Remembering a Man of Culture

In Memory…Anscar Chapungo, OSB

On January 9, 2013 we lost a true man of “culture.” Anscar J. Chupungo, OSB was a member of the Abbey of Our Lady of Montserrat in Manila, Phillipines and was internationally known as a scholar, teacher, author and lecturer. Fr. Chapungo was known particularly for his work in liturgical inculturation. Among his many accomplishments, he served on the faculty and later as president of the Pontifical Liturgical Institute in Rome. He was also a consulter to the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and ICEL, the International Commission on English in the Liturgy. Fr. Chupungco was awarded Msgr. Frederick McManus award in 2011, from the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions of the United States of America.

He was scheduled as a keynote speaker for this summer’s National Pastoral Musician’s Convention. I was looking forward to hearing his words of wisdom again. Anscar Chapungo was a pioneer and faithful promoter of the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council and has been increasingly disconcerted and disheartened at the “Reform of the Reform” movement in the church that is attempting to reinterpret the liturgical renewal of Vatican II, trying to return the Church’s worship to preconciliar liturgical practices.

Anscar Chapungo was the pre-eminent scholar on liturgical inculturation in the liturgy. Having come from his native Phillipines, Chapungo had a more universal perspective, less rooted in traditional European tradition and culture. He understood the history of liturgical development has been dynamic and pluralistic in its forms throughout centuries. In addition, Fr.Chapungo’s love for the Church’s history, tradition but most of the People of God was evident in his writing and undeniable when he lectured.

The question of how we should incorporate cultural diversity into liturgical celebrations can be tricky. How do we honor other cultural traditions and languages yet still allowing the worshipping assembly to participate and pray well together? And how can we introduce cultural diversity into our liturgies without seeming to fall into the trap of tokenism particularly when the assembly has very few or perhaps no one present representing those cultures and traditions?

I just received a question from a director of liturgy for a community of Benedictine women on a liturgical list-serve. (Yes, believe it or not, there are such things as liturgy list-serves!) The members include leading liturgists on faculties and diocesan offices all over the United States. She wrote:

I’d like to hear your thoughts about this issue. I am director of liturgy for a Benedictine community of women. I would categorize us as predominantly Euro- American in ethnic heritage (and mostly of German origins). We do not have members who are Hispanic, but we do have some sisters who minister to the Hispanic community in the area. It was recently suggested that we introduce some Spanish-language songs into our liturgies in order to increase our solidarity with the Hispanic community around us.

Her question could easily have come from our own CSJ community. I will be anxious to hear the advice and counsel from the other members. But I also wondered, how Anscar Chapungo would have responded? In looking to some of his writings, I found these words of inspiration and advice.

The signs of the times seem to tell us that the future of the liturgy in multiethnic communities will be greatly influenced by the phenomenon of ethnic revival. Celebration the liturgy in parish according to various shapes and styles, allowing a plurality of liturgical forms to suit different ethnic traditions, and having to participate in a liturgy whose language, songs, and symbols belong unmistakenly to another culture: such a situation can indeed cause distress. But it is one of the inevitable consequenses of admitting the dynamism of culture and the pluralistic nature of the liturgy.

If we accept that the church is universal and that it subsists in ethnic communities, we should expect that the voice it raises in worship will come from every race and nation under heaven. The universal character of the church encourages multiethnic communities to sing to the Lord songs other than ours, songs we have not heard before, songs that are new. In the remarkable words of Pope Paul VI, “the voice of the Church today must not be so constricted that she could not sing a new song, should the inspiration of the Holy Spirit mover her to do so.”

May the Holy Spirit continue to move us to sing new songs and pray in new ways. Rest in peace, Anscar Chapungo. Your words and wisdom will carry us forward in faith.

Mary Kay


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