Daniel Franklin E. Pilario, C.M.
Daghang salamat, Fr. Mark Francis for this historical-critical reflection on the issues in the inculturation of liturgy after Vatican II. If I am made to sit down now, all I can say is “Amen”. But since I still have five minutes for this reaction, let me offer some critical questions to push Fr. Mark Francis’s arguments to their limits.
To be honest, I am hesitant to ask these questions for fear of hurting some sensibilities. In the Philippines, we have been trained not to ask hard questions on joyous and momentuus celebrations such as this. But in the spirit of Pope Francis’ parrhesia, let me forward these questions with deep respect to our leaders and in the spirit of honesty and openness to whatever answer that may come.
1. Misa ng Bayang Pilipino
Sancrosanctum Concilium 40 - on the more radical adaptation of the liturgy - is one of the most revolutionary provisions of Vatican II. After 50 years, it still has to be implemented because the Vatican has been reluctant to tread the way of inculturation. This reluctance is glaringly shown in the Misa ng Bayang Pilipino. The CBCP unanimously approved it after some experimentation in 1976 and submitted it to Rome. It was revised, approved and submitted again in 1991. Now, it is back to “experimentation ad infinitum”. From the start, SC 40 already states that the experimentation should be held “over a determined period of time” (SC, 40.2). In 1970, Liturgicae Instaurationes, No. 12 states: “Experiments should be few and should not last beyond a year.” It was also repeated in Varietates Legitimae: “The [episcopal] conference will also take care to ensure that the experimentation does not exceed the limits of time and place that were fixed. It will also ensure pastors and the faithful know about the limited and provisional nature of the experiment, and it will not give it publicity of a sort which could have an effect on the liturgical practice of the country” (67). The limit as to time and territory of the liturgical experimentation was instituted in order to avoid abuse. And now, the same Congregation tells us to go on experimenting forever just to evade the inculturation process!
We can ask: How can the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments violate its own rules? Fr. Mark Francis thinks it is “disappointing” that we do not hear something from this Roman Dicastery after 30 years. I think it is an intolerable self-contradiction on the part of the Congregation.
2. Inculturation and Power
This brings me to my second point: inculturation and power in the Church. I have been talking once with a bishop from Laos. He was wondering honestly why Rome has the power to approve or disapprove a Lao liturgical rite when no one among them reads or understands the Lao language. “What is the basis of their approval or disapproval,” he rightly wonders in all his simplicity. This problem points the long-standing debate on the notion of collegiality since Vatican II. What is the relationship between the Pope and the bishops? What is the role of bishops’ conferences on liturgical matters - and even doctrinal matters – at whose decentralization Pope Francis already hinted at in Evangelii Gaudium.
Yet, in our specific case, it is not even the Pope who withholds approval of the Misa ng Bayang Pilipino. It is the Congregation of Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments — a mere part of the Roman Curia. So we can honestly ask: “What is the role of the Roman Curia and its dicasteries vis-à-vis the episcopal conferences?” These are painful structural questions that need to be answered if we want to proceed with inculturation.
3. Plebs sancta Dei
I could not agree more to your last assertion that the starting point of inculturation is the “holy people of God”, their popular religious practices, their own simple ways of worshipping and honoring God. Most often, liturgical experts and theologians are just lost in translation – so to say. Sometimes, we wonder why people flock to the processions and not to Mass; why lighting a candle is more important than listening to the readings. As theologians and liturgists, we think that the problem is with the people. They lack catechesis, we say; so we catechize them and tell them where their mistakes are. But despite our liturgical rules and proprieties, we realize that the people persist in their ways as you have seen in Sinulog, Quiapo, Obando, Baclaran. Then, church people goes there, sprinkle holy water on these practices and tell them not to forget the love offering!
Of course, catechesis is necessary. Of course, we need to watch out for abuses. But instead of asking what is wrong with the people’s faith practices, maybe it would help us to ask first what is wrong with our liturgies!
Only then can we start talking about inculturation.
Daniel Franklin E. Pilario, C.M.
St Vincent SchoolofTheology - Adamson University