Many parishes across the country today are “shared parishes,” meaning that the worship space, church facilities, and parish staff and services are all shared by more than one ethnic or language community. Our task as Catholic shared-parishes is to always be building intercultural relationships that reflect the unity in Christ we celebrate in our Eucharistic liturgies. 

Our Catholicity requires that we develop and continually grow in an inter-cultural spirituality. For, although we may think otherwise, the Roman Catholic liturgy has never been, as some would say, “culturally-neutral.” It has always been influenced by the historical or cultural context of its time and place, to a greater or lesser degree.

So what is inter-culturation and what does inculturated liturgy look and feel like? Mark Francis, CSV, and Rufino Zaragoza, OFM, on behalf of the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions (FDLC), have given the church some studied ideas about this topic. “It is crucial that all involved in preparing a multicultural liturgy understand that the overarching goal of planning such celebrations is assisting a diverse assembly to find its unity in Christ rather than merely showcasing cultural differences.” 

We are one body, and we need to keep in mind that all we do in preparing shared-parish liturgies has that goal of continually revealing to us our unity in Christ. One element of prayer together that presents a strong and obvious challenge to our common identity in a multi-lingual parish is in our spoken language. The inability to understand one another verbally frustrates unity, but to focus too strongly on spoken language is counter-productive. The spoken word is only one small way in which we enter into dialogue with God at the liturgy. 

The FDLC text offers us some advice on how to manage this challenge. Determine the principal language of your parish community. “This does not necessarily mean the native language of the majority of the parish, but is the language understood by the majority.” The principal or base language at multi-cultural liturgies is generally used for the Gospel and the Eucharistic Prayer.

Remember, though, that the spoken word is not the only language of the liturgy. Our liturgy speaks through non-verbal human expression as well. Our ritual pattern of worship is a common language. Prayerful corporate silence also speaks in every language. Expanding or enlarging non-verbal elements of our worship can help our liturgy speak to us all, no matter what verbal language we use. 

Our gestures, postures, processions, energy level, attitude, connectedness, enthusiasm, joy, pace, and visual and aural beauty all speak. Everything we do at liturgy communicates something, whether effectively or not, whether good or bad. Whether we are serving as liturgical ministers or participating as ordinary pew-dwellers, it is important to be attentive to how we do what we do, and say what we say, in order to build faith and grow spiritually,

Remember, too, that the musical repertoire of a parish can be a unifying force. The FDLC 2012 text suggests the formation of a “unity choir” to lead the music at multi-cultural liturgies. Consider some variation of the following possibility: the shared-parish music ministry together determines that all liturgical choirs will meet on the same evening. Three weeks each month those choirs meet individually, and on the designated fourth week they form a unity choir that rehearses and spends time learning about one another all through the year. They operate inter-culturally, working, socializing, and sharing meals regularly so that when they lead music at parish multi-cultural liturgies, the experience is a reflection of their unity.

All liturgical ministers from each language community, and the whole of the parish community as well, could follow the same idea, sharing meals, participating in one another’s ethnic devotional prayer times and cultural celebrations, and regularly gathering to learn more about one another’s culture. Learning short phrases from the liturgy in one another’s language is an easy place to start: Lord, have mercy; Lord, hear our prayer; the sign of the cross, etc.

With this kind of intercultural spirit as the norm in a shared-parish, liturgy preparation and participation becomes inculturated and serves as a natural outgrowth of a common identity and true unity in Christ.

“If the only time the various members of a diverse parish community come together is at worship, these celebrations run the risk of being disconnected and artificial because they fail to reflect the life of the community… Extra-liturgical interaction and cooperation among the various groups in the parish serves as the indispensable context for multicultural liturgy, making common prayer a natural part of parish life.” 

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