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Vatican hampers liturgical inculturation, bishops say

Patna, India

Catholic bishops in India’s Hindi speaking region say the reluctance of some Vatican officials to incorporate local cultural ethos in liturgical texts could hamper inculturation.

Liturgical books in Hindi “cannot and should not mean dry literal translations of Latin versions,” Archbishop Benedict John Osta of Patna said at a recent meeting that involved 29 bishops from India’s northern region.

During their Oct. 20 and 21 meeting, the bishops discussed obstacles they face in having the Vatican approve Hindi translations of liturgical texts, including the Roman Missal, which contains Mass texts, and the Indian Anaphora (Eucharistic Prayer).

The Indian Anaphora was submitted to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in 1992. The Hindi translation of the Roman Missal was sent in 2000. The next year, however, the congregation issued Liturgiam Authenticam (“The Authentic Liturgy”), which insists on almost-literal translations and close adherence to the style and structure of the original Latin.

Osta, a Jesuit, told fellow bishops that liturgy in Hindi was meant to generate greater participation of the faithful, but that would be impossible unless the translation “is in tune with the broader cultural canvas and creativity of the faithful.” Several other bishops at the triennial gathering in Patna, the capital of Bihar state, agreed that the reluctance of Vatican officials to reflect local culture in the liturgy would impede the inculturation process.

Belgian Jesuit Fr. Jos De Cuyper, 82, who convened a committee set up for the translations, told the meeting his group completed most of the work, including a translation of the Roman Missal “as per the directive of the Second Vatican Council,” which encourages local cultural creativity in the liturgy. “But we abandoned publishing,” he said, because the congregation “directed” translators to “skip local cultural creativity and meticulously revise the texts in accordance with their authentic Latin versions.”

Osta, a Sanskrit and Hindi scholar who pioneered the translation, said he had personally discussed the issue with leaders of the congregation, “but they did not respond very positively.”

The congregation, he said, insisted that the literal rendering of the Latin texts “is an attempt at safeguarding the ‘unity of the Roman Rite.’ ” But “we simply cannot accept such logic, and we must make concerted and collective efforts to remove such restrictions,” Osta said.

Jesuit Bishop John Baptist Thakur of Muzaffarpur used the words “beyond comprehension” to describe the Vatican position. “Actually, it is not a question of translation,” he observed. “It is a question of the mentality of the people in Rome” who want to control “from above” even the expression of devotion of culturally different people.

“We should not accept such dictates that could potentially hamper our mission of inculturation, which is indispensable for the Indian church,” Thakur said. If cultural aspects are not given expression in faith life, he said, Christianity “would remain an alien faith, a foreign culture.” That, he concluded, would only help Hindu groups to propagate their theory that Christians are foreigners and should be opposed.

Archbishop Telesphore Toppo of Ranchi, who is president of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of India (Latin Rite), said the conference’s next meeting in January 2003 will discuss the matter to prepare a paper for presentation to the pope.

“We must tell everyone firmly that the march of inculturation that followed Vatican Council II cannot be reversed,” Toppo said. “Any attempt to do so would only hurt the sentiments of our people. I am sure the Roman curia would appreciate our views and needs.” He also said the needs of the region compels the church to prepare a liturgy comprehensible to “even children and illiterates.”

It was “impossible” to return liturgy to the “cultural background of the seventh and eighth centuries in Rome when liturgical texts were composed in the language of Pope Leo the Great,” he asserted. “We live in the present, and the local people yearn to live their faith within the indigenous cultural ambience.”

National Catholic Reporter, November 15, 2002