Liturgy and the sacraments are areas that are most at risk of arbitrary innovations in the wake of the current cultural reawakening. As I wrote a few weeks ago,
Among other things, there have been discussions on dancing in the Church, the form of Eucharistic adoration, merging customary marriage with Church marriage, using kola nut and palm wine as altar bread and altar wine respectively, and using the clay pot instead of the thurible.
The most unique characteristic of the Catholic Church is its universality. The liturgy of the Roman rite is the same globally. One can participate in a Eucharistic celebration in a foreign land and in a foreign language and still connect fully with God. The Church’s universality also reflects in doctrine, canon law, and matrimonial jurisprudence.
I must admit that I am not a liturgist, hence I am reticent to delve into the details of liturgy and inculturation. Nonetheless, our basic understanding of the sacraments is that matter and form are necessary for the valid celebration of each sacrament. Therefore, these two concepts are sacrosanct, in other words, they cannot be adapted.
However, the liturgy transcends the matter and form required for the validity of the sacraments. For instance, the matter and form for the valid celebration of the Eucharist include a validly ordained priest, the bread and wine prepared from the stipulated plants, and the words of consecration. On the other hand, the choice of songs, the design of vestments, the structure of the altar, the colour of liturgical vessels, etc do not affect validity. Therefore, while we observe the official requirements of the Church, it does not preclude that those areas that are adaptable cannot be considered. Yet, each adaptation comes with challenges. Hence, as much as I argue for inculturation, I am also pragmatic.
For instance, reflecting on the use of a clay pot of smoke instead of the thurible, I realised that while the clay pot represents our cultural style, fully incorporating it into our liturgy faces some challenges.
The clay pot can serve to enthrone the gospel. However, one wonders how we can incense the altar, the book of the gospel, the bread and wine, and the people with a clay pot. Is it sufficient to just place the clay pot in front of the altar or will the priest use a smaller pot to enable movement of the hands while blessing? One realises too that placing the clay pot in front of the altar would require a theology to interpret that act as against the current practice. Moreover, leaving such a flame before the altar might endanger the health of the priest and the altar servers.
In the coming weeks, I will explore various inculturation themes, particularly that of combining Church marriage with traditional marriage.
May God continue to help us🙏🏾