MUSIC IN LITURGY
ILA MEETING, NBCLC Bangalore, 26-28 October 2007
The development of the Syro-Malabar liturgy and its musical tradition has a long history. It has had Syriac, Indian and Western influences. Its history is spread over five stages.
1.1 Stage One: The first stage is the earliest period of Christianity on the coast of Malabar ( Ist to 4th century). We do not have any concrete evidence as to the shape of the liturgical period during this period.
1.2 Stage Two: With the arrival of the Syrian merchant Thomas of Knai in the 4th century begins the second stage – the period of Syriac liturgical tradition, and consequently also of the Syriac musical tradition. In course of time, the Syriac hymns practically became the liturgical music of the Syro-Malabar Church. However, history shows that the Syro-Malabarians were not simply imitating the Syriac music as it was practised among the Syrians. Rather, they made adaptations in pronouncing the words as well as in the tunes. For example, the Arabic influence on the Syriac hymns did not affect the Syro-Malabar manner of singing. Therefore, many opine that the Syro-Malabar musical tradition without Arabic influence is more archaic and original. Another example is the Trinitarian conclusion of the hymns (Glory be to the Father and to the Son… Subha Laha…). It has a Syro-Malabar nuance not found in the Syriac music. Singing “Glory to God in the highest” at the beginning of the holy Mass too has its special features. The Syro-Malabarians sing it three times, each time raising the voice a little higher. Before the elevation and at the end of incensing, the Syro-Malabar priests used to sing Barekmor…Barekmor…Barekmor (= Bless O Lord) in a devotional melody, something not found in the Syriac tradition. It is also interesting to note that there was a slight difference in the tunes of the Divine Office used by the Carmelites (CMI) and by the diocesan priests.
1.3 Stage Three: The third stage is the period of Western influence that begins after the arrival of the Portuguese missionaries in the 16th century. Consequent upon the Latinization of the Syro-Malabar liturgy, the liturgical music too began to take new shapes. One of its results was the use of the Gregorian chant. One example is the final blessing of the holy Mass sung in the tune of Vere dignum est justum est salutare. However, the general policy was to give Syriac tunes to the Latin hymns after translating them into Syriac. Thus the hymns of the Eucharistic benediction like Pange lingua, Tantum ergo Sacramentum, Panem de caelo, and Oremus were rendered into Syriac tunes. Another Syriac tune was that of Lak Alaha (Te Deum). Some of the psalms and orations of the burial service of the Latin Rite also were rendered into Syriac tunes. These new tunes were not imported from outside. They were creative additions by the Syro-Malabar musicians.
1.4 Stage Four: The fourth stage begins after the erection of the Syro-Malabar hierarchy in 1923. Since then there were serious attempts to sing the Syriac hymns in a systematic and scientific way. Fr. Saldhana SJ helped the Church to publish a Syriac hymnal in 1937 with musical notations. Its title in Malayalam was “Malayala Suriani Keerthanamalika” (= Syriac Hymnal in Malayalam). Later in 1954 it was modified and enlarged by Fr. Mathew Vadakkel and Fr. Aurelius OCD , and this hymnal was published by St. Joseph Seminary, Alwaye. Its title was “Kerala Kaldaya Suriani Reethile Thirukkarmageethangal” (= Hymns for the Sacred Rites of the Kerala Chaldean-Syriac Rite). As the preface of the book clarifies, one of the aims of the hymnal is to help the choir in singing the Syriac hymns correctly. It gives notations for the portions to be sung by the celebrant. It omitted the Latin tunes that were in vogue in singing certain prayers (eg. Final blessing) of the holy Mass.
1.5 Stage Five: The fifth stage is the period after Vatican II. The liturgical reforms of Vatican II led to renewed attempts to revise the liturgical hymns. Even before the reform movement took proper steps to revise the hymns, the hymns of the Divine Office (published in three volumes in 1886-87 for the Chaldean Catholic Church, and in 1938 for the Syro-Malabar Church) were published with notations in 1967. Its author was Heinrick Hussman, and its title was “Die Melodien des Chaldaischen Breviers Commune” (= The melodies of the Chaldean Breviary).
2. After 1960
The late 1960s and early 1970s were a period of creativity in the Syro-Malabar liturgy and its hymns. The All India Seminar held at NBCLC, Bangalore, in 1969 gave a new impetus to this movement. Even before that, vernacularisation in the liturgy had led to the publication of the funeral services and the office for the dead in Malayalam (1967). Though the lyrics were in Malayalam, the tunes continued to be Syriac. The Syriac tunes of the Divine Office too were unaffected by the new tunes that began to emerge after Vatican II.
During this period, Cardinal Joseph Parecattil, a pioneer and visionary of the Syro-Malabar liturgical movement, helped to establish a musical academy called “Kalabhavan” under the directorship of a gifted musician Fr. Abel CMI. He produced a number of records and cassettes, composed in South Indian ragas and talas, with the assistance of a Karnatic musician K.K.Antony Master. Besides many popular devotional songs, they produced a number of hymns for liturgical and paraliturgical services. Thus a solemn sung Syro-Malabar Mass was published in 1971 that was widely acclaimed by the community, and it was enthusiastically used in the Syro-Malabar churches. Other hymns were of Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter and Christmas.
3. Sung Mass since 1986
When the restored text of the holy Mass was introduced in 1986, almost all of its hymns were in Syriac tunes. But when it was revised in 1989, two more tunes were added to the hymns. One of them was more in line with Indian melodies, while the other employed modern music with long preludes and interludes. The 1989 compositions made use of many ragas like Sankarabharanam, Anandabhairavi, Kalyani etc., and talas like Aditalam, Rupakatalam etc.
Besides these three sets of hymns for the holy Mass, there were also individual attempts to produce new albums with new music.
4. Karnatic Solemn Sung Mass
Fr.Paul Poovathinkal CMI has produced an album of Syro-Malabar sung Mass based on pure Karnatic ragas. He has used the musical forms such as Kirthans, Bhajans, Hymns and Chanting in it.
The hymns composed for the sacraments in 1970s, especially those of marriage, were widely acclaimed by the faithful. The new hymns were not following the Syriac musical style. Instead, they employed scales of modern music, including the Western.
The restored and revised texts of the sacraments published in 2005 have newly composed hymns for Baptism, Confirmation and Marriage. They are in the format of ragas and talas of Karnatic and Hindustani music.
6. Holy Week Liturgy
The Holy Week liturgical hymns, especially of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, were produced by Fr. Abel CMI and K.K. Antony Master in 1970s, departing from the Syriac style. They used Karnatic ragas and talas. Some of these hymns like Thalathil Vellameduthu (= Taking water in a bowl) on Maundy Thursday, and Gagultha Malayilninnu (= From mount Golgotha) on Good Friday have made deep imprints on the hearts and minds of the faithful. However, the hymns of Palm Sunday, Holy Saturday and Easter as a whole have not made such lasting impressions.
7. Christmas Liturgy
Though a couple of hymns are composed for Christmas night using Karnatic ragas and talas, they are not wholeheartedly received unlike the hymns of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.
8. Divine Office
One of the liturgical texts that continue to use Syriac tunes is the Divine Office. However, the Divine Office prepared by Fr. Abel CMI, smaller in size compared to the official one, has introduced Karnatic ragas and talas along with the traditional Syriac tunes.
9. Funeral Services
Though modern trends have invaded the Syro-Malabar liturgical music, they have not in any way affected the Syriac tunes of the Requiem Mass and the funeral services. The clergy and the people wholeheartedly welcome them, and it seems that they would reject any attempt to substitute them with modern tunes since the Syriac tunes have become part and parcel of their funeral services. So much so, the Syriac tunes are called “tunes for the services for the dead”!
When Fr. Abel CMI composed the Malayalm hymns from Syriac liturgical texts in the 1960s, he slightly changed some of the rhythmic patterns of Syriac chants, and used Karnatic talas. An example is the tune of Kambel Maran sung in the office for the dead. The original Syriac tune with a lot of grace notes and modulations, but without a tala frame, was restructured with a simple melody using Rupaka talam.
10. Various Musical Forms found in the Syro-Malabar Liturgy
As of today, we can see a combination of different musical styles in the Syro-Malabar liturgy. Among them we find Karnatic and Western music along with Syriac melodies. Unfortunately, the non-devotional musical style of the modern era too has made inroads into the liturgical music of the Syro-Malabar Church. At present we may identify the following styles:
10.1 Antiphonal Singing: The antiphonal singing is a traditional Syriac style popularised by St. Ephrem already in the 3rd century. Therefore, the ‘hymns’ are called “Onitha” (plural Oniatha) in Syriac. These are hymns to be sung always in two groups alternating the stanzas. Each stanza is preceded by a refrain.
10.2 Chanting: It is another musical form in the Syro-Malabar liturgical music. The doxologies and refrains are chanted. Chanting style is applicable, to a certain extent, to the whole of the liturgical prayers also.
10.3Hymns: This is a musical form developed by St. Ephrem in the East. Hymn is “a song in praise of God”. It is slightly different from the South Indian Kirthans. In a hymn we find different stanzas with the same melodic texturing.
10.4 Bhajans: In the post-Vatican period, especially after the All India Seminar in 1969, the Syro-Malabar Church did make various attempts to introduce Bhajans in their liturgy. The Syro-Malabar holy Mass “according to the Indian Rite” prepared by Dharmaram College, Bangalore, and “Bharatheeya Pooja” by Cardinal Joseph Parecattil, Ernakulam, employed many Bhajans and Slokas. Some of the Syro-Malabar dioceses outside Kerala too introduced Bhajans in their liturgical music. The Syro-Malabar Divine Office in Hindi has many Bhajans. In course of time, a number of Bhajans and Namajapas have been composed and used in liturgical and paraliturgical services.
10.5 Kirthans: This musical form, prevalent in the devotional singing, is used also in the liturgy. It focuses on Bhaktibhava.
10.6 Modern Style: This is a modified form of hymns and kirthans using musical preludes and interludes as background music with the help of orchestration. Initially this style began as a help to the vocalist. But today it has invaded the melodic and devotional simplicity of the liturgical hymns.
11. The Choir and the Musical Instruments
A traditional Syro-Malabar church choir had five members. Their instruments were violin, harmonium, drum and triangle. However, after the arrival of the Portuguese missionaries, some Syro-Malabar churches had pedestal harmonium, and even pipe organs. The drum is known by its Portuguese name tambor and the triangle is called thiriamkol, a Portuguese (triangulo) flavoured Malayalam word. Violin is known as fiddle or Rebec.
12. The Eastern Liturgical Music
In the Eastern tradition, the musical instruments have little importance compared to the voice of the people. Some Eastern Churches like the Russian and the Greek who continue to keep up the original spirit of the Eastern liturgical music, have very little dependence on the musical instruments. The Eastern policy is to minimize the use of the instruments. They are to be employed just to help the congregation to sing better, and with devotion and ease. Therefore, the present trend in the Syro-Malabar Church, the ‘filmy orchestral performance’, is completely alien to the Eastern ethos.
13. The Musical Style proper to the Syro-Malabar Church
By use of almost 1600 years, the Syriac liturgical music has become the hallmark of the Syro-Malabar sacred music. It continues to be used to the great satisfaction of the clergy and the people in the Requiem Mass and funeral services. The same is kept up also in the Divine Office. The Syriac music in the Syro-Malabar Church can be compared to the Gregorian music in the Latin Church. Therefore, despite various attempts at inculturation of music, the Syriac melodies continue to enjoy a place of honour in the Syro-Malabar musical tradition.
14. Common Musical Heritage of the Latin Church and the Syro-Malabar Church
Though there are Malayalam liturgical hymns characteristic of the Latin and Syro-Malabar Churches in Kerala, there are also hymns that have now become common heritage of these Churches during the Eucharistic celebration. These are sung mainly at the entrance procession, offertory, sanctus, holy communion and dismissal. Some of them have lasting impression on the faithful of these Churches because of their devotional and melodious nature, and they continue to be sung on ordinary days as well as on solemn occasions.
15. Rethinking about the Syro-Malabar Liturgical Music
In the recent past, a number of church choirs mushroomed, and they literally began to invade the Church music introducing hymns, tunes and instruments that are not always conducive to the prayerful atmosphere during the liturgical celebration. Thus the Church music practically became a ‘stage performance’ with all modern gadgets, and the solo singing became widespread. Though ordinary parish celebrations continue to enjoy the simplicity of the hymns and tunes, the solemn occasions like church feasts, marriages and such other celebrations have become a venue of filmy orchestration. Despite the interventions of the Church authorities to stop this tendency, they do not seem to have made great impact on these choirs. Complaints from various quarters have been pouring in to control this trend. Finally, the Syro-Malabar Liturgical Research Centre under the auspices of the Synod of Bishops conducted a seminar on Syro-Malabar Liturgical Music in July 2005, and made proposals to the Synod requesting it to take concrete steps to remedy the situation. The Syro-Malabar Central Liturgical Committee consisting of representatives from all the Syro-Malabar dioceses also requested the Synod to take effective steps in this regard. Some of the bishops did send circulars to the parishes and institutions to correct the drawbacks. But, things did not improve as desired.
The Synod of Bishops held in August 2006 decided to send a circular letter to all the parishes and institutions of the Church, and to give instructions to the departments concerned of the dioceses to take necessary steps to rectify the defective manner of singing in the liturgy. Accordingly, the Major Archbishop, Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil, wrote a common Pastoral Letter in December 2006. Referring to the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of Vatican II, Catechism of the Catholic Church, and the exhortations of the Popes, especially Pius X, Pius XII, John Paul II, and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Major Archbishop requested all concerned to take immediate steps to make the sacred music really “sacred”, avoiding the lyrics, tunes and instruments not conducive to the prayerful and recollected atmosphere in the church. He requested them to give prominence to the voice of the people than to the choir members and the instruments. He reminded the members of the choir that they should realize that they are doing a “ministry” in the Church to help people to pray better.
16. Decisions of the Synod regarding Sacred Music
The Synod of Bishops held in August 2006 discussed the various aspects of church music, and decided to publish certain guidelines to the whole Church. Among them we find the following:
- A Hymnal to be published under the auspices of the Syro-Malabar Commission for Liturgy.
- Only approved hymns may be sung during the liturgy.
- Community singing should be fostered. People should be trained to sing as a community.
- Recorded hymns should not be used in the liturgy.
- There should be training for the church choirs under the auspices of the dioceses.
- Along with poetic quality, the liturgical hymns should have sound theological basis.
- There should be model choirs in every diocese.
- The traditional Syriac melodies should be preserved. At the same time, Karnatic and Hindustani tunes should have their rightful place in the liturgical music.
- In seminaries and formation houses of the religious, sacred music should form part of the official curriculum.
- The Research Centre of the Syro-Malabar Church should start a Documentation Centre collecting all the musical styles of the past and the present for future study and research.
It is encouraging that some dioceses have already published hymnals to be used in the holy Mass. Steps have been taken by some dioceses to train the choir members of the parishes to sing liturgical hymns shortening the preludes and interludes, and to foster community singing.
The Syro-Malabar liturgical music is in a process of change and growth. The spread of this Church to various parts of the world – USA, Canada, Latin America, Europe, Africa etc. -, besides the various States of North India, definitely obliges her to adapt the liturgical music to the culture of the place. Though the traditional musical style is Syriac, in the present multicultural and global context, she cannot remain unaffected by the influences of different musical styles. Therefore, she must be open to the changing situations. However, every change should be in view of raising the hearts and minds of the people to the Lord who has come and who is to come.
Alwaye 683 102
[*] I am indebted to Fr.Jacob Vellian, an expert in Syriac liturgical music, for the analysis of the Syro-Malabar Syriac musical tradition, and Fr.Paul Poovathinkal CMI, a Ph.D holder in Indian music from Madras University, for the analysis of the present adapted hymns and chants of the Syro-Malabar liturgy. I have taken many findings from the papers they presented at the seminar on “Liturgical Music of the Syro-Malabar Church” conducted by the Syro-Malabar Liturgical Research Centre in July 2005. Their papers were entitled “Syriac Liturgical Music of the Syro-Malabar Church” and “The Influence of Karnatic Music on the Liturgical Music of the Syro-Malabar Church”.