By Fr. Henry Charles Umelechi

Often people have argued for culture and others have argued for the church and Christianity. Yet, who has argued for the culture and for the church/Christianity? This last question is where the Catholic Church actually stands. The church is not against culture for the church wouldn’t be meaningful without culture.

Generally, the culture of the Church is Christianity. But, the culture of a particular church is the culture of the people of that church who practices Christianity. In fact, it’s the people’s culture that makes Christianity more alive and vibrant, otherwise Christianity dies.

Consequently, everyone who is a Christian MUST bring his or her culture into the Church because Christianity cannot be practiced in a vacuum. When Christianity is practiced well in a particular culture, inculturation happens and a particular Chrisitan identity is born.


Inculturation is a system whereby one brings his or her cultural life into the Christian life, like mode of eating, greetings, praying, marrying, dressing, building, burying, while removing those that are intrinsically evil like burying the dead with human beings, forcing the widows to drink water washed from their husbands’ corpse, invocation of demons, witchcraft, etc.

For example:

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Catholics can have their Holy Mass in Zairean rite. Zaire is the former name for Congo. The rite is very cultural in the sense that it has its root in the Zairean culture.

The Zairean rite has its own roman missal. The Roman Missal is the book containing the prescribed prayers, chants, and instructions for the celebration of Mass in the Roman Catholic Church.

In this rite, one sees the following:

a) the entrance procession with singing and clapping according to the rhythm of the hymns.

b) the evocation of the ANCESTORS at the beginning of the celebration.

c) the singing of the gloria with dancing around the altar to reflect Christ, who is represented by the altar, the living stone that maintains the balance in our life and in our society.

d) the acclamation of the Gospel with procession, to welcome Christ who speaks.

e) the seated assembly during the proclamation of the Gospel as a sign of respect and veneration for the Christ who speaks.

f) the proper preface and the doxology are sung in melodies according to the African style.

g) the presence of the “Nkumu”, that is the ministers, who are symbols of wisdom, the elders of the people around the priest. Does this not strick an African when it comes to elders and wisdom.

We must emphatically note amidst all, the invocation of the good ancestors, friends of God BEFORE THE EVANGELISATION (mind the capital letters). That means the recognition that there are African ancestors who were good and thus are God’s friends before the advent of the missionaries. Thus, they are among the saints.

I totally agree with sister Rita Mboshu Kongo who said that “This rite is the proof that each people can pray to the God of Jesus Christ from its cultural riches and expressions without altering the unity of the Catholic faith.”

The problem that Christianity has in many parts of Africa is that it has not been properly inculturated into the African culture like it did in the western world, because many Africans don’t even know their (good) cultures and are not ready to ask questions.

This particular rite has been celebrated by Pope Francis on December 1, 2019 and takes into consideration the African way of life and of celebrating solemn occasions. You can call it “the Congolese Mass.” What about yours? What’s your culture?

Truth Series


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