One of the final recommendations from the October 2019 Synod on the Amazon was that a liturgical rite be developed for use by the indigenous peoples of the Amazon. This collaborative effort would be a work of liturgical inculturation, representing an integration of Catholic faith with the culture of the Amazonian peoples—a Catholic liturgical expression “valuing the original worldview, traditions, symbols and rites that include transcendent, community and ecological dimensions.” In his post-synodal exhortation, Querida Amazonia, Pope Francis embraced inculturation too: “What is needed is courageous openness to the novelty of the Spirit, who is always able to create something new with the inexhaustible riches of Jesus Christ.”
Just a few weeks after the synod, Francis presided at a celebration of the Zairean liturgy at St. Peter’s Basilica for the Congolese community in Rome. The Zairean rite is the only fully inculturated liturgy to emerge since the Second Vatican Council, so the symbolic value of the event was high. A book about this experience was recently published with a preface written by Francis praising the liturgy and affirming it as a model of inculturation for the Amazon and elsewhere. He also produced a video message promoting it. Francis, it would appear, is becoming a serious advocate for liturgical inculturation.
What is liturgical inculturation? It is the insertion of liturgy into a given culture in such a way that the liturgy absorbs the culture (and is thus able to speak from within the culture) and the culture absorbs the liturgy (and thus the Christian faith upon which it rests becomes more deeply integrated into the social fabric and worldview of that society). The fathers at Vatican II, when writing the liturgy constitution, incorporated four critical paragraphs on liturgical inculturation (37–40). These gave permission for cultural adaptation of the liturgy in both a simple and a profound manner. It was, and still is, a big deal.
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