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Embracing the Deeper Issues  
Ricky Manalo, csp  

A number of resources have addressed issues concerning liturgies in a multicultural setting. Pastoral articles have offered specific suggestions to worshipping communities seeking guidance to fundamental questions concerning liturgical inculturation. The themes have included cultural demographic awareness, intercultural communication skills, defining liturgical inculturation, specific ethnic-liturgical rituals, and the balance of unity and diversity. These articles have pointed to the changing and evolving contexts of our North American worship experience.

While these are good starting points, there continues to be deeper issues at stake-how members of a worshipping community remain open to the shifting cultural paradigms operative in such settings, the power and resistance dynamics between the dominant group and non-dominant groups of any community, and the basic Christian charity going beyond tolerance of each other's presence. This is just a sampling of what could be avoided in our attempt to inculturate our liturgies.

Such issues usually remain operative at a subconscious level, difficult to calibrate unchecked, and as result, are capable of becoming a serious source of tension, conflict, and resistance. For example, while we may be open to interacting with members of less familiar cultures than our own, are we capable of recognizing how such interactions may actually be an invitation to reconsider or even question our assumptions of the world around us? If we are members of a dominant cultural group, are we aware of the power behind our choices, words, and actions when engaged in intercultural dialogue with the members of non-dominant groups? Also, are the cultural groups involved in intercultural dialogue capable of moving beyond tolerance of each other's presence to put into action Christ's message of charity and embrace?

These issues illustrate that all areas of the Church's life continue to be affected, not just her liturgies. A parish community that may have introduced one or two bilingual songs into the general parish repertoire ten years ago, may continue to find herself struggling today with how the members of these various ethnic communities get along with one another. Has the meaning of the texts or the singing of the melodies of these songs moved beyond the Sunday event?

On the one hand, what may appear as resistance toward embracing deeper issues brought about through cultural exchange points to the complexity of what is involved. One does not become a healthy and functioning intercultural community overnight! Added to this is the rate of changing demographics in our parish communities today. Our communities are in constant flux. Although this may be a source of new opportunities, inculturation usually entails unforeseen pastoral challenges. On the other hand, what is equally needed is for the parish communities to reflect upon how such dynamics are changing and challenging our cultural assumptions.

For example, during those moments in a liturgy where a reading may be proclaimed in a less familiar language, we may need to ask ourselves: can the Spirit of God be working through the patterns and symbols of less familiar cultures? During a liturgy when there is a noticeable absence of youth and young adults, we may need to ask ourselves: do the songs, symbols, homily, and gestures of this service speak the language of their culture? During liturgies where the assembly consists of one primary dominant cultural group, when the immediate physical surroundings of the neighborhood speak otherwise, we may need to ask ourselves: how welcoming and hospitable are we and how can our liturgies be a source of evangelization?

What is needed is balance: while remaining patient to the unfolding process of cultural interaction, the parish community needs to challenge itself in addressing the deeper issues. Otherwise, our efforts toward inculturation have the potential of becoming merely tokens. Our call is to move beyond such circumstances. We do this with the help, grace, and guidance of the Holy Spirit. We are not alone. Our weekly gatherings in the name of God, through Christ, and in the power of the Spirit, assure us of God's presence throughout this process of cultural interaction.

© 2013 Archdiocese of Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications,
3949 South Racine Ave, Chicago IL 60609

Ricky Manalo, csp,
is a Paulist priest and pastoral associate in San Francisco. He is a liturgical composer, author, and doctoral candidate in Asian Catholic ritual at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California.
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