India Archbishop Seeks Changes in Church Rites to Add ‘Local Color’

An Indian prelate has expressed a hope that local customs can be made part of Church rites.

Archbishop Eugene D’Souza, M.S.F.S., of Nagpur, India, told a press conference here that “the marriage rite as it now stands is completely unintelligible to many of our Catholic people living in rural areas.”

“Many a missionary complains of the delicate situation created by some of our people who get married in church and afterwards have their marriage performed according to local custom,” the Archbishop said at his press conference.

Because of this practice, he said, “in certain regions of India some local customs of the people have been added to the existing liturgical rite. For example, since a ring means nothing at all to some of our people, a dish called the ‘thalee’ is handed by the husband to the wife.” He said that in other places the “marriage knot” is used as the external sign or symbol of the marriage contract.

He explained that in this practice the ends of a woman’s sari (dress) and a man’s dhoti (garment) are tied together in a knot,

The Archbishop noted that the bishops in his province have formed a liturgical commission which has made a study of the rites and customs of the people of North India to see if some of them can be used in the liturgy.

“There is a strong feeling that the whole rite of most of our sacraments and sacramentals ought to have a local color,” he said.

Speaking on the use of the vernacular, he said that many feel it is a “must” in administering the sacraments because “the beautiful rites are completely lost on our people if they are in Latin.”

Archbishop D’Souza said that “for practical purposes, our missionaries would be satisfied if they could say the whole instructional part of the Mass, namely, the Mass of the Catechumens and the various orations, in the vernacular.”

The Archbishop pointed out that the Eastern Rite liturgy is richer and more attractive because it has adapted itself to local customs. He said that the Syro-Malabar Rite, which has a large following in southern India, already has permission from Rome to say the whole Mass in the vernacular.

“This fact,” the Archbishop said, “will surely make it easy for us in the Latin Church to secure many changes in the liturgy on the pattern and basis of the Oriental Church which is already enjoying most of the privileges we hope to get through the ecumenical council.”

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