• on 24th May, 2022

LITURGY, CULTURE, SCIENCE Dermot Lane 22nd of May 2022

Dermot Lane
22nd of May 2022.

1. The isolation of Liturgy from contemporary Culture

Let me begin with a short statement of the thesis I want to put forward for discussion. The celebration of the Eucharist has become isolated from cultural developments in the last sixty years. There have been some developments in the areas of translation, such as the translation of prayers and biblical texts, but no cultural incorporation into the Roman liturgy.

For some, this is the strength of the Roman Rite but, for others, it is the reason why they have moved on.

Ireland has been transformed socially and culturally in the last sixty years, but the way we celebrate the liturgy has stood still, with an increasing number of people giving up on it.

And yet, there is a hunger and thirst for good liturgy. That hunger is now addressed increasingly by secular rituals, such as the solemnisation of weddings, celebration of state memorials, anniversaries, remembering the victims of war and more recently of Covid.

I put this thesis about the cultural isolation of liturgy before you this afternoon as a subject that might be of interest to this inaugural meeting of the new liturgy Association of Ireland.

It should be remembered that questions about the inculturation of liturgy were addressed as far back as the 2nd Vatican Council in the Constitution on the Divine Liturgy in 1963 . That Constitution had a section dedicated to “Norms for adapting the liturgy to the temperament and traditions of peoples”. It devoted four articles to the question of adaptation. At one stage, it even talks about the need for a more radical adaptation of the liturgy in some instances1.

I mention this this because the call for adaptation and inculturation of the liturgy has been largely ignored for the last 60 years, with some exceptions, such as the establishment of what came to be known as the Zaire rite of the Congolese people in 1988.

As a result of this neglect, our liturgies have become static, frozen in time, going over the hearts and minds of many people.

I am convinced, after some 50 years of active ministry, this failure concerning the inculturation of the liturgy is a factor, a major factor but not the only factor, in the ongoing disaffection of so many from Sunday worship.

To be sure, there are all kinds of other reasons why people have given up on the liturgy. These include:
Scandals in the Church
Clerical sex abuse
Mother and Baby Homes
The failure of some bishops to be just and compassionate to the victims of abuse
The exclusion of women from full participation in the ecclesial life of the Christian community
The teaching of the Church around areas of sexuality and gender.

In spite of these understandable institutional reasons for moving away from the liturgy, I still want to maintain that a key reason for moving on is that the celebration of the Eucharist is socially and culturally isolated from the experience of many people. The liturgy has lost its connection with issues like social justice, spirituality, fairness within society, homelessness, and so on.

In spite of this rather gloomy account of the last 60 years, it should be noted that questions around the relationship between liturgy and culture have been put back on the agenda by Pope Francis, especially in the light of the Synod on the Amazon in 2019.

2. The relationship between Liturgy and Culture is back on the agenda.

In 2013 he published The Joy of the Gospel which challenged the church “to deepen the never-ending process of inculturation”2 in relation to the gospel and evangelisation.
In 2015 there was the publication of Laudato Si’: On the Care of our Common Home. This document deals with culture, but it does not deal explicitly with the issue of inculturation.

In 2017 he announced the holding of a Synod on the Amazon region.
In 2019 there was the publication, after much consultation, of a Preparatory Document for the Synod, sometimes known as the Instrumentum laboris.
In 2020, there was the publication of the post synodal exhortation, entitled Queridia Amazonia.

The Amazon was chosen for a number of reasons: the Amazon region is vast, covering 9 countries: Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guyana, Guyana, Peru, Surinam (details to come). The Amazon region is also of ecological significance for the rest of the world; it is often described as one of the ‘lungs of the world’, providing 20% of the world’s oxygen.

3. Reasons why Inculturation of the liturgy is Important

There are a number of reasons why the relationship between liturgy and culture is so important at this time.

There is, first of all, the ancient, but forgotten, liturgical principle of lex orandi, lex credendi, the way you pray influences what you believe, a principle going back to the 5th century. At present, there is a tension, if not a conflict, between the way we pray and what we believe.

Another reason why inculturation must be explored is that there is a danger, a real danger, that according to Francis that the liturgy will “become a museum piece” and end up being “the preserve of a select few”3.

A further reason for raising this question is offered by Pope Francis. He notes that: “We are not living in an epoch of change” but “in a change of epoch”4. Part of the change of epoch is a shift away from a Euro-centric understanding of church to one that respects other non-western perceptions of church.

Another reason is that the language of the liturgy is archaic, and unintelligible for many. Terms like oblation, majesty, dominion, admittance are not part of our everyday vocabulary.

A final reason why inculturation is important for liturgy is the presence of so much sexist language in the texts. This is absolutely inexcusable and utterly unacceptable. It contradicts the Gospel of Christ; it diminishes the meaning of the Eucharist; and it neglects the teaching of Vatican II

4. Let’s look at some Benefits of Inculturation

The post synodal exhortation on Amazon Synod published in 2020 calls for the establishment of an Amazonian rite– something quite new in the Catholic Church, going against the practice of the last 60 years with the exception of the Zaire Rite. It outlines a number of advantages that could flow from the establishment of an Amazonian Rite:

It would add to the rites already in the Church.
It could enrich the work of evangelisation.
It could deepen the capacity of the Church to express the faith in appropriate culture forms.
And it could promote a new “sense of decentralisation and collegiality”5 throughout the church.

According to the seasoned Vatican observer, Austen Ivereigh, the real task of the Synod was to promote a renewed inculturation of the Gospel in the Amazon region. Ultimately Querida Amazonia, the 2020 post-synodal reflection on Synod, makes it clear that to inculturate the Gospel is to perform the Incarnation(where), and this means that preaching must become incarnational,
that spirituality must become incarnate,
and that ecclesial structures must become incarnate6.

5. Meaning of Inculturation

Inculturation is not simply about the translation of ritual gestures and texts from the Roman Rite into the language of local culture, or vice versa. This process leaves the Roman Rite intact and affects the local culture only superficially (insert footnote. Mark Francis). Rather, the point of inculturation is to discover the incarnate presence of God already active in local cultures and, in turn, allow this to enrich the Roman Rite.

Inculturation requires a process of listening and dialogue with people of the local church. This point of departure stands out in marked contrast to the practice that has obtained since Vatican II.

A second point about inculturation was proposed at the Council, especially in The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World . This emphasised that authentic inculturation gives rise to a process of mutual enrichment. The Council broke new ground by promoting a principle of mutuality between the Church and the world, between faith and culture (FN: DL , GS), and by implication between liturgy and culture. This significant shift in the final document of the Council was taken up and applied by the Vatican-II liturgist Anscar Chupungco who highlights the importance of inculturation of the liturgy in the following way:
“Incarnation fosters mutual enrichment. Culture is evangelised when it comes into contact with the Gospel message that the Church proclaims …

In turn, however, Christian worship is enriched by the culture it embraces, as the liturgies of the eastern and western churches attest”7.

6. Theological Presuppositions behind Inculturation

Liturgy is not the only way that God is encountered by people. God does not come and go simply with the performance of the Eucharistic Rite. Liturgical inculturation overcomes the misunderstanding that God is present in the world only when the liturgy is enacted. Instead, the underlying theological supposition of inculturation include the following principles:

That God is already present in the world ahead of us as because the faithful Creator continuously holds and sustains creation in being;
That the Spirit of God who was poured out “in the beginning”, continues to be poured out in history in surprising, disarming, and creative ways.
That the work of crucified Christ is imprinted on the very centre of creation, shedding new light on the enduring pattern of life, death and rebirth that is built into reality itself;
That the Incarnation of the Word of God in Jesus of Nazareth continues and remains incarnate in the whole of creation. In the light of the Incarnation, we can talk, as Vatican-II did, about the seeds of the Word of God hidden in other religious traditions8.

In brief, the Incarnation of God in the flesh of Jesus is the ultimate foundation of the in culture of the liturgy.

7. Let me offer a few Guidelines for the process of Inculturation

One should not underestimate the difficulties involved in constructing a newly inculturated liturgy. The journey from the announcement of a Synod on the Amazon in 2017 to the publication of Querida Amazonia 2020 was a bumpy ride, with many controversies and objections along the way.

Tom O’Loughlin points out that if inculturation, as envisaged by the Liturgy Constitution, is to take place, it will require not only the skills of anthropologists and liturgists, but also the creative imagination of the poet who recognises in the particular a universal need within the human condition.

A second guideline from O’Loughlin suggests the need to search for elements that are at once different, but also similar, and that, therefore, these elements should answer the needs, hopes and desires of people within society.

A third guideline is that any new Rite must employ a language that has a capacity to point beyond itself into the bright darkness of Transcendence. Good liturgy should foster a moment of mystical unity, or what my colleague Jim Caffrey in Balally Parish calls a ‘contemplative moment’, at some stage within the rite.

Further, the language used must have some resonance with the rhythm, the evolutionary rhythm, of life, death and rebirth that is built into creation. This rhythm, in turn, is given a new significance through the Pascal Mystery of the historical life, death and resurrection of Jesus from the dead which is at the centre of the Eucharist.

One final guideline is that the new Rite should have a point of continuity with other rites as well as a moment of transformation. In brief, every form of inculturation is a performance of the Incarnation in history.

8. I know want to move from liturgy and culture to talk about the relationship, or more accurately the lack of relationship, between liturgy and science.
I believe that Another area from which liturgy has become isolated is that of contemporary science. The inculturation of the liturgy within the mindset of contemporary science has the capacity to reveal the order, beauty and creativity of God in our world in a new way. The new cosmologies awaken people to the wonders of the world and open up new avenues to express our faith in God the Creator.

Further, contemporary cosmologies provide a new framework, a new cosmic imaginary, in which to situate the revelation of God in the Christ-event and, in particular, to engage the historical narratives of the Eucharist which capture, in a very creative way, the significance of the Christ-event.

There is an irony at work here, namely that one of the most potent sources of faith in the 21st century is the wonder of creation opened up by science, but this source is largely absent in the weekly celebration of the Eucharist.

9. Observations on the Roman rite in the light of Laudato Si’ and the 2019 Synod on the Amazon.

There are of course scattered references to creation in the Roman rite in the Prefaces and Eucharistic Prayers, but not nearly enough. These references can be found in Eucharistic prayers II, III and IV.
One of the problems here is that these references exist within is static,
non-evolutionary framework, a 3-tiered universe, and an earth-centred outlook.

A second difficulty is that some of the references to creation are problematic.
For example, the 5th Preface of the 8 Prefaces for Sundays in Ordinary time is entitled “Creation”. This Preface is rich in some respects. It talks about God the Father laying “the foundations of the world”, arranging the changing of times and seasons.

But then there are references to the formation of man … setting him over the world … to rule in your name over all you have made”.

Similarly, the 4th Eucharistic prayer, regarded as the most creation-centred, says:
“You formed man in your own image and trusted the whole world to his care, so that in serving you alone, the Creator, he might have dominion over all creatures”.

The language of humanity ruling and having dominion is open to misunderstanding. Dominion over the centuries slipped into domination and has been used as justification for the exploitation of nature and the earth’s resources and so a cause of climate crisis.9

A third difficulty with the Roman rite is that there is no ecological awareness within the Eucharistic prayers. This could be remedied by widening the existing references to ’the fruit of the earth and the work of human hands’. The elements of bread and wine are part of an evolutionary universe: sun and soil, seeds and moisture, grain and grapes, bread and wine, body and blood. This could helps us to understand that everything in our world is interconnected and interrelated.

The final problem is that there is very little awareness the need for an ecological ethic. If the ecological crisis is as serious as outlined in the Paris Agreement (2015), the IPCC (2022) and the recent Report from the World Meteorological Organisation (2022), then one would expect the Roman rite to carry an ethical impulse for congregations to commit to the care of the earth and promote respect for the cosmic commons as a matter of global justice.

10. Let me conclude by saying something about the potential relationship between science and Liturgy

What on earth, I hear you ask, could contemporary science, add to the celebration of the Eucharist? Surely some reference to the order and beauty and creativity of creation, located within a new Eucharistic Prayer, would enrich the work of evangelisation, and enhance the capacity of the Church to express the faith in new, appropriate ways – criteria for authentic enculturation outlined in Querida Amazonia10. Most of all, it would overcome the common misunderstanding that religion and science are incompatible and irreconcilable. This common misunderstanding takes no account of a new dialogue that has been taking place between religion and science over the last seventy years.

Let me offer a sample of the progress made in this important dialogue. As far back as 1988, John Paul II enunciated the following principle:

“Science can purify religion from error and superstition; religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes. Each can draw the other into a wider world in which both can flourish”11.

On the other hand, a philosopher of science sums up the challenge facing the inculturation of contemporary science into liturgy in the following words:
“Religion married to science will be a widow tomorrow. But religion divorced from science will leave no offspring”12.

Is it not possible to go beyond these extremes towards a higher synthesis? What I am implying here is that if inculturation of the liturgy is to take place within the mindset of contemporary science, then we must move beyond stereotypes on both sides and commit to a more open and creative dialogue between liturgy and science.

Those who find this suggestion difficult to accept should bear in mind that contemporary science is opening up, at both the macro-level and the micro-level, a new worlds that evoke awe, wonder and humility – elements that are central to the worship of God.

John Haught, a participant in the new dialogue between religion and science, reminds us that science may be offering us at this time not less but more reasons than ever before for worship and gratitude.13

At present, when one worships, one prays within a pre-scientific,
three-tiered, earth-centred universe. There is a younger generation coming up who are no longer at home in this universe: they feel alienated and uninspired by these terms of reference. This outlook jars with what they have learnt in school, what they hear in public discussions by figures like David Attenborough and the visual content of the National Geographic.

In effect, if we stay with the liturgy as is, this means, according to Thomas Reese, when we go to church on Sunday,
we must park our scientific minds outside the church door and enter into the pre-scientific world of our ancestors. To do this we must live our lives in two different worlds. The world of faith becomes divorced from reason and the world of science divorced from faith. Instead, we must bring together these two different worlds within the liturgy in a new relationship of mutual complementarity. Reese sums up the problem in the following way:

“One of the greatest liturgical challenges of the church in the 21st century is to figure out how to do liturgy in a way that is meaningful to people in a post-Darwin, post-Einstein, post-Hubble world”14.

One final point before I finish.

I’m conscious that I have been discussing a debate taking place in the Catholic

Church. I imagine that similar debates exist within the Church of Ireland and other

reformed traditions. It would be important, indeed imperative in my view, that all of

the churches would work together in addressing the challenge of inculturation in the

liturgy, just as they worked together in coming up with the Common Lectionary.
















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