Last week we saw how Vatican II insists on the presence of Latin in the liturgy and the reasons for it—allowing Catholics throughout the world to join together in one voice in singing God’s praises.
I also noted some of the practical difficulties in implementing this ideal of Latin established by Vatican II. This week we move into the idea of enculturation in the liturgy. “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. Anything in these peoples’ way of life which is not indissolubly bound up with superstition and error she studies with sympathy and, if possible, preserves intact. Sometimes in fact she admits such things into the liturgy itself.”
The Council reaffirmed the Church’s traditional practice of seeking ways to incorporate words and actions which belong to particular peoples and places, which authentically express divine worship. “It shall be for the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority [national conferences of bishops] to specify adaptations, especially in the case of the administration of the sacraments, the sacramentals, processions, liturgical language, sacred music, and the arts, but according to the fundamental norms laid down in this Constitution.”
As one can see, there are means of allowing for adaptation in the liturgy, it is never done at the discretion of a particular parish or priest, nor a particular bishop, but is done on a broader scale and, therefore, only comes into play when such decisions pertain to a large number of people. Such adaptations must also be approved by the Pope before they can be used in the Mass.
For example, in some cultural situations, sitting was considered insufficiently respectful when in the presence of God, therefore, many Easter Rite churches do not permit the presence of pews or chairs during the Mass, but all remain standing throughout. Depending on where someone is in the East, even if there is somewhere to sit, one needs to be careful about crossing his or her legs, which is considered disrespectful. I myself got chastised for it when I was in the Holy Land!
In this country, too, we can see examples of such adaptation on the national level. For example, the normative color to be worn for funerals in the Church Universal is violet and, secondarily, black. In the United States there is an indult to use white on occasion. Another example pertains to the reception of Holy Communion. In the United States, permission was given for each bishop to allow the option of receiving Holy Communion on the hand in his own diocese. However, the universal norm is to receive Holy Communion on the tongue. It is because of this that I ask those receiving first communion to begin with the norm of receiving on the tongue. This way they will always be comfortable and ready to receive no matter where they are in the country or world. For example, once at a Cathedral in Mexico, I tried to receive on the hand only to have the priest stare at me blankly until I changed to receive on the tongue!
Next week we will see the importance of the bishop in the liturgy and how Vatican II called for the renewal of the liturgy to be fostered in each diocese. Praised be Jesus Christ!