The key to understanding Pope Francis’ restrictions on the Latin Mass? His belief in inculturation.

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In a video message sent on August 13 to religious orders in Latin America, Pope Francis addressed a theme close to his heart: the inseparability of evangelization and inculturation. But he also quietly offered insight that may help explain why, in July, he chose to restrict and regulate the pre-Vatican II liturgy, which has increasingly become an instrument of division within the church. .

“Let us not forget that a faith which is not inculturated is not authentic,” Francis told the Latin American Confederation of Religious (CLAR). He then invited them to enter into “the soul of the people”, which, he said, was what gave “a real meaning” to the culture. To do this, he said, was to value what the Holy Spirit has sown in each person, which is at the same time a gift for all. “Do not forget the binomial: inculturation of faith and evangelization of culture,” he urged.

“Inculturation” is a term that took off in the 1980s, especially in Latin America, to express an intuition that developed in the wake of the Second Vatican Council. Although Saint Paul VI never used the term, it is implicit in his 1975 apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Nuntiandi”,in particular paragraphs 20 and 48, which made it clear that the proclamation of the Gospel builds up a culture and regenerates it; it does not cancel culture and does not replace it. And evangelization also implies a kind of discernment of the presence of the Spirit in the beliefs of the “simple and the poor”, long despised but rediscovered today as custodians of the divine.

“Let us not forget that a faith which is not inculturated is not authentic,” Francis told the Latin American Confederation of Religious.

This growth in the understanding and respect for culture, and in particular for popular religiosity, has been made possible by, on the one hand, Vatican II’s understanding of the Church both as a universal body and as a communion of Local churches, and, on the other hand, liturgical changes – allowing prayers in local languages ​​in which people were actively participating – this flowed from it. The Latin American Church, especially the thinkers associated with what is now called “the theology of the people” (“theology of the pueblo ”), were the pioneers of this understanding and their thought was reflected in the synod which preceded “Evangelii Nuntiandi”, which in turn endorsed this thought. The meeting of Latin American bishops in Puebla, Mexico, in 1979 was a defining moment in liberating this “inculturated” evangelization both from culturally Eurocentric pre-conciliar Catholicism and from the sociological categories influenced by Marxism that permeated the theology of the Church. primitive liberation.

In Argentina, inculturation was encouraged above all by the provincial of the Argentine Jesuits, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, SJ, who sent his students to the barrios for this purpose. He insisted that they were going to be educated by the faithful in the area rather than teaching and that their ability to enter into their culture and devotions was the litmus test of their faith. Jesuits who promote justice, he told them, must act in a way rooted in the concrete concerns, as well as in the values ​​and devotions, of the faithful, unlike the ideologues who, in Bergoglio’s hackneyed expression, were “for the people but never with people.

Jesuits who promote justice, Bergoglio told them, must act in a way that is anchored in the concrete concerns, as well as in the values ​​and devotions, of the faithful.

In 1985, then Father Bergoglio organized and hosted an international conference, the first of its kind in Latin America, in Buenos Aires, at which 120 theologians gathered to discuss “the evangelization of culture and of the inculturation of the Gospel ”.

Twenty years later, Cardinal Bergoglio oversaw the drafting of the document resulting from the revolutionary meeting of Aparecida of the Latin American episcopate in May 2007. Its beautiful passages on popular religiosity and culture, unmatched to this day, have was the contribution, in particular, of the three Argentine editors and are referenced in many passages of the exhortation of Francis 2013 “Evangelii Gaudium”.

Francis explains there the main lines of an inculturated evangelization as the realization of the Incarnation itself: “The gift of God is embodied in the culture of the one who receives it” (no. 115). Christianity has many cultural expressions, reflected in the catholicity of the church (# 116). And while some cultures are associated with the development of Christianity, “the revealed message does not identify with any of them” (# 117).

Cultural diversity, he adds, is not a threat to the unity of the Church, which is the work of the Holy Spirit; that the Spirit reconciles diversity rather than imposing uniformity. Hence the importance of not imposing a particular culture alongside the Gospel, because it is showing “more fanaticism than true evangelizing zeal”.

Without inculturation, Pope Francis said, Christian life “results in the most bizarre and ridiculous Gnostic tendencies.”

It is of this “fanaticism” that François warned last week in his speech to CLAR. Without inculturation, he said, Christian life “leads to the most bizarre and ridiculous Gnostic tendencies”, in which what counts “the peoples, and it is not the Gospel. As an example, he underlined “the abuse of the liturgy”.

He did not develop, but just after his letter to the bishops of the world explaining his reasons for “Traditionis Custodes”, a decision made at the initiative of the Pope which regulates the celebration of the ancient rite of Mass, we can relate some points. In the letter, he regretted how the 1962 Roman Missal was used to reject not only the liturgical developments it commissioned, but Vatican II itself, claiming that the council had betrayed the “true church”. Francis reminds the bishops that it is not only a question of rejecting the authority of the council but ultimately the Holy Spirit who guides the church.

This council, Francis reminded the bishops, insisted on “the full, conscious and active participation of the whole People of God in the liturgy”. Quoting the council, he noted that “within the ecclesial communion” there were the particular Churches “which enjoy their own traditions, without prejudice to the primacy of the Chair of Peter which presides over the universal communion of charity, guarantees legitimate diversity and together ensure that the particular not only does not harm the universal, but above all serves it.

Before the Council, the liturgy reflected the ecclesiological culture of the time, strongly Roman, centralized, etc., but also real.

This quote, from “Lumen Gentium”, is significant because it opened the door to what would become, over time, the understanding that evangelization and inculturation were inseparable. “The church is a people with many faces”, says Francis in our book Let us dream, “Called to be the People of God in a story, in a concrete place, in the language of that place”.

This is what the current militarization of the traditional Latin Mass rejects against Vatican II and papal authority. Francis seems to discern in it a resurgence of the old Gnostic heresy, which makes Christianity a disembodied ideology abstracted from the carnal reality of human culture. Rather than a true spiritual unity forged from diversity, it creates a universal ideology. “The enemy wants diversity to become opposition and therefore he makes them become ideologies,” the Pope warned this year during his homily on Pentecost.

Such postures are “bizarre,” says the Pope, because they deny that God is embodied in language and culture and “ridiculous” because the attempt to recreate a past tradition is a distinctly postmodern endeavor. Before the Council, the liturgy reflected the ecclesiological culture of the time – very Roman, centralized, etc., but real. Today, this same preconciliar liturgy risks being a pastiche, not reflecting any culture beyond the traditionalist ideology which justifies and promotes it.

Maybe I’m overinterpreting these four little words: “the misuse of the liturgy”. But set against Francis’ long and passionate plea for an evangelization inseparable from inculturation, and his recent “Traditionis Custodes”, the link seems as clear as his advice to men and women religious to avoid being “fearful disciples, locked in the past and abandoned to nostalgia. Francis’s message? “Come out into the holy faithful people of God, respect the holy faithful people of God, evangelize, testify and the rest is left to the Holy Spirit. “

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