Newsletter of the District of Asia

 Oct - Dec 2002

Liturgical inculturation
Interview with Thai liturgy official
Fr. Joseph Phaisal Anamwat

The following interview shows how inculturation is being imposed in Thailand on the faithful. Their “sensus fidei – 6th sense of faith” is telling them something is wrong with these novelties. Refer to the editorial on page 2-3 to see how such inculturation actually destroys the Liturgy.

BANGKOK (UCAN) - The Church in Thailand has made some changes in the Thai liturgy to help Catholics actively participate in the Eucharistic celebration instead of just "listening" to it, a Church official says. Father Joseph Phaisal Anamwat, secretary of the Thai bishops' Catholic Commission for Liturgy, said the changes, effective from June, are intended to help Catholics understand better the meaning of the Eucharistic sacrifice. The priest spoke to UCA News in August 2001 about the changes, the commission 's work on improving the language of the liturgy and the difficulties it faced.

UCA News: Why were changes made in the liturgy?

FATHER JOSEPH PHAISAL ANAMWAT: The Thai Church has recently made some changes in the Thai version of the Order of the Mass to help Catholics participate actively in the Eucharistic celebration. Generally Thai Catholics do riot know about such participation and the meaning of the Eucharist. They go to church "automatically" and "listen" to the Mass.

The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council called for people to take an active part in liturgical celebrations. Bishops and liturgists translated the Latin text of the Mass into Thai and officially used the local language in 1978. As time went by, many liturgists said they must improve the text for the benefit of Catholics as well as the many Buddhists who attend funeral or marriage Masses. The changes are basically to improve wording, phrases and sentences in accordance with theology as well as Thai grammar, and to correspond to pastoral and interreligious implications.

We completed the revised translation in 2000 and started using the new text in all churches officially at the feast of Pentecost in June 2001.

What are some of the changes?

We tried to follow the spirit of Vatican Council II. We want people to understand the meaning of the Mass. That is why we changed the traditional word for the Mass, phithee missa (Mass ceremony) to phithee bucha khop phrakun (celebration of thanksgiving), which is its true meaning. We asked people not to use the word "missa" anymore. We want people to understand that what Jesus did at the Last Supper 2000 years ago is a saving event.

We try to guide them to the mystery of Jesus, whose death and resurrection is for our redemption. We try to communicate to them that when they participate in the liturgy, they go into the mystery of Christ.

We also improved the wording of the Lord's Prayer to express more accurately its meaning. We have included penitential rites and even Eucharistic prayers for children. We have added sung responses for the mystery of faith and doxology.

The new text also introduces gestures such as kneeling, standing and sitting to help Mass goers participate in the liturgy.

Were any problems encountered while revising the text?

We had a team comprising two bishops, linguistics experts and seminary professors. First we followed the text of the Eucharistic celebration from Latin. Then we compared it with the Greek, French, English and Italian versions. When we had problems with the translation, we looked at it from the pastoral aspect.

Thai is a very difficult language. One word could have three meanings. We had to select the best word to give the exact meaning.

What about lay participation in the Mass?

Laypeople have always thought that the liturgy is the sole duty of the priest. We have tried to instruct the laity to be involved in all aspects of the liturgy.

Catholics on the whole are receptive and are open to changes, such as women lectoring at the Liturgy of the Word or girls serving at the altar. Such ministries are open to the laity now unlike in the past. However, we still have to be careful about the cultural realities of Thai society where some people are sensitive about girls serving at the altar.

Receiving communion under two species is also permissible but there are some practical difficulties.

The bigger problem is that Catholics are not aware or informed of these developments. Another problem is that even some priests and Religious did not know about them. Our commission is trying to inform them about such changes.

How have Thai Catholics reacted to the changes?

Thai Catholics are used to silent worship although Vatican II teaching calls us to actively participate in the Eucharist. Liturgy comes alive in the Philippines with singing, in Africa with beautiful dances, but in Thailand we stay calm and collected. Some people still consider it a scandal to even sing or smile during the liturgical celebration.

The liturgy in Thailand also varies from region to region. In Bangkok it is usually very solemn but in northeastern Thailand or in areas where the liturgy is led by missioners, Mass is usually held in a very simple style.
We also try to inculturate our liturgy. However, when we use certain words or gestures, or use joss sticks in the liturgy, people ask why we imitate other religions.

What is the commission doing now?

The main objective is to try to make the liturgy simple and help people enter deeply into their faith life and the mystery of Christ. We are tackling four aspects of the liturgy.

We are working to improve sacred music, as oftentimes the music and lyrics are not appropriate for the liturgy. We are also continuing to work with the translation. We will not stop with the Order of the Mass, but will include the funeral and marriage rites, and others.

We also have to work on the liturgical environment such as the altar and tabernacle, the sanctuary and seating in and outside it. Many people do not know hat there are two tables at Mass, the table of the word and the table of sacrifice.

Then there is the aspect of inculturation. We will continue to work on a style of worship that is in accordance with "the Thai way."

We hold seminars across the country to help Catholics understand the revision of the liturgy. These seminars are helpful because people are asking questions. It is a good start.

(From ASIA FOCUS September 21, 2001, page 8)

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