You have read about the Pontifical Mass which H.E. Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith, Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, celebrated for this year's Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Maria Vesperbild, Bavaria (if you haven't, go here).
After Mass, Msgr. Ranjith gave an interview to the excellent German Catholic newspaper, Die Tagespost. He has some very intersting things to say about inculturation, which I hope to translate later. For now, here is a part about the result of the postconciliar liturgical reforms. This is quite significant in that the No. 2 of the Congregation for Divine Worship, handpicked by the Holy Father, openly acknowledges that in matters liturgical there is need for a course correction after the postconciliar liturgical reform.
Die Tagespost: In what way has the postconciliar liturgical reform contributed to a spiritual renewal?
Msgr. Ranjith: The use of the vernacular has let many people understand the mystery of the Eucharist more deeply and has procured a more intense relationship with the texts of Scripture. The active participation of the faithful has been encouraged. However, this must not mean that Mass is to be entirely dialogue-oriented. Mass must have moments of silence, of inwardness and personal prayer. Where there is ceaseless talking, man cannot be deeply penetrated by mystery. We are not to talk uninterruptedly before God, but to also let Him speak. The liturgical renewal has been affected, however, by the experimental arbitrariness with which Mass today is being freely performed as "do-it-yourself liturgy". The spirit of the liturgy has, in a manner of speaking, been abducted. What has happened cannot now be undone anymore. The fact is that our churches have become emptier. Of course there are also other factors: the unbridled consumerist behaviour, secularism, an excessive image of man. We have to muster the courage to correct course, because not everything which happened after the reform of the liturgy was according to the intention of the Council. Why should we drag along ballast which the Council did not want at all?
I have now translated the entire interview:
Die Tagespost: Asia is considered in Europe as the continent of contemplation, mysticism and spiritual depth. What can the Universal Church learn from the Church in Asia?
Msgr. Ranjith: The Universal Church can learn much from the Church in Asia. The prerequisite for this is inculturation correctly understood, that is the successful integration of certain parts of Asian culture into living Christianity. I am speaking here specifically of inculturation properly understood, because inculturation has partly been completely misunderstood in Asia, not least by those who talk about inculturation. We must therefore not deceive ourselves about what is really Asian. With regard to Western ideologies, schools of thought, the influence of secularism and horizontal perspectives, which do not truly liberate man, there can be no talk at all of Asian spirituality and Asian values. Only if we go back to the roots and talk authentically about Asian values and the Asian way of life, we can contribute to the Universal Church. Anything else would be but smoke and mirrors. In order to avoid a superficial view of inculturation we must distinguish between what is truly Asian and what belongs to the Asian religions. Many religious practices have developed from everyday life. To confuse the two would only be the breeding ground of a syncretistic theology and of a destruction of the Roman Catholic way of life. Therefore, we must first effect a kind of demythologisation and see what is behind the various religious attitudes. Only then can it be discerned what is truly Asian.
DT: Where do you see examples of unsuccessful Christian inculturation in Asia?
MR: It is, for instance, Asian through and through to respect religious symbols, for example priestly attire and religious garb. In no Buddhist temple will you find monks not in a monk's habit. The Hindusanyasis have their identity signs, which distinguish them from the others in the temple or on the road. This attitude is neither typically Buddhist nor typically Hindu, it is Asian. The Asians want to point with these symbols to the reality behind the outwardly visible reality. They consider, for example, priestly or religious garb as a distinction which makes the person concerned stand out from the mass because of his personal ideal. If priests and religious appear in Western civilian clothes and do not reveal their state, then this has nothing to do with inculturation, but with a pseudo-Asian look, which in fact is rather European. Therefore, it is very regrettable that priests and religious in many countries of Asia do not wear clothing corresponding to their state anymore. One of the congregations known worldwide, which has successfully designed a religious habit modelled after the local style of dress, is the Congregation of the Missionaris of Charity (the Sisters of Mother Teresa). They are an example of successful Christian inculturation, because every child on the street can immediately identify them.
DT: What standards apply to successful inculturation?
MR: The synodal text "Ecclesia in Asia" expressly states that Christ was Asian. The roots of Christianity and Jewish culture, which Jesus encountered in Jerusalem, were Asian. Of course, Christianity has spread in the West thorugh Greco-Roman thought. St. Paul and others were a kind of door opener in this. Unfortunately, the vicissitudes of history made impossible an early spread of Christianity in Asia. There was simply not enough "input" into the Asian way of thinking. In Asia, regarding Christianity, the image of a religion imported by the colonialists still predominates. But that is not true. Christianity came to Asia long before the colonial powers. In India, for example, we have the strong tradition of the St. Thomas Christians. Who wants to transfer Christianity to the Asian way of life must show humility before the mystery of God. Only a believing person can succeed. This is not a question of theological or philosophical competence. The simple, devout man in the street may often be at an advantage, because he approaches the mystery of God unprejudicedly
and is completely pervaded by the Christian message. The vox populi plays an important role for the inculturation. Only with deeply religious people who pray is successful inculturation possible. Theologians often forget that we can discover the true value of the message of Jesus only on our knees. We see this in the manner in which Paul evangelised. He was a man of God, who loved God and totally dedicated his life to Christ and lived in constant contact with Him. Only people like this can ve the standard for Christian inculturation. Otherwise, Christianity will not get beyond the book cover. And unfortunately one has to say that there is at present no serious theological thinking in Asia. We have a great potpourri of ideas: a bit of liberation theology from Latin America, a bit of Western theology, some of the philosophical currents of the Western universities - everything is being tried impetuously. Therefore, there is a kind of isolation, because of which one is no longer open to the mystery of the ways of God. Theology is only considered as a kind of human event. The openness to the light of God is missing. The sense of the deep mystical union with God is missing, as well as the ability to understand the faith of ordinary people. But it is precisely these characteristics a theologian needs.
DT: From Asia one also hears voices which say that the debate on the Tridentine liturgy is typically European and has nothing to do with the concerns of the people in mission areas. How do you see this?
MR: Well, these are individual opinions that cannot be generalized for the Catholic Church. That the whole of Asia should reject the Tridentine Mass is inconceivable. One must also beware of generalisations such as "the old Mass does not fit for Asia". It is precisely the extraordinary rite liturgy which reflects some Asian values in all their depth. Above all the aspect of Redemption and the vertical perspective of human life, the deeply personalised relationship between God and the priest and God and the community are more clearly expressed in the old liturgy than in the Novus ordo. The Novus ordo by contrast stresses more the horizontal perspective. That does not mean that the Novus ordo itself stands for a horizontal perspective, but rather its interpretation by different liturgical schools, which regard the Mass more as a community experience. If established ways of thinking are called into question, however, some react discomfitedly. Holy Mass is not only a memorial of the Last Supper, but also the Sacrifice of Christ and the Mystery of our Salvation. Without Good Friday, the Last Supper has no meaning. The Cross is the marvelous sign of God's love, and only in relation to the Cross is true community at all possible. Here is the real starting point for the evangelisation of Asia.
DT: In what way has the postconciliar liturgical reform contributed to a spiritual renewal?
MR: The use of the vernacular has let many people understand the mystery of the Eucharist more deeply and has procured a more intense relationship with the texts of Scripture. The active participation of the faithful has been encouraged. However, this must not mean that Mass is to be entirely dialogue-oriented. Mass must have moments of silence, of inwardness and personal prayer. Where there is ceaseless talking, man cannot be deeply penetrated by mystery. We are not to talk uninterruptedly before God, but to also let Him speak. The liturgical renewal has been affected, however, by the experimental arbitrariness with which Mass today is being freely performed as "do-it-yourself liturgy". The spirit of the liturgy has, in a manner of speaking, been abducted. What has happened cannot now be undone anymore. The fact is that our churches have become emptier. Of course there are also other factors: the unbridled consumerist behaviour, secularism, an excessive image of man. We have to muster the courage to correct course, because not everything which happened after the reform of the liturgy was according to the intention of the Council. Why should we drag along ballast which the Council did not want at all?
DT: In Germany, it is ever more requently that Holy Masses are being replaced by celebrations of the Word of God led by lay people, although enough priests are available. In return, in many places priests, in the course of mergers of parishes, have to concelebrate more frequently, so that even less Masses are celebrated. Does the Church have to rethink the practice of concelebration?
MR: This is less a question of concelebration than a question of the understanding of the Mass and the image of the priest. The priest accomplishes in the Eucharist what others cannot do. As alter Christus, he is not the main person, but the Lord. Concelebrations should be restricted to special occasions. A concelebration which stands for a depersonalisation of the celebration of Mass is therefore just as wrong as the notion that one could obligate a priest to concelebrate regularly, or close churches in several villages and concentrate the Mass in one place, although enough celebrants are available.