Singing with the Faithful of Every Time and Place:
Thoughts on Liturgical Inculturation and Cross-Cultural Liturgy
C. MICHAEL HAWN
Jesus shall reign where'er the sun
Does his successive journeys run;
His kingdom stretch from shore to shore,
Till moons shall wax and wane no more.
Isaac Watts, Psalms of David Imitated, 1719 (Stanza 1)
The United Methodist bishop Joel Martínez noted at a conference in 1996 that "each generation must add its stanza to the great hymn of the church." I have found this a viable metaphor for understanding the range of congregational song available to us today. If we think of all Christian congregational song as comprising a grand hymn of the church throughout the ages, two thoughts come to mind immediately: (1) when singing a hymn, one does not begin on the final stanza but usually sings all of the stanzas, and furthermore, one does not usually stop on stanza three of a four- or five-stanza hymn; (2) the second point that this metaphor raises is a question: What does the stanza being shaped by Christians in this generation look and sound like? Looking at worship in general and congregational singing specifically through the lens of culture may open up some insight into this question.
The Dialogue between Cult and Culture
Culture has always been integral to cult. Since the Second Vatican Counsel (1962-65), this relationship has come to the forefront of liturgical discussions. Many of these discussions reflect the worship concerns of minority cultures within a dominant cultural environment. Ethnic minorities increasingly are seeking ways to embody in worship their language, customs and patterns of being-in-community. Africa, in particular, has been a fertile trial region for contextual liturgies. Even before Vatican II, the Belgian missionary Guido Haazen notated the Congolese Missa Luba in 1956, sung in Latin from oral practice. Father Stephen Mbunga, whose doctoral thesis in 1963 supported in strong terms the development of African expressions of music,1 composed Missa Baba Yetu (Mass of Our Father) in 1959 based on traditional music of the Lake Malawi region. These works, countless discussions among Africans, and the encouragement of forward-thinking missionaries paved the way for the recognition by Pope John Paul II of the "Zaďrian Rite" of the Mass in 1988. Many composers of African Christian music since the Second Vatican Council have been encouraged to continue their efforts toward musical inculturation.
In the United States discussions concerning the relationship between cult and culture have increased in frequency and intensity. The ten-year report of The Milwaukee Symposium for Church Composers (1992) includes a section on "Cross-Cultural Music Making."2 According to Edward Foley, the primary drafter of the Milwaukee report, The Snowbird Statement on Catholic Liturgical Music (1995) represents in part a reaction to, and perhaps a retrenchment from, many of the ideas presented in it. Under the auspices of the Lutheran World Federation, The Nairobi Statement on Worship and Culture (1996) reflects a much broader ethnic consultation combining the efforts of many representatives, who include the liturgical theologian Gordon Lathrop from the United States, and the Benedictine liturgical scholar Anscar Chupungco from the Philippines.3 One of the most systematic discussions of the relationship between worship and culture thus far, this document specifies four areas of interaction:
• Worship is transcultural. "The resurrected Christ whom we worship, and through whom by the power of the Holy Spirit we know the grace of the Triune God, transcends and indeed is beyond all cultures" (2.1). Transcultural elements extend to various aspects of worship as well as to the ordo or core liturgical structure of liturgy.
• Worship is contextual. "Jesus whom we worship was born into a specific culture of the world" (3.1). Borrowing from Chupungco's theories of liturgical inculturation, the contextual aspects of worship are derived from the principle of dynamic equivalence and creative assimilation. Dynamic equivalence involves "re-expressing components of Christian worship with something from a local culture that has an equal meaning, value, and function. Dynamic equivalence goes far beyond mere translation; it involves understanding the fundamental meanings both of elements of worship and of the local culture, and enabling the meanings and actions of worship to be 'encoded' and re-expressed in the language of local culture" (3.2). Creative assimilation requires "adding pertinent components of local culture to the liturgical ordo in order to enrich its original core" (3.4).
• Worship is also counter-cultural. Based on Romans 12:2, the Nairobi Statement suggests that "Jesus Christ came to transform all people and all cultures, and calls us not to conform to the world, but to be transformed with it" (4.1). Furthermore, a counter-cultural perspective "also involves the transformation of cultural patterns which idolize the self or the local group at the expense of a wider humanity, or which give central place to the acquisition of wealth at the expense of the care of the earth and its poor" (4.2).
• Finally, worship is cross-cultural. "Jesus came to be the Savior of all people. He welcomes the treasures of earthly cultures into the city of God" (5.1). The document states that "care should be taken that the music, art, architecture, gestures and postures, and other elements of different cultures are understood and respected when they are used by churches elsewhere in the world" (5.2).
These four criteria together provide insight into how liturgy and culture may be effectively woven together in the worship experience. While all are important and essential in any analysis, I will focus on contextual and cross-cultural aspects of congregational singing. What and how we sing in worship is a significant aspect of liturgical inculturation.
Aylward Shorter defines inculturation as "the on-going dialogue between faith and culture or cultures. More fully, it is the creative and dynamic relationship between the Christian message and a culture or cultures."4 Anscar Chupungco enlarges on this definition: Inculturation is a "process of reciprocal assimilation between Christianity and culture and the resulting interior transformation of culture on the one hand and the rooting of Christianity in culture on the other....[This] process of interaction and mutual assimilation brings progress to both [worship and culture]; it does not cause mutual extinction."5 Using these definitions as a guide, I propose to look at inculturation through selected congregational songs.
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