Pope encourages creation of Amazonian Mass

By Loup Besmond de Senneville, 18 December 2020
An Indigenous woman hands Pope Francis a plant during the closing Mass of the Synod. Image: Vatican Media/Vatican News.


Francis shows support for a tailor-made rite for Catholics in the Amazon in the preface of new book on the history of the “Zairean Rite”, the first post-Vatican II inculturation of the Mass

Pope Francis has voiced support for adapting the Church’s liturgy to the culture of believers in the Amazon Region of South America, similar to the way it was inculturated decades ago for Catholics in the African Congo.

He does so in the preface of a book on the history of the “Zairean Rite“, which was created for Congolese Catholics following the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).

“The Zairean Rite suggests a promising way also for the possible elaboration of an Amazonian Rite,” the pope writes in the new book, which was written by theologian Rita Mboshu Kong and was published on December 9.

In his preface, Francis notes that the Zairean Rite “takes into consideration the African way of life and of celebrating solemn occasions […] without upsetting the nature of the Roman Missal, to guarantee continuity with the ancient and universal tradition of the Church”.

“You, our ancestors, be with us at this moment when Christ is coming to save us”

Sometimes referred to as the “Congolese” Rite, this adapted form of the Mass emerged around the Second Vatican Council and the independence of the former European colonies in sub-Saharan Africa.

After more than 30 years of work, the Vatican finally approved the Roman Missal for the Dioceses of Zaire in 1988.

It then set down on paper practices such as “dancing around the altar” and “rhythmic movements” that are anchored in Congolese culture.

It also introduced “ancestors of upright heart” into the liturgy.

“You, our ancestors, be with us at this moment when Christ is coming to save us,” says the priest during the Mass.

The pope used these very words on December 1, 2019, when he celebrated the first-ever papal Mass in the Zairean Rite in St. Peter’s Basilica.

It was to mark the occasion of the Jubilee of the Congolese chaplaincy in Rome.

The idea for similarly inculturated ritual for Catholics was discussed during the Synod of Bishops’ special assembly on the Amazon Region, which took place in October 2019 at the Vatican.

In his preface for the new book, Francis says indigenous peoples must be able to “invoke God, who revealed himself through Jesus Christ with their words, and with their religious, poetic, metaphorical, symbolic and narrative language”.

Already in his apostolic exhortation following “Amazon Synod” (Querida Amazonia), the Latin American pope said inculturation “means that we can take up into the liturgy many elements proper to the experience of indigenous peoples in their contact with nature, and respect native forms of expression in song, dance, rituals, gestures and symbols” (QA, 82).

“The Second Vatican Council called for this effort to inculturate the liturgy among indigenous peoples; over 50 years have passed and we still have far to go along these lines,” he then emphasised.

“The liturgy is not a museum”

While the Zairean Rite is the only one that takes into account non-European cultural realities, “there are other adaptations in the Latin Church for ways of celebrating Mass,” explained Dominican Father Dominik Jurczak, professor of liturgy at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas (the “Angelicum”) and the Pontifical Atheneum of Sant’Anselmo, both in Rome.

For example, there is the Ambrosian Rite, which is used in Milan. And Catholics in northern Portugal celebrate with something called the Rite of Braga.

“A rite is made to allow those who pray to express themselves. The liturgy is, by definition, a moment of encounter with God,” Father Jurczak pointed out.

“For the Church, the liturgy is not a museum where static elements are frozen, but rather it resembles a living organism that can evolve,” he said.

The Dominican professor clarified that it is “obviously not” possible to simply copy the Zairean Rite for Amazonian Catholics.

“But in saying this, the pope reminds us that adaptation is possible. It is not a question of creating a rite ex nihiloor of copying one model from another,” he said.

Pope’s comments reported by official Vatican media

Father Jurczak also pointed out that the process of adaptation is never finished.

“That’s why the Missals are regularly revised. One of the reasons is that languages evolve; this is part of the cultural phenomena that the liturgy takes into account,” he explained.

Vatican Media gave special attention to pope’s preface for the new pope and even posted a video of him endorsing liturgical inculturation.

Francis published a motu proprio in 2017 instructing the bishops around the world to “faithfully prepare” liturgical translations.

“The idea is to say that it is the bishops on the ground who are best able to understand the culture of the countries where they are located,” underlined Father Jurczak.

“This is especially true when they are in a mission country,” the liturgist said.

Reproduced with permission from La Croix International.


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