Newsletter of the District of Asia

 May - June 1999


Roman Catholicism or Inculturated Catholicism?  Having taken the time recently to look over some material of last year’s Asian Synod, one feature emerged as being the key to all the synod: the de-romanization of the Catholic Church in Asia.  And the de-romanization actually means very clearly, the return to tribal/indigenous/pagan religions.  The irony of it all is that it is Rome itself that is encouraging and pushing the Bishops in that direction.  As the Message of the Synode (No.5) itself stated, “We are all aware that the liturgy has a key role in evangelization.” 

Here are the roots and the fruits of such a situation.  Firstly, a few texts of Vatican II’s Constitution on the Liturgy “Sacrosanctum Concilium” (Dec. 4, 1963), then of the General Instruction preceding the New Mass (April 1969), then the official result, 30 years later, with some texts from the Asian Synod (May 1998)


A)     Vatican II, Constitution on the Liturgy:

The de-romanization is manifest by:

a)       shifting the control over the liturgy from Rome to the Bishops’ Conferences.  The most      important text is this one:

22(2)  In virtue of power conceded by law, the regulation of the liturgy within certain defined limits belongs also to various kinds of bishops' conferences, legitimately established, with competence in given territories.

b)    the practical elimination of the Roman language, Latin:

36. (1)  The use of the Latin language, with due respect to particular law, is to be preserved in the Latin rites.  (2) But since the use of the vernacular, whether in  the Mass, the administration of the sacraments, or in  other  parts of the liturgy,  may  frequently  be of great advantage to the people, a wider  use  may be made of it, especially in readings, directives and  in some prayers and chants.  Regulations governing this will be given separately in subsequent chapters. (3)   These  norms  being  observed,  it  is  for  the  competent territorial  ecclesiastical  authority mentioned in Article 22:2, to decide whether, and to what extent, the vernacular language is to be used.  Its decrees have to be approved, that is, confirmed by  the  Apostolic See

c)    opening the door to heterogeneous elements from “traditions and cultures of individual people” (No.40,1), thus taking the risk of eventually removing any or all Roman elements:

37.   Even  in  the  liturgy the Church does not wish to impose a rigid uniformity in matters which do not involve the faith or the good  of the whole community.  Rather does she respect and foster the  qualities  and  talents  of  the  various races and nations. Anything  in these people's way of life which is not indissolubly bound  up  with superstition and error she studies with sympathy, and,  if  possible,  preserves intact.  She sometimes even admits such things into the liturgy itself, provided they harmonize with its true and authentic spirit.

38.   Provided  that  the  substantial unity of the Roman rite is preserved,  provision shall be made, when revising the liturgical books,  for  legitimate  variations  and adaptations to different groups,  regions  and  peoples,  especially in mission countries. This  should  be  borne  in  mind  when  drawing  up the rite and determining rubrics.

40.  In  some  places  and  circumstances, however, an even more radical  adaptation  of  the  liturgy is needed, and this entails greater difficulties.  For this reason: (1)  The competent territorial ecclesiastical authority mentioned in  Article  22:2,  must  in this matter, carefully and prudently consider  which  elements  from  the  traditions  and cultures of individual  peoples  might  appropriately be admitted into divine worship. (…)

B)   A few years later, the General Instruction of the New Missal, in its No.19, encourages singing in the celebrations “having considered the natural character of the people and the aptitude of every assembly- attentis ingenio populorum et facultatibus cujuslibet coetus”.

B)      The results of these principles are before our eyes. Here are a few texts from the Asian Synod, some taken from the Bishops Conferences responses to the pre-synod questions, others from interventions during the Synod, finally, a few lines from the final Message of the Synod.  (Always keep in mind the ‘de-romanization’.)


“The official position of the Catholic Church towards other religions is unambiguous: The Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions.

(…) our remarks about the necessity of being truly inculturated Local Churches. Suffice it to say here that we Indians perceive the world as Asians

This, then, we see as a basic reason behind the failure of Christian mission efforts in the East: the spiritual and mystical elements of Asian religions have been practically ignored….”


The encounter of Christian faith with indigenous religious beliefs gives rise to unhealthy syncretism: in young Christian communities traditional religious customs still persist and sometimes create confusion. Sometimes there is dualism: Christian faith and belief in the spirits of ancestor


“The theology on which the Lineamenta is based is the theology of the Christian West, and appears to the eyes of non-Christians as overly self-complacent and introverted. Based on this kind of theology, we cannot approach the unsettled Asia of today. In the Lineamenta there is a lack of understanding of Asian culture, especially the Asian culture of today, which is a mixture of traditional Asian culture and an Americanized modern culture. Moreover, it does not appear that we can be satisfied with modern Western theology, either. Especially if we consider that even in non-Christian cultures, we can never say that the redemption of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit is absent.

Liberation from a Western-style Church (…)

Sri Lanka

“Divesting of the Western image of the Church in the liturgy, style of life, celebrations, and trying to overcome the present image of a powerful, affluent and domineering institution.

Thus the new challenge to Christology is to speak of the identity of Jesus Christ in the context of the world religions and secular culture. Jesus Christ must be presented as fulfilling completely all human aspirations. He is the model of a completely human person.

This will help the Church to shift emphasis from one of maintenance of what exists to a dynamic dialogue of lived experience.”

Malaysia- Singapore-Brunei

What is the contribution of the efforts at inculturation in your area to the universal Church?

1. These efforts have given credibility to the fact that the Church is not totally Western but universal in concept and practice.

3. The incorporation of local elements from language, music, dance, offerings and dress of clergy into the liturgy on special occasions heighten the feeling that the Church is universal.


“We must therefore courageously start introducing into Church life the customs and traditions of the veneration of ancestors, especially in the liturgy and sacramental rituals.  This is certainly for the benefit of the great work of evangelization”.

From the Final Message of the Synod, in L’Osservatore Romano (Eng. Ed.), No.20, May 20, 1998:

“3.  We gladly acknowledge the spiritual values of the great religions of Asia such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam.  We esteem the ethical values in the customs and practices found in the teachings of the great philosophers of Asia, which promote natural virtues and pious devotion to ancestors.  We also respect the beliefs and religious practices of indigenous/ tribal people, whose reverence for all creation manifests their closeness to the Creator.

5. (…) We note with joy that practically everywhere in Asia the liturgy is held in the language of the people.”

In contrast with all these bishops, Archbishop Lefebvre showed his deep attachment to Rome, to Roman Catholicism when he wrote in the “Spiritual Journey”, just before his death: “Romanitas (romanity) is not a vain word.  Schisms and heresies are often begun by a rupture with Romanitas, a rupture with the Roman liturgy, with Latin, with the theology of the Latin and Roman Fathers, theologians.  One cannot deny that this is a Providential fact.  God who leads all things, has in His infinite wisdom prepared Rome to become the Seat of Peter and center for the radiation of the Gospel.”   Seventeen years earlier had he not written: “We cling with our whole heart to Eternal Rome..”  Interestingly, it is precisely this Roman profession of faith with has been the act launching the avalanche of Roman condemnations! 

As St Patrick said: “Sicut Christiani, ita et Romani – Just as we are Christians, we are also Romans!”  The Archbishop continued saying that it was an error (now professed (!) by the Bishops of Asia) to speak of Roman culture as Western.  “The converts from Judaism brought with them from the Orient all that was Christian, all that which in the Old Testament was a preparation and could be a component to Christianity.”   In a way, it was a repetition of the story of Abraham who left Ur, in Chaldea, by the order of God, and took with him Sarai, his wife, Lot his nephew, “and all the substance they had gathered” (Gen.12,5) to go to the Promise Land.  St Peter also took with him “and all the substance they had gathered” in the Holy Land and brought it with him to the center of the Empire.

To these various reasons of the establishment of the Church in Rome, St Ireneus (+203), in his famous Adversus Haereses (Book 2, Chap.1) adds the fact that the Apostles did not commence to preach the Gospel until they were endowed with the gifts and power of the Holy Ghost. So, for such an important move as that, we can be sure that St Peter was acting on precise instruction of His Master.

Our Lord Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem but lived in Nazareth, thus was called a Galilean.  Likewise, His Church was born in Jerusalem but moved its center to Rome, thus was called and is still called the Roman Catholic Church.

Today’s drama or, in a sense irony, is that Rome is asking, pushing its faithful not to be Roman, and is accusing Archbishop, of being anti-Roman! Archbishop Lefebvre on the contrary is asking, urging us to cling faithfully to our Roman origin in spite of being rejected by modern Rome.

Let us ask the grace to continue to live and to die in defense of this ‘romanitas’!


Romanly yours in Jesus and Mary,
Fr. Daniel Couture
District Superior



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