A number of resources have addressed issues concerning liturgies
in a multicultural setting. Pastoral articles have offered
specific suggestions to worshipping communities seeking guidance
to fundamental questions concerning liturgical inculturation.
The themes have included cultural demographic awareness,
intercultural communication skills, defining liturgical inculturation,
specific ethnic-liturgical rituals, and the balance of unity
and diversity. These articles have pointed to the changing and
evolving contexts of our North American worship experience.
While these are good starting points, there continues to
be deeper issues at stake-how members of a worshipping
remain open to the shifting cultural paradigms
operative in such settings, the power and resistance dynamics
between the dominant group and non-dominant groups of any
community, and the basic Christian charity going beyond tolerance
of each other's presence. This is just a sampling of what
could be avoided in our attempt to inculturate our liturgies.
Such issues usually remain operative at a subconscious
level, difficult to calibrate unchecked, and as result, are capable
of becoming a serious source of tension, conflict, and resistance.
For example, while we may be open to interacting with
members of less familiar cultures than our own, are we capable
of recognizing how such interactions may actually be an invitation
to reconsider or even question our assumptions of the
world around us? If we are members of a dominant cultural
group, are we aware of the power behind our choices, words,
and actions when engaged in intercultural dialogue with the
members of non-dominant groups? Also, are the cultural
groups involved in intercultural dialogue capable of moving
beyond tolerance of each other's presence to put into action
Christ's message of charity and embrace?
These issues illustrate that all areas of the Church's life
continue to be affected, not just her liturgies. A parish community
that may have introduced one or two bilingual songs into
the general parish repertoire ten years ago, may continue to
find herself struggling today with how the members of these
various ethnic communities get along with one another. Has
the meaning of the texts or the singing of the melodies of these
songs moved beyond the Sunday event?
On the one hand, what may appear as resistance toward
embracing deeper issues brought about through cultural
exchange points to the complexity of what is involved. One
does not become a healthy and functioning intercultural community
overnight! Added to this is the rate of changing demographics
in our parish communities today. Our communities
are in constant flux. Although this may be a source of new
opportunities, inculturation usually entails unforeseen pastoral
challenges. On the other hand, what is equally needed is for the
parish communities to reflect upon how such dynamics are
changing and challenging our cultural assumptions.
For example, during those moments in a liturgy where a
reading may be proclaimed in a less familiar language, we may
need to ask ourselves: can the Spirit of God be working through
the patterns and symbols of less familiar cultures? During a liturgy
when there is a noticeable absence of youth and young
adults, we may need to ask ourselves: do the songs, symbols,
homily, and gestures of this service speak the language of their
culture? During liturgies where the assembly consists of one
primary dominant cultural group, when the immediate physical
surroundings of the neighborhood speak otherwise, we may
need to ask ourselves: how welcoming and hospitable are we
and how can our liturgies be a source of evangelization?
What is needed is balance: while remaining patient to the
unfolding process of cultural interaction, the parish community
needs to challenge itself in addressing the deeper issues. Otherwise,
our efforts toward inculturation have the potential of becoming
merely tokens. Our call is to move beyond such circumstances.
We do this with the help, grace, and guidance of the Holy Spirit.
We are not alone. Our weekly gatherings in the name of God,
through Christ, and in the power of the Spirit, assure us of God's
presence throughout this process of cultural interaction.
© 2013 Archdiocese of Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications,
3949 South Racine Ave, Chicago IL 60609
is a Paulist priest and pastoral associate in San
Francisco. He is a liturgical composer, author, and doctoral candidate
in Asian Catholic ritual at the Graduate Theological Union in