African Cardinal Speaks on the Place of African Culture In the Church

In my discussions about the liturgy being the driving force for culture, many people wonder if this is a Eurocentric debate. What about African or Asian culture? Should that supplant, perhaps, Gregorian chant and and polyphony as the foundational music forms? I would say absolutely not. These are above all Christian forms of music and are formed by the liturgy of the Church and as such are universal.

Here is the Cardinal Robert Sarah a Guinean speaking on the subject. He was appointed as Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments by Pope Francis in November 2014. Neither Pope Francis, an Argentinian or his appointee are formed in Europe. Cardinal Sarah was speaking at the Sacra Liturgia conference in London this past week about his desire to see a more faithful implementation of Sacrosanctum Consilium in the Church’s liturgy. In regard to the place of secular cultural forms in the liturgy he said the following:

‘I am an African. Let me say clearly: the liturgy is not the place to promote my culture. Rather, it is the place where my culture is baptised, where my culture is taken up into the divine. Through the Church’s liturgy (which missionaries have carried throughout the world) God speaks to us, He changes us and enables us to partake in His divine life.’

How does the liturgy ‘baptise’ a culture. Using music as the example to illustrate what might be true for the forming influence of the liturgy on culture, my understanding would be as follows: draw in those aspects of African culture that are in harmony with the traditional and universally Christian forms. Without ever supplanting chant and polyphony as the exemplary muscial forms of the liturgy, this as place for locally influenced sacred music. These will be timeless and universal in their appeal, albeit with an African twist. These then become the unchanging and good aspects of African culture upon which Christianity can build so that it can be transformed into a Christian culture that speaks to Africans.

And in case anyone doubts that chant should have pride of place in the liturgy. Cardinal Sarah reirterated what Sacrosanctum Consilium tells. He said:

Please permit me to mention some other small ways which can also contribute to a more faithful implementation of Sacrosanctum Concilium. One is that we must sing the liturgy, we must sing the liturgical texts, respecting the liturgical traditions of the Church and rejoicing in the treasury of sacred music that is ours, most especially that music proper to the Roman rite, Gregorian chant.

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