Sunday, June 05, 2011


I have an African priest staying with me at the moment we were talking about inculturation as one of the themes of Vatican II. See Sacrosanctum Concillium 37ff

I can accept white vestments as a provision for funeral in Asia where it is the traditional colour for mourning (was it ever intended they should be used in the West?), using drums instead of bells, portraying Our Lady as African or Asian or Anglo-Saxon, using, at least outside of the sanctuary, Asian or African modes of reverence. However it wasn't inculturation but exculturation which I thought was interesting. I remember both Cardinal Arinze and Ranjith complaining that many missionaries imposed, almost with imperialistic disregard western modes of informality on Asian and African liturgy. A nod of the head might be acceptable in North London but in Abuja or Columbo bowing or even prostration, walking or crawling backwards might be more cultural suitable.

In the West, I wonder, has the Liturgy, and the Faith generally, been inculturated or exculturated.

Visiting a great and ancient cathedral where perspective, proportion, sculpture, painting point to a particular sacred focus, the altar or the tabernacle something absurd seems to be being said when a priest quite literally turns his back on it all and says Mass on an ill suited johnny-come-lately liturgical carbuncle of an altar.
Are we inculturating or exculturating when we ignore the beauty of the great musical masterpieces and substitute something written a few days ago by a not very talented jobbing musician, whose work has not stood the test of time.

In the West, the very hermeneutic of discontinuity, at least on a cultural level has come back to bite the Church savagely on the backside. So often the Church that produced the great medieval master builders or renaissance painters or baroque musicians is so obviously, not today's Church. The very disregard for the vast riches of Christian culture has been a very grievous blow to both the Church and the West. In many ways the Church itself has contributed to the growth of Secularism by our own disregard and contempt for our heritage.

Pope Benedict's words, "What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful" are worth applying to not only the Traditional Liturgy but also to Catholic culture generally.


Anonymous said...

Well said, Father. Thank you.

Patricius said...

Excellent word, Father, but perhaps not entirely accurate.
I was in my teens as the changes took hold in the late sixties and even then I felt that some priests seemed to be modelling their "liturgical style" upon that of the compere in the musical variety shows that appeared on television in those days. One has only to recall the opening dialogue of Bruce Forsyth as he engaged the audience of Sunday Night at the London Paladium!
"Nice to see you...."
In short it was as if the traditional culture was thrown out and something out of the lower end of mass-entertainment culture rushed into the resulting vacuum. The manners of the popular entertainer appeared along, often, with the equivalent music.
So "exculturation", yes but we need to recognise the replacement culture that came in.

Fr G Dickson said...

“Something absurd seems to be being said when a priest quite literally turns his back on it all”. Indeed.
In seminary some twenty years ago we were taught that one of the problems with the TLM was that it was priest centred, yet the tabernacle and the Lord were front and centre, with the priest sat to the side and when he was at the altar, he was physically orientated towards the Lord. Today the tabernacle is in the corner, the priest is at the apex of the Church and the people are at the centre of his attention. God is literally sidelined.
This secularisation of the liturgy has indeed
“contributed to the growth of Secularism by our own disregard and contempt for our heritage”.
While we were told to discern (to judge) the signs of the times by Vatican II, many chose to disciple them; that is, to follow the times. For them the Church was no longer to be teacher of the world but the pupil to be taught by the world. This attitude is terribly ingrained in those who constantly seek to ‘update’ the Church by having her take on board the secularists’ moral and social customs of the day, and to do so by dismissing her Scriptures, Tradition and liturgical inheritance. Only firm doctrinal teaching and liturgical renewal among the Bishops can right this.

pelerin said...

Father Ray's comments on the orientation of Cathedrals (and ancient churches)towards the Blessed Sacrament being spoilt by a secondary 'liturgical carbuncle' is so true. It is not quite so noticeable if entering to view as a tourist - standing you can often just see the elaborate altar behind the 'picnic table cum ironing board.'

However upon kneeling the difference magnifies greatly. Between the person praying and the Tabernacle there is now something completely obscuring the view of a High Altar. I think it was in St Eustache in Paris where this was really brought home to me. As I knelt down my view of the magnificent Altar was obscured by what can only be described as an MFI chipboard table. No decoration whatsoever - stark and bare. My focus had gone from the sublime to feeling angry at how such an ugly altar could have been placed there. It made prayer impossible.

Because the State owns the Cathedrals and Churches in France built before the separation of Church and State the magnificent altars have not been physically destroyed there but the sacred focus has been lost.

Regarding the Priest facing the people, there are so many times during Mass where this does seem 'absurd' especially during the Confiteor when the Priest appears to be confessing to the people instead of to God - the enclosed circle. Was this really intended? Fr Ray has got over this problem when celebrating the Novus Ordo by turning toward the Tabernacle with his congregation which just seems to make much more sense.

Richard said...

An excellent article, Father.

But seeing that photo out of context, it does look like he's reading in bed.

As you say, it's all down to what we're culturally used to.

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby, O.S.B. said...

Last week I concelebrated Holy Mass at the Pontifical Marian Sanctuary of La Madonna del Rosario di Pompei. (I concelebrated because not a single one of the many, many lateral altars, each one of remarkable beauty, was equipped for Holy Mass. Every one was bare. Although at home I offer Holy Mass according the usus antiquior I have discovered that, here in Italy, the 1962 Missale Romanum is made available nor can one find complete sets of vestments, altar cards, etc.) My point, however, is that the basilica of Pompei was designed so as to orient all eyes toward the image of the Madonna del Rosario above the altar. This disposition of things is a visual declaration of the commemoration of the Mother of God in the Canon of the Mass: Our Lady is present at every Holy Mass just as she was present at the foot of the Cross on Calvary. Today however when priests offer Holy Mass at Pompei they are obliged to turn away from the high altar in order to face the people. The practice makes absolutely no sense. I found it very distressing.

Physiocrat said...

And Latin and Gregorian Chant - the characteristic sound of the Western Church.

It all needs to be recovered and the task is getting urgent.

Then we need to be re-ordering our churches so that the liturgy can be celebrated in accordance with the traditional rites. Some judicious church swapping might see us moving into Victorian and Medieval buildings better suited for the purpose than those built in the past 40 years.

Michael Petek said...

"As the Family Goes, So Goes the Church."

The breakdown of family life seems to drive the breakdown of the faith, as new behaviours seek a "religion" to justify them.

MartinT said...

It is ironic that the custom of reverence and physical expression through bowing and kneeling are more natural to other cultures, which is perhaps why Islam finds it easier to inculturate itself into Africa than our suburban informal worship.

You might also add that in most churches now the focal point of the building as well as the liturgy is the presidential chair. It is quite amusing (if sad) to see some people genuflect to a chair as they leave the church (those that still do at least make an effort, the rest are too busy heading for the exit). So much could be achieved so quickly if parish churches simply moved the chair to the side and restored the tabernacle to its rightful place - that and restore reverence at communion (i.e. kneeling, before a priest or deacon).

pelerin said...

On the subject of orientation I often wonder how the Priest can concentrate during the Elevation when he is facing a clock on the opposite wall. Instead of being in front of a crucifix to remind him of the Sacrifice and that alone, it must be tempting for him to think 'oh is that the time' or'I'd better get a move on I'm late today.'

Conversely I attended an EF Mass last year in a church which had been wreckovated and not that long ago either. Instead of a High Altar behind the table altar was the organ complete with organist and organ pipes and the ubiquitous clock which if I remember rightly had stopped. So the Priest celebrated versus the organist. A weird focus indeed. I later found the very large Crucifix which had once been behind the Altar lying in a side chapel.

I was pleased to find that this church regularly celebrated the EF and do hope the Priest's concentration was not ruined by the strange arrangement there.

pelerin said...

Still on the subject of orientation I have been very pleased to notice when watching the Rosary at the Grotto in Lourdes that the Priests no longer pray it from the stone pulpit at the side. They actually face the statue of Our Lady in the same direction as the pilgrims.

Also it appears that the Gloria Patri is now sung much more often in Latin than previously when it was usually said in French.

I don't know whether the EF has yet been allowed to be celebrated in the Grotto. This week I notice that Mass will be said in more than a dozen languages including Slovak, Corean, Croatian, Hungarian and Sinhala (not sure where that is spoken) but never Latin not even a NO. I know it has been an uphill struggle by the TLM chaplains there. They are allowed in the Upper Basilica but not in the Grotto.

Sorry for hogging the combox Father but I have a leg in plaster and lots of time on my hands! Have been trying to work out the difference between inculturation and exculturation but can't work that one out!

Catholic Identity said...

"The humble, meek, merciful, just, pious and devout souls are everywhere of one religion: and when death has taken off the mask they will know one another, though the divers liveries they wear here makes them strangers".
William Penn, 1693

We should consider these words when tradition and liturgical renewal becomes divisive.

Tom Piatak said...

An excellent piece.

vetusta ecclesia said...

It is time, before it is too late, for those of us who were brought up (and into our 20s) on the old liturgy, to dispel some ecclesiastical "urban myths" about it, propagated often by those (even bishops) who never experienced it. The worst of these is the "passive spectator" myth.We were fully and prayerfully engaged, albeit in silence, following in our missals.

This w/end I have attended 3 Masses in 2 parishes where, despite the desperate efforts of the aging folk group, nobody joined in the singing. Hannibal Bugnini's elephants trampled the Roman liturgy but have not achieved "full, active participation".

JARay said...

Once I was very familiar with St. Anne's Cathedral, Leeds.
It was refurbished and on one of my visits to England I took a look at what had been done.
What struck me most forcibly was that the main feature which stood out above all was the Episcopal Throne which was elevated and centre stage. The old High Altar can still be seen if one looks carefully but clearly it is an irrelevance in the re-ordering of things which has taken place. In its place there is large slab which might be stone but it is completely featureless and sits where the altar rails used to be.
There was no sign of a tabernacle which, if I remember correctly, was positioned round the corner at a side altar.

janeinthemindfield said...

i am deeply drawn to the deeply moving, traditional culture of the church, but i came across this today. there are graphic images from the passion of christ, so not for the fainthearted, but to me incredibly moving:

pelerin said...

vetusta excclesia is dead right. A few weeks back I attended Mass in Westminster cathedral and even though I was only a few rows back I could not make out one word of the epistle. The badly positioned microphone for a short reader made it impossible.

I could not help thinking then that had it still been necessary to have a Missal I would have been able to follow every word. However I have to admit that having got out of the habit of following the Liturgy with a Missal I do not yet use it when attending the EF. But I do immerse myself in it and certainly do not regard it as passive attendance. On the contrary I find the concentration needed to follow the actions is far more than at a NO.

The 'passive spectator' myth must be got rid of.

pp. Press Office said...

A History of Vestments

BBC 4 today
"Good in Vestments" 11am.
Historians and clergy look at the way clothing has been adopted by Catholics and Anglicans.

Replay avaialable on iPlayer.

georgem said...

I wonder if the whole thing has been driven by the psychology of faux-equality which has dominated western culture since the 1960s. The elderly are first-named in hospitals and care homes, as are customers who are complete strangers to a call service, as are priests and so on. I mean, who do they all think they are to be accorded such respect?
As respect for each other has been driven down, so the Jesus-as-mate persona has emerged, as seen most often in the what-would-Jesus-do question, ie He'd be just like me.
And if He is, then there's no need to grovel. no need to genuflect, no need to kneel at Holy Communion, no need to address Him formally, no need to afford Him the highest visibility in a church, no need for silence in His presence, no need to confess, no need to heed His words unless we interpret them as we like.
As for serving Him, well, the notion of bowing to anyone is an affront to human dignity. Jesus wouldn't expect it. He understands.

Gail F said...

This year I attended my first EF mass, in an old church (America) that had not been redesigned. Later I looked up the church's website to show someone pictures of it, and the photo of the very beautiful nave made me laugh. It was set up for an OF mass, with a little portable table stuck in front of the huge, gorgeous altar. It looked ridiculous! People like me who have grown up with the OF tend to think of the beautiful altars, reredos, etc. -- IF our churches even have them or we get to see them at some other church -- as a sort of backdrop or as "scenery." I never realized this until I had experienced priests actually using the "real" altar and only then seeing the same place set up with what looked like a toy table. Then it struck me as funny how we ignore entire parts of the church building. No wonder we are so informal.

John Kearney said...

If you want to see wonderful altars, beautiful statues and paintings, tabernacles made for the Blessed Sacrament, even a beautiful sanctuary lamp. These were all takne from closing down convents, monasteries, catholic churches , and re-rderedchurches, then go to the Church of St Agatha, five minutes walk from Portsmouth Cathedral. Needless to say the bishop there has never taken that short trip. It is Traditional Anglican but missed out on the Ordinariate because it was not part of the Anglican Church. The Vicar has applied nevertheless but needs support from catholics. It is well worth a visit.

Fr Seán Coyle said...

vetusta ecclesia, you are so right. Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin has pointed out on a number of occasions recently that the average Sunday Mass attendance in the archdiocese is around 18 percent, in some parishes only two percent. Back in the 1950s it was probably higher than 95 percent. On weekdays during Lent churches were packed for early morning Masses eith people of all ages.

There is far less participation in the Mass now in Ireland and in most western countries than there was then. There are many reasons for this. But the stark reality is that the majority don't bother going to Mass anymore.

It is possible for a priest to celebrate Mass facing the people without being distracted. The presence of a large crucifix, as in the Masses Pope Benedict celebrates, is a help. And when the priest is at the altar he is speaking to the Father, not to the congregation, except for greetings such as 'The Lord be with you' and the final blessing. Many priests and bishops forget this, especially during the Eucharistic Prayer.

In many churches and chapels now it is almost impossible to celebrate Mass ad orientem although, as far as I know, new/renovated altars are supposed to make it possible to celebrate Mass in either direction.

James C. said...

The most tragic thing about these destructive "re-orderings" (I like to call them church rapes, which is what they are---violations) is that they are so expensive. I've seen rapes cost $10 million or more at cathedrals on this side of the pond. I hate to use such strong language, but at a time when parishes are being closed, spending millions of parishioners' dollars to rape and destroy church sanctuaries, even for "good" intentions, is diabolical.

Nugroho said...

I couldn't agree more with Father Ray's opinions. We are all over 60 I guess. And to many of us, the 2th Vatican Council was, and still, a blow, at least to me.
I am especially irritated when the church choir sings a particular pop song, "written a few days ago.." because I hate that song before it was adopted by the church. Sad... Only Father Thomas a Kempis' words that sooth me; to be humble and not to dispute trivial things in the eye of God...
I am a layman in a far away country, but I am very glad to come across this blog..

Anonymous said...

Wow, Fr, you are brave! YES! I totally agree!

Reading your post made my heart sing!

"Didn't our heart's burn within us" sprung to my mind.

My heart burnt within me when I began to learn of the depths of Catholic culture and beauty that are held within the deposit of faith.

Now if only it could be unleashed on the Church in England and Wales there would be a revival!

Marie said...

The Ordinariate was for Anglo Catholics seeking to return to tradition and unity which they felt they lacked.
A priest on your blog list wonders if they
"... will become simply a small and mean well-policed ghetto before withering away."

The Church of England was a form of enculturation attempting to remain Catholic but incorporating aspects of the Reformation which took hold largely in the Northern Hemisphere.

I remain convinced that it is not possible to have the best of both worlds, to try to be Catholic but clinging to the national culture.
Any thoughts?

Physiocrat said...

Marie - the European culture is at root Catholic on a substrate of earlier cultures eg Anglo-Saxon, Viking or the cultures of the Germanic people.

The English Catholic church followed the Sarum rite pre-Reformation, but even with the uniform Roman rite the character of the church will inevitably take on that of the nation in which it is present. There is however no need to force a national character on a church and attempts to do so are misguided.

Richard said...

Nugroho said "We are all over 60 I guess."

Certainly not!