Blending Rites And Rituals


From the new “All Things Catholic” website CRUX, part brainchild of John Allen, Jr. and The Boston Globe: Blending Rites And Rituals. It’s a report that comes from Fargo, ND during the Tekakwitha Conference.

A short excerpt:

FARGO, N.D. — It’s a cool July morning; the rising sun warms the contented faces of the 75 people gathered outside. Gently, rhythmically, they sing in Ojibwe, the language of the Chippewa people living in northern Minnesota. Facing the sky in each cardinal direction, they call on “grandfather and grandmother” to hear their thanks and answer their pleas.

The leader of the service, Rick Gresczyk, is a middle-aged man who lost his wife of 40 years two weeks earlier. As he holds a large clam shell containing a burning coal, the gathered worshipers approach. They pray, some aloud for the group to hear, others quietly, barely moving their lips. Each person then drops a small amount of dried tobacco onto the coal. The scent grows stronger, the smoke diffused through the air with the repeated wave of an eagle’s feather.

Then they clasp hands and begin another prayer.

“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name . . . ”

Native American culture, so closely tied to the natural elements, blended with Catholic faith. An odd pairing to some, but there is much common ground: Ritual, ceremony, spirituality.


“Roughly 25 percent of Native people of the United States are Catholics. And like many other Catholics, religious practice is mixed,” Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput, himself a member of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Tribe, wrote in an email.

Archbishop Chaput said he incorporates Native American spirituality into his Catholic faith.

“I’ve gone on a vision quest and prayed in the sweat lodges. It’s a part of my heritage,” he wrote.

But that fusion of culture and religiosity was not always welcome by the church.

“Much of the church really did consider Indian spirituality to be devil worship, or at least problematic,” said Christopher Vecsey, professor of religion and Native American studies at Colgate University.

After Vatican II, however, “the notion was that local people express themselves through culture, and that they should be able to express their Catholicism through that culture as well.”

Read it all:

I’d say inculturation [and multi-culturation] is one of the main issues that faces us today, especially in countries like the US where we’re a country of immigrants.


I hope that we can be reasonable and admit the following three things, which are not contradictory, but complementary:

  1. Cultural expression and culture are fluid and it is legitimate for certain elements of Catholicism to be “painted” by it, let’s say.

  2. Not all cultural expression is legitimate, however, and certain parts of cultures cannot be reconciled with Catholicism because of a disagreement with a particular element of culture and Catholicism on a substantial level. No one would seriously argue that abortion should be condoned by the Church even though it is basically now a fundamental element of culture and way of life in many places (I fundamentally believe that it is, yes).

  3. While a particular element of a particular culture may not disagree with Catholicism on a substantial level, it may give the appearance of it, or else be so odd as to make it imprudent on a practical level to try to reconcile with Catholicism.

I would hope that we as Catholics would try to elevate our cultural understandings and appreciations beyond the second-grade “social studies” version. Culture is a complex, nuanced topic, and it is not enough to say, “NO INCULTURATION EVER,” on the one hand or, “God made everyone so therefore every culture is the same!” on the other hand. The latter is a common understanding imo and is heinously offensive when you think about it. These reductionist understandings cannot be allowed to inform our understanding of culture as Catholics.

note: this was just my little cultural commentary in general, it outlines what I believe is an eminently reasonable and practical way of dealing with culture


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