The same Church leaders calling for cultural diversity are proposing to injure it through a plan to eliminate the liturgical diversity which underlies it.
Cultural diversity is a current touchstone in the Church. The Archdiocese of Washington has planned a high visibility meeting about the matter this month. Each parish in the archdiocese has been tasked with sending a priest, religious, or deacon to the meeting as a representative. An auxiliary bishop is representing the archbishop as head of the proceedings. Expectations are high for attendance and participation.
The concern for cultural diversity underlying this extraordinary effort to draw attention to the matter is no doubt fueled in part by the huge influx of immigrants, many of them illegal, in recent years. The social turbulence and economic strain of this phenomenon is impacting the Washington region and the local Church more intensely as the state of Texas sends a series of busloads of illegal immigrants to D.C. in recent weeks.
Some of the immigrants immediately ask for assistance in reaching the state of Florida, destination of many legal citizens seeking to escape the draconian eclipse of human rights in many areas of the country. Others of these newcomers, however, will seek to stay locally, becoming a concern for the social justice apostolate of local citizens and faithful of the archdiocese.
The Church of Washington, D.C., encompassing as it does the international capital of the same name, is by its nature a culturally diverse region of diplomatic, governmental, media, and other aspects of a significant global informational, political, and economic hub. Ethnic diversity is both a blessing and a challenge. Every culture brings enrichment while persons with their needs each present challenges. Poverty, joblessness, homelessness, and communication challenges and the lack of other basic needs call for a compassionate response.
The Church by her nature as both one and universal is culturally diverse. This is God’s plan and it is good. Many different languages and nations make up the universal Body of Christ. This is true also of our local Church, which encompasses the city of Washington, D.C., and the surrounding five counties within the state of Maryland.
From the perspective of faith, however, spurred as it is by the love of Christ, an intercultural approach will treasure the gifts of each while at the same time being in a sense blind to differences, upholding uppermost as is necessary the human dignity of each that subsists regardless of ethnicity, language, origin, or religion.
The mission of the Church for the glory of God and the salvation of souls should influence all that we do. Our Catholic Christian faith, holding as it does love of God as the defining principle of our lives, stipulates that our love of others finds its basis and motivation in love of God. In fact, these form the two greatest Commandments as handed down by Jesus Christ our Lord.
Ethnic diversity can provide unique challenges in matters of basic human needs, and the Church rightly calls for her members to join efforts in generously meeting them, but the mission of the Church is, in the first place, to offer to each the greatest wealth that is possible for any human being in this world. As St. Peter, the first Pope, responded when challenged to assist another in poverty, “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I have I give you: in the name of Jesus Christ, get up and walk” (Acts 3:6).
However impoverished the Church may be in worldly means, whatever the material needs of those who approach her in a culturally diverse social environment, she must never lose sight of the perspective of faith, her greatest “treasure,” and must never fail to offer this greatest treasure to all of humanity.
In this Easter season we recount once again the sending of the apostles, commissioned by the Lord, to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’ (Matt. 28:19). The Church is therefore by her nature universal, potentially encompassing all ethnicities, destined to embrace the entire human race. Our identity as Catholics calls for each of us to embrace a fundamental option for the other, no matter his or her language, origin, or ethnicity.
Genetic origin within the one human race, however, is not the only criterion for cultural diversity. We will impoverish ourselves intellectually and spiritually if we define terms down in order to speak to the surrounding zeitgeist while neglecting to uplift the conversation by enriching it with unique insights possible from the perspective of faith.
Culture finds its root in the word “cultus,” which helps us to understand that true culture is an outgrowth or fruit of religion or faith. The culture of the West, born of Christianity and specifically the Catholic Church, now under ferocious assault in many places, is one such outgrowth made possible by millennia of life in tandem with the worship which many of us already share.
Cultural diversity must, therefore, be found in the different kinds of cult, or worship. If it is asserted that the Mass of Vatican II, since it was created in the 1960’s, is one authentic source of cultus, or religious faith, both in the worship which expresses it and the daily life it upholds, how much more so the missa antiquior, the Traditional Latin Mass, from which the missa recentior comes, with its vast treasury of musical and other arts that both support it and express its spirit.
Cultural diversity in the Church is upheld by different forms of prayer, all of them legitimate and none of them taking away from the unity of the Church, any more than people from different languages or cultures need by that reason be divided.
Unity is never threatened by diversity of any kind. That unity brought by God through Catholic worship old or new is not threatened by liturgical diversity any more than political, intellectual, or economic society is threatened by immigrants old or new from wherever they might come. The only threat to diversity is hatred of another people or another culture’s gifts or legitimate expressions, however different from one’s own.
Cultural diversity in the Church depends upon acceptance and flourishing of many different kinds of worship, if in conformity with revealed truth and thus equally helpful for religious faith and the fruits of love of God through public prayer. There have always existed a diversity of rites within the universal Church.
My own parish is a rich melting pot of cultures, no matter how distant we may be from the metropolitan center of our local Church. We offer both forms of the liturgy, the old and the new that was born from it a little more than fifty years ago. The Traditional liturgy draws Asian, Black, and Native American Catholics as well as those of European descent.
Because there is no diversity of culture without diversity of cultus one could say that acting with prejudice toward any cult of worship, whether old or new, is harming or wounding the true sources of both diversity and culture. At the same time unity is wounded and weakened and, with it, the reflection of God which is found where all sources of division are put aside.
Cultural diversity calls for diversity of cultus, or religious expression, for a Church enriched by different ways of praying no matter the differences or ethnicity of those who pray. Unity will be wounded and harmed in a Church which artificially discriminates against her own richness of variety in liturgical patrimony.
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