Thursday, September 01, 2022

Inculturation: A Wrong Turn - Part 5: More on the Africanism of the Zaire Usage, and the Failure of Inculturation

This is the conclusion of a guest essay on the problems of inculturation in the liturgy, written by a Nigerian Catholic, whom we thank profusely for sharing it with us. Here are the links to the previous parts: part 1; part 2; part 3; part 4. The entire essay may be downloaded as a PDF here.

Besides the “invocation of ancestors” and lively singing and dancing, other unique features of the Zaire Usage that have been held up as genuinely African include the role of a liturgical announcer, which parallels the role of a town crier in many African communities, and the placement and nature of the penitential rite, “whose structure is inspired by the African palaver.” [85] The last two innovations are drawn from the social organization and operation of African communities. There is no doubt that the Church’s liturgy and organization have been influenced and have influenced the structure of secular government over the course of history. [86] However, the services of town criers were certainly not restricted to African communities, nor were they ever employed in Africa or anywhere else for the moderation of the religious function of the community in the capacity of the “liaison between the priest and the assembly” [87] as stipulated in the Zaire Usage. In traditional African religions, as in many other religions of the world, past and present, the priest or priestess is the liaison between the people and the deity. An “official” role for the town crier or “announcer or herald, who is neither a religious nor a priest” [88] beyond the marketplace or street corners and well within the shrine of the gods, is unheard of, and cannot even be imagined.
Touching the placement and nature of the penitential rite that was said to have been inspired by the African palaver, it is obvious that parleying and reconciliation need not belong exclusively to Africans. Neither should the liturgy be tinkered with in order to teach history lessons or re-enact social practices long obsolete. [89] Overall, it is hard to see anything genuinely African and at the same time genuinely relevant to the liturgy in the two organizational innovations in the Zaire Usage, but it is not hard to see a common thread in the novelties: the weakening of the ministerial priesthood in favor of lay participation. The “announcer” innovation does this overtly while the allusion to the African palaver in positioning the penitential rite approaches the same goal more covertly.
The failure of Inculturation and insights from this failure
If inculturation or liturgical adaptation seeks to help the local population pray in a way which, while being natural to them, has been purified and elevated by the light of the Gospel and the Christian civilization, then inculturation, as has been practiced in Africa with the Zaire Usage its apex, has been an unqualified failure. This same conclusion applies to inculturation implemented in other parts of the Catholic world. The relevant data cited earlier showed that no modern effort at liturgical inculturation has invigorated the local Catholic population or accelerated the conversion of non-Catholics. On the contrary, in every part of the world, various sects and false religions are snatching souls at alarming rates from the fold of Christ.
One thing that must be clear from the failure of the recent efforts at inculturation across the Catholic world is that true inculturation, like any genuine cultural advancement, knows of no central committee of experts and elites working out an on-the-spot program of revision or innovation. A genuine culture grows organically. It borrows; it always does; but only that which has grown organically and stood the test of time. It survives and flourishes by establishing clear demarcations between the various aspects or levels of life in the community, without disconnecting these. The demarcations erected by genuine cultures are “semi-permeable,” i.e., they allow the exchange of refined elements between the cultural levels. In a balanced culture, each level grows naturally, influencing and being influenced by the other levels, but in such a way that the cultus, theology and/or ultimate philosophy of the people have the final and binding say in what is uprooted or allowed to grow.
The example of antebellum Irish American society
The musical organization of Irish Catholic parish life in pre-war United States provides us a good example of a natural ordering of community life, showcasing organic development, natural demarcations, and the flux of refined elements between the cultural segments over time. The five distinct musical categories, evidence of natural demarcations, which existed in this community, may be described as liturgical, devotional, sodality, social, and home music. [90]
Liturgical music, which is usually in Latin and following the norms of the universal Church, is at the heart of the community and used exclusively in solemn liturgical ceremonies. Next is devotional music, which could be in the vernacular, but of style and text suitable for religious use. Devotional music may feature in “low” Masses or other liturgical or extra-liturgical ceremonies. The sodality music category included not only the music that is used in pious associations in the parish, but also the music produced by political clubs, parochial schools, and other interest groups that meet or are organized under the auspices of the parish. The music in this category is usually in the vernacular and may vary substantially in style and subject. The various forms of music employed in Catholic public events such as St Patrick’s Day celebrations and other cultural events are here described as social music. Social music is typically in the vernacular and the style is dictated by popular taste. At their homes, Catholics made music for purposes of devotion, amusement, and education, which may be in the vernacular or in Latin.
(Young people in Ireland sing the Sanctus of Fauré’s Requiem.)
It should be noted that the category of devotional music is a hybrid of sacred and secular music with elements of the former predominating. The secular elements may predominate in the sodality music, which is also a hybrid category. These hybridizations are evidences of the natural exchange occurring across the musical demarcations. The overall musical organization was profoundly successful in inculcating and transmitting the Catholic Faith and the Irish traditional culture – as much of that culture that could be re-lived in a foreign land. The community joyfully and profitably “sang the ‘music of the Catholic Church’ and the songs of Thomas Moore, Samuel Lover, and the ‘national airs of Ireland’ ” [91] in Latin, Irish, and English. Both sacred and secular music performed by the Irish Catholic community attained professional excellence and attracted huge crowds of people, Catholics and non-Catholics, in audiences when performed at Mass or concert. [92] There was no incentivization of bad music by forcing it on helpless parishioners under the guise of liturgical adaptation. [93] Naturally, but not without some controversies, cross-pollination between music categories abounded, with the local hierarchy of the Catholic Church serving as the ultimate arbiter in sacred matters and popular taste the arbiter in the secular. [94]
The Irish Catholic music life in pre-war United States clearly shows that to engage the cultural depth of a local population, there is no need to replace Latin with Gaeilge or Igbo or to substitute Catholic pieties with druidic or animist rituals. Even before the migration to America, and this for centuries and in the face of the most brutal persecution, Ireland held fast with love to the truth and liturgy of the Catholic Church expressed mostly in Latin. This language and discipline that was described as “dead” and “foreign” was certainly alive and familiar to the Irish soul. So great was Ireland’s loyalty to the Traditional Latin Mass that men and women, literate or unlettered, were willing to, and many in fact did, give up everything, land, culture, and life for the joy of “Introibo ad altare Dei.” [95] Shockingly, such an undaunted Catholic will as was Irish that “survived dungeon, fire, and sword,” [96] did not survive liturgical inculturation and disciplinary accommodation to contemporary cultures. [97] It follows then that while inculturation is made to pass as an innocuous and beneficial practice, the overwhelming evidence shows that it is a life-threatening invasive procedure with no known case of holistic success.
The inescapable conclusion from our brief survey is that whether in Ireland, Nigeria, Brazil, the Philippines, the USA or any part of the Catholic world, modern inculturation was a wrong turn for the Church and for civilization. “And if you have taken a wrong turning,” C. S. Lewis remarked, “then to go forward does not get you any nearer [to your goal].” [98] This is common sense. “If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road…” [99] What we must do cannot be simpler and more concrete. And we know what the right road to walk back to is. In Microsoft’s Windows, it used to be called the “Last Known Good Configuration” option. In the Catholic Church, that configuration has always been the Traditional Latin Mass and its associated liturgical disciplines. The least any bishop can do is to give the Traditional Latin Mass a chance after the letter and spirit of Summorum Pontificum. Let us start there generously and see the dry bones rise again! [100]
NOTES (numeration continued from previous articles)
[85] Conference Episcopale du Zaire quoted by Chase N. P., 2013, 6, 1, p. 33
[86] Jungmann, J. A., The Mass of the Roman Rite: Its Origins and Development, Christian Classics, Inc., Maryland, 1986, 1, p. 68-69; Baldwin, M. W., The Mediaeval Church, Cornell University Press, New York, 1953, p. 60; Wielzen, D. R., 2009, p. 198-199
[87] Chase N. P., 2013, 6, 1, p. 32
[88] Ibid.
[89] Nche, G. C., Okwuosa, L. N., Nwaoga, T. C., 2016, 72, 1, a3015
[90] Grimes, R. R., How Shall We Sing in a Foreign Land? University of Notre Dame Press, Indiana, 1996, p. 8-10
[91] Grimes, R. R., 1996, p. 8-10, p. 57
[92] Ibid., p.61-66, 109-111
[93] However, without the benefit of the twentieth century reform of St. Pius X, it was not surprising that some performances may have been “too entertaining” for Mass (Grimes, R. R., 1996, p.61). Overall, there was great concern to preserve the integrity of the Mass as well as advance the Irish cultural experiences of the people.
[94] Grimes, R. R., 1996, p. 32, 55, 112-114, 134-135
[95] Augustine (O.M. Cap.), Ireland’s Loyalty to the Mass, Sands & Company, London, 1933
[96] Twomey, D. V., 2003, p. 34
[97] Ibid., p. 35-36
[98] Lewis, C. S., Mere Christianity, Macmillan Publishing Company, New York, 1952, p. 36
[99] Ibid., p. 36
[100] cf. Ezekiel 37, 1-10

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