Full text of Pope’s February 11th Declaration to the College of Cardinals
I have convoked you to this Consistory, not only for the three canonizations, but also to communicate to you a decision of great importance for the life of the Church. After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry. I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me. For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.
Dear Brothers, I thank you most sincerely for all the love and work with which you have supported me in my ministry and I ask pardon for all my defects. And now, let us entrust the Holy Church to the care of Our Supreme Pastor, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and implore his holy Mother Mary, so that she may assist the Cardinal Fathers with her maternal solicitude, in electing a new Supreme Pontiff. With regard to myself, I wish to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer.
From the Vatican, 10 February 2013
BENEDICTUS PP XVI
Pope Benedict XVI announces resignation
I have lacked this strength these past months and I have been obliged to admit my incapacity to properly govern the ministry confided to me, the Pope said.
Pope Benedict XVI, in a historic speech pronounced at the Vatican on Monday said he had decided to resign. This is the first time a Pope has decided to step down in 600 years. He said he was resigning in “full freedom” and would devote the rest of his life to prayer. The Pope said he no longer had “the strength of body or mind” to “fully serve the Petrine Ministry.
Pope Benedict XVI, formerly known as Cardinal Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger before he assumed Pontifical office on 19 April 2005, made the declaration in Latin, during a consistory in the Vatican.
The Holy See’s spokesperson, Father Federico Lombardi said the resignation would go into effect at the end of the month. “The Pope has announced he will give up his ministry at 8 pm on the 28th of February. That is when the period known as “sede vacante” or the Empty Chair will commence”. The next Pope will be elected before Easter which this year falls on March 31. The voting could well begin during Holy Week which begins on March 24.
In his speech, later relayed by Vatican Radio, the 85-year-old Pontiff explained that he had decided to step down “after having examined my conscience before God several times. I am convinced that my strength, given my advanced age, no longer allows me to fully exercise my ministry. In the present world, prey to constant change, the vigour of mind and body are also necessary to navigate Saint Peter’s boat and advance the Faith. I have lacked this strength these past months and I have been obliged to admit my incapacity to properly govern the ministry confided to me.”
Shock waves rippled across the world at this completely surprising, unexpected and unprecedented announcement. Believers flocked to the Vatican and to churches and cathedrals in most major cities in Europe. At the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris many faithful Catholics openly wept.
The Pope has been a figure of controversy for his extremely orthodox views and for the cover up of several sex abuse scandals by priests of the Catholic faith. One of his harshest critics, the Swiss Cardinal Hans Kung, said he hoped the outgoing Pope will not attempt to influence the choice of his successor. “During his time in office he has ordained so many conservative cardinals, that amongst them is hardly a single person to be found who could lead the church out of its multifaceted crisis,” Cardinal Kung said.
Pope Benedict XVI is the first German to be elected Pope since the eleventh century. On 16 April he will turn 86. Born to a modest and deeply Catholic Bavarian family, he entered the seminary in 1939, the year he joined Hitler’s youth movement – obligatory at the time. Known to be an eminent theologian, he was Archbishop of Munich and Freising in Germany’s most wealthy and eminently Catholic Bavaria from 1977 to 1981. Pope John Paul II called him to Rome to head the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. His conservative views had earned him the nickname of “Pope John Paul II’s Rotweiler”.
The Reception of the Conciliar Reform in the Liturgy
of the Syro-Malabar Church
Fr Antony Nariculam
Among the 16 documents of Vatican II, the first one discussed and passed in the Council was the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. Liturgy is said to be the ‘heart’ of the Church. So much so, the ‘quality’ of an Individual Church can be determined, to a great extent, by observing the liturgical celebration of her members because the Church is basically a worshipping community.
After the Council, the Church in India took a leap forward with the “Church in India Today” seminar held at NBCLC, Bangalore in 1969 to find out the ways and means to implement the Council documents. One of the documents which drew pointed attention of the participants of the seminar was the constitution on liturgy. Among all the 22 Catholic Individual Churches, the Syro-Malabar Church is perhaps the only one which took bold steps to renew the liturgy. This renewal movement was spearheaded by Cardinal Joseph Parecattil who believed that the Syro-Malabar Church should be ‘Indian’ in worship. Among the then Syro-Malabar Bishops, Archbishop Jacob Thoomkuzhy was one who whole-heartedly supported the Cardinal to go forward with the reform process ‘indianizing’ the liturgy. Though the Cardinal’s initiatives were helpful to create a new awareness about the need of liturgical reform in the Syro-Malabar Church in the light of the conciliar document on the sacred liturgy, there was also opposition to his move from various quarters. Therefore, the reform process gradually slowed down, heading towards a standstill.
Vatican II and Liturgical Reform
The thrust of Vatican II regarding the liturgical reform can be concisely summarized as “restoration, revision and adaptation”. The Council declared that the Church wishes to preserve all lawfully recognized rites and foster them in every way, and also that the rites be revised in the light of sound tradition in order to meet the needs of the modern age (SC 4). The Council gave some directives also to achieve this aim.
In the liturgy, the Council observes, there are unchangeable and changeable elements. Not that the latter may be changed, but ought to be changed if they have become less suitable for today. In this process, one of the principles to be followed is that liturgy is understood by the faithful with ease and that they can take part in it fully, actively and as a community (SC 21). SC 34 which says that the rites should be simple, short, clear and free from useless repetitions, is one of the golden principles of Vatican II. Another basic principle is regarding the need of inculturation. The Church is open to admit into the liturgy what is not superstitious or erroneous in the way of life of the people and their culture (SC 37).
Conciliar Reform and Reception in the Syro-Malabar Church
One of the stumbling blocks in the reception of the conciliar constitution on the liturgy in the Syro-Malabar Church is the (mis)understanding about the very process of restoration, revision and adaptation. According to some, revision and adaptation should take place only after completing the restoration of all liturgical texts. It would mean that the Syro-Malabar Church should fully restore and use the ancient Syriac texts, may be translated into modern languages, without much change. On the other hand, the vast majority in the Church preferred to give greater emphasis to revision, adaptation and inculturation . Of course, no Church can revise its liturgy without restoring it first. But this should be, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger observes, only for “recovering the lost values”. In other words, our primary concern should not be ‘What was the liturgy like then?”, but “What ought to be done today?” to make it meaningful and relevant to the people of today.
‘Pastoral realism’ is important in any reform. This has been always a crucial concern of the Syro-Malabar Church. This idea was endorsed also by the Roman Congregation for the Oriental Churches. “The good of the faithful ( ‘bonum fidelium’)”, the Congregation noted, “is the pastoral norm governing all liturgical legislation”. The right and duty to resolve concrete pastoral issues in the liturgy belong to the diocesan Bishop, said an eminent Oriental liturgiologist, Prof. Robert Taft, addressing the Syro-Malabar Bishops in the Synod held in the Vatican in 1996. The steps taken by Archbishop Thoomkuzhy in the realm of liturgy were influenced by this pastoral attitude. Therefore, he told the Syro-Malabar Bishops: “Liturgiology is a very comprehensive discipline like linguistics. We have, however, to be extremely wary of liturgical reforms, conceived by scholars who perhaps do not have direct contact with the pastoral realities”. Further he said: “There is no divergence of opinion among the (Syro-Malabar) Bishops or others with regard to essential matters of faith or morals. Often it is concerned with certain rubrics, clarity, simplicity etc. They are more of a pastoral nature. It should be noted that these pastoral exigencies do not have a uniform pattern all over the Syro-Malabar eparchies”.
Another issue which continues to be discussed in the realm of Syro-Malabar liturgical reform is the meaning of “organic growth”, and consequently, the understanding of ‘tradition’ and ‘traditions’. According to Vatican II, in the process of liturgical renewal new forms adopted should in some way grow ‘organically’ from forms already existing (SC 23). In the words of Pope John Paul II, tradition is not an unchanging repetition of formulas, but a heritage which preserves the original core. The Instruction of the Oriental Congregation observes that “No Church, Eastern or Western, has ever been able to survive without adapting itself continuously to the changing conditions of life”. This is so because history is not simply the past, rather it is the contemporary understanding of life in terms of its origin and evolution as seen through the prism of our present concern. Therefore, Pope John Paul II told the Syro-Malabar Bishops in 1980 that the liturgical reform must be based on “fidelity to genuine ecclesial traditions and open to the needs of the faithful, to the culture and to possible changes by way of organic progress”.
About ‘tradition’ and ‘organic growth’ Archbishop Thoomkuzhy has this to say: “First of all, there is no agreement as to what the genuine traditions are and what are not. Secondly, there is the difference as to which traditions we have to return and which traditions are to be reformed”. Further he observes that in the process of organic growth in the liturgy, there can be influences not too consonant with its original structure. Unless they are too essential for the salvation of souls it does not seem to be worth going back to the original state.
In this context, it is good to note an observation made by Robert Taft. “It has been my constant observation”, writes he, “that liturgies do not grow evenly, like living organisms. Rather, their individual structures possess a life of their own. More like cancer than native cells, they can appear like aggressors, showing riotous growth at a time when all else lies dormant”.
The above observations are relevant when we consider the reception of the conciliar reforms in the liturgy of the Syro-Malabar Church. The restored texts of the Syro-Malabar liturgy – Divine Office (1938), Holy Qurbana (1957), Pontifical (1958), Propria (1960), Calendar (1960)etc. – belong to a period prior to Vatican II. Of these only the holy Qurbana underwent slight modifications in 1962, 1968, 1985 and 1989. The revised text of the Sacraments was published in 2005. The other texts are to be published in the coming years.
Despite the earnest efforts of the Bishops, there still persists a complaint that the revised texts are not sufficiently adapted and inculturated. Liturgy is always subject to reform. The most consoling aspect of the ‘liturgical crisis’ in the Syro-Malabar Church is that there is no difference of opinion about the fundamental and essential aspects of the liturgy. As Archbishop Thoomkuzhy rightly observes, the divergence of opinion is only about certain rubrics, clarity, pastoral concerns etc. Vatican II, the Popes, the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, the Oriental Congregation and the Syro-Malabar Synod of Bishops have on various occasions laid down principles and guidelines in order to restore, revise and adapt liturgy for the ‘Church of today’. Adaptation to local needs is all the more urgent today since the Syro-Malabar Church is fast spreading to various countries, especially to Europe, America and the Gulf. An unprejudiced openness towards new pastoral realities based on fundamental principles of liturgical reform will help us to be relevant and useful for the people living in diverse circumstances. The steps taken by Archbishop Thoomkuzhy throughout his episcopal ministry have indeed this mark of pastoral realism.
 The Ratzinger Report, p.38
 The Ratzinger Report, p.132.
 Directives of 1988, No.2
 Acts of the Synod, p.133
 Acts of the Synod, p.98
 Acts of the Synod, p.109
 Orientale Lumen, No.8
 Instruction of 1996, No.11
 Roman Documents, Kottayam 1999, p.65
 Acts of the Synod, p.94
 Acts of the Synod, p.95
 How liturgies Grow? p.360
Restoration, Revision, Adaptation and Organic Growth of the Liturgy and the Syro-Malabar Church
Fr Antony Nariculam
The Syro-Malabar Church has been in a process of soul-searching from some years to find out ways and means of restoring and revising her liturgy in the light of Vatican II and the later documents. One of the stumbling blocks in this process has been the (mis)understanding about the principles of restoration, revision, adaptation and organic growth. This article is an attempt to study this subject in the light of magisterial documents and the interpretation of some renowned and reliable theologians. It is, in fact, a compilation of the relevant portions from the various documents and the writings of the authors concerned. We thought of presenting them without much comment as they are self-explanatory. This article seeks to facilitate the process of restoration and revision of the Syro-Malabar liturgy already being undertaken by the Syro-Malabar Synod of Bishops. The last part of this article presents some concrete suggestions of Prof. Robert Taft who was closely associated with the Syro-Malabar liturgical renewal and consequent ‘controversies’ in his official capacity as a member of the Pontifical Commission appointed to look into the matter.
In the introduction to the book Tradition and Traditions, Y.Congar writes: “The reader must not expect to find here a series of consecutive essays, presenting a methodological and exhaustive study of the notion of tradition according to all the various authors – something beyond the capabilities of anyone man’s life-time and work”. The same is true about this article. This is not an exhaustive presentation of the theme. As we try to elucidate the meaning of tradition, history, restoration, revision, adaptation, organic growth, inculturation etc. we fail to give a clear-cut definition as to what “Tradition” really means. We can make only some approximations. As Congar remarks: “ ‘Tradition’ designates a reality which is too large, a concept too dense, to be formulated in a concise definition”. Even the definition of Bousset – ‘the ever manifest succession of doctrine left to and carried by the Church’ – conveys, according to Congar, only one aspect of the whole.
According to another definition, tradition serves to indicate some one or other of the following realities: the apostolic practices and teachings not contained in the Scripture; the unwritten source of the whole Christian life; the rule of faith; the transmission of revealed truth; the teachings of the Church’s magisterium etc.
In fact, as Pope John Paul II has remarked, the Churches of the East are “living interpreters of the treasure of tradition they preserve”. However, a liturgical historian of today should be able to critique historical data in the light of the principles of Vatican II. These principles include the following: the central position of the paschal mystery (SC 5-7), the role of the Word of God in the liturgy (SC 24), active participation of the people (SC 14), congregational singing (114,121), community dimension of the liturgical celebration (SC 26,27), inculturation (SC 37– 40), pastoral needs (SC 21,34) etc.
1. Vatican II and the Understanding of Liturgical Renewal
The sacred liturgy, being the summit and the source of Christian life, Vatican II thought it fitting to revise it to impart “an ever-increasing vigour to the Christian life of the Faithful by adapting more closely to the needs of modern age those things that are subject to change” (SC 1). Therefore the Council decided “to revise the rites carefully in the light of sound tradition, and to give them new vigour to meet present-day circumstances and needs” (SC 4). According to the Council, in order to retain sound tradition a certain investigation – theological, historical and pastoral – should always be made into each part of the liturgy which is to be revised. At the same time, the way should remain open to legitimate progress (SC 23).
The identity of an Individual Church depends to a great extent on her liturgy. Therefore, the Council exhorts the members of the Eastern Churches “to preserve their own liturgical rites and ways of life” (OE 6). They are “ to aim always at a more perfect knowledge and practice of their rites, and if they have fallen away due to circumstances of times or persons, they are to strive to return to their ancestral ways” (OE 6) because the Church wishes “the tradition of each particular Church or rite to remain whole and entire, and it likewise wishes to adapt its own way of life to the needs of different times and places” (OE 2).
One of the primary aims of restoration and renewal of the sacred liturgy is the full and active participation of all the people since liturgy is an indispensable source from which the faithful derive the true Christian spirit (SC 14). In order to realize this aim, the Church “desires to undertake with great care a general restoration of the liturgy itself. For the liturgy is made up of unchangeable elements divinely instituted, and of elements subject to change. These latter not only may be changed but ought to be changed with the passage of time, if they have suffered from the intrusion of anything out of harmony with the inner nature of the liturgy or have become less suitable. In this restoration both texts and rites should be drawn up so as to express more clearly the holy things which they signify. The Christian people, as far as possible, should be able to understand them with ease and take part in them fully, actively, and as a community” (SC 21). From this statement, it may be assumed that restoration is not separate from revision and adaptation.
2. What is Tradition?
In the words of Pope John Paul II, Tradition “is the heritage of Christ’s Church. This is the living memory of the Risen One and witnessed to by the Apostles who passed on his living memory to their successors in an uninterrupted line, guaranteed by the apostolic succession through the laying on of hands, down to the Bishops of today. This is articulated in the historical and cultural patrimony of each Church”. Tradition is not, continues the Pope, “an unchanging repetition of formulas, but a heritage which preserves its original, living kerygmatic core. It is Tradition that preserves the Church from the danger of gathering only changing opinions, and guarantees her certitude and continuity”.
“When uses and customs belonging to each Church are considered as absolutely unchangeable, there is a sure risk of tradition losing that feature of a living reality which grows and develops and which the Spirit guarantees precisely because it has something to say to the people of every age. As Scripture is increasingly understood by those who read it; every other element of the Church’s living heritage is increasingly understood by believers and is enriched by new contributions, in fidelity and in continuity. Only a religious assimilation, in obedience of faith, of what the Church calls ‘Tradition’ will enable Tradition to be embodied in different cultural and historical situations and conditions. Tradition is never pure nostalgia for things or forms past, nor regret for lost privileges, but the living memory of the Bride, kept eternally youthful by the Love that dwells within her”.
Appreciating the traditions of the Oriental Churches, the Pope writes: “The venerable and ancient tradition of the Eastern Churches is an integral part of the heritage of Christ’s Church” and hence “the first need for Catholics is to be familiar with that tradition, so as to be nourished by it”. Precisely for this reason, the Prefect of the Oriental Congregation, Cardinal Simon Lourdusamy, asked the Syro-Malabar Bishops to make studies of the Syrian liturgical heritage and the patristic sources of tradition in order to fully understand the ecclesial meaning of Tradition in view also of meeting the challenges of present-day pastoral exigencies.
Tradition involves three elements: a deposit of faith, a living teaching authority and a transmission of succession. In a way, faith of the Church is in the faith of the Churches. Therefore, from an Eastern perspective, theology is grounded not only on Scripture, but also on tradition, liturgy, fathers, monasticism, mysticism, spiritual writers, martyrology, practices of fasting, penance, abstinence, prayer etc. To these we may add also the Ecumenical Councils, Creeds, magisterium and disciplinary norms.
When the early Christian writers speak of tradition, notes Congar, they mean primarily a Christological explanation of the Old Testament and the ecclesial understanding of the central mystery of Christ and the Church as witnessed to by the Scriptures. When they speak of apostolic traditions transmitted orally they have in mind liturgical and disciplinary practices held universally and with an origin which, even if it is not attested by Scripture, seems to be bound up with that of the Church.
St.Paul says that he himself “received” from the Lord what he “transmits” (1 Cor 11:23). In St.Paul the content of “tradition” is composed of two groups of objects. Firstly, the basic message of the faith (deposit of faith) which must be received as a word from God. It is essentially centred on the death and resurrection of Christ. And secondly, this central message is handed over to the communities following their internal discipline or Christian behaviour. In other words, tradition is also “the explanation which is made of this deposit of faith, as a result of its being lived and defended, generation after generation, by the people of God”. In this context, we need to make a distinction between “actively transmitted” tradition and a tradition having an “objective existence” (e.g. the Word of God) independently of the living subject which transmits them. It is necessary to guard against unconsciously identifying the distinction between a ‘statement of faith’ and ‘rules of conduct’. However, when dealing with St. Paul, one should not separate too sharply the tradition of the paschal faith from the tradition of apostolic rules of conduct since both build up the community. What is noteworthy here is that the two categories of tradition are not entirely of equal standing.
St.Paul requests fidelity to the deposit of faith: “Follow the pattern of the sound words which you have heard from me,…. Guard the truth that has been entrusted to you by the Holy Spirit” (2 Tim 1:13-14). Here the “pattern”, writes Congar, signifies “outline, sketch, a summary presentation, a general definition; their model, example”. In other words, it is ‘a brief note or a figure intended, not to be reproduced as a model, but to serve as an outline, as a suggested basis which must be completed and filled out by a detailed treatment’.
The past, as Robert Taft notes, is only instructive and not normative. History does not teach us “what we should do today, and we study the past not to imitate it, but simply to understand. What the Church adheres to is not history but tradition, and tradition is not the past but the Church’s self-consciousness now of the present living reality that has been handed on to it out of its past. In judging what is tradition the Church, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, looks not to the past but within, to itself”. “History is not the past. Rather it is the contemporary understanding of life in terms of its origin and evolution as seen through the prism of our present concern”.
Preserving the tradition does not exclude progress and new development. According to the Instruction of the Oriental Congregation, “No Church, Eastern or Western has ever been able to survive without adapting itself continuously to the changing conditions of life. Rather, the Church guards against every undue and inopportune precipitation, requiring that any eventual modification be not only well prepared but also inspired and conforming to the genuine tradition”.
Tradition is not a second source. It is, along with Scripture, “another and complementary way of handing on (these) truths. Furthermore, it acts as a vehicle for traditions, by which we mean customs, practices and rites, and which derive ultimately from the apostles. But this is no more than saying that their liturgical and disciplinary character has doctrinal implications and significance, especially if it concerns the sacraments in the strict sense”.
3. Reception of Tradition
Writing about the ‘transmission of faith’, Congar notes that the tradition is not only transmitted, it is also to be actively received. ‘Actively’, that is, there exists a subject who is ‘active’ in receiving it. Thus “tradition will not be merely a transmission followed by a passive, mechanical reception; it entails the making present in a human consciousness of a saving faith”. Therefore, there needs to be a “living fidelity of a mind reflecting upon the meaning of what is heard, drawing conclusions, trying to determine the boundaries between what is true and what is not”.
The reception is possible only when the ecclesial dimension of tradition is properly understood. For this the sensus Ecclesiae is of utmost importance. Whom does the sensus Ecclesiae belong to? Should it belong to all members of the Church or only to some of them? Congar excludes the second hypothesis because all members of the Body of Christ are alive and living, active and responsible. At the same time, though all are responsible, some may have greater responsibility in virtue of a commission or an office in the Church. Such was the apostles’ situation at the Church’s origin, and then the situation of those ministers commissioned by them to preside over and tend the Christian communities; and lastly, it is the position of the hierarchical ministers in the Church today.
“Tradition is more than just continuity; it is a dynamic, living continuity. It is not reducible to its external aspects…It is not attainable except from within, by living in the communion of the Church”. Hence it is imperative that the faithful are educated to imbibe the meaning of sensus Ecclesiae. In fact, the heritage of faith “is received through tradition which guarantees its continuity and authenticity throughout time, ever since antiquity and especially since the testimony of the Apostles. It is received with open heart, maintained, transmitted, taught, confirmed, and clarified by the Holy Spirit”.
4. Tradition in Relation to Liturgy
Tradition has a special application to liturgical restoration, revision and adaptation. According to Congar, there are three main ‘monuments’ in which Tradition’s character is particularly evident: Liturgy, Fathers and Ordinary expressions of Christian life. Among them liturgy has a place without parallel as an instrument of tradition because of its content. Liturgy is, so to say, “a privileged custodian and dispenser of Tradition”. It is the principal instrument of Church’s Tradition. For the Church, “liturgy is not a dead monument, a kind of Pantheon to be visited as one visits a museum, but a home which is always lived in, the conditioning envelope or atmosphere of its whole life”.
According to one of the pioneers of liturgical renewal, Dom P.Gueranger, “it is in the liturgy that the Spirit who inspired the Scriptures still speaks to us; the liturgy is tradition itself, as its highest degree of power and solemnity”. In the words of Pope Pius XII, liturgy is “the faithful mirror of teaching handed on by our forefathers”.
A large part of Church’s belief has become known to us through prayer which helps to enter into communion with God. Thus liturgy is a privileged locus of Tradition, not only from the point of view of conservation and preservation, but also from that of progress and development. The part it plays in the progressive development of our dogmatic understanding of revelation is considerable (Lex orandi lex credendi). Moreover, it is clear that such growth and development must be controlled by a magisterium which makes constant reference to the objective standards of the apostolic kerygma and especially, for verification, to the scriptural witness. Therefore the first requirement of every Eastern liturgical renewal, as is also the case for the liturgical reform in the West, notes Roman Instruction, “is that re-discovering full fidelity to their own liturgical traditions, benefiting from their riches and eliminating that which has altered their authenticity. Such heedfulness is not subordinate to but precedes so-called updating. Although delicate task that must be executed with care so as not to disturb souls, it must be coherently and constantly pursued if the Eastern Catholic Churches want to remain faithful to the mandate received”. However, our attempts to preserve traditions “do not take away from the rightful exigency to express, as much as possible, the Gospel in a plain and clear way for the contemporary man and woman. Every formula necessitates, therefore, unceasing vigilance to remain alive under the breath of the Spirit”.
In addition, every Individual Church should be faithful to her own traditions regarding the sacred buildings and the arrangements of the interior space and sacred images. For this the clergy should have an in-depth knowledge of their own tradition and a constant, well established and systematic formation of the faithful so that they may be able to fully perceive the richness of the signs entrusted to them. In order to achieve this aim, it is imperative that our Church comes to an acceptable understanding about the liturgical traditions of our Church. However, “fidelity does not imply anachronistic fixation, as the evolution of sacred art – even in the East – demonstrates, but rather, development that is fully coherent within the profound and, immutable meaning of how it is celebrated in the liturgy”.
The ‘rites’ play an important role in the liturgy. Cardinal Ratzinger defines ‘rite’ as “the expression that has become form, of ecclesiality and of Church’s identity as a historically transcendent communion of liturgical prayer and action”. According to him, the rite contains “an essential exposition of the biblical legacy that goes beyond the limits of the individual rites, and thus it shares in the authority of the Church’s faith in its fundamental form”. For this reason, the rituals are to a great extent conservative. Besides, liturgy being a complex act in which many people participate in many different ways, it is by nature ‘conservative and restive to change’. Very often the rituals are transmitted to generations in a fixed manner. Of course, in this transmission, there is the risk of empty formalism, a tradition in the sense of mechanical or routine gesture. On the other hand, we should also admit that the rituals preserve certain truths while everything else undergoes changes. In the eventful celebrations of Christmas, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter etc. the rituals have preserved for us a heritage offering us a powerful communion in the same reality between peoples separated by centuries.
5. Restoration as Reformation
What is restoration? According to Ratzinger “if by ‘restoration’ is meant a turning back, no restoration of such kind is possible. The Church moves forward toward the consummation of history, she looks ahead to the Lord who is coming. No, there is no ‘restoration’ whatsoever in this sense. But, if by restoration we understand the search for a new balance after all the exaggerations of an indiscriminate opening to the world, after the overly positive interpretations of an agnostic and atheistic world, well then a restoration understood in this sense (a newly found balance of orientations and values within the Catholic totality) is altogether desirable and, for that matter, is already in operation in the Church”. In the light of negative press comments on Cardinal’s opinion about restoration, he made a written statement on it. He wrote: “Above all I should simply like to recall what I really said: there is no return to the past. A restoration understood thus is not only impossible but also not even desirable. The Church moves forward to the consummation of history, she looks ahead to the Lord who is coming. If, however, the term ‘restoration’ is understood according to its semantic content, that is to say, as a recovery of lost values, within a new totality, then I would like to say that this precisely is the task that imposes itself today in the second phase post-conciliar period. Yet the word ‘restoration’ is linguistically laden in such a way for us moderns that it is difficult to attribute this meaning to it. In reality it literally means the same as the word ‘reform’, a term that has a wholly different sound to us today”.
Ratzinger objects to the ‘romantic archaeologism’ of certain liturgists ‘who would throw out everything done after Gregory the Great as being an excrescence and a sign of decadence. For them, the criterion of liturgical renewal was not ‘What ought to be done today?’ but ‘What was it like then’? They forget that the Church is living and that her liturgy cannot be frozen at the stage reached in the city of Rome prior to the onset of the Middle Ages”. In his words, ‘pure archaism is fruitless, as is pure modernism’. However, he observes also that the medieval Church developed a liturgical depth which must be carefully examined before it is abandoned.
The Fathers, and the Councils themselves, thought of Councils as continuing, in new forms and in response to the demands of their time, the disclosure of God’s mystery made by the prophets, the Lord and the apostles. Thus in tradition a growth occurs, in the sense that what was involved in the deposit inherited from the apostles is developed and unfolded. Thus tradition is not only ‘transmission’ but also ‘development’. While history is a science of humankind’s past, tradition is ‘God’s continuous inspiration of the Church’.
According to Ratzinger, there are two fundamentally different views on the structure of liturgical celebrations: one view sees liturgy as creativity, freedom, celebration and community. The other view, consequently, considers things like rite, obligation, interiority and Church order as negative factors which belong to the “old” liturgy which is to be superseded. For those who hold this view, liturgy is not something officially prescribed ritual but a concrete celebration, fashioned as an authentic expression of the celebrating community, with the minimum of external control. For them the Missal is only a guidebook. Obviously, this negative attitude will be detrimental to liturgical restoration and reformation.
6. Liturgy and Organic Development
According to the Decree on the Catholic Eastern Churches, changes in the liturgy are to be introduced only to forward its “organic growth” (OE 6). The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy says that in the process of liturgical renewal new forms adopted should in some way grow “organically” from forms already existing (SC 23).
The Congregation for the Eastern Churches explains the “organic growth” in the following words: “The organic progress in every Church sui iuris, implies taking into account first of all the roots from which the heritage of these Churches was initially developed, mainly in Jerusalem, Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople, Armenia, and in the ancient empire of Persia; and secondly, the manner in which such traditions were transmitted, adapting to the various circumstances and places but maintained in a coherent organic continuity”. Then the Instruction quotes a discourse of Pope Paul VI delivered to the members of the Commission for the Revision of the Oriental Code which reads: “In presenting new things it is necessary to pay attention to take sufficiently into account the system of the transmitted message. Any renewal, in fact, should be coherent and agree with sound tradition, in such a way that the new norms do not appear as an extraneous body forced into an ecclesiastical composite, but blossoming as though spontaneously from already existing norms”. Further, while modifying ancient liturgical practice, “it must be determined if the element to be introduced is coherent with contextual meaning in which it is placed. Such a context should be understood beginning with eventual references to Sacred Scripture, interpretations of the Holy Fathers, liturgical reforms previously made and mystagogical catechesis. Here it must be verified that the new change is homogenous with the symbolic language, with the images and the style specific to the liturgy of the particular Church”. 
Cardinal Ratzinger says that the liturgy cannot be compared to a piece of technical instrument or something manufactured, but to a plant, something organic that grows and whose laws of growth determine the possibilities of further development.
Addressing the Syro-Malabar Bishops during their ad limina visit in 1980, Pope John Paul II said that the Syro-Malabar liturgical renewal must be based on ‘fidelity to genuine ecclesial traditions and open to the needs of the faithful, to the culture and to possible changes by way of organic progress’.
Cardinal Rubin, Prefect of the Oriental congregation, made the following remarks on the Syro-Malabar liturgical renewal while addressing the Syro-Malabar Bishops in 1980: “In every living organism there must co-exist a power of assimilating new elements and a power of conservation, that is, of remaining oneself, of maintaining the identity. This fidelity must be presupposed; otherwise, one simply undergoes, and then is dilution and not vital assimilation. This ‘appropriate and organic development’, therefore, implies the avoidance of immobilism, on the one hand, but also of instability, on the other”. He continued: “I believe that in reconciling these two exigencies lies the key to the solution of the problem of revision, renewal and adaptation of the liturgy”.
The “Fundamental Orientations concerning the Syro-Malabar Liturgy” given by Rome in 1998 has this to say about organic growth: “The just and praiseworthy concern to adapt liturgical celebrations to present-day living conditions and local culture, whether in the eparchies in the Church’s own territory or in mission eparchies, must not lead us to forget the basic principle of the secular life of liturgical worship, that of organic progress”. Therefore, these adaptations have to respect “those principles fundamental to all Christian liturgies and in particular, the Syro-Oriental liturgy”.
In this context, it is worthy of note an observation made by Robert Taft: “It has been my constant observation”, writes he, “that liturgies do not grow evenly, like living organisms. Rather, their individual structures possess a life of their own. More like cancer than native cells, they can appear like aggressors, showing riotous growth at a time when all else lies dormant”.
7. Liturgy and Inculturation
According to Vatican II, “even in the liturgy the Church does not wish to impose a rigid uniformity in matters which do not involve the faith or the good of the whole community. Rather does she respect and foster the qualities and talents of the various races and nations”. Among these qualities what is not bound up with superstition and error, the Church is prepared to admit into the liturgy, provided “they harmonize with its true and authentic spirit” (SC 37).
In 1980 the Oriental Congregation wrote to the Syro-Malabar Bishops about the need of “cultural integration”. The Syro-Malabar Church needs “an integration of the Eastern Rite with authentically Eastern spirituality and theology… This cannot be achieved without serious study and without acceptance in depth of the liturgical and patristic heritage, of which the Eastern rite is a privileged expression”. Besides, it needs “the integration with the culture and the tradition (better: into the cultures and the traditions) of India. This is in view of the necessary ‘inculturation’, by which is meant the assumption of the more solid and sounder realities which these traditions contain, and which so unmistakeably characterize the authentic physiognomy of the Indian people”. And “the ‘assumption’ of the realities that characterize Indian culture implies necessarily study and understanding of Hinduism, especially through a mature contact with its manifold sources”.
Other directives from the Oriental Congregation too have references to the topic of inculturation. Thus, the Final Judgement of 1985 makes a reference to the ‘Indian patrimony’ of the Syro-Malabar Church. It reads: “It is therefore devoutly to be hoped that the church of the St.Thomas Christians may once again find its roots, at once evangelical and truly original, Oriental and Indian…”. It also said that Rome in no way opposes recommendation for legitimate Indianization. Regarding music in the liturgy, the document notes that the texts of refrains and chants more suitable to Indian culture could be proposed.
The Directives of 1988 expressed the readiness of Rome to consider “adaptations to local culture and sensibilities” and to open the way ‘to renewal and adaptations to historico-cultural context’.
The whole issue of inculturation is a complex one. Having this reality in mind Cardinal Rubin told the Syro-Malabar Bishops in 1980: “… it seems to me that the problem of inculturation facing the Church, say, in Africa – where a true philosophy does not exist – is different from that of inculturation in India, where the Church is confronted by the various forms of Hinduism, philosophical thought so weighty that it has influenced our Western Idealists (from Schopenauer to Hegel) and – in ancient times – perhaps Plato himself”.
According to Vatican II, the liturgy is “made up of unchangeable elements divinely instituted and of elements subject to change. These latter not only may be changed but ought to be changed with the passage of time, if they have suffered from the intrusion of anything out of harmony with the inner nature of the liturgy or have become less suitable” (SC 21). To a question on the changeable and unchangeable elements in the liturgy and the issue of inculturation in the mission lands, Cardinal Ratzinger replied as follows: “It must be said that both the Constitution on the Liturgy and the Decree on the Church’s Missionary activity explicitly allow for the possibility of far-reaching adaptations to the customs and cultic traditions of peoples. To that extent the new Missal is only providing a framework for mission lands. It is a feature of the new Missal that its very many ad libitum provisions give a great deal of scope for local variations”. At the same time, Ratzinger has a word of caution too. These things should not be taken too naively and simplistically, he says. Therefore he writes that it would be “very dangerous to suggest that missionary liturgies could be created overnight, so to speak, by decision of Bishops’ conferences, which would themselves be dependent on memoranda drawn up by academics. Liturgy does not come about through regulation”. Further he observes that the liturgical ‘rites’ are not simply products of inculturation, though they have incorporated many elements from the local culture. In his opinion, “the Christian faith can never be separated from the soil of sacred events”.
8. Active Participation and Pastoral Implications
One of the contributions of Vatican II was the impetus it gave to the active participation of the faithful. “Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that full, conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebration which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy”. So much so, “the full and active participation of all the people” should be the aim to be considered before all else in the restoration and renewal of the liturgy (SC 14).In order to promote active participation, both internal and external, the pastors need to take into account the ‘age, condition, way of life and standard of religious culture of the people’ (SC 19).
But, the word ‘participation’ is sometimes misunderstood to mean “something external, entailing a need for general activity, as if as many people, as often as possible, should be visibly engaged in action”. There is an impression that the active participation is speaking, singing, preaching, reading etc. But, Vatican II also included silence as part of active participation. For “silence facilitates a really deep, personal participation, allowing us to listen inwardly to the Lord’s Word. Many liturgies now lack of all trace of this silence”. The real ‘actio’ in the liturgy, in which we are supposed to participate, notes Cardinal Ratzinger, “is the action of God himself. This is what is new and distinctive about the Christian liturgy: God himself acts and does what is essential”.
The term ‘pastoral’ also needs to be understood in a correct perspective. In the name of ‘pastoral’, liturgy “cannot be an expression of what is current and transitory, for it expresses the mystery of the Holy. Many people have felt and said that liturgy must be ‘made’ by the whole community if it is really to belong to them. Such an attitude has led to the ‘success’ of the liturgy being measured by its effect at the level of spectacle and entertainment. It is to lose sight of what is distinctive to the liturgy, which does not come from what we do but from the fact that something is taking place here that all of us together cannot ‘make’”.
From a pastoral point of view, simplification of liturgy is good and useful. But, “however much the liturgy is simplified and rendered comprehensible, the mystery of God’s action operating through the Church’s acts must remain untouched. This applies also to the heart of the liturgy: as far as both priest and people are concerned, it is something given, that cannot be manipulated. It partakes of the reality of the whole Church”. Therefore, Ratzinger urges to oppose ‘rationalistic relativism and pastoral infantilism’ because they ‘degrade the liturgy’. We also need to be led ‘from form to the content’. In other words, “we need an education which will help us to grow into an inner appropriation of the Church’s common liturgy”.
However, in the pastoral context, the local customs play an important role in the celebration of the liturgy. Therefore, referring to CCEO 1507 – 1509, the Roman Instruction considers custom as the fruit of the continuous and uncontested practice of the local community and precious because it is rooted in the life of the people. However, concerning this subject “a wise discernment will be necessary to preserve that which is most valid and stimulating for a true Christian flourishing and to intervene in that which is superfluous or less suitable to the particular genuine traditions”. Further, the concluding paragraph of the Instruction refers to the nature of the Instruction in the following words: “The indications contained here can be completed by the reflection and contribution of the individual Churches sui iuris, dedicating the necessary attention to them by studying how they should be applied in the various individual traditions and conditions”. The reasoning behind this position seems to be what the “Directives” of 1988 referred to: ‘The good of the faithful is the pastoral norm governing all liturgical legislation’. According to Robert Taft, the pastoral choices are “not ineluctable conclusions from history or theology”.
9. Lessons from Latin Liturgical Renewal
In the first century (ca. AD 64) when the Church of Rome was established the prevalent language in Rome was a popular type of Greek. The Latinization of the Western liturgy began in North Africa from the third century, thanks to Tertullian, Cyprian, Augustine and others. It was Pope Victor I (+203), an African by birth, who made the first attempt to introduce Latin into the liturgy of the Roman Church. The shift from Greek to Latin and the transitional period of bilingualism speak highly of the Roman Church’s pastoral sensitivity. Despite the Roman proverbial veneration for the traditions, they decided in favour of Latin language which people understood. It teaches us that “fidelity to tradition means adapting to the needs of the people in every age and of every cultural tradition”. The transition from Greek to Latin was not merely a change of liturgical language. It was accompanied also by creativity composing new prayers in Latin itself.
The normal historical process of liturgical renewal had traditionally been the work of generations. The liturgical movement in the West began in 19th century France. Step One was restoration, a process whereby rites were slowly purged of less suitable later accretions and returned to a purer and more authentic state. This restoration phase, a slow, step-by-step renewal, was based on and accompanied by a lengthy process of study, lively debates and the propagation of ideas through journals and Liturgical Weeks; the founding of new liturgical periodicals, centres and societies… – all leading over a period of several generations, to the reforms of Vatican II. And underlying this official restoration, providing its firm foundation, was a massive effort of scholarship in the gathering, collating, editing, and studying of manuscripts and other liturgical and theological sources. In short, a whole century of intensive scholarship and maturation ultimately paved the way for the liturgical reforms of the Roman Rite in Vatican II.
The Roman Instruction, referring to SC 23 which speaks about the need of making investigation into the theological, historical and pastoral aspects in the process of restoration, revision and adaptation, notes: “Indeed, the liturgical reform desired by the Second Vatican Council was able to be carried out precisely because it was preceded, and successfully followed , by lengthy experimentation, intense historical studies, critical textual analyses, theological studies, biblical studies and pastoral studies, culminating in the work of individual and committee research, both at the local and international level. Without all this, the references, frameworks, and precise contents necessary for a valid endeavour would not have been obtained”.
- 10. Liturgical Language
The liturgical texts are meant to nourish the faith of the people and to lift their hearts and minds to God. This is possible only when the texts are effective to communicate the message intended by the texts. Hence a good translation is necessary. The non-verbal parts of the liturgy (symbols, gestures etc.) communicate through visual senses whereas the verbal parts (prayers, hymns etc.) are communicated through aural contact. While some gestures, symbols, words etc. are transculturally understood (Amen, Halleluia, Cross etc.), some others are culturally bound as far as an assembly is concerned. This problem can be solved in two ways: either by translating texts into local idioms or by composing new prayers.
The “Fifth Instruction” on the use of vernacular in the liturgy given to the Latin Church by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments has, among others, the following principles to be followed in the translation of the liturgical texts:
- The words used in the liturgy (as well as in the Bible) are not intended primarily to express the interior disposition of the faithful; rather, they express truths which transcend time and space (No.19).
- While it is permissible to use the style of the vernacular, the translation must be integral without tarnishing the content, and without paraphrasing (No.20).
- Translation should be ‘beautiful’, ‘dignified’ and with ‘doctrinal precision’ (No.25).
- It is the task of the homily or catechesis to explain certain texts which may not be easily understood (No.29).
Anyway, the liturgical language is different from colloquial language or even literary language of the people. It has a genre of its own. It has to be created by use by every Church. The liturgical language is inspired by Bible, devotion, spirituality etc. It is essentially a symbolic language and is ordered to express the divine.
CCEO 657/2 specifies that the right to approve the translation of the liturgical books is up to the competent authority for the approval of the liturgical books themselves, after having sent a report to the Apostolic see in the case of patriarchal, major archiepiscopal and metropolitan Churches sui iuris.
- 11. A Practical Model for Syro-Malabar Approach towards Restoration and Revision
“In the Syro-malabar tradition the process of renewal had barely begun”, notes Robert Taft, “when Malayalm was introduced into the liturgy with the publication at Alwaye of the bilingual Missal of July 3, 1962. That changed everything. At once the Syro-Malabar liturgy was no longer the arcane preserve of small coterie of clerical professionals who knew Syriac, but the property of the whole people of God”. History tells us that the Syro-Malabar Church tried to do in a generation what the Roman Church, with infinitely greater resources, took a century to accomplish. Therefore the study of the Syro-Malabar liturgical reform is a very complex issue which needs to be dealt with a proper historical understanding of the liturgical renewal and the experience of the last 50 years or so. A remark of Taft is relevant in this context: “All argumentation the polemicists have engaged in to prove from history or theology that the Creed should or should not be in the Eucharistic Liturgy, that there should not be an Offertory Procession of the people, that proleptic language must be jettisoned, that Eucharist should be celebrated facing the people or facing East, ultimately proves nothing. All that the study of the past can show us is what has been customary, what has changed, and the reasons why”. What history shows us is not one ideal form, but variety even within the various stages of one and the same tradition. The only ‘bad liturgy’, says Taft, is that which does not contribute to the sanctification of God’s people.
Speaking about the principles to guide liturgical renewal, Taft writes: “God expects those in pastoral charge of their flocks to see to it that the liturgy carries out its salvific purpose as perfectly as possible. Sometimes, this will mean liturgical reform and change. How should that be done? Vatican II and the Roman Pontiffs have already provided the fundamental principles and guidelines. A dose of realism and common sense provides the rest”.
Then Taft points out 9 principles that may be followed in this process. Though these principles were proposed in the Syro-Malabar Synod held in the Vatican in 1996, they were not taken up for discussion by the Syro-Malabar bishops at any stage. It may be useful to ponder over them in the present context. The principles are:
- Recovery of the authentic tradition where it has eroded
The process of recovering tradition is a dialectic of “traditio et progressio” mandated by Vatican II. Authentic tradition cannot be considered in a vacuum outside of history. One problem with every liturgy is the question of “hybridisms”. “Like it or not”, observes Taft, “the truth of the matter is that liturgies have ALWAYS influenced one another and shall continue to do so”. The Coptic and West Syrian Rites influenced the Ethiopian Rite; the West Syrian and Chaldean Rites influenced Maronite Rite; the Rite of Jerusalem influenced the Byzantines, the West Syrians and the Armenians; and the Byzantines influenced just about everybody. Even the Armenian Orthodox Church (besides the Armenian Catholic Church) borrowed elements from Mesopotamia, Cappodocia, Jesrusalem, and even Latin usages including the bishop’s mitre and ring, ordination rites etc. Therefore Taft says: “In my view, then, to consider the Syro-Malabar tradition as simply the East Syrian Rite without taking any account of its evolution during more than a millennium of its existence in Southwest India, flies in the face of history. That would be like ignoring 50% of the vocabulary of English because it entered the English language from Norman French after the Battle of Hastings in 1066”.
Again, “No tradition can realistically pretend to ignore 497 years of its history. That is not to say that what happened in those years was always positive, nor is to say that some of it should not be cast into the rubbish. It does mean that it cannot be ignored, for it is a huge part of (your) history, and must be dealt with realistically”.
Taft also notes that fidelity to tradition needs to be a certain extent selective. Otherwise, the Syro-Malabar Church will have to stop daily Eucharistic celebration; may have to consider removing the Institution Narrative from the Anaphora of Mar Addai and Mar Mari. Catholicos Mar Aba introduced some Greek anaphoras in 6th century. In 7th century Catholicos Iso Yahb III reduced the number of anaphoras to three. Many similar changes occurred in the Liturgy of the Hours. So what is the “authentic” East Syrian/Chaldean tradition?, asks Taft. He concludes: “A living Rite is not some abstract ‘authentic tradition’, but a concrete and ever-changing historical reality that has existed in several forms, some of them good, some of them less so. The ‘authentic tradition’ for today is not some self-evident absolute, but a matter of selective choice within the framework of the tradition, and within the legitimate limits set by the Church”.
- Renewal where needed
While keeping fidelity to tradition, liturgical adaptation and renewal, via organic development, in accord with the nature and genius of the tradition, too is needed. This means that even tradition with small “t” must be respected within its own limits. At the same time, the renewed liturgy must be adapted to the needs and cultures of God’s people today.
- Fidelity to the substantial unity of the Rite
The rule of “substantial unity” does not outlaw varying legitimate local customs. Nor can it take away from the local Ordinary his right and duty to resolve concrete pastoral issues in the light of the overriding law of the good of the faithful. Such issues are resolved by the common norms of Canon Law, which makes provision for customs, even customs “contra legem”.
4. Seriousness of purpose and preparation
The rule of substantial unity demands that change in the liturgy be carried out only with the utmost care and seriousness, after much study and preparation.
Every Catholic tradition must be attentive, in any change, not to distance itself unnecessarily from other traditions, especially from the tradition of Sister Churches.
6. Inculturation and 7. Implementation and ongoing Formation
Inculturation and implementation should be accompanied by liturgical formation.
8. Pastoral realism
When there are divided opinions on matters not affecting any doctrine, then common sense dictates a compromise solution, and where that is not attainable, then freedom in non-essentials must be left to the local hierarchs. Of course compromise solutions are never the ideal. But to ignore the will of an overwhelming majority in an issue of pastoral practice not touching faith or morals would fly in the face of the Catholic practice and teaching.
9. Concentration on the essentials
Liturgy is not some abstraction. It exists to contribute to the glory of God. Our glorification of God is his gift to us, not our gift to him. And this is our sanctification, which results from that “communio sanctorum” that is the Church. Therefore, concentrate on the essentials.
To these we may add also an observation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. “There must be no innovation unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them”. And, “as far as possible, notable differences between the rites used in adjacent regions should be avoided” (SC 23). (Here ‘rites’ means ritual actions within the same Individual Church).
Tradition is not simply history. Instead, it is the memory of the past kept alive for the people of the present. Restoration is always accompanied by revision. They are the two sides of the same reality. Any revision, especially in the realm of liturgy, cannot ignore the need for inculturation. Since culture is dynamic and not static, adaptation and inculturation of the liturgy is a continuous process which every generation needs to address.
The Syro-Malabar Church which carries a long history of 2000 years and influences of the East Syrian and Western traditions coupled with Indian elements, should face the present challenge of restoration and revision adhering to the basic principles of liturgy and the pastoral demands of the present circumstances. Sacrosanctum Concilium and Orientalium Ecclesiarum of Vatican II, the specific magisterial documents given to the Syro-Malabar Church during the last thirty years or so, and the decisions of the Syro-Malabar Bishops’ Synod are sufficient guidelines to set off the process of restoration, revision and adaptation of the Syro-Malabar liturgy.
LITURGY AND INCULTURATION
The universality of the Church makes it imperative that the Church and her liturgy are inculturated. God became man to save humankind. This saving mystery in Christ must be presented to the whole world in a manner that is understood by the people of a given place.
There was a period in history when some Christian theologians considered the ‘Christian culture’ as a universal monoculture. For them this Christian culture was ‘normative’. But in course of time, the empirical approach in philosophy and sociology began to affirm pluralism in culture. Slowly these theologians had to admit a multicultural world which led to the realization that universality does not necessarily mean uniformity.
One of the greatest achievements of Vatican II and the subsequent magisterial teachings is the openness the Church has towards the wider world with its religions and cultures. This ‘cultural opening’ was initially received with great enthusiasm. But later, due to a variety of reasons, it came to be looked upon with suspicion and diffidence.
Vatican II, which allowed vernacularisation in the liturgy, was aware of the variety of cultures. Hence it suggested that provision be made in the revision of the liturgical books “for legitimate variations and adaptations to different groups, regions and peoples, especially in the mission countries”. This view is theologically supported by another statement of the same document: “The liturgy is made up of unchangeable elements divinely instituted, and of elements subject to change. These latter not only may be changed, with the passage of time, if they have suffered from the intrusion of anything out of harmony with the inner nature of the liturgy or have become less suitable” (SC 21).
Pope John Paul II, establishing the Pontifical Council for Culture on 20 May 1982, said that the synthesis between culture and faith is not just a demand of culture, but is also of faith. A faith which does not become culture is a faith which has not been fully received, not thoroughly thought through, not fully lived out. In fact, there is never a cultureless Christianity and never yet a fully Christian culture.
On 19 November 1969, during the course of a General Audience, Pope Paul VI said: ‘The rite and the relative rubric are not in themselves dogmatic definitions. Their theological qualification may vary in differing degrees according to the liturgical context to which they refer. They are gestures and terms relating to a religious action – experienced and living – of an indescribable mystery of divine presence, not always expressed in a univocal way’. This vision he already had as Cardinal John Baptist Montini when he stated on the floor of Vatican II that ‘Liturgy is for man and not man for liturgy’.
This article is an attempt to point out how important is culture to express the Christian faith through liturgical celebrations.
- What is Liturgy?
The rule of prayer is the rule of faith. Liturgy is the celebration of our faith. It is a response of man (the ‘ascending’ man) to the ‘descending’ God who comes to save humankind. Being a response of man, it has to be a fully ‘human’ act. No human act can be dissociated from his/her culture and life situations. Here we should remember that the liturgical celebrations are not only celebrations of our faith in God and our relationship with Him. It is also a celebration of our lives and the relation among human beings, not excluding the realities of the created world. Thus the ‘verticality’ with God cannot be separated from the ‘horizontality’ with our fellow-beings.
One of the most important acts by which the Holy Spirit reminds the Church about the message of Christ is the liturgical celebration because it is the memorial (anamnesis) of the Lord. It is an expression of faith. So much so, history tells us that there was no recitation of the Creed during the celebration of the liturgy since the whole liturgy is an expression of faith. The Creed was reserved to baptism as an immediate preparation for it.
Liturgy, though an expression of faith, is not simply an act of worship. The New Testament worship, as we understand from the Letter to the Hebrews, is not merely a ritual act. In fact, Christ abolished all rituals and replaced them with symbols (Heb 10:5-10). The rituals are very often conventional, and they can be performed even ‘impersonally’, whereas the symbols are used between living persons as a means of communication. The language of the new worship inaugurated by Christ is a symbolic one in which the body is very much involved. Human beings normally require bodily expressions to actively participate in the celebration of the mysteries of Christ through worship. The signs and symbols are the ordinary means to have this participatory experience.
Speaking about active participation in the liturgy, Vatican II states that it should be “conscious, active and fruitful’ (SC 14). In order to achieve this goal, choice of appropriate symbols that emerge from the cultural context of the people is a must. The transformation of the sacramental celebrations, as a “means of grace” rather than as an act of faith by means of signs and symbols, has led to a distortion of the understanding of the liturgy itself. Therefore, we need to rediscover their meaning and value for the man of today.
- What is Inculturation?
From a Christian point of view, inculturation means a dialogue between the gospel message and a culture. This message is not fully independent of a culture. In fact, the gospel message is not simply an idea or a dogma. It is the message about a person – the person of Jesus Christ himself. It is Christ who is coming into dialogue with cultures. Thus inculturation is a response to the call of Christ. It is a gradual transformation that has to take place in the community through individuals. No individual can impose it upon the community. The individuals can only act as agents of this transformation.
Thomas Groome describes inculturation as “a dialectical encounter between Christian faith and a particular culture in which the culture is affirmed, challenged, and transformed towards God’s reign, and in which Christian faith is likewise affirmed, challenged, and enriched by this unique instance of its realization”. This description is based on the thesis that the Christian inculturation is a dialectical encounter between an already cultured version of Christian faith and another culture that is either new to Christianity or has aspects not yet explicitly permeated by it.
He further observes that for a meaningful application of the principles of inculturation one should be convinced of the following facts:
(i) There is never a cultureless Christianity or a faithless culture. That is, wherever the Christian faith is implanted, it has always taken elements from the local culture to grow, and that God’s saving presence is already planted in every culture.
(ii) The ‘story’ and ‘vision’ of Christian faith continues to unfold throughout history. The Christian faith is a living tradition, and its vitality demands that it incarnates in every cultural and historical context.
(iii) Each cultural expression of Christian faith should be profoundly unique, while remaining bonded in essential unity with all other expressions. ‘Unity in diversity’ should be the motto of the process of inculturation. No cultural expression should be detrimental to the essential unity of faith.
(iv) The values of God’s reign should be reflected in the very process of inculturation. Inculturation should not be at the expense of the values of God’s kingdom in this world – that of love, peace , justice, freedom, integrity of God’s creation etc.1
One of the greatest insights of Vatican II on inculturation is found in Ad Gentes 22: ‘In imitation of the plan of Incarnation, the young Churches, rooted in Christ and built upon the foundation of the apostles, take to themselves, in a wonderful exchange, all the riches of the nations which were given to Christ as an inheritance’. In the past the Christians in general thought that they had a ‘finished product’ by way of ecclesiastical structures, including the liturgy. But, Ad Gentes 21 notes that the lay people must give expression to the ‘meaning of life’ given to them in baptism ‘in the social and cultural framework of their own homeland according to their own national traditions… They must develop it in accordance with modern conditions, and finally perfect in Christ’. Therefore, openness towards cultures, traditions, customs etc. is a sine qua non if we really wish to make the Church and her worship relevant for the modern era. That is why the Vatican II decree on the Catholic Eastern Churches, while insisting on the need of returning to the sources and ancient practices, wishes that they are adapted to the needs of different times and places (OE 2).
Incarnation is one of the most important theological bases of inculturation. It is a redemptive incarnation. Christ became similar to us in all things but sin. Through his death and resurrection he redeemed the humankind. This leads to the conclusion that inculturation “recognizes the presence of evil in the world, the reality of sin and its imprints, forces and consequences in all realities of the world and human life”. Any element taken from the cultures should be made to pass through the redemptive death and resurrection of Christ. In other words, the yardstick to judge the appropriateness of inculturation is the mystery of Christ. Consequently, inculturation has a double task: of liberating the cultures from sin, evil and error, and of giving them a true Christian meaning, orientation and fulfilment. Thus inculturation calls for a prophetical critique and a Christian interpretation. It calls for “dying and rising” on the part of the Church for new flowers and new fruits.
In this process of inculturation, it is not sufficient that we make the Christian formulae intelligible to the peoples of various cultures. Rather, it implies a genuine experience of Christ in every culture through authentic signs and symbols taken from the culture concerned.
- What is Liturgical Inculturation?
To speak about the need of inculturation in liturgy is to repeat the obvious. Nobody seems to have any objection to its relevance and the need though there are apprehensions with regard to how to go about it and how far we can go with it. The renewal and updating of liturgy practically means inculturation in the same.
The Pan-Asian Consultation on Inculturation and Liturgy made the following statement after their meeting in 1995. “All Asian countries struggle with the issue of inculturation. Our sharing revealed that liturgical developments in Asia have consisted mainly
in the translation of the typical editions of the Roman liturgical books in the wake of Vatican II. This has, by and large, marked the first phase of inculturation. The translation of liturgical texts composed in another time and culture is an extremely difficult task. The transplantation of signs and symbols is even more difficult. Even supposedly universal signs and symbols, when transplanted into another culture, often hide or even distort the very mysteries they are meant to convey. No universal model can speak with equal clarity and force throughout the world. Moreover, no Christian community can become creative in language and symbol system that is basically alien to it. Unless the Word of God becomes flesh in our cultures, the soul of Asia will remain untouched”.
What is liturgical inculturation? A. Shorter defines inculturation as “the on-going dialogue between faith and culture or cultures. More fully, it is the creative and dynamic relationship between the Christian message and a culture or cultures”. And then he makes three observations about inculturation. First, it is an on-going process, and hence even the so-called ‘Christian’ nations need to undergo inculturation. In other words, it should not be confined to the newly evangelized missions. Second, the Christian faith transcends all cultures. At the same time, it cannot exist except in a cultural form. Third, there is need of a reciprocal and critical interaction between the Christian faith and culture.These observations are of prime importance when we deal with the whole question of liturgical inculturation.
The issue of liturgical inculturartion is primarily an ecclesiological one. It cannot be understood and practised separate from the life of the Church in all its aspects. One reason for the relative failure of liturgical inculturation is the inadequate understanding of the liturgy as a vertical celebration in a numinous sphere unrelated to the real life situations of the celebrating community. There is a close relationship between a ritual and the community that enacts it. Ritual, in fact, is a symbolic expression of the structure of the society.
What are the areas of inculturation in the Church? There is no area of the Church that does not need inculturation. The liturgical inculturation should not be reduced to the exclusive sphere of worship. But, of course, one needs to fix priorities.
To worship God is a fundamental need of a religious minded person. It affects the core of his/her religiosity. It is a personal, deep experience of the human soul. Being persons with senses, they require visible signs and symbols to express this experience. This visible expression becomes meaningful and communicative only when it is understood by the generality of the people. Hence it is imperative that it is expressed through the symbols of the people of the place.
The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy underlines this dimension of the culture in relation to the liturgy in the following words: “Even in the liturgy the Church does not wish to impose a rigid uniformity in matters which do not involve the faith or the good of the whole community. Rather she does respect and foster the qualities and talents of the various races and nations… She sometimes even admits such things into the liturgy itself, provided they harmonize with its true and authentic spirit” (SC 37). The Council is also in favour of allowing ‘legitimate variations and adaptations to different groups, regions and peoples, especially in mission countries’ (SC 38). Conscious of its absolute need, the Council also notes that ‘in some places and circumstances however an even more radical adaptation of the liturgy is needed’ though it entails ‘greater difficulties’ (SC 39).
Liturgy is the expression of the experience of the risen Lord manifested in various cultural forms. One and the same experience is expressed by different peoples in different historical and geographical contexts. In this manifestation there are universal and unchangeable, as well as particular and changeable, elements. The universal elements are celebrated by a particular community in a particular place. The unchangeable truths are celebrated with changeable elements. And, the Divine is celebrated by human beings. This is something marvellous in the universal Church. A successful liturgical inculturation depends upon striking a balance between these elements.
Jesus did not hand over to us a ‘prototype’ of liturgy, but an experience. Since this experience is linked with cultural manifestations, its expressions vary. This variety, however, is not to be determined by laws and regulations, but from the cultural experiences of a living community of a given place. Therefore, liturgical inculturation is defined as “a process of inserting texts and rites of the liturgy into the framework of the local culture”.
In order to attain this goal, it is not enough that we merely adapt some cultural elements into the institutionalized form of Christianity. Rather, “we need to undergo a process of symbiosis by which our faith becomes an experience in the context and expresses itself in a symbol system that is capable of communicating this experience to others”. Hence the liturgical inculturation is not simply a matter of discovering adequate cultural symbols to express the content of faith and worship, but is a question of ecclesiology and a pastoral methodology.
Regarding a practical methodology of liturgical inculturation A.Chupungco suggests a three-step process. It consists of Dynamic Equivalence, Creative Assimilation and Organic Progression.
Dynamic Equivalence is practically an adaptation of the editio typica. Though some creativity is involved in this process, it is dependent on the typical editions of the liturgical books. Creative Assimilation is a methodology used in the Patristic era. The giving of a cup of milk and honey in the baptismal Mass, renouncing Satan looking towards the West and making the profession of faith turning towards the East, the celebration of Epiphany on 6th January and Christmas on 25th December are examples. In Organic Progression comes the question of ‘new forms’ in worship which are unknown till then. Though they are ‘new’, they have to respect the principle of “organic growth”.
Vatican II has identified certain areas of the liturgy where this process needs to be undertaken. Besides SC 37-40, which we have referred to above, the document mentions also the Christian initiation rites (SC 65), the rite of Marriage (SC 77), the liturgical music (SC119) and the liturgical art (SC 123).
In this process, the sacramentals, especially the blessings, have a special place as most of them are closely related to the day to day life of the people. Though there are sacramentals that have some sort of a universal character, mostly they are attached to the culture and the customs of the people. Therefore SC 39 names them among the liturgical books wherein the Conferences of Bishops have a free hand to make adaptations.
- Local Church: The Venue of Inculturation
The Church being the sacrament of Christ is the visible manifestation of Christ. The institutional Church which is localized must have a visible expression congenial to the community of the people. The Church becomes authentically local in so far as she bears the imprint of the place and the people where she lives. “The Church becomes Church when it is incarnated in a place and this localization is called the local Church”.
We know from history that liturgy developed in the local Churches resulting in liturgical diversities. Only later they began to be unified, a phenomenon more prevalent in the Western liturgy. In the East, maintaining the unity of faith, liturgies continued to flourish in diversity. As the decree on the Catholic Eastern Churches notes, the universal Church is made up of the faithful who are organically united in the Holy Spirit by the same faith, the same sacraments and the same government. But they combine into different groups which are held together by their hierarchy and so form individual Churches keeping their own particular liturgy, spirituality and discipline (OE 2-3). From this it is clear that the liturgical celebration is not a ‘universal act’. It is always an action of the community of faithful ‘here and now’. That is why the Eastern Churches are very particular about insisting on the universal Church as a ‘Communion of Individual Churches’. As Pope Paul VI notes, the universal Church is in practice incarnate in the individual Churches that are heirs of a cultural patrimony, of a vision of the Word of God, of an historical part of a particular historical substratum. It responds to the deep aspiration of peoples and human communities to find their own identity ever more clearly. One of the important characteristics of an individual Church is the manner in which it expresses its faith in worship form.
A local Christian community is not a ‘fraction’ of the universal Church. Every worshipping community manifests the full mystery of the Church. This manifestation is based on its social, cultural and religious milieu, and hence appropriate signs and symbols congenial to the people are to be employed. History of the Churches – both in the West and in the East – gives evidence to this fact. The existence of the liturgies according to the Roman Rite, the Ambrosian Rite, the Spanish Rite, and later the Indian Rite, the Philippino Rite, the Congolese Rite etc. are examples. The five liturgical families – Alexandrian, Antiochian, Byzantine, East Syrian and Armenian – with 22 individual Churches bear ample witness to it in the East. Even within an individual Church there can be diverse liturgical expressions according to the culture, place and the context of the people as we see in the Western and Eastern ecclesiastical traditions.
- Liturgical Inculturation: An Historical Review
Inculturation is essentially an historical phenomenon, and the history of the Church is practically a history of inculturation.
When we examine the history of the Roman liturgy, we find that the so-called “classical period” (5th – 8th centuries) was a time of ‘classical’ inculturation too. It was a period of liturgical creativity with original composition of liturgical texts for the people of the time. The Popes like Gelasius, Leo the Great and Gregory the Great have contributed their insights for its growth. In the 8th century, as the Church spread to Franco-Germanic world, it underwent another type of liturgical inculturation. Liturgy was transformed from its Roman simplicity and sobriety to a charming, dramatic and colourful one to suit the temperament of the Franco-Germanic people.
The first half of the first millennium was a period of intense inculturation in liturgy. Some examples will clarify this point.
- Though Christianity was in close relationship with the Jewish religious tradition, when it required the liturgical vestments the West adopted the festive attire of the Greco-Roman world and the East that of the Byzantine Empire.
- From the Jews she inherited the Bema – a platform for reading from the Torah – for the proclamation from the Bible.
- The morning and evening holocaust of the Jews appears in the form of morning and evening prayers in the Christian tradition.
- The language used in the liturgy was the language of the people.
- The apophatic (negative – Neti, neti of the Indian tradition) approach towards God’s name (YHWH: I am who am) without a positive affirmation is adopted from the Jewish understanding of God as IN-visible, IN-comprehensible, IN-expressible, UN-fathomable etc.
- The Christian litanic prayers are an imitation of the Roman manner of prayers.
- The liturgical gestures like kissing the altar, the prostrations, the use of incense and the candles, etc are taken from the non-Christian practice.
- The prayer turning to the East has its roots in the Sun-cult of the pagans.
- The Christian tradition of fasting on Wednesday and Friday was influenced by the Tuesday and Thursday fasts of the Jews.
- The pre-Christian mystery cults have influenced the Christian practice of exorcism, the imposition of hands and the anointing.
- The architecture of the ancient churches followed that of the Roman basilicas’.
- The “May they rest in peace” (R.I.P) in the funeral rites has its origin in the pre-Christian Roman funeral acclamation.
- The feast of Transfiguration on 6th August is related to the Jewish commemoration of Moses’ transfiguration on Mount Sinai.
- The feast of Epiphany on 6th January recalls another ‘epiphany’ (manifestation) of a ruler to a province of his kingdom.
- The feast of Christmas on 25th December is inspired by the birth of the Invincible Sun-god.
- The feast of the “Cathedra” of St. Peter is in imitation of the anniversary of the Roman emperor’s assumption of office.
- The feast of martyrs, saints, etc originated from the pre-Christian practice of venerating the tombs of the dead.
In the later period of the Church too we have luminous examples of inculturation. The history of the St. Thomas Christians of India before the 16th century is a classical example of how the Christians could find themselves completely at home in the Indian culture. In their social and religious practices, and worshipping customs they were very much like their non-Christian neighbours.
The Chinese experimentation of Matteo Ricci (1552-1610) with the cult of the familial dead that was administered with prostrations, the burning of incense and the offering of food at their tombs was condemned as superstitious practices. Roberto Nobili’s (1577-1656) attempts with Indian culture were frowned upon by his confreres, and later they had to be abandoned. Even during this period, we come across some silver lining by way of official sanction in favour of liturgical inculturation. Thus in 1615 Pope Paul V allowed the Chinese to use the Chinese language in the liturgy though this permission was withdrawn in 1661 due to the objections of the missionaries themselves. In 1659 Propaganda Fide wrote a letter asking the missionaries not to make attempts to persuade the people of the mission lands to change their rites, customs and ways, provided they are not very manifestly contrary to religion and morals.
- Challenges of Inculturation
One of the notable limitations of liturgical inculturation is the non-permanent nature of culture. Given culture’s susceptibility to change, the product of any attempt at inculturation is bound to be an unstable mixture. Therefore at no time can we have a complete and perfectly inculturated liturgy. It is a continuous search and a constant struggle. Only a genuine local Church can cope with the ever new demands of the changing culture.
All religions carry with them some cultural expression. Christianity, for example, has many semitic elements. For some people these cultural expressions are part and parcel of their religion, and any change in them is considered a threat to their religious experience. In other words, the cultural expressions are equated with religion itself. This is nothing short of religious fundamentalism.
In the process of liturgical inculturation a crucial factor should be borne in mind. Faith transcends all cultures. Faith in Christ can even purify and transform cultures. Therefore some hold that the duty of the Christian faith is to purify the cultures and make them ‘Christian’. As a matter of fact, culture is not good or bad, holy or sinful. Human choices make them bad or sinful. In this perspective, the Christian inculturation can also mean a purification of the sinful culture through the intervention of the Christian faith. At the same time, we should also remember that the mysteries we celebrate in the liturgy transcend all cultures though the expressions of the mysteries and the people’s response to it in the liturgy are culturally conditioned. Here the role of culture in relation to worship needs to be properly understood. “Christian worship should not end up being a mere ingredient of the local culture, nor should culture be reduced to an ancillary role. The process of interaction and mutual assimilation brings progress to both; it does not cause mutual extinction”.
Pope Paul VI once warned that evangelization would lose much of its force and effectiveness “if it does not take into consideration the actual people to whom it is addressed, if it does not use their language, their signs and symbols, if it does not answer the questions they ask, and if it does not have an impact on their concrete life”. Among them the signs and symbols employed in the liturgy are of great relevance because “the religious symbols have the power to render the real more real. They induce faith, conviction, commitment because they act upon the creative power of the human intellect and galvanize the will towards action… No religion can exercise this power if its symbols are not inseparable from those of culture”.
However, we need to make a distinction between inculturation and ‘culturalism’. A religion, when it assumes various external forms by way of inculturation, should not lose its essential identity. If it loses its identity, it is no more inculturation, but ‘culturalism’, that is, absolutization of culture. Besides, the Christian religion cannot take cultural symbols of a place if they are inseparably associated with the religious faith of another religion.
There is the need to evolve a liturgy which speaks for itself, and which requires not much commentary. Therefore, clerically inspired and clerically managed inculturation is likely to fail. Inculturation is a way of life. It is an on-going search. Failures are possible. But they should not deter us from continuing our search. As Pope Benedict XVI rightly remarks, the abuses that have occurred in the process of inculturation should not “detract from this clear principle , which must be upheld in accordance with the real needs of the Church as she lives and celebrates the one mystery of Christ in a variety of cultural situations”.
 Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, SC 38
 L’Osservatore Romano, 28 June 1982, p.1-8
 Jacob Manathodath, Culture, Dialogue and the Church, Intercultural Publication, New Delhi 1990, p.141.
 J.Manathodath, Culture, Dialogue and the Church, p.139
 Paul Puthanangady, Challenges of Cultures and Religions in Asia to Christian Liturgy, in Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conference – Office of Education and Student Chaplaincy, Asian Worship in Spirit and Truth, Madras 1995, p.11
 “Inculturation: How to Proceed in a Pastoral Context”, Concilium 2(1994) 120-133. Here p.122
 “Inculturation: How to Proceed in a Pastoral Context”, p.122-129
 D.S.Amalorpavadass, Inculturation is not Hinduisation but Christianization, NBCLC Bangalore 1981, p.7
 FABC-OESC, Asian Worship in Spirit and Truth, p.201-202
 Aylward Shorter, Toward a Theology of Inculturation, Geoffrey Chapman London 1988, p.11
 Toward a Theology of Inculturation, p.11-13
 Abscar Chupungco, Liturgical Inculturation: Sacramentals, Religiosity and Catechesis, The Liturgical Press Collegeville:MN 1992, p.30
 P.Puthanangady, Challenges of Cultures and Religions in Asia to Christian Liturgy, p.4
 A.Chupungco, Liturgical Inculturaion: Sacramentality, Religiosity and Catechesis, p.37-51
 SC 23, OE 2. Antony Nariculam, The Holy See, The Syro-Malabar Bishops’ Conference and the Syro-Malabar Bishops’ Synod on the Inculturation of the Syro-Malabar Liturgy: A Study, in Bosco Puthur (ed.), Inculturation and the Syro-Malabar Church, LRC Publications Kochi 2005, p.66-68
 D.S. Amalorpavadass, Gospel and Culture, NBCLC Bangalore 1978, p.22
 Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi (1975) 62
 Evangelii Nuntiandi, 63
 Julian Saldanha, Inculturation, St.Paul Publication Bombay 1985, p.25-28
 For details see Antony Nariculam, “Evagelization and Inculturation Eastern Church’s Perspective”, Ishvani Documentation and Mission Digest, January-April 2000, p.95-108
 Referred to in Cyprian Illickamuri, Inculturation and Liturgy, in Antony Nariculam (ed.), Inculturation and Liturgy, Star Publications Alwaye 1992, p.85
 A.Chupungco, Liturgical Inculturation: Sacramentals, Religiosity and Catechesis, p.29
 Evangelii Nuntiandi, 63
 A.Shorter, Toward a Theology of Inculturation, p.41
 Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis (2007) 54
The Contribution of Vatican II
The human person and society are central themes which always challenge our thinking and vision. Contemporary theology features an anthropological approach which has had an authoritative articulation with the Second Vatican Council in its Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes. Anthropology or the doctrine of man presented by Vatican II makes this conciliar text unparalleled when compared to previous official documents by a Council. “It is man himself”, says the Council, “who must be saved: it is mankind that must be renewed. It is man, therefore, who is the key to this discussion, man considered whole and entire, with body and soul, heart and conscience, mind and will.” Again, the Council says: “Believers and unbelievers agree almost unanimously that all things on earth should be ordained to man as to their centre and summit” The anthropological concerns of Vatican II are not just speculative or theoretical, but practical and concrete. The present essay will try to show the importance and influence of this vision in the ongoing thinking and vision of the Church.
The Actual Human Situation
The situation of man in the world today is the starting-point of the Council’s theology. A picture of man as individual person and as member of the society, living in the world and history is what Vatican II tries to draw by analyzing the human condition. The present context of the world is the frame of the Council’s thinking. The scrutinization of the signs of the times is part of the task here. “At all times the Church carries the responsibility of reading the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel, if it is to carry out its task. In language intelligible to every generation, she should be able to answer the ever recurring questions which people ask …” This approach of the Council in the Pastoral Constitution shows the attempt to do theology in the context of the stark realities of the world. The Constitution’s theme itself being an entirely a new one required a new methodology. Reading the signs of the times and interpreting them forms an important aspect of this new methodology. One of the great signs of the times as seen by the Council is rapid change which has given rise to a new age of history bringing critical and swift upheavals.
Change has its impact on man as individual and as society. Man is both subject and object of change. “Triggered by the intelligence and creative energies of man, these changes recoil upon him, upon his decisions and desires, both individual and collective, upon his manner of thinking and acting with respect to things and people.” The perception of the Pastoral Constitution is important here. The human situation as shown by Vatican II is paradoxical. In the very progress of which humanity can be proud, there is a breakdown. Human welfare promoted by governments and social bodies often does not materialize. True, there is greatness. But at the same time there is misery. Victory and defeat characterize the modern phase of human history. Gaudium et Spes has shown the polarities that constitute the human situation: “Since all these things are so, the modern world shows itself at once powerful and weak, capable of the noblest deeds or the foulest. Before it lies the path to freedom or to slavery, to progress or retreat, to brotherhood or hatred. Moreover, man is becoming aware that it is his responsibility to guide aright the forces which he has unleashed and which can enslave him or minister to him.”
According to the Pastoral Constitution human situation is a locus theologicus, a theological resource. Both the human achievements and setbacks with their accompanying uncertainty, ambiguity and confusion in the individual and social living call for a theological discernment. Theology which is based on the Scriptures not only can account for the fact of human experience, but also can point to the way of well-being and happiness. But this work of theology has to take seriously the human situation. The novelty of the approach of Gaudium et Spes is precisely this. A theological anthropology rooted in human experience as well as guided by the scriptural vision is what emerges in the Second Vatican Council’s Pastoral Constitution.
Man, the Image of God
What is man? This is a fundamental question. The analysis of the human situation raises this fundamental question. Gaudium et Spes after analyzing the human situation brings the question like this: “But what is man? About himself he has expressed and continues to express many divergent and even contradictory opinions.” The human person and society are engaged in a relentless search for better living. But unless the identity of the human person is correctly visualized there would be no clear idea about what one wants to achieve for the individual and community. The Bible interprets human being as the image of God.
Then God said, ‘let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
The Second Vatican Council has used the biblical notion of image of God as the key to understanding what man is and developing its anthropological vision. The Council tries to show the implications of the divine image showing its different dimensions. First of all it means that every human being stands in direct relationship with God. It des not mean that man is equal to God. The divine image in man implies human being’s relational capacity for God. Classical theology as in St Augustine has shown man’s capacity for God as that which enables him to know and love God. This basic teaching of Christian anthropology affirms that human beings cannot seek fulfillment apart from God. The intellectual and spiritual quality in man makes him different from other living beings, whom God has created. However man must make his way to God by a conscious and free choice.
The relational character of human being is also seen in his social orientation. The creation story in the Bible brings man’s relationship to others. Basing on scriptural sources, Gaudium et Spes says:
But God did not create man as solitary. For from the beginning male and female he created them (Gen.!:27). Their companionship produces the primary form of interpersonal communion. For by his innermost nature man is a social being, and unless he relates himself to others, he can neither live nor develop his potential.
According to the vision of Vatican II man is a being who exists in relationships. If he stands vertically related to God, the designer and creator of all, on a horizontal level he stands related to his fellow-human beings. Biblical anthropology, from which Vatican II draws, has interpersonality as its basic character. Family is the primary form of interpersonal communion which is open to building up of larger human communities and ultimately contributing to one human race and one human family. It is significant to observe that the document says “man is a social being and unless he relates himself to others, he can neither live nor develop his potential.” But the relationship with God stands as the centre of all interpersonal relations among human beings. Communion among human beings is ordained to God himself. The foundation and the goal of human existence cannot be separated from God. As Ratzinger has said commenting on the conciliar text, “the circle of human solidarity is open to a third, who is wholly other, God. And that, for the Council is the content of the doctrine that man is made to the image of God, he does not merely have to do with God indirectly through his work and his relations with his fellowmen. He can know and love God himself.”
The Disfigured Image
The image of God in man has undergone a breakdown, though the basic reality of the divine image still remains. The biblical term that speaks about this is “sin”. Every aspect of human life is affected by the fact of sin. In man’s personal life and social life the consequences of sin become manifest. It has created estrangement from God and disharmony at all levels. If image of God in man is the theological reason for man’s greatness, disfiguration of the image by sin is the reason for man’s misery. Both the bright and dark aspects of human existence are brought under the light of revelation in Gaudium et Spes.” The call to grandeur and the depths of misery are both a part of human experience. They find their ultimate and simultaneous explanation in the light of God’s revelation.”
Sin which causes the disfiguration of the image comes from the abuse of freedom. The manner of man’s abuse of freedom is described as “setting himself agaist God and desiring to find his goal apart from God”. This way of going agaist God in fact is a simultaneous contraposition against fellow human beings as well as the entire creation. Biblical story telling on sin in the book of Genesis drives home the alienation and enmity developing in the human community. Ever since the first disruption by the sin of Adam there has been further increase of evil. The whole book of Genesis shows this. The enmity among brothers, Cain and Abel flares up into murder. Lemech not only commits crimes against human fellowship but also boasts of his savage deeds. The men at Babel who do not understand one another present a classical example of the repercussions that sin causes in the social sphere.
The whole human history, due to sin, shows itself as torn by hatred and war.
In a world that is caught by the destructive power of sin, man’s work, becomes futile, even after spectacular achievements. The history of great civilizations and cultures demonstrate this. This does not say that there is nothing good in history. It once again makes it clear that the actual human situation one of ambiguity and uncertainty often bringing unexpected turn of events bringing much disappointment and suffering. All this give rise to a “dramatic struggle between good and evil, between light and darkness”. The important question in Christian anthropology is not how bad the human situation is but how it is possible to find liberation from the breakdown and chaos experienced by man. Christian anthropology believes that in following God’s will and design a better world can be created. The re-creation of the divine image in man is basic to this project. This re-creation of the divine image in man and renewal of humanity has already taken place in Jesus Christ. Christ himself is the image of God. He is the new man and the promise of renewed humanity.
Christ, the Normative Man
The perfection of the human person and fulfillment of the entire humanity come from Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the liberator of man. He is the new man and the normative man. The Pastoral Constitution, Gaudium et Spes acknowledges the need of a liberator and points to Jesus Christ: “Indeed, man finds that by himself he is incapable of battling the assaults of evil successfully, so that every one feels as though he bound in chains. But the Lord Himself came to free and strengthen man, renewing him inwardly and casting out the prince of this world (Jn 12:31) who held him in bondage to sin (Jn8:34)”. Here the anthropology of Vatican II meets with Christology. In the Christian view it is not possible to speak meaningfully about man without introducing Jesus Christ. Anthropology is completed and perfected only in Christology. This was acknowledged in the Second Vatican Council when the document, Gaudium et Spes was introduced with the following words: “To speak about man is also to call upon Christ, the origin and source of human perfection and at the same time the supreme exemplar.”
In the Bible Adam, the first man symbolizes the old humanity which stands in need of liberation. Jesus Christ is the second Adam who was prefigured by Adam, the first man. Gaudium et Spes says, “For Adam, the first man was a figure of him who was to come. Christ the new Adam, in the very revelation of the mystery of the Father and of his love, fully reveals man to man himself and brings to light his most high calling”. The image of God could not find fulfillment in the original creation because sin entered into the human family and the disruption caused by sin continued in its history. In Christ the image of God shines in all its perfection. Christ as the image of God is part of New Testament Christology. Christ being the perfect image of God is capable of recreating the image of God in man. “To the sons of Adam He restores the divine likeness which had been disfigured from the first sin onward.” Jesus Christ does this because he is “the normative image” for humanity.
Christ, the perfect image of God is also the perfect man. Jesus Christ is not far removed from the human world. He is of our human flesh and blood. He has in him the fundamental structures of every man. The divinity of Christ does not set aside his humanity. Jesus has full human existence. He has all the genuine features and qualities of being human. Because he has in him all that being human means, he is the exemplary man. The document makes this affirmation: “Born of the Virgin Mary He has truly been made one of us, like us in all things except sin.” As Scripture says, he “learned obedience through what he suffered”. He had our dilemmas and underwent our trials. Yet he is different. He is united to God the Father in the unbreakable bond of his sonship, obedient and trusting. In the Christian vision the vocation of man is to be conformed to the image of Christ. The fulfillment and perfection of man is in Jesus Christ. Christ is the perfect human person and the normative man for all humanity.
Towards a New Humanity
Every one in the world hopes to see a better tomorrow. The coming of a glorious era for humanity belongs to a collective dream. The Kerala poet Kumaran Asan has written the following lines:
Breathing truth, observing equality
Enjoying the elixir of love and feeling elated
Let men march forward in the path of Dharma
Let this earth be heaven
The noble aspirations of humanity are given expressions in Asan’s poem. Christian anthropology drawing from human wisdom and divine revelation envisages the building up of a better world. All human values cherished by people everywhere find their realization in Christ. The word and work of Jesus Christ show the beginning of a new humanity.
The greatest teaching of Jesus is love. The building up of the human society is possible only when interpersonal relations are characterized by unselfish love. “Love one another” is the command that Jesus gave (Jn15:16). The great economic theories and political systems though allegedly stand for social welfare are not primarily based on love. In fact it is in contemporary discussion, as with the great economist Amartya Sen, that the importance of ethical concerns has surfaced in economic welfare. Christian anthropology based on the teaching and example of Jesus gives emphasis to love as the basis of interpersonal relations and building up of society. Drawing from the teaching of the New Testament Gaudium et Spes says:
Love of God and one’s neighbour, then, is the first and greatest commandment. Scripture teaches that love of God cannot be separated from love of one’s neighbour: Any other commandment is summed up in this sentence: You shall love your neighbour as yourself…therefore love is the fulfilling of the law (Rom 13:9-10; cf1Jn 4: 20). It goes without saying that this is a matter the utmost importance to men who are coming to rely more and more on each other and to a world which becoming more unified every day
Christian anthropology is based on the vertical and the horizontal dimensions of human existence. The first is concerned about the relation between the human person and God. The second dimension is about interpersonal relations. Both these are interrelated. The first is in fact based on the second. More than ever today there is an increase of reciprocal ties and mutual dependencies among human beings. But despite this the Pastoral Constitution observes that “people are often diverted from doing good and spurred towards evil.” “Social order and its development” says the Constitution, “must unceasingly work to the benefit of the human person.” To all the basic things necessary for leading a truly human life, such as food, clothing and shelter, should be made available. Moreover the right to choose a state of life freely and to found a family, the right to education, to employment, to good reputation, to respect, to appropriate information, to activity according to the norm of one’s conscience etc are to be protected.
The Council has shown the example of Jesus who showed his solidarity and fellowship with all especially for the poor and deprived. “Being for oneself” and “being for others” are expressions that speak two attitudes in life. Jesus’ attitude may be characterized by the latter. The anthropology of the Council is concrete. Basing on the fundamental principle of love it shows that reverence for the human person, whoever he may be: an old person abandoned by all, a foreign worker unjustly looked down upon, a refugee, a child born of unlawful union, or a hungry person. The Christian vision is related to the practice of love and the demands of the principle of justice.
A New Heaven and A New Earth
Christianity is eschatological. It is in that way future-oriented. Based on the biblical vision of “a new heaven and a new earth” it looks forward with hope to a better tomorrow for the entire human race. The Christian eschatological hope is not unrelated to the world and history. It has thorough-going demands for the present. These are demands of love and justice. The Constitution wants to show that “every one must consider his neighbour without exception as another self, taking into account first of all his life and the means necessary to living it with dignity.” The practice of justice demands an end to discrimination. “Every type of discrimination” says Gaudium et Spes, whether based on sex, race, colour, social condition, language or religion, is to be curbed and eradicated as incombatible with God’s design.” The need to work for fairer and more humane conditions, removal of excessive economic and social disparity are required to bring about a united and peaceful world.
The anthropological vision of the Council has an integral character. It includes not only the human person and society but also the earth which is the natural habitat of man. The image of God that man is carries a responsibility for the entire creation. The human beings are entrusted with the duty of stewardship. Building up the human community is impossible without the care for the entire creation. Environment has suffered at the hands of man. The biblical concept of “rule over the earth” has been misinterpreted especially by Western theology to suit the colonial greed of peoples and nations. Ecological concern is today recognized as concern for man.
Theologically the entire creation is the subject matter of redemption. “The new heavens and new earth” to which Christian faith looks forward has continuity with the present. The works of love, justice and peace will endure and go into the perfection of the new age. “Far from diminishing our concern to develop this earth, the expectancy of a new earth should spur us on; for it is here that the body of a new human family grows foreshadowing the age which is to come”
Theological anthropology is not marginal to Christian doctrine. Man created in the image of God is at the centre of Christian faith and practice. If presentday theology is not only oriented to man but also centred on man it is right to be so. Karl Rahner said: “If we come down to fundamentals a theocentric theology is not opposed to what is called anthropocentric theology.” The contribution of Vatican II in the Pastoral Constitution shows this. The Church’s relation to world has its basis in man. “The living man”, said Irenaeus “is the glory of God.” That is the vision of Gaudium et Spes which showed the way to fulfillment for the human person and community.