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Liturgy According to the Promoters of the Pan-Amazon Synod: Communion with God or with (Evil) “Spirits”?

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Lithurgy 1The Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network (REPAM), the main organizer of the coming Extraordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, promoted a seminar at the Missionary Cultural Center in Brasilia from July 16 to 18. Among the features of the event, the one that most aroused interest and feedback was an “indigenous mystic” ceremony to bring “protection and blessings on the synodal journey” (see photo to the side). Bruno Braga, a well-known Brazilian blogger, called it a “macabre ritual” typical of “indigenous paganism.”[1]

Lithurgy 3The official Preparatory Meeting for the Synod took place a month later, in Bogotá (after Washington and Rome), with the participation of REPAM Vice President Cardinal Pedro Barreto Jimeno. The shaman Isidoro Jajoy, of the Inga tribe of Colombia, gave his “blessing” to a group of the meeting’s participants, including a nun who stood out in a reverential attitude.[2]

Lithurgy 2These are some of the countless photographs circulating on social networks with images of pagan rituals celebrated in the course of Catholic events and ceremonies. The most scandalous one was, without a doubt, a ceremony held in front of the cathedral of Arica (Chile) at the end of the consecration of the new bishop of the city, Most Rev. Moisés Atisha. During this ceremony, a sorcerer on his knees is seen offering Coca leaves, seeds, water, and  fermented chicha to the deities Pachamama (the earth) and Tata Inti (the sun), as well as to the Malkus (mountain spirits) in front of a dozen bishops forming form a human wall which included the papal Nuncio and the then archbishop of Santiago. The sorcerer is seen imposing color paper necklaces on the new bishop and his consecrant, Most Rev. Cristian Contreras, after which both prelates kneel before the idolatrous “altar” to collect coca leaves “blessed” by the sorcerer. Anyone looking at the picture has the impression that they also offered to Pachamama, Tata Inti, and the Malkus.[3]

Did the prelates who participate in such pagan rituals forget that Canon 24 of the Synod of Ancyra (314 A.D.) orders that those who received wizards in their homes be excommunicated for five years? Or that Canon 36 of the Synod of Laodicea (375 A.D.) states that “priests and clergy cannot be magicians, sorcerers, palm readers, astrologers” and “cannot make amulets for protection, which chain the soul rather than protect life”?

After 1,700 years, such sorcerers are not in homes but church meetings and put pressure to hold such rituals inside our temples, in the name of the Church… ¿Quomodo obscurantum est aurum, how obscure has become the gold of faith and discipline?!

Lithurgy 4“Inculturation” was the talismanic-word that served to produce this gigantic ideological transshipment and resulting liturgical syncretism, as they sought theological support in various magisterial documents. The Vatican II Constitution Sacrosantum Concilium states that “even in the liturgy, the Church has no wish to impose a rigid uniformity, so that “legitimate variations and adaptations to different groups, regions, and peoples” are admitted.[4] The final document of the IV General Conference of the Latin American and Caribbean Episcopate, in Santo Domingo, in the name of developing “an inculturated evangelization towards our indigenous brothers” expresses the will to “promote an inculturation of the liturgy, welcoming with appreciation their religious symbols, rites and expressions compatible with the clear sense of faith, maintaining the value of universal symbols and in harmony with the general discipline of the Church.”[5]

At first, these teachings were interpreted to mean translating liturgical texts into aboriginal dialects, incorporating songs with native melodies and rhythms, building and decorating sanctuaries with local artistic forms, etc. But it did not take long to go from compatible to incompatible, and from legitimate to illegitimate under the pretext that “the culture of the other cannot be assumed halfway” by making only a few concessions, assures the missionary Paulo Suess,[6] one of the main editors of the preparatory documents of the coming Pan-Amazon Synod.

For example, already at the beginning of the 1970s, under pressure from Cardinal Joseph Malula, archbishop of Kinshasa, they created a “Zairean rite” to celebrate the Mass. According to accounts from the time, during that Mass the celebrant was  barefoot and wore a leopard skin around his waist over the chasuble (when not dressed simply in local costumes); his head was covered with an ornate cap with feathers or antelope horns, and he entered the sanctuary in dance step carrying in one hand a shield, in the other a machete or short spear (Assegai), as a tribal chief in ancestral ceremonies. As the ceremony began, along with the faithful, he would invoke, “their ancestors with an upright heart.” Despite all these elements that facilitated confusion with African ancestral religions, the Vatican ended up allowing this rite exclusively in dioceses of Zaire.[7]

Lithurgy 5In Latin America, on the suggestion of Archbishop Helder Câmara, Bishop Pedro Casaldáliga, together with the poet and politician known by the pseudonym Pedro Tierra, a “Mass of the Earth without evils” was composed evoking the Guaraní mystique to celebrate the supposed martyrdom of indigenous people at the hands of the Spanish and Portuguese Empires. Almost forty bishops participated in its first celebration in the cathedral of São Paulo on April 22, 1979. To have a vague idea of its content, it is sufficent  to read this dialogue extracted from the “Penitential Memory” (Kyrie) between an Indian evoking the supernatural character of his ancestral culture and the assembly representing missionaries who supposedly forced Indians to accept the Catholic faith:

“Solo: The love of the Father of all / baptized me with the water of Life and Consciousness / and sowed in me the Grace of his Word, / Universal Seed of Salvation.

All: When we brand you / as human cattle / by imposing a baptism, / a blasphemous baptism / that violates grace / and denies Christ.”[8]

Lithurgy 6Two years later, the same authors composed a “Mass of the Quilombos” in memory of black slaves. The Vatican banned its celebration, but three bishops staged it as a show at Carmel Square in Recife, Brazil: Helder Câmara, João Maria Pires, and Pedro Casaldáliga. Despite the Vatican ban, this Mass is regularly held annually in several regions during Black Consciousness Week. Its syncretistic character already shows in the second entry song: “In the name of the God of all names, / Yahweh, / Obatalá / Olorum / Oiá.”[9]  (The latter three are deities of the Yoruba religion, an ethnic-linguistic group of West Africa from which Brazilian blacks descend.)

Meanwhile, the same “liturgical creativity” advanced in Latin American Basic Christian Communities taking advantage of the informal nature of small group meetings. In those assemblies, people’s imaginations were given free rein both in the “celebrations of the Word” and in the Eucharistic celebration itself.  Ex-friar Leonardo Boff gave his theological approval claiming that “liturgy is an expression of  faith and not the performance of a sacred rite.” He added: “Evidently, people appreciate the canonical and official liturgy, but they also create rites, stage the Word of God with great spontaneity, know how to organize great celebrations using the Bible and meaningful objects of the region or typical foods.” In his correspondence with Cardinal Ratzinger responding to observations by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the liberation theologian admits that, given the lack of priests, in the Basic Christian Communities, a “lay coordinator”chaired the celebration of a “Lord’s Supper” that was not a true mass (due to the absence of a priest), but was not merely a para-liturgy either. Boff suggests the hypothesis that such “lay coordinator would act within the supplet Ecclesia (oeconomy) as an extraordinary minister.”[10] This presidency of the Supper would be part of the new lay ministries that would “reinvent” the Church from its foundations.

Lithurgy 7In Europe, small “prophetic groups” critical of celebrations “too abstract, esoteric, stereotyped, threatened by parish routine,” did the same even after Pope Paul VI promulgated the new Ordinary of the Mass. They advocated dividing parishes into smaller, more fraternal and intimate groups, making it impossible for so many priests to preside over the Eucharist. For this reason, they “ended up deciding to take the Lord’s Supper into their own hands” and to “celebrate among themselves the Eucharist or variations thereof without a controlled designation of origin,” as revealed in a dossier titled “Célébrations eucharistiques & agapès” prepared by the Christian Basic Communities with a preface by the Jesuit Joseph Moingt. “This phenomenon is spreading everywhere,” said the document. “In Germany, Belgium, Canada, France, Great Britain, the Netherlands…”[11] Like Boff the Franciscan in Latin America, in the early 1980s the Belgian Dominican E. Schillebeeckx posited the thesis that in extraordinary cases, presidency of the Eucharistic should be entrusted to laity. In 2007, the “Church and Ministry” report written by the provincial chapter of the Dutch Dominicans, and sent to all parishes in the Netherlands, reiterated thist thesis.[12]

But those liturgical abuses were not enough for modernist theologians. They sought greater “inculturation” of rites in the real lives of participants, something born from the grassroots and not merely adaptation imposed from above. In mission countries, according to Father Paulo Suess, “indigenous rites and arrows integrated into Roman liturgies are generally only a sign of vertical and folkloric acculturation, and not of inculturated evangelization,”[13] so that more radical changes are desirable.

Such changes could not fail to violate the very essence of the sacraments instituted by Jesus Christ. For example, two European missionaries working in Africa were the first to raise openly, in the name of inculturation, what they called the “delicate” question of the matter used for the sacrament of the Eucharist.

In his book, Anthropologie et théologie africaine, the Jesuit Wauthier de Mahieu considered that liturgical adaptation in Africa dealt only with secondary aspects because “the symbolism that should be able to deeply reach the life of African man and the spiritual dimension he gives to it remains essentially Western and Mediterranean.”

That would be particularly notorious regarding the Eucharist: “For Mediterranean cultures, the two main elements of the Christian ritual – bread and wine — are not just symbols of food… They rather embody the whole active life, work and very struggle of a community to feed themselves and stay alive. … Therefore, by giving himself under these two species, Christ wanted to mean not so much that he (sic) desired to enter an individual’s heart – not to say stomach (sic) – but to consecrate, by his presence, the active life of an entire community with its labors and pains, its struggle for justice and good, its joys and bonds of affection. In Africa, as these symbols are not part or expression of people’s lives, they are unable to convey, at least in a living way, the theological message they are supposed to convey. … To live with a disembodied symbolism is to question, if not refuse, the very principle of the Incarnation.”[14]

For his part, in 1972, the Dominican René Luneau published an article titled, “A Eucharist without Bread and Wine…?” In it, he recalls that Vatican II authorized celebrating in the vernacular to emphasize that “a language is not only a way of saying but a way of living the human experience.” In his opinion, logic would require the Mass to be celebrated with elements of each people’s lives, lest “something is missing from the very truth of the revelation of Pentecost.”[15]

However absurd, these theses did not prevent the bishops of Zaire from submitting the following question to the Holy See in 1973: “Should a true Africanization of Christianity embrace all areas, including the Eucharistic rite? Does that not imply using a matter that is really ‘the fruit of the African land’?”[16]

Two Nigerian authors protested the solid negative response of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Chukwudum B. Okolo, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Nsukka, invited Africans to consider Christ as having incarnated among them, and so they should celebrate using palm or banana liquor.[17]

Father Elochuku Uzukwu (Congregation of the Holy Spirit), currently a professor of theology at the University of Duquesne in the United States, wrote that the matter of the Eucharist is a question of ecclesiastical law. He stressed that “the symbolism of the meal” is difficult to achieve in Africa, as “the flour produced in their land [millet] is not used for making Eucharistic bread” and “the result of the work of their hands [palm liquor] is not offered to God.” To avoid “the danger of a magical conception of the Eucharist,” the Church in Africa “should not delay in choosing foods and beverages appropriate for the Eucharistic celebration.”[18]

A Zairian priest, Father Kabasele Lumbala, a professor at the Catholic Universities of Kinshasa, added a “third world” argument: “How could the Lord bind Africa and Asia to the Mediterranean economy with such costly economic dependence through worship? For a black African man who imports wheat, to eat bread is to condemn himself to death. … To celebrate the Eucharist with cassava bread or corn is already to begin this economic liberation.”[19]

In the face of proposals as opposed to traditional teaching and discipline, and of liturgical abuses as shocking as those practiced in the Basic Christian communities, the Vatican was forced to react. In January 1994, the Congregation for Divine Worship published the Instruction Varietates Legitimae, on Roman liturgy and inculturation, which states: “The liturgy is the expression of faith and Christian life, and so it is necessary to ensure that liturgical inculturation is not marked, even in appearance, by religious syncretism. This would be the case if the places of worship, the liturgical objects and vestments, gestures and postures let it appear as if rites had the same significance in Christian celebrations as they did before evangelization. ”[20]

In a barely veiled allusion to the masses promoted by Cardinal Malula in Kinshasa, the document adds: “Fidelity to traditional usages must be accompanied by purification and, if necessary, a break with the past. The same applies, for example, to the possibility of Christianizing pagan festivals or holy places, or to the priest using the signs of authority reserved to the heads of civil society or for the veneration of ancestors. In every case, it is necessary to avoid any ambiguity. Obviously, the Christian liturgy cannot accept magic rites, superstition, spiritism, vengeance, or rites with a sexual connotation.”[21]

In the Vatican, however, there were promoters of an inculturation that denatured the Christian liturgy. They included the master of the pontifical liturgical celebrations, Archbishop Piero Marini, who declared that “while it is not relevant to introduce dance in Italian parishes, it does have a place in missionary celebrations.” Thus, on October 5, 2003, dances and songs of African and Asian groups “enriched” the canonization ceremony of three missionaries (Blessed Comboni, Janssen and Freinademetz). Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze reacted three days later on a trip to the United States, criticizing what he called “uncontrolled creativity” and “overly fertile imagination” that do not correspond to “true inculturation,” which is not incitement to perform “unauthorized liturgical ceremonies.”

Archbishop Marini paid no attention. Ten days later, for the beatification of Mother Teresa, he included in the ceremony women dressed in colorful saris who danced before the altar to the rhythm of Indian music just before the Our Father with flowers and sticks of incense in their hands.[22] Dissatisfied, during the Synod on the Eucharist in October 2005, Cardinal Arinze declared that the Holy Mass is not a “recreation” and that “dances are good for the parish hall, but not during the mass.”[23]

However, these instructions on the true concept of inculturation were not respected even at Vatican ceremonies, nor were appropriate sanctions imposed on those who committed liturgical abuses. Instead, the one sanctioned was Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who had ordained priests and consecrated bishops without the proper license to ensure the survival of traditional rites. As a consequence, disciplinary and doctrinal deviations continued to spread widely in the Church.

In 2004, the Congregation for Divine Worship felt obliged to publish a new Instruction, Redemptionis Sacramentum, on “certain matters to be observed or to be avoided regarding the Most Holy Eucharist,” which addresses, among other things, the question of the matter of this sacrament and says:

“The bread used in the celebration of the Most Holy Eucharistic Sacrifice must be unleavened, purely of wheat, and recently made so that there is no danger of decomposition. It follows, therefore, that bread made from another substance, even if it is grain, or if it is mixed with another substance different from wheat to such an extent that it would not commonly be considered wheat bread, does not constitute valid matter for confecting the Sacrifice and the Eucharistic Sacrament. … It is a grave abuse to introduce other substances, such as fruit or sugar or honey … The wine that is used in the most sacred celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice must be natural, from the fruit of the grape, pure and incorrupt, not mixed with other substances. … Nor are other drinks of any kind to be admitted for any reason, as they do not constitute valid matter.”[24]

The issue of inculturation of the liturgy has been one of the workhorses of Indian Theology, which has promoted the inclusion of elements of ancestral rituals in Catholic ceremonies as an expression of popular religiosity, a practice that many groups already perform. The Mexican indigenous priest Father Eleazar López, self-proclaimed “midwife” of Indian Theology, offers a supposedly theological justification of the syncretistic incorporation of pagan elements into the Catholic liturgy:

“With Christian Indian theologies, we do not intend to have a romantic return to pre-Hispanic indigenous religions; but they are an obligatory reference of our deepest identity. With Christian Indian theologies, we do not seek to oppose or supplant texts of the Holy Scriptures with myths of the indigenous tradition. But we seek that these myths and beliefs of our peoples have their rightful place in our experience and celebrations of faith; nor do we intend to build an autonomous Church with sacraments and ministries outside the tradition of the Church ignoring or opposing legitimate pastors in a context of class struggle. What we want is the serious inculturation of the sacraments, the liturgy, and the ministries of the Church.”[25]

The bishops who were part of the Secretariat of Indigenous Pastoral (SEPAI) of the Latin American Episcopal Council (CELAM), when meeting in Bogotá in 1985, officially adopted these pastoral lines of Indian Theology. They stated: “The Church must collaborate to the birth of particular indigenous Churches with indigenous hierarchy and organization, theology, liturgy, and ecclesial expressions appropriate to a cultural experience proper to the faith, in communion with other particular churches, especially and fundamentally with Peter.”[26]

The Diocesan Pastoral Directory of Chiapas contained the first legal and magisterial acceptance of autochthonous liturgy. Its chapter on “Liturgy in the Indigenous Church” expresses the desire that “liturgical celebrations of the Native Church be carried out with words, symbols, and gestures stemming from the root and heart of the cultures of the communities.” In this way, they may “understand and live the meaning of these celebrations by enriching them with the values that constituted the religious heart of their ancestors.” In that way, the directory reads, “the universal Catholic liturgy is enriched and charged with religious and spiritual sense in contact with indigenous celebrations.”[27]

The preparatory documents of the Synod for the Pan-Amazon region have openly assumed these positions. The first, titled, “Amazon: New Paths for the Church and an Integral Ecology” states that the new paths that a Church with an Amazonian face must tread “will impact ministries, liturgy, and theology (Indian theology).”[28] It points out that missionaries must have a spirituality “allowing us to celebrate life, Liturgy, the Eucharist, and festivals, always in respect for the rhythms proper to each people.”[29] The questionnaire sent to communities asks, “Is there room for indigenous expression and active participation in the liturgical practice of your communities?”[30]

For its part, the Instrumentum laboris starts from the premise that “The inculturation of faith is not a top-down process or an external imposition, but a mutual enrichment of cultures in dialogue (interculturality).”[31]  It follows that education in the Amazon “does not mean imposing cultural parameters, philosophies, theologies, liturgies and strange customs on the Amazon peoples” but must be “open to interculturality,”[32] promoting Amazonian Indian Theology and taking into account “the original myths, traditions, symbols, knowledge, rites and celebrations that include transcendent, community and ecological dimensions.”[33]

In the chapter “The Celebration of the Faith: an enculturated liturgy,” the document postulates that “The celebration of the faith must be carried out in an inculturated way so that it may be an expression of one’s own religious experience and a bond of communion in the celebrating community.”[34] Hence, “A process of discernment is needed regarding the rites, symbols and styles of celebration of indigenous cultures in contact with nature, which need to be integrated into liturgical and sacramental rituals.” It therefore suggests, “That the celebrations should be festive, with their own music and dances, using indigenous languages and clothing, in communion with nature and with the community.” The document later points out that a “pastoral ministry of presence” is necessary, which requires “the local church to reconfigure in all its dimensions: ministries, liturgy, sacraments, theology and social services.”[35] In addition to proposing the priestly ordination of married Indians and identifying new official ministries to be entrusted to women (an aspect already addressed in previous articles), the Instrumentum laboris proposes that women “women have their leadership opportunity guaranteed” in the liturgy.[36]

Regarding the sacraments, “we are asked to overcome the rigidity of a discipline that excludes and alienates, and practice a pastoral sensitivity that accompanies and integrates.”[37]  It is no wonder that the document suggests to “salvage myths and update community rites and celebrations that contribute significantly to the process of ecological conversion,” and even more, that “the local Church formally to recognize the special ministry of pastoral agents who promote care for our common home.”[38] In plain language, this means recognizing the supposedly integrating role played by the sorcerers. This idea is clearly manifested in the preparatory document, “Amazonia: New Paths etc.,” which explicitly says that “wise elders – called interchangeably “payés, mestres, wayanga or chamanes”, among others – promote the harmony of people among themselves and with the cosmos.”[39] Although not mentioning them directly, the Instrumentum laboris explains their role: “Indigenous rituals and ceremonies are essential for integral health because they integrate the different cycles of human life and nature. They create harmony and balance between human beings and the cosmos. They protect life from evils that can be caused by both human beings and other living beings. They help to cure diseases that harm the environment, human life, and other living beings.[40] The latter are not animals but “spirits” to whom the natives attribute natural disturbances and diseases, and that is why, according to the document, “the responses to the Preparatory Document emphasize the need to preserve and transmit the knowledge of traditional medicine,”[41] which, as all anthropologists know, is the same as witchcraft.

If anyone thinks that it is an exaggeration to suppose they are proposing to have  healers officially recognized as a ministry of the Church, we recommend that you read the statements by the indigenous religious Sister Guaracema Tupinambá, provincial of a congregation that works in Amazonia:

“It makes no sense to take our ministries to [indigenous populations] or reinterpret them, but to understand what the ministries that exist among those peoples and how we can share our ministries with them and welcome those that exist among them. … When I go to an indigenous community that has a shaman, who has its ministers in different ways, I wonder what we have to take to our ministries, the ministries we learned with the Western Church. … We would have to divest ourselves of what we have, closed in the sacraments. To reflect on what is a sacrament, on what is liturgical.”[42]

A “moderate” application of this “divestiture” would be, for example, replacing the bread and wine of the “Lord’s Supper” with local foods, as implicitly suggested in the film The Tucum Ring about the Basic Christian Communities. Its final scene is a celebration presided by a woman where cassava cakes and coconut water are shared while a chalice topped by a host appears briefly as a background.

The possibility of such a replacement was evoked at the end of a Rome meeting on the Synod by the Brazilian theologian Francisco Taborda, professor at the Jesuit University of Belo Horizonte and author of several books on the sacraments. Speaking to the Crux digital newsletter, the Jesuit declared that one of the issues that could arise during the Synod is “the possibility of replacing bread used in the consecration of the Eucharist with yuca,” since, due to the humidity in the Amazon, the bread “turns into a pasty mush.” Although admitting that changing the matter of the Eucharist is “a very complex question,” Father Taborda believes this should be decided by the local bishop.[43]

The radical solution is to replace our “western” sacraments with the sensitive signs used by the aborigines themselves to enter into “communion” with the cosmos — for example, ayahuasca. This is the suggestion of Polish lay missionary, Miss Dominik Szkatula: “The constitutions of the Church tell us that there is no Christian community without the Eucharist. It is a humiliating thing [for indigenous people], to say that [indigenous communities] are incomplete. There are different ways in which people communicate with God. Imagine my surprise one day, I had been here [in Peru] for a while, as a young Indian man told me: ‘We communicate with God through ayahuasca.’ Why not? Through the plants, they are closer. In our [European] countries, we say, ‘I will go to rest in nature.’ But here they have it inside, they communicate with plants, on the hill. … What we contemplate in chapels, in the Blessed Sacrament, they contemplate in another, also good way.” She concludes by saying that if the Synod is held to make the Church stronger in the Amazon “so that we have more seminars to clericalize and sacramentalize, it will be a failure.”[44]

Instead, indigenous “mystical” ceremonies held in the preparatory meetings of the Synod seem to indicate that part of its participants will push for opening spaces for witchcraft in Catholic liturgical celebrations.

That brings to mind the phrase of Saint Paul in the Second Epistle to the Corinthians (6:15): “And what concord hath Christ with Belial? Or what part hath the faithful with the unbeliever?”

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