Friday, February 24, 2006

The Word From Auckland

Interviewing the now-retired Cardinal Thomas Stafford Williams of Wellington, NCR's John Allen notes that the porporato "sported an open-collar shirt and casual slacks" for their interview.

Yes, coming from a cardinal, it is impressive when that happens.... And Allen's not alone in having experienced it.

Williams has already caused some titters with some words he gave on the state of the liturgy, and the value of inculturation:
You've been passionate about the need for inculturation. Why?

To take a negative example, the evangelization of the Maori [New Zealand's indigenous people] has been largely ineffective because of the lack of inculturation. The missionaries were French, and they brought the Roman rite celebrated in Latin. For the Maori, once something becomes a tradition, it is very difficult to change. … Many are now trapped in a 19th century mold. Among the Maori, there isn't the degree of religious practice, as well as theological and liturgical sophistication, that we would want. …On the other hand, the Samoans give us a very positive example. The late Samoan Cardinal Pio Taofinu'u related a Samoan ceremony called the kava to the Eucharist. The kava is the root of a pepper tree, which is ceremonially pounded and strained to make a drink. It's an elaborate ceremony, with a special cloth used to strain the kava. Those preparing the drink are guarded by warriors while they perform the rites. Taofinu'u said the Eucharist is the kava par excellence, and so he had it guarded by the chiefs themselves. There are also parallels with the symbolism of the Eucharist. The kava is always served only from one cup, and it's taken to the people as a sign of unity. Taofinu'u's book was called Kava as Prophecy. … The Samoans have brought that kind of liturgy here. I was there when we did this for the first time, and an old man came up to me and said, "This is the first time I've ever been to Mass that I felt like I was Samoan."

You've also been outspoken in defense of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy, and the need for flexibility in liturgical translation. Do you see this as an issue of inculturation?

It has to be. There is no one English language. If anyone believes that English is a homogenous language, then why does the Oxford University Press print a separate Australian and a New Zealand English dictionary in addition to its standard editions? In New Zealand, it's estimated that we use 300 Maori words. How can anyone think our English is the same as everyone else's? …. It's a matter of competence and trust. Translations should be within the competence of episcopal conferences working singly or collegially. The role of the Holy See is to assist in the area of doctrinal integrity. To say that we know your language better than you do is to betray a distrust that goes beyond the competence of the Holy See.
Coming but a month after ICEL held its "Winter" Meeting on Williams' turf, the cardinal's message seems clear: "Don't let the plane door hit you on the flight out."