-issue; Interview with Bishop Skylstad; Scola's 17 questions to
guide the synod. Posted Oct.
14, 10:46 a.m.
The synod so far; How to report on a synod; A view from Moscow; Document on homosexuals in seminaries will not create an absolute ban; Catholic left and right square off. Posted Oct. 7, 11:55 a.m.
Preview of the synod on the Eucharist. Posted Sept. 30, 8:05 a.m.|
The synod commenced with the impressive opening Mass in St
Peters Basilica, Williams recalled. It included the dancing
and singing which are an intrinsic part of major liturgical celebrations in the
That some curial officials took exception to the sight of tattooed
Samoan men in traditional dress dancing in the basilica was perhaps indicative
of the gulf which can exist between those striving for inculturation in the
liturgy and those making judgments on it from outside the culture and from
within their own cultures, Williams said.
Williams also said that the synod avoided some contentious topics, even
if they had broad support, such a change in the rules on mandatory celibacy for
There was the inevitable dilution of heartfelt appeals and
prophetic insights voiced by individual bishops in the plenary sessions, as
consensus propositions were formulated in the circoli minori,
The desire to speak with a united voice ruled out putting to the
vote proposals which enjoyed considerable general support, but in regard to
which some did not wish to rock the boat... on the ordination to
priesthood of viri probati, for example, to remedy the situation in some
parts of Oceania where the Mass, as some bishops phrased it, has become for the
faithful a rare privilege rather than a right.
Though the current synod has repeatedly engaged the question of priest
shortages, Williams Saturday address marks the first time a participant
has specifically invoked the phrase viri probati since the opening
address by the relator, Cardinal Angelo Scola, who mentioned that some of the
pre-synod suggestions had spoke in favor of ordaining tested married men, even
if Scola personally appeared to cast doubt on the idea.
Williams said that the synod affirmed the special role of Catholics in
Oceania as agents of social justice.
The local churches of Oceania -- a goodly number of them, at least
-- take their place in the church universal as wounded
healers, Williams said. Their small size makes them almost
invisible and therefore very vulnerable players on the world stage.
Colonial powers have used the region for nuclear testing and for
dumping nuclear waste. Militaristic powers value the region as a location for
strategic bases. Economic giants over-fish its waters, despoil its forests,
pillage its mineral resources, pollute its rivers, and threaten the rights of
its indigenous peoples, he said.
The social teachings of the church are not for Oceania the stuff
of textbooks, but engage and challenge its peoples in their everyday
Williams said that the church in Oceania has been greatly
heartened by the sections of the John Paul IIs post-synodal
apostolic exhortation that encouraged them to continue this work.
One interesting footnote is that Williams text did not appear in
the official English summary of Saturdays talks issued by the Vatican
press office, where it was replaced with a duplicate of the summary of Cardinal
Jozef Tomkos speech on the theological foundations of the synod. It did
appear in full, however, in the multi-lingual edition of Saturdays
In other synod business Monday, Cardinal Lubomyr Husar of the Greek
Catholic church in Ukraine posed a provocative rhetorical question: if
Catholics and Orthodox are in agreement on the Eucharist, on the validity of
one anothers ministries and on apostolic succession, why are we not
unified? If the Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian
life, in the words of the Vatican II document on liturgy, why is this not
Husar proposed to Benedict XVI that the next synod be devoted to the
Oriental churches, with representatives from those churches.
Archbishop John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan of Abuja, Nigeria, issued a
stirring defense of inculturation in the African church, urging the synod to
focus less on abuses than on accomplishments.
Solemnity and sacredness can be expressed not only in plain chant
and the organ, but also the gong, the xylophone, and the tam-tam,
Onaiyekan also appeared to call for some degree of decentralization in
governing the process of inculturation.
The role, right and responsibility of the local bishop as the
primary mystagogue in relation to the Eucharist need to be recognized and
upheld, he said.
Bishop George Cosmas Zumaire Lungu of Zambia largely seconded
Onaiyekans point about the desirability of inculturation.
Critiquing suggestions in the Instrumentum Laboris for wider use
of traditional modes of liturgical expression, Lungu said, I find this
part of the document to be over-optimistic about the organ, Gregorian chant and
even the use of Latin at international meetings in an attempt to meet the needs
of the people of all time and places.
My proposal is that we should not go back to making these
instruments of worship universal.
Communication and participation is
vital in every liturgical celebration including the Eucharistic celebration.
Our hope lies in the future and not in the past, Lungu said.
Fr. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, master general of the Jesuit order, offered
two theological reflections.
First, Kolvenbach said, ecumenical conversation with the churches of the
Reformation might be helped by referring to the Mass as a sacramental
sacrifice, that is, a sacramental re-presentation of the sacrifice of
Christ on the cross. Protestants have sometimes criticized Catholic Eucharistic
theology for seeming to assert that Christs once-and-for-all sacrifice is
repeated on the altar.
Second, Kolvenbach suggested that seeing the moment of consecration in
the Mass not as a matter of a physical instant in time, but a sacramental
time in the eyes of God, could help overcome traditional
Catholic/Orthodox debates over whether the bread and wine become the Body and
Blood of Christ during the recitation of the words of Christ from the Last
Supper, or the epiclesis, meaning the calling down of the Holy Spirit
over the gifts.
Bishop Bosco Lin Chi-Nan of Tainan (Taiwan) warned that the lack of
religious freedom in China aggravates divisions in the church, in part an
apparent reference to the split in China between an above-ground recognized
church and a below-ground church tenaciously loyal to Rome.
We must only worry about one thing: the lack of religious freedom,
by which the church risks division, Chi-Nan said.
John L. Allen Jr. is NCRs Rome correspondent. His e-mail
address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
October 3, 2005, National Catholic Reporter