Oct 15, 2006

Congress on the Sacred Liturgy in Africa

Online Edition – October 2006
Vol. XII, No. 7

Congress on the Sacred Liturgy in Africa

Editor’s Note: In July, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (CDW), aided by the Ghana Catholic Bishops Conference, sponsored a six-day Congress on the Liturgy in Kumasi, Ghana, the first to be held outside of Rome. About 100 people attended the Congress, including the bishop-presidents of SECAM (Symposium of the Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar), liturgical experts from CERAO (Regional Episcopal Conference of West Africa), Congregation officials and others.

Kumasi Archbishop Peter Kwasi Sarpong is also a member of the Vox Clara commission that aids the CDW with English-language translations. (South Africa is the only country on the continent that is a member of ICEL.)

That this Congress was held in Africa rather than in Rome was significant. According to Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith, Secretary of the CDW, “It was an opportunity to hear the voice of Africa there on the spot, to dialogue with them and take part in their local liturgies … [which] … allowed us to realize the variety of practices introduced through processes of inculturation”, both “well done and not so well done”, he said in an interview by Agenzia Fides, July 21. “Some of the bishops were amazed when we explained certain aspects of the Liturgy which they had hitherto not considered”, he said. Above all, Archbishop Ranjith stressed, this Congress was important in “stimulating a desire for more complete knowledge of all the profoundly spiritual aspects of the Liturgy: transcendence, sense of the sacred and of mystery, profound interior participation, etc.”

The topics considered at the Congress ranged from the complexities of liturgical translation to the meaning of authentic inculturation, and included formation of seminarians. The final report of the Congress is of interest to Catholics in the West, in that it reveals the universality of some of the challenges to authentic celebration of the Liturgy posed by the culture — as this affects church architecture, music, innovations such as dance, and translation of texts.

The final Report on the Congress noted that “Liturgy is not merely a local affair and certainly not a private matter. It links the local community through the particular Church to the Universal Church in affective and effective ecclesial communion”.

The final report and the Congregation’s introductory letter are published here, with the permission of the CDW.

Prot. N. 746/05/L
Vatican City
July 11, 2006

To Their Eminences and Excellencies, the Catholic Bishops of Africa

Your Eminence, Your Excellency,
On Kumasi Liturgical Congress

From 4 to 9 July 2006 a Congress for the Promotion of the Sacred Liturgy in Africa and Madagascar was held in Kumasi, Ghana. It was organized by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in collaboration with the Bishops’ Conferences of Africa, and hosted by the Ghana Catholic Bishops’ Conference and the Archdiocese of Kumasi.

We thank the 23 bishops’ conferences which sent delegates. The Congress desired that each bishop in Africa receive the attached 7-page report. Please share with Rectors of Major Seminaries or Higher Catholic Institutes which may be found in your jurisdiction. In addition, I send Your Eminence/Your Excellency the following list of remarks on ten general liturgical matters which I made at the closing session of the Congress on 8th July, 2006, as other matters arising from the reports from the Bishops’ Conferences or from the Workshops held on 6th and 7th July.

1. Relations with English and French International Translating Committees
African countries are doing the translation of the Latin typical editions of liturgical books into their own different languages. But they will also like to use the English and the French translations being prepared by the respective International (or Mixed) Translating Committees or Commissions (ICEL for English and CEFTL for French). Bishops’ Conferences in Africa should be in contact with these two bodies and forward their comments on drafts of translations being done, even if the particular African Bishops’ Conference is not a formal member of ICEL or of CEFTL.

2. Promotion of Multidisciplinary Studies
For proper inculturation efforts, Bishops’ Conferences need to set up study groups of experts in theology, liturgy, music, literature, anthropology, etc. The results of such studies are then passed on to Bishops’ Conferences for discussion, voting and, where successful, forwarding to our Congregation for the needed recognitio. Inculturation done without proper preliminary study is full of risks.

3. Two-thirds Majority Vote Needed for Approval
Some participants suggested a mitigation of the requirement of 2/3 majority vote by the members of a Bishops’ Conference for a decision such as the adoption of a cultural element, or the approval of a translation.

The reply is that the requirement of 2/3 majority is a wise one. A bishop who proposes a cultural element for adoption in the sacred liturgy may be well-informed and correct from the cultural point of view. But it is important that he convince at least 2/3 of his Bishops’ Conference on this. Inculturation should be an action of the Church in a country and not just the initiative of one person, whether that person be a professor, a priest or even a bishop. If 2/3 majority cannot be gathered, then the matter is not yet ripe for adoption or for forwarding to Rome for recognitio.

4. Church Building
Some reports speak of new church buildings which are round and have the altar in the middle. It is important that the traditional sanctuary (or presbyterium) be not forgotten, that is, the part of the church building which has the altar, the celebrant’s seat, the book-stand (ambo) and especially the Tabernacle.

The Tabernacle needs special attention. In most parish churches it can be at the center, located higher than the head of the celebrant. If it must be at a side altar, then it must be prominent, dignified, easily visible, etc. as GIRM n. 314, and Redemptionis Sacramentum, 130 specify. In small chapels there is no strong reason why the tabernacle should not be at the center.

Genuflection to Our Lord in the tabernacle is the normal rule. In the celebration of Mass such genuflection is done on entry and at exit.

5. Vestments made locally
Many countries reported that they make vestments locally. This is good and praise-worthy. The accepted liturgical colors in the Roman Rite should be respected. There is an unacceptable practice which is growing up in some countries. It is that of using for vestments cloth designed to highlight a bishop, or priest, or even a Catholic community which is celebrating an anniversary or jubilee. Such cloths are suitable for the people’s dress or clothing, but not for chasubles which should concentrate on the mysteries of Christ that are celebrated in the liturgy. The Catholic liturgical tradition has many symbols, such as the Cross, the Crucifix, the Lamb, the Dove, Pentecost event, Resurrection, Passion, etc. Bishops and priests should give Catholic communities and those who make such items good advice on this matter.

6. Adaptation Elements
Some Conferences report that striking the breast at “mea culpa”, or standing during the reading of the Gospel, do not go down well in their people’s culture. Where such is the case, the bishops should organize the multidisciplinary study mentioned in n. 2 above, discuss and vote in their Conference, and send the request to our Congregation for the required recognitio. They should not simply replace an existing practice without following the procedure outlined above.

7. Texts used “Ad Experimentum
Some Conferences reported that they have been using some translations “ad experimentum” for years, some for as long as 20 years. The answer is given in Redemptionis Sacramentum, 27. Already in 1970, and again in 1988, Bishops’ Conferences have been asked to cease using such texts that have no recognitio. Where there is special difficulty, our Congregation should be consulted.

8. Funeral Ministers are mentioned by one Conference. As far as possible, a priest should officiate at a funeral and celebrate Mass. Where no priest is available, a deacon can conduct the rites. Only when it is really impossible to find a priest, should the bishop indicate what prayers a lay person may use.

9. Church Choirs need to be encouraged. The leaders of the choirs should be well-informed by the priest how to carry out their role. In particular, choirs are to lead the people in singing, allow the people to sing a part, and not monopolize the singing or orchestrate.

Some choirs sing too loudly or tune the microphone too high. It is also important that the choir does not marginalize the priest celebrant by singing for a very long time and insisting on many verses. And the choir should allow the people moments for silent and personal prayer.

10. Some Abuses were mentioned in Reports and Workshops
Homilies should not be too long. Fifteen minutes of a well-prepared homily is enough. It is an abuse to preach for 45 minutes, or to walk about the church while preaching, or to punctuate the homily with shouts of “Alleluia” or “Praise the Lord” from time to time.

Liturgical Processions are for the celebrant, the concelebrants, the altar servers and any clergy taking part. It is not the proper practice to include people on the basis of their being prominent in the local Catholic community. It is accepted that Religious being professed, or candidates for baptism, Confirmation or First Communion could join if found practical. A few Knights of Honor could be admitted, but not all members of all Knighthoods or prominent Catholic associations. These could enter the church before the liturgical procession begins.

Introducing other Events at Mass: The celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice should stand out on its own. Events like reading an address to the bishop, listening to a prominent chief or civil authority, bringing presents to the visiting bishop or jubilarians, or raising money for parish projects, are better placed after the last blessing and “Ite Missa Est”.

Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion should be allowed to function only when the ordinary Ministers (priests, deacons and instituted acolytes) are not available in sufficient numbers. The purification of the sacred vessels may be done only by the ordinary ministers.

The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments thanks the 79 participants of the Kumasi Congress for their hard work and edifying study on how best to promote the sacred liturgy in Africa and Madagascar. The Congregation is ready and willing to receive the bishops of Africa who come to Rome or who contact us by other means. Priority is given to those bishops who want to discuss projects or documents of their Bishops’ Conference.

We express our fraternal and high esteem and remain, Your Eminence/Your Excellency,

Devotedly Yours in Christ

Francis Cardinal Arinze, Prefect
Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith, Secretary



The Editors