Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Is God Offended By African Christian Worship?

By Patrick Archbold

The editor of the Catholic Information Service for Africa, Henry Makori, reminds us about what liturgy is really all about. Us.
As an African Christian, one of my greatest joys is to listen to the Word of God proclaimed in my mother-tongue. To hear God speak in Ekegusii, to celebrate our indigenized mass, connects me to Pentecost.
But the Church came attired in a foreign culture and spoke in a strange tongue. Soon, however, there was a new Pentecost. The missionaries working with Africans learnt local languages, wrote them down and translated the Scriptures, prayers and hymns. But the mass, or liturgy, remained in Latin, 'the language of the Church'.

Another Pentecost happened at the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). A new mass which allowed use of vernaculars was introduced. The faithful could also express themselves in worship according to local custom. The evolution of the mass in Africa since then has been tremendous!

Through unique songs, chants, dances, gestures, processions and other expressions inspired by our cultures, histories and geniuses, African Christians today worship God with their entire being! We can speak confidently of an African liturgy, essentially universal but enriched with our own distinctive responses to the invitation of Jesus Christ.

Not everyone is rejoicing with us, though. Visiting Kenya this March, the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments at the Vatican, Nigerian-born Cardinal Francis Arinze, spoke at length on liturgical abuses. He emphasized strict adherence to the norms of sacred worship set out in the official texts, which should be studied "in the original Latin editions." Cardinal Arinze has for some time been scandalized by liturgical "inventions of the fertile imagination".

Saying, however, that the Church is a living entity - it "does not live in the Vatican Museum" - Arinze granted that the liturgy could be retouched in accordance with pastoral needs. But he proceeded to outline a veritably impossible procedure that basically discourages anyone from contemplating change to the rubrics.
Why the weeping and gnashing of teeth over this. Because of the fear of the return of the dreaded Gregorian Rite.
Arinze spoke months after Pope Benedict XVI allowed wide use of the hitherto restricted Latin (or Tridentine) liturgy of pre-Vatican II. Subsequently, the pope has praised the old mass. And last week, a senior Vatican official said the pope would like to see parishes around the world celebrate the Tridentine mass. Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos said the Vatican was writing to all seminaries to ask that future priests be trained to celebrate the old mass.

Looks like the authorities are generally unhappy with the evolution of the mass since Vatican II and want to return to the Latin liturgy. Will this not destroy our unique African liturgy that connects me to Pentecost? Or has God all these years been offended by our worship?
No, I don't think that God is offended by your worship over these years. However, he might be offended that you use such hyperbole and fear mongering to denigrate something that sanctified Catholics worldwide, including Africa, for 1500 years.


Dan Hunter said...

The late and holy Archbishop Lefebvre was a missionary bishop to Dakar who converted thousands offering the Gregorian Rite of Mass.

There are to this day, many holy African priests and Western Missionaries who offer the Gregorian Rite on the Dark Continent.
My family personally knows a Jesuit Missionary from Long Island NY, who has found that offering the Gregorian Mass in Nigeria has brought countless thousands into the Church.

Deo Gratias

Anonymous said...

And the fact that the mass is not "us" oriented but is supposed to bring us out of ourselves to something higher/God. And the fact that we really do not know how to say "no" to our every desire and whim...

Brian Kopp said...

I once heard a comment from an African missionary that "the Faith in Africa is as wide as the Nile -- and as deep as an oil slick."

Maybe ending liturgical abuses and false notions of inculturation will give the Catholic Faith in Africa a bit more depth.

Chironomo said...

Accepting the premise of "inculturation", that the Mass must be adapted to fit the "needs" of particular cultures will always lead to the kind of attitude expressed here. The problem is not how to proceed with inculturation, but whether to proceed with it at all.

Anonymous said...

You cannot stop inculturation. The translation of the Greek liturgy into Latin was itself an act of inculturation. The Roman liturgy draws even on language and attitudes of pagan Rome. The alternative to inculturation is fossilization.