Sharon Boyd, ACU Centre for Liturgy
“I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.” This is what we pray together at Mass when we recite the Nicene Creed. Catholic means “universal”. As we heard during the Pentecost readings several weeks ago, “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability” (Acts 2:4). As a Church that is always on mission, our worship — our liturgy — lends itself to be shaped to ensure that it speaks of the transcendent to the local population in a meaningful way; this means that it embraces and is transformed by culture.
In the 4th Century in Rome, the liturgy changed from Greek to Latin; the language was influenced by the Roman Emperor’s Court along with the pagan Roman sacrificial rites. In the 8th-9th centuries, Emperor Charlemagne — seeking to unify Europe through religion — gave the Roman liturgy a Franco-Germanic influence. I used to think that the Mass was always the way that I have experienced it; not so. The way we worship has a complex history whereby throughout the centuries, texts, rites and symbols have been influenced by local cultures. Indeed, in order for the liturgy to be potent and speak to the times, Pope Francis in 2013 made allowances for adaptations to the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper when he washed the feet of a young Muslim woman; this is an example of inculturation.
Vatican II’s first document, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (1963), was careful to point out:
§37. Even in the liturgy, the Church has no wish to impose a rigid uniformity in matters which do not implicate the faith or the good of the whole community; rather does she respect and foster the genius and talents of the various races and peoples.
§38. Provisions shall also be made, when revising the liturgical books, for legitimate variations and adaptations to different groups, regions, and peoples, especially in mission lands, provided that the substantial unity of the Roman rite is preserved…
Liturgical Inculturation is the discipline that explores how liturgy and culture interact and mutually transform. It recognises that forms of worship are never completely static, transforming over time and in different cultural contexts. There are many examples of such interaction and transformation, such as The Roman Missal for the Dioceses of Zaire (1988). Pope Francis recently celebrated Mass in that form during his visit to Africa in 2019. It is a fascinating field of study, one that unfortunately we hear too little about given the hyper-diverse cultural reality in Australia.
In an effort to bring greater awareness and expertise in the discipline, the ACU Centre for Liturgy is hosting Rev Prof Mark R. Francis CSV in July as part of an online series. Professor Francis is a world-renowned expert in liturgy and culture, and the President of the Catholic Theological Union (Chicago).
He has published extensively on liturgical topics with a special focus on the relationship between liturgy and culture.
Professor Francis was originally set to visit Australia but the Centre has since moved the lectures online.
Learn more about Liturgical Inculturation with Rev Prof Mark R. Francis CSV
- Professor Francis will present a free public lecture entitled, “The Challenge of Intercultural Liturgy in the Era of Pope Francis” on Monday July 20 from 10-11.30am (AEST) via Zoom. Registration is essential by 15 July 2020. Register here.
- On 6, 7, 9, and 10 July, Professor Francis will teach the online intensive postgraduate unit THEL620 Special Studies in Theology: Liturgical Inculturation, which can also be taken as a professional learning seminar (not for credit, no assessments). Teachers in NSW, QLD, VIC, SA and the NT can undertake the seminar for professional development hours. Registrations are still open until 26 June and you can find more information here.