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September 17, 2013

Liturgy and Inculturation in the Caribbean

by Admin

Canon Dr. Knolly D. Clarke, from the Diocese of Trinidad and Tobago, reflects on the connections between theology, culture, liturgy and the Incarnation. 


This paper seeks to identify some fundamental issues and challenges relating to integrating and assimilating the Caribbean liturgy and worship experience. Inculturation of Liturgy is a concept which seeks to bridge the gap between the theory and practice of transforming and making relevant the Anglican Liturgy to Caribbean peoples of God. The Church in the Caribbean, particularly the Church of the Province of the West Indies, needs to examine our liturgy and worship to discover whether or not our theology provides us with guidelines for celebration in worship. The process of inculturation involves inclusion in seminarian curricula, reconciliation among Caribbean peoples and liberation of their minds.

Caribbean social and cultural context

In March 2010, the Recognition of the Service of the Archbishop of the Church of the Province of the West Indies, the Right Reverend Dr. John Holder was a great celebration. The liturgy and music performed by excellent choirs reflected the Caribbean’s great tradition of Anglicanism. At that Recognition Service, Archbishop Dr. John Holder called the Church in the Province to renew its engagement to the mission of God in the Caribbean.

This Caribbean call however, was not matched by existing practices in homily and liturgical celebration. There was an evident disconnect between homily and liturgical celebration. The liturgy did not reflect or identify with the cultural realities of the people of God in the Caribbean. The irony of this situation was reflected in the fact that a steel orchestra, located outside of the Cathedral, played delightful music by well-trained young musicians. At the reception in the Cathedral, the Caribbean culinary experience served up delightful Bajan food. If liturgy is to fulfill its meaning and purpose as the offering of the people of God, it must reflect the culture and life of the people of God in the Caribbean.

Two months later, in June 2010, the T20 West Indies cricket series match was being played. Teams from the cricketing world participated in what is known as the T20 Series. What a celebration by Caribbean peoples and the visitors who came to support their national teams! There were truly offerings of the people at these cricket matches – “Liturgy” if you like. There were processions by the teams. The players accompanied by boys, held large banners with colours representing their countries and there were spectators at the matches with large and small flags from the different countries. The steel orchestra, in some cases accompanied by traditional music, expertly played the national anthems of the various competing countries. In the case of the West Indies, whose players were from different nations, the David Rudder calypso, Rally Round the West Indies which has become the West Indian cricket anthem, filled the grounds. Spectators sang, danced and made music. Disc jockeys played calypsos, reggae and zouk. There were also special dancers.

 Liturgy and Culture

What occurred in these days of the cricket matches resembled how Caribbean people celebrated the Liturgy of the Recognition Service held at St. Michael’s Cathedral. It was unlike T20 cricket matches. Perhaps many may state that this disconnect was appropriate. While the St Michael’s congregation was offering to God praise and worship under the Anglican liturgical rubric, “doing things” in decency and order, spectators at our various cricket grounds in Guyana, St Lucia and Barbados were out to have a good time. But one has to question whether our worship in Anglicanism has forced persons to become “liturgically and spiritually schizophrenic”. One behaves one way at work and another way at celebratory events. Lambert St. Rose, a Roman Catholic theologian, in an article entitled, “Keep Traditions, Local Customs and Christianity Together”, lamented that the missionaries who came to St. Lucia treated local heroes, art, music movements, domestic customs and folklore and all we were as a people as, “fetishstre”, superstitious, pagan and barbaric.” (1) Rose’s response to his observation defined culture in this way “culture is a people’s way of life in a given geographical location, that embraces first, the narrative that gives meaning to their existence as a people who are unique as compared to other people’s narrative that has helped shape their way of life and thinking and gives meaning to the establishment of their foundation as a people.” (2)

Myron B. Bloy, Jr. in the book, The Crisis of Cultural Change talks about worship that attempts to relate to the gatherings in the dormitories, laboratories and classes during the week. The music used at MIT was the Geoffrey Beaumont 20th century folk mass. He was told by musicians that it was not good music. But he accomplished two things. First, the congregation sang with a sense of freedom. Second, there is a sense of joy in the spirit of David dancing before the Ark. The music related to the student body.

Bloy also referred to an experience related by Dean Charles Buck. Charles Buck attended a Freedom Rally. Two bus loads of African-American children participated in the rally. They sat on folded chairs. They sang. They danced. They clapped their hands. At one point they marched up and down the aisles in a rhythm unlike anything in the hymnal; nothing remotely like it. I am perfectly certain has ever happened here before.” (3)

Caribbean liturgy and Worship

The Church in the Caribbean, particularly the Church of the Province of the West Indies, needs to examine our liturgy and worship to discover whether or not our theology provides us with guidelines for celebration in worship. Father Martin Sirju, a Roman Catholic priest made an important observation. He stated that the go-ahead for liturgical inculturation in the Roman Catholic Church must be taken seriously.(4) In the 1970’s scholars in Trinidad and Tobago, such as Terry Julien, made the Regional Seminary of St. John Vianney and the Ugandan Martyrs adopt a radical commitment towards inculturation. This inculturation of worship was addressed in the theological curriculum of the seminary.

No longer was the organ the only instrument used in the liturgy. Parish choirs of the Roman Catholic Church were accompanied by guitar, drums, the cuatro, the chac chac, the tambourine and the national instrument of Trinidad and Tobago, the steelpan. These were the instruments used for worship. In art, the symbols on chasubles took a more colloquial flavor. New forms were found for the Madonna and Child and the crucified and risen Lord.

Sirju felt that Indo-Caribbean inculturation in the liturgy must also be attempted in the parishes. He therefore attempted to begin the process using the Hindu culture as the base. He began with the Feast of Diwali, the Festival of Lights. He used deyas instead of candles and lined the church aisles with lighted deyas. The lothas were used for wine; water tarias for plates; and arti instead of the thurible and incense. Choirs sang in saris. Needless to say, many Catholics in general and those of his congregation felt he had gone too far in this liturgical experiment.

Sirju felt this attack on the part of the Roman Catholic membership at his attempt at inculturation marked a regression in the church. Moreover, the much talked about Inculturation Council never materialized. In addition, this opposition to inculturation in theology and liturgy left the church powerless to deal with the issue of racial politics in Trinidad and Tobago. It may be noted that racial politics in Guyana and Suriname had adversely affected those two societies. Sirju dreams that the Church ought to embrace the concept of Indo-Caribbean inculturation as part of its evangelization thrust.

Many Faces of Inculturation

There are two things that may assist in the process of inculturation. First, seminaries in the Caribbean must promote and incorporate in their curriculum the relationship between theology and culture, and liturgy and culture. St John Vianney Catholic Seminary in the 1970’s and 1980’s intentionally developed courses in theology, ethics, bible and liturgy from a Caribbean perspective. This formation of the clerical leadership, which was duplicated for the laity, impacted the life and witness in the parish communities in the region.

However, liturgy must not only find expression in dance, drama and music of the Caribbean. Caribbean theology must liberate the people of God. This liberation must be external as well as internal. Liberation will mean freedom from socio-economic and political oppression. The internal liberation is reconciliation of the people. It is also transformation of people’s minds. Reconciliation is necessary to enable enemies to become friends. Bob Marley, the well-known Jamaican reggae singer/composer/lyricist calls for an emancipation of the mind. Professor Kortright Davis of Howard University reminds us that Emancipation Still a Comin’ (5). Shiva Naipaul, one of our Caribbean authors, in his book Unfinished Journey stated that there is an indispensable human need for inner liberation even in the face of oppressive and de-humanizing poverty. Winston Persaud, a Guyanese theologian challenged Caribbean theologians to make full use of writers, artists and others who mirror our cultures before us. They also remind us of the wounds of the individual and collective psyches and our creative capacities to work at  healing the fragmentation of our individual and social private and public life.

Theology provides liturgy with the ground and framework to engage and embrace our Caribbean cultural realities. Dr. Robert J. Schreiter makes a case for local and practical theology.(6) He suggests that doing theology inhabits and advances a space between academic theology and applied theology. Practical theology speaks to both. Practical theology uses images which are appropriate to the culture, particularly to the oral culture. It is also possible to do creative critical theology, working out of the imagery of the liturgy. This theology relates to the culture and is referred to inculturation theology.

Malcolm Marshall, in his book Renewal and Worship, made the following observation on the nature of Christian worship:

Christianity is an incarnational religion and not merely spiritual. The work of the incarnation is always contemporary. This means that spiritual worship is always clothed with matter. Artists, architects, musicians, poets, dancers have seen the raw material of their craft immeasurably enhanced through worship. (7)

Further, incarnational theology provides the grounding for the worship in our churches. In October 1992 Pope John Paul II, in an opening address of the Holy Father to the Fourth General Conference of Latin American Bishops (Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic), stated the following in relation to the meaning of worship: “To link the sacred and the secular in such rapport that the first and the second are not altered but sanctified. This is the mystery of the Incarnation of God and humankind.”  John Paul II perceived and understood worship as expressing a rapport between the sacred and the secular. According to Malcolm Marshall, “we can have a worship so heavenly minded that it does not touch us.” Incarnational worship and liturgy must be an expression of the two natures of Christ in the one person. The realm of the spirit must not be alienated from the realm of the flesh. The whole person and the whole body must be engaged in the act of praise. Worship is the offering of the whole people of God. Nevertheless, worship must not only speak to the whole person, but must lift us from ourselves in acts of self-transcendence.

Finally, worship must return to the celebration of the gathering of the people of God at the Supper of the Lamb. It must be an occasion of joy and dance. Worship here on earth must be understood as a foretaste of the heavenly banquet with the Lord and His angels and archangels who sing and cry “Holy, Holy Holy, the Lord God Almighty”.

J.P. Moss in A Study and Planning Guide for Worship sums up the relationship of worship and the life of the people of God and their cultures this way:

Liturgy must be fully human. We cannot pretend that worship is only for God and not for the people. Nor can we excuse what so often goes on in our churches by asserting that scared worship is to be separated from the rest of human living because it is directed to God. Worship is to God, but for people; and it cannot be to God if it is not for us who are the human concrete moments of God’s presence.(8)

End Notes

  1. Lambert St Rose, “Keep Traditional Religion and Christianity Together” in Theology in the Caribbean- Today’s Perspectives. Anthony, Patrick (ed). Castries Archdiocesan Pastoral Centre, 1994. P. 82.
  2. The Inculturation of the Easter Vigil. Unpublished (undated) MA Thesis, p.87.
  3. Quote from Charles H. Buck, Jr. in Myron B. Bloy, Jr. – The Crisis of Cultural Change. Seabury Press: New York, 1967; p.8.
  4. Sirju, Martin, “An Attempt at Indo-Inculturation” in Theology in the Caribbean- Today’s Perspectives. Anthony, Patrick (ed). Castries Archdiocesan Pastoral Centre, 1994.
  5. Davis, Kortright, Emancipation Still A Comin’. Maryknoll Orbis Book, New York, 1990.
  6. Schreiter, Robert J., “Why Theology on the Caribbean” in Theology in the Caribbean- Today’s Perspectives. Anthony, Patrick (ed). Castries Archdiocesan Pastoral Centre, 1994.
  7. Marshall, Malcolm, Renewal and Worship. Morehouse-Barlow, Wilton:Connecticut; 1982: p.85.
  8. Moss, John, P., Modern Liturgy Handbook. Paulist Press, New York, 1975.

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