Liturgical Inculturation / Adaptation

          When we speak of liturgical Inculturation or Liturgical adaptation[1] we have to remember two different realities such as Faith and Culture or Religion and culture.  Even though we may differentiate in it’s meaning but in its essence, it is very difficult to separate them. A man, born and brought up in a particular culture, has his faith. As an expression of his faith he celebrates the Liturgy or participates in liturgical celebrations. But indeed that celebration has to take place in a particular cultural context.  Therefore, we can say that both are interconnected with each other. Inculturation or liturgical adaptation does not mean to introduce the Hindu religious practices in our Christian liturgies rather we need to have a clear idea regarding it and that are related to it.

Primarily we need to understand Culture, which is the essence of a human community based on habits, characters, custom, behaviors, and way of life of the people[2]. When we speak of liturgical Inculturation or adaptation in this regard certain important and different terms should be clarified to understand it.

Inculturation: means the interior transformation of cultural values through the integration of Gospel values.  There should be a creative relationship between Gospel and Culture. Faith cannot be expressed without a cultural form. Because when we speak of faith, which could be expressed only by human beings.  Naturally any human person must have a specific cultural context for his birth and for his existence. Indeed faith is an ongoing process in the life of a man.  Human beings are the essence of a community and that human community has so many different cultures based on Countries, Nation, Region, and Language etc.  Each culture is a perfect culture for the specific individual groups of people in which one has born and brought up. Whereas looking into the general realities of different cultures no one can claim that his or her culture is the purest or the perfect culture.  In all our cultures we have imperfections due to the involvement of the human persons, who is naturally imperfect. Only the Culture of the Gospel (Jesus culture), we can accept as the perfect culture (here we do not mean that Jewish culture, rather the way Jesus related with people, treated).  All our human cultures are to be purified with the interaction of the culture of the Gospel.

Enculturation: To grow in a different culture, the attitudes and habits are learned from practice not by birth. (e.g. Indian in America or Europe learns and behaves like that of an american or an european)

Acculturation: encounter between 2 cultures. Juxtaposition of 2 cultures, existing side by side. (e.g. A Tamilian lives and relates in Kerala or viceversa)

Indigenization: In seventies (1970) Fr. D.S. Amalopavadass used the word to mean liturgical adaptation in the Indian context and “to give to our liturgy a more Indian setting and complexion”[3].

Contextualization: This term was introduced into the active ecclesiastical vocabulary by the World Council of Churches in 1972.  This derives from the word context, which is fittingly expresses, the need for the Church to be relevant to contemporary society.

Adaptation is the official word used in the Second Vatican Council very specially Sacrosanctum Concilium numbers 37-40 explains the norms for cultural adaptation. The Church respects and fosters, qualities and talents of different cultures of people to express their faith. The Episcopal conferences, moreover the local ordinary, should make the necessary steps regarding the liturgical adaptations in the proper region and in the diocese proper.

Need of Liturgical Inculturation or Adaptation

          India is a Multi-religious country and many religions live together.  Everyday one has to meet and to relate with people belonging to other religion even for one’s own daily events of life like shopping, marketing, traveling etc., And at the religious side each one tries to worship and honoring God according to one’s own religious practices[4].

          In this regard, we the Catholics, our worship to God by way of participation in the Eucharistic celebrations and in the receptions of the Sacraments are the encourageable. When we look into the history of the Church, for the better participation in the Liturgical celebrations, through the magisterial teachings every now and then the Church has given directions so that the real faith that a Christian has in God could be expressed in a proper way.  In this Line the Second Vatican council “Sacrosanctum Concilium” promulgated by Pope Paul VI, in the year 1964 gives lots of provisions for a better participation and a celebration.

          Vatican council insists upon through this liturgical document on the Liturgical Reform, Simplification of the Rites, Language, Adaptation, and Popular Devotion. On the point of liturgy, the Roman Catholic Church does not impose any hard and strict rule to be followed in our liturgy; rather highly encourages the local churches to express their unity with the Catholic Church through the liturgical celebrations. The unity has to be shown by the expression of Faith, celebration of the Sacraments and unity of Ministry. And in this regard to form the National, Regional, Diocesan councils by which the liturgical worship could be performed in a meaningful way respecting the cultural and religious situations of the people.

           The teachings of the church in this regard could be seen in Sacrosanctum Concilium. 37 Respects and fosters, qualities and talents of the culture. and Varietatis Legitimae 14, to express one’s own faith one need not renounce one’s own culture.

Liturgical Adaptation

          In this regard CBCI The National Liturgical center, (NBCLC), in Bangalore was the felt need of the Indian church. Now this serves as a National centre for Bible, Catechetics and Liturgy.  Immediately after the Second Vatican council the Indian church also felt the great need to introduce something in our liturgy which has prepared several things to adapt them in our liturgy. Certain elements of the adaptations, proper to India, were accepted and approved by Vatican in the year 1971.  They are 12 in number:

Postures (3)
Actions (4)
Things (5)

Anjali hasta

Kissing objects

Exchange of peace


More incense

A Shawl


Oil lamps

Introductory rite/ Welcome

1.    Posture during mass  (could be sitting; footwear removed)

2.    Anjali hasta instead of Genuflections

3.    Panchanga Paranam *( i.e Panch=5; anga =fingers, bow..)

4.    Kissing the objects  (touching with one’s own hand and keeping on the forehead)

5.    Exchange of peace (bowing)

6.    Spontaneous Intercessions  (people can make from their respective places)

7.    Arathi (Conclusion of anaphora triple arathi: flowers, incense, light)

8.    Incense more (bowl with handle type)

9.    Shawl than Chasuble* (a single tunic type with the stole)

10.A tray instead of Corporal* (custom of offering always with a tray…)

11. Oil Lamps instead of Candles

12. Introductory rite. (Welcoming; garlanding; lighting the lamp.)

( one can see a real Indian way of celebration of mass in small group in my web page under the title Indian Rite Mass)
Preparation of the Kumba

            In the Indian and in the Christian way the pot half filled with water Known as Puranakumba (full pot). Purnakumba is to be given to holy men, consecrated person Bishops or Priest as a sign of respect and a sign of reverential welcome.  3 Mango Leaves are placed on the mouth of the pot and a coconut over it.  A red or white thread is tied around its neck is called a Kalasha.  Pot = represents the inactive body to be filled with divine grace, symbol of inner totality, and the community. Water in the pot = symbol of the primordial water from which the entire creation emerged. 3 mango leaves= represents the creation, (Trinity) Coconut = symbol of purity. Thread = Represents the love that binds all creation, the vein of the community.

Introductory Rite

Removal of Footwear: It is a long tradition and a venerable practice in India that we enter the place of worship with barefoot. Out of reverence and in awareness of God’s presence. This has been the practice of people of all religions. This is equally a biblical tradition: “Take off your sandals, because you are standing on holy ground” (Ex 3:5). Thus there is a convergence of all traditions in this regard. Whereas in Europe or in other western countries all will go and enter into the church with shoes.

Welcome: At the Eucharist people are to be welcomed that is typically Indian, suited to the occasion is extended to the members by offering them sandal-paste. (tilak) and sprinkling (pannir) rose water. It is a sign of welcome, respect and joy.

Bhajan Singing: Bhajan is an Indian congregational form of prayer and it is called as repetitive rhythmic singing or prayer in simple music. Through repetition one is helped to go to the depth of one’s being inwardly and discover in deep silence God’s indwelling and all-pervading presence. Besides creating an Indian atmosphere to worship, it is very helpful in leading the community to greater participation and all-round silence within which one can enter into deep communion with God.

Arati: Arati is an Indian form of homage. This could be seen even now if we go to a hindu temple people would be entering to worship  with flowers, incense and karpuram: Arati of flowers is placing flowers around, showering petals and waving a tray of flowers to show honour to God. Arati of incense Indian bowl type meant for it; Arati of flame with a candle. All these three together is called Maharati and is done to God alone. It is done by waving above from left to right three times before the person or object to whom or to which homage is done. Arati to the celebrant-President: Pushparati with a tray of flowers is offered to the priest as he reaches the sanctuary after the Bhajan singing (prior to Arati he may be given the tilak with sandal paste). Arati to the Community: The celebrant receives the tray of flowers and does arati to the community, another sign of Jesus Christ.

Often we may wonder why the priest then the people are given this type of welcome.  This has a liturgical and a theological meaning behind it. At the Eucharistic celebration the presence of Jesus can be seen in four different levels. In the Word of God, Eucharistic Species, Minister and Lay people (and Altar).  So only at the beginning itself the welcoming is given to the priest and in return the priest realizes from the people and then goes to the altar by kissing and incensing the altar the presence of Jesus is recognized.

Lighting of the Lamp: After the penitential rite the community is reconciled or purified and thus become aware of the presence of the lord. This presence of the Lord is symbolically expressed by the lighting of the lamp. Through this, the community is made aware of the illuminating presence of God in their midst. Light or fire is a special sign of God. The lighting of the lamp is done by going round the lamp keeping it always on one’s right side.

Oil Lamp: It is an auspicious symbol of the presence of God and as such it is always used for all social and religious function. Oil lamp is used. Great care should be taken to see that the flame does not go off due to wind or lack of oil..

Liturgy of the Word

Double Homage to the Bible: Bible as a container of God’s Word is now given homage with flowers or garlanding and incensing. Incensing is done by waving it three times in the form of a circle around the Bible. Garlanding a person as a sign of respect and welcome is a typically Indian gesture.

Liturgy of the Eucharist

Procession of Offerings: Offerings are brought in procession. Along with the gifts of bread and wine and other offerings, eight flowers are brought to the altar. The 8 flowers represent the 8 directions of the universe. In Indian tradition one considers the universe as giving 8 directions. Thus by these 8 flowers the whole of the universe is offered to God through Jesus Christ. (There are also other tradition which speaks of 4 or 10 directions). The Eight Flowers: The celebrant places 8 flowers on the tray around the gift in 8 directions, each time invoking an attribute of Jesus. (E.g. Son of God, Son of Man, Lord, Shepherd, etc.)

Eucharistic Prayer: There is no gesture of adoration after the words of institution as the doxology is the culminating point of the Eucharistic prayer and not the words of institution.

The Maharati or the triple arati of flowers, incense and fire is done to the Eucharist as the whole tray is lifted up by the celebrant. At the end of the doxology, the community does panchanga pranam as a sign of identification with Jesus Christ in his total self-oblation to his Father and his brothers and sisters. The celebrant himself prostrates (Sashtanga Pranam) which is the greatest form of self-surrender and oblation.

Indian Anapora

In India, however when we look into the Catholic Bishop Conference in 1967 it had proposed to have NBCLC the National Center in Bangalore, and it was inaugurated in 1969 and a committee was asked to study what could be done in matters of liturgy according SC. So the committee after having analyzed and came with the new things to be introduced for India “a rite of Indian mass” in the 1970 which is called properly an anaphora for India, (Eucharistic prayer composed by Fr. Amalorpavadoss) taking all the essential elements of Hindu Scriptures Bahavat Gita, Upanisad and Vedas. First it was allowed for the experimental basis to be celebrated in small communities like Ashrams, seminaries, novitiates etc., after one year Vatican asked a report on that practice and to have the views of the Bishops on the practice of the Indian anaphora. Several bishops and people were not happy with that prayer to accept it as we look at its Theology, Concept of God, Liturgy is not same that of Christianity. And after analyzing them Vatican has forbidden using the prayer.

The Content of Indian Anaphora ( Indian Eucharistic Prayer)

          The anaphora of Fr. Amalorpavadoss composed in Tamil and translated to English in 1971.  It was submitted to the bishops at the General meeting (CBCI) held in Madras 6-14 April 1972 for their approval.  Though it obtained 60 votes out of 80, it has not been declared passed due to a dispute on the majority required. The main characteristics of the Indian Anaphora are:

It maintained the continuity with Judeo-Christian tradition of liturgy;

It facilitates a greater participation of the people by frequent acclamations,

Lots of elements were inserted mainly from Hindu traditional practices and worship.

 Indian aspects: Proclamation of God’s marvels in creation and pervading presence of God in the entire cosmos; Indian Quest for God; Seven stages of proclamations (1-3 on creation, 4-6 history of salvation, 7 proclamation of Christ’s event).

Though this anaphora was permitted ad experimentum in special places like liturgical centers and ashrams in India.  Then in 1972 it was suspended. Since the prayers were made like a child, and other religious ideas were added. So after analyzing all these elements Vatican had the idea to suspend the special anaphora for India. ( Only this Anaphora was suspended by Rome and not the other elements).


The study on Eucharistic liturgy encourages everyone to understand the essential ministry of a priest.  If we understand the essence of our ministry and the need of the Church, then it will be easy for a priest to perform the actions as Jesus has done.  The duty of a Priest is not to give law or to keep up the rules and regulations in liturgy rather to understand one’s own mission in a given parish to proclaim the message of Jesus in a given situation. Always the liturgical celebrations are to be done within a community and for the community, Priest as the leader in a parish has to animate the faithful for the better participation and the celebration.

* inculturation does not mean only in the field of Liturgy and worship to do something but more than that we need to know and understand our culture and we need to see the Indianness in our dealing and ways of life too. Then naturally inculturation will give real meaning when they are used in our Liturgy.

[1] The Second Vatican council uses the term Liturgical adaptation than liturgical inculturation.
[2] ROSE, P.I., (ed. ) The Study of Society, Random House, New York, 1967,89.
[3] AMALORPAVADASS, D.S., Towards Indigenisation in the Liturgy, Bangalore 1971, 26-53.
[4] Savarimuthu, A., “A Report on the Indian Rite Mass”, Worship 44 (1970) 238-247.

*  In Tamilnadu among these 12 elements only 9 are accepted to practice.  Chasuble, Tray, Panchanga Paranam are not accepted by the TamilNadu Bishop’s Conference.

Post a Comment