Category: Liturgy

Theology of Liturgy

I. What is Liturgy?

1. Etymological Meaning

The English word liturgy comes from the Latin word Liturgia which in turn has its origin from the Greek word leitourgia (from the Greek verb leitourgein).  For the Greek people leitourgia meant “public work” or “a service in the name of or on behalf of the people”.  In the Greek Churches this term was used to designate the public worship, especially the divine liturgy.  Once the term is applied to the Christian worship its original meaning as service is retained to certain extent.  This term was popularized in the nineteenth century.  Before the 20th century this term hardly occurs in the official Church documents. (The other terms in vogue in the Middle Ages: Divine Office or Ecclesiastical Office; From 16th century terms like Ecclesiastical rites or Sacred Rites were preferred.)

            In the NT the word liturgy is used to mean the celebration of Divine worship and also the proclamation of the Gospel and active charity. (Cf. Lk 1.23;  Acts 13.2; Rom15.16,27; 2 Cor 9.12; Phil 2.25,30.)  At all these occasions liturgy is a question of the service of God and neighbour.  CCC 1070.

Therefore what is the Christian liturgy?

Liturgy is not mere prayer.  It is not some devotion.  It is not something of the individual. It is a service of the public.  It is indeed the love. Liturgy =Service =Love

The Malayalam word ārādhanakramam does not convey properly the reality of liturgy.  The word kramam refers to the order to be kept in the celebration and in that sense it suits more for the text of the liturgy.  The expression Divine Worship is a substitute for liturgy.  However, the notion of service and love lacks here.  If the words worship or adoration are taken to mean also service and love, then only they can mean the true reality of liturgy. (If it is adoration that which takes place in liturgy, then it is God who adores men and men adore God only as a response.)

2. Liturgy according to Mediator Dei; Sacrosanctum Concilium, CCC

a.)  “The Sacred Liturgy is the public worship which our Redeemer as the head of the Church renders to the Father, as well as the worship which the community of the faithful renders to its founder and through him to the heavenly Father.  In short, it is the public worship rendered by the mystical body of Christ in entirety of its head and members.” (Mediator Dei, Para 20, Encyclical of Pope Pius XII, Nov. 20, 1947).

b.)  “The liturgy is rightly seen as an exercise of the priestly office of Jesus Christ.  It involves the presentation of man’s sanctification under the guise of signs perceptible by the senses and its accomplishment in ways appropriate to each of these signs.  In it full public worship is performed by the mystical Body of Jesus Christ, that is, by the Head and his members.” (Sacrosanctum Concilium -7, Para 3: in Vatican II Documents)

            Through the liturgy Christ, our Redeemer and High Priest continues the work of redemption in, with and through his Church.

Liturgy is for the experience of salvation.  In liturgy the Church celebrates above all the paschal mystery by which Christ accomplished the work of salvation.  CCC 1067.

“For it is the liturgy through which, especially in the divine sacrifice of the Eucharist, “the work of our redemption is accomplished”, and it is through the liturgy especially, that the faithful are enabled to express in their lives and manifest to others the mystery of Christ and the real nature of the Church. SC 2.

“Nevertheless the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; it is also the fount from which all her power flows.” SC 10

“In the earthly liturgy we take part in a foretaste of the heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the Holy City of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God, Minister of the holies and of the true tabernacle. (Rev 21.2; Col 3.1; Heb 8.2) SC 8.

In Christian tradition liturgy means the “participation of the people of God in the Work of God” (Jn 17.4) CCC 1069.

·         Explain the concepts of Sanctification and Šawtaputha. (See class notes.)

3. Contents of Liturgy

a. Sacraments: Liturgy consists essentially of sacraments among which Eucharistic celebration is the most important one.  Eucharist is the sacrament of sacraments.

b. Liturgy of Hours:  It is devised to make the whole course of the day and night holy by the praise of God.  It is truly the voice of the Bride (Church) addressed to her Bridegroom (Christ).  It is the very prayer which Christ himself together with his Body addresses to his Father. In the liturgy of Hours Christ continues his priestly work through his Church.  CCC 1174,1175.

c. Sacramentals: Blessing of persons (eg. blessing of the abbot or abbess of a monastery, the consecration of virgins, the rite of the religious profession, and blessing of certain ministries of the Church -minor orders-); of meals, objects and places (dedication or blessing of the church or an altar, the blessing of holy oils, vessels and vestments, bells etc.)

4. Popular Piety (Devotions)

Expressions of popular piety like adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, veneration of relics, visit to sanctuaries, pilgrimages, processions, the stations of the cross, religious dances, the rosary, medals etc. extend the liturgical life of the Church.  They do not replace liturgy.  Expressions of piety should harmonize with the liturgical seasons, accord with the sacred liturgy and in some way derived from it and lead the people to it.  Liturgy by its very nature is far superior to any of them. SC 13, 3.  CCC 1674, 1675

  • What is the real difference between liturgy and devotions? (See class notes.)

II. Liturgy as Leitourgia of God and Man

1. Leitourgia  of the Holy Trinity (CCC 1077-1109)

a. Work of the Father

Father is the source and goal of liturgy.  He takes the initiative for the liturgy.  From the part of the believers liturgy is only a response of participation in the blessings offered by the Father.  Liturgy may be seen as the exchange of blessings between the Father and the believers.  Father bestows his blessings upon us.  From the beginning until the end of time the whole of God’s work is a blessing.  His blessings include the creation, the Word and the Gift.  Thus creation, redemption and ongoing sanctification is the blessing of the Father. Concretely the redemption and sanctification are the main work of God towards the humankind.  From the part of man liturgy means acknowledging the work of creation, redemption and sanctification.  The Father is acknowledged and adored as the source and end of all the blessings of creation and salvation.

In the Eucharistic liturgy we can find this exchange of the blessings.  Father sends His Son and Holy Spirit to the believers.  In His Word who became incarnate, died, and rose for us, he fills us with his blessings.  Through his Word, he pours into our hearts the Gift that contains all gifts.  The believers praise and thank the Father through the prayers (mainly the g’hanta prayers) of the Quddaša.  The historical Qurbana that the Father offered to us in Jesus Christ is sacramentally enacted in the Eucharist.

  • How does the Eucharistic celebration in the Syro-Malabar tradition become the celebration of God’s creation, mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit? (See class notes.)

b. Work of Christ

Jesus is re-enacting the work of salvation in the liturgy.  Christ makes present his paschal mystery.   His paschal mystery transcends the time and participates in the divine eternity.  In liturgy Christ makes present this eternal reality of the salvific event.

  • Liturgy is the commemoration of the raza of Christ. What are the different levels of commemoration in liturgy? Explain. (See class notes.)
  • Explain the katabatic and anabatic dimensions of Qurbana. (See class notes.)

In liturgy Christ plays a double role.  On the one hand he represents the Father and offers the salvation and sanctification in the Spirit.  On the other, he remains the head of the Church and hence turns to the Father along with the community of the faithful.  Christ offers himself to the Father.  He offers us also along with him.  He renders eucharistia to the Father on behalf of the Church.  In the commemoration of the Paschal mystery Christ is the protagonist.

c. Work of the Holy Spirit

Holy Spirit prepares the Church to encounter her Lord.  He recalls and makes Christ manifest to the faith of the assembly (CCC 1092).  The grace of the Holy Spirit seeks to awaken faith, conversion of heart and adherence to the will of the Father. (CCC 1098) He awakens the memory of the Church and inspires her to thanksgiving and praise.  Thus the Holy Spirit is the living memory of the Church.  In every liturgical action the Holy Spirit is sent in order to bring us into communion with Christ and so to form his body.  The Holy Spirit effects two kinds of sanctification in the liturgy: the sanctification of the mysteries and the sanctification of the assembly.  It is through the communion of the mysteries that the Holy Spirit effects sanctification of the assembly.  Communion with the Holy Trinity and fraternal communion are inseparably the fruit of the Spirit in the liturgy.


  • How is the work of sanctification by the Holy Spirit envisaged in the epiclesis of the Anaphora of Addai and Mari. (See the taksa of Syro-Malabar Qurbana).
  • How far is this function of the Spirit revealed in the Syriac name Ruha d’ Qudša?


2. Leitourgia of Man


a. Liturgy as the Work of the Church

As the work of Christ liturgy is also an action of his Church. Liturgy makes the Church present and manifests her as the visible sign of the communion in Christ between God and men.  Church is made present in the liturgical assembly and especially in the eucharistic assembly.  Therefore, it is said: Eucharist makes the Church.  It is through celebrating the communion (both vertical and horizontal) that the liturgical assembly is constituting the Church.

Church makes the Eucharist. Liturgy is not a private affair. It is the work of the entire mystical body.

·         Can liturgy be privatized? (See class notes.)

Leitourgia of the assembly (Vertical dimension): The eucharistia (Qudasha) and Qurbana offered to God from the part of the assembly.

Leitourgia of the assembly (Horizontal dimension): Horizontal reconciliation; Qurbana (of oneself) offered to the fellow beings; See also the explanation of the title Mass (See class notes).

III. Liturgical Space-time

1. Sacred and Profane

            In the history of religions there has always been a distinction between sacred and profane.  Man, especially the primitive man, had a feeling of terror before the sacred, before the awe-inspiring mystery (mysterium tremendum), the majesty that emanates an overwhelming superiority of power.  It is religious fear before the fascinating mystery.  R. Otto characterizes all these experiences as numinous (in Latin numen -God).  The numinous presents itself as the “wholly other”, something basically and totally different.  It is like nothing human or cosmic.  Confronted with it, man realizes his profound nothingness, feels that he is only a creature, or as Abraham said to the Lord, is “ but dust and ashes” (Gen 18.27).  The recognition of the distinction between the sacred and the profane constitutes the basis of religion.

            Man becomes aware of the sacred because it manifests itself, shows itself, as something wholly different from the profane.  M. Eliade calls this act of manifestation of the sacred as ‘hierophany’.  History of religion consists of a great number of theophanies, by manifestations of sacred realities.

2. Sacred Space-time

            To the religious man space is not homogeneous.  There are certain breaks in the continuity of space, distinguishing the sacred from the profane. He experiences interruptions and breaks in it.  A church or temple constitutes a break in the profane space of a city. Some parts of the space are qualitatively different from others. Ex 3.5: “Do not come near; put off your shoes from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” Thus there is the holy or sacred space.  It is strong and significant.  The religious man finds it as the only real and really existing space.  All other space is “not sacred” or “profane”.  According to Mircea Eliade, ordinary or profane space is without structure or consistency, and is, therefore, amorphous. Eliade makes another distinction in the conception of space: cosmos and chaos.  Cosmos is an inhabited territory, the work of the gods.  It is ordered space.  But on the other hand the outside territory is chaos, having no order or limits.

            For the religious man, time, too, is neither homogeneous nor continuous.  There are intervals of sacred time. Just as a church or temple constitutes a break in the profane space of a city, the service celebrated inside it marks a break in the profane duration of time.

            The believing man experiences two types of sacred space-time: one is sacred in its origin itself, the other is his own creation.  He sees the cosmic phenomena such as stars, planets, solar and lunar eclipses, sunrise, air, fire, water, mountains, stones, trees, etc. as sacred. Sometimes he creates sacred space-time by consecrating ordinary space and time.  Sanctuaries, and the time of offerings, feasts, etc. are examples of such consecrated space and time.  The enclosure, wall, or circle of stones surrounding a sacred place constitute the most ancient known forms of man-made sanctuaries.  The most primitive sacred places, a landscape of stones, water and trees, constituted a microcosm.  Sacred place in its primitive form is a microcosm, because it reproduces the natural landscape; because it is a reflection of the whole.  The altar and the temple, later developments of the sacred place, are microcosms because they are the centres of the world, because they stand at the very heart of the universe and constitute an imago mundi.


3. The Function of Sacred Space-time: Divine-Human Communication

            Why is there sacred space-time?  As regards the sanctuaries, we get an answer from Chaldean cosmogony, which holds that the very creation of humanity was for constructing an abode for the gods. The history of religion tells us that man has always had the desire for an ordered space where communication with the divine is possible.  Consecration is cosmicization or creation of a cosmic region which is always in communication with the world of the gods.  The sacred establishes order, fixes the limits, and founds the world.  With the creation of sacred space-time, this communication with the world of gods is ensured. The most ancient sanctuaries were hypaethral or built with an aperture in the roof – the `eye of the dome’ – symbolizing the breakthrough from plane to plane, communication with the transcendent. Sacred space-time thus constitutes the entrance to non-space-time.

4. Sacred Space and Time according to the Israelites

            The Israelites accepted much of the religious symbolism of the peoples they encountered in the course of history, including Mesopotamian and Canaanite influence. The Canaanites exerted special influence on the religious views of the Israelites. Therefore, in our attempt to understand the meaning of sacred space and time according to the Israelites, we shall make occasional comparisons with the Canaanite religion.

4.1. Sacred and Profane

            The Israelites were well aware of the separation between the sacred and the profane. A clear distinction is made between profane and sacred space when Moses approached the sacred space on Horeb, the ‘mountain of God’: “Do not come near; put off your shoes from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground” (Ex 3.5).  The sacred is always dangerous to anyone who comes into contact with it without having gone through the preparatory ‘gestures of approach’ that every religious act demands.

            According to the Jewish understanding, sacredness or holiness was primarily an attribute of God, marking his transcendent separation from all creatures.  Secondarily, it was an attribute of those persons and things set apart for intimate contact with God (Lev 21.6-8). Thus the sacredness of space-time is a participation in God’s holiness.

            The vision of the new temple in the book of Ezekiel (Ezek 40-44) conveys the theological importance Israel attached to sacred space-time.  For the Israelites, the proper distinction between sacred and profane space-time was something essential to the ethos of the people of God.  The violation of this distinction resulted in the disappearance of God’s presence from among them, and consequently their destruction.  Throughout the book of Ezekiel the emphasis is on Israel’s cultic pollution and profanation as the cause of its destruction and exile. Ezekiel was convinced that the sins of Yahweh’s people had driven his presence (‘glory’) away from the temple (Ezek 8.6; 9.3; 10.18-19; 11.22-23).

            There are restrictions on the communication between the sacred and the profane (Ezek 42.14; 44.19; 46.20). The description of the two separate cooking areas (Ezek 46.19-24) where the sacrifices eaten by the priests and laity were prepared, makes clear how the distinction between the sacred and profane is maintained.

            There is a detailed architectural description of the temple in Ezekiel’s vision of the temple.  The reason for the careful measurement of the entire temple complex (Ezek 42.15-20) is precisely the separation of the sacred from the profane. The vision of the new temple emphasizes the reestablishment of a proper cultic sanctity of land and people.  Ezekiel sees a new temple where the distinction between the sacred and the profane is perfectly maintained.

            The walls around the temple complex, six cubits high and six cubits thick (Ezek 40.5), form a separation between the holy and the common (Ezek 42.20).  Further protection of the sanctity of the temple complex is provided by an area stretching fifty cubits beyond the walls on all sides, which is to be left open (Ezek 45.2). It is stated in Ezek 43.10 that such a description of the temple area is intended for the conversion of the people of Israel. This conversion is understood as the decision to respect the difference between sacred and profane space-time.

4.2. Sacred Mountains

            The Canaanite tradition of associating the divine abode with the mountains influenced the Israelites.  Most of the Canaanite sanctuaries were linked to mountains. The surroundings of Mount Hermon had so many temples that the whole mountain was considered a holy place.

            The OT speaks of Mount Zion as the mountain of Yahweh. “Remember Mount Zion, where thou hast dwelt” (Ps 74.2). It serves as the great mountain of divine communication.  Ezekiel’s vision of the temple (Ezek 40.2) states that the temple is upon a very high mountain, Zion, the place of the temple just above the city. The expression ‘very high mountain’ is a commonplace in the symbolism of sacred space.

4.3. Sacred Stones

            Sacred stones called ansab were used to mark sacred places.  The nomads saw certain rocks as abodes of the angels. They came to such rocks for prayer and sacrifice. The Syrians used to adore the god Adadu in the form of the stones noted for their resemblance to parts of the human body like the eyes, fingers and kidneys. The primitive altar was nothing other than a large stone on which blood was shed.  Therefore, sacred stones represent altars. The sacred stone is a habitation of the god, roughly akin to the temple and the statue. It may also be considered a type of the altar and throne.

            Jacob called the place where he had the dream of a ladder between heaven and earth ‘Bethel’, meaning house of God (Gen 28.10-22).  “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” Gen 28.17.  Jacob set up for a pillar the stone which he had put under his head, and poured oil on top of it (Gen 28.18).  “…this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house…” (Gen 28.22).  Is 19.19 prophesies the installation of a pillar to the Lord at the border of Egypt. In Solomon’s temple there were two free standing pillars, called Jachin and Boaz.

4.4. Consecrated Space

            In the history of Israel’s sanctuaries we can distinguish the period of the patriarchs, the tabernacle, the sanctuaries after the conquest of Canaan, and the temple.

a. Patriarchal Sanctuaries

            In the period of the patriarchs, there were special spaces consecrated to God.  Abraham built an altar at Shechem (Gen 12.6-7).  Jacob built an altar at Bethel (Gen 35.1-9,14-15; 28.18-19),  taking over an already existing Canaanite shrine and dedicating it to the one true God.  As a memorial of God’s revelation at Beer-Sheba, Isaac built there an altar (Gen 26.23-25). However, according to Gen 21.33, Abraham established this shrine, planting a tamarisk tree there, and calling on the name of the Lord, the everlasting God.

b. Tabernacle

            The tabernacle or tent was probably a portable sanctuary during the exodus. It indicates the presence of Yahweh among a group of nomadic people. Moses relied on it in order to consult Yahweh and learn his will (Ex 33.7,11; Num 12.8).  In the later tradition a new word miškan is preferred to the ordinary word for tent, ‘Ohel. This new term emphasizes the abiding presence of Yahweh among his people.

            Ex 26; 36.8-38 deals with the important architectural features of the tabernacle.  It was a rectangular wooden framework (45ft x 15ft x 15ft). One curtain closed off the eastern entry, another of more precious material was placed 15 ft from the western end. Thus the holy place was separated from the ‘holy of holies’.  Here the Ark of the Covenant was kept.  In the holy place were the seven-branched candlestick and the table for the Loaves of Presence.  Outside the entrance were the altar and the laver used for the ritual purification.  The tent was surrounded by a large courtyard, 150 ft x 75 ft marked off by a system of bronze posts to which were affixed silver rods, and from which hung linen drapes.

            The Ark was the locus of God’s presence in Israel (1 Sam 4.7, 22).  It is God’s footstool (1 Sam 4.4) and throne (1 Chron 28.2; Ps 99.5; 132.7; Lam 2.1; Is 66.1).  The Ark was also the depository for the tablets of the decalogue (Deut 10.1-5).  When the Ark was destroyed during the Babylonian exile, no new Ark was built because the New Jerusalem in its entirety would be Yahweh’s throne (Jer 3.16-17).  A kapporet (mercy seat) (Ex 25.17-22; 37.6-9) was installed in the Second Temple, perhaps as a substitute for the Ark when the latter was no longer in existence. In the post exilic period God’s mysterious presence was focused on the kapporet.

c. The Temple

            For the Israelites, the temple was the sacred space par excellence.  While referring to the temple area Ezek 43.12 says: “…the whole territory round about upon the top of the mountain shall be most holy.” “…Son of man, this is the place of my throne and the place of the soles of my feet, where I will dwell in the midst of the people of Israel for ever” (Ezek 43.7). There are explicit references to the temple as the abode of Yahweh, which he himself consecrated: “…I have consecrated this house which you have built, and put my name there for ever; my eyes and my heart will be there for all time” (1 Kings 9.3).

            The temple had three parts: a porch or vestibule (‘ulam); the sanctuary (hêkal) with lampstands, the table of showbread, and the altar of incense; and the ‘holy of holies’ (dbîr) that held the ark of the covenant. The general structure of Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 6) was similar to Phoenician and Canaanite models: a tripartite building facing east, comprising an outer porch (‘ulam), a sanctuary or holy place (hêkal) and an innermost holy place or ‘holy of holies’ (dbîr). The Canaanite temple of Hazor at Galilea provides a close parallel to the ground plan of Solomon’s temple.

            The Jews built their temple with due respect for cosmic symbolism.  The court of the temple represented the sea (that is, the lower regions), the holy place represented earth, and the Holy of Holies, heaven. The Temple of Jerusalem had a temporal symbolism also.  The twelve loaves of bread on the table signified the twelve months of the year and the candelabrum with seventy branches represented the decans (the zodiacal division of the seven planets into tens).

d. Altars

            Israel shared with other peoples the religious practice of sacrifice, and therefore had an altar similar to that of the neighbouring peoples. There were certain outdoor altars called bamâ, literally ‘high place’.  These were open air places of worship, not a temple or sanctuary.  They served as altars where sacrificial offerings could be made without the intervention of a priest. The architectural features of the altar of Ezekiel’s vision resemble that of a Babylonian temple-tower or Ziggurat, on a miniature scale. The altar, like the Ziggurat, is the place of visitation where God’s presence comes. The altar was a sign of divine presence.

            The altar is the most holy object, and therefore, whatever touches the altar becomes holy (Ex 29.37).  The altar of holocausts (Ex 29.37; 40.10) and the altar of incense (Ex 30.10) were particularly holy and could be served only by the priests (Lev 21.6; 1 Chron 23.13).  The altar of holocausts had to be consecrated before it could be used (Ex 29.36-37; Lev 8.15). The altar is also called the ‘Lord’s table’ (Mal 1.12; Ezek 44.16).

 4.5. Liturgical Time

            The symbolism of time had a decisive impact on the religious life of a Hebrew.  For him the matter of supreme importance was not time in its mathematical measurement but time in its actual content and moral quality. History, to the Hebrews, was first and foremost a pattern of covenant-times.  They celebrated those times with thankfulness and rejoicing and looked forward to the time of the new and determinative covenant when past and present would find their fulfilment in the final day of God.  Hebrews believed that God chose special times to fulfil his special purposes. They insisted on celebrating two symbolic times in their life: the annual Passover festival and the weekly Sabbath.  While these festivals were being celebrated the past became a reality of present experience in faith.  The ritual celebration leads this reality into future, providing the hope that what God had done in the past he would do again on an even wider and grander scale.

5. Space-time of Christian Liturgy: Signs and Symbols of Liturgy

Sacred space, sacred time, sacred persons, sacred objects, sacred words and music, sacred gestures and actions are all symbols which realize the celebration of the paschal mystery and the salvific encounter with Christ.  It is through these signs and symbols that Christ accomplishes the work of our redemption

The sacramental celebration is the mystery of Christ celebrated in space and time.  A sacramental celebration is woven from signs and symbols.  Their meaning is rooted in the work of creation and human culture, specified by the events of Old Testament and fully revealed in the person and work of Christ (CCC 1145).  As a social being man needs signs and symbols to communicate with others, through language, gestures, and actions.  The same holds true for his relationship with God. (Signs and symbols of creation: candles, water, fire; signs and symbols of human life: washing, anointing, breaking bread; and signs and symbols of the history of salvation (rites of Passover).

The sacraments of the Church do not abolish but purify and integrate all the richness of the signs and symbols of the cosmos and of social life.  Further, they fulfil the types and figures of the Old Covenant, they signify and make present the salvation wrought by Christ, and prefigure and anticipate the glory of heaven.  In sacramental symbolism the signs effect what they signify.  The word sign is the word used in classical theology.  Modern anthropologists prefer the term symbol.

  • Christian liturgical space-time a symbolic whole

The entire liturgy is made up of the signs and symbols of space-time.  Therefore, liturgy may be considered as a symbolic whole.  The unity of symbols is much emphasized for a proper liturgical celebration.  It is more appropriate to consider the liturgical space-time as a symbolic whole rather than speaking of different symbols in the liturgy.

Liturgy is celebration or commemoration of the paschal mystery of Christ.  Participation in it would enable the participant attain salvation.  The symbols serve like windows or doors to the saving reality of the salvific event.  They make one experience the eternal reality of salvation, here and now.  Without properly recognizing the worth of the symbols one cannot practise properly the religion.

  • Liturgical space-time is the paschal mystery of Christ in space-time; Its purpose is sanctification of God and sanctification of man through space-time.

a. Liturgical Space

            Christian sacred space-time is the convergence of heavenly space and earthly space, heavenly time and earthly time, heavenly persons and earthly persons. There is the real encounter between heaven and earth.

            According to the author of Revelation, the Christian sacred space is Christ himself (Rev 21.22). He is the true altar (madbaha qusta). (HAzy 4.26) Being the space of Christ, the church building is the meeting place of heaven and earth.  The symbolism of the liturgical architecture reveals this. The haikla represents the place of the people of God who are still in the earthly Church.  The bema represents earthly Jerusalem and as such the place of the accomplishment of the salvific mystery of Jesus.  The sanctuary is the symbol of heaven, the ‘space’ of the glorified Lord.  The qesroma serves as the intermediary space between heaven and earth.  The šqaqona represents the pathway between heaven and earth.  However, the symbolic distinction is not very sharp.  The sanctuary and the altar within it have a dynamic symbolism.  They represent heavenly and earthly realities, and therefore symbolize the evident convergence of heavenly and earthly space.  The altar is Lord’s tomb, the throne of God, and the table of the Kingdom (pathura malkutha).

  • Liturgical Space of Syro-Malabar tradition (with diagram): (See class notes.)
  • What is the theological significance of central bema? How does it agree with the theology of the Liturgy of Word in the East Syrian tradition? (See class notes.)

            Liturgical space symbolizes heaven and earth, but not alone or exclusively.  It is the presence of Christ symbolized through persons, and the prayers and actions of Christ symbolized through the prayers and actions of the persons, which give to the liturgical space the power of representing heaven and earth.  The convergence of these symbolic elements in the sacred time of liturgy makes possible: not only between heavenly and earthly space, but between the heavenly and earthly space-time. Commenting on the Sanctus  of the East Syrian Qurbana, the Anonymous Author (10th/11th century ) says: “…This means, heaven and earth have been already made one Church; neither heaven is heaven nor earth is earth because the time and space composite have been dissolved; for heaven is the heaven of earth and earth is the earth of heaven.”

            For the Church, the space-time of Christ in the liturgy is the space-time of salvation.  It is the new space and time of salvation.  The Lord comes to the earthly Jerusalem, we hear his words, we experience his healing touch, our sins are forgiven, we participate in his passion, we enter with him and the Good Thief into the Paradise.

            Liturgical space-time parallels the ladder of Jacob (Gen 28.12). Indeed it is more than Jacob’s ladder, which was only a passage between heaven and earth along which only angels went up and down.  In liturgical space-time God himself comes down to humans, preaches to them, makes them worthy to enter heaven.  Finally he comes down with the heavenly food, his own body and blood.  On the one hand, God is entering our space-time; on the other, we are entering God’s space-time. The veil of the OT was rather a barrier preventing the access to the sacred. According to Heb 10.19, it is Christ who has broken this barrier.  Thus we are enabled to enter the sanctuary of God.  We are given the right of access to the space-time of God. In the vision of the author of Hebrews, Christ himself is the sacred space.  He himself is the veil that marks the boundary of sacred and profane space-time.  Being the sacred space-time itself, he is also the door to the sacred space-time.  The veil is symbol of the separation between ordinary and sacred space-time. Even though this veil appears to be a barrier, for Christians it is no longer a barrier to the space-time of God but rather the door to it.

Liturgy is celebrated in the sacred space, namely church, dedicated for that purpose.  Church building is the House of God.  It is the meeting place of heaven and earth.  “To enter into the House of God, we must cross a threshold, which symbolizes passing from the world wounded by sin to the world of the new Life to which all men are called.  The visible church is a symbol of the Father’s House toward which the People of God is journeying and where the Father ‘will wipe every tear from their tears’.” CCC 1186.

            Church building is not a mere gathering place, but it makes visible the Church living in that place, the dwelling of God with men reconciled and united with Christ. CCC 1180.  Syro-Malabar church (building) is divided into three sections.: Madbaha (therein we have the altar and the beth gazzas.), qestroma (the place of choir and ministers), haikla (the place of the faithful).  In the middle of haikla there is bema, the space for the celebration of the liturgy of Word.  Madbaha is separated from the haikla by a veil. (Madbaha represents heaven, haikla-earth; bema-earthly Jerusalem.

  • Eschatological dimension of Christian liturgical space-time

Explain the theological significance of facing East in prayer. (See class notes.)


b. Liturgical Time

In liturgy time is symbolic.  According to the Christian understanding, liturgical time is the time of salvation, which is symbolically experienced in liturgy.  Liturgical time is the symbol of heavenly time.  According to Narsai of Nisibis (399-502) it is a life-giving time for those who believe and receive the gift of the hour.  In liturgy, especially in the eucharistic liturgy one transcends the limits of ordinary time.  In liturgy we are participating in the eternal saving act, not that of the past.  Liturgical celebration is not a celebration or repetition of a past event.  It is the eternal liturgy that unfolds in the symbols of the new space and time.

 Sunday or the Lord’s Day is the pre-eminent day for the liturgical celebration.  Sunday is the day of Lord’s resurrection; it is the day of creation; it symbolizes the eschatological day (of heavenly life.)  The liturgical seasons enable the celebration of the entire mystery of Christ in the course of one year (liturgical year).  In the course of the year, Church unfolds the whole mystery of Christ from the incarnation and nativity to the ascension, to Pentecost and the expectation of the blessed hope of the coming of the Lord. (SC 102)  The whole year is divided into different liturgical seasons based on the main feasts of the mystery of salvation.  Each concentrates on a particular aspect of the mystery, without however, neglecting the totality of the mystery.

Liturgy is celebrated in sacred time, which is not limited by past, present and future.  Liturgical time is the time of God; it is the time of salvation.

Liturgical Year

The liturgical year of the Christian East is a rather detailed and intense plan of sanctifying the whole year, rendering the various moments of the history of salvation present.  The liturgical year permeates the entire spiritual life of the faithful. (Instruction 36)  The Eastern faithful prepare for the important feast days through fast and abstinence established by the their respective ecclesial tradition. The feasts of the saints are celebrated in intimate connection with the celebration of the mystery of the salvation.  Thus the calendar of the Eastern Christians differ from that of the Christian West especially in the case of the sanctoral.


Origin and Development of the Liturgical Calendar

0. Introduction

            The present shape of the Christian liturgical calendar is the result of the liturgical and theological evolution through many centuries.  We may find at the origin of the liturgical calendar the concern of the Church to commemorate the paschal mystery of Christ in the course of one year.  The weekly celebration of the salvific mystery on Sunday paved the way for the origin of the celebration of the various aspects of the paschal mystery in the span of an year.  The feasts like Easter, Pentecost, Christmas and Epiphany had a decisive role in the formation of the liturgical year. In the course of the year the Church unfolds the whole mystery of Christ from the incarnation and nativity to the ascension, to pentecost and the expectation of the blessed hope of the coming of the Lord (SC 102).

            The primitive liturgical cycle was of extreme simplicity reflecting the primitive eschatological understanding of liturgy.[1] For the most ancient calendar of the Church the historical commemoration was of little significance. The primitive liturgical calendar consisted originally everywhere of two elements, the observance of two annual feasts, namely Pascha and Pentecost, and of the Lord’s Day on Sunday. At the time of Hippolytus of Rome and Tertullian in Africa, around A.D. 215 and Origen in Egypt around the year A.D. 235, these feasts of the paschal mystery served as the main content of the liturgical calendar.[2]  The Nativity-Epiphany cycle of feasts also had a place in the liturgical calendar of various Churches as early as the second century.

The present paper is an attempt to inquire into the origin and development of the liturgical calendar, analysing the liturgical and theological reasons for the evolution of the calendar.  We may begin our inquiry with the study of Sunday and then study the most important feasts of the liturgical year, namely the feasts of the Easter cycle and the feasts of the Christmas cycle.  We may also examine the development of the cult of saints and its impact on the liturgical calendar of the Church.

1. Sunday

Sunday is the foundation and kernel of the Christian liturgical year (SC 106). Sunday is the innovation of Christians; it was not inherited from the Hebrew cult.  The Christian shaping of the week, giving primary place to Sunday as Lord’s Day, was adopted in all parts of the Church by the end of the first century.[3]  In spite of the absence of any completely indisputable evidence for the Christian observance of Sunday prior to the middle of second century, most scholars believe that it was adopted as early as the first generation of believers.[4] The earliest reason given for celebrating Sunday is that it is the day of the resurrection (Ep.of Barnabas 15.9)[5] The early Christians paid special attention to Sunday mainly because it was the day of the resurrection of the Lord.  (Acts 20.1; 1 Cor 16.2).  It was the day for specially commemorating the Lord and his paschal mystery.  On that day they came together to celebrate the ‘breaking of bread’. To say that Sunday is a weekly celebration of the resurrection is inadequate.  Sunday is the celebration of the entire Pascha.[6]According to Egeria, of the fourth century on every Sunday both the passion and resurrection accounts were read.  The idea of a weekly celebration of the resurrection developed after the fourth century.

Mk 16.2 and parallels assert that it was on the first day of the week, according to the Jewish Calendar, that our Lord rose from the dead. 1 Cor 16.2, and Acts 20.7 speak of Sunday as the first day of the week, and state that there was the gathering of believers on that day. It was the usual expression for Sunday in Syriac-speaking circles.[7] The New Testament texts speak of Sunday as the day of resurrection (Mt 28.1; Mk 16.2; Lk 24.1; Jn 20.1) All these texts refer to Sunday as the first day of the week. Almost all post resurrection appearances fall on Sunday (Mt 28.6-10; Mk 16.9-14; Lk 24:13-15; Jn 20.11-18; Jn 20.19; Jn 20.26-29). Only Jn 21.1ff does not specify that it was on a Sunday. The Greek-speaking communities preferred the term Lord’s Day.[8]  Latin West had its equivalent term Dominica.[9] As early as Tertullian and Cyprian Dominica is the ordinary name for Sunday.[10]  Justin the Martyr speaks of this day as the ‘day of the sun’.[11] While making the Christian day of worship a civil day of rest, Emperor Constantine referred to it as ‘Dies solis’.[12]

There were other reasons for celebrating Sunday.  The gentile Christians took up the Jewish understanding of the first day of the week as the day of creation. “We assemble on the day of the sun because it is the first day, that on which God transformed the darkness and matter to create the world, and also because Jesus Christ our Saviour rose from the dead on the same day.”[13]  From ancient times onwards Sunday is considered as the eighth day, being the image of the eschatological day.[14] It is the day on which God inaugurated a new World.[15] It is the image of the age to come.[16]  Later writers speak about more historical events commemorated on Sunday.  Theodulf in his capitular to the clergy about 800 writes: “On it God established light; on it he rained manna in the wilderness; on it the Redeemer of the human race voluntarily rose from the dead for our salvation; on it he poured out the Holy Spirit upon his disciples…”.[17] Sunday being the day of the descent of the Holy Spirit, it is also called the day of the Spirit.

            It seems likely that Sunday was from its first beginnings a Christian observance independent of the sabbath,[18] though its weekly observance was probably suggested by the existence of sabbath. We find the Church continuing the Jewish prohibition of fasting on Sabbath, which suggests a sense of the continuity with Sabbath rather than a repudiation of it.[19] It is probable that the Jewish Christian Churches insisted on the additional observance of the Jewish sabbath as well as the Christian Sunday.[20] Some Christians of Jewish background continued a measure of Sabbath observance as well.[21] Many modern scholars believe that the first Christians chose Sunday as their Sabbath day in order to differentiate themselves from other Jews, and furthermore that during the first century the Christian eucharist was usually celebrated on Saturday[22] evening, after the sabbath was over and as Sunday began according to the Jewish reckoning of the day.[23] The Epistle of Barnabas presents God rebuking the Jewish observance of sabbath. “It is not your present sabbaths that are acceptable unto Me, but the sabbath which I have made, in which when I have set all things at rest, I will make the beginning with the eighth day, which is the beginning  of another world. Wherefore we (Christians) also keep the eighth day for rejoicing, in which also Jesus rose from the dead, and having been manifested ascended into the heavens”.[24] According to S. Bacchiochi, Sunday originates as a result of an anti-Hebrew polemics, an effort to get away from  Sabbath and its tradition.[25] According to Willy Rordorf, a Swiss protestant, Sunday from the beginning has been associated with the Eucharist. Sunday brings together the resurrection, the post-resurrection appearances, the messianic meal and hence the arrival of the Kingdom.[26]  In 1962 Rordorf suggested that the Christian celebration of Sunday probably arose out of the post resurrection meal appearances of Jesus, many of which seem to have taken place on the first day of the week.  He also argued that the weekly eucharistic assemblies were held at first on Sunday evening rather than Saturday evening, and only later transferred to Sunday morning.[27] Rordorf’s explanation was not accorded a general approbation.  However, later in 1982 a collection of essays by a group of conservative scholars agreed that Christians first began to observe Sunday not as a substitute for the Sabbath but as their day for the corporate worship.[28] In New Testament there is a reinterpretation of the Sabbath. It is reinterpreted in terms of Jesus Christ and our life.  The first Christians were interested in the Sabbath’s symbolic meaning and not in its strict observance.[29]According to the New Testament the only Christian day of celebration is Sunday. Sunday was in the primitive Christian view only the prescribed day for corporate worship.  The early Christians celebrated Sunday not as a day of rest, but as a festival.  It is eschatological in its significance, as representing the inauguration of the ‘world to come’.  It is only secondarily a memorial of the historical fact of the resurrection of Jesus.[30] Later Sunday was considered a day of rest, abstaining from worldly affairs for the sake of prayer. It became a day of rest after 321 when Constantine closed the law-courts and stopped the crafts working on it.[31] The Fathers developed the idea of Sunday rest into a prohibition of all work on Sunday. But this is essentially a Jewish idea.[32]

Sunday was the day of the gathering and breaking of bread. Acts 20.7-12; 1 Cor 16.1-2. In Didache Sunday is the normal day of the Christian assembly.  From as early as Rev 1.10, the Christian day for the eucharistic assembly was known as “the day of Lord” (kyriakê hêmera).[33]

There are three central themes regarding Sunday found from the beginning: resurrection, meals, First Day, and Eighth Day.  Justin the Martyr expresses three themes of resurrection, meals and First Day. He speaks of Sunday as the day of sun.[34]

Attendance at the weekly assembly was regarded as obligatory even in times of persecution.  “We have to celebrate the Lord’s Day, it is our rule.”[35]  “We could not live without celebrating the Lord’s Day. It is our rule. This is the witness of the martyrs of Abitinia.[36]   According to John Chrysostom, “to abstain from this meal is to separate oneself from the Lord.  The Sunday meal is that which we take in common with the Lord and the brethren.[37] The Church was very much conscious of the necessity of the Sunday celebration.  The Syrian Didascalia of the Apostles (Middle of third century) presents Sunday as something essential to the Christian existence. “ …on the Lord’s Day leave every thing and run eagerly to your Church; for she is your glory. Otherwise what excuse have they before God who do not assemble on the Lord’s day to hear the word of life and be nourished by the divine food which abides for ever.”[38]

Because of Sunday’s unique importance, there developed a vigil office (Cf. Acts 20.7-10). This is attested in the East by Egeria in the fourth century (24.8-11) and in the West by various Frankish Councils from 6th cent. It became a day of baptism (other than the Easter vigil and Pentecost vigil).[39] No one was allowed to fast on Sunday or to kneel.[40]

From ninth century the saints’ days were allowed to take precedence over Sunday in the West. The East has maintained the privileged position of Sunday more consistently: only a few feasts, and those connected with the mysteries of Christ, are celebrated on a Sunday.[41]

Sunday was seen as the day for the manifestation or epiphany, of the Church.  During the rest of the week the Church was dispersed and hidden, as its individual members went about their life and work in different places.  But on Sunday the Church came together and revealed itself in the celebration of the eucharist.[42]

2. Pascha

Pascha[43] is the centre of liturgical year. For the first three centuries all celebrations in the Church were based on the Pascha.  The Church celebrates the memory of the Lord’s resurrection once every year, together with his blessed passion, at Easter, the most solemn of all feasts.[44] The entire mystery of Christ, namely his incarnation, passion, death, Resurrection, glorification and the outpouring of the Spirit on the Church, is celebrated during the Pascha.[45]

The Pascha was celebrated once every week as Sunday, and once every year as Easter.[46] Easter is the only feast of Christian year that can plausibly claim to go back to apostolic times. There are two reasons for such an assumption: It must derive from a time when Jewish influence was effective, i.e., during the first century AD, because it depends on the lunar calendar (every other feast depends on the solar calendar); the second reason: for three centuries the Church tolerated its celebration on different days in Asia on 14 Nisan, elsewhere on the Sunday after 14 Nisan because it was acknowledged that there was apostolic authority for both.[47]

In the second century the Pascha was celebrated as a distinct Christian feast.  It was preceded by lent.[48]  The earliest textual evidence to the Christian observance of Pascha comes from the second century document, Epistula Apostolorum, a text written most probably somewhere in Asia Minor, in the second half of the second century.[49] It combined the commemoration of both the death and resurrection of Christ and the celebration of both baptism and the eucharist.[50] Pascha and Pentecost seem to have come down from the Apostolic times like the observance of Sunday. “They are both obviously derived from Jewish feasts, Passover and Pentecost, to which they are related rather more closely in meaning than Sunday is to the sabbath.”[51] Passover refers to the whole complex of spring festival, both the Passover and the feast of Unleavened Bread.  Passover was a spring sacrifice by nomadic shepherds, and Unleavened Bread was a Canaanite agricultural festival adopted by the Hebrews only after their settlement in the land.[52] The feast of Unleavened Bread was a public cultic phenomenon celebrated by the Hebrews with the feast of Weeks and that of the Tabernacles.  However, the feast of Passover seems to have had rather a domestic character. It was a domestic meal, although still of some sacrificial character.[53] Josiah (7th cent. B.C.) united Passover and the feast of Unleavened Bread into a single festival kept at the full on in spring.[54]

The primitive Church celebrated Pascha in the form of a nocturnal festival.  A vigil was held from the evening of Saturday to dawn on Sunday.  In second century it is a unitive commemoration of the death and resurrection of our Lord, a nocturnal celebration of a single night, constituting the Christian Passover.[55] There were the rites like the blessing of the lamp or lamps by the deacon; a series of lections interspersed with chants; sermon by the bishop; solemn baptism and confirmation of the neophytes.[56]

The precise relationship between the Christian Pascha and the Passover of the Law is riddled with questions. In the New Testament itself it is uncertain whether the last supper was a Passover meal.[57] The preparation for the festival in the Synoptics (Mk 14.14; Mt 26.18; Lk 22.8) is surely 14 Nisan and the supper eaten in the night is the Passover feast.  According to this chronology Jesus is crucified on 15 Nisan. The fourth Gospel suggests (Jn 19.32-36) that the Crucifixion took place on 14 Nisan, at the time of the slaying of the lambs for the feast.[58]  This could be more a theologically motivated chronology.  The identification of Jesus as the Passover lamb of the New Covenant is reflected already in 1 Cor 5.7.[59] According to John the crucifixion is at the time of the slaying of lambs for the feast.  According to Paul “ Christ our Passover lamb has been sacrificed for us ( I Cor 5:7).  A.D. 29 was considered to be the year of Jesus’ death. 14 Nisan of that year was March 25. March 25 is found as the fixed date for the paschal observance.  April 6 was also considered the date of Jesus’ death.[60]

According to Gregory Dix, the primitive Pascha has the character of a liturgy of ‘Redemption’ rather than a commemoration of the historical fact of the resurrection of Jesus, such as Easter has with us. Like the Jewish Passover it commemorated a deliverance from bondage, in the case of Christians not from Egypt but from the bondage of sin and time and mortality into ‘the glorious liberty of the children of God (Rom 8.21) and the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and saviour Jesus Christ. (2 Pet 1. 11).[61] Pascha being the feast of the redemption was considered the most suitable occasion for the conferring of the sacraments by which redemption is appropriated to the individual -baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection, and confirmation by which the Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead is imparted to dwell in the members of His Body.[62]

Pascha is not a historical event.  The feast we celebrate is the result of resurrection.  We are celebrating not an event, not a past/present/future but a person who is present.  Sunday and Pascha is celebration of ‘God with us’ permanently.[63]

2.1. Paschal Controversy

The date of the annual celebration of the Pascha was a point of controversy in the second century.  At the time of the Apostles there was the tradition of celebrating the Pascha on the Sunday following 14 Nisan.  The Sunday Pascha was established in Palestine and at Alexandria well before the paschal controversy.  However, the Church in Ephesus insisted on the celebration of Pascha on 14 Nisan itself.  Pascha was observed in Asia with a fast and vigil on 14 Nisan, and was concluded with the celebration of the Eucharist at cockcrow on the fifteenth.[64] Polycarp the bishop of Smyrna and Anicetus the bishop of Rome had disputes over this issue.  They could not convince each other of the validity of their different practices.  Eusebius (+339) gives us a testimony of Polycrates (second century), the bishop of Ephesus, defending the quartodeciman practice. In his letter to Victor, bishop of Rome, Polycrates cites the examples of the Apostles Philip, John, Polycarp of Smyrana and others who stood for the quartodeciman practice.[65]  According to T.J. Talley, there is no such detailed pedigree for the apostolicity that, since the fourth century, has been claimed for the Sunday Pascha.[66]

2.2. Paschal Fast

            The Paschal fast has its inspiration from the Mishnah precept to fast from all food from the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice that preceded the sacrifice of lambs for the Passover.  This fast was not broken until nightfall, and then only with the eating of the Passover.[67]  The Christians observed a similar fast before the Pascha, but it was a fast which was extended through the hours of the rejoicing accompanying the Passover.  Epistula Apostolorum and other texts show that the vigil and presumably the fast, was extended to cockcrow.  For the quartodecimans the fast was extended through the day of 14 Nisan to cockcrow of 15 Nisan.[68]  At the time Irenaeus (+202) there was the paschal fast during the last days of the Holy Week  At the time of Tertullian and Hippolytus the Latin West fasted on Good Friday and Holy Saturday as the fast of the wedding guests when the bridegroom is taken away (Mk 2.19-20).  However, the Apostolic Tradition  makes provision for the infirm (any one who is pregnant or ill) to observe only one day, that is on Saturday.[69] According to Didascalia Apostolorum and the Alexandrian festal letters of Dionysius, the paschal fast was extended to six days of the Holy Week, in the third century. The six week fast might be considered an extension of the paschal fast of six days. But Apostolic Constitutions V.13 calls for a complete separation of the Lenten fast of forty days from the paschal fast by an interval two festal days, Saturday and Sunday.[70]  The six days fast might have originated in imitation of the Jewish practice of eating unleavened bread for seven days in view of celebrating the paschal feast. Christians fasted six days except Sunday.  Towards the end of 4th century Sozomen testifies to 3,6, or 7 weeks fast depending on the place.  Athanasius of Alexandria, Cyril of Jerusalem, and John Chrysostom speak of 6 week fast.  These weeks are called “Quadragesima”, that is forty consecutive days preceding the paschal Triduum (6×7-2=40) imitating the 40 days fast of Jesus.[71] Basil speaks of a seven week lent in Cappadocia and Egeria speaks of eight week lent in Jerusalem.

After the Council of Nicea fast of forty days before paschal baptism became common. At Rome these forty days ran from the sixth Sunday before Easter (Quadragesima) to Thursday before Easter (on which day the penitents were reconciled), and the two day paschal fast of Friday and Saturday followed. At Antioch and Constantinople the forty days were reckoned from Monday of the seventh week before Easter to Friday of the week preceding Great Week. At Constantinople, as in early Alexandrian tradition, the Sunday following the close of the forty days was the feast of Palms. In 7th century there was a general tendency to extend the paschal fast so that the total number of fast days would total forty. In Rome the Sundays were not fast days.  Hence of six weeks there were only 36 actual fast days.  Four more days were added from the preceding week.[72]

In fact, the theme of Jesus’ fast as the motivating factor for the paschal fast was only a later introduction. According to Gregory Dix, the association with our Lord’s fast in the wilderness was an idea attached to the season of Lent only after it had come into existence in connection with the preparation of candidates for baptism. “The catechumens who were to receive baptism at the Pascha had to undergo preparatory fasts and daily exorcisms for a fortnight or more before the feast, to purify them for their initiation. As the culminating point in the Christian year, the Pascha was recognized to require some personal preparation from all, but there was as yet nothing corresponding to Lent and Holy Week.  At the end of the second century all Christians fasted before the Pascha, some for a day, some for forty hours continuously, some for a week, according to their devotion.”[73]

The Eastern Churches begin the Lent on the Monday before the Ash Wednesday of the Western tradition.  For the Easterners the Lent consists of 40 days, excluding the Sunday of the first week, Lazarus Saturday, and the Holy Week.[74] In the Latin tradition on Wednesday there was the enrolment of penitents.  In Gaul and Germany there was the ceremony of sprinkling the penitents with ashes.

The advancing of the Lenten fast was found in Rome, in the East and in various regions of the West. Thus we have the septuagesima season with the quinquagesima, sexageisma and septuagesima Sundays making their appearance in succession. [75]

3. Days of Fast

Days of fast have been significant in the formation of the Christian Calendar. The preparation for feasts like Christmas and Easter included fast. From the first century onwards the Church had the proper discipline of fast. Didache 8.1 directed Christians not to fast on Mondays and Thursdays (the regular Jewish fast days) but on Wednesdays and Fridays, and this custom continued to be widely observed in the later centuries, with regular services of the Word also taking place at the ninth hour (about 3 p.m.) on these days.[76]  “The substitution of the ninth hour instead of the morning for the service of the word, as on the Jewish fast-days, appears to have been made in order to commemorate the death of Jesus at that hour (Mt 27.46-50; Mk 15.34-7; Lk 23.44-6).[77]

In the second century there arose the custom in the East of keeping all Wednesdays and Fridays outside the ‘great fifty days’ as fasts.[78] According to Schmemann, they were days commemorating the days of Christ’s betrayal and his death.[79] The West was reluctant to adopt these eastern fasts.  Later these fasts were known in the West as stations. However, the Roman Church introduced its own system of corporate fasts.  These were the seasonal fasts of the Ember Days[80], on the Wednesday, Friday and Saturday of the weeks which marked the chief agricultural operations of the year in Italy. These seasonal fasts were assigned to the first, fourth, seventh and tenth months.  The observance consisted in a solemnization of the regular weekly fasts on Wednesday and Friday, an extension of the Friday fast through Saturday, and a vigil through the night from Saturday to Sunday, concluding with the eucharist early Sunday morning.[81]   Though the Eastern station days were at one time widely adopted in the West, the Western fasts were never adopted at all in the East.[82] According to Schmemann, fasting was the ‘station’ of the Church herself, the people of God standing in readiness, awaiting the parousia of the Lord.[83] When there was eucharist on such days in the evening, the communion would terminate fast or vigil”.[84]

Besides the forty days fast before the Easter there were other fasts of forty days, e.g. before Christmas beginning on November 11, referred to as St. Michael’s Lent.[85].


4. Origin of New Feasts

For the first three centuries there was no particular Christian calendar.  Pascha was the only feast, that is Sundays and once per year an anniversary of Christ’s crucifixion. The early Christians had no interest in the events like nativity. It never occurred to any one to celebrate Christ’s nativity or his crucifixion, etc  per se.[86]

The multiplication of feasts went hand in hand with the great theological controversies and was in a way a reflection of the results attained in these controversies.[87]

Feasts like Nativity and Epiphany were introduced to conserve the actuality of the paschal mystery against the threats of various heresies. Every feast is a manifestation of Christ and salvation in him, not a commemoration of a particular event.  Thus Nativity or Epiphany is the feast of divine manifestation, not the birth of Jesus, per se. Christmas is simultaneously the feast of the triumph over the darkness of paganism (the manifestation of the ‘sun of truth’) and of the triumph of Nicaea over Arianism (the affirmation of the divine nature of Christ).[88]

The first Christians had no interest in the individual events of the history of salvation.  The emphasis was not in places and things, candles and incense, but worshiping the Father in Spirit and truth.[89]

4.1. Feasts of Ideas

            Between 700-1200 AD we find the origin and development of many feasts of ideas.  The feasts of ideas developed since the middle ages.  These feasts do not focus on the particular events of salvation but have as their object truths of faith, special aspects of Christian teaching and piety, or various titles of the Lord, his mother or a saint.   The idea-feasts are also called “devotion feasts” or dogmatic, thematic, and static feasts.[90] Feast of Trinity, Corpus Christi, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Christ the King, the Precious Blood, the Holy name, the Holy Family, and many feasts of Mary are examples for the idea feasts. They are rooted in concepts more than in a specific event.[91]

The multiplication of festivals, a characteristic feature of fourth century was due to Church’s need to replace the pagan festivals.[92]  Holidays were set apart not only as commemorations of individual events in Christ’s life but also as the expression and affirmation of separate elements in Church’s doctrine. Schmemann observes: “The real and in a way paradoxical result of this development of Feast Days was the gradual weakening of the idea of the Church year as a liturgical whole.” “It would not be hard to show that our present Church year has no real, organic wholeness.  It is divided into a series of festal cycles frequently interwoven with one another, yet inwardly dis-unified and out of harmony.”[93] According to Adolf Adam,many of these feasts are unnecessary duplications[94].

5. Pentecost

            The Old Testament Pentecost was an agricultural festival at the close of the grain harvest which began at Passover, but in the later Jewish idea Pentecost commemorated the giving of Law at Sinai and the constitution of the mixed multitude of Egyptian refugees into the People of God.  The Church taking up the Pentecost commemorated the events recorded in Acts 2 and also her own character as the People of the New Covenant, and the fact that ‘the Law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made her members free from the ‘law of sin and death (Rom 8.2)’. Pentecost was considered another ordinary occasion for the celebration of baptism and confirmation.[95]

Pascha was celebrated, as was Passover, for a total of eight days.  In England this final Sunday of the Paschal season was called Whitsunday (deriving from the Frenc huit or  huitiême Dimanche) the eighth Sunday of Easter. The paschal season from the six days of the paschal fast to the final day of Pentecost, can be understood to be in more or less direct continuity with the Old Testament festivals of Passover-Unleavened Bread, and Shabbuoth (weeks).[96] The feast of weeks celebrated on a single day, seems to conclude an extension of the week of unleavened bread to a week of weeks.[97]The festival was on the 50th day called Pentecost (fiftieth) in the Septuagint and the NT.

Feast of Weeks (Pentecost):  It was a feast of thanksgiving after the heavy labour of the harvest. It was a joyous feast, celebrated with various sacrifices in the temple (Lev 23.15-21).  Later it was associated with the recall of the covenant at Sinai and giving of the ten commandments; thus the feast commemorating the history of Israel’s salvation.[98]

In the first century it was not just the fiftieth day that was considered sacred, but the very period between that fiftieth day and the day from which it was counted, a day related in one way or another to the Passover. However, in the first century itself there are clear signs that the fiftieth day was being regarded as a festival with its own proper content, not just the conclusion of a festal season.[99]

Already in the 2nd century the celebration of the resurrection was continued for fifty days.  This period was one of unbroken rejoicing.[100]  In the course of the fourth century the Christian Pentecost celebrated Christ’s ascension and the sending of the Holy Spirit on the Church.  In the last two decades of the 4th century we find the separation of the dual theme, and the celebration of the ascension on the fortieth day. In the last decade of 4th century in Northern Italy the tradition of unbroken rejoicing had been dismantled by a fast before the feast of ascension. In the 5th century the three days before Ascension were marked in Gaul by rogations (with processional litanies) (supplication for the state of crops).  These days are known as Rogation days.  These fast days had great popularity in the middle ages.  They were adopted in Rome, and were known as “lesser litanies” (by contrast to the major litany, a seventh century Christian adaptation of the pre-Christian Robigalia on the day (April 25) that would later become as well the feast of St. Mark.[101]

Ascension was not a separate feast, it was included in the celebration of the Pascha. For the Jews, the fifty days of harvest between the Passover and Pentecost symbolised the joyful act of their possession of the Promised Land. For the Christian these fifty days symbolised the fact that ‘in Christ’ he had already entered into the Kingdom of God.  The fifty days manifested the world to come.[102]

6. Holy Week

From Egeria we have the first account of Holy Week celebration.  Egeria’s account of the celebration of the Holy Week at Jerusalem may be summarised as follows. The first four days of the Great Week, while exhibiting their own peculiarities, are nonetheless very much like other days in Lent at least up to noon. The specific celebration of the day was in the afternoon, usually at the ninth hour, with a service of readings that extends to and most often connects with the evening office, Lucernare, which was not celebrated until around seven in the evening.[103]

Originally the Pascha was a unitive celebration.  But the Holy Week celebration made the Pascha the feast of resurrection.  The unitive Pascha has come, as late as the fifth century, to give way to reduction of the content of the feast to the resurrection alone. First testimony of Good Friday comes from Jerusalem at the end of the 4th century. The last of the first four days of the Great Week, is distinct from the previous days. The afternoon synaxix included eucharist.  The service began an hour earlier.  There was a second celebration of the eucharist in the Church of Golgotha, that is the chapel behind the Cross.  Thereafter there was a third eucharist celebrated in the ‘Upper Room’.  This celebration forged a connection between the afternoon service and a vigil stretching through the entire night.  In the morning of Good Friday, there was the veneration of the wood of the Cross, from eight in the morning until noon. This veneration follows the prayers that conclude the Word Liturgy, preceding the distribution of the communion.  From noon until three in the afternoon there were readings (Psalms, epistles, and each of the four passion narratives) in the courtyard before the Cross. A vigil through the night from Friday to Saturday was kept at the tomb by the clergy, and those who could do so took part in all or some of that vigil.

The earliest witnesses to the liturgy of Good Friday at Rome are the Gregorian Sacramentary and evangeliary from the middle of seventh century.[104] In the Ordo of 1970 Good Friday received back its ancient title “In Passioni Domini” (celebration of the Lord’s passion).[105] Two most striking features of the Good Friday liturgy in the West are the veneration of cross and communion from the reserved sacrament, the so called Mass of the Presanctified.[106]

            Holy Saturday is called the great Saturday in the East.  It commemorates the repose of Jesus in the tomb, also his descent into sheol and his mysterious encounter there with all those who were waiting for him to open the gate of heaven (1 Pet 3: 19-20;4.6).[107]  On the Saturday of Great Week there were the normal services at the third and the sixth hours. However, there was no usual ninth hour celebration, because it was already time for the preparation of the vigil.  The vigil began with the evening office, with the Lucernare, lighting of the lamp. By the tenth century the Lucernare acquired a much greater importance.  In the fourth and fifth centuries the bishop lighted a taper from the lamp that burned constantly in the tomb in the Anastasis, and proceeded to the Martyrium, where he lighted one or more lamps.  The clergy then began the vigil of readings. The scheme of the vigil is: Psalm 117 (118); eleven prophetic readings, each followed by a prayer; and the final reading, leading into the Song of the Three Children. During this canticle, the bishop leads the newly baptized into the church.  Upon the conclusion of the canticle, that is at midnight according to the rubrics, the prokeimenon of the eucharistic liturgy began at once. [108] The most primitive feature of Holy Saturday is the total fast kept on that day.  It was completely aliturgical day.  The eucharist was never celebrated in either East or West.[109]

There was the custom of prolonging the celebration of the Pascha for one week. The custom of observing Pascha for a week may have its ultimate roots in the Passover and the seven days of the Unleavened Bread. For Christians the testimony of the fourth gospel with its accounts of the appearances of Jesus to his disciples in the evening of the day of the resurrection and again eight days later, surely played a large role in the extension of the festival throughout the week, from Sunday through Sunday.  In the fourth century the central feature of the liturgical arrangement of this week was the explanation of the mysteries to the newly baptized.[110]

7.Nativity and Epiphany

The Jewish Passover and Pentecost had great influence on the Christian feasts like Easter and Pentecost.  Was the celebration of Nativity and Epiphany influenced by some Jewish feast? As Schmemann observes, the early Judeo-Christian Church could have been influenced by the third great messianic and eschatological feast of Judaism- the feast of the Tabernacles.[111] Talley is of the view that there is a possible, but highly hypothetical connection between the feast of Tabernacles and Epiphany.[112] Schmemann says: “Thus it may be supposed, and Danielou defends this thesis, that the earliest Judeo-Christian tradition did include a Christian ‘transposition’ of the third great messianic festival.  On the one hand the final feast day of the saviour’s earthly ministry-his entrance into Jerusalem (the end of the year) and on the other hand the theme of epiphany or baptism (the beginning of the year) were, in this theory, the main themes of this transposition.”[113]

Epiphany was the oriental festival of nativity, parallel to December 25. Both festivals celebrated the nativity of Christ. But Epiphany celebrated also the baptism of Jesus, the miracle at Cana wedding feast, the visit of the Magi, and even (in one source) the Transfiguration.[114] Later Egyptian sources supported by texts as early as the third century report the primitive celebration of Christ’s baptism there on epiphany.[115]  January 6 was known already to Clement of Alexandria at the end of the 2nd century, as the date of nativity and baptism of the Lord. In later 4th century, the Western Nativity festival spread to Constantinople, Cappadocia and Antioch.  It became popular in Alexandria in the fifth century.  Baptism of Jesus became the sole content of Epiphany. The feast of Nativity was introduced in Jerusalem only in the 6th century.  (There was monophysite resistance.) Armenians continue the resistance even now.  They celebrate both the Nativity and baptism on Epiphany.  In Gaul we find a similar content for epiphany. In 361 at the time of Emperor Julian Epiphany had the sole celebration of the Nativity. In Northern Italy after sometime epiphany celebrates the baptism of Jesus or sometimes the first miracle at Cana. In Gaul after the adoption of Christmas, epiphany celebrated the tria miracula the visit of the Magi, the baptism in Jordan and the first miracle at Cana.[116]

The development of the nativity cycle was connected on the one hand with the necessity to Christianize and “church” the dates of the great pagan feasts of December 25 (natale invicti solis) and January 6 (the birth of Ion or Dionysus), and on the other hand with the fight for Nicene orthodoxy, for the term omoousion.”[117]

The earliest evidence for the existence of a feast of the Nativity of Jesus on 25 December is its inclusion in what is known as the Roman Chronograph of 354, which gives a list of significant days in the year for the city of Rome probably drawn up nearly twenty years earlier, in 336.[118] As regards the origin of the feast there are two principal schools of thought. The first one is based on the attempt to calculate the exact date of Jesus’ birth.  Since some thought 25 March as the date of Jesus’ death and the very date of his conception, his birth is considered exactly nine months later, 25 December. The second one is the ‘history of religions’ hypothesis.  According to this hypothesis this date had been chosen  because it was the occasion of the winter solstice in the Julian calendar and also of a very popular pagan feast at Rome, established by the emperor Aurelian in 274 to celebrate the dies natalis solis invicti, the birthday of the invincible sun.  This feast was substituted with the birthday celebration of Christ, the true Sun of Righteousness.[119]

Whatever reasons for the selection of 25 December, it is important to note that the day was thought of as more than just a commemoration of the birthday of Jesus. What was being celebrated was not just the historical event of the nativity, but belief in the reality of the incarnation of the Son of God: hence there was a strong doctrinal or apologetic purpose shaping the festival and not merely a popular piety. [120] We may find a similar logic in the choice of 6 January.  6 April had been observed by early Christians in Asia Minor as the annual celebration of the death of Christ, and by the same method of calculation outlined in the case of 25 December, the date 6 January was chosen.[121]  Clement of Alexandria knew the tradition at the end of second century that 6 January had been the date of the birth of Christ. But everywhere this feast did not commemorate the mystery of nativity.  “While the nativity (including the visit of Magi, Mt 2.1-12) certainly seems to have been its theme in the church of Jerusalem, this was not the case for Christians in Egypt, where 6 January celebrated instead the baptism of Jesus.  Elsewhere, there are some indications that the miracle at Cana in Galilee (Jn 2.1-11) may have been the primary focus.[122]

Epiphany was already a major feast in Gaul by 361.  Epiphany must have been almost contemporary in origin with the Roman Christmas. “If epiphany is to be regarded as earlier than Christmas, it cannot in any case have originated much before the council of Nicea.[123]

In all major traditions the feast of Nativity is preceded by a more or less extended season of fasting.  Filastrius, ca. 385, reported a fast before Christmas, but none preceding the Epiphany.[124] In the fifth century, bishop Perpetuus of Tours (+490) gives regulations regarding the preparation for Christmas.  There has to be a season of fasting from the feast of St. Martin (Nov.11) to Christmas. Of the 56 days Saturdays and Sundays were not actual fast days and hence a total of 40 actual fast days. Adolf Adam observes: “The real motive behind such a lent was the fact that Epiphany was a day for baptism, and there was a desire to show no less respect for this occasion by way of preparation for it than was shown  for Easter as a day of baptism.” [125]

The season of Advent makes its appearance at Rome only in the second half of the sixth century in the sacramentaries and lectionaries. Adventus was understood in the biblical and eschatological sense of parousia. “It (Advent) fostered a joyful expectation of the feast of the Nativity but with a view to diverting the thoughts of Christians above all to the glorious return of the Lord at the end of time.”[126] In the Syrian rites the weeks before Christmas are weeks of annunciation.  In West Syrian there are five and in the East Syrian there are four annunciations.

8. Other Feasts of our Lord

In 6th century Justinian promulgated the feast of Annunciation on March 25.

The presentation of the Lord (February 2) and the Annunciation of the Lord (March 25) are the two Christmas feasts outside the Christmas cycle.[127]

Transfiguration: It commemorates the dedication of the basilicas on Mount Tabor. This feast was received by the East Syrian Church at the end of the 5th century or the beginning of the 6th century and by the West Syrian Church in the 7th century.[128]

Triumph of the Cross: In the 6th century in Rome May 3 was the feast of the discovery of the cross.  Only in the middle of the 7th century the feast of the cross was celebrated on 14 September.  The wood of the cross was given public veneration in the Vatican basilica.[129]

Holy Trinity: The Apostolic See (Pope Alexander II +1073; Pope Alexander III + 1181) was not in favour of setting apart a particular feast for Trinity saying that it is honoured daily in the Psalmody by the saying of “Glory be to the Father..” Still this feast gained ground especially in the monasteries.  It was celebrated at Cluny in 1030 and Citeaux in 1271.  Some Churches celebrated it on the octave of Pentecost, others on the Sunday before Advent.  Pope John XXII made the celebration obligatory for the entire West and assigned it to the Sunday after Pentecost.  Eastern Churches do not have a feast of the Holy Trinity.[130]

The feast of Sacred Heart was first kept on August 30 as very local celebration by John Eudes in the 17th century.  Later it became very popular due to the visionary experience of Margaret Mary Alacoque.  In 1856 Pius IX made it universal for the Latin rite, and set it on the Friday after the octave of Corpus Christi.

In 1925 Pius established the feast of Christ the King.[131]

9. Cult of Saints

            The Church has included in the annual cycle memorial days of the martyrs and other saints (SC 104). By celebrating their anniversaries the Church proclaims achievement of the paschal mystery in the saints who have suffered and have been glorified with Christ (SC 104).

The cult of saints is much more ancient than the feast of Nativity, for example.  The witnessing of martyrs is a sign of continued reality of Christ’s Pascha.  This is why churches were built over the tombs of martyrs.[132] The veneration of martyrs is at least as old as the middle of the second century.  Our earliest reference to this custom comes from a contemporary account of the martyrdom of Polycarp of Smyrna at this period.[133] It is important to notice that this early practice was intensely local.  The celebration was not held in the house or other building where the local church normally met, but in the very place where the remains of the martyr were interred.[134] It was only later, in the second half of the fourth century, that the practice began of often moving the mortal remains of martyrs from the original place of burial to a more suitable location in existing church, especially when the tomb had been a considerable distance away from the city itself.[135]

Each Church has a calendar which tells which saints are to be honoured in it and on what day.  It is a series of festivals of fixed dates on which are commemorated the lives of martyrs and other saints. The commemoration of saints is assigned most commonly to the date of their death, and this is spoken of as their dies natalis, their birth day into the Kingdom of heaven.[136] There are two such calendars from the fourth century which serve in fact as the basis for the Roman sanctoral or calendar of saints’ feasts. They are seen in the manuscript Almanac of 354.

  1. Depositiones episcoporum: burial of bishops: It is a list of non-martyr popes, from Lucius 9+254) to Sylvetser (+335).
  2. Depositiones martyrum: It gives the first the natale (anniversary of birth) of Christ on December 25, and then a list of the martyrs celebrated at Rome, each with a date and place of burial. [137]

(Important feasts according to this list: Sebastian Jan.20; Agnes Feb.21; Peter and Paul June 29).

Another calendar compiled ca 363 is the Calendar of Nicomedia.  It gives the names of our lords the martyrs and victors, together with the days on which they received their crowns.  We have only a Syriac abridgement dating 411, of the Greek text.  To the names of the Western martyrs, that is, those belonging to the Mediterranean basin, it joins those of the Eastern martyrs from Armenia and Mesopotamia.[138]

(Important feasts: Stephen Dec, 26; John and James Dec. 27; Peter and Paul Dec.28; Epiphany Jan 6; Polycarp Feb.23; Commemoration of all Confessors (Friday after Easter).

The Almanac of 354 was specifically a Roman calendar, but the Calendar of Nicomedia was already an embryonic martyrology, since its purpose was to provide a first complte listing of the martyrs of the East and West.[139]

There was the commemoration of all the martyrs at Nisibis on the Friday after Easter. According to a tradition from John Chrysostom in Antioch all martyrs are commemorated on the Sunday after Pentecost. On May 13, 609 Boniface IV dedicated the old Pantheon to Blessed Virgin Mary and all the martyrs.  It remained the feast of all martyrs, till Gregory IV introduced in 835 A.D. the feast of all saints on November 1. A Carthaginian list of the 6th century gives the nativity of John Baptist on June 24. The Jerusalem lectionaries of the 5th century reveal a feast of Theotokos on August 15.  It is the oldest feast of Blessed Virgin known to us.[140] After council of Ephesus (431) Marian feasts like Presentation, Annunciation, Dormition/Assumption, Nativity were introduced.  Most of these fests had their origin in the East.[141]

After the Peace of Constantine the cult of the martyrs gained in external solemnity.  Basilicas were built near or above earlier simple tombs, splendid processions were held. SL 477.  By the end of the fourth century, virtually all the types of feast that are now found in the sanctoral had become established.[142]The number of saints’ days in the 1570 Missal of Pius V was reduced to about 130.  Within three centuries it had more than doubled.[143]

10.Marian Feasts

Liturgical cult of Mary originated in Jerusalem with the feast of August 15 as its foundation. The feast of Mary Theotokos later became the feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God. At the end of the sixth century, emperor Maurice ruled that this feast was to be celebrated throughout the empire. In the sixth century the commemoration of Mary’s birth was linked to the church built near the Sheep gate, north of the temple, over some ponds identified as the Bethzatha where Jesus had cured a sick man (Jn 5:1-19).  This was perhaps the origin of the feast of the Nativity of Mary on September 8. In the sixth century itself the feast of the presentation of Mary in the Temple (November 21) developed.  All Churches of the East welcomed the feast of the Dormition of Mary.  In Ethiopia the death of the Mother of God was commemorated on January 16, and the Assumption on August 15.  All the Churches except the Syro-Nestorian Church, celebrated the Nativity of Mary and her Entrance in the Temple. East Syrians celebrate the Feast of the Congratulations of the Mother of God on December 26. The Annunciation on March 25 and the Meeting of the Lord with aged Simeon on February 2. Ethiopia has over 30 feasts of Mary.[144]

Western Marian Feasts

Anniversary of St. Mary (Natale S. Mariae) January 1 at Rome. Later overshadowed by other feasts. ; Annunciation, Dormition, Nativity, meeting of the Lord; Feast of Mary in Gaul: Depositio sanctae Mariae on January 18. Church of Alexandria celebrated Dormition of Mary on January 16.[145]

Feasts of Mary in Spain and at Milan

There was a feast in the mid December to honour Mary.  The council of Toledo (646) assigned the feast to December 18 for all the Churches of Spain.  The mystery of Annunciation was celebrated .  The Church of Milan celebrated it on the last Sunday of Advent.

Visitation of Mary (Mary’s visit to Elizabeth). Byzantine: July 2 (In the Ambrosian Rite the visitation is celebrated as a feast of the Lord).

Conception of Mary: Ever since the 8th century the Byzantine Church has celebrated a feast of the conception of St. Anne.

Our Lady of Snow: (August 5) The local feast of the dedication of St. Mary Major.  In 1568 St. Pius VI placed it in the universal calendar.

Sorrows of Mary: Devotion to the sorrows of Mary begins from the 12th century.  A provincial council of Mainz in 1423 established a feast of the sorrows of Mary.  Benedict XIII included it in the Roman calendar in 1727 and assigned it to the Friday before Palm Sunday.[146]

Modern Feasts

17th century: Holy name of Mary: (Sunday after Nativity of Mary)

                        Our Lady of Mercy (Sept.24)

18th century: Rosary of Virgin Mary (First Sunday of October)

                        Our Lady of Mount Carmel (July 16)

19th century: Seven Sorrows of Blessed Virgin (Third Sunday of September)

20th century: Apparition of Immaculate Virgin Mary at Lourdes Feb 11

Motherhood of Mary Oct.11

Immaculate Heart of Mary: Aug. 22

Queenship of Mary May 31

Votive masses: masses for particular occasions (missae votivae), e.g., at the time of famine.  Their celebration is variously regulated by the liturgical calendar.  In the Gelasian sacramentary (Liber sacramentorum Romanae Aecclesiae Ordinis Anni Circuli) Liber I is devoted to seasonal cycle, Liber II to sanctoral cycle and Liber III to votive masses.

The Byzantine typicon divides liturgical observances distinguishing only between festivals of fixed dates and those of moveable dates.[147]

The system of votive masses that remained in effect from 1570 Missal of Pius V to the 1970 Missal of Paul VI:

Monday: Trinity; Tuesday: Angels (including guardian angels); Wednesday: Apostles; from 1920 on, also St. Joseph and Saints Peter and Paul; Thursday: Holy Spirit; from 1604 on, also the Eucharist; from 1935 on, also the high priesthood of Christ; Friday: Cross; from 1604 on, also the passion of Christ; Saturday: Mary.[148]

11.Different Calendars in the Church

11.1. Latin Calendar: The proprium de tempore now moves from the first Sunday of Advent to the Feast of Christ the King on the final Sunday after Pentecost.[149]

            The liturgical year today consists of the seasonal cycle (Proprium de tempore) and the sanctoral cycle (Proprium de sanctis).  The cycle of feasts and seasons is predicated upon the life of Christ and organized about two major poles: The first major pole is the Feast of Nativity of Christ observed on 25 December and the other major pole is Easter, the feast of the resurrection of Christ.  We may study the origin and development of the liturgical calendar, examining the various factors that contributed to the development of the seasonal cycle and the sanctoral cycle.

In the Latin tradition the thirty-three or thirty-four weeks between them, during which the “mystery of Christ in all its fullness is celebrated” are called “ordinary time”.  The two cycles of feasts, ordinary time and the other solemnities and feasts celebrating the mystery of redemption, are known as the “temporal cycle” or “Proper of the Time”. The calendar of saints’ feasts is called the “sanctoral”. [150]

From the tenth/eleventh century on the texts for the first Sunday of Advent were placed at the beginning of the sacramentaries and thus developed the idea that the liturgical year begins with the first Sunday of Advent.

The Easter cycle begins on Ash Wednesday and ends, thirteen and a half weeks later, on Pentecost.  The annual commemoration Christ’s birth begins with the first Sunday of advent and ends on the Sunday after epiphany, which is the feast of Christ’s baptism.[151]

11.2. East Syrian Liturgical Year

11.3. West Syrian Liturgical Year

11.4. Coptic Liturgical Year

11.5.Byzantine Liturgical Year

In a pastoral letter issued at the close of the Second Vatican Council (1965), Major Archbishop Cardinal Joseph Slipyj, defined the Liturgical Year as: “A liturgical cycle of the Universal or some particular Church, that consists of Sundays, weekdays, the feasts of our Lord, the Mother of God, the saints and the periods of fasting and forbidden times.”

In the Byzantine Church the Church Year differs from the civil calendar in that it does not begin the New Year with the first of January as does the civil year, but begins it with the first day of September, which is called the Beginning of the Indiction. This means that the whole cycle of our Church Year begins with the first of September and ends with the thirty first of the following August.

The Byzantine Church year did not coincide with the astronomical year which, since the reform of Julius Caesar in the year 46 to the coming of Christ, began with the first day of January. The first day of the indiction was originally the twenty-third of September because that was the day on which Caesar Augustus was born, but under Constantine the Great (306-337) it was the first day of September.

The Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council in Nicea in the year 325 adopted the first of September as the opening of the New Church Year and this day has been observed in the Eastern Church to the present time. The Latin Church opens its Liturgical Year on the first day of Advent, i.e., the beginning of the preparation for Christmas.

The indiction of which we are speaking – for there were other indictions – is called the Byzantine (or Constantinopolitan or also the Constantinian) indiction which, except for Egypt, became mandatory throughout the Roman Empire. Justinian I (527-565) made dating by indiction compulsory for all legal documents. The Roman Church during the reign of Pope Pelagius II (579-590) adopted the indiction for establishing the dates of documents, and this practice was not abandoned until the year 1097.

Later, when the first day of September was designated as the beginning of the Church Year, or as it was called in the Church Calendar, the beginning of the “New Year”, it assumed a religious character and became a feast of the Church, i.e., a day which had its own special liturgical service. On this day our Church commemorates the day on which Christ entered the synagogue in Nazareth and read from the scrolls the words of the prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord has been given me, for He anointed me…to proclaim the Lord’s year of favor.” (Luke 4, 18-19) No reliable evidence exists to indicate when the beginning of the Indiction became a feast of the Church; we do know, however that it already existed in the eight century.[152]

Speaking of the meaning of Sunday in the Liturgical Year, the Second Vatican Council in the decree on the “Constitution on the Liturgy” says: “Hence the Lord’s Day is the original feast day, and it should be proposed to the piety of the faithful and taught to them so that it may become in fact a day of joy and of freedom from work. Other celebrations, unless they be truly of greatest importance, shall not have precedence over the Sunday which is the foundation and kernel of the whole Liturgical Year.” (106)

The apostles and the first Christians at first observed the Jewish feasts. But gradually these were supplanted by the feasts of the New Testament, the first of which, besides Sunday, was the glorious festival of the Pasch (or the Resurrection or Easter). This feast, the first in the cycle of the Liturgical Year, became the core of all the feasts and Sundays connected with the paschal season. The Feast of the Pentecost or the descent of the Holy Spirit is closely linked with the feast of the Pasch. In the third century, the feast of the Theophany became a universal celebration. Later on other feasts of the Lord came into being – the Nativity, Circumcision and Presentation (4c), Ascension (5c), Transfiguration (6c), and the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (7c). In the eleventh century, the sum of our Lord’s feasts reached the symbolic number of twelve. It is interesting to note that at first the feasts of the Mother of God were not included among the twelve great feasts.

Truly noteworthy is the fact that the principal ancient Marian feasts originated in the eastern Church. The very first Marian feasts which appeared after the Council of Ephesus were the feasts of the Dormition or Assumption and the Annunciation. In the centuries immediately following, appeared the feasts of the Nativity of the Mother of God, the Conception of Anna, the Presentation of Mary in the Temple, the Patronage, and other minor feasts.

The other important element crowning the tree of the Liturgical Year is the cult of the saints. The veneration of saints began in the first centuries with the veneration of the tombs and relics of the holy martyrs. Their names began more and more to fill the days of the Church Calendar. Along with the cult of the Martyrs, the cult of the Apostles developed, and later still the cult of the Bishops, Patriarchs, Old Testament Saints, Ascetics, that is, holy Monks and Nuns, and the Angels. Between the fourth and fifth centuries, the veneration of the Saints became a general practice in the Church. Between the sixth and eighth centuries our Ecclesiastical Year assumed its present form. Since then all that was left to do was to add other new saints to the Church Calendar.[153]

Pre-eminent among all feasts is Easter, the feast of feasts, which stands in a class by itself. Next in importance come the Twelve Great Feasts.

The Nativity of the Mother of God (8 Sept)

The Exaltation (Raising up) of  the honoured and lifegiving Cross (14 Sept)

The entry of the Mother of God into the Temple (21 November)

The Nativity of Christ (25 Dec)

The Baptism of Christ in Jordan (Theophany or Epiphany: 6 Jan)

The Meeting of our Lord (The presentation of Christ in the Temple: 2 Feb)

The Annunciation of the Mother of God (25 March)

The Entry of our Lord into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday: One Week before Easter)

The Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ (40 days after Easter)

Pentecost (Known in the East as Trinity Sunday) (50 days after easter)

The transfiguration of Christ (6 Aug)

The Falling asleep of the Mother of God. (Dormition) (15 Aug)

Timothy Ware 298-299.

Four main periods of Fasting

  1. The great fast: Begins seven weeks before Easter
  2. The fast of the Apostles: Starts on the Monday eight days after Pentecost, and ends on 28 June, the eve of the feast of Saints Peter and Paul.  In length varies between one and six weeks.
  3. The dormition Fast: Lasts two weeks, fro 1 to 14 August.
  4. The Christmas Fast: Lasts forty days, from 15 November to 24 december.

Timothy Ware 300.

11.6. The Armenian Liturgical Year

The Armenian Church divides the year into seasons based upon the great or tabernacle feasts. The five seasons of the liturgical year are:

Advent(50 days starting on the Sunday nearest the 25th of November through the Saturday following January 6)

Eastertide (9 weeks before Easter Day and 15 weeks after Easter)

Transfigurationtide (between Eastertide and Assumptiontide)

Assumptiontide from the Assumption of the Virgin Mary through the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (Khachverats) (4 weeks)

Exaltationtide (from the Exaltation of the Cross through beginning of Advent)


11.7. Maronite Liturgical Year

The season of epiphany commences on the 6th of January – the Feast of the Epiphany, which is a celebration of the Baptism of the Lord and reveals the identity and mission of Jesus from which we gain our own identity and mission. His Sonship to the Father and the presence of the Holy Spirit within Him is revealed. The Season focuses on Jesus as “the Light of the World”. It is through the gift of Baptism that we receive Christ’s Spirit and it is this Spirit which empowers us to bring the Light of Christ’s love and healing to others. The season ends with the Sunday of the Dead, which is the last Sunday before the beginning of Lent. The color Blue symbolises the epiphany Season.

 The season of lent: This season commences on Ash Monday and extends to the beginning of Holy Week when we contemplate Christ’s unending love for us. The observance of Lent is not an end in itself, but should be seen as a time of preparation that will climax in the Resurrection of Jesus our Saviour at the great feast of Easter. Lent is a time when we should become more aware of our sinfulness and our need for reconciliation. We look for a change of heart; we seek God’s mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation, and seek forgiveness and reconciliation with our fellow brothers and sisters. The violet colour symbolises the lent season in the Maronite Catholic Church.

 The season of Easter: This season extends from Easter Sunday to the day before Pentecost Sunday. The season focuses on the cornerstone of our Christian faith – the Resurrection of Jesus. Through Christ’s death and resurrection, we have two faces; one crucified here, and one glorious beyond. The presence of the Resurrection also means the presence of the cross; for we cannot rise with Christ unless we also die with Him. We need to view everything in our lives – our illnesses, our sinfulness, our hardships and difficulties, our sorrow and grief, as a sharing in the death and resurrection of Jesus. The Resurrection of Christ is the guarantee of our final resurrection, the source of all our hope.

 The season of Pentecost: Commencing on Pentecost Sunday and extending to the day before the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross, the Season of Pentecost focuses our attention on the role and the power of the Spirit in our lives and in the life of the Church as a whole. The Spirit guides us, makes us holy and transforms our lives. The Spirit works through us to bring Christ’s love to others. At Baptism, we are anointed and gifted by the Spirit and through the Sacrament of Confirmation, the Spirit strengthens us. The Spirit of the Lord heals division and brings light to all hearts. The power of the Spirit helps us as individuals and the Church community to reveal the mystery of Christ to the world.

 The season of Cross: Commencing with the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross-on the 14th of September, this is the final season of the Church’s Liturgical Calendar. It reminds us that our life on this earth is a journey to God’s Heavenly Kingdom. As we journey together, each of us has an obligation to assist and support one another especially during times of disappointment and failure. Our mission is to lead a life of love and service of others. Jesus showed us the way when He gave His life on the cross in order to gain our salvation. Furthermore, we are reminded that we must embrace the crosses in our lives, as the cross is the sure sign of risen glory. The only way we can do this is by placing our faith, trust and hope in God. We are urged to be faithful to our mission as Christians, a mission of proclaiming the Good News of Jesus to others. If we do this we will be ready to receive God’s Kingdom which may come at a time when we least expect it.

The season of Christmas:  the first in the Church’s Liturgical Calendar, follows after the Sundays of the Church and extends to the day before the Feast of the Epiphany. It is a time to pause, remember and reflect on the ongoing promise of God coming to fulfillment in our lives. The season commences with a time of preparation and comes to a climax with the celebration of the birth of Jesus. During this season, we reassess our response to Christ, the Redeemer and His message. It is a time for renewing our personal commitment. As we prepare for the celebration of the birth of Jesus, we recall the qualities of life required from us, in expectation of the second and final coming of Jesus.


            The present liturgical calendars observed by various Churches are the result of a long evolution.  Historical and theological reasons have contributed to the formation of these calendars.  From the primitive shape of Sundays and the Pascha celebration, the liturgical calendar has grown much.  Today we find the paschal mystery of Christ commemorated in its various aspects at various feasts and seasons.  The believer is provided with all sorts of possibilities to enter into the manifold aspects of the mystery of salvation.  The liturgical year through different occasions prepares the believer to experience the mystery of Christ in a profound way.  Mediator Dei, the encyclical of Pope Pius XII in 1947, accentuates the theological significance of the liturgical year:

Liturgical year devotedly fostered and accompanied by the Church is not a cold and lifeless representation of the events of the past, or a simple and bare record of a former age.  It is rather Christ himself who is ever living in his Church.  Here he continues that journey of immense mercy which he lovingly began in his mortal life, going about doing good, with the design of bringing men to know His mysteries and in a way lived by them.[154]

As we have seen, the history witnessed the drastic changes occurred to the Church year.  Not all changes were theologically justified. Whenever the feasts and the seasons deviated from the original spirit of the calendar, it resulted in the theological change and an aberration from the real purpose of the liturgical year.

The Easter cycle and nativity cycle of feasts being the supporting pillars of the liturgical year, these feasts and the seasons are to be given due importance. Passion and resurrection constitute the heart of the liturgical year.[155]  However, greater concentration of the sanctoral commemoration in the western tradition, resulted in an aberration from the true mystery of the liturgical year.[156]

Celebration of the paschal mystery on different occasions help to concentrate on the particular aspects of the paschal mystery.  However, it causes damage to the vision of the integral celebration of the mystery of salvation.  Vatican Council II has admonished to go back to the ancient custom of giving more importance to the proper of the time.  The proper of seasons is to be given preference over feasts of saints (SC 108). Sacrosanctum Concilium no.111 says that the feasts of saints should not take precedence over the feasts which commemorate the mysteries of salvation.

One of the most unfortunate developments in the liturgical calendar is the diminishing of the reverence rendered to Sunday.   Now the relevance and uniqueness of Sunday are questioned.  Any other day is considered equally good.  The teaching of the Council is this: “Other celebrations, unless they be truly of the greatest importance, shall not have precedence over Sunday, which is the foundation and kernel of the whole liturgical year.” (SC 106).

The central concerns of the Christian liturgical calendar were vitiated in the course of history.  For example, the preparatory fast before ascension goes against the paschal rejoicing during the Pentecostal season.  The privatization of the liturgical celebration had its bad effect on the liturgical calendar. Council teaches that the penitential observance of Lent should be not just individual, but social and external. (SC 110.).

There are conflicts between the observances competing for available time in Calendar.  It required a system of rankings and rules of precedence.  Since many of the feasts of the saints have very little to do with the commemoration of the paschal mystery of Christ, such festal celebrations need not be fostered .

 There has been substantial change with regard to the understanding of the feast of a martyr. The second century word for a martyr’s feast was always, as in the martyrdom of Polycarp, his birthday.  But by the fourth century we find a change: Gregory Dix observes: “In the Roman calendar of A.D. 354 the entries of the martyrs’ feasts are no longer designated their ‘birthdays’ but their burials (depositiones).  The earthly, not the heavenly, event is now the object of the liturgical celebration, time and earthly history, not eternity, have become the primary interest of the calendar.”[157]

            Another major issue is a universal date for the Easter.  The Christian have to reach an agreement with regard to the date of Pascha.  In 1969 the Ecumenical Patriarch proposed a universal determination of the date of Easter.  He proposed the second Sunday of April.  This suggestion was welcomed.[158] If all Churches agree on the date of Easter it would be a decisive step in the ecumenical endeavour.

East Syrian Liturgical Year

Nine seasons (each ideally of 7 weeks).

1. Annunciation-Nativity (Subara): 6 weeks

2. Epiphany (Denha): 7 weeks: Commemoration of saints on Fridays.

3. Great Lent (Sauma ramba): 50 days before Easter

4. Resurrection (Qyamta): 7 weeks

5. Apostles (Sliha): 7 weeks

6. Summer (Qayta): 7 weeks

7. Elija-Cross (Elia-Sliwa): 5 to 7 weeks

8. Moses (Moshe): 2 to 7 weeks

9. Dedication of Church (Quddash-etta): 4 weeks

West Syrian Liturgical Year

Starts with the Sunday of Qudosh etto (Dedication of the Church) (Oct. 30 or 31 if a Sunday. Otherwise the first Sunday of November)

There are 7 seasons

1. Annunciation (Suboro)

2. Nativity-Epiphany (Yaldo-Denho)

3. Lent: 50 days

4. Resurrection (Qyamto)

5. Pentecost (Shliha)

6. Transfiguration: Aug. 6-Sept.13

7. Cross (Sliba): Sept.14-Qudosh-etto

c. Liturgical Persons

It is the whole liturgical community, the Body of Christ united with its Head, that celebrates liturgy (CCC 1140).   Thus liturgy is an action of the Whole Christ (Christus totus) CCC 1136.

There are specific roles for the members of the liturgical assembly which cannot be replaced or substituted.  “In liturgical celebrations each person, minister or layman, who has an office to perform, should carry out all and only those parts which pertain to his office by the nature of the rite and the norms of the liturgy. (SC 28, CCC 1144).

  • Perfection of Liturgical space-time: Is it leading to rubricism? (See class notes.)
  • Repetition of prayers, gestures and actions: hallmark of liturgical space-time. (See class notes.)

IV.  Liturgy: Source of Theology and Spirituality

  1. 1.      Theology of Liturgy and Liturgical Theology

            What is theology of liturgy?  Is it a scientific understanding of liturgy, dealing with the theological principles governing liturgy? Does it aim at providing liturgy with a theological basis?  There has been the tendency to consider liturgy as devoid of theological content, and hence a theology of liturgy would be striving to discover some theological basis for liturgy. Is it the theology which emerges from liturgy, like a babe detaching itself from the womb? Theology of liturgy is neither that which serves as a theological treatment of liturgy nor that which is born from liturgy.  It is the theology that is found in the very action of liturgy.  Therefore, it is liturgical theology or worshipping theology.

            Liturgical theology does not come from liturgy:  It arises in and as liturgy. Theology which is liturgical arises in the liturgical structures and does not detach from liturgical rite. Liturgy is theology in action, it is not merely a rubrical resource for the allegedly real theologians to rummage through.  (Fagerberg pp.14-15). Liturgical action is theological act.  It is in this sense that Aidan Kavanagh calls liturgical theology as theologia prima and theological reflections on liturgy as theologia secunda. (Kavanagh 74-75).

The liturgical rite is the ontological condition for what is itself a genuine theology. (Fagerberg p.14).  Encounter with God precedes reflection upon that encounter. Liturgical theology originates and resides in the communal rite.  This theology, the one that is liturgical, does not originate and reside in individual minds but is by definition found in the structure of the rite.  The only starting point for uncovering liturgical theology is to investigate concrete liturgical rites.

  • Lex orandi, lex credendi

            This axiom Lex orandi, lex credendi means that law of prayer is law of belief. The law of prayer (lex orandi) establishes the law of belief (lex credendi). Liturgy is the source of the faith.  Liturgy is the celebration of the faith.  The faith is formally declared and celebrated in liturgy. The Eastern Churches especially look to the liturgy for the proper formulation of faith.  Changes of the formulae in liturgy can change the faith itself.

  • Christian spirituality is liturgical spirituality.

            Spirituality is living the faith which is celebrated in liturgy.  It is a life according to the celebration. It is living the experience of vertical communion in life.  Life becomes a ‘new liturgical space-time’ in which quddaša of God (eucharistia) and quddaša of man (communion with God and fellow beings) are celebrated through the signs and symbols of life.  Life becomes the new altar on which the anabatic and katabatic Qurbana are celebrated. Spirituality is a life of horizontal leitourgia.  It is one of continuous horizontal ‘eucharistia’, quddaša and Qurbana.  In fact the spirituality of the Christian is centered on the Eucharist. (SC10; LG 11).  Hence it may be called a eucharistic spirituality.

V. Liturgical Diversity

1. The Origin and Development of Different Liturgical Traditions

One and the same Paschal mystery is celebrated in diverse forms in different Churches. However, the emphasis on a particular aspect of the mystery differs in different liturgical traditions.  For example, even though the eucharistic liturgy is commemoration of the entire Paschal mystery of Christ, that is, the passion, death and resurrection, the East Syrian anaphoras seem to emphasise the resurrection whereas the Roman anaphoras emphasise the passion and death. The plurality of liturgy is a characteristic feature of the Christian Orient.  However, the Christian West was well acquainted with the liturgical diversity. Besides the Roman liturgy there were the Ambrosian, Gallican, Celtic, Mozarabic and African liturgies.  We may still hear of the Bragan (of the diocese Braga in Portugal) and Lyonsian (of the diocese of Lyons) liturgies.  Of these only the Ambrosian (in Milan) and the Mozarabic (Toledo Cathedral) survive today.

            In order to understand the significance of the liturgical diversity, we have to examine the historical development of the Christian liturgy.  The first two centuries constituted a period of the basic formulation of Christian liturgy.  In this period we do not find any systematic tradition specific to any Church either in the East or in the West.  The basic Christian liturgy was uniform everywhere.  But gradually there developed certain specific elements in different Churches.  The liturgical expressions used in an important Church or by a well-known bishop were borrowed by others.  Thus the Patriarchal Churches developed certain stereotyped liturgies, which their daughter Churches adopted.  The third and fourth centuries witnessed tendencies of growth in considerable variety in both structure and content of the un co-ordinated local traditions of prayer. Fourth century was important for the mutual borrowing and adaptation in all Rites of the great Sees.  The mutual borrowings between the great liturgical traditions contributed to the process of ritual unification.

            The ultimate ground for the liturgical diversity is Church’s mission itself.  The Apostolic preaching was characterised by the Christ-experience that each of the Apostles had.  This different Christ-experience was proclaimed in different cultures.  Thus the diversity of the Christ-experience of the preaching and the cultural background of the people who took the Gospel message accounted for different Churches and different modes of the celebration of faith.  Churches of the same geographical and cultural area came to celebrate the mystery of Christ through particular expressions characterised by the culture. (CCC 1202). According to Anton Baumstark, the proponent of the study of comparative liturgy, differences of race and language and the peculiar genius of each people (all of them things created and willed by God) are, for the liturgical forms, the factors which necessarily govern their variations. (Baumstark, Comparative Liturgy, 1) To account for the differences it is necessary to consider the ethnic, cultural and linguistic character of the regions where the liturgy developed.

It took centuries before each liturgy acquired its own individuality or genuine characteristic shape.  The end of the Patristic age may be regarded as the final stage in this development.  In determining the final shape of the different liturgies, the Fathers of the Church played a decisive role.  Each liturgy may be seen as a Patristic synthesis on the basis of the Sacred Scriptures and Tradition.


2. Rite and Liturgy

            The word ‘rite’ in common parlance means a ceremony.  It is the mode of performing something. In this sense the mode of performing a liturgical act is called liturgical rite of that function.  (e.g. rite of fraction and consignation, rite of Communion.).  The complex of the modes of performing all the liturgical items or functions is often called rite.  In this sense liturgy and Rite may be seen as synonymous.  Sometimes, a liturgical tradition as a whole is called a Rite.  In the canonical sense ‘Rite’, sometimes, denotes a particular Church.  In Orientalium Ecclesiarum 2 we find the expression Particular Church or Rite. Here the word Rite includes the liturgy, ecclesiastical discipline and spiritual patrimony of particular Churches.  According to Code of Canons for the Oriental Churches (CCEO) “Rite is the liturgical, theological, spiritual and disciplinary patrimony, culture and circumstances of history of a distinct people, by which its own manner of living the faith is manifested in each Church sui juris.” (can. 28 § 1).


3. Families of Eastern Liturgies


I. Antiochene

  1. a.      West Syrian: Used by the Catholic Syrians and Jacobites in the Middle East and elsewhere. Language: West Syriac and Arabic.
  2. b.     Malankara: Used by the Malankara Catholic Church, Orthodox Syrian and Syrian Orthodox Churches in India and elsewhere. Language: West Syriac and Malayalam.
  3. c.      Maronite: Used by the Maronites in Lebanon and elsewhere. Language: West Syriac and Arabic.

II. East Syrian (Mesopotamian or Persian)

  1. a.      Assyrian: Used by the Assyrian Church of the East (non-Catholic) in the Middle East, India (Trichur) and elsewhere. Language: East Syriac, Surath (dialect of Syriac), and Arabic.
  2. b.     Chaldean: Used by the Chaldean Church (Catholic) in the Middle East and elsewhere. Language: East Syriac, Surath (dialect of Syriac), and Arabic.
  3. c.      Syro-Malabar: Used by the Syro-Malabar Church in India and elsewhere. Language: Malayalam.

III. Alexandrian Liturgies

  1. a.      Coptic: Used by the Catholic and non-Catholic Copts in Egypt and elsewhere. Language: Old Coptic and Arabic.
  2. b.     Ethiopian:  Used by Catholic and non-Catholic Ethiopians in Ethiopia, Asmara, and elsewhere. Language: Ge’ez.

IV. Byzantine (Constantinopolitan)

                        The places where the different liturgies of Byzantine tradition are used, and the languages in which they are used, are evident from the very names of the liturgies.

  1. a.      Albanian
  2. b.     Bulgarian
  3. c.      Greek Orthodox
  4. d.     Hungarian
  5. e.      Italo-Albanian
  6. f.      Melkite (Used in the Middle East and elsewhere)
  7. g.     Romanian
  8. h.     Russian
  9. i.       Ruthenian
  10. j.       Slovak
  11. k.     Ukrainian
  12. l.       Yugosalvian
  13. m.   Byelorussian

V. Armenian

                        Used by the Catholic and non-Catholic Armenians in Armenia, Lebanon and elsewhere.

4. Necessity of Fostering the Liturgical Identity: Postmodern Theological Perspective

            All the liturgical rites are of equal right and dignity.  The Church wishes to preserve them in the future and to foster them in every way. (SC 4).

            The rich diversity in the lex orandi contributes to a better and comprehensive understanding of the lex credendi.   Liturgy is celebration of the mystery of faith, however, various liturgical traditions are different forms of celebrating one and the same mystery of faith.  Thus the various and rich aspects of the mystery of Christ find expression in the liturgies of various Churches. A single and uniform celebration would not be able to bring out all the important aspects of the mystery of faith.  From the postmodern theological perspective which emphasises the significance of a variety of theological explanations of the one and the same mystery of faith the diversity of liturgical celebration is necessary and contributes to a better liturgical theology.   Only through the diverse celebrations of the different liturgical traditions that the mystery of faith may be perfectly presented in the Church.  Therefore, the preservation and promotion of the different liturgical traditions is a grave requirement for the preservation and promotion of  true Christian faith.

[1] G. Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy, London 1986, 335.

[2]Dix, Shape of Liturgy, 335.

[3] T.J. Talley, “Liturgical Calendar”, in P.E. Funk, ed., New Dictionary of Sacramental Worship, 154.

[4]P. Bradshaw, Early Christian Worship: A Basic Introduction to Ideas and Practice, London 1996, 75.

[5]C. Jones et al., ed., The Study of Liturgy, London-New York 1993,457.

[6]R. Taft, Lecture Notes, PIO, Rome, 1993, 21.

[7] C. Jones et al., ed., The Study of Liturgy, 456.

[8] Rev 1.10; Ignatius, ad Magnes, 9.I; Did, 14.I.

[9] Tertullian, De Cor 3.4.

[10] J.A. Jungmann, Early Liturgy, 21.

[11] I Apology 67.

[12] Eusebius, Vita Const. 4.18. C. Jones et al., ed., The Study of Liturgy, 456-457.

[13] I Apology 67.

[14] P. Jounel, “The Year”, in A.G. Martimort et al., ed., The Church at Prayer, Vol. IV: The Liturgy and Time, trans., M. J. O’Connell, Collegeville, Minnesota 1985, p.18; Jungmann, Early Liturgy, 21.

[15] Ep. of Barnabas, 15.8.

[16] Basil, De spirit sanct. 27.

[17] Capit. 24; PL 105.198. The Study of Liturgy,  457

[18] The Sabbath plays a very important role in the Jewish festal year.  It is the end and crown of the seven-day week and may be called the primordial feast day of the Jewish people. The Jewish Sabbath was not only a day of rest from work, on which the people sought to imitate “the repose of God”, but also a day for “holy convocation” and an “appointed feast of the Lord.” (Lev 23.3 and 2). A. Adam, The Liturgical Year: Its History and its Meaning after the Reform of the Liturgy, New York 1981, pp.7-8.

[19] Talley, “Liturgical Calendar”, 153.

[20] Dix, Shape of Liturgy, 337.

[21] Talley, “Liturgical Calendar”, 154.

[22] In the East, at the end of the third century, the eucharist was celebrated not only on the day of resurrection but also on Saturday. Schmemann, Intr. Lit Th., pp.154-155.  Probably the development of Saturday simply continued the Judeo-Christian tradition in the Eastern Churches. Schmemann, Intr155.“It can hardly be doubted that the Judeo-Christian communities continuedto clebrate Saturday as a holiday above all as a commemoration of the creation.”Schmemann, Intr 155.

[23] P.F. Bradshaw, The Search for the Origin of Christian Worship, Oxford University Press 1992,  192.

[24] Ep.Barna., XV.9. Dix, Shape of Liturgy,336.

[25] Taft, Lecture Notes, 18.

[26] Taft, Lecture Notes, 18.

[27] Bradshaw, The Search for the Origin of Christian Worship, 193.

[28] D.A. Carson, ed., from Sabbath to Lord’s Day, Grand Rapids 1982; Bradshaw, The Search for the Origin of Christian Worship, 193.

[29] Taft, Lecture Notes, 18.

[30] Dix, Shape of Liturgy, 336-337.

[31] The Study of Liturgy,  457.

[32] Taft, Lecture Notes, 21.

[33] Talley, “Liturgical Calendar”, 153.

[34] Apology I, 65,67.

[35] The Study of Liturgy,  457.

[36] Bibliographica hagiographica latina, n.7492. The Study of Liturgy,  457.

[37] In Epist. I Ad Cor. Hom 27; PG 61.227. The Study of Liturgy,  457.

[38] R.H. Connolly, trans., The Syrian Didascalia, Oxford 1929, p.124.

[39] The Study of Liturgy,  457.

[40] Tertullian, de Cor. 3; Cassian, Institutes 2.18; Tertullian, de Orat. 23; Canon 20 of the Council of Nicaea.

[41] The Study of Liturgy,  458.

[42] Bradshaw, Early Christian Worship, 78.

[43] The word pascha is the Greek form of the Hebrew Pesach = Passover.

[44] SC 102.

[45] Talley, “Liturgical Calendar”, 154.

[46] According to Venerable Bede (+735), the name Easter is from the name of the Anglo-Saxon Spring goddess, Eostre. Another view is that it is from the middle high German word Urständ (resurrection). Still another view is that it is a derivation from East. Honorius of Autun says: “Just as the sun, sfter setting in the West, rises again in the East, so did Christ, the sun of justice, rise again in the East after his descent into death”.  The modern scholars propose the view that it is from the Christian phrase hebdomada in albis (week in the white vestments).  The people misunderstood the in albis as a plural of alba (dawn), and translated it as eostarun (Old High German).  In this explanation too, the idea of Christ as the sun that rises in the East is in the background. Adam, Liturgical Year,  63.

[47] Cf. The Study of Liturgy,   459-460.

[48] Taft, Lecture Notes,21.

[49] T.J. Talley, The Origins of the Liturgical Year, Collegeville, Minnesota 1991,p5.

[50] The Study of Liturgy,  459.

[51] Dix, Shape of Liturgy, 337.

[52] Talley, The Origins of the Liturgical Year, 1.

[53] Talley, The Origins of the Liturgical Year, 1.

[54] Talley, “Liturgical Calendar”, 154.

[55] The Study of Liturgy,  459.

[56] Dix, Shape of Liturgy, 338.

[57] Talley, The Origins of the Liturgical Year,1.

[58] It is the Johannine tradition of Christ’s death on 14 Nisan that has been most significant in shaping the liturgical year.

[59] Talley, The Origins of the Liturgical Year,3.

[60] Talley, “Liturgical Calendar”, 154.

[61] Dix, Shape of Liturgy, 338.

[62] Dix, Shape of Liturgy, 339.

[63] Taft, Lecture Notes, 18.

[64] Talley, The Origins of the Liturgical Year, 232.

[65] Eusebius, HE V. 24.1-7. (NPNF II.I, p.242.

[66] Talley, The Origins of the Liturgical Year, 19.

[67] Talley, The Origins of the Liturgical Year, 27.

[68] Talley, The Origins of the Liturgical Year, 27.

[69] Talley, The Origins of the Liturgical Year,  30.

[70] Talley, The Origins of the Liturgical Year, 31.

[71] Later Egyptian sources testify that epiphany was followed at once by a fast of forty days, commemorating the temptation of Christ in the wilderness.  This was concluded in the sixth and final week with the conferral of baptism prior to Palm Sunday.

[72] Talley, Liturgical Calendar”, 158.

[73] Dix, Shape of Liturgy, 340.

[74] For the Thomas Christians and Chaldeans Sundays and Saturdays, except Holy Saturday, are not considered fasting days.  Hence they add four days (Monday through Thursday) from the Holy Week to make 40 days of Lent. (7×5+1=36;  36+4=40).

[75] P. Jounel, “The Year”, 69.

[76] Bradshaw, Early Christian Worship, 78-79.

[77] Bradshaw, Early Christian Worship, 79.

[78] Cf. Didache 8; Didascalia Apostolrum 5.

[79] A. Schmemann, Introduction to Liturgical Theology, New York 1996, 157.

[80] The phrase ember days comes from the German contraction of the Latin “quattuor tempora” to quatember. Talley, “Liturgical Calendar”,151. Cf. Jounel, “The Year”, 29.

[81] From the time of Gelasius I at the end of the 5th century, they were among the days designated as especially appropriate for the ordination of deacons and presbyters. In the time of Leo I (440-461) the seasonal fasts fell in the first week of Lent, the week following Pentecost, in September and in December. Gregory VII assigned precise times for them: Wednesday, Friday and Saturday of the first week of lent, of the octave of Pentecost, and following September 14 and December 13. Talley, “Liturgical Calendar”, 151.

[82] Dix, Shape of Liturgy, 342-343.

[83] Schmemann, Introduction to Liturgical Theology, 157.

[84] Schmemann, Introduction to Liturgical Theology, 158.

[85] Talley, “Liturgical Calendar”, 158.

[86] Taft, Lecture Notes.

[87] Schmemann, Introduction to Liturgical Theology, 176.

[88] Schmemann, Introduction to Liturgical Theology, 176.

[89] Taft, Lecture Notes.

[90] Adam, Liturgical Year, 25.

[91] Taft, Lecture Notes.

[92] Schmemann, Introduction to Liturgical Theology, 174.

[93] Schmemann, Introduction to Liturgical Theology, 177.

[94] Adam, Liturgical Year, 25.

[95] Dix, Shape of Liturgy, 341.

[96] Talley, “Liturgical calendar”, 155.

[97] Talley, The Origins of the Liturgical Year,  154.

[98] Adam, Liturgical Year, 11.

[99] Talley, The Origins of the Liturgical Year,  59.

[100] P.Jounel, “The Year”, 17.

[101] Talley, “Liturgical Calendar”, 155.

[102] Dix, Shape of Liturgy, 340.

[103] Talley, The Origins of the Liturgical Year,  42-43.

[104] P.Jounel, “The Year”, 49.

[105] Talley, “Liturgical Calendar”, 55.

[106] Study of Liturgy, 461.

[107] Jounel, “The Year”, pp.50-51.

[108] Talley, The Origins of the Liturgical Year, 44-48.

[109] Study of Liturgy, 462.

[110] Talley, The Origins of the Liturgical Year, 54-55.

[111] Schmemann, Introduction to Liturgical Theology, 159.

[112] Talley, “Liturgical Calendar”, 155-156.

[113] Schmemann, Introduction to Liturgical Theology, 160-161.

[114] Talley, “Liturgical Calendar”, 156.

[115] Talley, “Liturgical Year”, 158.

[116] Talley, “Liturgical Calendar”, 157.

[117] Schmemann, Introduction to Liturgical Theology, 176.

[118] Bradshaw, Early Christian Worship, 86. This manuscript known as the Almanac of 354 was compiled by the Greek artist Furius Dionysius Filocalus for the use of a rich Christian.  It contains two lists of anniversaries. Jounel, “The Year”, 78.

[119] Bradshaw, Early Christian Worship, 86. Cf. Talley, “Liturgical Calendar”, 156.

[120] Bradshaw, Early Christian Worship, 87.

[121] This calculation is based on the computation hypothesis of Mgr. Louis Duchesne at the end of the 19th century. Talley, “Liturgical Year”, 156.

[122] Bradshaw, Early Christian Worship, 88.

[123] Jounel, “The Year”, 79.

[124] Talley, The Origins of the Liturgical Year, 147.

[125] Adam, Liturgical Year, 130.

[126] Jounel, “The Year”, 93.  Cf. Study of Liturgy, 468.

[127] Adam, Liturgical Year, 149-154.

[128] Jounel, “The Year”, 97.

[129] Jounel, “The Year”, 99.

[130] Jounel, “The Year”, 102-103.

[131] Talley, “Liturgical Calendar”, 160.

[132] Taft, Lecture Notes.

[133] Bradshaw, Early Christian Worship, 91.

[134] Bradshaw, Early Christian Worship, 91.

[135] Bradshaw, Early Christian Worship, 92.

[136] T.J. Talley, “Liturgical Calendar”, 152.

[137] Jounel, “The Year”, 119.

[138] Jounel, “The Year”, 120.

[139] Jounel, “The Year”, 121.

[140] Talley, “Liturgical Calendar”, 159-160.

[141] Taft, Lecture Notes.

[142] Study of Liturgy, 469.

[143] Study of Liturgy, 482.

[144] Jounel, “The Year”, 131-132.

[145] Jounel, “The Year”, 133-137.

[146] Jounel, “The Year”, 137-141.

[147] Talley, “Liturgical Calendar”, 152.

[148] Adam, Liturgical Year, 53.

[149] Talley, “Liturgical Calendar”, 159.

[150] Adam, Liturgical Year, 19

[151] Adam, Liturgical Year, 20-21.

[152] Katrij, OSBM, Julian, A Byzantine Rite Liturgical Year, Basilian Press: Toronto, 1992, pp 11-16.

[153] Katrij, OSBM, Julian, A Byzantine Rite Liturgical Year pp 24-30.

[154] J.A. Jungmann, The Early Liturgy, University of Notre Dame, 1980, p. 161.

[155] A. Adam, Liturgical Year, 19.

[156] T.J. Talley, “Liturgical Calendar”, 162.

[157] G. Dix, Shape of the Liturgy, 369.

[158] Talley, “Liturgical Calendar”, 163.


  1. 1.     Vatican II, Sacrosanctum Concilium.
  2. 2.     Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1994, §§ 1066-1690.
  3. 3.     Instruction for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, 1996.
  4. 4.     G. Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy, London 1986.
  5. 5.     A. G. Martimort, ed., The Church at Prayer, Vol. I.: Principles of the Liturgy, Collegeville, Minnesota 1987.
  6. 6.     A.J. Chupungco, ed., Handbook for Liturgical Studies, Vol.I: Introduction to the Liturgy, Collegeville, Minnesota 1997.
  7. 7.     E. J. Kilmartin, Christian Liturgy.I. Theology, Kansas City 1988.
  8. 8.     J. Corbon, The Wellspring of Worship, New York 1988 (Indian edition: Bombay 1996).
  9. 9.     A. Schmemann, Introduction to Liturgical Theology, New York 1986.

10. A. Kavanagh, On Liturgical Theology: The Hale Memorial Lectures of Seabury Western Theological Seminary, 1981, Collegeville, Minnesota 1992.

  1. 11.   D.W. Fagerberg, What is Liturgical Theology: A Study in Methodology, Collegeville Minnesota 1992.
  2. 12.   G.M. Braso, Liturgy and Spirituality, Collegeville, Minnesota 1971.
  3. 13.   C. Vagaggini, Theological Dimensions of the Liturgy, Collegeville, Minnesota 1976.
  4. 14.   A. Verheul, Introduction to the Liturgy: Towards a Theology of Worship, Collegeville, Minnesota 1968.
  5. 15.   H. Wegman, Christian Worship in East and West: A Study Guide to Liturgical History, Collegeville, Minnesota 1990.
  6. 16.   R. Taft, Beyond East and West:Problems in Liturgical Understanding, Washington D.C. 1984.
  7. 17.   C. Jones & Others, ed., The Study of Liturgy, New York 1992.
  8. 18.   P. Maniyattu, Heaven on Earth: The Theology of Liturgical Space-time in the East Syrian Qurbana,  Rome 1995.
  9. 19.   P. Maniyattu, ed., East Syriac Theology: An Introduction, Satna 2007.
  10.      19.  M. Eliade, Sacred and Profane: The Nature of Religion, New York 1961.

Pauly Maniyattu


July 2009

Oriental Theology

Oriental Theology

Dr Thomas Pallippurathukunnel

Fr Thomas Pallippurathukunnel        

   Originally the denotation “Oriental” was a geographical description of Churches outside Roman Patriarchate. Now it is used as a technical term to describe all the Churches, which are not Latin in origin. They spread all over the world.

            Approaching from the perspective of faith or communion the Oriental Churches are divided into four communions:

  1. The Assyrian Church of the East< which is in communion with no other church.

2. The Oriental Orthodox Churches, which are in communion with, but completely independent of one another.

  1. The Orthodox Churches (The Eastern Orthodox Churches), which is a communion of Churches, all of which recognize the Patriarch of Constantinople as a point of unity with certain rights and privileges.
  2. The Eastern (Oriental) Catholic Churches, which recognize the Bishop of Rome as the head of the Church.

Besides there are a few Orthodox Churches of irregular status. They are of orthodox origin, but their present status is at least uncanonical, if not fully schismatic.

            Some of these churches (non-catholic) are called autocephalous, because they do not subject to any outside jurisdiction. There are also a few Autonomous Churches, which though self-sufficient, are still under the limited authority of a Patriarch or Hierarch outside itself.

            The Eastern Catholic Churches hold in communion with Latin Church all the elements of Christian faith. They recognize the Bishop of Rome as the head of the Church and accept the Roman primacy of jurisdiction and infallibility the Pope. But the other Oriental Churches, which are not in communion with Rome, do not believe in a visible single head of the Church. They recognize the primacy of honor of the Bishop of Rome, but do not his primacy of jurisdiction and infallibility.

            There are certain elements of Christian faith, which these churches hold in communion with Catholic Church. They are the following:

-Holy Trinity

-Fall of Adam and original sin.

-Sanctifying grace was given to Adam. Adam lost it and Christ restored it.

-Incarnation, passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ

-The divinity of Christ. Christ has two natures against Monophysistism Christ has one person- against Nostorianism

-Perpetual virginity of Bl.Virgin Mary

Real presence of Christ in Bl. Sacrament

The Church is the universal and common ark of salvation

-Seven Sacraments

-Absolute need of Divine Grace

-Resurrection of body, eternal life, heaven, hell.

-The Eucharistic sacrifice

Veneration of Mary and Saints

Membership of the Church is necessary for salvation.

Obligation of Moral law  and  Infallibility of the Church

The Characteristics of Oriental Theology

  1. Liturgical: For the Orientals Sacred Liturgy is not only a source of piety, but also a teacher of dogma. They believe that the apostolic tradition has been handed down in a mystery and is preserved in Church’s worship. “Lex orandi lex credendi” man’s faith is expressed in their prayers. The dogma is contained in the prayers and hymns used at liturgical services; Not only the words but the various gestures and actions have a special meaning and they express symbolically the truths of faith.
  2. Faithfulness to the Fathers of the Church. Fidelity to the sacred tradition does not signify fidelity to the past, but it consists rather in the living with the full Christian experience. For Orientals the age of Fathers did not come to an end in the 7th of the 8th centuries. Many later Fathers are considered as Fathers of the Church, e.g. St. Maximus, Gregory Palamas etc.
  3. Dynamic: The Oriental theology admits organic evolution of the dogma. While speaking of the evolution of the dogma, they make a distinction between substance or nucleus of dogma and the forma or appearance of dogma. They say that evolution of dogma is only in the forma. It is described as progress, evolution and explanation. There were discussions about theological subjects, e.g. the procession of the Holy Spirit, nature and person of Christ, icons.
  4. Free from legalism: The Orientals believe in the divinely instituted hierarchy and its authority in the Church, but they are against the abuses of authority and law – law becomes the principle of unity in the church. For them unity is to be found in the common life of Christ’s Mystical Body, confessing the same faith, sharing the same sacraments.
  5. Speculative. Orientals also apply philosophical reasons to the sacred theology.
  6. Not Scholastic. They deny the scholastic method, that is, much concerned with precise definitions and deductions etc.
  7. Mystical and contemplative. In the eastern thought and traditions there is no sharp distinction between mysticism and theology, between experience of divine mysteries and the dogma
  8. Biblical. Their theology is biblically founded.
  9. Social. This is an external characteristic. There is a lay participation in the theological evolution. There are many distinguished lay theologians, e.g. Solovgen (1853-1900) Khomyakov (1804-1860) theology was not the monopoly of the professionals.

The Sources of Oriental Theology

            There are two sources, Bible and Tradition. According to the Orthodox Church the Bible also included in Tradition. Therefore the source of the faith is Holy tradition. Tradition means: the books of Bible, the Creed, the Decrees of ecumenical councils, writings of the Fathers, the Canons, the Service books, the Holy Icons etc.

1. The Bible

 According to the Eastern thought the Church is a scriptural Church. The Bible is the supreme expression of God’s revelation to men. The Christians therefore, must always be “people of the Book” and the Bible is the “Book of the People”. This book should be lived and understood within the Church. Only the Church has the authority to interpret the Bible. The Bible is used widely at Oriental Liturgical services and is venerated in a special way.

With regard to the text of the Bible

  1. The Assyrian Church of the East  uses Pesita version – a Syriac translation, date is not clear, the oldest manuscript is of 446.
  2. The Oriental Orthodox Churches also use the Pesita version.]
  3. The Orthodox Churches use LXX Septuagint.

With regard to the canon of Book

  1. The Assyrian Church of the East though admits all the books of Vulgate canonical, some of their theologians cancelled certain books from the canon, e.g. Theodore of Mopsuetia cancelled Proverb, Ecclessiasticus and Job.
  2. The Oriental Orthodox Churches, though they admit all books canonical there are some defections on account of excess, e.g. The Coptic Church included III Maccabees in OT and two epistles of Clement and 8th book of Apostolic Constitution in NT.
  3. The Orthodox Churches agree to the Catholic church about the canons of the books.
  4. The Niceao- Constantinopolitan creed formulated in the council of Niceae I in 325. All the Oriental accept it, but without the addition of Filioque.
  5. Symbolum Athanasianum or Quicumque. It was considered as rule of faith both in East and West. The authorship is disputed. Some attribute to St. Ambrose
  6. Symbol of Apostles. Some accept it as a symbol of faith; some others consider it as a private profession of faith.

2.  The Creed and Symbols of Faith

 3.. Ecumenical Councils

            The Orientals accept only those councils which were convoked before their separation.

            The Assyrian church of the East – Nicea I (325) Constantinople. 1 381.

The Oriental Orthodox Churches – plus Ephesus (481).

The Orthodox Churches- plus Chalcedon (451), Costantinople. II (553), Constantinople  III. ( 680-81), Nicea II  (787)..

All these Churches ascribe supreme and infallible authority to the ecumenical councils.

The Canonical collection of the Orthodox Church is called Nomocanon in 14 titles. It contains:

-The apostolic canons  -a collection of 85 disciplinary rules served in the first half of 4thc.

–         The canons of seven ecumenical   councils .

–         The canons of local councils

–         The canons of Holy Fathers.

The most important collection of canons of the Orthodox Church was of council of Trullo (692).

Eastern Catholic Theology

Cf. Robert F. Taft S. J., Eastern Catholic Theology, Slow rebirth After A Long Difficult Gestation,  in Eastern Church Journel,Vol.8, No.2, Summer2001, pp51-80.

It is not possible to define in any definitive form what eastern catholic theology is or might be except to say what it is not.

1. It is not Eastern/Oriental Orthodox theology. This does not mean that it stands in opposition to Orthodox theology. On the contrary both claim to derive from the patristic and liturgical sources of a common tradition. Besides Eastern Catholics have been strongly influenced by modern orthodox writers.

2. It is not western catholic theology, though it has obviously undergone strong  western catholic influence.

Is Eastern Catholic theology any theology done by theologians who happen to be Eastern Catholics? No. There are eastern catholic writers who just parrot Latin manual theology of the pre-World War II – this is not eastern catholic theology. Eastern catholic theology means a style of catholic theological thinking in which ‘Eastern’ is not an ecclesial or ethnic attribute of those doing this theology, but an epithet specifying the nature and quality of theology itself.

It is difficult to define Eastern catholic theology. It has similarities with eastern catholic theology and with orthodox theology from both of which far older, fuller and richer theological traditions it obviously derives so much. Yet eastern catholic theology does exist despite problems in defining its distinctiveness.

It is the theology of catholic practitioners with a knowledge and love for the traditions of the Christians of East, a catholic theology that seeks to breathe with both lungs, nourishing a sometimes anemic catholic thought with oxygen from both sides of the East- West Christian division.


I Vatican – least ‘Eastern’ of all ecumenical councils.

                = Its lack of understanding or respect for the distinctiveness of catholic East, its traditions, dignity of hierarchs

                = Their patriarchs were assimilated to the titular Latin patriarchs and ranked with them.

–         Eastern Catholic Patriarchs and bishops protested. Patriarch .Joseph Audo insisted  that the particular discipline of the Christian East be respected.

–         Patriarch. Gregory II Youssef Sayyous (Melkite) defended the patriarchal system of government traditional in the Christian East..

–         There were Eastern Catholic Churches which wanted to recover their heritage and others that are so Latinized they do not understand the nature of the problems.

Pope Leo XIII and the Eucharistic Congress of Jerusalem.

            Leo XIII is called the Pope of the Christian East. His pontificate marked the beginning of the emancipation of the Eastern Catholic .Churches. Report of Card. Vanutelli, Apostolic.Delegate at Constantinople, on 11 April 1883, outlined Latin failures in dealing adequately with the East, and insisted on the teaching in Catholic. Seminaries of special courses in Oriental Theology, Liturgy and History.

            Cardinal.Langenieux, archbishop.of Rheims,Pope Leo’s delegate for the Eucharistic. Congress of Jerusalem reported on 2 July 1893 about the problems caused by the Latin assault on the East, and of the need for a radically new policy. Pope Leo took swift and decisive step On 20 June 1894 he published the encyclical “Pareclara Gratulationis”. The Catholic Oriental Patriarchs were invited to express their opinion freely.

            On 30 Nov. 1984 the pope published “Orientalium Dignitas” on St. Nicholas Day. It is the Magna Carta of Eastern Catholicism.

Further intellectual and institutional developments.

–         Foundation of Review “Oriens Christianus”.

–         Celebration of the 15th C. of the death of St. John Chrysostom in 1907 and a commemorative volume.was published.

–         Foundation of S. Congregation for Oriental Churches on 1 May 1917 and  of Pontifical Oriental Institute on 15 Oct. 1917.

Characteristics of Catholic Oriental Theology

 1. Eastern Catholic theology is not just Byzantine Catholic theology. There has been a remarkable renewal in the non-Byzantine Catholic Eastern Traditions. By and large today, the only Orthodox Theology worth the name is Byzantine Orthodox Theology. The other churches have been reduced by persecution and by Islamic, Russian and Soviet domination. They have their age-old traditional theology rooted in their liturgy, their synods, their Fathers, their monasticism and their spirituality. In the case of Syrians and Armenians this theology is rich, but they struggle for physical survival.

 2. It is a theology in reaction.

      Karl Bath says: ‘the theologian must have the Bible in one hand and the daily         newspaper in the other’. It means that any true existential theology exists at the intersection of God’s eternal revelation and the evolving day to day realities of human history. So like any other theology Eastern Catholic theology is a theology in reaction to the world-situation in which it finds itself. Traditionally, that situation has been one of enemies right and left on one side the praestantia ritus Latini of Benedict XIV’s constitution Etsi Pastoralis of 26 May 1742, on the other side the Orthodox rejection and systematic calumniation of Uniatism. Crusades and Uniatism have rendered impossible for the Orthodox any objective history of their relation to the West.

 3. It is not made but in the making. It is a theology in via, in the process of recuperating and repossessing. It is largely without pretence. It keeps one eye over its shoulder and the other over the Orthodox.

 4. It is self-conscious. Like Orthodox Theology, it is self-conscious in ways the west, complacent in its size and strength, never needs to be. But it is not xenophobic (fear of foreigners & strangers) or paranoid (mental dilution), unlike much in modern orthodox theology. On the contrary it is open to the modern West and embraces its objectivity and fairness.

 5.  It is open and unashamedly eclectic (choosing best out of things). It may be an abomination to the most orthodox writers – subjection to Western influence – the popular Russian catholic spiritual writer Catherine de Hueck Doherty is a representative of this spirit. This is often dangerous and also had some positive effects.

 6. It rejects the pseudo-antithesis between Eastern and Western thought and the false polarization consequent to it. The Imitation of Christ of St. Thomas a Kempis, a typically western spirituality inimical to the spirit of the Christian East, has fifteen editions in Russia. How is it, asks Louis Bouyer. The Eastern spiritual classic “The unseen warfare of Nikodemus the Hagiorite (1748-1809), also author of Philkalia and Pedalion was published in 1796 in Venice.

 7.  It is a theology rooted in the Fathers of the Church and especially in the lived experience of the Church’s liturgy and spirituality that flows from it. This distinguishes it sharply from typically western theology.

 8. It forms an integrated whole. It is an integrated world in which liturgy, spirituality, art and architecture comprise an integrated harmonious whole in a way unthinkable in the West, with its clash of competing methodologies and philosophies.

      There is a  difference between a Gothic cathedral and a small fully decorated                   Byzantine church. Eastern catholic theology is an enclosed world.

As a result of this integral nature, Eastern catholic theology has not just a different liturgy and liturgical iconography and monasticism. It also has a different pneumatology, a different liturgical and spiritual theology, a different theological anthropology, a different Mariology and a different feminism.

Decree on Eastern Catholic Churches

On 21 November 1964 Vatican II approved the decree and it became a law on 22 January 1965. Like other decrees this also underwent several transformations before its final approval. In the middle of 1959 the commission under cardinal Tardini sent an invitation to all bishops asking them to submit proposals and resolutions for the council. In the light of this pope John XXIII nominated an Oriental commission in I960 to work out the following points: 1.Changes in the rite, 2.Communicatio in sacris 3. Reconciliation with the Orthodox Orientals, and 4. The most important disciplinary questions. The work was divided into seven sections and was accomplished in 1960-61 in 56 plenary sessions. The result was the schema -De Ecclesiae unitate (52 articles) and 14 short schemata.

The council started on 11 October 1962. Now the task was entrusted to the newly formed Council Commission. It prepared a schema and sent it to all council Fathers in May 1963. In the light of the suggestions a third schema was prepared on 27 April 1964. Pope Paul VI sanctioned it for the submission to the fathers. At the final voting 2110 Fathers approved the decree and 39 voted against it.

The title of the Decree

Originally the title was “Decree on the Eastern Churches”. The word catholic was added because this decree is not directly intended to the Eastern Churches that are not in communion with Rome. The Catholic Church cannot oblige the non-Catholics to follow the rules and prescriptions of the Catholic Church. According to Patriarch Maximos such a decree is necessary because first the, Eastern Catholic Churches are confronted today with special problems which are not urgent for the Latin Church to the same degree. Secondly the decree can under the authority of the council, repeal certain inopportune and incompatible enactments. He says that the decree arouses hope that a post conciliar commission will carry on the work on its lines.


The first sentence is a disturbing one. There is a contrast between Eastern and Catholic. Here “catholic” is more or less as synonymous with Latin. Patriarch Maximos asks: How the Latins would react if a decree on the Latin church were to say that the catholic church holds in high esteem the institutions of the Latin Church.

Individual Churches or Rites  (art.2-4)

The word ‘rite’ in a narrow sense means liturgical rite, but in a wider sense it means constitution, law, discipline, spirituality, theology, liturgy etc. In the decree it is mostly used in the wider sense.

Art. 2 portrays the historic and theologically founded structure of the Church – a structure made up of individual Churches. The Church is the Mystical Body of Christ and there is only one baptism, one faith and one government. All baptized are united in the Holy Spirit. The faithful are formed into particular Churches under the bishop. These individual churches are related. Each church developed its own liturgy, discipline and spirituality adopting the customs and traditions of the place. So the»e is a diversity in the Church. Each individual church is bound to safeguard its traditions and spiritual heritage and should grow through adaptation.

Art. 3 emphasizes the fundamental equality of the individual churches in dignity, rights and obligations.

1. The Pope as the visible head of the Church is the head of the universal Church.

2. All these Churches are equally entrusted to pastoral guidance and have the right to preach gospel and to engage in missionary activity.

Art. 4 In order to safeguard the equality of the individual churches and to preserve their growth various provisions have been made.

1. Special parishes, even special hierarchies should be organized for each rite. This was objected on the ground that if the combination of several jurisdictions in the same territory may cause many difficulties.

2. In order to solve the problem there should be a large measure of broad-mindedness and willingness to make adaptations and cooperation in all spheres of ecclesiastical administration at interdiocesan and supra-diocesan levels.

3. Every form of rivalry and attempts to win over members of other individual churches should be avoided.

4. Baptized converts received into the Catholic Church are to be bound to their rite not only within, but also outside the area of their rite.

5. Knowledge of the rite: Priests and seminarians should study about the liturgical rites and inter-ritual questions.  They should instruct the laity.

6. Change of rite is not permitted. Only Rome has the power to give permission to change rite. Now permission to administer the sacraments is given


The Preservation of the Spiritual Heritage of the Eastern Churches (Art.5,6)

1. The eastern Churches are very particular to preserve the spiritual heritage and tradition of the early Church, Their liturgy is ‘centered on Christ. Both Bible and Tradition are precious.  The teachings of the fathers of the Church had great influence on their liturgy. Their spirituality is centered on the Sacraments. Their calendar is Christ-centered. So the Council warns the Eastern Churches not to lose their heritage. The Council praises the heritage of these Churches.

2. The administration of the Church: It is different from that of the Western Church. The head of the Eastern Church is Patriarch who has special powers. So there is diversity in the government. They enjoy the right to rule themselves according to its proper and individual procedure and customs,

3.. The Orientals should preserve their rites and their established way of life. For this they have to study the customs and traditions of the Eastern Churches.

4.. The growth of the rite should be organic. In this growth the identity of each church should be preserved. The mere imitation of other rites is not recommended,

5. The Eastern Churches which were subjected to alterations and which went astray from the observance of their traditions have to restore them.

6. Those who are engaged in missionary work among the Orientals or in Oriental region should study the history, liturgy, discipline and the special characteristics of the Oriental churches.

7. Latin Congregations working in Eastern countries or among Eastern faithful should establish special provinces and houses for the Orientals. In those houses oriental liturgy should be practiced.

Eastern Patriarchs  ( Art.7-11)

According to Patriarch Maximos IV this chapter on the Patriarchs is weakest of the entire Decree because of the rejection of the suggestion to treat the question in the light of the first councils. Actually this question is the central problem of the Eastern churches and indeed generally of the whole structure of the Church. Therefore according to many it should not have been treated as a special problem of the Eastern churches, but as a problem pertaining to the structure of the universal Church.

In the original schema this article had an introduction which was prone rather to weaken than to revalorize the position of the patriarchs both in relation to the Pope and the bishops. Here the rights of the patriarchs were considered as papal concessions. This introduction was replaced by the simple statement that patriarchal structure is an institution of the universal Church which goes back to the earliest epochs of the Church and was already found and recognised (not instituted) as such by the first general Councils.

So the Council says:

1. Patriarchates existed m the early Church and was recognized by the first ecumenical Councils.

2. The patriarch is a bishop who has jurisdiction over all bishops (including metropolitans), clergy and people (of God) of his own territory or rite, in accordance with the norms of the law and without prejudice to the primacy of the Roman Pontiff.

The last paragraph “whenever an ordinary of any rite is appointed outside the territorial bounds of its patriarchate, he remains attached to the hierarchy of the patriarchate of that rite, in accordance with the norm of law” was not in the original text. It was inserted in order to pave the way for a corresponding regulation for the new situation created by large emigration.

3. A bishop of any rite appointed outside the territory of the patriarch, remains attached to the hierarchy of the patriarchate of that rite, in accordance with the norm of the law. It follows that the patriarchs are not entitled to nominate bishops for the faithful of their rite established in America or Canada without the approval of the Holy See,

Art. 8 says:

All patriarchs are equal in dignity. Some o£ them are of later origin.  With regard to precedence the decision of the ecumenical councils is to be considered.

The order of the ancient Patriarchates:

Rome                Rome

Antioch           Constantinople

Alexandria        Antioch



Precedence of the present Catholic Patriarchates:


Alexandria (Coptic)






Ukranian (Major Archbishop)

Syro-Malabar (Major Archbishop)

Syro-Malankara (Major  Archbishop)

Romanian Catholic Church (Major Archbishop)


 The authority of the Patriarchs  (Art.9)

1. Patriarch is the father and the head of the rite.

2. The rights and privileges of the Patriarch should be reestablished in accord with the ancient traditions of each Church and the decrees of the ecumenical councils.

3. These rights and privileges are those existed in the united church before the division.

  1. The patriarchs and patriarchal synod is the high authority in the patriarchal church. It has the power to establish new dioceses and nominate bishops in their territory.
  2. This kind of administration in a particular church is not against the universal jurisdiction of the Pope, who has the right to intervene in the administration of a particular church whenever it is necessary


The  Major Archbishops  (Art.10)

Besides the patriarchal churches there are a number of other individual catholic churches which have no patriarch as their head, but a major archbishop who has the same rights, but not the same privileges. They can be raised to the status of patriarchal church. The preparatory commission had already expressly proposed this for Syro-Malabar, Ukranian and Etheopean churches. Because of certain difficulties only a general recommendation was made. The establishment of Patriarchate is reserved to an ecumenical synod or Pope.

Though the council recommended the institution of patriarchates in certain churches some regarded the patriarchal structure as outdated and antiquated and hence called for its complete abolition. To others it even appeared incompatible with the rediscovered collegiality of bishops.

Questions: Is it wise to create Patriarchate for the small churches?  What would have happened if the patriarchs had not been created?

A rejection of Patriarchal structure of the church on principle would not only mean abandonment of the Uniate churches but also a definitive and irrevocable identification of the Catholic Church with the Latin Church, thus crushing for ever all hopes of a reunion of with the Orthodox Churches. As regards the collegiality, it may be observed that it was in fact in the patriarchally constituted churches that it had been maintained and it is in them that it is still practiced in an exemplary manner


Rules concerning the Sacraments (Art.12-18)

The points considered here are almost exclusively interritual questions for which synods of the various individual churches were not competent at all.

Art. l2: A general statement about the discipline of the sacraments in the Oriental churches, which is very ancient and the council recognizes them and the traditional way of their celebration. The council also wishes that these churches restore them in accordance with the traditions of each church.

There exists .difference with regard to the administration of the sacraments. For eg. In the Latin Church the bishop is the ordinary minister of the sacrament of confirmation, but in the Oriental churches the priest administers it. The Latins use unleavened bread and the Orientals use leavened bread

Art 13.On Confirmation

Confirmation should be administered in accordance with the Oriental traditions. It can be administered only through the chrism blessed by the patriarch or bishop. In Malabar church synod of Diamper changed the practice, in Oriental churches except the Maronites confirmation has been administered by the ordinary priest.

:Art.14. The priest can in future administer it even apart from baptism which had so far not been the customs in some of eastern churches.

It is no longer confined to the rite. In future Eastern priest can administer it validly not only to all Easterners but also to the Latins, which had so far at least not been permissible under Latin ecclesiastical law. Latin priests can also do the same.  In this, the discipline of the each church should be considered.

Art.15 The Eucharist

The decree expressly stresses the competence of the various individual churches with regard to the liturgy. It deals with the obligation of the faithful to participate in the Holy  Mass on Sundays and feast days.

In the Eastern churches Holy Mass was celebrated solemnly and with active participation from the part of the faithful. It was preceded by divine office. There was only one Mass in a church. The liturgical day begins with the Vaspers of the preceding day. Therefore the evening mass is included in the Sunday obligation.  In the Eastern churches Sunday obligation is not under mortal sin.  For the Latins it is the moral sin (Lateran IV 1215).


Art. 16: The faculty for hearing confession to a priest of any rite by his-proper bishop is applicable to the entire territory of the grantor.  The extension of jurisdiction for confession to the priests is dealt here. The eastern priest can in future grant absolution in the region for which he has received the faculty for hearing confessions from his bishop and not only to the faithful of his rite. The hierarchs of other rites have been left with certain possibilities of imposing restrictions.  Here it concerns about the interiritual extension in the territory and this is of considerable pastoral significance because of the widespread mixture of the rites. A bishop can revoke the faculty from a priest with reasons.                                         ;

Diaconate and subdiconate:

Art. I7 – In many of the Eastern churches the diaconate has remained in existence till today as an independent rank in holy orders. The decree calls for its restoration even in places where it had as such ceased to be in practice. Deacons are normally married before their ordination.

Subdiaconate though a minor order is identified with the higher orders in its obligations (Divine office, distinguishing marriage obstacle) it has been left to the discretion of the individual churches to return to the ancient practice.

Mixed Marriages

Art. 18 – The extension of the Latin canonical form to the Eastern churches made invalid all the marriages contracted between Catholics and the non-Catholics. The norm was this: “All marriages not contracted before the competent catholic pastor had been declared invalid (Crebrae allatae c.85 1949).

The motu proprio of Pope Paul VI of 31 March 1970: A marriage between two baptised of whom one is a catholic, the other a non-catholic, may not licitly be contracted without the previous dispensation of the local ordinary, since such marriage is by its very nature an obstacle to full spiritual communion of the married parties.

Since 1949 such marriages resulted in excommunication. Among the Orientals there were many mixed marriages especially where Catholics are minority. Therefore the obligation with regard to the canonical form of marriage was lifted in the sense that it was no longer to be considered as a condition for the validity of a mixed marriage, but only for its lawfulness.

The council says: When Eastern Catholics marry baptized Eastern non-Catholics, the canonical form for the celebration of such marriages obliges only for the lawfulness, for their validity the presence of a sacred minister suffices, as long as the other requirements of the law are observed,

It should be registered as soon as possible. The priests of non-Catholics are requested to cooperate to register in the books of the catholic party (1967 Feb. 22).

The catholic party has the duty to preserve his/her faith, children be baptized, brought up in the same faith.

Marriage between two catholic .orientals – catholic canonical form is necessary.

Marriage between catholic .oriental and Latin – catholic canonical form is necessary

Divine Worship (Art.19-23)

            Art.19. It will be the exclusive right of an ecumenical synod or Apostolic See to establish, transfer or suppress feast days common to all the Eastern churches. The only novelty in it is that in future the patriarch can with his synod, institute or abolish feasts for his church – only in individual cases,

Art. 20 – There is no unanimous agreement among the Easterners on the date of Easter. It is therefore recommended to celebrate Easter on the same day.

Art. 21: The Easterners who live outside their dioceses – ritual diaspora – have been permitted to follow the given local customs with regard to the sacred seasons (feasts , days of fasting etc.). Faithful of different rites in a same family or in a hostel fellow one rite.

Art. 22 – Divine office

Regarding the obligation of divine office it pertains to the community, not to the individual. It should be recited according to the discipline and traditions of each church. The faithful are exhorted to participate in it.

Art. 23 – Use of liturgical language.

Regarding the use of language in sacred liturgy the patriarch with his synod has the power to regulate the use of the language with the approval of the texts by the Holy See. Here the permission is given only for translation which should be faithful to the original text.

Art 24. Relations with the Brethren of the separated churches.

Catholics should show that unity of churches can be achieved without  losing their individual characteristics.

To promote the unity  the council suggests the following:

– Prayer

-Exemplary life

-Religious fidelity to ancient eastern traditions

– Mutual knowledge


– Brotherly regard for objects (icon etc) and attitudes (feeling)

Art.25 – about individual conversion

1. Only a simple profession of catholic faith is demanded.

2. Clerics united are permitted to exercise the orders they possess.

Catholic faith: authority of pope, infallibility, assumption and Immaculate Conception of Bl.Virgin Mary.

They are not bound to follow all the private devotions in the Catholic Church.

Art. 26 common worship

Any common worship (communicatio in sacris) which would damage the unity of the church or involve formal acceptance of falsehood or danger of deviation in the faith, of scandal or of indifferentism, is forbidden by divine law.  Considering the pastoral experience and circumstances the council lays the following with regard the common worship.

Separated Eastern Christians in good faith may be granted the sacrament of penance, Eucharist and anointing of the sick if they ask of their own accord and have right disposition.  The Catholics may also ask them from the non-Catholics who possess valid sacraments.  This should be in the case of necessity and when it is impossible to have access to catholic priest. Common worship is not possible when there is no Eucharistic unity.

Participation in the extra-sacramental worship

Art.28. participation in marriage, burials and similar functions is permitted.

Art. 29 – Common worship should be under the watchful care of the bishop, because it has not only its positive side but also its undeniable dangers. Bishops are asked to show due consideration for each other on this point, so that different practices in the same region or even in the same place might not cause confusion among the faithful.


She council expresses its joy in the fruitful and zealous collaboration between the Eastern and Western catholic churches. All Christians are asked to pray for unity to God the Father, Jesus Christ, Holy Spirit and Blessed Virgin Mary


Trinity according to the Orthodox Church

The Orthodox Church considers the doctrine of trinity as something that has a living, practical importance for every christian. Man is made in the image of God, and to christians God means the Trinity: thus it is only in the light of the dogma of the Trinity that man can understand who he is and what God intends him to be. The basic elements in the doctrine of Trinity are the following:

1. God is absolutely transcendent. The absolute trascendence of God is safeguarded by the use of the way of negation of apophatic theology, which speaks of God in negative terms. God cannot be properly apprehended by man’s mind, human language when applied to Him, is always inexact. It is therefore less misleading to use negative language about God rather than positive to say what He is not.

St. Gregory of Nyssa (+394) says: “the true knowledge and vision of God consist in this – in seeing that He is invisible, because what we seek lies beyond all knowledge, being wholly separated by the darkness of incomprehensibility. St. john of Damscus (675- 749) says: “God is infinite and incomprehensible and all that is comprehensible about Him is His infinity and incomprehensibility…God does not belong to the class of existing things, not that He has no existence, but that He is above all existing things, nay even above existence itself”.

The emphasis on God’s transcendence would seem at first sight to exclude any direct experience of God. But in fact many who made use of negative theology like Gregory of Nyssa, Dionisius, Maximus, also believed in the possibility of a true mystical union with God. They combined the way of negation with the way of union, with the tradition of the mystics or hesychasts. Hesychast comes from the Greek word Hesychia which means quiet. Hesychast is the one who in silence devotes himself to inner recollection and private prayer.

For the Orthodox the positive or Cataphatic theology or the way of affirmation must always be balanced and corrected by the employment of negative language

2.God, although absolutely transcendent, is not cut off from the world, which He has made.God is above and outside His creation, yet He also exists within it. “Thou art everywhere and fillest all things”(a prayer). The Orthodox makes a distinction between God’s essence and energies. His Essence remains unapproachable but His Energies come down to us. We experience them in the form of deifying grace and divine light. Our God is a God who hides himself yet He is also a God who acts -God of history- intervening directly in concrete situations.

3.God is personal, that is to say Trinitarian.  When man participates in the divine energies he is brought face to face with a person. God is a trinity of three persons, each of whom dwells in the other two, by virtue of a perpetual movement of love.

4. God is an Incarnate God. God has come down in His own person. The second person of Trinity became man. This shows the closer union between God and His creation.

Question of Filioque.

The Holy Trinity is a mystery of unity in diversity, and of diversity in unity. Father, Son and the Holy Spirit are one in essence (homoousios) yet each is distinguished from the other two by personal characteristics. St. Gregory of Nazianz says, “The Divine is indivisible in its divisions” for the persons are united yet no confused, distinct yet not divided (John of Damascus), both the distinction and union alike are paradoxical (Gregory of Nazianz).

If each of the persons is distinct, what holds the Holy Trinity together? There is one God because there is one Father. Father is the source of Godhead, the principle of unity among the three, born of none and proceeding from none. Son is born of the Father from all eternity; the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father from all eternity. This is the doctrine of the Orthodox Church.

According to Western (Latin) theology the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. For them the principle of unity in the Trinity is the Divine Essence, which all the three share. The synod Toledo (589) for the first time officially inserted “filioque” in the Nicean Creed. Then it spread throughout the whole Latin Church, Frankfert (794) Rome (1014). The west retained their formula “a patre filioque” and later this insertion of filioque caused the division between the East and the West.

The Orthodox Church makes a distinction between the eternal procession of Spirit from the father and a temporal mission from the Son- sending of the Holy Spirit to the world. The one concerns the relation existing from all eternity within the Godhead; the other concerns the relation God to creation. As the son has two births, an eternal birth from the Father and a birth at particular point of time, so the Holy Spirit has an eternal procession from the Father and a temporal mission from the Son. The Orthodox Church claims that their teaching is based on Jn. 15,26. “I will send the Spirit to you from the Father”. The 13th and 14th centuries the. theologians speak of an eternal manifestation of the Holy Spirit by the Son, e.g. Gregory Palamas.

The orthodox theologians say that filioque leads either to ditheism or to semisabellianism- Father, Son and Hoy Spirit are three modes or ways of action. Ditheism is a belief in two gods. If Father and Son are two principles then there are two Gods. Lyons and Florence declared that Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son as from one principle (tamquam ex uno principio). Therefore, according to the Orthodox Church filioque is dangerous and heretical. It confuses the persons and destroys the proper balance between unity and diversity in the Godhead. Besides the Holy Spirit has become subordinated to the Son.



Creation of Man

Creation of the man is act of all the three persons of the Trinity. Gen. 1,26 says: “Let us make man according to our image and likeness”. Here image and likeness is Trinitarian.

Image and likeness do not mean exactly the same thing. John of Damascus says: Image indicates rationality and freedom. Likeness indicates assimilation to God through virtues. The image signifies man’s free will, his reason, his sense of moral responsibility in everything, in short, the distinguishing mark of man from the animal and makes him a person. It also means that we are God’s offspring, His kin. It means that between God and us there is a point of contact, an essential similarity. For because we are in God’s image we can know God and have communion with him. And if a man makes use of this faculty for communion with God, then he will become like God, he will acquire the divine likeness and he will be assimilated to God through virtues.. (John Damascus)

Grace and free will

Because man is the image of God, he is the son, he possesses a free will. To describe the relation between the grace of God and free will of man, Orthodoxy uses the term cooperation or synergy  (synergeia). St.Paul says: “we are fellow workers (synergoi) with God (1.Cor.3, 9). To achieve full fellowship with God, man as well as God must make his contribution to the common work. Of course God’s work has immeasurably greater importance. So God’s grace and human free will are equally important. The supreme example of synergy is the Mother of God.

The West accused the Orthodox Church of giving more importance to man’s free will. But the Orthodox Church claims that their church’s teaching is very straightforward. They quote, Rev.3, 20: “Behold, I stand at the door,and knock; If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in”. God knocks but waits for men to open the door. He does not break the door. The grace of the God invites all but compels none. St.John Chrysostom says: “God never draws anyone to himself by force or violence. He wishes all men to be saved, but forces no one”. St. Cyril of Jerusalem (+386) says: “It is for God to grant his grace, your task is to accept that grace and to guard it”. God’s gifts are free gifts, man cannot claim for it, but he must work for it, since faith without good works is dead (James. 2,17).

Fall and Original Sin

Adam was given free will- the power to choose between good and evil. It rested with him either to accept the vocation set before him or to refuse it. Adam refused it. His fall consisted essentially in his disobedience of the will of God; he set his own will against the divine will and so by his own act he separated himself from God. As a result a new form of existence appeared on earth- that of disease and death. By turning away from God who is immortality and life, man put himself in a state that was contrary to nature, and his unnatural condition led to an inevitable disintegration of his being and eventually to physical death. The consequences of Adam’s disobedience extended to all his descendants. We are members one of another (St. Paul) and if one member suffers, the whole body suffers. In virtue of this mysterious unity of human race, not only Adam, but also all mankind became subject to mortality. Cut off from God, Adam and his descendants passed under the domination of sin and of the devil. Man’s will is weakened and enfeebled. The Greeks call it desire; the Latins call it concupiscence.

The Orthodoxy holds a less exalted idea of man’s state before the fall, and also less severe than the west in its view of the consequences of the fall. Adam’s fall is not from a great height of knowledge and perfection but from a state of undeveloped simplicity. Hence he is not to be judged too harshly for his error. His mind became darkened, his will power was impaired, so he could not hope to attain to the likeness of God. But he was not deprived entirely of God’s grace. The image of God is distorted, but never destroyed.

Most orthodox theologians reject the idea of original guilt, man automatically inherit Adam’s corruption and mortality but not his guilt. They are only guilty in so far as by their own free choice they imitate Adam. The orthodoxy never held that unbaptized babies are consigned to hell. Greek Fathers were not much interested in the doctrine of original sin


Incarnation is an act of God’s philanthropia of his loving kindness towards mankind. Many Eastern writers argue that if man had never fallen, God in His love for humanity would still have become man. Incarnation must be seen as part of the eternal purpose of God and not simply as an answer to the fall. Because of the fall of man, incarnation is not only an act of love but an act of salvation (cf. Maximus the Confessor +662; Issac the Syrian 7thc). Christ united man and God in his person, opened man the path to union with God. Christ showed the true likeness of God.

Christ is true God and true man, one person in two natures without separation and without confusion, a single person endowed with two wills and two energies.

A striking feature of the orthodox approach to the Incarnate Christ is the overwhelming sense of his divine glory behind the veil of Christ’s flesh, Christians behold the Triune God. The two moments in Christ’s life when his divine glory was made manifest are Transfiguration on Mount Tabor and the Resurrection. Both are great feasts. The Orthodox do not overlook humanity of Christ. Veneration of the cross, reverence to the Holy Land etc. show this.

God knows different possible worlds:

  1. A world without sin
  2. A world without sin and with Christ as its head.

3. A world with sin but without Christ.

           4 A world with sin but also with Christ as its redeemer in whom God’s merciful love and goodness is best revealed and in whom the world is redeemed and in whom the whole world is sanctified and perfected. Among these possible worlds God by an absolute decree elected the present  world


Holy Sprit.

The works of Christ and the Holy Sprit are complementary and reciprocal. Christ’s work of redemption cannot be considered apart from the Holy Sprit’s work of sanctification. St. Athanacius says: “The Word took flesh, that we might receive the Sprit”. So the aim of incarnation is the sending of Holy Sprit at Pentecost.


Christian life is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit. So it can be defined in terms of deification. The final goal of every christian is to become God, to attain theosis /deification/divinization. For the Orthodox Church man’s salvation and redemption means his deification.

Behind the doctrine of deification there is the idea of image and likeness. Man is made in the image of Trinity and is called to dwell in the Trinitarian God. Christ prayed that we might share in the life of God the Trinity. Cf. Jo. 17, 2. God dwelling in us and we in Him.

The idea of deification must always be understood in the light of the distinction between God’s energies and His essence. Union with God means union with the divine energies.

The mystical union between God and man is a true union, yet in this union creator and creature do not become fused into a single being. Man retains his full personal integrity, when deified, remains distinct from God. The saints do not lose their free will but voluntarily and in love conform their will to the will of God, nor cease to be human. “We remain creatures while becoming God by grace as Christ remained God when becoming man by the Incarnation. Man does not become God by nature, but by grace (St. Basil).

Man’s body is also deified. “Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit” I Cor. 6,19. The full deification of the body must wait, however, until the last day, for in this present life the glory of the saints is as a rule an inward splendour, a splenndour of the soul alone, then it will be outwardly manifest like Christ’s body on Mount Tabor.

The Orthodox Church has an immense reverence for the relics of the saints because they are convinced that the body is sanctified and transfigured toget6her with the soul. They believe God’s grace is present in them and God uses them as a channel of divine power and an instrument of healing.

The Orthodox Church holds that the whole of material creation will eventually be transfigured (Cosmic redemption). Teilhard de Chardin also speaks of comic redemption. Jesus died on the cross to raise up the world, to move it upward and forward, closer to God and closer to its final point of maturation. Christ descends sacramentally not only into the host (bread) but into the whole universe itself which gradually being transformed by the Incarnation. The world evolves towards the Parousia and the final fullness of all things in Christ will be accomplished at the Parousia.


1. Deification is for all, the full deification is only at the last day, but the process of divinization must be started here and now in this present life.

2. Deification doesn’t mean that one ceases to be conscious of sin. It always presupposes a continued act of repentance.

3. Deification demands observance of the commandments.

4. Deification is a social process. Love of God and of neighbor as himself is important. So there is nothing selfish about deification. St. Antony of Egypt says: “From our neighbor is life and from our neighbor is death. If we win our neighbor we win God, but if we cause our neighbor to stumble we sin against God”.

5. Love of God and love of neighbor must be practical.

6. Deification presupposes life in the Church, life in the sacraments, common life within the fellowship of the Church.


The Church of God: The community aspect of the church is very much stressed in the Oriental Churches. “One falls alone, but no one is saved alone”. The Orthodox Church insists on and agrees with the Catholic Church, the hierarchical structure of the church, the apostolic succession, the episcopacy, priesthood, intercession of the saints, prayer for the dead. But it disagrees about the supremacy and the universal jurisdiction of the pope and papal infallibility. The Orthodox Church treats the church in relation to God. So the idea of the church is spiritual. Three phrases are used to describe the relation of the church with God:

  1. The church is the image of the holy trinity. The church reproduces on the earth the mystery of unity in diversity. She is an icon of God the Trinity. In the trinity the three are one God, yet each is fully personal, in the church a multitude of persons are united in one, yet each preserves his personal diversity unimpaired.

The conception of the church as an icon of trinity has many further applications. Just as each person of the trinity is autonomous, so the church is made up of several autocephalous and autonomous churches, and just as in the Trinity the three persons are equal, so in the church no one bishop can claim to wield an absolute power over all the rest.

 The council is also an expression of the Trinitarian nature of the church. Many bishops assembled in the council freely reach a common mind under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

  1. The church is the Body of Christ. We, who are many, are one body in Christ (Rom.12: 5). Between Christ and the church there is the closest possible bond. St.Ignatius says: “where Christ is, there is the catholic church”. The church is the extension of Incarnation. The Church is the Christ with us.
  2. The church is a continued Pentecost. The role of the Holy Spirit is important in the Church. St.Ireneus says:”Where the church is there is the Holy Spirit and where is the Spirit is there is the church”.

The unity and infallibility of the Church.

The unity of the church follows of necessarily from the unity of God. The church is one as God is one. There is only one Christ and so there can be only one Body of Christ.

There is visible unity in the Church. For the Catholic Church, the unifying principle in the church is the Pope, who has universal jurisdiction. For the Orthodox Church the act of communion is in the sacraments. Each local church is constituted by the congregation of the faithful (St.Ignatius), gathered around their bishop and celebrating the Eucharist. The church universal is constituted by the communion of the heads of the local churches, the bishops, with one another. Unity is not maintained from without by the authority of a supreme pontiff, but created from within by the celebration of the Eucharist. The church is not monarchical in structure, centered around a single hierarch. It is a collegial formed by the communion of many hierarchs with one another, and of each hierarch with members of his folk. The act of communion forms the criterion for membership of the church. One ceases to be a member of the church if he severs the communion with his fellow bishops.

The Orthodox Church believes that their church is the true church by the grace of God, because they have received a precious and unique gift from God. The orthodox theologians reject the branch theory, i.e. the church is divided into several branches, mainly three – the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church and the Anglican Church.

The Orthodox Church also teaches that outside the church there is no salvation. This follows from the close relation between God and His Church. St.Cyprian says: “A man cannot have God as his Father, if he does not have the church as his mother”. Outside the church  there is no salvation because salvation is the church. This does not mean that everyone who is visibly within the church is necessarily saved and not visibly within the church is necessarily damned. St.Augustine says: “How many sheep there are without, how many wolves within”. There may be members whose membership is known to God alone. If anyone is saved, he must be saved in some sense be a member of the church, in what sense, we cannot always say.

The church is infallible.

This also follows from the relation between God and the church. The church is Christ’s Body and a continued Pentecost, so it is infallible. It is the pillar and the ground of truth (1Tim.3: 15). Christ promised His continued assistance and Holy Spirit.

The great Orthodox theologian, Staniloe said to Cardinal Thomas Spidlik: “I cannot understand the infallibility of the pope”. Card. Spidlik replied: “You and I are also infallible. When I say during the Mass ‘this is my body…this is my blood’ or when ‘I absolve you of your sins’ these are infallible words and this is pope’s infallibility, nothing else. Staniloe said, “If infallibility is understood in this way, then it is easier to comprehend. The priests are infallible in the sacraments and the pope is also infallible when he speaks in the name of the great sacrament, of the whole church.

Bishops and Councils.

The Orthodox Church is a hierarchical church. It believes in the apostolic succession of the bishops. The dignity of the bishop is necessarily in the church, that without him neither the church nor the name christian could exist or even be spoken of at all. He is the living image of God upon the earth and a fountain of all sacraments through which we obtain salvation (Dositheus). “If any one is not with the bishop, he is not in the church”(St.Cyprian). At the election and the consecration a bishop is endowed with the threefold power of ruling, teaching and celebrating the sacraments.

The authority of the bishop is fundamentally the authority of the church. The bishop is not someone set up over the church, but holder of an office in the church. The bishop and the people are joined in an organic unity and neither can be properly thought of apart from the other. Without bishop, there cannot be orthodox people, and without orthodox people, there can be no true bishop. “ The church is the people united to the bishop, the flock clinging to its shepherd. The bishop in the church and the church in the bishop.” (St.Cyprian).

The relation between the bishop and his flock is a mutual one. The bishop is the divinely appointed teacher and the guardian of the faith. It is the bishop’s particular office to proclaim the truth. The Orthodox Church considers the first seven councils as ecumenical. It is not so clear precisely what it is that makes a council ecumenical. For them a council cannot be considered as ecumenical unless its decrees are accepted by the whole church


                             Christology according to the Eastern Church


In the Eastern thought, the role of Christ is described in different ways.

1. Christ as the saviour of the world

Jesus asks his disciples a question about their belief concerning his personal identity “who do you say that I am”. Peter answered declaring that Jesus was “the Messiah”, the Son of the living God”(Mt. 16,16). The whole life and activities of Jesus depend on his identity.

In the East there were debates on the identity of Christ. St. Athanatious and St.Cyril were two eminent champions of orthodoxy in these debates. Athanasius was the champion in the council of Nicea I during the Arian controversy. Nicea firmly proclaimed the divinity of Christ. The Nicean victory was not only doctrinal, but also spiritual. The message of Athanasius was that only God Himself could properly be seen and adored as saviour. Thus the divine identity of Jesus, equal to the Father, was not a matter of abstract or purely theological truth, but it indicated the misery of the fallen, mortal humanity- which could neither save itself nor be saved by another creature. It also indicated the true nature of God, who being love, performed Himself the salvation of the world rather than act indirectly through created intermediaries or through an all – powerful but mechanic fiat. It indicates that man cannot be saved by himself or by any other creatures, but only by God.

2. Christ as Immanuel

The central inspiration of Sts.. Athanasius and Cyril was this: only God can save us. St. Cyril says: it is not an elder, nor an angel but the Lord Himself who saved us, not by an alien death, or by the mediation of an ordinary man, but by His very own blood”.

The reconciliation of God as the agent of salvation is shown also in the repeated use of the title Emmanuel – God with us for Christ (letter of Cyril to Nestorius). Both Athanasius and Cyril could not conceive of the divine love manifested in the Incarnation to be really perfect unless it was an act of self giving of God – God so loved the world that He gave His only Son (Jn. 3, 16). This implied the personal presence of God in the human reality of Jesus of Nazareth.

Cyril’s argument against Nestorius was centered on two most human moments in the gospel story of Jesus:

His birth from Mary and   His death on the cross

 Cyril recognized that these moments belong to the divine economy in the flesh – that is, the eternal God by nature could neither be born in history nor die. But he considered that the salvation of the world would not have occurred unless it was perfectly the Son of God who was  born of the virgin and also personally suffered on the cross according to the flesh.

The whole spiritual experiences reflected in Cyril’s Christology implies two central intuitions:

1. God, in search for fallen humanity (lost sheep), does not stop half way, but goes where fallen humanity is – in death itself.

2 It is not an ideal, perfect humanity that the Son of God assumes, but that humanity which bears all the consequences of sin, particularly mortality and corruptibility. Except for sin itself he assumed all the limitations of falleness including suffering and death.

The Christology of Cyril was challenged from two sides:

1. School of Theodore of Mopsuetia (Antiochean). How could the eternal Son be born? How could the passionless God suffer and die?

2. Appollinarian school – Appollinarius, bishop of Laodicea, saw Jesus as God with a human body but without a human soul. Why there need in Jesus for another spiritual center besides the divine Logos? But then was He truly a man? This means that Jesus had a sinless humanity, which could not be affected by corruptibility and mortality – consequently his humanity is perfect, incorruptible not like ours, and therefore his death was not like our death.

There was ambiguous terminology in Cyril – one nature incarnate of God the word, but his rejection of Nestorianism was motivated by the conviction that human destiny lies in communion with God. According to the Antiochean school the human nature of Christ kept not only its identity but also its autonomy. Christ’s birth and death were human only; Mary was mother of Jesus not of God. Jesus the son of man died not the Son of God. It was this duality, which Cyril rejected.

Against Appollinarism, Cyril says that Christ accepted complete humanity – in a fallen state from which it needed to be saved – that the divine Logos had to assume suffering and death. In order to lead the humanity to incorruptibility through resurrection. He first came down where fallen humanity truly was – in the depth of the pit (Ps. 88,6) and then cried before dying “my God, why hast thou forsaken me” (Mt. 27,46).

It was the moment of the death of God – the assumption by God Himself in an ultimate act of love, of humanity in its state of separation from its natural communion with God. Christ’s humanity was, therefore, neither diminished nor limited. It was humanity in its very concrete falleness.

The council of Chalcedon affirmed the doctrine of two natures of Christ in their distinctiveness and the doctrine of hypostatic union. The Orthodox Church at the fourth council (553) reaffirmed it.

According to Cyrillian Christology, the humanity of Christ was deified through the cross and resurrection. Christ was the new Adam in whom humanity and divinity were reunited again.

The Christological definitions of Ephesus and Chalcedon, Constantinople II and Constantinople III entered the common tradition of the Eastern and Western Christendom. But the West remained somewhat reluctant in the face of doctrine of deification. For them, redemption –salvation tended to be understood as reconciliation with God rather than a restoration of communion with God. eg.: the Anselmian theory of redemption as satisfaction.

3. Christ as perfect God and perfect Man

St. Athanasius defended the divinity of Christ. St Cyril defended the unity of His being. But their messages remained controversial after their deaths.

In Nicea, ‘Homoousios’ was used to affirm the common divine essence or substance of the Father and the Son. Sabellians or modelists used the same term. For them, Father and the Son are of one essence meant that God was not three persons, but a unique essence with only three aspects or modes of manifestation. Therefore it needed further elaboration. The Cappadocean fathers elaborated it with their doctrine of three hypostasis or really distinct persons.

In Alexandria, after Cyril, Eutychus interpreted the unity of divinity and humanity of Christ to mean the humanity was so totally deified that it ceased to be our humanity. Christ was certainly consubstantial with the father but not with us. His humanity was absorbed by God.

The Chalcedonian definition of Christ tried to satisfy the different existing terminological traditions of Alexandria, Antioch and Rome. It kept the Cyrillian terminology stressing the unity of Christ (repeating the same word  and excluding the duality) and also insisted on the integrity of each nature, each keeping its respective properties within the union by favoring the Antiochean and Latin side. So it can be called a committee document or a catholic, charitable and ecumenical document. Chalcedon solved certain problems but created new ones.  A large Eastern Christian community opposed Chalcedon.

4. Church: the Body of Christ

Christ, the eternal Logos and the new Adam restored the unity of the whole humanity with himself. This restoration could not be automatic or magical; it required free human response to the spirit and the cooperation (synergia) of each human person and a “gathering” of free believers within the assembly of the church. So the restoration requires: –

i. A free human response to the Spirit.

ii. Cooperation of each person

iii. Gathering of free believers in the assembly of the church

The whole Christ (St.Augustine) was manifested where two or three were gathered in His name (Mt. 18,20) where the Pauline image of body could be concretely present. And that body is the church realized most fully in the Eucharist. Participation in the Eucharist in Christological terms was a participation in the resurrected and glorified humanity assumed in the hypostasis of the Son of God and in virtue of the “communication of idioms” between the two natures – penetrated with divine life or energies or grace (John of Damascus).

When we partake in the Body of Christ- being in Christ – we are not identified with the Logos, because person is always unique. It involves a sharing through the power of the spirit, in its glorified humanity- a humanity that remains fully human even after its glorification. The Iconoclasts claimed that Christ, deified in his resurrection, had become indescribable and therefore denounced the possibility of making images of Him.

            Iconoclasts, especially, Emperor Constantine V affirmed the Eucharist to be the only legitimate and biblically established image of God. But the orthodox say that Eucharist was a true and real identification of the faithful with the risen lord – not simply a vision of his image (Theodore of Studites). For them, the Eucharist was never the object of a vision: only the icons were to be seen. It is this general conception that justified the development of Iconostasis. It is the system of icons covering the screen, which separates the sanctuary from the nave of a Byzantine church. The Eucharistic mystery performed behind it is not an object of visual contemplation but a meal eventually distributed to the faithful who otherwise communicate with God by contemplating and venerating icons.

Christ and Bl. Virgin Mary

In Ephesus (431) Mary was designated as bearer of God (Theotokos ) or Mother of God (meter Theou). It affirmed the personal identity of Christ as the preexisting and eternal Son of God assuming the human nature. This decision added a decisive new emphasis to the christian spirituality- a renewed veneration of fMary – She made possible the union of divinity and humanity.

Theotokos was the first doctrinal decision of the church concerning Mary. In NT she was extolled –all generations will call me blessed (Lk. 1, 48.)

Ireneus and Justin called her as the New Eve. Many others glorified her as the earth unsown, burning bush, bridge leading to heaven, ladder which Jacob saw etc.

The Marian piety expresses a spiritual discovery of the human side of the Incarnation mystery. The role of that simple women who conceived the new life, was a reminder of the humanity of Jesus Himself and it gave in a new form the message that free fellowship and communion with God were true expression of authentic human nature.

This shows that the veneration of Mary was never separated from its christological context. This was the only doctrinal definition about Mary. Her exaltation. after Ephesus, did not mean that her belonging to fallen humanity was forgotten. Commenting Mt. 12,46-49-“who is mother, who are my brothers,” John Chrysostom frankly recognized Mary’s human failings and imperfections. The mother of Jesus was seen within the mystery of salvation, as the representative of humanity in need of salvation. But within the mankind, she was the closest to the Saviour and the worthiest receptacle of the new life.

St. Augustine says of Mary’s Immaculate Conception as the object of special grace of God that made her in advance worthy of divine motherhood.

In the West original sin was understood as inherited guilt. And it made it inevitable that Mary be approached in terms of an ‘Immaculate Conception’, as the object of a special grace of God that made her in advance worthy of divine motherhood. The East did not follow that trend, because the consequences of the sin of Adam were seen as inherited mortality rater than as guilt, so that there was no need to see Mary in isolation from the common lot of the fallen humanity


            Sacramental Theology according to the Eastern Churches


            Being in Christ, participating in divine life, is essentially manifested in the sacraments. So sacraments are the acts in which God shares divine life with humanity.

1.Sacraments according to the Assyrian Church of the East.

            According to Abdisho (963-968) the sacraments are the means of divine life in us and as in the natural life there is birth, growth etc. so in the divine life in us. He gives a list of the sacraments:

1. The priesthood which is the ministry of all other sacraments.

2. .Holy Baptism.

3..The  oil of Unction.

4. Oblation of the Body and Blood of Christ.


6..The Holy Leaven.

7..The sign of Life-giving cross.

He also speaks of marriage as a sacred rite.

            About Baptism he says: “In order for a man to be, and to exist in the world, he must be born of a carnal mother through a carnal father….In like manner, in order to belong to the world of immortality it is necessary to be born of the spiritual womb of baptism. (cf.Abdisho of Soba or Nisibis, The Book of the Jewel, tr.G.P. Badger, The Nestorians and their rituals 1-11, London, 1852, pp.404-405.

Baptism as a sharing of Christ’s life and death, is given at the night of resurrection or Easter.

            By anointing with the sacred oil one participates Christ’s ministry and becomes temple of God. St.Ephrem says:

“In it a symbol of your bodies, by chrism they are sealed as holy and becomes temples  of God,where He shall  be served by your  sacrifices”.

Cf.St..Ephrem, Hymn of Epiphany, tr. Edward Johnson.

Rite of absolution fundamentally is a reconciliation with God and the Church. Marriage is not merely a marital relationship between husband and wife, but a realization of the link, spousal and everlasting, between Christ and the Church. It is not that Christ and the Church are the symbol of the Christian marriage, but on the contrary, marriage between Christians is an image of that of Christ and the Church (P.Yousif). According to St.Eprem Virginity is receiving Christ. She reserves herself to Christ as her spouse and carries Him in  her being also her child. Mary is the image. Holy Leaven and Sign of the cross. The former is used for the Eucharist and the latter keeps christains and realized the sacraments. Abdisho says: “The holy leaven is used as the spiritual food of the body of Christ. The sign of the Cross is that by which christains are ever kept, and by it the other sacraments are sealed and perfected.

The sacred orders. The consecration in the sacred orders is a spiritual habilitation to exercise a service. There is a variety of consecrations because of the variety of services.

And they are performed in the Church and for the Church.

The following are the different services and consecrations

Lectors-servants of the word

Subdeacons-servants of the house of God.

Deacons-sevants of the sacraments in the Church of God.

Priests-dispensers of the mysteries of sacraments

Bishops-pastor, father, guide

Patriarch-head of the shepherds.

From this it is clear that priestly ministry is constituted for three services which are correlated: altar, gospel, the people. The ministry in the church is for the benefit  of the members of the church. An ecclesiastical service has no meaning outside the communion of the church.

The basis of the ministry is the respective consecration or ordination. Jurisdiction is a consequence of  sacramental ordination and in some cases it may be revoked. No honorary or titular bishop exist.

Patriarch Timoty II (1318-1360) gave as seven sacraments:

i.Holy orders

ii.The consecration of a Church and Altar.

iii.Baptism and Holy oil (confirmation)

iv.The blessing of monks.

v.The office for the dead.

vi.The holy sacrament of the Body and Blood. Of Christ


Then he adds a supplenment: Indulgence or penance and the forgiving of sins. Mr.Badger says that they now generally allow 1.Orders 2.Baptism 3.The oil of unction, 4.the Oblation of the body and blood of Christ, 5.Absolution, 6.the Holy Leaven and 7.the sign of the cross. Putting these two lists together they have all seven sacraments.

The modern Nestorian does not confess his sins, because the clergy can not keep the seal. Eucharistic liturgy is celebrated only on Sundays and feast days and in the evening before Christmas Epiphany and Easter.

            The Nestorians emphasize the continuity of the Eucharist by the unity of bread used. Each time it is baked, it is leavened not only with some dough from the last baking but with a small portion of the holy leaven which has been handed on form age to age in each church. The baseless legend is that our Lord at the last supper gave an extra consecrated loaf to St.John who later mixed it with water that had fallen from Christ’s body at his baptism, and blood and water that flowed from his side at the crucifixion, The resulting dough was divided among the apostles and has been handed on by a process of leavening ever since. This leaven is renewed in every church by the addition of dough, salt and olive oil by a priest and deacon on every Holy Thursday. No liturgy may be celebrated without it and it is sometimes numbered among the sacraments. An embroidery of the legend is that the West anathematized  Nestorius because when fled from Constantionple he took all the holy leaven with him and left the rest of the world without it.

The Holy Apostles anaphora of the Nestorians misses the words of institution. It is said the omission in the manuscripts was made out of  respect for the holy words.

Nestorians receive Holy communion (only rarely) in both kinds separately, the celebrant ministering the Host, the deacon the chalice. As the Bl. Sacrament is not reserved  there is no provision for communion of the sick outside the liturgy.

            Confirmation was first confused with the baptismal rite followed immediately, and was then dropped altogether. Penance has gone out of use, except in the reconciliation of an apostate. Anointing of the sick does not exist. They have penitential seasons .In addition to seven weeks of lent there are other long and severe


Sacraments according to the Orthodox Church

Sacraments are sacred rites through which the grace of God is imparted in a hidden way. Here the mysterious character is emphasized. No ecumenical Council has determined the number of the sacraments. St. John the Demascus (675-749) recognized two sacraments only, Baptism with confirmation and the Eucharist.

Theodore of Studies (9-thc.) gives the list of six sacraments,

  1. The Holy Illumination
  2. The synaxis (Eucharist)
  3. The holy Chrism
  4. Ordination.
  5. Monastic tonsure.
  6. Service of Burial.

 The number seven appears for the first time in the profession of faith by emperor Michael Paleologus in 1267. It was prepared by the Latin theologians.

 After the Second Council of Lyons (1274) at which Orthodox  renewed its acquiantence with the West , the western usage of seven sacraments was normally adopted.

The Monk  Job  (13th c.) includes the tonsure of the monk, but combines penance and anointing of the sick.

Symeon of Thessalonica (5th c) also admits tonsure of the monk and classifies it together with penance. He considers anointing as a separate sacrament.

Josphat of Ephesus (5th c.) says: I believe that the sacraments of the church are not seven , but more , He gives a list of ten including the consecration of the church, the funeral service and monastic tonsure.

Obviously the Byzentine Church never committed itself formally to any specific list. Many authors accept the list of seven, while others give a longer list , still others emphasize only two, Baptism and Eucharist. Gregory Palamas (1296-1359) proclaims that  “in these two our whole salvation is rooted, since the entire economy of true God –Man is recapitulated in them.

Baptism and Confirmation – are normally administerd  together.. Immediately the Eucharist is given.

Symeon of Thesselonica says  ‘If one does not receive the chrism he is not  perfectly baptised’.

Nicholas Cabsilas says ‘Baptism is nothing else but to be born according to Christ and to receive our very being and nature ‘. The salutary day of baptism becomes a name day to christians, because then they are formed and shaped and our shapeless and undefined life receives shape and definition’. Births, new birth , refashioning and seal, as well as baptism cloth and anointing gift enlightening and washing –all signify this one thing that the rite is the beginning of existence for those who are and live in accordance with God.

  1. Baptism is a gift of God. It is not depending on the human choice, consent or even consciousness. “Just as in the case of physical birth, we do not even contribute willingness to all the blessings Derived from baptism”. So they do not have any doubt about the legitimacy of  infant baptism.
  2. Through bapism one becomes  theocentric. One recovers the original destiny which is eschatological and mysterious because it partakes the very mystery of God .
  3. Baptism is a beginning and a promise of a new life. It implies a free self- determination and growth. It does not suppress human freedom, but restores it to its original and natural form. In the case of infant baptism this restoraton is potential, but the sacrament always implies a call to freedom.
  4. Baptism is a liberation from the bonds of satan. It is signified by the exorcism before baptism.

There are numerous rites in Baptism.

1 Exorcism. The priest breathes thrice on the candidate and signs him with the sign of the cross. The devil is exorcized , partly through direct evocations;“satan, the Lord exorcizes thee get out hence ” and  partly through prayers that God  would drive out the evil spirit.

2 Renunciation. The candidate turns to the west, thrice exclaims: “I renounce thee ” and spits in token of his  aversion to the devil. Turning to the east , he  confesses Christ and ejaculates three times  “I surrender myself to Christ”.

3. The recitation of the Nicean Creed. In the case of an infant one of the godparents makes it.

4. The consecration of the baptismal water. The water is consecrated by the prayers of the priest who touches it  with the flat of his hand, and breathes upon it.

5. The anointing of the candidate with sacred oil.

  1. The baptism by three Immersions/sprinkling

                            Ways of prayer and contemplation in the East


.          Russian bishop Theophan of Recluse (1815-1864) says: “The principal thing is to stand before God with the intellect in the heart, and go on standing before him unceasingly day and night, until the end of life”. This reflects the understanding of prayer in Greek and Syrian writers of the first eleven centuries . It indicates three things:

  1. To pray is to stand before God. It is a meeting to face to face and one enters into a personal relationship with God. Here one needs not ask anything or speak in words, but silence is enough.
  2. To stand with the intellect in the heart. It means that the two faculties are to be united. Heart is the center where the created humanity is directly open to uncreated love.
  3. The attitude or relationship of standing before God is to be continued, i.e. unceasingly day and night until the end of life. St. Paul says: “pray constantly” (1 Thess 5,17). Prayer is not merely one activity among others, but the activity of our entire existence, a dimension present in everything else that we undertake.

Prayer is a direct encounter between living persons- God and man. So it cannot be restricted within precise rules, it should be free, spontaneous and unpredictable.  The Eastern writers do not offer any abstract theories or definitions about prayer and contemplation.

The two basic stages on the spiritual journey are the active life (praxis, praktike) and the contemplative life (theoria). Martha is treated as the symbol of active and Mary of the contemplative life (cf. Clement of Alexandria, Origen). In the Western thought the active life normally denotes members of religious orders engaged in teaching, preaching or social work, whereas the contemplative life refers to religious who live in enclosure. But in the East the terms apply to inner development, not to external situation: the active life means ascetic effort to acquire virtue and to master the passions, whereas the contemplative life signifies the vision of God. Thus according to this most hermits and enclosed religious are still struggling at the active stage, whereas a doctor or social worker may yet at the same time be pursuing the contemplative life, if he is practicing inner prayer and has attained silence of heart.

The contemplative life may be subdivided into contemplative life of mature and that of God. Thus there are three stages on the spiritual journey:

  1. The active life –parktike
  2. Contemplation of nature or natural contemplation (physike)
  3. Contemplation of God or vision of God (theoria, theologia –theology or gnosis –spiritual knowledge).

Origen speaks of these as ethics, physics and enoptics or mystical theology and he associates each stage with a particular book of Bible:

Ethics with Proverbs

Physics with Ecclesastes

Mystical theology with Song of Songs.

Evagrius of Pontus (346-399) gives an explanation of these three stages. The active life praktike begins with repentance which is understood not merely as sorrow for sin but as a change of mind (metanoia), a radical conversion, the re-centering of our entire  life upon God. With the help of God we should strive to overcome the deep-rooted passions. For Evagrius passion (pathos) signifies a disordered impulse, such as jealousy, lust, uncontrolled anger etc. that violently dominates the soul. So passions are seen as unnatural, intrinsically evil, a “disease” and thus it is not true part of our human personhood. But Theodret of Cyrus (393-466) regarded passion including sexual instinct, as impulses originally placed in humanity by God, essential to our survival and capable of being turned to good purposes. It is not passion as such, but its misuse that is sinful. Gregory of Palamas (1296-1359) adapted a similar view. He insisted that our aim is redirection of the passions and not their suppression or mortification, He even speaks of “divine and blessed passions”.

Evagrius gives the list of eight evil thoughts: gluttony, lust, avarice, dejection, anger, despondency (listlessness), vainglory, and pride. The christian is called to struggle not only against the passions but also against these thoughts (logismoi). Keeping watch over his heart and growing in self-awareness, one acquires nepsis (sobriety or watchfulness) and diakrisis (discernment or discrimination – the power to distinguish between good and evil thoughts). These qualities should be accompanied by penthos (inward “grief”), and katanyxis (compunction) together with the gift of tears. But tears are not only penitential. What begins as “bitter” tears of sorrow are gradually changed into “sweet” tears of gratitude and love. John Climacus (7th c.) speaks of this as “joy – creating sorrow”.

            For Evagrius  the final aim of the active life is to achieve apatheia (dispassion, freedom from passion). It is a state of reintegration and spiritual freedom. In the West it is rendered as puritas cordis – purity of  heart  (John Cassian)

The second stage is Physike, natural contemplation. It is to see God in all things and all things in God. It is to treat each thing as a sacrament, to view the whole of nature as God’s book: St. Antony’s words: ‘My book, philosopher, is the nature of created things, and it is ready at hand whenever I wish to read the words of God”. (Evagrius).

Evagrius divides physike into 1.first natural contemplation which is directed toward things non-material, toward the angelic realm of spiritual reality. An important aspect of physike is meditation on the inner meaning of Holy Scripture. 2. Second natural contemplation, its object is the physical world perceived by the bodily senses.

The third stage is “theoria” – contemplation of God. Here man no longer approaches the creator through the works of creation, but meets God directly, face to face, in an unmediated union of love. Since the deity is a mystery beyond words and understanding, it follows that in such contemplation the human mind has to rise above concepts, words and images- above the level of discursive thinking – so as to apprehend God intuitively through simple gazing or touching. The mind is to become “naked” passing beyond multiplicity to unity. Its goal is “pure prayer” prayer that is not only morally pure and  free from sinful thoughts but also intellectually pure and free from all thoughts.

 “Whenever you are praying, do not shape within yourself any image of the            Deity, and do not let your mind be stamped with the impress of any form: but approach the immaterial in an immaterial manner …Prayer means the shedding of thoughts … Blessed is the intellect that has acquired complete freedom from sensations during  prayer.  (Evagrius).

At the higher levels of contemplation, then awareness of the subject –object differentiation recedes, and in its place there is only a sense of all-embracing unity. “A monk’s prayer is not perfect if in the course of it he is aware of himself or of the fact that he is praying (words of St. Antony of Egypt in Conferences 9,31 by Cassian). “You are the music while the music lasts”(T.S. Eliot).

In this way the apophatic attitude is to be applied not only to theology but also to prayer. In the realm of prayer it means that the mind is to be stripped of all images and concepts, so as that our abstract concepts about God are replaced by the sense of God’s immediate presence. Accordingly St. Gregory of Nyssa gave a symbolical interpretation of the first commandment. He says that not only images of stone but also conceptual images that must be shattered. “Every concept grasped by the mind becomes an obstacle in their quest to those who search. Our aim is to attain, beyond all words and concepts, a certain sense of presence. The Bridegroom is present, but he is not seen”. This kind of presence of God is designated in Greek sources by the term hesychia, meaning tranquility and inner stillness (hence hesychasm and hesychast). Hesychia means   silence, not negatively in the sense of absence of speech, a pause between words, but positively in the sense of an  attitude of listening. It signifies plenitude, not emptiness; presence, not a void.

The Eastern writers do not exclude the imaginative meditation and many writers also recommended a detailed imaginative meditation upon the life of Christ and more especially, on the passion. E.g. Mark the Monk, Nicolas Cabasilas(14th c.) Peter of Damascus (11-12 c.). So imageless prayer and imaginative meditation are not mutually exclusive but complementary.

With regard to the faculty of the human person that apprehends God in contemplative prayer the Eastern writers are divided. Evagrius defined prayer “as the highest intellection of the intellect”. So the faculty for him is nous or intellect which is not the discursive reason but the direct understanding of spiritual truth through  intuition or inner sight. Other Greek Fathers regarded prayer as a function not so much of the nous as of the kardia or heart. Thus there two are schools: “intellectualists and affective”.

The Veneration of Mary in the Oriental Church

In the Oriental Church Mary is venerated in a very special way. The people  love her icons. In Russia before the revolution the liturgical calendar listed about 1000 Marian icons that were venerated under  diverse  titles, such as: “Our Consolation and Providence (Jan. 21), The Weeping (Feb. 1), Softening of hard hearts (Feb.2), Spiritual banner (Mar.3), Tenderness (Mar. 19), Fertile Mountain (Mar.24), Portress (June 23), Econom (July 5) New Heaven (Sept. 9) Giver of God (Oct .11) etc.

      Marian devotion was cultivated especially in monasteries among monks and woman religious, because they see in the most Pure the full realization of what is sought in monastic life. When we study Mariology of the Orient we have to consider three aspects which the monastic literature of the Orient has strongly emphasized : The ideal of the divinisation of the Christian , “ontological” sanctity, and liturgical piety .

1.The divinization of the Christian

    The Orientals concentrate their attention on the exemplarism by meditating on the signified in facts and things, for example they concentrate their attention not only on the fact that man was created, but rather on what follows in the biblical text: “in His image; in the divine image He created him (Gen. 1: 26- 27 ). The Occidentals look for the cause of events. They begin with the fundamental affirmation that man was created by God and from this they draw consequences . (Spiritual exercise of St. Ignatius Loyola).

     Origen and others (Oriental Tradition) distinguish the two terms: image and likeness. The image is nothing less than an initial divinization: the scope is to become as like to God as possible. This ascent from image to likeness will be completed in the glory of the resurrected bodies (Jn. 3:2) and in conformity with the prayer of Christ (Jn. 17:21), in unity.

Mariology in the Orient is based on this patristic teaching: Image and Likeness.  Demetrio de Rostov, Ukranian Bishop, venerated as a saint, (1651-1709), in his treaties Sull’imagine di Dio e sulla somiglianza con l’ uomo says: “image and likeness do not exist in the body but in the soul and this admits degrees just as perfection does”. In the Slavic language a monk considered as a saint was called very similar to God; and the mother of God was venerated as the most similar. Three degrees, therefore, may be established: the christian is like God (podoben), the monk is more like (prepodebnyj) and Mary is most like to God (prepodebnejsaja). According to this, teaching of Orientals on Mary is not an independent dogma but it remains inherent in the same entire christian teaching as an anthropological leitmotiv (V.Lossky). Therefore Mary is venerated based on the doctrine of divinization. Mary is glorified because God divinizes her. The divinization of man corresponds to the interior logic of the humanization of God. It is a mysterious exchange in which “ each made his own the properties of the other”. The Russian icons teach this doctrine. The red color is the symbol of divine and blue, the human. As a consequence Christ is clothed in red and with a blue mantle. The inner dress of Mary is blue but covered with a red mantle. God became man in order that man might become divine. The mantle almost covers Mary in as much as she is entirely divinized, full of Grace.

2. Mary an Example of Ontological Sanctity

One of the important characteristics of Oriental spirituality is ontological sanctity. It is the consequence of the first aspect, of divinization. Man is adjudged spiritual not only according to his moral actions, since these are only exterior manifestations of the presence of the Holy Spirit. Christian life is a transformation of the soul and of the body, their introduction into the sphere of the spirit, in other words this spiritualization of the soul and of the body (Teofane il Recluso, Russian author, (+1894).

In Mary- full of Grace- the ontological presence and the effects of the Spirit manifest themselves in a very particular manner. This Spirit is the sanctifier. “Mary, the All- Holy has summed up the sanctity of the Church, all the sanctity possible for a creature” ( V. Lossky ).

Between the spiritual man and the Holy Spirit there must be a most intimate union so that they form a “mixture”. St. Basil calls the Spirit our “form”. According to Teofane il Recluse the Spirit is the “ soul of our soul”. The Orientals do not speak of “sanctifying grace” but of the Holy Spirit in person. How then can the two persons, even though on such a different level the one a divine person, the other human , become “only one thing”? (Jn.17: 21). This is the reply: the three Divine Persons are united in one “nature”. Nature is the principle of operation. Men “made to participate in the divine nature” (2Pet.1:4 ) , unite with the Holy Spirit in one common operation : Synergeia

The best example of synergeia with the Holy Spirit is the divine maternity. Evdokimov says:To be born of the Holy Spirit and of the Virgin signifies for the Fathers the mystery of the second birth of every one of the faithful ex fide et Spiritu Sancto. The faith of the each of the faithful is rooted in the act of the Virgin, which has universal value, in her fiat. The annunciation, defined as the “feast of the root’’(St. John Crysostom) inaugurates a new age: the economy of salvation traces back to its Mariological roots and Mariology appears as an organic part of Christology. To the fiat of the Creator corresponds the fiat of the creature.

Ontologically the divine-human synergy is certain with the certitude of faith. Holy Spirit is the enlightener. Mary. Full of the Spirit. must therefore, have an entirely special enlightenment. In the West, Mary is presented as an example of external works whereas in the orient she is the sublime example of contemplation.

Contemplation is essentially the search of the mystery hidden either in the scriptures or in the created world, to discover Christ in the text of the Law and of the prophets and in the visible flesh of His humanity. This aspect is applied to Mary (Origen). The theme of contemplation recurs frequently in the texts for the Marian feasts celebrated in the monasteries with great splendor. Eg. Feast of the presentation of Mary in the temple. According to a legend, Mary dedicated herself in the temple to the weaving of the tabernacle veil. This texture recalls the “veil of the humanity of Christ” which reveals and conceals the Logos, symbol used already by Origen. The temple dwelling of God, refers to mystical steps to arrive at the “place of God” in the highest contemplation. There is a difference between Latin and Oriental spirituality. The adorations of holy hour propose to console the suffering Christ. The iconographical motive is different in the Orient: here we see Christ directing to his mother the words of consolation: “do not weep for me, Mother”. He helps her to overcome the temptation to see pain with purely human eyes and to ascend to the height of contemplation and enlightenment; to see the divine significance of the Cross.

In contemplation, on one aspect man contemplates God. But there is another aspect: man is created also to make God resplendent, so that God may be contemplated in him, in the likeness of the Son Who is both Contemplator and Revealer. In this sense Mary, the one most similar to God is most resplendent and the ideal of beauty. The Syrian poet James Sarug (+521) says: Love moves me to speak of her, who is beautiful / the sublimity of the discourse about her is greater than I, what shall I do? Only love when it speaks, does not fail, because lovable is her excellence/ and to me who listens she grants riches.

According to the Fathers man contemplates God according to the degree of his own purity. From ancient times Mary is called “the most pure”. In fact the Holy Spirit gives man perfect purity. This is realized in Mary Lossky says She represents the peak of sanctity She is without sin under the universal dominion of sin … sin could never have existed in Her”.

The activity of the Holy Spirit is vivifying, who gives life. It follows that participation in eternal life corresponds to the degree of participation in the Holy Spirit. The Mariological conclusion in this sense is twofold: 1. The Mother of God receives eternal life in fullness, the final perfection of creation, therefore assumed into heaven, 2. She receives fertility that she too might be a giver of life, mother of all the christians, of the Church. Mary receives the Holy Spirit together with the apostles gathered together in the cenacle the day of Pentecost at the foundation of the Church. From that moment her maternity becomes perfect, developed in the ecclesiastical dimension, as spiritual maternity, which in the Assumption becomes heavenly alongside the celestial paternity of the Father of all goodness.

3. Mary in the Oriental Liturgical cult.

In Orient liturgy is a solemn common prayer. Teofane ill Recluso says: ‘The church celebrates the rites, and when we assist, we unite ourselves with the church and participate in her grace. Whoever stays away from the exterior ceremonies stays away from the prayer of the church, deprives himself of the great promise of the Saviour,: where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in their midst (Mt. 18,20)

The Oriental liturgy reviews mysteriously the work of salvation. The center of the mystery of salvation is the encounter of the Son of the eternal God with humanity. On the feast of Christmas the Byzantine liturgy affirms: He comes forth from the Father and the Immaculate Virgin offers Him humanity as a new paradise for a new Adam. “What shall we offer You, O Christ, since You are born on earth as a man? Every creature, which is Your work, in fact testifies its gratitude: the angels their song, the heavens the stars, the magi their gifts, the shepherds their admiration, the earth the grotto, the deserted place the crib, but we men, we offer You a Virgin Mother. This shows that the Marian aspect is contained in the feasts, which commemorate the life of Jesus, especially the feast of Christmas. But from the 4th century certain specifically Marian feasts began to appear. The Nestorians celebrated three days in her honor The Syrian monophysites venerate Mother of God on the fifteenth, the Copts on the twenty-first day of each month. In the Ethiopian church the Aganoma Miriam (the harp of Mary )is a panegyric of the Mother of God for every day of the week in the form of scriptural paraphrases. There are beatitudes: “blessed is he who at dawn turns toward you and knocks at the door of your palace. Blessed is he who is touched by your power of your love and always sings the praises of your glory. Blessed is he who always has on his tongue the mention of your name and never ceases to celebrate your majesty.

In the Byzantine liturgy there is a famous hymn, Akathistos which is sung standing because out of reverence (no title, no author of 4th 5th Century) It consists of 24 strophes, one for each letter of the Greek alphabet. The uneven strophes are to praise Virgin Mother and even strophes are like pauses for contemplation of the mystery of Incarnation.

Hail, O Tabernacle of the word of God,

Hail, greater than the Holy of Holies,

Hail, beloved ark of the spirit,

Hail, inexhaustible treasure of Life,

Hail, precious diadem of the holy sovereigns,

Hail, Thou noble bost of devout priests,

Hail, Thou art for the Church a powerful tower,

Hail, Thou art for the Empire a fortress wall”. In the central apse of the Byzantine church there is the icon of Theotokos (Mother of God) either as praying or as an indestructible wall. She is the earthly church which guides all men to unite them in the body of Christ.

Oriental Lumen

Apostolic letter of Pope John Paul II on 2 May 1995 on the occasion of the centenary of Orientalium Dignitas of Leo XII. The pope says that the venerable and ancient tradition of the Eastern Churches is an integral part of the heritage of Christ’s Churches. The Eastern Christians should aware of their tradition. The Latin’s should have a passionate longing for them. All should know that catholicity of the Church is not expressed in a single tradition.

Jerusalem was the center from which Gospel was preached to all nations. Saints Cyril and Methodius are the apostles of the unity of the East and West.

Pope says that now there is a cry for unity of the churches. We cannot come before Christ as divided. The divisions must give way to rapproachement and harmony: the wounds on the path of Christian unity must be healed.

Knowing the Christian East , experience of faith.

The East and the West used different methods and approaches in understanding and confessing divine things. It is possible that one tradition has come nearer to a full appreciation of some aspects of mystery of revelation than the other or has expressed them better. So they are complementary than conflicting.

The Christian East has a unique and privileged role as the original setting where the church was born. The Christian tradition of the East implies a way of accepting, understanding and living faith in Jesus. In this sense it is extremely close to the Christian tradition of the West, which is born of and nourished by the same faith. Yet it is legitimately and admirably distinguished from the latter, since Eastern Churches have their own way of perceiving and understanding and thus an original way of living their relationship with the Saviour.

From the beginning the Christian East assumed the characteristics and features of each particular community. So there is a variety of traditions and features of the spiritual and theological traditions. These features describe the Eastern outlook of the Christian. His/her goal is the participation in the divine nature through communion with the mystery of the Holy Trinity.

Eastern Eucharistic Theology


The Eucharist is the means by which one affirmed his membership in the Church and experienced it For, the experience of the liturgy is precisely the experience of Christianity and then it becomes the very possibility and source for the knowledge of God and participation in divine life itself. This is the meaning of Easter concept of theosis or divinization and liturgy was perceived as its most perfect expression and realization. This is also why theology Himself y and liturgy remain so closely linked in the East, for one is not considered possible without the other.

            The process of divinization fulfils itself in the Eucharist which is a real participation in the glorified body of Christ. The Fathers of the Church see the Eucharistic elements in very realistic terms. Communion is the source of both immortality and unity and it is essential for christian life.

            St. Basil exhorts to partake of the body and blood of Christ. He communicated four times a week Lord’s Day, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday and on other days if there was Mass.

            In the course of time there came change in the Eucharistic theology and practice. The preachers stressed the elements of fear and awe with regard to the Eucharist. The faithful then responded by abandoning communion.  The community was split into a communicating elite and the majority of others. Thus the reception of communion became an act of personal devotion.  The traditional notion of Eucharist as a meal, as fellowship, was replaced by a different understanding without active participation.

            New approaches to the Eucharist were taken due to the social changes and theological debates. The Orthodox gave a new emphasis on the preexisting divinity of Christ against Arianism. They also leveled the doxological formula (to the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit), and stressed the two natures formula against Subordinationism and Adoptionism. The Alexandrian and Anthiochean schools had different approaches. The Alexandrian school stressed the analogical or spiritual sense of the scripture. The Antiochean School stressed the literal and historical sense. For the Antiocheans, Eucharist is an imitation (mimesis) or memorial (anamnesis) of the saving acts of Christ’s life and the anticipation of the heavenly liturgy. ( Cf. Theodore of Mopusuetia, Catechetical Homily, 15,20.)

            On this point (Eucharist piety) there is a contrast between East and West. The Latin practice of the veneration of the Host is an expression, on the level of spirituality, of the doctrine of transubstantiation. In the East Eucharistic mystery was not considered in isolation from the Christological facts. The transfiguration of the body of Christ, the change which occurred in it after the resurrection, and which,, through the power of the Holy Spirit, is also at work in the entire body of the baptized faithful that is the total Christ.

            To designate Eucharist the theologians used these terms:

  1. metabole =change
  2. metastoicheiosis = transelementation
  3. metarrythmesis = change of order
  4. metamorphosis= transfiguration

These reflect salvation in Christ of the entire people of God.

            The Eucharistic prayers or canons of the East and the West have several common features and show the ecclesial and Christological dimension.

  1. They are prayers of the community formulated in the first person plural. It shows that communion with Christ is not a matter of individual piety, but of joining together within his single body.
  2. They are addressed to the Father, by an assembly of the baptized persons, who, in virtue of their baptism are already “in Christ”. The catechumens, excommunicated penitents are excluded. Prayers are answered because Christ offers to the Father through and in the assembly and the community as “royal priesthood” and adopted children in Christ participate. Christ is the one who offers and is offered, who receives and is received (Liturgy .of Basil and Chrysostom) but they are inseparable from Him. (cf.Gal.3.27;4.6).
  3. In the Eastern Eucharistic canons, the invocation of the Spirit  (epiclesis) is not an invocation on the bread and wine only, but also on the assembly and the elements. Because bread and wine are not the elements to be transformed independently of the gathered community.

In Christological terms the Eucharistic action implies that (i) the Son of God brings the assumed human nature to His Father in a sacrifice offered once for all.

(ii) Those who have received the same glorified nature by adoption (thesei) or by grace (chariti) are jointing that one High Priest through the power of the Spirit who anointed him as Christ. The same Spirit anoints all the faithful within the communion of the Body of Christ.

Different views on the sacrifice of Eucharist

  1. West- Atonement. The sacrifice on the cross, because He was God, was sufficient before God to atone for the sins of all. In this view, God and creation remain naturally external to one another and the work of Christ is seen as a satisfaction of an abstract notion of divine justice.
  2. East- Restoration.  as an act of divine forgiveness. Redemption was conceived not as an exchange but as a reconciliation and an act of divine forgiveness (Nicholas of Methone). God did not receive something form us … we did not go to him (to make an offering ) but he condescended toward us and assumed our nature, no as a condition of reconciliation, but in order to meet us openly in the flesh.

Golgotha is not simply the price, but only the ultimate point of God’s identification with the fallen humanity, which is followed by the resurrection and is part of entire economy or plan of salvation. The Byzantine Synodikon of Orthodoxy (a solemn annual doctrinal declaration ) affirms that Christ reconciled us to Himself by means of the whole mystery of the economy and by Himself and in Himself reconciled us to His  Father and to the most Holy and life giving Spirit. Christ’s  sacrifice is unique because it is not an isolated action but the culminating point of an economy that includes the OT preparation, the incarnation, the death, resurrection and presence of the Holy Christ in the Church.

            The new life brought by Christ is offered freely, but it must be freely received through personal conversion and appropriated through personal ascetical effort. Eastern monasticism insisted on this personal dimension of christian experience. In this sense we have to understand the doctrine of deification.

 Eastern Liturgical Theology


In 988 when the ambassadors of Prince Vladimir of Kiev attended the liturgy at Hagia Sophia, said that they did not know whether they were “still on earth or in heaven”. This is an apt illustration of the influence of liturgy in the Eastern Churches.  For the experience of the liturgy was precisely the experience of the Christianity and thus it became the very possibility and source for the knowledge of God and for participation in divine life itself. This is the meaning of Eastern concept of theosis, or divinization, and liturgy was perceived as its most perfect expression and realization. This is also why liturgy and theology remain so closely linked in the East, for one is not considered possible without the other. Baptism and Eucharist are the source and summit of the Christian life. Baptism is the  means by which one is made a member of the Church. The Eucharist is the means by which one affirms  this membership and experiences it.


In the East the unitive aspect of the sacrament is stressed. The rites of initiation comprising Baptism, Chrismation (confirmation) and Eucharist are seen as one continuous action. Initiation marks the entrance of the Body of Christ and its culmination is the sharing of Eucharistic banquet which is open to all the baptized including the infants. In the East these actions remain inseparable.

During the first centuries East and West followed divergent practices in the rite itself. The Early Western practice consisted of water baptism, anointing with oil, and the laying on of hands. In the East, the order was reversed and anointing often preceded baptism: (cf. Acts of Judas Thomas – 3c, Didaschalia – 3c The Syriac acts of John – early 4c.) There is reference to the prebaptismal anointing in the  Acts of the Apostles, 10,44-48; 9, 17-18.

So there was divergence in practice, but it did not create any difficulty, for as long as the unity of the rite was maintained it mattered little how the various elements were distributed through the actual rites.

In the East before 4th c. baptism was seen primarily as a reenactment of Christ’s baptism in Jordan. The font is called the womb out of which a new  person emerges, the son of God. (cf. Didaschalia Apostolorum p.352). “Through the bishop the Lord gives the Holy spirit. Through the Holy Spirit we know God and are sealed and  becomes sons of light. Through baptism and by imposition of hand of the bishop the Lord says; Thou art my son, this day I have begotten you”.Baptism bringers forth of the new man and establisher of the new man in the Trinity {Acts of Thomas}.Theodore of Mopsuetia speaks of baptismal font the womb which introduces the Christian in the new life.

After the victory of the church (313) there was a massive influx of new members into the church and there were several theological disputes. These exercised significant influence both on the rites and especially on the theology behind them. The church had to adapt to these new conditions, to provide her new members with proper teaching and to develop adequate rites and explanations.

The process of the historicization of the Liturgy was felt most strongly in Jerusalem. Churches were built in Holy places. And they became centres of the pilgrimage. The liturgies especially of the Holy Week became largely a reenactment of the Gospel events with colorful procession. This type of stational liturgy had a powerful effect on witnesses and the liturgies of Rome and Constantinople soon patterned after it. The calendar, particularly the cycle of fixed feasts, owes much of its development to this phenomenon of historicization. This also marks a shift from a primarily eschatological emphasis in feasts to a more historical one.

The historicizing trend strongly influenced the understanding of baptism. The baptismal rite with its procession to the font, triple immersion and emersion, began to be interpreted as the reenactment of the death and resurrection of Christ basing on  Rom, 6. St.Cyril of Jerusalem applied this theology to the liturgical ceremony in Jerusalem:

          Movement to the font – Procession bearing the body of Christ to the tomb.

           Triple immersion – three days sojourn in then grave.

           The emerging from the pool –sign of resurrection.

Thus our baptism is an imitation (mimesis) of Christ’s suffering in figure. This historicizing trend is also seen in Ambrose, Chrysostom and  Theodore of Mopsuetia.

This was also part of the response by the Church to the massive influx of new members, to whom the mystery of Christ had to be explained in an attractive and  dramatic fashion. It was also to stress the historical basis of Christianity. This approach was pastoral rather than systematic accordjing to the need of the people

               . These factors led in the 4th century to the development of a new type of literature – catechetical literature. This was made necessary by the large number of converts who had to go through a period of preparation. The final stage of this period   (catechumanate ) took place during Lent. This consisted of fasting, exorcisms, reading of scripture and instruction. At the Easter vigil baptism took place. Then neophytes participated the Eucharist at the Constantine – Bascilica. During the Octave of Easter they had to assemble everyday to hear the explanations of the mysteries.

Several conclusions  can be drawn from this:

  1. the message of Christianity was revealed in a liturgical context – a characteristic of  Eastern Churches also today.
  2. scripture was read and explained in a liturgical context.
  3. the experience of liturgy, of baptism, of Eucharist, preceded any explanation of them. The liturgical rites existed before their explanations. They are secondary, and can be changed to accommodate the pastoral and polemical needs of each age.

The great catechists applied the method of scriptural exegesis to the liturgy especially to the visible actions of the rite. From the time of Origen the two types/senses of Scripture were referred  to : 1.literal or historical

                                            2.spiritual, mystical or allegorical

Later spiritual sense was subdivided into three aspects :

                                            1. allegorical – dogmatic aspect

                                            2. tropological – moral and spiritual aspect.

                                            3. anagogical – eschatological aspect.

From 4th century this became the traditional method in the East. In Cyril’s description of the stripping of candidate before baptism we can see how this method is applied to the baptismal rite – putting off of the old man with his deeds – it provides the tropological or moral level. Nakedness of Christ on the cross – allegorical or dogmatic sense.

This method was useful and attractive but also has dangers particularly when the individual elements of a rite begin to be seen in isolation from the rites as a whole, which does happen later.

After 4th C. we find little literature on Baptism because of child baptism. Hence the need for baptismal catechism declined and the catechumanate disappeared. The result, in both East and West, was that baptism began to be taken for granted and thus began to use its prominent position in the theology of the church. In this period there began the difference in approach to the rites of initiation between East and West.

Under St. Augustine’s influence the West began to understand baptism chiefly as the remission of sins. Thus the theology of baptism became primarily negative. The child was considered guilty and need palliative baptism. When confirmation was reserved to the bishop, the rite of initiation was split into distant elements. This, in turn, led to the withholding of the Eucharist from children until after t hey completed the process of initiation.

The East saw the consequences of original sin not as guilt but as mortality. Guilt is only acquired through the personal exercise of a free will through personal sin. So for the East baptism is not a remission from the guilt, but liberation from mortality and incorporation into the life of the Church. This is eminently positive theology. St John. Chrysostom  ( Baptismal catechesis 3,5-6.) says: “The baptized is free person, citizen of the church; saint, just, son, heir, brother of Christ, and coheir of Christ, member, temple, and instrument of the Holy Spirit”. The baptized person is called to theosis – deification – participation in the divine life itself.

The Apostolic Constitution (380) makes no mention of original sin, but places strong emphasis on good christian education and formation. Baptism is a free gift, a promise of a new life, and does not depend on human choice. So the baptismal formula in the East is in deprecatory form  – the servant of God…. This indicates that baptism comes from divine initiative to which the christian is in turn called to respond.

The East sees baptism as a Trinitarian act. It is the gift of the Son, by the Father, made effective by the Holy Spirit. .eg. Trinitarian formula. The prayers for consecration of water and chrism are strongly epicletic – asking Father to send down the Holy Spirit. The baptized like Christ in the Jordan, are anointed by and with the Holy Spirit. Joined to Christ and filled with the Spirit, the christian begins the process of human divinization.

Syro Malabar Liturgical Calendar

Syro-Malabar Liturgical Calendar 2018 English

Syro-Malabar Liturgical Calendar 2018 Malayalam

Syro-Malabar Liturgical Calendar 2017 Malayalam

Syro-Malabar Liturgical Calendar 2017 English

Syro Malabar Liturgical Calendar English 2016

Syro Malabar Liturgical Calendar Malayalam 2016

Syro Malabar Liturgical Calendar 2014 – 15

Syro-Malabar Liturgical Calendar 2012 – 13

Syro-Malabar Liturgical Calendar 2011 – 12

Syro Malabar Liturgical Calendars

Syro Malabar Liturgical Calendar 2019 Malayalam

Syro Malabar Liturgical Calendar 2019 English

Syro-Malabar Liturgical Calendar 2018 English

Syro-Malabar Liturgical Calendar 2018 Malayalam

Syro-Malabar Liturgical Calendar 2017 Malayalam

Syro-Malabar Liturgical Calendar 2017 English

Syro Malabar Liturgical Calendar English 2016

Syro Malabar Liturgical Calendar Malayalam 2016

Syro Malabar Liturgical Calendar 2014 – 15

Syro-Malabar Liturgical Calendar 2012 – 13

Syro-Malabar Liturgical Calendar 2011 – 12


Karunikan 2013

Karunikan – 2013 June

Vachanabodhi Syro-Malabar – 2013 June

Vachanabodhi Malankara – 2013 June

Vachanabodhi Latin – 2013 June

Karunikan – 2013 April

Vachanabodhi Syro-Malabar – 2013 April

Vachanabodhi Malankara – 2013 April

Vachanabodhi Latin – 2013 April

Karunikan – 2013 March

Vachanabodhi Syro-Malabar – 2013 March

Vachanabodhi Malankara – 2013 March

Vachanabodhi Latin – 2013 March

Karunikan – 2013 February

Vachanabodhi Syro-Malabar – 2013 February

Vachanabodhi Malankara – 2013 February

Vachanabodhi Latin – 2013 February

Karunikan – 2013 January

Vachanabodhi Syro-Malabar – 2013 January

Vachanabodhi Malankara – 2013 January

Vachanabodhi Latin – 2013 January

Karunikan 2012

Karunikan – 2012 November-December

Vachanabodhi Syro-Malabar – 2012 November-December

Vachanabodhi Malankara – 2012 November-December

Vachanabodhi Latin – 2012 November-December

Karunikan – 2012 October

Vachanabodhi Syro-Malabar – 2012 October

Vachanabodhi Malankara – 2012 October

Vachanabodhi Latin – 2012 October

Karunikan – 2012 September

Vachanabodhi Syro-Malabar – 2012 September

Vachanabodhi Malankara – 2012 September

Vachanabodhi Latin – 2012 September

Karunikan – 2012 August

Vachanabodhi Syro-Malabar – 2012 August

Vachanabodhi Malankara – 2012 August

Vachanabodhi Latin – 2012 August

Karunikan – 2012 July

Vachanabodhi Syro-Malabar – 2012 July

Vachanabodhi Malankara – 2012 July

Vachanabodhi Latin – 2012 July

Karunikan – 2012 June

Vachanabodhi Syro-Malabar – 2012 June

Vachanabodhi Malankara – 2012 June

Vachanabodhi Latin – 2012 June

Karunikan – 2012 May

Vachanabodhi Syro-Malabar – 2012 May

Vachanabodhi Malankara – 2012 May

Vachanabodhi Latin – 2012 May

Karunikan – 2012 April

Vachanabodhi Syro-Malabar – 2012 April

Vachanabodhi Malankara – 2012 April

Vachanabodhi Latin – 2012 April

Karunikan – 2012 March

Vachanabodhi Syro-Malabar – 2012 March

Vachanabodhi Malankara – 2012 March

Vachanabodhi Latin – 2012 March

Karunikan – 2012 February

Vachanabodhi Syro-Malabar – 2012 February

Vachanabodhi Malankara – 2012 February

Vachanabodhi Latin – 2012 February

Karunikan – 2012 January

Vachanabodhi Syro-Malabar – 2012 January

Vachanabodhi Malankara – 2012 January

Vachanabodhi Latin – 2012 January

Karunikan 2011

Karunikan – 2011 November-December

Vachanabodhi Syro-Malabar – 2011 November-December

Vachanabodhi Malankara – 2011 November-December

Vachanabodhi Latin – 2011 November-December

Karunikan – 2011 October

Vachanabodhi Syro-Malabar – 2011 October

Vachanabodhi Malankara – 2011 October

Vachanabodhi Latin – 2011 October

Karunikan – 2011 September

Vachanabodhi Syro-Malabar – 2011 September

Vachanabodhi Malankara – 2011 September

Vachanabodhi Latin – 2011 September

Karunikan – 2011 August

Vachanabodhi Syro-Malabar – 2011 August

Vachanabodhi Malankara – 2011 August

Vachanabodhi Latin – 2011 August

Karunikan – 2011 July

Vachanabodhi Syro-Malabar – 2011 July

Vachanabodhi Malankara – 2011 July

Vachanabodhi Latin – 2011 July

Karunikan – 2011 June

Karunikan – 2011 May

Karunikan – 2011 April

Karunikan – 2011 March

Karunikan – 2011 February

Karunikan – 2011 January

Karunikan 2010

Karunikan – 2010 January

Karunikan – 2010 February

Karunikan – 2010 March

Karunikan – 2010 April

Karunikan – 2010 May

Karunikan – 2010 June

Karunikan – 2010 July

Karunikan – 2010 August

Karunikan – 2010 September

Karunikan – 2010 October

Karunikan – 2010 Nov-Dec

Click here to Visit the Official Site of  Karunikan Publications

ഞായറാഴ്ച പ്രസംഗങ്ങള്‍: Sunday Homilies / Sunday Sermons: Malayalam, English

Sunday Homilies in Malayalam (Syro-Malabar Rite)

സീറോ മലബാര്‍ പ്രസംഗങ്ങള്‍ മലയാളത്തില്‍


Sunday Sermon in 8 Minutes 

ലൈഫ് ഡേ ഓൺലൈൻ 

അൽമായ വചനഭാഷ്യം

വചനനാളം – ദീപനാളം, പാലാ രൂപത

സണ്‍‌ഡേ പുൾപിറ്റ് – പാലക്കാട് രൂപത

ഹോമിലിറ്റിക്കോസ് – ഇരിങ്ങാലക്കുട രൂപത

ഇന്റർനെറ്റ്‌ മിഷൻ, സീറോ മലബാർ സഭ

വചനവേദി, സീറോമലബാർ കാറ്റകേസിസ് 

വചനദൂത് – എം. സി. ബി. എസ്.

വചനബോധി – കാരുണികൻ 

ദേവമാതാ പ്രോവിൻസ്, സി. എം. ഐ.

മംഗലപ്പുഴ സെമിനാരി, ആലുവ

ഗുഡ് ഷെപ്പേഡ് സെമിനാരി, കുന്നോത്ത്

എറണാകുളം-അങ്കമാലി അതിരൂപത

ഇടുക്കി രൂപത 

ഇരിങ്ങാലക്കുട രൂപത

Homily Collections

PDF Collection

Audio Collection

Video Collection

Reference Sources

ഫ്രാൻസിസ് പാപ്പ: Malayalam Site of Pope Francis

Messages from Pope Francis (Video Clips)

Homilies for Feast Days


മലങ്കര പ്രസംഗങ്ങള്‍ മലയാളത്തില്‍

Sunday Homilies in Malayalam (Malankara)

ലൈഫ് ഡേ ഓൺലൈൻ 

MCBS Karunikan

Syro-Malankara Catholic Church


ലത്തീന്‍ പ്രസംഗങ്ങള്‍ മലയാളത്തില്‍

Sunday Homilies in Malayalam (Latin)

ലൈഫ് ഡേ ഓൺലൈൻ 

MCBS Karunikan

Diocese of Neyyattinkara


Hindi Homilies / ഹിന്ദി പ്രസംഗങ്ങൾ / हिंदी धर्मगीत

Navachethana Hindi Homily


Sunday Homilies in English (Latin)

Latin English Homilies (Video)

Navchethana Homilies

CBCI Homilies

Daily Homilies

Daily Scripture

Homilies Net

Catholic Doors

Light a Candle

Air Maria

Catholic Matters

Daily Meditations

Evangeli Net

Catholic Web


General Homilies പൊതു പ്രസംഗങ്ങൾ

Homilies for Feast Days

Divine Ministries

Messages from Pope Francis (Video Clips)

ഫ്രാൻസിസ് പാപ്പ: Malayalam Site of Pope Francis

Click here for more Links

The Reception of the Conciliar Reform in the Liturgy of the Syro-Malabar Church

The Reception of the Conciliar Reform in the Liturgy

of the Syro-Malabar Church


Fr Antony Nariculam



Among the 16 documents of Vatican II, the first one discussed and passed in the Council was the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. Liturgy is said to be the ‘heart’ of the Church. So much so, the ‘quality’ of an Individual Church can be determined, to a great extent, by observing the liturgical celebration of her members because the Church is basically a worshipping community.

After the Council, the Church in India took a leap forward with the “Church in India Today” seminar held at NBCLC, Bangalore in 1969 to find out the ways and means to implement the Council documents. One of the documents which drew pointed attention of the participants of the seminar was the constitution on liturgy. Among all the 22 Catholic Individual Churches, the Syro-Malabar Church is perhaps the only one which took bold steps to renew the liturgy. This renewal movement was spearheaded by Cardinal Joseph Parecattil who believed that the Syro-Malabar Church should be ‘Indian’ in worship. Among the then Syro-Malabar Bishops, Archbishop Jacob Thoomkuzhy was one who whole-heartedly supported the Cardinal to go forward with the reform process ‘indianizing’ the liturgy. Though the Cardinal’s initiatives were helpful to create a new awareness about the need of liturgical reform in the Syro-Malabar Church in the light of the conciliar document on the sacred liturgy, there was also opposition to his move from various quarters. Therefore, the reform process gradually slowed down, heading towards a standstill.

Vatican II and  Liturgical Reform

The thrust of Vatican II regarding the liturgical reform can be concisely summarized as “restoration, revision and adaptation”. The Council declared that the Church wishes to preserve all lawfully recognized rites and foster them in every way, and also that the rites be revised in the light of sound tradition in order to meet the needs of the modern age (SC 4). The Council gave some directives also to achieve this aim.

In the liturgy, the Council observes, there are unchangeable and changeable elements. Not that the latter may be changed, but ought to be changed if they have become less suitable for today. In this process, one of the principles to be followed is that liturgy is understood by the faithful with ease and that they can take part in it fully, actively and as a community (SC 21). SC 34 which says that the rites should be simple, short, clear and free from useless repetitions, is one of the golden principles of Vatican II. Another basic principle is regarding the need of inculturation.  The Church is open to admit into the liturgy what is not superstitious or erroneous in the way of life of the people and their culture (SC 37).

Conciliar Reform and Reception in the Syro-Malabar Church


One of the stumbling blocks in the reception of the conciliar constitution on the liturgy in the Syro-Malabar Church is the (mis)understanding about the very process of restoration, revision and adaptation. According to some, revision and adaptation should take place only after completing the restoration of all liturgical texts. It would mean that the Syro-Malabar Church should fully restore and use the ancient Syriac texts, may be translated into modern languages, without much change. On the other hand, the vast majority in the Church preferred to give greater emphasis to revision, adaptation and inculturation . Of course, no Church can revise its liturgy without restoring it first. But this should be, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger observes, only for “recovering the lost values”.[1] In other words, our primary concern should not be ‘What was the liturgy like then?”, but “What ought to be done today?” to make it meaningful and relevant to the people of today.[2]

‘Pastoral realism’ is important in any reform. This has been always a crucial concern of the Syro-Malabar Church. This idea was endorsed also by the Roman Congregation for the Oriental Churches. “The good of the faithful ( ‘bonum fidelium’)”, the Congregation noted, “is the pastoral norm governing all liturgical legislation”.[3] The right and duty to resolve concrete pastoral issues in the liturgy belong to the diocesan Bishop, said an eminent Oriental liturgiologist, Prof. Robert Taft, addressing the Syro-Malabar Bishops in the Synod held in the Vatican in 1996.[4] The steps taken by Archbishop Thoomkuzhy in the realm of liturgy were influenced by this pastoral attitude. Therefore, he told the Syro-Malabar Bishops: “Liturgiology is a very comprehensive discipline like linguistics. We have, however, to be extremely wary of liturgical reforms, conceived by scholars who perhaps do not have direct contact with the pastoral realities”.[5] Further he said: “There is no divergence of opinion among the (Syro-Malabar) Bishops or others with regard to essential matters of faith or morals. Often it is concerned with certain rubrics, clarity, simplicity etc. They are more of a pastoral nature. It should be noted that these pastoral exigencies do not have a uniform pattern all over the Syro-Malabar eparchies”.[6]

Another issue which continues to be discussed in the realm of Syro-Malabar liturgical reform is the meaning of “organic growth”, and consequently, the understanding of ‘tradition’ and ‘traditions’. According to Vatican II, in the process of liturgical renewal new forms adopted should in some way grow ‘organically’ from forms already existing (SC 23). In the words of Pope John Paul II, tradition is not an unchanging repetition of formulas, but a heritage which preserves the original core.[7] The Instruction of the Oriental Congregation observes that “No Church, Eastern or Western, has ever been able to survive without adapting itself continuously to the changing conditions of life”.[8] This is so because history is not simply the past, rather it is the contemporary understanding of life in terms of its origin and evolution as seen through the prism of our present concern. Therefore, Pope John Paul II told the Syro-Malabar Bishops in 1980 that the liturgical reform  must be based on “fidelity to genuine ecclesial traditions and open to the needs of the faithful, to the culture and to possible changes by way of organic progress”.[9]

About ‘tradition’ and ‘organic growth’ Archbishop Thoomkuzhy has this to say: “First of all, there is no agreement as to what the genuine traditions are and what are not. Secondly, there is the difference as to which traditions we have to return and which traditions are to be reformed”.[10] Further he observes that in the process of organic growth in the liturgy, there can be influences not too consonant with its original structure. Unless they are too essential for the salvation of souls it does not seem to be worth going back to the original state.[11]

In this context, it is good to note an observation made by Robert Taft. “It has been my constant observation”, writes he, “that liturgies do not grow evenly, like living organisms. Rather, their individual structures possess a life of their own. More like cancer than native cells, they can appear like aggressors, showing riotous growth at a time when all else lies dormant”.[12]

The above observations are relevant when we consider the reception of the conciliar reforms in the liturgy of the Syro-Malabar Church. The restored texts of the Syro-Malabar liturgy – Divine Office (1938), Holy Qurbana (1957), Pontifical (1958), Propria (1960), Calendar (1960)etc. – belong to a period prior to Vatican II. Of these only the holy Qurbana underwent slight modifications in 1962, 1968, 1985 and 1989. The revised text of the Sacraments was published in 2005. The other texts are to be published in the coming years.

Despite the earnest efforts of the Bishops, there still persists a complaint that the revised texts are not sufficiently adapted and inculturated. Liturgy is always subject to reform. The most consoling aspect of the ‘liturgical crisis’ in the Syro-Malabar Church is that there is no difference of opinion about the fundamental and essential aspects of the liturgy. As Archbishop Thoomkuzhy rightly observes, the divergence of opinion is only about certain rubrics, clarity, pastoral concerns etc. Vatican II, the Popes, the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, the Oriental Congregation and the Syro-Malabar Synod of Bishops have on various occasions laid down principles and guidelines in order to restore, revise and adapt liturgy for the ‘Church of today’. Adaptation to local needs is all the more urgent today since the Syro-Malabar Church is fast spreading to various countries, especially to Europe, America and the Gulf. An unprejudiced openness towards new pastoral realities based on fundamental principles of liturgical reform will help us to be relevant and useful for the people living in diverse circumstances. The steps taken by Archbishop Thoomkuzhy throughout his episcopal ministry have indeed this mark of pastoral realism.



[1]  The Ratzinger Report, p.38

[2]  The Ratzinger Report, p.132.

[3] Directives of 1988, No.2

[4] Acts of the Synod, p.133

[5] Acts of the Synod, p.98

[6] Acts of the Synod, p.109

[7] Orientale Lumen, No.8

[8] Instruction  of 1996, No.11

[9] Roman Documents, Kottayam  1999, p.65

[10] Acts of the Synod, p.94

[11] Acts of the Synod, p.95

[12] How liturgies Grow? p.360



Dr Antony Nariculam

             Antony Nariculam


Vatican II describes the ministerial priesthood as a participation in Jesus’ mission. “Priests are consecrated in the image of Christ, the eternal High Priest, to preach the Gospel, shepherd the faithful and celebrate the divine worship as true priests of the New Testament” (LG 28). It is said that a Christian community is judged by the liturgy it celebrates. For, the liturgy of a Church is an index of that particular Church’s inner dynamism.


To have an effective liturgical celebration, according to Vatican II, people have to participate in it ‘consciously, devoutly and fruitfully’ (SC 48). Every word and gesture in the liturgy has a meaning. Unless this meaning is understood, liturgy becomes a hollow ritual, and consequently, it is felt to be a boring experience.


When we examine the history of liturgical celebrations, we come across three ‘deviations’, so to say, from the focal point of celebration. The first is making the word of God a concatenation of human words by unnecessarily long homilies or shared view points on the biblical passages. The second is the clericalization making the liturgy a ‘performance’ of those who are in the sanctuary. And thirdly, the anachronistic imperial paraphernalia which obfuscated the simplicity of the original celebration.[1]


In the patristic golden age the Fathers like Ambrose, Gregory Nazianzen, Augustine and Gregory the Great have written treatises on clerical life. But, most of them are on the ethical and pastoral aspects. A book of the patristic age specifically on the priesthood is that of St.John Chrysostom and it deals above all with the celebration of the Liturgy.[2] According to him, the ministerial priesthood is something unearthly since the priest makes Christ present to us in the Eucharistic sacrifice. In Christian liturgy the ordained persons are considered to be an access to the divine. Though many symbolic roles of the priests are influenced by the Old Testament priesthood, the origin of Christian priesthood is Jesus himself. The early Christian commentators of liturgy are unanimous in considering the priest acting in persona Christi in the liturgy.[3]


This article is an attempt to identify the various roles of the priest in the liturgical celebration and his ministry in personal Christi.


  1. Priest as ‘Liturgist


A ‘liturgist’ is one who celebrates liturgy. Hence every priest is a liturgist. (The one who ‘teaches’ the ‘science of liturgy’ is a ‘liturgiologist’). Any liturgical celebration becomes effective, to great extent, depending upon the ‘liturgist’. Therefore, the pastors of souls must realize that when the liturgy is celebrated, something more is required than the laws governing valid and lawful celebration. It is their duty also to ensure that the faithful take part fully aware of what they are doing and actively engage in the celebration so as to be enriched by it (SC 11). Pastors should carefully apply requisite pedagogy so that the faithful actively participate in the liturgy (SC 14). Unless the priests themselves become fully imbued with the spirit and power of the liturgy and become capable of teaching people about the meaning and value of it, Vatican II observes that “it would be futile to entertain any hope of realizing the goal of conscious, active and fruitful participation of the people in the liturgy” (SC 14). In fact, a priest is ordained, among other things, to celebrate “devoutly and fruitfully the mysteries of Christ for the praise of God and the sanctification of the Christian people”.[4]


The Cultic Ministry of the Priests


The cultic dimension of priesthood began to be emphasized already from the second century. By the end of that century, we observe a connection between episcopos and presbyter with hierus, sacerdos and pontifex. Eventually liturgy, especially the Eucharistic celebration, began to be stressed as the characteristic mark of priesthood. The cultic understanding the priesthood was further emphasized by the Council of Trent. The later theology, especially after Vatican II, which gave due emphasis to the prophetic and leadership roles of the priest has not caught the attention of the faithful in general, and to a certain extent, even that of the priests themselves. The ordination rites also give the impression that the priest is mainly ordained for cultic service. The actual pastoral situation also attaches greater importance to priests’ sacramental role than other functions. This paradigm shift began sometime in the 4th century when Christianity became the official religion of the Roma Empire. Soon the liturgical interpreters of both East and West began to give allegorical interpretations to the cultic acts, comparing the celebrants to the heavenly hierarchy of the angels and making then ‘channels’ of grace.


According to the uninterrupted teaching of the Church a priest has three functions: Prophet, Priest and Servant. This is reiterated in Vatican II (LG 28; PO 4-6). But, which function constitutes the ‘essence’ of priesthood? In the history we find theologians giving primacy to one or other function of the priest. Pope John Paul II was one who advocated primacy of cultic and sacramental ministry. “If the Eucharist is the centre and summit of the Church’s life, it is likewise the centre and summit of priestly ministry. For this reason, with a heart filled with gratitude to our Lord Jesus Christ, I repeat that the Eucharist ‘is the principal and central raison d’etre of the  sacrament of priesthood, which effectively came into being at the moment of the institution of the Eucharist”.[5]


Thus, whether one likes it or not, the fact is that the cultic ministry of the priests continues to be of primary importance. Hence it is imperative that this role is effectively carried out by the liturgical celebrants.


Liturgy as Ritual Action


Liturgy is not simply a prayer, but a ‘rite’. It has a ritual language which goes beyond the language of words and texts. In order to implement this language of rituals, a proper church building is necessary because liturgical acts take place in space set up for the same. The celebrant should know how to make use of this space. The liturgical space does not depend basically upon the ‘tastes’ of the celebrant or the people. Instead, it is arranged according to the needs of the celebration such as procession, incensing etc. The sanctuary, altar, ambo (bema), choir, place for preparing the gifts (beth-gazza), baptismal font and the nave (hykla) are some of the elements of this space. Only when the celebrating assembly is obedient to the specification of space, can the symbolic communication through the ritual act take place. The communication scholars inform us that more than half of our communications is non-verbal. At times the non-verbal communication in the liturgy is more powerful than the verbal. A careless celebrant who has scant attention for the rite is, in fact, symbolically calling into question the content of the celebration.


A liturgical rite is a human action in which man apprehends himself as religious being. It is an action in which he feels that he is sharing in the divine activity, that is, “an action which God performs through and in man, as much as man himself performs it in and through God”.[6] At the same time, a ritual action without appeal to the mind, or words which have no contact with reality is often the predicament of modern man. The words which convey nothing more than a reasoning process and actions which no longer make sense cannot be considered an effective ritual.


St.Cyprian in his Letter 63 insists that true worship depends on performing the ritual with the same intent as that of Christ. “The priest truly serves in Christ’s place who imitates what Christ did and offers up a true and complete sacrifice to God the Father in the Church when he proceeds to offer it just as he sees Christ himself to have offered it”.[7]


Liturgy is not for one who does not understand and appreciate the role of signs since the liturgy is an expression of human religious ethos through outward symbolic means. Unfortunately for many moderns it has a bad ring. They consider the ‘rites’ to be rigid and restrictive of human freedom, especially when they are prescribed from above. According to a second century Roman jurist Pomponius Festus, a non-Christian, ‘rite’ is an “approved practice in the administration of sacrifice”.[8] This definition seems to be still a valid one. The signs and symbols in the liturgy, says Vatican II, derive their meaning from the Bible (SC 24). For Christians, the ‘rite’ means “the practical arrangements made by the community in time and space, for the basic type of worship received from God in faith”.[9] Of course, no sign or rite has any absolute value. At the same time, not every celebrant is free to change the ‘rites’ to his taste since it belongs to the community.


Besides, to celebrate the rituals meaningfully and effectively, one needs to know one’s own liturgical tradition sufficiently well because each tradition will have its own ‘vocabulary’ and ‘grammar’. All traditions will have something in common as the languages may have common words and grammar. However, each language will have its own grammatical construction. Writing English according to Hindi grammar would be comic. So is the case with a liturgical tradition. Each tradition will have its own way of expressing the worship formulae. A priest has to respect them.


Ars Celebrandi and the Priest


The ars celebrandi is not simply a gift, but a product of constant and disciplined practice. To a great extent, the way a priest celebrates the liturgy is a litmus text. To celebrate well, first of all, he needs to have the sensus Ecclesiae. Today people are on a fast-moving thread mill. Priests are no exception to this reality. The impression many celebrants give is that the ars celebrandi is a fait accompli with the seminary formation.


The attitude of the priest’s mind, heart and body towards God in the celebration affects the assembly. The tone of priest’s voice, his bodily movements and gestures invite people to a joyous and fruitful celebration. As the Charter of Priestly Formation for India remarks, “as a minister of the sacraments the priest renders the believing community and sharing community acceptable to God and transforms it into a living community of worship and service”.[10]


Familiarity with the liturgical texts repeated everyday can cause the celebrant to fail to convey their full meaning. So also, a shift of emphasis in reciting prayers can give wrong signals to the community. For example, the dramatization of the Institution Narrative during the holy Mass can obfuscate the role of the Holy Spirit in the epiclesis and attribute the transformative power to the words uttered by the minister. Still worse, the attention of the participants can be drawn to the minister rather than to God!


The ‘art’ of reciting the prayers is an aspect every liturgist should attend to. Take, for example, the anaphoral prayers. They have multiple layers of meaning and hence key words and phrases deserve to be emphasized . To rush through these prayers obfuscate the sense of the sacred and obstruct active participation. Note the following key words given in italics from the anaphora of Mar Addai and Mar Mari and see how important it is to emphasize them as the priest recites the prayer.


Lord, as you have commanded us, we your humble, weak and distressed

Servants are gathered together in your presence. You have showered upon

us such great things for which we can never thank you enough. To make

us share in your divine life, you assumed human nature, restored us from

our fallen state, and brought us from death to life eternal. Forgiving our

debts you sanctified us sinners, enlightened our minds, defeated our

enemies and glorified our frail nature by your immense grace.


  1. Priest as President of the Assembly


The priest-celebrant acts in his role as an ordained minister who is delegated to be the president of the assembly. Hence his interventions take place according to a determined manner and they constitute a particular mode of action within the framework of a liturgical action. In the liturgy he is an ‘ecclesial man’ (Vir Ecclesiasticus) united with the bishop and the presbyterium and thus a symbol of unity of the faithful. That is why Sacrosanctum Concilium No.42 recommends the Sunday Mass in the parish with the parish priest as the most sublime expression of the community of the faithful of the parish.


The primary duty of the president of the assembly is to create a congenial atmosphere so as to enable the Christian faithful to participate fruitfully in the mysteries of Christ being celebrated. In order to make the celebration active and fruitful, the president should have an understanding of the life-situations of the people with whom he celebrates because the liturgical celebrations are not only commemorations of the mysteries of Christ, but also are ‘celebrations’ of the life of the people in relation to the mysteries. Hence the breakings of the Word and the Bread as well as the celebration of other sacraments have to be contextualized for the benefit of the people. “The joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the men of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted in any way, are the joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well” (GS 1). This statement of the Council is relevant also for the liturgical assemblies. Precisely for this reason the discrimination against the poor in the Eucharistic assembly was considered by St.Paul as an offence against the Lord himself (1 Cor 11:17 ff.).


In the New Testament we find the word ‘president’ (referring to the role of a minister (cf. Rom 12:8; 1 Thes 5:12: 1 Tim 5:17; Tit 3:8). In these instances the term ‘president’ is equal to someone who is ‘responsible to’ or ‘having care of’. Therefore, the priest-president should be aware of the fact that he is called upon and deputed to serve the assembly, besides being part of it. He does not preside over the assembly’ but is within it; he does not lead it, but serves it. Every liturgical celebration being an ecclesial act nobody – not even the priest – shall monopolize it.


The priest-president of the liturgical assembly is, in a way, a guarantor of the faith of the Church. Hence his actions should correspond to the noble role he plays. This role is effectively fulfilled only when he is aware of the fact that the Church is a communion. Consequently, the freedom of the president is very limited. His personal impulses and charism are not of primary importance. He has to take into consideration also the ‘catholicity’ (universality) of the liturgical action which does not in any way diminish the importance of adaptation and inculturation.


  1. Creativity and Liturgical Celebration


‘Creativity’ is a necessary quality of a good celebrant. But it does not mean that one acts according to his tastes or fancies. It presupposes sound doctrinal formation because orthopraxis is always based on orthodoxy. Creativity in the liturgy does not necessarily and always mean ‘creating’ new prayers substituting the fixed ones. A well-trained celebrant can be creative in manifold ways. Choosing appropriate readings and hymns, using the options provided by the text itself, preparing relevant prayers of the faithful (karozutha prayers), contextualizing the celebration with an introduction and preaching a suitable homily are occasions to be creative. In fact, untimely and unnecessary improvisations are uncalled for since they can only distract people. Creativity is not meant to give ‘surprises’ to the community. The priest should know more than anyone else that every celebration, especially that of the Eucharist, has a content of its own and a style. Ordinarily the community too is well aware of it. In the name of creativity a good celebrant will not tamper with it unless there is a genuine need. Therefore the Congregation for the Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments remarked that the post-Vatican II reform has caused a number of abuses due to misguided sense of creativity and adaptation.[11]


Generally speaking, the liturgical texts belong to the assembly. To change well-known to them runs not only the risk of distracting them, but also it becomes an airing of minister’s personal views. Liturgical worship is not the forum to express such views.


‘Minimalism’ and ‘Pontificalism’ are two unacceptable extremes in the liturgical celebrations. Minimalism sins by symbolic and ceremonial ‘defect’ and Pontificalism by their ‘excess’. Pontificalism lays unnecessary emphasis on secondary elements as to obscure the primary. Minimalism ignores almost everything and makes the celebration a poor one without any solemnity.


A temptation for many today is to look at the liturgical action in terms of, as Joseph Ratzinger observes, “creativity, freedom, celebration and community” wherein things like rite, obligation, interiority and Church laws are ‘negative factors’.[12] For them the Missal is only a ‘guidebook’. The celebration is determined by the community and the concrete circumstance. They measure the ‘success’ on the celebration on the basis of the ‘activities’ that take place during the act of worship. Of course, there is some truth in this approach. But to tarnish the content of the celebration for the sake of creativity, spontaneity and participation can cause damage to the celebration as an action of God. In the attempt to make liturgy ‘simple’ and ‘intelligible’, the praise and honour to be rendered to God in an sacred atmosphere should not be made a mere secular action. In fact, liturgy is concerned not only with the conscious mind and with what can be immediately understood at a superficial level. Reducing the ecclesial community to a horizontal and humanistic group of persons will make religion and worship an affair about us rather than about God.


Trying to change prayers and rites in order to improve or contextualize them is, at times, something like trying to improve a finely turned musical instrument. One may know ‘something’ about the instrument, but he/she may not know the intricacies involved. In such cases, the best solution would be to leave it as it is and try to enjoy it. Very often the liturgical rites are carefully planned and based on principles and hence any capricious change will only impoverish its content.


The act of worship should help people to find strength in their spiritual life. Unfortunately many people find these celebrations dry, mechanical and unprofitable. This happens often due to the defective manner of the celebration. As Bishop Thomas Dabre observes, “We can no longer take their participation for granted. The celebration of the sacraments should be a joyful, inspiring and enlightening experience, for the sacraments unite us with the mysteries of salvation. Routine and the pressure of work can make our celebrations perfunctory, mechanical and dry. Priests and faithful need to collaborate and make the liturgy become an experience. Within the discipline of the Church’s worship, there is much scope for creativity, spontaneity and renewal. A greater commitment is called for to make the worship meaningful and profitable”.[13]


  1. Priest as Homilist

Among the functions of the priest, Vatican II places the preaching of the Gospel as the first one (PO4; cf. 2 Cor 11:7). In this way they carry out the command of Christ: “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature” (MT 16:15). In fact, “Faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard from the preaching of Christ” (Rom 10:17). As far as liturgy is concerned, this primary duty of the priest is realized in the Liturgy of the Word which essentially contains also the homily. Vatican II which recommended the need of a more ample, varied and suitable readings from the Sacred Scripture in the liturgy, suggested to give homily its rightful place in it and asked the priests to fulfil that duty most faithfully and carefully (SC 35/1-2). The Council also suggested the nature of the homily: “It must expound the Word of God not merely in a general and abstract way, but by an application of the elements of truths of the Gospel to concrete circumstances of life” (PO 4).


The homily besides being kerygmatic, doctrinal and moral, is also didactic and mystagogical. Hence the role of the president as a  homilist is of utmost importance. In a way, homily is sharing of the ‘known to the knowing’. It is a time of ‘liturgical catechesis’. The source of this catechesis is ordinarily the Sacred Scripture and the liturgy. As the homily is usually addressed to the baptized, it is a time to help them to deepen their faith and to direct them to a morally upright life. For many members of the Church, the Sunday homily is the only spiritual food they receive in a week and hence the homily should be informative and stimulating about religious matters and capable of steering them towards God.


Homily in the liturgical celebration is an “act of worship”, that is, homily is not simply defined by its content – an explanation of the mysteries of salvation -, and rather it is an integral part of the celebration itself. Precisely for this theological reason, the lesser clerics or lay persons are not permitted to preach homily within the liturgical service. The homilist acts sacramentally in the place of Jesus the PRIEST b y rendering through his words an act of worship, as PROPHET proclaiming and explaining the Word of God, as KING he addresses the Body of Christ authoritatively as head and pastor”.[14] As the priest exposes the word of God to the congregation, he is not only teaching the facts about salvation, but also carrying out the work of salvation. Presenting the truth of God the homilist awakes a response from the people, helping them to deepen their faith that leads to salvation.


In the homily, the role of the priest is not to teach ‘his own wisdom’, but the word of God and to issue an invitation to conversion and holiness.[15] Preaching “cannot be reduced to the presentation of one’s own thought, to the manifestation of personal experience, to simple explanations of a psychological, sociological or humanitarian nature; nor can it excessively concentrate on rhetoric, so often found in mass-communication. It concerns proclaiming a Word which cannot be altered, because it has been entrusted to the Church in order to protect, penetrate and faithfully transmit it”.[16]Therefore, homily not properly preached is a disservice done to the Church. As far as priests are concerned, homily should not be a ‘problem’, but an opportunity.


  1. Priest as Promoter of Active Participation

One of the major contributions of Vatican II liturgical Constitution is the impetus it gave to the active participation of the people in the liturgy. The priest plays an important role in making people participate actively in the celebration. But it is a matter of concern that many have not understood the real meaning of active participation. For them it is merely some external activities like responses to the prayers, singing by the choir and the like.


The central ‘action’ in the liturgy, in fact, is not the participating community. “The real liturgical action, the true liturgical act, is the oratio, the great prayer that forms the core of the Eucharistic celebration, the whole of which was, therefore called oratio by the Fathers… In this oratio the priest speaks with the I of the Lord – ‘This is my Body’, ‘This is my Blood’… This action of God, which takes place through human speech, is the real ‘action’ for which all of creation is in expectation… This is what is new and distinctive about Christian liturgy”.[17] This dimension of the interior dynamism of the liturgical action – the divine action – needs to be safeguarded. Therefore, for the sake of contextualization and being ‘creative’, the worshipping community should not be made a mere ‘social gathering’. The Eastern, and hence Indian, approach of apophatism can be of great help to pay attention to this divine dimension. The words and actions of the priest as well as the place and atmosphere of the celebration should be such that they evoke a sense of the sacred.


Vatican II has given a number of suggestions to promote the active participation of the people (SC 11, 14, 17, 18, 19, 28, 29, 30 etc). The roles[18] of each minister and that of the community need to be properly understood and respected for an effective participation. It is not right that the priest cedes to others those things that are proper to his office.


Vatican II which recommended responses, acclamations, hymns as well as gestures and bodily attitudes on the part of the faithful for active participation, added also that at proper times a ‘reverent silence’ should be observed (SC 30). Today people need to realize the effectiveness of silence in the liturgy, especially in the context of Indian religious ethos.


Silence in the liturgy is not a pause or an interruption, but a time of recollection , giving us an inward peace.[19]Silence helps ‘to feel the divine presence’. But, as Ratzinger observes, it is ‘manifestly not being met in our present form of the liturgy’.[20] Besides the silent moments for reflection after the homily and holy communion, Ratzinger suggests the time of the deposition of the gifts at the offertory as a time of silence placing ourselves before the Lord, asking him to make us ready for ‘transformation’ as the bred and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ.[21] A good celebrant will help people to experience this interior silence and take maximum fruit out of the celebration.




Alluding to some church-services, the Russian writer, Vladmir Rozanov once remarked that many Christians actually do not worship; instead, they have a lecture followed by a concert.[22] The author was sarcastically referring to the long biblical discourses and the music.


As we have already explained, the liturgy is more a ‘ritual prayer’. While the priests of pre-Vatican II erred in rubrics by excess, the post-Vatican generation errs by reductionism. Proper ritual actions – a slow entrance procession, a respectful carrying of the cross, Gospel book and candles, a reverent sign of the cross, a devotional recital of the prayers etc. – are important from a didactic point of view because they impress upon the congregation who participate in the worship.


In short, a totally necessary aspect of the formation of every Christian, and in particular of every priest, is liturgical formation in the full sense of becoming inserted in a living way in the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ who died and rose again and is present and active in the Church’s sacraments’.[23]







[1] A.PIERIS, A Liturgical Anticipation of a Domination-Free Church: The Story of an Asian Eucharist, EAPR, 3/2006, 215.

[2] G.NEVILLE, St.John Chrysostom: Six Books on the Priesthood, New York 1984.

[3] P.MANIATTU, Heaven on Earth. The Theology of Liturgical Spacetime in the East Syrian Qurbana, Rome 1995, 196.

[4] Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum (2004), No.31.

[5] Encyclical Letter Ecclesia de Eucharistia (2003), No.3; cf. PO 14.

[6] L.BOUYER, Rite and Man. Natural Sacredness and Christian Liturgy, Notre Dame 1963, 57.

[7] Letter 63:14.4. Quoted in Homiletic and Pastoral Review, July 2005, 51.

[8] J.RATZINGER, The Spirit of the Liturgy, San Francisco 200, 159.

[9] J.RATZINGER, The Spirit of the Liturgy, 160.

[10] Conference of Catholic Bishops of India, Charter of Priestly Formation for India (2004), No.1.2.3

[11] Redemptionis Sacramentum, No.30

[12] J.RATZINGER, The Feast of Faith, San Francisco 1986, 61.

[13] The Ministry of Diocesan Priests in India today, Vidyajyoti, April 2005, 249.

[14] J.FOX, The Homily and the Authentic Interpretation of Canon 767/1, Rome 1989. Quoted in Homiletic and Pastoral Review, November 1999, 18.

[15] JOHN PAUL II, Apostolic Exhortation Pastores dabo Vobis (1992), No.26.

[16] Congregation for the Clergy, Directory on the Ministry and Life of Priests, Rome 1994, No.45.

[17] J.RATZINGER, The Spirit of the Liturgy, 172-173.

[18] Redemptionis Sacramentum, No.32.

[19] J.RATZINGER, The Spirit of the Liturgy, 209.

[20] The Spirit of the Liturgy, 209.

[21] The Spirit of the Liturgy, 211.

[22] A.PIERIS, A Liturgical Anticipation of a Domination-Free Church, 216

[23] Pastores dabo Vobis, No.48.

The Liturgy of the Blessings in the Syro-Malabar Church

LRC Seminar

13 – 15 June 2006

The Liturgy of the Blessings in the Syro-Malabar Church


Fr.Antony Nariculam

Before we deal with “Blessings”, we need to have some understanding about what is meant by ‘blessing’. Are ‘sacramentals’ and ‘blessings’ the same? What are ‘para-liturgical’ services? Can we make a distinction between ‘major’ blessings and ‘minor’ blessings? Which are the blessings ‘reserved’ to the bishops and priests? Are deacons of the Eastern Churches permitted to administer blessings? Which is the type of blessings that lay people may administer? As far as I know, the Syro-Malabar Church has not formally addressed these questions. Therefore, this paper is based on certain assumptions and practices that need to be clarified in order to arrive at acceptable conclusions in view of understanding the very idea of ‘Blessings’ and eventually preparing the ritual for the same.

Before trying to understand the Syro-Malabar Blessings, I feel that we need to have some general notions about the Sacramentals and Blessings in the light of Church documents and history of Blessings, including those of the Western tradition. Part One, therefore, is a survey in order to understand the meaning and areas of ‘Blessings’ and Part Two deals specifically with the Syro-Malabar Blessings.

Part One

1. Vatican II and Sacramentals

Vatican II has not given specific principles and norms regarding the Blessings. However, its references to the Sacramentals give us some hints to understand the Blessings.

After explaining the meaning of the sacraments, SC 60 says about the sacramentals the following: “These (sacramentals) are sacred signs which bear a resemblance to the sacraments. They signify effects, particularly of a spiritual nature, which are obtained through the Church’s intercession. By them men are disposed to receive the chief effects of the sacraments, and various occasions in life are rendered holy”. For well-disposed members of the faithful, notes the document, “the liturgy of the sacraments and sacramentals sanctifies almost every event of their lives with the divine grace which flows from the paschal mystery of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ. From this source all sacraments and sacramentals draw their power (SC 61). However, in the course of history some features have crept into the rite of the sacramentals and sacraments[1] which have rendered their nature and purpose ‘far from clear to the people of today’ (SC 62). Then the Council proposes that the sacramentals be revised in such a way as to ‘enable the faithful to participate in them intelligently, actively and easily considering the circumstances of our times’ (SC 79). It also suggests to have provision for administering ‘some of the sacramentals’ at least ‘in special circumstances’ by ‘qualified lay persons’ at the ‘discretion of the bishops’ (SC 79).

Two of the sacramentals specifically mentioned in the Council document are the profession of the religious (SC 80) and the funeral rite (SC 81, 82).

2. Catechism of the Catholic Church and Sacramentals

According to CCC, the sacramentals are ‘instituted for the sanctification of certain ministries of the Church, certain states of life, a great variety of Christian life, and the use of many things helpful to man’ and they respond to the ‘needs, culture and special history of the Christian people of a particular region or time’ (CCC 1668).

What is the distinction between sacraments and sacramentals? In the words of CCC, ‘sacramentals do not confer the grace of the Holy Spirit in the way that the sacraments do, but by the Church’s prayer, they prepare us to receive grace and dispose us to cooperate with it’ (CCC 1670).

Who is the celebrant of the sacramentals? Sacramentals derive from ‘baptismal priesthood’ and hence every baptized person is “called to be a blessing and to bless” (CCC 1669. Cf. Gen. 12,2; Lk 6,28; Rom. 12,14; 1 Pet. 3,9). Consequently, also lay people may preside at ‘certain blessings’ (CCC 1669).

CCC identifies the following categories of sacramentals:

  • Blessing of Persons: Abbot and Abbess of monastery, the consecration of Virgins, the Rite of Religious Profession and the blessing of certain ministries of the Church such as readers, acolytes and catechists.
  • Blessing of Objects: Holy oils, vessels, vestments, bells etc.
  • Blessing of Places: Church, cemetery etc.
  • Blessing of Meals[2]:
  • Exorcism[3]:

Besides these sacramentals proper, there are also various forms of piety and popular devotions ‘surrounding the Church’s sacramental life’ such as the veneration of the relics, visits to sanctuaries, pilgrimages, processions, the Stations of the Cross, religious dances, the rosary, medals etc. (CCC 1674). However, they do not replace liturgy, but are ‘extensions of the liturgical life of the Church’ (CCC 1675).

Referring to the Latin American Bishops’ Conference CELAM, the CCC notes that the popular piety of the Christian people is a ‘storehouse of values that offers answers of Christian wisdom to the great questions of life’ (CCC 1676).


3. Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches and Sacramentals

According to CCEO 867/1 the sacramentals are “sacred signs, which in a way imitate the sacraments and signify effects, especially spiritual ones, which are obtained through the impetration of the Church. Through the sacramentals people are disposed to receive the principal effects of the sacraments and the various circumstances of their life are sanctified”.[4] The detailed norms concerning the sacramentals are left to the Particular Law of each Individual Church sui iuris.

The Latin Code of Canon Law is more specific regarding the sacramentals. It speaks about the sacramentals which can be administered by lay people (CIC 1168), the role of the deacons in imparting blessings (CIC 1169/3), the possibility of extending blessings to non-Catholics (CIC 1170) etc.

4. Syro-Malabar Particular Law and Sacramentals

The Particular Law of SMC has the following to say about the sacramentals and their administration.

After stating that the bishops, priests and deacons are the ordinary ministers of the sacramentals (No. 153), the Law gives the following directives:

  • The priest can delegate the power of administering the sacramentals, except funeral service, blessing of houses and exorcism, to minor clerics as per eparchial statutes (No. 154/1).
  • When a deacon or a minor cleric is the minister of sacramentals, he can say the final prayer (Huttama), but shall not impart the blessing with the Sign of the Cross which is reserved to priests (No.154/2).
  • The following are some of the sacramentals: Dedication (Adima), funeral service, office of the dead and exorcism (No. 154/3).

5. Instruction for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches and Sacramentals[5]

Sacramentals and popular devotions often respond to the religious sensibility of the peoples. According to the Instruction, the Eastern Churches are known for their ability to integrate the elements of their devotions into their liturgies. So much so, they have “their own devotional forms or formulas, less precise, more individual and probably easier, such as exclamatory prayers, celebration of the divine office with their own particular content, veneration of the most Holy Cross, of icons, of relics, of sanctuaries, the use of candles, incensing, and sometimes even the offering of animals” (No. 38). These manifestations of piety have usually remained “linked with the liturgical life” (No. 38).

I think that three observations are in order here.

(i) Eastern popular piety is less precise and more individual. This was the case also in the development of the liturgy. The fluid liturgical celebrations of individual pioneers were later codified and introduced. Such a process in popular piety too was a felt-need. Hence, it is natural that the popular devotions in the SMC are codified and have adopted a communitarian dimension.

(ii) Eastern manifestations of popular piety were linked with the liturgical life. But, in the course of history, we find an attempt, both in the East as well as in the West, to make a distinction between liturgy and popular piety. The general trend in the SMC too is to separate popular piety from liturgy, rather than to integrate it with the liturgical life.

(iii) After mentioning the influence of Latin popular devotions on the Eastern Catholic Churches and the spiritual benefits they have obtained due to this influence, the Instruction states that in any event it should be kept in mind that which has been established by CCEO 656/2 according to which the prayer books of popular devotions should have ecclesiastical permission (No. 38). It seems to me that the Instruction is taking the ‘Latin influence’ as a fait-accompli and hence future attempts should be to integrate them properly without endangering one’s own liturgical traditions.

6. Blessings: A Short Historical Survey

To ‘bless’ (benedicere, eulogein) means ‘to say a good word’. However, it is generally understood as a ‘praise to God’ or an ‘invocation to God’. This two-fold movement is the meaning of blessing in the liturgical tradition. The former (praising God) is very clear in the Eucharistic celebration and the divine office. The latter form of blessing (invoking God) is found in a variety of forms like the blessing of the ashes or palms, the blessing of oil and water, the blessing of sacred images or vessels, the blessing of persons or places etc. Among these there are those which are administered by the ordained ministers and which forms part of Church’s euchological patrimony. There are also popular practices of blessings that have roots in the Bible and in the faith of the people.

In the past when people were basically rural, they invoked God’s blessings over all aspects of their lives, from birth to death. Making the sign of the cross on oneself, prayer on rising in the morning and before retiring at night, prayer before and after meals, blessing of children, the sick etc. are examples.

Blessings have developed also on the basis of the rhythms of the universe. Prayers on the occasions of sowing, harvest, natural disasters etc. were human responses to God’s omnipresence and omnipotence. Blessings for protection against the evil spirits are yet another development in history. Some of them later led to superstitious and magical practices. Certain types of exorcism are consequent upon this mentality. In course of time some blessings became ‘private’ functions of the priest without any participation of the community. This has caused cases where  ‘magical effects’ are attributed to Blessings.

Till the 13th century we do not find a ‘definition’ of the sacramentals. In fact, the term ‘sacramental’ and its quasi-definition was introduced for the first time by Guglielmo d’ Auvergne (+ 1249), a professor of Paris University and later an Archbishop.[6] Later its understanding was made clearer by St Thomas Aquinas who held that the sacramentals were not instituted by Christ and that they did not confer grace and were left to the institution of the faithful. Suarez, Bellarmino and others tried to clarify this concept further. Eventually the sacramentals were understood as visible signs, instituted by the Church, for the spiritual and material benefit of the faithful.

In early times a distinction was made between ‘Constitutive Blessing’ (e.g. Blessing of the baptismal font) whose effect is guaranteed through the mediation of the Church and ‘Invocative Blessing’ (e.g. Blessing of a sick person) whose effect depends on the desire of the recipient and the will of God.[7]

The roots of Christian liturgical blessings are found in the anaphoral prayers. They are the highest forms of Blessings. For example, in the four G’hanta cycles of the anaphora of Mar Addai and Mar Mari, the Father, the Holy Trinity, Christ and the Holy Spirit are ‘blessed’ respectively. There are other blessings too in the Eucharistic celebration. The blessing of the catechumens before their dismissal, the blessing before Holy Communion, the final blessing (Huttama) etc. and the blessing with the Gospel book, the blessing before the exchange of peace etc. are examples.

Two representative ancient documents which reveal the nature of the Blessings are Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus of Rome in the West and Euchologion of Serapion in the East. In the Apostolic Tradition there are two Blessings: one for the light when the lamps are brought to the dining room before the evening meal and the other for the first fruits.[8] The Euchologion of Serapion contains Blessing of persons (catechumens, lay persons, the sick etc.) and objects (oil for the sick, water for Baptism, oil for post-baptismal anointing etc.).[9]

The history of Blessings in the Eastern tradition reveals that there is no dearth of borrowings from various texts such as Apostolic Tradition and even apocryphal sources. It is true also with regard to their style and content.[10]

‘Blessing’ sometimes expresses the idea of ‘permission’ in the West as well as in the East. Thus ‘Bless me, Lord, (Barekmar) in the liturgy of the Word can mean ‘Do you allow me?’[11]

7. Blessings and Inculturation

The field of ‘Blessings’ is an area where there is great scope for inculturation and adaptation. As Catechism of the Catholic Church states, the sacramentals respond to the “needs, culture and special history of the Christian people of a particular region or time” (CCC 1668). The “Book of Blessings” of the Latin Rite notes that provision should be made for legitimate variations adaptations of the Rite of Blessings to different groups, peoples and regions.[12] The Bishops’ Conferences are authorized to take necessary steps in this regard.[13]

As far as the Eastern Churches are concerned, inculturation is a hallmark of their tradition. As the Congregation for Catholic Education once remarked, the Eastern Churches have a long tradition of inculturation teaching Christian peoples to praise God in their own language. The process of inculturation in the East sometimes reached such a point that their cultural life was ‘identified with the manner of Christian living’. The study of this process, the document added, ‘can serve as an example and guide for those involved in a similar process today’.[14]

The Syro-Malabar Church is no exception to this rule. Various Rites connected with birth, baptism, marriage, funeral etc. are all well known. In fact, the Syro-Malabar bishops have on different occasions expressed the need of adapting liturgy to the needs of places and times.[15] Following this trend the eparchy of Chanda has given shape to some inculturated sacramentals.

8. Nestorian Rituals

George Percy Badger in his “The Nestorians and Their Rituals”[16] gives references to the following sacramentals of the Nestorians.

  •   Kahneeda which is the burial service for those who die in holy Orders and Anneedha which is the burial service for lay people (p. 24)
  •   Thaksa d’husaya or ‘Office of Pardon’ which contains the service used to restore the sinners to the Church. It includes also prayers said before admitting them to Holy Communion. And Badger notes that ‘there are several short offices of this kind in use among the Nestorians’ (p. 25).
  •   Malka is the tradition of the renewal of the holy Leaven on Maundy Thursday which is considered to be a sacramental(?) rite (p. 161)
  •   The chapter on sacraments does not mention any sacramental as such. However, there is an appendix to this chapter which refers to the importance of the Cross with which all sacraments are ‘sealed and perfected’. It seems that the ‘sign of the Cross’ is almost equated to a sacramental (p. 162).
  •   Some Blessings are mentioned in connection with marriage, namely the blessing of bridal chamber (a service usually said in the evening before the bridegroom and the bride retire to rest for the night) and the ‘churching’ of women (a blessing to be said over the child and the mother when they are brought to the Church after child-birth (p. 271, 250).

9. Latin Rite and the Book of Blessings

The Book of Blessings of the Latin Rite says that the Blessings hold “a privileged place among all the sacramentals created by the Church for the pastoral benefit of the people of God”. As a liturgical action, they ‘lead the faithful to praise God and prepare  them for the principal effects of the sacraments’. Through blessings the faithful can ‘sanctify various situations and events in their lives’.[17] Further it says that the blessings are established by the Church ‘as a kind of imitation of the sacramentals’ and that their effects are achieved ‘through the intervention of the Church’.[18] And the blessings are meant ‘for praising God through Christ in the Holy Spirit and for calling on divine help’.[19]

The following observations and recommendations of the “Book of Blessings’ are very relevant:

  • All superstitious practices should be eschewed in the celebration of the Blessings (No.13).
  • Though God’s help is invoked on the objects and places in the blessings, they are actually in view of the people who use these objects or frequent those places (No.12)
  • The celebration of the blessings is prohibited without the participation of at least some of the faithful (No.17).
  • There should be provision for legitimate variations and adaptations in the celebration of the blessings according to different groups, peoples and regions (No.24).
  • Certain blessings can be administered along with the Eucharistic celebration (Nos. 28,29).[20]
  • Lay people may administer certain blessings because of their  universal priesthood (No.18).[21]

 The Latin Rite divides the Blessings into five categories:

(i)     Blessings directly pertaining to Persons (e.g. Sick persons, travellers etc.)

(ii)   Blessings related to Buildings and to various forms of Human Activity (e.g. Houses, Hospitals, Shops, Fields etc.)

(iii)  Blessings of Objects that are designed or erected for use in Churches, either in the Liturgy or in Popular Devotions (e.g. Baptismal font, Confessional, Tabernacle, Cross, Holy Water, Sacred Images, Cemetery etc.)

(iv)  Blessings of Articles meant to foster the Devotion of the Christian People (e.g. Religious articles, Rosaries, Medals etc.)

(v)   Blessings for various Needs and Occasions (e.g. Thanksgiving on Year-End, Beginning of the New Year, Anniversaries, Jubilees etc.)

   In general, the Latin formularies have the following pattern: Introduction, Scriptural readings, Responsorial Song, Homily, Intercessions, Prayer of Blessing, Concluding Blessing and Dismissal.

                                                            Part Two


  The second part of this paper is an attempt to understand the idea the Syro-Malabar Church has about “Blessings”. The available data could be of help to prepare a ‘Book of Blessings’ for the Syro-Malabar Church.

1. Blessings in the Syro-Malabar Church

    As in any Christian tradition we come across Sacramentals and Blessings for various occasions in the Syro-Malabar Church. Though no systematic study and research have been undertaken to understand their origin and development, some general and universal trends can be found in their development.

 The Eastern Churches are said to have developed their own specific forms of devotions in history.[22]Among them the veneration of the Cross, devotion to the relics., visit to the sanctuaries, incensing etc. seem to have been practiced also by the Syro-Malabarians. The ‘blessing’ of the sick with the ‘relics’ of the tomb of St.Thomas at Mylapore appears to be a specific example of indigenous Syro-Malabar tradition.

  History reminds us that there was no dearth of borrowing among the Churches in the case of devotions.[23]A number of Western devotions prevalent in the Syro-Malabar Church today can be easily understood in this background.

Christian tradition of the Blessings is not an ‘original’ contribution of the early Christians. In fact, they received it from the Jews[24] and continued to use it spontaneously, without much theological reflection and keep it in diverse forms. This seems to be true with regard to the Western devotions in the Syro-Malabar Church too.

The term ‘benediction’ (Berakah) had at least three meanings in the Jewish understanding. It could be (i) Blessing coming from God (ii) Blessing of praise to God and (iii) Prayer or wish of blessing by man. These three dimensions are found also in the Syro-Malabar Blessings. For the Jews, however, the second dimension – blessing of praise to God for His marvellous deeds – was more important. But the Syro-Malabar Blessings are more in line with the third dimension, that is, petitions for God’s blessings.

A close examination of the history of Blessings will reveal that their development  took  two directions: One is the ‘shape’ of these Blessings in the Jewish tradition and the other  the human-religious sentiments contained in them. Already by the second century there was a shift of emphasis from ‘praise of God’ to ‘sanctification of objects’. Today this emphasis is reiterated. This can be ascertained from the spectacular popularity of pious devotions.

2. Syro-Malabar Rituals of Blessings

 Here below is given a list of Rituals of Blessings now in use in the Syro-Malabar Church. The list is not exhaustive.

(1) Blessings (Vencherippukal):  This is one of the first Ritual of Blessings published from Ernakulam in 1974. It has 6 parts and an appendix.

Part 1: Blessing of ‘Sacred Places’: ( Chapel, Cemetery etc.)

Part 2: Blessing of ‘Buildings and Places’: (Houses, Hospitals, Schools, Shops etc)

Part 3: Blessing of ‘Persons’: (Children, Sick persons etc.)

Part 4: Blessing of ‘Sacred Objects’: (Vestments, Vessels, Religious articles etc)

Part 5: Blessing of ‘Animals’.

Part 6: Other ‘Useful Objects’: (Vehicles, Food etc).

   The appendix has the prayer of ‘consecration of the family’ to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Litany of Our Lord, a prayer-service that can be used when the priest visits a family etc.

(2) Blessings (Asirvadhaprarthanakal):[25] This book was published by Denha Services, Kottayam, in 1988. The book has a sub-title too, namely “Sacramentals”(Koodasanukaranangal).

  The preface of the Ritual states that the book is prepared making use of the sources and taking into consideration the present needs of the Syro-Malabar Church. It defines the sacramental as the rites which are ‘formed from the sacraments and are similar to them in spirit and structure’. It also opens the way for adapting them according to the circumstances. The sacramentals being communitarian celebrations, it is recommended that at least a few people should be present when they are administered. According to the Ritual, the priests are the celebrants of the sacramentals though the deacons can substitute them in their absence.

The book has three parts and an appendix.

Part 1: It is entitled ‘Blessings’ (Venchirippukal). There are 18 items in this category beginning with ‘House Blessing’. Other Blessings are of holy water, religious articles, buildings, animals, vehicles etc. It includes also the betrothal ceremony, exorcism etc.

Part 2: Blessing of the sick and the dying.

Part 3: Blessings to be used on ‘Special Occasions’ which includes prayer before and after meals, for good harvest, on birthday etc.

The appendix gives a rite for the ‘Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament” integrating the Ramsa prayer.

(3) Blessings (Venchirippukal): This Ritual was published from Ernakulam in 1992 by the Inter-diocesan Committee for Liturgy. A special feature of this book is the addition of an inculturated Rite of House Blessing into which some traditional Indian elements like Arathi, Bhajans etc are incorporated.

The book has 7 parts divided as follows:

Part 1: Buildings and Institutions (Houses, Chapels, Shops etc.)

Part 2: Sacred Objects (Altar, Sacred Images, Rosaries, Medals etc.)

Part 3: Various Objects (Food items, Boats etc.)

Part 4: Vehicles

Part 5: Animals

Part 6: Food Offerings

Part 7: Holy Water

(4)  A Collection  of Various Booklets of Blessings

(i)     A “Collection of Prayers” (Prarthanasamaharam) by Cardinal Joseph Parecattil, Ernakulam 10980. It contains 42 prayers or prayer-services for various occasions.

(ii)   An Order for Blessing the Houses of the Religious and Priests, Denha Services, Kottayam 1984.

(iii)  Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and Benediction, Denha Services, Kottayam 1984.

(iv)  Betrothal, Oottunercha, Rite of Healing the Sick, Ernakulam 1985.

(v)   Prayer- service in honour of Blessed Chavara and Alphonsa, Denha Services, Kottayam 1986.

(vi)  Rite of Christmas Celebration, Denha Services, Kottayam 1987.

(vii)                       Christmas Celebration, Sandesanilayam, Changanacherry (No date)

(viii)                     Message of Christmas, Prayer on Year-End, Prayer at the Beginning of the Year, Ernakulam 1987.

(ix) Sacred Rites in the Church (Devalayathirukkarmangal), Inter-diocesan Committee for Liturgy, Ernakulam 1991.

(5)  Prayer for the Dead

 Various diocesan committees have published a series of prayer books under the title ‘Prayer for the Dead’.

(i)     Prayers during and after Death, Ernakulam 1969.

(ii)   Prayer Service for the Dead, Ernakulam 1980

(iii)  Commemoration of the Dead, Ernakulam 1984

(iv)   Anuthaparchana, Changanacherry 1992

(v)   From the Valley of Death, Kottayam 1996

(vi)  Prayer for the Dead, Irinjalakuda 1997

            (vii) Prayer for the Dead, Thamarassery 2003

            (viii) Prayer Service for the Dead, Ernakulam 2006

            (6) Home Liturgy

In the history of Syro-Malabar Blessings a new path was opened by Fr.Jacob Aeranat who published his “Home Liturgy” (Kudumbaliturgy) in 1980. Two books are now available in this category.

(i)     Home Liturgy (Kudumbaliturgy) by Fr.Jacob Aeranat, Ernakulam 1980.

      This book got a very enthusiastic reception in the Syro-Malabar families. In 2003 it had its 11th reprint. The book has about 130 Blessings and prayers for various occasions.

(ii)   Family Rites (lKudumbasusrooshakal) By Fr.Thomas Mathasseril CMI, Kottayam 2002.

                               This book has 200 Blessings and prayer- services under 28 headings. The approach of this book is a little different from that of ‘Home Liturgy’ in some respects. For example, there are 42 prayer- services connected with marriage and family alone. (e.g. Vivaham Urappikkal, marriage, after marriage, child-birth, baptism etc.)

3. Some Remarks

An examination of “Blessings” in the Syro-Malabar Church brings out the following categories:

(i) Blessings reserved to the Bishops (Muron, Church, Deppa(?) etc.). They are often called ‘consecrations’.

(ii) Blessings reserved to the Bishops or priests (Ashes, Palms, Water, House etc.).

(iii) Quasi-blessings the deacons may administer. (Generally, the deacons do not impart any blessing in the Eastern tradition. However, the Particular Law of the Syro-Malabar Church allows the deacons to be official witness at the betrothal).

(iv) M’samsana, Hevpadyakna and Karoya are allowed by the Syro-Malabar Particular Law to be the ministers of the sacramental of Adima though they are not allowed to impart blessing with the Sign of the Cross.

(v) The Syro-Malabar faithful ‘administer’ the so-called ‘Home Liturgies’ with a prayer of invocation to God for His blessings in connection with various domestic religious occasions like marriage, baptism, holy communion etc.

Among the various categories of Blessings in the Syro-Malabar Church we may identify the following:

(i)                 Persons: (Children, Sick persons etc.)

(ii)               Buildings: (Presbytery, Religious Houses, Corner-stone etc.)

(iii)             Objects (Tools): ( Food  Vehicles, Boats etc.)

(iv)             Sacred Objects: (Altar, Baptismal Font, Cross, Sacred Vessels, Holy Water, Sacred Images, the Stations of the Cross etc.)

(v)               Places: ( Cemetery, Fields etc.)

(vi)             Animals

(vii)           Various Occasions: (Home Liturgies)


In today’s secularised and secularising world how far do the Blessings influence the people? It is true that the progress of science, technology, urbanization etc. have made certain Blessings lose their original Christian meaning. At the same time, we find also a growth of various Blessings, some of them even slipping into near-superstitious and magical practices.

Another phenomenon is the shift of emphasis regarding the content of Blessings. The original meaning of praise and thanksgiving to the Lord has given way to prayers of petitions. Though the petitions do part of the Blessing, we need to rediscover the original meaning of Christian Blessings.[26] The karozutha prayers of the Syro-Malabar Qurbana is a right indicator in this direction. The response of each petition is “Lord, have mercy on us”.




[1] Here the document mentions the sacramentals before the sacraments which, in my judgement, implies that the sacramentals are more vitiated than the sacraments in the historical process.

[2] No example is given in CCC. The blessing of ‘Pesaha Appam’ could be an example.

[3] When the Church publicly and authoritatively asks that a person be protected from the dominion of the power of the Evil One, it is called exorcism.

[4] This translation is taken from George Nedungatt, A Companion to the Eastern Code, Rome 1994, p.204.

[5] Congregation for the Eastern Churches, Instruction for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, Rome 1996

[6] Cf. Mario Righetti, Storia Liturgica IV: Sacramenti e Sacramentali, Milano 1959, p.474

[7] Cf. Ibid, p. 476

[8] Cf. Reiner Kaczynski, Blessings in Rome and the Non-Roman West, in A.J. Chupungco (ed.), Handbook for Liturgical Studies IV, Collegeville 2000, p. 398

[9] Cf. Ibid, p. 399

[10] Cf. Elena Velkova Velkovska, Blessings in the East, in A.J.Chupungco 9ed.), Handbook for Liturgical Studies, p. 388

[11] Cf. Ibid, p. 384

[12] ICEL, Book of Blessings, Washington DC 1987, General Instructions No. 24

[13]  Ibid, General Instructions No. 39

[14] Cf. Circular Letter Concerning Studies of the Oriental Churches, L’Osservatore  Romano, 6 April 1987, p. 12

[15] Cf. SMBC Report of 19 June 1973, p. 1-2; Report of 14 August 1974, p. 1; Report of 6 December 1980, p. 1; Report of 7 November 1985, p. 3; Report of 3 December 1986, p. 5; Report of the Synod of November 1999 etc.

[16] G.P. Badger, Nestorians and Their Rituals, Vol. II, London 1852

[17] Cf. Book of Blessings, Preface, p.7.

[18] Book of Blessings, General Instructions, No.10.

[19] Ibid., No.13

[20] Examples: Blessing of altar, chalice, paten etc.; Jubilee celebration of marriage, Blessing of  bed-ridden sick persons at home etc.

[21] However, when a priest or a deacon is present, the ministry of blessing should be left to them.

[22] Congregation  for the Eastern Churches, Instruction, No.38. See above, p.3.

[23] See above, Footnote No.9.

[24] For example, the Jewish domestic liturgy of Birkat ha Mazon which was a prayer of thanksgiving  was not meant simply for the food, but also for all the gifts of Yahweh.

[25] This Ritual is translated into English, but without the appendix. ‘Blessings and Prayers (Sacramentals), Denha Services, Kottayam 1990.

[26] Andres Torres Queiruga, Beyond Prayer of Petitions, in Concilium, 1/2006, pp.63-75.

The Eucharist: A Mystery to be Celebrated

The Eucharist: A Mystery to be Celebrated


 Antony Nariculam



The second part of Pope Benedict XVI’s Apostolic Exhortation “Sacramentum Caritatis” speaks about the celebratory dimension of the Eucharist. In 36 paragraphs (Nos. 34 – 69) the document deals with mainly five areas of Eucharistic celebration. They are the Art of Celebration, the Structure of the Eucharistic Celebration, the meaning of Active Participation, the need of Interior Participation and Adoration and Eucharistic Devotion. As an introduction to these themes we come across two key phrases in this document: Lex orandi lex credendi (Rule of prayer as rule of faith) and Ars celebrandi (Art of celebration). The Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist, held in Rome in 2005, on which this document is based, had discussed the relationship between the Eucharistic faith (Part One of this document) and the Eucharistic celebration (Part Two). This relationship is so natural since any liturgical celebration is intrinsically bound up with faith. This article aims at giving an overall picture of the Eucharist as enunciated in this papal exhortation.

1. Some General Observations


Before we deal with the various aspects of the Eucharistic celebration, some general observations seem to be in place.

1.1  The document refers to the unitary understanding of the three sacraments of initiation, namely, Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist. In fact, Baptism and Confirmation are ordained to the Eucharist. As the document notes, though there are differences between the East and the West in the understanding and interpretation of these three sacraments, it remains true that for the completion of Christian initiation all three sacraments are necessary. The Eastern and Western variations in their interpretation, according to the Pope, are not of a ‘dogmatic’ nature, but only ‘pastoral’. However, the Pope seems to appreciate better the Eastern practice of giving them together.[1]

1.2   The term ‘Transubstantiation’ is not overemphasized unlike in many previous magisterial documents on the Eucharist. However, similar expressions are found in No.6 (substantial change), No.11 (substantial conversion of bread and wine) and Nos. 13,15 (Transubstantiation).

1.3  The relationship between the “Institution Narrative” and the “Epiclesis” is sufficiently clarified. This clarification is important as the “moment” of transformation of the bread and the wine into the Body and Blood of Christ is still being debated in many circles. Referring to the anaphora, the Pope notes: “Along with the words spoken by Christ at the Last Supper, it contains the epiclesis, the petition to the Father to send down the gift of the Spirit so that the bread and the wine will become the body and blood of Jesus Christ” (No.13).

1.4   In many respects the explanation of the Eucharistic celebration is based on the Western tradition, rather than the Eastern. The following may be pointed out as examples:

  • In order to make known to the people the ars celebrandi, it is important that they become familiar with the general Instructions of the Roman Missal (No.40).
  • There is need for a catechesis on the colour of the liturgical vestments (No.40).
  • The homily could be thematic based on the three-year-cycle of the lectionary (No.46).
  • The faithful need to be instructed about the real meaning of the dismissal formula (Ite Missa est) at the end of the Mass (No.51).
  • The Gregorian chant needs to be esteemed in the Latin tradition, and hence the seminarians should be trained in Latin language and the Gregorian chant (No.62).
  • The unity of the faithful within the ecclesial communion is explained relating the second Eucharistic Prayer of the Roman Missal to the invocation of the Holy Spirit (No.15).
  • There is need for a balanced and sound practice of Indulgence (No.21).
  • Priestly spirituality is referred to in relation to the words spoken by the Bishop during the ordination liturgy of the Latin rite (No.80).
  • In order to explain the presentation of the gifts, the document has used the prayers of the Roman Missal (No.92).

1.5    Despite Latin overtones, the document has not failed to mention some of the Eastern practices. They are:

  • The Eastern custom of conferring the three sacraments of initiation together (No.18).
  • Respect for the non-celibate priests found in some Eastern Churches (No.24).
  • The laudable devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary (No.96).

2. Rule of Prayer as Rule of Faith (Lex orandi lex credendi)


Lex orandi lex credendi is a widely accepted dictum in the liturgical tradition. This principle emphasizes the primacy of the liturgical action. There is an intrinsic relationship between faith and its authentic celebration in the liturgy. Therefore, any undue alteration of the liturgical formulae can have negative repercussions on the life of faith of the people. That is precisely the reason why the magisterium of the Church time and again reminds all concerned about not tampering with the liturgical texts.[2] Since the Eucharistic liturgy is an “action of God”, it cannot be subjected to changing trends in the society. As St. Paul says, ‘I have handed over to you what I have received from the Lord’ (1 Cor 11.23). Eucharistic liturgy is part of the Church’s living Tradition being commemorated uninterruptedly on the Lord’s Day (No.37). Therefore, the liturgical prayers as ‘expressions of faith’ should be respected.

3. The Art of Celebration (Ars Celebrandi)


Before dealing with the celebratory dimension of the Eucharist, the document speaks about “Beauty and the Liturgy”. Here the reference is to the ‘aesthetic beauty’ and not ‘aestheticism’. Any liturgical celebration has to be ‘beautiful’. The use of the term ‘beautiful’ is not to be understood simply as a harmony of proportion and form, as a mere decoration. It is the radiant expression of the paschal mystery. It is the truth of God’s love in Christ that encounters, attracts and delights us, enabling us to emerge from ourselves and drawing us towards our true vocation, which is love. The beauty of the liturgy is a glimpse of heaven on earth (No.35). The greatest beauty is when we become ‘one’ with Jesus himself in Holy Communion. It is in this sense that the liturgical action is beautiful.

The ‘art of celebration’ has to take note of two fundamental things. One is proper celebration itself. The other is the consequence of a proper celebration, namely a full, active and fruitful participation of the people in it. In other words, the ‘art of celebration’ is the best way to ensure ‘active participation’ (No.38).

3.1 There are a few elements to be taken care of in the ‘art of celebration’.

3.1.1 Faithful adherence to the liturgical norm

 In this regard the primary duty is that of the Bishops. Then come the priests and the deacons. Therefore, the Pope asks the diocesan Bishops to have ‘model celebration’ in the cathedral churches under their presidentship (No.39).

3.1.2 Fostering the sense of the sacred

One has to take care of a lot of things to foster this sense. The sacred vestments, the furnishings, the sacred space, the signs and symbols, the harmony of the rite, etc are conducive to realize this goal. In addition, the various ‘languages’ used in the liturgy, such as words, music, gestures, silence and movements are also helpful (No.41).

3.1.3 A correct understanding about the Church architecture

The symbolic meaning of the altar, the crucifix, the tabernacle, the ambo and the celebrant’s chair need to be properly understood. The same is valid also regarding paintings and statues. Hence the document suggests the need for training the seminarians and priests to understand and appreciate the Church’s treasury of the sacred art (No.41).

3.1.4        Liturgical Music

It is a patrimony of faith, and hence this heritage must be preserved. As far as liturgical hymns are concerned, it is not correct to say that one hymn is as good as another. Every hymn should be well integrated into the overall celebration. Therefore, its text, music and execution must correspond to the mystery being celebrated, the structure of the rite and the liturgical seasons (No.42).

4. The Structure of the Celebration


The document takes the various parts of the Roman Missal to explain the structure of the Eucharistic celebration. It is explained under seven titles.

4.1    The Liturgy of the Word and the Eucharistic liturgy

There is an intrinsic relationship between these two parts of the Eucharistic celebration. They are not juxtaposed. Indeed, the Word we proclaim is the ‘Word made flesh’ (Jn 1:14). St. Jerome said that ‘the ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ’. Therefore, proper care should be given in its proclamation. Well prepared readers should be appointed to read it. If needed, a short introduction may be given before each reading (Nos. 44-45).

4.2    The Homily


Homily is part of the liturgical action. It is a golden moment to help people to live their faith. Hence generic and abstract homilies are to be avoided. It should be based on the Word of God that touches the life of the community. In short, it should be such that it becomes a vital nourishment for the people (No.46).

4.3    The Presentation of the Gifts

The document speaks about the bread and wine brought for the celebration. Along with  the bread and the wine, we bring to the altar all creation that Christ may transform them and present them to the Father. Through them we bring also all the pain and suffering of the world to the altar.[3]

4.4    The Eucharistic Prayer (Anaphora)

It is the centre and summit of the entire celebration of the Eucharist. It has elements like Thanksgiving, Acclamations, Institution Narrative, Epiclesis, Anamnesis, Offering, Intercession and Doxology. Here the document clearly states the profound unity between the Institution Narrative and the Epiclesis (No.48).

4.5    The Sign of Peace

By its very nature, the Eucharist is a sacrament of peace. The sign of peace during the celebration denotes it. In today’s world, fraught with fear and conflict, this gesture has become particularly eloquent. However, it should be expressed in an appropriate manner without distracting the assembly (No.49).

4.6    The Distribution and Reception of Holy Communion


The rules governing the correct practice in distributing Holy Communion should be respected. The Pope refers to the recent documents in this regard.[4]  He also asks not to neglect the thanksgiving after Holy Communion. Though singing during and after Holy Communion may be good, a silent time for recollection should not be neglected.

In connection with Holy Communion, the document raises a pastoral problem encountered in the pilgrimage centres, and during the funeral or nuptial Masses when there could be the presence of non-Christians or Christians who are not in communion with Catholic faith. In such cases, there is need to find a brief and clear way to remind those present of the meaning of sacramental communion and the conditions required for its reception. In very difficult cases, the document even suggests not to celebrate the Eucharist, and confine the celebration to the liturgy of the Word alone (No.50).

4.7    The Dismissal ( Ite Missa Est)

The dismissal at the end of the Mass is not just sending the participants out after the celebration. It is actually in view of the mission entrusted to the Christians in this world. It succinctly expresses the missionary nature of the Church. The Pope feels that the present formula may not be adequate to express this idea sufficiently well. Therefore, he suggests providing new texts for the final blessing in order to make this idea clearer (No.51).

5. Active Participation


The meaning of “active participation” is often misunderstood as the external activity of the participants. Pope Benedict XVI had already spoken about the incorrect understanding of it when he wrote that ‘participation’ is misunderstood to mean “something external, entailing a need for general activity, as if as many people, as often possible, should be visibly engaged in action”.[5] The real “actio”, the Pope continues, “is the action of God himself. This is what is new and distinctive about the Christian liturgy: God himself acts and does what is essential”.[6] According to Vatican II Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, active participation means “conscious, devout and fruitful” participation (SC 14).

5.1    For a meaningful participation in the Eucharist, the Pope suggests the following:

  • The specific roles of the various participants like the priest, deacon, lay people, etc are to be respected (No.53)
  • Adapting the celebration to the culture of the place ( The process of inculturation) is a must. Certain abuses that crept into the liturgy in the name of inculturation should not deter us from continuing this process. Incarnation of Christ is the basis of inculturation. In order to avoid possible abuses, the norms laid down by various magisterial documents in this regard must be respected.[7]
  • The interior preparation of the participants is a prerequisite for active participation. This preparation consists in conversion, recollection, silence, sacramental confession in view of receiving Holy Communion, etc (No.55). (However, there could be cases where individuals are not able to receive Holy Communion under the Eucharistic species. In such cases, they need not be discouraged from attending the holy Mass because, as the document observes, their ‘participation at Mass remains necessary, important, meaningful and fruitful’.  For such individuals it is beneficial ‘to cultivate a desire for full union with Christ through the practice of spiritual communion’).[8]

5.2    While provisions are made for active participation, the following categories of people must be given due attention.

  • Special care should be given to the elderly and the sick, and the physically and mentally disabled (No.58).
  • Necessary steps should be taken for the participation of the prisoners (No.59).
  • Another category that requires special attention is the migrants. The Eastern Rite migrants are to be given facilities to participate in the liturgy according to their own ecclesial tradition (No.60).
  • At times it may be useful to celebrate the Eucharist for small groups. But, such celebrations should not give the impression that these groups are parallel to the local Church. These must be occasions to unify the community, and not to fragment it (No.63).
  • It is praiseworthy that the elderly and the sick are given opportunity to participate in the Eucharistic celebration transmitted through radio/television. But it should be remembered that in normal circumstances, it is not sufficient to fulfil the Sunday obligation (No.57).

5.3   The ecumenical aspect of the Eucharistic celebration should be properly understood. Holy Communion should not be taken as a “means” to attain ecumenical communion. Rather, it should be the final fruit of ecumenical dialogue because communion is not merely a personal communion with Jesus. It has to be extended to the Church too (No.56).


6.  Interior Participation


Interior participation is absolutely necessary for active participation, and hence the Pope suggests the following for the same. First and foremost is the mystagogical catechesis in order to enable the people to offer themselves to God in unity with the sacrifice of Christ. For this they need a systematic understanding of the content of faith. Only then can they participate in the Eucharistic celebration in a meaningful and fruitful manner.

A proper mystagogical catechesis means at least three things:

  • The rites are interpreted in the light of the events of Salvation History.
  • The meaning of the signs and the symbols are explained.
  • The significance of the celebration for Christian life is explained, that is with lex orandi and lex credendi; lex vivendi too is given adequate importance (No.64).

Along with these, people need to be taught about the ‘external reverence’ required of them during the celebration. The gestures and postures are part of it. The best catechesis is perhaps a good celebration itself. In this Eucharistic catechesis, the document seems to be particularly concerned about the usefulness of ‘kneeling’ during the anaphoral prayers. Though it is not obligatory, as different liturgical traditions have varying practices in this regard, Pope Benedict XVI seems to be in favour of this practice (No.65).

7. Adoration and the Eucharistic Devotion


The last section of Part Two of Sacramentum Caritatis is on the Eucharistic devotion. The first observation of the document in this regard is that there is an intrinsic relationship between the celebration of the Mass and adoration (No.66).

After Vatican II, there were objections from some quarters against Eucharistic adoration. The objection raised was: Is not the Eucharist “to be consumed”, and not “to be looked at”? According to the document, this question is based on a misunderstanding. In fact, this distinction is a false dichotomy. In order to justify adoration, the document quotes St. Augustine’: ‘No one eats that flesh without adoring it; we should sin were we not to adore it’.[9]The document further notes that the Eucharistic adoration is simply “the natural consequence of the Eucharistic celebration” (No.66). It prolongs and intensifies it.

7.1  The Pope suggests the following practical steps in order to foster Eucharistic adoration:

  • Adoration should be continued both individually and in community.[10]
  • It is recommended the chapels should be established for perpetual adoration in densely populated areas (No.67)
  • Children getting ready for First Holy Communion should be helped to grow in Eucharistic devotion (No.67).
  • The religious, lay associations and confraternities who spend time in adoration are to be appreciated and encouraged (No.68).
  • Eucharistic procession, especially on Corpus Christi, 40 Hour Adoration and local/national/international Eucharistic Congresses are to be encouraged (No.68).

7.2    In order to emphasize the prime importance of the Eucharistic presence in the house of God, the Pope makes some observations regarding the location of the tabernacle. They may be summarized as follows (No.69):

  • It is advisable to have a chapel of the Blessed Sacrament.
  • If there is no Blessed Sacrament chapel, it is appropriate to continue to keep the tabernacle at the high altar.
  • In the newly built churches, it is good to position the Blessed Sacrament chapel close to the sanctuary. If that is not possible, it is preferable to locate the tabernacle in the sanctuary, in a sufficiently elevated place, at the centre of the apse area, or in another place where it will be equally conspicuous.
  • Where be the tabernacle, it should be readily visible to anybody who enters the church.
  • There should be a sanctuary lamp.
  • The chair of the celebrant should not be placed in front of the tabernacle.


As we have mentioned at the beginning of this article, the two key phrases of this Apostolic Exhortation are “Lex orandi lex credendi” and “Ars celebrandi”. The underlying concern of Pope Benedict XVI seems to be, as in the case of Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia, a prevalent lack of reverence due to the Eucharistic celebration. The externals of celebration, the requirements of liturgical reform and the steps for active participation should not be at the expense of the sense of the sacred and the need for a fruitful participation.






[1] Sacramentum Caritatis, Nos. 17 -18

[2] Redemptionis Sacramentum 4; Ecclesia de Eucharistia 52, Sacrosanctum Concilium 22

[3] No.47; Redemptionis Sacramentum 70

[4] Redemptionis Sacramentum 80-96

[5] The Spirit of the Liturgy, San Francisco 2000, p.171

[6] The Spirit of the Liturgy, p.173

[7] These norms are contained in the General Instructions of the Roma Missal, the 4th Instruction of the Congregation for the Divine Worship, Varietatis legitimae (1994), Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortations Ecclesia in Africa, Ecclesia in America, Ecclesia in Asia, Ecclesia in Oceania and Ecclesia in Europa

[8] No.55; Ecclesia de Eucharistia 34.

[9] Enarrationes in Psalmos 98:9, CCL XXXIX, 1385

[10] No.67; Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy (2001), Nos.165-165; Instruction Eucharisticum Mysticum (1967).

The Syro-Malabar Liturgical Reform and Pastoral Adaptation

The Syro-Malabar Liturgical Reform and Pastoral Adaptation

Antony Nariculam

The Syro-Malabar Bishops’ Synod, in its attempts to arrive at a consensus regarding the  liturgical issues, has been studying their various aspects with the help of  liturgists, historians, pastors and scholars  in different fields. One of the areas of their study is “Liturgical Reform and Pastoral Adaptation”. This article deals with this particular topic under its various dimensions.

In 1988 the Congregation for the Oriental Churches made the following statement: “The good of the faithful (‘bonum fidelium’) is the pastoral norm governing all liturgical legislation”.[1]Other Roman documents, addressed to the Syro-Malabar Church, too have similar references.

The present articl focuses on eight areas in order to highlight the topic of pastoral adaptation in the  Syro-Malabar liturgy.

  1. The Guidelines for Liturgical Reform, especially those emerging from the Canonical Prescriptions


Vatican II Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium) was a turning point in the liturgical history of the Church at a universal level. Some norms laid down by the Constitution, as the document itself states, “can and should be applied both to the Roman rite and also all other rites” (SC 3). Since then, especially from 1980 onwards, the Syro-Malabar Church has received many guidelines in view of restoring and reforming the liturgy. Of these some are of a general nature and others with specific indications.[2]

According to an Instruction of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, the first requirement of every liturgical renewal is that of rediscovering full fidelity to one’s own liturgical tradition, benefitting from its riches and eliminating that which has altered its authenticity. Such heedfulness is not subordinate to but precedes the so-called updating.[3] Quoting John Paul II, the Instruction reminds us that there needs ‘to trim extraneous forms and developments, deriving from various influences that come from liturgical and paraliturgical traditions foreign to one’s own tradition’.[4]

The modern mentality of the people tends to excessive activism and wants to attain results with minimum effort. This attitude, warns the Instruction, can negatively influence the approach towards liturgy too.[5] However, this consideration should not deter us from meeting the exigencies of the contemporary world.[6] According to the Instruction, a basic principle in the liturgical reform is the one laid down by Sacrosanctum Concilium No.23: ‘In order that sound tradition be retained , and yet the way remains open to legitimate progress, the revision of any part of the liturgy should occur only after careful investigation – the theological, historical and pastoral’.[7]

In the light of the necessary studies, the Instruction suggests the criteria for liturgical renewal in the following words: “In modifying ancient liturgical practice, it must be determined if the element to be introduced is coherent with the contextual meaning in which it is placed. Such a context should be understood beginning with eventual references to Sacred Scripture, interpretations of the Holy Fathers, liturgical reforms previously made, and mystagogical catechesis. Here it must be verified that the new change is homogenous with the symbolic language, with the images and the style specific to the liturgy of the particular Church. The new element will have its place if, required for serious pastoral reasons, it blends within the celebration without contrast but with coherence, almost as if it had naturally derived from it. In addition, it should be ensured that it is not already present, perhaps in another form, in a different moment of the celebration or in another part of the liturgical corpus of that Church. Every renewal initiative should be careful not to be conditioned by other systems which may appear to be more efficient”.[8]

With regard to cultural adaptations, the Instruction refers to an address by Pope John Paul II to the Copts: “Do not adhere with excessive improvisation to the imitation of cultures and traditions which are not your own, thus betraying the sensibility of your people (…). This means it is necessary that every eventual adaptation of your liturgy be founded on an attentive study of the sources, objective knowledge of the specific features of your culture, and maintenance of the traditions common to all Coptic Christianity”.[9]

In this context, it may be useful what the Oriental Congregation had to say to the Syro-Malabar Church in the Report of 1980. It observes that the Syro-Malabar Church needs to integrate itself with the cultures and the traditions of India. This is in view of the necessary inculturation by which is meant the assumption of more solid and sounder realities which these traditions contain, and which so unmistakably characterize the authentic physiognomy of the Indian people.[10] Opening up the doors for liturgical renewal in the Syro-Malabar Church, it further says that “the liturgy – as the Church itself – is perennially to be reformed. It is a living reality, and it cannot be an immobile reality, but must live with the people of God to which it belongs. Remaining itself, it must grow everyday and conform itself to the reality of the ever-new gifts that the Lord grants His people. This continual reforming itself and hence of changing itself is a basic condition of its truth. It is true, therefore, that  liturgy is received as something given nevertheless, no text is to be considered intangible for centuries or marked  by the perennial prohibition ‘ne varietur’”.[11] Hence the measures to be taken by the Syro-Malabar Church should be that of a ‘double-direction’, namely an ‘Eastern-Christian’ direction through a deep contact with the Syriac liturgical, theological and spiritual tradition, and an ‘Indian-direction’ by favouring serious study of Hinduism in order to contribute towards a more  authentic insertion in the life of the Indian people.[12]

The ‘Final Judgement’ of 1985 too had some indications concerning the cultural adaptations in the Syro-Malabar Church. It declares that ‘Rome in no way opposes recommendations for legitimate Indianization’ and that ‘texts of refrains and chants more suitable to Indian culture’ could be proposed for use.[13]

However, in the process of liturgical reform, warns the Instruction, the Catholics need to bear in mind its ecumenical dimension, that is, they have to be sensitive to the Orthodox brethren. Any distancing from the common heritage can cause the existing separation to deepen. Still the document does not rule out the possibility of Catholics proceeding with their own renewal programme, though with necessary precautions. Hence it says: “In every effort of liturgical renewal, therefore, the practice of the Orthodox brethren should be taken into account, knowing it, respecting it and distancing from it as little as possible so as not to increase the existing separation, but rather intensifying efforts in view of eventual adaptations, maturing and working together”.[14]

  1. The Syro-Malabar Liturgical Texts and their Adaptation


The following are the Syro-Malabar liturgical texts:

Thaksa of Holy Qurbana (with propers), Thaksa of Sacraments(Infant Baptism, Adult Baptism, Chrismation,  Penance, Anointing of the Sick and Marriage), Pontifical (Ordination to Karoya, Hevpadyakna, Msamsana, Priesthood, Episcopal Ordination, Installation of the Major Archbishop, Metropolitan and Bishop, Blessing of Oil, Dedication of the church, Rededication of the church and Blessing of Deppa), Divine Praises, Calendar, Lectionary, Holy Week liturgy (Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Passion Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter), Christmas liturgy, Thaksa of Sacramentals (Profession of the Religious, Dedication of the Members of the Secular Institutes and Apostolic Life, Funeral and various rites for the dead, Rite of Reconcilation, Blessing of persons, objects, places etc.).

Of these, not all texts have been formally approved and promulgated. The texts formally promulgated are the Thaksa of Holy Qurbana, Thaksa of Sacraments and the Pontifical. The Divine Praises, Calendar, the propers of holy Qurbana etc are now used ad experimentum. Some other texts are awaiting final approval and promulgation. The Lectionary and the texts of various blessings are yet to be prepared though some of them are available as temporary experimental texts.

Almost all these texts are based on the East Syrian sources. However, many omissions and additions are made in the original Syriac texts in order to adapt them to the needs of today. Some minor attempts were also made to introduce some of the elements from the Indian culture. Touching the altar/gospel book with the forehead or placing the hands first on them and then bringing the hands to the forehead instead of kissing them, exchanging the peace by turning face to face with folded hands and inclining the head slightly in the holy Qurbana, the bride and the groom garlanding each other in the rite of matrimony, etc are examples of such elements.

 Though all the texts are not yet promulgated, there remains also further revision of the text of the holy Qurbana as foreseen in the Decree of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches approving the text of the holy Qurbana in the Simple and Solemn forms (Prot.No.955/65, 3 April 1989). The Decree states that the text may not be changed for the next five years. After this period of experimentation, the Bishops’ Conference could propose further revision and adaptation in the text to the Oriental Congregation. Due to various reasons, the Bishops could not take up its revision after five years. However, after the erection of the Syro-Malabar Church to the status of a Major Archiepiscopal Church, there was an attempt to revise the text of the holy Qurbana at the initiative of the Pontifical Delegate Archbishop Abraham Kattumana. Later, the Synod of the Syro-Malabar Bishops held at Varanasi in March 1997 appointed an ad hoc committee to take up the revision of the holy Qurbana. The committee gave its Report to the Synod in October 1998 proposing their suggestions for the revision of the text. Though the Report was to be discussed in the Synod of November 1998 “some of the members of the synod were of opinion that the Commission had no mandate to present such suggestions and its act was ultra vires”.[15] And that was the end of it.

When we think about liturgical renewal and adaptation to local culture, it is useful to have some clarity regarding the process of inculturation and its methodology. Anscar Chupungco, an authority on the principles of inculturation, proposes a methodology which consists of Dynamic Equivalence, Creative Assimilation and Organic Progression.[16]

a) Dynamic Equivalence: It is practically an adaptation of the editio typica. Though some creativity is involved in this process (e.g. the use of local language) it is dependent upon the typical edition of the liturgical books.

 When we examine the vernacular version of the Syro-Malabar liturgical books, especially the present text of the Qurbana, we can see that the principle of ‘dynamic equivalence’ has been one of its concerns. An example from the Qurbana is the interpretative initial hymn in Malayalm ‘Annappesahathirunalil’ from ‘Puqdankon’ which in Syriac simply means “your commandment”.[17]

b) Creative Assimilation: This is a methodology used in the Patristic era. The giving of a cup of milk and honey in the baptismal Mass, renouncing Satan, looking towards the West and making the profession of faith, turning towards the East, the celebration of Epiphany on 6th January and Christmas on 25th December are examples. Some of the ancient Syro-Malabar practices in connection with baptism, marriage, funeral etc[18]can be included in this category.

c) Organic Progression: Here the question is of ‘new forms’ in worship. It is something like the ‘particular laws’ of an Individual Church on the basis of the ‘general law’. But, of course, these new forms have to respect the principle of ‘organic growth’.

An example for ‘organic progression’ from the Syro-Malabar liturgical calendar is the addition of Syro-Malabar ‘Fathers’ along with ‘Greek and Syriac Fathers’ in the period of Denha.[19] The composition of prayers for the feasts of the Blessed Chavara, Alphonsa, Mariam Thresia, Euphrasia and Kunjachan are other examples. The permission given by Rome to compose new prayers (slothas) after the initial Lord’s Prayer, the thanksgiving prayers of the celebrant after the holy communion, the final blessing (huttamma) etc in the Qurbana too may be considered as ‘organic progression’.

Besides the above three methodological approaches, we may speak also of ‘Creative Liturgies’. These are creativities needed for special groups in special circumstances. The anaphora of the Latin Rite for Children’s Mass is an example thereof. The text of the Mass has provision to break the long sentences with responses of children.[20] This is in view of catching the attention of children who are easily distracted and of making the prayers more comprehensible to them.

  1. Growth in the Liturgy: A Necessary Organic and Dynamic Process


‘Liturgy is for man and not man for the liturgy’. This memorable statement was made by Cardinal Baptist Montini (late Pope Paul VI) in the Second Vatican Council.[21] Therefore, changes in the liturgy are to be introduced by way of adaptation according to the needs of the people and of the locality. However, necessary precautions are to be taken so that the changes respect the norms of the liturgy and the spiritual growth of the people.

Liturgy, though it is actio Dei, is meant for human beings. The actio Dei becomes fruitful in human beings proportionate to their cooperation with it. One of the conditions necessary for this, according to Pope Benedict XVI, is “the spirit of constant conversion which must mark the lives of all the faithful”. Besides, the faithful need to be reminded that there is no active participation in the sacred mysteries “without an accompanying effort to participate actively in the life of the Church as a whole, including a missionary commitment to bring Christ’s love into the life of the society”.[22] ‘Growth’ without keeping ‘Tradition’ might lead to the danger of gathering only “changing opinions”.[23] Therefore a proper balancing act is necessary. Precisely for this reason, Vatican II, while exhorting us to preserve the tradition of every Individual Church, desires also to give them “new vigour to meet present-day circumstances and needs” (SC 4). The same desire is expressed by the Decree on the Catholic Eastern Churches. The Church which wishes that the traditions of each Individual Church remain whole and entire, wishes also “to adapt its own way of life to the needs of different times and places” (OE 2).

            4. Simplicity and Clarity in the Liturgy and the Repetitive Prayers


A general norm suggested by Vatican II for the liturgical revision is the following: “The rites should be distinguished by a noble simplicity. They should be short, clear, and free from useless repetitions. They should be within the people’s power of comprehension, and normally should not require much explanation” (SC 34).

‘Simplicity’ of the rites, however, should be understood in the right perspective. Vernacularisation of the liturgy was in view of simplifying it. Avoidance of clumsiness in the rites, omission of certain repetitions etc., too were part of simplification. However, simplification should not be understood as making liturgy a banal celebration. In this context an observation of Cardinal Ratzinger seems to be pertinent. “One thing is clear”, writes Ratzinger, “however much the liturgy is simplified and rendered comprehensible, the mystery of God’s action operating through the Church’s acts must remain untouched. This applies also to the heart of the liturgy: as far as both priests and people are concerned, it is something given, that cannot be manipulated. It partakes of the reality of the whole Church”. “It follows”, Ratzinger continues, “that we must be far more resolute than heretofore in opposing rationalistic relativism, confusing claptrap and pastoral infantilism. These things degrade the liturgy to the level of a parish tea party and the intelligibility of a popular newspaper”.[24]

Repetition of prayers and hymns in themselves is neither good nor bad. SC 34 only says that ‘useless’ repetitions should be avoided. The Asian religious mind tends to repetitious prayers. The Namajapa or Bhajan of Indian tradition is an example thereof. The Eastern Churches which have their basis in the Asian context naturally imbibed this religious tradition. Therefore, repetition in itself is not to be eschewed. At the same time, the options provided in the text give opportunity to avoid repetitive prayers and hymns as and when needed.

Here it is good to remember that the ritual which consists of words, gestures, symbols etc. is a fundamental form of religious manifestation. Depending upon the cultural contexts, the expressions of singing, dancing etc bring worshippers into contact with the Sacred. They are not merely emotionalism; they have a cognitive dimension too. Therefore, the liturgy should not be stripped of its ritual character. That is why certain liturgical celebrations touch the hearts and minds of the people more than an eloquent lecture on the same. Hence, writing about Asian Christian theology, a document of the Office of Theological Concerns of the FABC noted: “Perhaps, we should learn from the liturgy of the Eastern Churches. Although their liturgy is elaborate and long, it is appreciated because it mediates a strong presence of the Sacred. Furthermore, theology has always spoken of God as the Fascinating and the Awesome, who evokes in us both an attraction and yet a deep respect for the Mystery. Even non-believers feel the awesomeness and the presence of God when they enter churches of  the mediaeval period which are rich in the arts”.[25]

  1. The Range of Diversity in the Liturgy


Vatican II, after emphasizing an important pastoral norm (There must be no innovations in the liturgy unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them) and underscoring a basic principle of liturgical reform (Care must be taken that any new form adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already existing) observes that “as far as possible, notable differences between the rites used in adjacent regions should be avoided” (SC 23).

Since, as noted above, the good of the faithful (“bonum fidelium”) is the pastoral norm governing all liturgical legislation[26] diversity and not uniformity is the rule today. This is all the more true in the mission context of the Syro-Malabar Church. To a certain extent, diversity has become ‘normal’ in the celebration of the Syro-Malabar liturgy, due to the options provided in the text. However, as SC suggests, ‘notable differences’ in ‘adjacent regions’ should, as far as possible, be avoided.

Two conspicuous differences now found in the celebration of the holy Qurbana are the Mass versus altare/populum and the use of the sanctuary veil which are ‘dispensations’ granted. Other diversities like certain gestures, prayers, repetitions etc. can be explained easily through a proper catechesis on the meaning and the application of the options.

The non-use of bema, bethgazzas and the celebration without processions, which are not sanctioned  in the Thaksa, also now appear as ‘notable differences’.

The Oriental Congregation had given, already in 1985, the principle governing the options. It says: One must carefully distinguish substantive ritual form and the inevitable  and legitimate adaptations that take place in a particular celebration, depending on the arrangement of the church building, the size of the congregation, the solemnity of the celebration, local customs, the rhythm and style of the well-trained and practised celebrant, etc. For this, the document says, the clear, irreducible distinction between the ‘rite’ and the ‘celebration’ is to be rightly understood. By ‘rite’ is meant that ‘form of celebration’ which is found in the official liturgical books, namely editio typica. By ‘celebration’ is meant that ‘form of celebration’ which is carried out by the concrete assembly. The ‘liturgical adaptations’ are made on the editio typica. The possibility of these adaptations is already foreseen by the rubrics themselves or is called for by the concrete situations.[27]

One of the thrusts of Vatican II liturgical reform was active participation of the people. Among various norms and practical steps to foster it, the Constitution exhorts the pastors ‘to promote liturgical instruction of the faithful and also their active participation, taking into account their age, condition, way of life and standard of religious culture’ (SC 19).

As for the Roman Rite we find the following norm in this regard. “Provided that the substantial unity of the Roman Rite is preserved, provision shall be made, when revising the liturgical books, for legitimate variations and adaptations to different groups, regions and peoples, especially in mission countries” (SC 38). Therefore, the Congregation for the Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments remarked that for promoting active participation ‘ample flexibility is given for appropriate creativity aimed at allowing each celebration to be adapted to the needs of the participants, to their comprehension, their interior preparation and their gifts, according to the established liturgical norms’.[28]

In order to foster active participation, Pope Benedict XVI suggests to have provision for adaptations appropriate to different contexts and cultures since the Church celebrates the one Mystery of Christ in a variety of cultural situations.[29] This is nothing new as far as the Eastern Churches are concerned. “From the beginning”, notes Pope John Paul II, “the Christian East has proved to contain a wealth of forms capable of assuming the characteristic features of each Individual culture, with supreme respect for each particular community”.[30] However, a warning of the Congregation for the Divine Worship too is worthy of mention here. It notes that the power of the liturgical celebrations ‘does not consist in frequently altering the rites, but in probing more deeply the Word of God and the mystery being celebrated’[31]

As far as the Syro-Malabar Church is concerned, unity must be fostered with a correct understanding of the dispensations and options, and their application. Unity does not mean uniformity. The Motu Proprio “Summorum Pontificum” of Pope Benedict XVI published on 7 July 2007[32]has allowed the ‘Tridentine Mass’ to be used by particular ‘stable groups’ in the Latin Church. The Syro-Malabar Church has a lot of lessons to learn from this document.

According to the Pope, there are no contradictions between the Vatican II Mass (New Rite Mass) and the Tridentine Mass (Old Rite Mass). The New Rite Mass may be considered as the ‘ordinary form’ and the old as ‘extraordinary form’. Since there are ‘groupisms’ in the Latin Church due to the controversies on the celebration of the Mass, the Pope feels that for an ‘internal reconciliation’ within the Church, permission to celebrate both forms appears to be the need of the hour. With this Motu Proprio, the Pope sent also a letter to the Bishops in which he writes as follows: “I now come to the positive reason which motivated my decision to issue this Motu Proprio updating that of 1998. It is a matter of coming to an interior reconciliation in the heart of the Church. Looking back over the past, to the divisions which in the course of centuries have rent the Body of Christ, one continually has the impression that, at critical moments when divisions were coming about, not enough was done by the Church’s leaders to maintain or regain reconciliation and unity. One has the impression that omissions on the part of the Church have had their share of blame for the fact that these divisions were able to harden. This glance at the past imposes an obligation on us today: to make every effort to enable for all those who truly desire unity to remain in that unity or to attain it anew”.[33]

The situation in the Syro-Malabar Church is much less complicated than in the Latin Church. The Syro-Malabar Church is using the same text of the holy Qurbana all over the Church with dispensations and options. These are approved by Rome on being requested by the Syro-Malabar Bishops. Once these diverse possibilities are respected and properly made use of, there can be an adapted rite of the same editio typica of the holy Qurbana according to the local needs of the various eparchies of the Syro-Malabar Church.

  1. The Process of Experimentation in the Liturgy


Vatican II Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy has laid down some norms for experimentation which directly concern the Roman Rite. These norms are given in the context of ‘radical adaptations of the liturgy’ which entails ‘great difficulties’ (SC 40). Here the document is referring to the liturgical inculturation. It proposes the following methodology:

(i)                 The competent territorial ecclesiastical authority must carefully and prudently consider which elements from the traditions and cultures might appropriately be admitted into the divine worship. Adaptations which are considered useful or necessary should be submitted to the Holy See, by whose consent they may be introduced.

(ii)               To ensure that adaptations may be made with all the circumspection necessary, the Apostolic See will grant power to permit and direct, as the case requires, the necessary preliminary experiments over a determined period of time among certain groups suitable for the purpose. (Emphasis added)

(iii)             Because liturgical laws usually involve special difficulties with respect to adaptation, especially in mission lands, men who are experts in the matter in question must be employed to formulate them (SC 40/1,2,3).

In the light of article 40 of SC, the process of experimentation in the Roman Rite is as follows:

Step 1: Study by specialists

Step 2: Approval of the study by the Bishops’ Conference

Step 3: Preliminary approval by the Holy See

Step 4: Experimentation for a time and in certain groups

Step 5: Reassessment in the light of the experimentation

Step 6: Final approval by the Holy See and full implementation [34]

The Instruction of the Oriental Congregation for applying the liturgical prescriptions of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches does not speak about ‘experimentation’ as such, though it does refer to the need of revising and adapting the liturgical texts for the contemporary man and woman.[35] However, it clearly states that the general principles and the practical norms laid down in it “do not pretend to exhaust the totality of the indications regulating the liturgical celebrations for every single Church sui iuris. Such prescriptions belong, in fact, to the particular laws of each Church”.[36] Therefore, it is up to the Synod to devise a methodology for experimenting the liturgical texts.

When the Bishops of the Synod were asked to express their opinion regarding the guidelines for preparing, finalizing and implementing the liturgical texts, some suggested the use of the texts as ad experimentum in small groups or in some centres for a limited period of time. This time could be from one year to three years. It was also suggested that after the experimentation period the text be revised in the light of the observations from the experimentation centres and the evaluation by the Central Liturgical Committee.[37] It is important to note that this suggestion of the Bishops was about all the liturgical texts and not simply about the inculturated texts as mentioned in SC 40.

The following steps may be taken by the Syro-Malabar Church in order to restore, revise and adapt the liturgical texts. These steps foresee the collaboration of the experts and the representatives of all those who are in some way connected with the liturgical celebrations, such as the pastors, the religious and the laity. The Syro-Malabar Church which was called a “Christian Republic” by the foreign missionaries will do well to involve all sections of the faithful in such a vital realm of the Church. In fact, this process has been already introduced by the Bishops to a certain extent. Here are the proposed steps:

Step 1: Study by experts and Central Liturgical Committee

Step 2: Preliminary approval by the Synod

Step 3: Texts are sent to the eparchies for comments by the competent bodies

 Step 4: Experimentation for a time and in certain groups

Step 5: Evaluation of the experimentation by experts, the Central Liturgical Committee and the


Step 6: Approval by the Synod

Step 7: Recognitio from Rome and full implementation

  1. The Short Term and Long Term Plans for the Revision and Adaptation of the Syro-Malabar Liturgy


    The erstwhile Syro-Malabar Bishops’ Conference (SMBC) held in December 1986 appointed a sub-committee to study the process of inculturation and to propose a short term and a long term plan for its implementation. Accordingly, the sub-committee presented its report to the SMBC with a short term and a long term plans.[38]

Some elements of the short term programme proposed are the following:

–          The removal of the footwear in the church, especially in the sanctuary.

–          The use of the Indian bowl for incensing in the place of the thurible.

–          A ‘purificatory action’ before entering the church by making provision outside the church for the people to cleanse themselves.

–          The use of oil lamp as the ‘sanctuary lamp’ instead of the widely used electric lamp.

–          The use of Nilavilakku or Kuthuvilakku instead of candles.

–          The use of natural flowers in the place of worship instead of artificial flowers.

–          The use of a fixed stand in the sanctuary to keep the dhoopam (incense) during the liturgy.

–          Introduction of Christian bhajans and kirthans.


Among the long term plan we find the following:

–          A symposium for an in-depth understanding of inculturation with the participation of bishops, members of the Central Liturgical Committee, Syro-Malabar graduates in liturgy and the representatives of the religious and the laity.

–          A research seminar in the light of the findings of the symposium.[39]

This programme was presented to the Bishops’ Conference held on 2-3 June 1987. But due to the misunderstandings and suspicions that prevailed in the Church, particularly among the Bishops, that report could not be taken up for discussion in the conference. Its discussion was blocked on the ‘technical ground’ since, according to some bishops, it had to be submitted to the SMBC through the Episcopal Commission for Liturgy and not directly by the sub-committee.[40] And it never came up for discussion in any of the subsequent SMBC meetings.

  1. The Confusion surrounding the Options


In order to satisfy the local needs, Rome had given a few options in the celebration of the holy Qurbana. Soon a new controversy emerged as to the right of options. Are they the prerogative of the eparchial bishop or that of the celebrating priest? This was the root cause of the controversy.


The text of the holy Qurbana in the solemn and simple forms approved in 1989 and the accompanying directives of Rome make a distinction between dispensations and options. ‘To dispense’ is the prerogative of the eparchial bishop. Mass versus populum, offertory procession, sign of the cross at the beginning of the Qurbana and making the sign of the cross from left to right are ‘dispensations’. Besides, the bishop is authorized to decide upon the use of the sanctuary veil and the position of the deacons during the announcements .[41] On the other hand, the options are meant for adapting the celebration to the context. Normally, the context cannot be predetermined. Therefore, it is the duty of the celebrating priest to choose the options provided in the text as and when required.

The eparchial bishop is the moderator and guardian of the entire liturgical life in the eparchy. Therefore, he has to be vigilant that it be fostered as much as possible and ordered according to the prescriptions and legitimate customs of his own Church sui iuris. [42] It is his responsibility “to ensure unity and harmony in the celebrations taking place in his territory”.[43] However, in exercising his mandate as moderator of the liturgical life of the eparchy, the bishop should “neither act arbitrarily nor give way to the behaviour of groups or factions, but, together with his clergy, let him be an attentive guardian of the liturgical awareness present and operating in the living memory of the people entrusted to him. Just as the sensus fidelium is determinant of the comprehension of the faith believed, so is it in the safeguarding of the faith celebrated”.[44]

The issue of options was taken up for discussion in the  Synod held in November 1999 since there was some confusion with regard to the right of the individual celebrants to use options provided in the liturgical texts. In the  report of the Synod we read the following in this regard. “As for the options given in the Thaksa it was clarified that they cannot be restricted because they have been legitimately authorized by the Holy See”. Further we understand that after the draft of the directives concerning the uniform mode of celebration of the holy Qurbana was read out, “a clause was requested to be added concerning the options making it clear that they are within the competence of the celebrant”.[45] Finally, among the decisions of the same Synod, the following clause was included as No.10 of the Statement of the Commission for Liturgy: The options mentioned in the Thaksa of the Qurbana belong to the celebrants.[46]

  1. The Liturgy for the New Catholics

The Fathers of Vatican II had special concern for the mission lands and the new Catholics and their liturgy. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Nos.37-40, especially No.40, had mainly the mission territories in focus when it says that in some places and circumstances a ‘radical adaptation’ of the liturgy is needed which involves ‘special difficulties’ (SC 40). In such places, since there are people who have their own musical tradition, the hymns in the worship may have to be adapted to the native genius of the people (SC 119). As for the sacred art, it says that the Church has not adopted any particular style of art as her own. Rather, she admits styles from every period in history, in keeping with the genius of the peoples (SC 123). The Decree on the Church’s Missionary Activity says that the new faithful must daily become more conscious of themselves as living communities of faith, liturgy and charity. And the faith should be imparted by means of a well adapted catechesis and the celebration of the liturgy that is in harmony with the character of the people.[47] The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World too points to the link between the message of salvation and culture and its expressions in the liturgy.[48]

This brief survey of Vatican II documents shows how important it is to adapt the liturgy to the new Catholics who are living in a cultural context different from that of the preacher. It is up to every sui iuris Church to devise ways and means to adapt her liturgy to the newly evangelized faithful. In fact, the Syro-Malabar Bishops’ Conference as well as the Synod have on various occasions permitted local adaptations in the Syro-Malabar mission territories. Thus in 1973 SMBC stated: “The Syro-Malabar Bishops’ Conference feels it necessary to work out a scheme for liturgical developments, allowing possible variations for the Syro-Malabar Church, which is a particular Church, faced as it is with the need to accommodate to various situations and cultural demands of the country especially of the new mission areas in North India”.[49] In the same report we also read that “the Exarchs present at the meeting expressed their desire of making some adaptations ad experimentum in the liturgy to which the Conference did not object”.[50] In 1985 the Bishops resolved “to request the Holy see to consider favourably the unanimous wish of the Hierarchs of the Mission to allow them to make necessary adaptations on the text of the Raza for their Mission with due approval of the Holy See”. [51]

The Syro-Malabar Mission Assembly held under the auspices of the Synod in November 1999 made a reference to this issue  in the following words: ‘ When the Eastern and Indian identity of the Syro-Malabar Church which grew up in Kerala through centuries, is expressed in  the mission territories, it should assimilate and ennoble the cultural patterns of those places. The Syro-Malabar Church which developed in Kerala and which bears the apostolic tradition, should not ‘transplant itself’ to the mission territories as to obstruct its growth there’.[52]

Today the Syro-Malabar faithful find themselves in a number of life-sitautions due to their history, evangelization and emigration. One may identify the following:[53]

  • Traditional parishes and agricultural background (Kerala)
  • Rapidly growing urban situations (Central Kerala)
  • ‘Oriental regions’ without much contact with the Latin Church (Southern Kerala)
  • Inter-ritual situations where Syro-Malabar communities live intermingled with the Latin faithful (Central Kerala)
  • Developing areas of the mission territories (North India)
  • Migrants in the industrialized cities and towns (Central and North India)
  • Migrants abroad (Europe, America and the Gulf countries)

       The pastoral adaptation envisaged by the Syro-Malabar Church should be able to cope with these concrete realities.



The present article has chosen only some selected themes that are being considered by the Syro-Malabar Church at her various discussion forums. There are definitely other important areas that need to be addressed to have a comprehensive approach towards the process of pastoral adaptations. These include the understanding of ‘Tradition’ and ‘traditions’, the meaning of ‘organic growth’, inculturation etc. It is hoped that the various steps taken by the Syro-Malabar Bishops’ Synodal Commission for Liturgy, the Syro-Malabar Liturgical Research Centre and the Syro-Malabar Central Liturgical Committee in the recent past would help to arrive at the desired goal, and eventually bring about peace and harmony in the Church resulting in the spiritual growth of the people.



[1] Directives on the Order of Syro-Malabar Qurbana in Solemn and Simple Forms, in Roman Documents on the Syro-Malabar Liturgy (Hereafter ‘Roman Documents’), Kottayam 1999, p.143

[2] Congregation for the Oriental Churches, Report on the State of Liturgical Reform in the Syro-Malabar Church, Rome 1980; Observations on the Order of the Holy Mass, Rome 1983; Final Judgement Concerning the Order of the Syro-Malabar Qurbana, Rome 1985; Directives on the Order of Syro-Malabar Qurbana, Rome 1988; Instruction for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, Rome 1996; Besides, in addition to CCEO, there are also speeches of the Pope addressed to the Syro-Malabar Bishops, Communications from Cardinal Prefect of the Oriental Congregation etc.

[3] Instruction for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions, No.18.

[4] Instruction for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions, No.18. cf. John Paul II, Discourse to the participants of the Synod of the Catholic Armenian Patriarchate, L’Osservatore Romano, 27 August 1989, p.7.

[5] Instruction for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions, No.18

[6] Instruction for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions, No.14

[7] Instruction for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions, No.19

[8] Instruction for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions, No.20

[9] Instruction for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions, No.20. cf. John Paul II, Homily in the Prayer of Incense in the Alexandrian Coptic Rite, L’Osservatore Romano, 16-17 August 1988, p.5.

[10] cf. Roman Documents on the Syro-Malabar Liturgy, Kottayam 1999, p.48.

[11] Roman Documents on the Syro-Malabar Liturgy, p.52

[12] Roman Documents on the Syro-Malabar Liturgy, p.54.

[13] Roman Documents on the Syro-Malabar Liturgy, p.132

[14] Instruction for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions, No.21. Emphasis added.

[15] Cf. Synodal News, December 1998, p.35. The ad hoc committee had unanimously proposed 68 amendments and there was divergence of opinion on 33 points.

[16] A.Chupungco, Liturgical Inculturation: Sacramentality, Religiosity and Catechesis, Minnesota 1992. cf. also A.Nariculam. The Holy See, The Syro-Malabar Bishops’ Conference and the Syro-Malabar Bishops’ Synod on the Inculturation, in B.Puthur (ed.), Inculturation and the Syro-Malabar Church, Kochi 2005, pp.66-69.

[17] Cf. Raza Text (1989), p.1-2

[18] cf. P.Pallath, “St.Thomas Chroistian Church before the Sixteenth Century: A Model for Inculturation” in Ephrem’s Theological Journal, March 2002, pp.18-31; J.Moolan, “Birth Rite Customs and Baptism among St. Thomas Christians in Malabar”, in Studia Liturgica, 32/1 (2202), pp.111-118.

[19] Cf. Syro-Malabar Panchangam 2006-2007, p.21.

[20] cf. Nine Eucharistic Prayers with the Order of the Mass, NBCLC, Bangalore, pp.37-51

[21] Cf. J.Manathodath, Culture, Dialogue and the Church, New Delhi 1990, p.139

[22] Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, no.55

[23]  John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Orientale Lumen, No.8

[24] J.Ratzinger – V. Messori, The Ratzinger Report, San Francisco 1985, p.120-121

[25] FABC Papers No.96,  October 2000, p.95

[26] cf. Congregation for the Oriental Churches, Directives on the Order of Syro-Malabar Qurbana, Rome 1988, No.2

[27] Final Judgement of the S.Congregation for the Oriental Churches Concerning the Order of the Syro-Malabar Qurbana, Rome 1985, No.16

[28] Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum, No.39

[29] Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, No.54

[30] Apostolic Letter, Orientale Lumen, No.5

[31] Instruction Sacramentum Redemptionis, No.39

[32] L’Osservatore Romano, English weekly edition, 11July 2007, p.8-9

[33] L’Osservatore Romano, 11 July 2007, p.9

[34] cf. P.Puthanangady, Initiation to Christian Worship, Bangalore 1977, p.127

[35] Instruction for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions, Nos. 18-20

[36] Instruction for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions, No.4

[37] cf. Guidelines for Restoration, Revision and Adaptation of the Liturgical Texts of the Syro-Malabar Church, p.7)

[38] cf. Report of the SMBC sub-committee for Inculturation, 10 May 1987

[39] cf. A.Nariculam, The Holy See, the Syro-Malabar Bishops’ Conference and the Syro-Malabar Bishops’ Synod on the Inculturation of the Syro-Malabar Liturgy, pp.85-87.

[40] Cf. SMBC Report of 2-3 June 1987 Meeting, No.VI, p.4.

[41] cf. General Instructions, Raza Text (1989), No.6 and No.12

[42] CCEO 199/1

[43] Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, No.39

[44] Instruction for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions, No.23

[45] cf. Synodal News, December 1999, p.61

[46] cf. Synodal News, December 1999, p.73. The original text is in Malayalam. The translation is ours.

[47] Ad Gentes, No.19. Emphasis added.

[48] Gaudium et Spes, No.58

[49] cf SMBC Report of 19 June 1973, No.4, p.1-2

[50] cf SMBC Report of 19 June 1973, no.5, p.2

[51] cf. SMBC Report of 6-7 November 1985, p.3

[52] cf. Synodal News, December 1999, p.38. Our translation from Malayalam.

[53] A.Nariculam, Syro-Malabar Liturgy, in the Souvenir of the Syro-Malabar Emigrants’ Global Meet 2006 published by the Synodal Commission for Evangelization and Pastoral Care of the Migrants, Kochi 2006, p.25




 Antony Nariculam



Lex orandi lex credendi is a widely accepted dictum in the liturgical tradition. This principle emphasizes the primacy of the liturgical action. “Liturgy is the anamnesis of the act of the Triune God, using symbolic means, to enact that Trinity in the lives of the enactors, transforming them through faith into the Church. Liturgy is composed of seven structural parts that are arranged causally, each being the form of the previous and the matter of the next. These parts are time/space, matter, gesture, word, faith, Church, and Sacrament”.[1] There is an intrinsic relationship between faith and its authentic celebration in the liturgy. Therefore, any undue alteration of the liturgical formulae can have negative repercussions on the life of faith of the people. That is precisely the reason why the magisterium of the Church time and again reminds all concerned about not tampering with the liturgical texts.[2] Since the liturgy, especially the Eucharistic liturgy, is an action of God (actio Dei), it cannot be subjected to changing trends in the society, though it needs to respect the local needs and the context of the celebrating community. As St. Paul says, “I have handed over to you what I have received from the Lord” (I Cor 11:23).

Though liturgy is actio Dei, it is performed by human beings employing human signs and symbols. Being a human action also, it needs to respect human sentiments. One among them is the ‘artistic beauty’ of the celebration, which is traditionally called “ars celebrandi” or “art of celebration”. In the recent past Pope Benedict XVI has referred to this ‘art’ for a meaningful and ‘beautiful’ celebration of the Eucharistic liturgy.[3] The present paper focuses its attention on this document in order to develop the various aspects of this particular dimension of the liturgy.

  1. 1.      Ars Celebrandi


In the Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, Pope Benedict XVI has devoted a short section (Nos. 38-42) on ars celebrandi. Here the Pope speaks about “Beauty and Liturgy”. By ‘beauty’ he means ‘aesthetic beauty’ and not ‘aestheticism’. Any liturgical celebration has to radiate beauty. This term is not to be understood simply as harmony of proportion and form, as a mere decoration. It is primarily a radiant expression of the paschal mystery. It is the truth of God’s love in Christ that encounters, attracts and delights us, enabling us to emerge from ourselves and drawing us towards our true vocation, which is love. In other words, the beauty of the liturgy is when we become ‘one’ with Jesus himself in holy communion. It is in this sense that the liturgical action is beautiful.

The ars celebrandi has to take note of two fundamental things. One is proper celebration itself. The other is the consequence of a proper celebration, namely a full, active and fruitful participation of the people in it. So much so, the best way to ensure active participation is to celebrate the liturgy respecting the ‘artistic ingredients’ of the celebration.[4] Naturally, our first task here is to identify these ‘ingredients’ that are at the basis of a meaningful and participative celebration.

1.1  Fostering the Sense of the Sacred


In order to foster the sense of the sacred, an important element is the church architecture which highlights the unity of the furnishings, of the sanctuary such as the altar, the crucifix, the tabernacle, the ambo and the chair of the celebrant. Ultimately, the purpose of sacred architecture is to provide a fitting place for the celebration of the mysteries of faith, especially the Eucharist.[5]

This principle is valid also for other sacred things in the church, namely the statues and the icons. Special care must be given also to the vestments, the furnishings and the sacred vessels. In short, everything connected with the liturgical celebrations should be marked by beauty. Not every priest is an artist or an architect. Therefore, we need to depend upon the professional artists and architects to create an artistic but sacred atmosphere in the place of worship. They should be reasonably knowledgeable in the history and notions of the sacred art. According to Pope Pius XII, to bring to churches the works devoid of any religious inspiration and completely at variance with the right rules of art is a grave offence against piety. Such artists try to justify their conduct by arguments which they claim are based on the nature and character of art itself. The question of religious art is not to be answered by an appeal to the general principles of art or aesthetics. It must be decided in terms of the supreme principle of the final goal of the liturgical action, namely the attainment of divine bliss.[6]

1.2  Employing Proper Liturgical Music


The musical tradition of the Church is a treasure of inestimable value. The reason for this preeminence is that, its words and music form a necessary and integral part of the solemn liturgy.[7] The Church considers it as a patrimony of faith. Therefore the chants and sacred music in worship should be conducive to the lofty end for which they are intended. It should have qualities proper to the liturgy and in particular sanctity and goodness of form. Hence it must exclude all profanity not only in itself but also in the manner in which it is presented by those who execute it.[8]

According to Pope Benedict XVI, it is not correct to say that one hymn is as good as another. Every hymn should be well integrated into the overall celebration. Therefore, its text, music and execution must correspond to the mystery being celebrated, the structure of the rite and the liturgical seasons.[9]

1.3  Contextualizing the Celebration


Every liturgical celebration is commemorating the mysteries of our salvation. But it is not an ‘abstract’ celebration. It is always the celebration of a community here and now. Therefore, the ‘context’ of the assembly deserves to be taken into consideration for a meaningful and fruitful celebration. The fathers of Vatican II were aware of this reality when they stated that the Church does not wish to impose a rigid uniformity in matters which do not involve the faith or the good of the people. Rather she is ready to admit into the liturgy those cultural qualities of various peoples provided they are not bound up with superstitions and errors.[10] Thus legitimate variations and adaptations to different groups and regions are officially sanctioned.[11] Besides, the pastors are exhorted to promote the liturgical life of the communities instructing them ‘according to their age, condition, way of life and standard of religious culture’.[12]

1.4  Understanding the Rites


Liturgy is not simply a prayer, but a rite. Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) defines rite as “the expression that has become form, of ecclesiality and of Church’s identity as a historically transcendent communion of liturgical prayer and action”.[13] According to him, the rite contains “an essential exposition of the biblical legacy that goes beyond the limits of the individual rites, and thus it shares in the authority of Church’s faith in its fundamental form”.[14] For this reason, the rituals are to a great extent conservative. Besides, the liturgy being complex acts in which many people participate in many different ways, it is by nature restive to change.[15]

Very often the rituals are transmitted to generations in a fixed manner. Of course, in this transmission there is the risk of empty formalism, a tradition in the sense of mechanical or routine gesture. On the other hand, we should also admit that the rituals preserve certain truths while everything else undergoes changes. In the eventful celebrations of Christmas, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter etc. the rituals have preserved for us a heritage offering us a powerful communion in the same reality between peoples separated by centuries.[16] At the same time, we should also bear in mind what Pope John Paul said in his Apostolic Exhortation Orientale Lumen. “When the uses and customs belonging to each Church are considered as absolutely unchangeable, there is a sure risk of Tradition losing that feature of a living reality which grows and develops…. Tradition is never pure nostalgia for things or forms past, nor regret for lost privileges, but the living memory of the Bride, kept eternally youthful….”[17]

1.5  Respecting the Liturgical Calendar


In the course of the liturgical year, the Church unfolds the whole mystery of Christ from incarnation and nativity to the Ascension, Pentecost and the expectation of the coming of the Lord. Thus recalling the mysteries of redemption, she opens up to the faithful the riches of her Lord’s powers and merits so that these are in some way made present for all times.[18] Besides, in celebrating this annual cycle of the mysteries of Christ, the Church commemorates also the Virgin Mary, the martyrs and other saints.[19] A meaningful celebration of the liturgy has to pay due attention to this liturgical cycle that helps the faithful to lay hold of the fruits of the mysteries of redemption and to be filled with saving grace.

  1. 2.      Ars Celebrandi and Active Participation


One of the contributions of Vatican II is the impetus it gave to the active participation of the faithful in the liturgy. “Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that full, conscious and active participation in liturgical celebration which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy”. Therefore ‘the full and active participation of all the people’ should be the aim to be considered before all else in the restoration and renewal of the liturgy.[20] In order to promote active participation, both internal and external, the pastors need to take into account ‘the age, condition, way of life and standard of religious culture of the people’.[21]

2.1  Silence and Participation


The term ‘participation’ is sometimes understood to mean “something external, entailing a need for general activity, as if as many people, as often as possible, should be visibly engaged in action”.[22] There is an impression that active participation is speaking singing, preaching, reading etc by the celebrant and the community. The real ‘actio’ in the liturgy, in which we are supposed to participate, notes Cardinal Ratzinger, “is the action of God himself. This is what is new and distinctive about the Christian liturgy: God himself acts and does what is essential”.[23] Vatican II has explicitly included silence as part of active participation.[24] For, “silence facilitates a really deep, personal participation, allowing us to listen inwardly to the Lord’s Word. Many liturgies of today lack all trace of this silence”.[25]


2.2  Simplification of Liturgy and Active Participation


The rites of the renewed liturgy “should be distinguished by a noble simplicity. They should be short, clear, and free from useless repetitions. They should be within the people’s powers of comprehension, and normally should not require much explanation”.[26]  Undoubtedly this is a golden principle to be followed for a better participation of the people in the liturgy. But, as Cardinal Ratzinger rightly observes, “however much the liturgy is simplified and rendered comprehensible, the mystery of God’s action operating through the Church’s acts must remain untouched. This applies also to the heart of the liturgy: as far as both priest and people are concerned, it is something given that cannot be manipulated. It partakes of the whole reality of the Church”.[27] Therefore Ratzinger urges us to oppose ‘rationalistic relativism and pastoral infantilism’ in the process of liturgical adaptation.[28] We need to be led from form to the content. In other words, ‘we need an education which will help us to grow into an inner appropriation of the Church’s common liturgy’.[29]

2.3  Pastoral Context and Active Participation


The term ‘pastoral’ needs to be understood in a correct perspective. In the name of pastoral, liturgy cannot be an expression of what is current and transitory, for it expresses the mystery of the Holy. Liturgy is not something that is simply ‘made’ by the community. Such an attitude has led to the ‘success’ of the liturgical celebration being measured by an ‘able’ celebrant and an equally cooperative faithful. This attitude can obfuscate the distinctive nature of liturgy which does not come from what we do. Rather it is something that takes place with which we cooperate consciously and devoutly.

The good of the faithful is the pastoral norm governing all liturgical legislation.[30]  A distinction is to be made between the ‘rite’, that is the “form of celebration” which is drawn by the Church and which is found in the editio typica of the liturgical books, and the ‘celebration’, that is the “form of celebration” that is carried out by the concrete assembly.[31] Normally, the text itself provides these forms of celebration by way of  options.

In the pastoral context, the local customs can play an important role in the celebration of the liturgy provided it is not against the law.[32] The ‘laws of customs’ seem to be more flexible in the case of the Eastern Churches than that of the Western Church. In the light of CCEO 1507-1509, the Congregation for the Oriental Churches considers custom as the fruit of continuous and uncontested practice of the local community, and thus rooted in the life of the people.[33] According to a renowned Eastern Catholic liturgiologist, Robert Taft, the pastoral choices are determined by the context, and they are not ineluctable conclusions from history or theology.[34]

2.4  The Church Building and Active Participation


Liturgical worship takes place in space. The meaning we attach to the space is a determining factor for an effective celebration. First of all, it is a place where we experience the presence of the Lord. In principle, the liturgical space is not to be arranged according to the ‘taste’ of the celebrant or the ‘convenience’ of the community. In every liturgical or ritual tradition, this space is organized according to one’s own liturgical need.

Being ritual celebrations, liturgical actions require the necessary movements, objects and persons. Therefore the place of the altar, tabernacle, crucifix, lectern, choir, baptismal font, etc is of great importance for an active participation of the people.

  1. 3.      Ars Celebrandi and the Eucharistic Celebration

Liturgy is the summit towards which the activity of the Church is directed. “From the liturgy, therefore, especially from the Eucharist, grace is poured forth upon us as from a fountain, and the sanctification of man in Christ and the glorification of God to which all other activities of the Church are directed”.[35] In fact, the Eucharist builds up the Church as a community.[36] Therefore, in this section of the paper, I would like to deal with the ars celebrandi in relation to the Eucharistic celebration as referred to by Pope Benedict XVI in his Apostolic Exhortation “Sacramentum Caritatis”.

3.1  The Liturgy of the Word and the Eucharistic Liturgy


There is an intrinsic relationship between these two parts of the Eucharistic celebration. One must avoid the impression that these parts are juxtaposed. They form one single act of worship. The Word must be so proclaimed that it naturally leads to the Eucharist.[37]

Every effort must be made to ensure that the proclamation of the Word is entrusted to well-trained readers. If needed, a brief introduction may be given before each lesson in order to focus the attention of the people on the passage.[38] It is also important to keep a right proportion of time between the breaking of the Word and the breaking of the Bread.

3.2  Homily


Homily is part of the liturgical action and is a time for mystagogical catechesis. It is a golden moment to help the people deepen their faith. In order to make it effective, generic and abstract homily should be avoided. It should focus its attention on the Word proclaimed and its application to the life of the community, thereby making the Word of God a vital nourishment and support for the people. As for the Latin Church, the three-year-cycle of the lectionary is adequate to preach “thematic” homilies treating the great themes of Christian faith based on the four ‘pillars’ of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, namely the Profession of Faith, the Celebration of the Christian Mystery, the Life in Christ and the Christian Prayer.[39] The Eastern Churches have their lectionary based mainly on the themes of the various seasons of the liturgical year.

3.3  The Presentation of the Gifts


The presentation of the gifts is a significant moment when the bread and wine are brought to the altar. There all creation is taken up by Christ to be transformed and presented to the Father. Through these we bring to the altar not only the handiwork of man, but also all the pain and suffering of the world.[40]

The offering of the gifts has another dimension too. It may include gifts given by the faithful in the form of money or other things for the sake of charity towards the poor. These external gifts are visible expression of that true gift that God expects from us, namely a contrite heart, the love of God and neighbour by which we are conformed to the sacrifice of Christ.[41]

3.4  The Eucharistic Prayer (Anaphora)


It is the centre and summit of the entire celebration of the Eucharist. It has elements like Thanksgiving, Acclamations, Institution Narrative, Epiclesis, Anamnesis, Offering, Intercession and Doxology. There is a profound unity between the Institution Narrative commemorating the Last Supper and the Epiclesis through which the Church implores the power of the Holy Spirit so that the gifts offered by human hands are consecrated and transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ to be received in holy communion for the salvation of those who will partake of it.[42]

3.5  The Sign of Peace


By its very nature the Eucharist is a sacrament of peace. Therefore the sign of peace exchanged during the Eucharistic celebration is not merely the peace that the world can offer. Jesus is our peace (Eph 2:14). This gesture is particularly eloquent in our times, fraught with fear and conflict, as the Church is increasingly conscious of her responsibility to pray for the gift of peace and unity for herself and for the whole human family.

The Church seems to be concerned about the ars of exchanging peace. Pope Benedict XVI notes that the sign of peace should be marked by “a sobriety which preserves the proper spirit of the celebration” and hence it is done appropriately without causing “distraction” in the assembly.[43] The Congregation for the Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments too reminds us of the ‘sober manner’ of exchanging peace.[44]

3.6  Distribution and Reception of the Eucharist


In this part of the Eucharistic celebration, there are various areas one needs to pay attention to. They are:

  • It sometimes happens that the people approach the altar to receive holy communion indiscriminately without necessary disposition. The pastors should prudently and firmly correct them if such things happen.[45]
  • In pilgrim centres and such other places where holy Mass is celebrated for large crowds, prudent steps should be taken lest out of ignorance people not in communion with the Catholic faith and Church come forward for holy communion.[46]
  • The precious time after thanksgiving after holy communion by way of silent recollection is appropriate.[47]

3.7  The Dismissal: “Ite Missa Est”


These are eloquent words that help us to grasp the relationship between the Mass just celebrated and the mission of the Christians in this world. It succinctly expresses the missionary nature of the Church.[48] It is, in fact, a point of departure for those who take part in the Eucharistic celebration. Unfortunately, this dimension of the holy Mass is not sufficiently understood and practised.

  1. 4.      Some Remarks


Now I would like to make a few remarks on the liturgical celebration and its ars, which, I feel, are pertinent. These remarks are based on the observations made by Aidan Kavanagh in his handbook on the ‘Elements of Rite’, and those based on my own observations.

  1. Since the liturgy is hierarchically structured, the various liturgical ministries are to be kept clearly distinct.
  2. Though the priest presides over the liturgy, he should not forget that he is called ‘to serve’ the assembly. Therefore, he should avoid the possible temptation of ‘clericalizing’ the celebration.
  3. Since the liturgy is basically worship of God, its didactive aspect should not have an upper hand.
  4. ‘Liturgical style’ is not automatically obtained in ordination. It is achieved under grace by constant prayer, reflection, self discipline and continuing practice by the minister.
  5. The non-verbal parts of the liturgical celebration, such as silence (not an embarrassing or barren moment, but an integral part of the rhythm of the service), procession (not a poorly executed utilitarian exercise, but a coordinated rhythmic movement), gestures (not as an obligatory action but as spontaneous communicative action), sounds of musical instruments, bells etc. (a liturgical component to which scant attention is given as a whole), sights (since the liturgical celebration is also ‘seen’ by the participants, the physical behaviour of the ministers, the colours, the decorations, etc are to be simple, but dignified), smells (since the human faculty of olfactory sense is also a means of communication, the use of incense is to be made use of in an appropriate manner) and touches (exchanging peace, anointing, imposition of hands, etc are the traditional liturgical expressions of using the sense of touch) deserve proper attention for a ‘beautiful’ ritual action.
  6. Liturgy is also ‘canonical’, and hence it is governed by common and particular laws that need to be respected.
  7. Since the liturgy has a ‘ritual language’, the ministers should be fully aware of the time and manner of doing things so that confusions are avoided.
  8. It is advisable to choose a liturgical style, and as far as possible, hold to it. Each liturgical tradition normally has a style. Juxtaposing various styles taken from different sources or traditions can only weaken the logic and genius of one’s own tradition.
  9. The options are permitted to accommodate the celebrations to various contexts. Therefore, applying all options in one and the same celebration may not be the ideal.
  10. Concelebration, as Vatican II observes, helps to manifest the ‘unity of the priesthood’. However, from a practical point of view, the concelebrants should discreetly share the role of the presider without obscuring his function. Filling the space in the sanctuary with the concelebrants needs to be reconsidered. They should not substitute altar servers, readers, thurifers, etc.
  11. Announcements during the liturgy may be a ‘necessary evil’. They should be kept to minimum and said at an appropriate moment without disrupting the rhythmic flow of the service.
  12. The hands have an important role to play in the liturgy like spreading them for prayer, folding in devotion, extending them in invitation, raising for blessing, relaxing them by placing on the altar, etc. It applies also to other body languages such as the movement in a procession.
  13. Secularizing the greeting formulae (Good morning!, for example), breaking the bread at Institution Narrative, changing texts well known to the assembly, ignoring the liturgical year and minimalism and pontificalism are to be avoided.
  14. Each liturgical tradition has its own ‘vocabulary’ and ‘grammar’, though all traditions may have some common words or actions (eg. Amen, Halleluiah). A syncretism may not be helpful for a liturgical assembly.



Liturgical style is not simply an aesthetic matter, though aesthetics is involved in it. Any style involves taste. However, taste is not innate; rather it is learnt through experiences. Liturgical style requires personal effort and patience. Mannerisms, bizarre vestments, prayers in strange accents, heavy ceremonial, etc cannot be justified on the basis of taste. The approach to liturgy should be plain, simple, orderly and sincere. A liturgist who tinkers with ceremonies is not a good liturgist as one who merely tinkers with language is not a good poet.

As a parish priest notes, ‘there is a huge variation in the way that priests preside at Mass, which can range from wonder-filled celebration to perfunctory walk-throughs. The key is to remember the ancient principles of good liturgy, and that it is not only the laity who must actively participate – it is the priest too’.[49]




[1] R.D.McCall, Do This: Liturgy as Performance, Notre Dame 2007, p.105

[2] Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum (2004) No.4; John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Ecclesia de Eucharistia (2003) No.52; Benedict XVI, Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis (2007) No.22.

[3] Sacramentum Caritatis, Nos. 38-42

[4] Sacramentum Caritatis, No.38

[5] Sacramentum Caritatis, No.41

[6] Pius XII, Encyclical Letter Musicae Sacrae (1955) Nos. 22-25

[7] Second Vatican Council, Sacrosanctum Concilium, No.112

[8] Pope Pius X, Motu Proprio Inter Sollecitudines (1903) No.2

[9] Sacramentum Caritatis, No.42

[10] Sacrosanctum Concilium, No.37

[11] Sacrosanctum Concilium, No.38

[12] Sacrosanctum Concilium, No.19

[13] The Spirit of the Liturgy, San Francisco 2000, p.166

[14] The Spirit of the Liturgy, p.167

[15] A.Kavanagh, Elements of Rite, Minnesota 1990, Reprint, Bangalore 1996, p.35

[16] Y.Congar, Tradition and Traditions. An Historical and Theological Essay, London 1966, p.428-429

[17] Apostolic Letter Orientale Lumen (1995) No.8

[18] Sacrosanctum Concilium, No.102

[19] Sacrosanctum Concilium, Nos.103-104

[20] Sacrosanctum Concilium, No.14

[21] Sacrosanctum Concilium, No.19

[22] J.Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, p.171

[23] The Spirit of the Liturgy, p.173

[24] Sacrosanctum Conciliun, No.30

[25] J.Ratzinger – V.Messori, The Ratzinger Report, San Francisco 1985, p.127

[26] Sacrosanctum Concilium, No.34

[27] The Ratzinger Report, p.120

[28] The Ratzinger Report, p.121

[29] J.Ratzinger, Feast of Faith, San Francisco 1986, p.71

[30] Congregation for the Oriental Churches, Directives on the Order of Syro-Malabar Qurbana in Solemn and Simple Forms, in Roman Documents on the Syro-Malabar Liturgy, Kottayam 1999, 143

[31] Congregation for the Oriental Churches, Final Judgement of the S.Congregation for the Oriental Churches Concerning the Order of the Syro-Malabar Qurbana, in Roman Documents, p.123

[32] CCEO 1507-1509; CIC 24/2, 25,26

[33] Congregation for the Eastern Churches, Instruction for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions of  the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, Rome 1996, No.28

[34] R.Taft, The Syro-Malabar Liturgical Controversy, in J.Porunnedom (ed.), Acts of the Synod of Bishops of the Syro-Malabar Church, Kochi 1996, p.130

[35] Sacrosanctum Concilium, No.10

[36] John Paul II, Encyclical Letter, Ecclesia de Eucharistia (2003), Nos.21-15

[37] Sacramentum Caritatis, No.44

[38] Sacramentum Caritatis, No.45

[39] Sacramentum Caritatis, No.46

[40] Sacramentum Caritatis, No.47

[41] Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum (2004) No.70

[42] Sacramentum Caritatis, No.48

[43] Sacramentum Caritatis, No.49

[44] Redemptionis Sacramentum, No.72

[45] Redemptionis Sacramentum, No.83

[46] Redemptionis Sacramentum, No.84; Sacramentum Caritatis, No.50

[47] Sacramentum Caritatis, No.50

[48] Sacramentum Caritatis, No.51

[49] A.Rossiter, What are You Doing Up There? in The Tablet, 28 June 2008, p.19

Syro-Malabar Liturgy

Syro-Malabar Liturgy

Dr Antony Nariculam


My aim in this paper is to give a general picture of the Syro-Malabar Liturgy under its various aspects, such as its history, theology, celebratory dimension, the various liturgical texts published so far etc. As is well known, the Syro-Malabar liturgy has been a subject of ‘controversy’ since at least early 1950s due to various concerns of the persons involved. It is a fact that consequent upon divergent opinions with regard to the liturgical issues, there arose at least two ‘camps’ in the Church. But a close examination will reveal that both camps wanted to make liturgy more meaningful, experiential and relevant to life. At the same time, their understanding and approach towards the issues were diverse, resulting in apparent contradictions. Fortunately, since the Church became a Major Archiepiscopal Church, things have begun to take a new turn and today there is greater convergence on most of the issues though this spirit of newly-found convergence has not permeated down to the grass root level. It is hoped that the constant and concerted efforts of the Liturgical Research Centre and the findings of its research would eventually lead to a happy conclusion and the Syro-Malabar Church would rediscover her lost vitality and regain her glorious past.

    1. Fivefold Historical Division

The two- thousand-year-old history of the Syro-Malabar liturgy may be divided into five  stages.

First Stage                   : The St Thomas Period (AD 52-4th Century)

Second Stage              : The East Syrian Period (4th -16th Century)

Third Stage                 : The Portuguese Period (16th Century-1896)

Fourth Stage               : The Syro-Malabar Period (1896-1992)

Fifth Stage                  : The Syro-Malabar Major Archiepiscopal Period (1992-    )

(1) First Stage: The St Thomas Period (AD 52-4th Century)

According to the living tradition of the Syro-Malabar Church, St Thomas, one of the apostles of Christ, came to India in AD 52 and died in AD 72. This is an uncontested fact as far as the Syro-Malabarians are concerned. It is to be assumed that wherever the apostles went to preach the Good News, Christian communities were established and the sacraments, especially Baptism and the Eucharist, were celebrated. Naturally, St Thomas too must have celebrated these sacraments in the seven communities he founded in Kerala.

What was the ‘shape’ of the ‘breaking of the Bread’ he practised? What was the language he used? No ‘proof’ is available to answer these questions when we apply the historiographical rigorous methods of today. However, we can arrive at certain possible conclusions from circumstantial evidence. This is a very slippery area where opinions vary. What we can guess with quasi-certainty is that the liturgical celebrations during that period had no definite shape and that St Thomas introduced some fluid form on the basis of what he learned from Jesus at the Last Supper. It is to be assumed also that the Eucharistic Bread and Wine were some indigenous product rather than bread of wheat and wine. Thus, the first stage – the St Thomas Period – is one of uncertainties and hence one has to be satisfied with some plausible conjectures.

(2) Second Stage: The East Syrian Period (4th -16th Century)

The origin of the East Syrian liturgy in Malabar may be traced back to the arrival of Thomas of Knai in the fourth century or so. It is known that Thomas belonged to the East Syrian Church. And from history we know that the Syrian Church was one of the most flourishing Christian communities in the early centuries with the two famous ecclesiastical centres of Edessa and Nisibis. Famous theologians like St Ephrem and liturgical interpreters like Narsai were eminent scholars of these centres. Hence, it is probable that the East Syrian Church had a developed liturgy and Thomas of Knai had brought this liturgy to Malabar.

According to some authors, the Syrian liturgy was  ‘naturally’ adopted by the St.Thomas Christians in Malabar. They point to the apostolic, cultural, ethnic, linguistic, spiritual and hierarchical relationship between the East Syrians and the Malabarians for its acceptance. But some others dispute this claim. Without entering into the merits or demerits of their arguments, it is to be presumed that the Syriac liturgy was used in Malabar since fourth century or so. As Cardinal Eugene Tisserant states, “The Indian Christianity was definitely connected with the See of Selucia- Ctesiphon only about AD 450, at a time when the Mesopotamian, also called Persian, Church was itself being strongly established and was a well-knit unit”.[1] It appears that the contact of the Syro-Malabar Church with the Persian Church, which was only a friendly one among sister Churches in the beginning, later developed into hierarchical dependence of the former on the latter.[2]

(3) Third Stage: The Portuguese Period (16th Century-1896)      

During the third stage – the Portuguese Period of almost four centuries – there were attempts on the part of the Latin missionaries to meddle with the affairs of the Syro-Malabar Church, including her liturgy. They tried to introduce Western liturgical elements sidestepping, even mutilating, the longstanding Syriac tradition. They even suspected the St Thomas Christians of ‘Nestorianism’ as the Malabar Christians were using the Syriac liturgical texts.

The Synod of Diamper of 1599 is one of the milestones in the history of the Syro-Malabar Church and her liturgy. Another important event is the sad split of 1653 called the ‘Coonan Cross Oath’ which led to the introduction of Antiochian liturgical tradition among the St Thomas Christians. Despite the crisis, one group of Christians continued to be under the Latin rule with their fragmented Syriac liturgical tradition. Though the Western missionaries in their enthusiasm to make the Syro-Malabar Church ‘Catholic’ tried to introduce the Latin liturgy and Western theology and ecclesiastical discipline, it is an undeniable fact that the Syro-Malabar faithful also gained some spiritual benefits through their popular devotional practices like the Rosary, the Stations of the Cross and the Eucharistic devotion.

(4) Fourth Stage: The Syro-Malabar Period (1896-1992)

The Syro- Malabar Church got partial independence from the Latin rule in 1887 when the Vicariates of Trichur and Kottayam were established. She got greater independence in 1896 when the Vicariates of Trichur, Ernakulam and Changanacherry were erected with Syro-Malabarians themselves as their heads. That process came to a happy conclusion when the Syro-Malabar hierarchy was formally established in 1923.

After the establishment of the hierarchy there were attempts to reintroduce the Syriac tradition in its entirety. To this effect Rome appointed a liturgical Commission in 1934. For some reason the Commission could not take up its work seriously. Later, another Commission was set up in 1954 while Cardinal Tisserant was the Head of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches.

The primary aim of the Commission was to restore the ancient East Syrian tradition in Malabar. However, the then bishops of the Syro-Malabar Church were not in favour of a pure restoration of the Syriac tradition. This conflict of interest led to a lack of enthusiasm on the part of the Syro-Malabar bishops in implementing the decisions of Rome. Despite objections from the bishops, the Roman Commission restored the text of the Holy Qurbana (1957 in Latin; 1960 in Syriac; 1962 in Malayalam-Syriac), the variable prayers of the liturgical seasons and feasts (1960: Supplementum Mysteriorum), the Pontifical (1958) and the book of the rubrics (1959: Ordo celebrationis). As the year of publication of these texts reveal, all of them were texts prior to the renewal thrust of Vatican II. The texts were more ‘restored’ than ‘revised’ and ‘adapted’. This seems to be the reason why the bishops were rather reluctant to implement them. One should also add that due to long periods of use, the bishops were more familiar with the Latinized liturgical texts than the original Syriac texts.

In spite of reservations on the part of the bishops, the restored text of the Holy Qurbana was introduced for public use in 1962. Though the text was basically in Malayalam, some prayers were in Syriac. Besides, not all restored parts of the Qurbana (Three anaphoras, the variable prayers according to liturgical seasons etc.) were incorporated into it. It seems that not all sections of the Church were happy with the text. On the basis of complaints against this text from various quarters, Rome made some adjustments in it in 1963 by shortening the length of the readings and the Psalms and by avoiding of repetitions of certain prayers.

Dissatisfied with the state of affairs, the bishops prepared a thoroughly revised text of the Qurbana in Malayalam in 1968 and obtained temporary approval from Rome for its experimental use. However, one section of the Syro-Malabar Church could not savour the 1968 text and argued for the restored text of 1962. This led to the birth of two liturgical ‘camps’ in the Syro-Malabar Church.

In 1980 the Congregation for the Oriental Churches convened a meeting of the Syro-Malabar bishops in Rome on the occasion of their ad limina visit to discuss the liturgical issues. In the light of the decisions taken in the meeting, the bishops prepared a new text of the Qurbana in 1981 and sent it to Rome for their perusal. But in 1983 Rome replied rejecting the text and gave new directives to prepare another text. The text thus prepared (Raza text) was inaugurated by Pope John Paul II during the Beatification of Fr Chavara Kuriakose and Sr Alphonsa in February 1986.

Many expected that the ‘liturgical crisis’ would be over with the publication of the text of the Qurbana and its inauguration by the Pope. Instead, it aggravated the crisis which prompted the Cardinal Prefect of the Oriental Congregation to visit the Syro- Malabar dioceses in view of tackling the issue. Consequent upon the Cardinal’s visit, a new set of directives were given in order to prepare the text of the Qurbana in its Simple and Solemn Forms and it was introduced in 1989. This text allowed a few ‘dispensations’ and many ‘options’. The text now in use is this text of 1989.

In the meantime – in the 1970s – some other liturgical texts were also published. All were experimental ones. The texts of the Sacraments, Liturgical Calendar, the Divine Office, the Holy Week Liturgy etc. are some among them. Besides, Sacramentals like the Funeral Service, the Blessings, the Profession of the Religious, the Christmas Service etc. also were published for experimental use. As part of inculturation, an ‘Indian Mass’ was also experimented in some places for some time.

(5) Fifth Stage: The Syro-Malabar Major Archiepiscopal Period (1992-    )

In 1992 the Syro-Malabar Church was raised to the Major Archiepiscopal status. But the Pope reserved to himself the liturgical matters. The reservation was later lifted in 1998 and the Syro-Malabar Church was given the right to take decisions in liturgy, subject to ‘review’ by the Holy See.

The Pontifical delegate Archbishop Abraham Kattumana initiated a process to solve the liturgical issues by restoring, revising and adapting the liturgical texts. At that time the only liturgical texts formally approved for use was the text of the Holy Qurbana. After drafting and redrafting, the text of the Sacraments – Baptism, Chrismation, Penance, Marriage and Anointing of the Sick – was formally approved and was introduced in January 2005. Later the variable prayers of the liturgical Seasons and Feasts – the Propria – were given temporary approval by Rome and were introduced for common use in December 2005.

Some other texts are already approved by the Synod but not yet sent for ‘review’ to Rome. They are the ordination to Karoya, Hevpadyakna, M’samsana, Priesthood and Episcopate, installation of the Major Archbishop and the Bishops, Blessing of the Oil and the Penitential Service.

The texts under consideration by the Synod now are the Holy Week Liturgy, Christmas Liturgy and Vibhoothi Liturgy.

The texts already drafted by the Central Liturgical Committee, but not yet discussed in the Synod are Dedication of the Church, Profession of the Religious, Dedication of the Members of the Secular Institutes and Apostolic Life, Blessing of the Deppa, Rededication of the churches and Blessing of the sacred vessels etc.

The texts yet to be prepared by the Central Committee are the Revised texts of the Divine Office, Liturgical Calendar, Second and Third Anaphoras and Sacramentals.

  1. Syro-Malabar Liturgy: The Preparation of the Texts

The Syro-Malabar Synod has an Episcopal Commission for Liturgy, consisting of three bishops. This Commission is assisted by a Central Liturgical Committee which has members from all Syro-Malabar dioceses. The newly reconstituted Central Committee has also religious sisters and lay people. At present the Committee has 67 members divided as follows:

Bishops                       : 3

Diocesan Priests          : 38

Religious Priests          : 14

Religious Brothers      : 1

Religious Sisters          : 3

Lay Men                      : 7

Lay Women                : 1

The members are representatives of dioceses, Syro-Malabar Religious Conference, major seminaries, lay men and women. The members are experts in various fields like liturgy, theology, Bible, pastoral involvement etc.

Before a text is finally approved by Rome for public use, it undergoes the following process. The Central Liturgical Committee prepares the draft (if needed, also a second, third …draft) and it is sent to the dioceses for their study. The draft text comes back to the Central Committee and it is modified in the light of the suggestions from the dioceses. It then goes to the Episcopal Commission for Liturgy who presents it before the Synod. Once the Synod approves the text it is sent to Rome for their ‘review’. After obtaining the approval of the Holy See the Major Archbishop promulgates the text and it becomes the official liturgical text.

  1. Liturgical Research Centre

The Syro-Malabar Synod held in the Vatican in January 1996 decided to set up a Liturgical Research Centre under the auspices of the Synod to make deeper studies about the history, theology, pastoral practices etc. of the Syro-Malabar liturgy. The Centre has already conducted 27 seminars on various topics such as The Life and Nature of the St Thomas Christian Church in the Pre-Diamper Period; St Thomas Christians and Nambudiris, Jews and Sangam Culture: A Historic Perspective; Inculturation and the Syro-Malabar Church; Social Life of Kerala in the First Millennium; Liturgical Music of the Syro-Malabar Church; Kerala Christian Art and Architecture and The Cultural Heritage of St Thomas Christians.

Some of the findings of the research seminars have already been published. Although the studies have not yielded many new findings not known to us before, the seminars have definitely helped to create an atmosphere of serious dialogue towards easing tensions in the realm of liturgy.

  1. Liturgical Books

The following are the Liturgical Books of the Syro-Malabar Church.

  • Thaksa of the Holy Qurbana
  • Thaksa of the Sacraments (Child Baptism, Adult Baptism, Chrismation, Penance, Marriage and Anointing of the Sick)
  • Divine Office
  • Liturgical Calendar and Lectionary
  • Variable Prayers according to Seasons and Feasts (Propria)
  • Pontifical (Ordination to Karoya, Hevpadyakna, M’samsana, Priesthood and Episcopate, Installation of the Major Archbishop and the Bishops, Blessing of the Oil, Consecration of the Churches)
  • Funeral Services and various Prayers for the Dead
  • Sacramentals (Profession of the Religious, Dedication of the Members of the Secular Institutes and Apostolic Life, House Blessings, Betrothal, Laying of Foundation Stone, Blessing of various institutions, objects etc.)
  • Blessing of the deppa, sacred vessels etc.
  1. Syro-Malabar ‘Liturgical Controversy’

This presentation will be incomplete if I do not mention a word about the so-called Syro-Malabar ‘liturgical controversy’. I do not intend to go into the details of it. Rather, I would prefer to give a broad outline of the ‘crisis’ and the underlying reasons.

Robert Taft, a renowned Oriental theologian, well-versed with the Syro-Malabar liturgy and the controversy surrounding it, points out the following factors which led to the crisis:[3]

(i)                 The Syro-Malabar liturgical movement was caught up in the collapse of the historical process. The normal historical process of liturgical renewal had traditionally been the work of generations. In the Syro-Malabar Church it took place within a span of 30 years or so.

(ii)               The first step to be taken was the restoration phase, which consists of deep studies, lively debates, propagation of ideas through Journals etc. in view of a slow step-by-step renewal. This did not happen with the Syro-Malabar Church.[4]

(iii)             There was the need to cope with the desires of the common people, especially in the context of the democratic societies. Vernacularisation, inculturation etc. are products of this new awareness. Without going through a restoration process in all its details, the Syro-Malabar Church got the Malayalam text of the Holy Qurbana in 1962.

(iv)             The Syro-Malabar Church was not exempt from the universal cultural turbulence of 1960s and consequently changes in liturgical rites were introduced with a certain spontaneity bypassing the normal procedures for liturgical change and adaptation.

I personally feel that Robert Taft has made a correct assessment of the situation. To his observations I would like to add one thing more. The Syro-Malabar Church found it hard to break with the longstanding  Latin liturgical and devotional practices which, in some cases, however, were beneficial to their spiritual life. In addition to this, we have to take into consideration the overall mentality of our people which is the result of greater secular education, exposure to other traditions and cultures and the fast tempo of life in the context of an industrialised society.

Vatican II has clearly directed the Eastern Churches “to preserve their own legitimate liturgical rites and ways of life” and if they have fallen away from them due to historical reasons, they are “to strive to return to their ancestral traditions”.[5] Therefore, the Syro-Malabar Church is duty-bound to search for her liturgical roots. This search will lead mainly to the East Syrian tradition. However, as Robert Taft has remarked, “To consider the Syro-Malabar tradition as simply the East Syrian Rite without taking any account of its evolution during more than a millennium of its existence in Southwest India, flies in the face of history. That would be like ignoring 50% of the vocabulary of English because it entered the English language from Norman French after the Battle of Hastings in 1066. No tradition can realistically pretend to ignore 497 years of its history. That is not to say that what happened in those years was always positive…It does mean that it cannot be ignored, (…) and  be dealt with realistically”.[6] As a matter of fact, all liturgical traditions are to a certain extent ‘hybrid’ as all have borrowed elements from others. As Taft notes, his own liturgy – the Byzantine Rite – is only half-Byzantine. The Armenians have borrowed even Latin elements during Crusades.[7]

If an Individual Church wants to exist, undoubtedly, it should have its liturgical identity because a Church is identified, among other things, also by her liturgy. Therefore, the Syro-Malabar Church needs to rediscover her liturgical identity in the light of her two-millennium-old history enriched by various sources. True, we need traditions. But, as Pope John Paul II once remarked, ‘tradition is never pure nostalgia for things or forms past, but the living memory of the Bride, kept eternally youthful by the Love that dwells within her’.[8] According to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI), the criterion of liturgical renewal is not ‘What was it like then’, but ‘What ought to be done today’ because the Church is living and hence her liturgy cannot be frozen at a stage in history.[9]

  1. Syro-Malabar Church Today

Today the Syro-Malabar faithful find themselves in a number of life-situations due to their history, evangelization and emigration. One may identify the following situations:

  • Traditional parishes and their agricultural background
  • Rapidly growing urban situations
  • ‘Oriental regions’ without much contact with the Latin Church
  • Inter-ritual situations where Syro-Malabar communities live intermingled with the Latin faithful
  • Developing areas of the mission territories of North India
  • Migrants in the industrialized cities and towns of North India
  • Migrants in Europe, America and the Gulf countries

The SMC needs to have an open mind to cope with these realities when she plans out the future course of action in the realm of liturgy.

  1. Looking Ahead

It is an undeniable historical fact that the Syro-Malabar Church was hierarchically dependent on the East Syrian Church. It is also true that the East Syrian contact led to the introduction of their liturgy in the Syro-Malabar Church. However, as Placid Podipara notes, the Thomas Christians were ‘not an integral part, nor an output’ of the East Syrian Church.[10] It is true that the East Syrian tradition is an important source of the Syro-Malabar liturgy. To this one needs to add the ‘original’ source of St Thomas period. The ‘original shape’ of the breaking of the Bread may be found in the New Testament to which the apostle was a witness. The search for the sources of ‘auricular confession’, the anointing of the sick, the present bread and wine for the Eucharistic celebration etc. will take one to the Latin tradition. The custom of tying the Thali, giving of the Manthrakodi etc. in marriage undoubtedly leads one to the Indian sources. Therefore one can rightly conclude that the Syro-Malabar liturgy is shaped by various influences, two among them being the East Syrian and the Indian.

Being aware of this historical reality, the Congregation for the Oriental Churches suggested in 1980 that the Syro-Malabar liturgy requires a ‘double integration’, namely an ‘Eastern-Christian direction’ through a deeper contact with the Syriac liturgical, theological and spiritual traditions and an ‘Indian direction’ by favouring serious study of the Indian reality.[11] In the context of this Syro-Malabar Global Meet, I am compelled to add that we need yet a third direction, namely a ‘catholic’ or ‘universal’ direction by promoting inculturation according to the needs of the times and places.[12]


As Archbishop Joseph Powathil has rightly observed, the question of identity of an Individual Church is of vital importance since it has far-reaching implications and consequences for the life and activities of that Church.[13] It includes ecclesial identity, liturgical identity, theological identity, spiritual identity and so on and so forth. The specific question here is: What is the Syro-Malabar liturgical identity? An answer to this question can be found in a patient and thorough search of the 2000 year old history of the Syro-Malabar Church. In this soul-searching process two principles – one of St Augustine and the other an American colloquial aphorism – may be helpful. According to St Augustine’s principle, we should strive for ‘Unity in essential things, Freedom in doubtful things and Charity in everything’. The American aphorism – ‘you cannot put the tooth-paste back into the tube’ – reminds us that when something is practiced and lived for a long time, it may be very difficult to reverse it regardless of the merits of the issue.


Fr.Antony Nariculam

Pontifical Seminary

Alwaye 683102


[1] E. Tisserant, Eastern Christianity in India: History of the Syro-Malabar Church from the Earliest Time to the Present Day, Authorised Adaptation from the French by E. R. Hambye, London, New York, Toronto 1957, p.10

[2] Cf. Jacob Thoomkuzhy, Liturgy of the Syro-Malabar Church, in Jose Porunnedom (ed.), Acts of the Synod of Bishops of the Syro-Malabar Church, Kochi 1996, p. 91

[3] Robert Taft, The Syro-Malabar Liturgical Controversy in Jose Porunnedom (ed.), Acts of the Synod of Bishops of the Syro-Malabar Church, pp. 124-127

[4] In the Latin Church about a century-old study of this type took place which eventually led to the liturgical reform of Vatican II.

[5] Decree on the Catholic Eastern Churches, No. 6

[6] Robert Taft, The Syro-Malabar Liturgical Controversy, p. 132

[7] Ibid. Cf. also, Elena Velkova Velkovska, Blessings in the East, in Anscar  J. Chupungco, Handbook for Liturgical Studies IV, Collegeville 2000, p. 388

[8] Cf. John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Orientale Lumen, 1995 No. 8

[9] Cf. Joseph Ratzinger-Vittorio Messori, The Ratzinger Report, San Francisco 1985, pp. 131-132

[10] Cf. P.J. Podipara, The Hierarchy of the Syro-Malabar Church, Alleppey 1976, p.35

[11] Cf. Report on the State of Liturgical Reforms in the Syro-Malabar Church, Rome 1980

[12] Cf. Vatican II, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, No. 4; Decree on the Catholic Eastern Churches, No. 2

[13] Joseph Powathil, Identity and Dignity of the Syro-Malabar Church, in Jose Porunnedom (ed.), Acts of the Synod of Bishops of the Syro-Malabar Church, p. 61

Restoration, Revision, Adaptation and Organic Growth of the Liturgy and the Syro-Malabar Church

 Restoration, Revision, Adaptation and Organic Growth of the Liturgy and the Syro-Malabar Church

Dr Antony Nariculam 

Fr Antony Nariculam



The Syro-Malabar Church has been in a process of soul-searching from some years to find out ways and means of restoring and revising her liturgy in the light of Vatican II and the later documents. One of the stumbling blocks in this process has been the (mis)understanding about the principles of restoration, revision, adaptation and organic growth. This article is an attempt to study this subject in the light of magisterial documents and the interpretation of some renowned and reliable theologians. It is, in fact, a compilation of the relevant portions from the various documents and the writings of the authors concerned. We thought of presenting them without much comment as they are self-explanatory. This article seeks to facilitate the process of restoration and revision of the Syro-Malabar liturgy already being undertaken by the Syro-Malabar Synod of Bishops. The last part of this article presents some concrete suggestions of Prof. Robert Taft who was closely associated with the Syro-Malabar liturgical renewal and consequent ‘controversies’ in his official capacity as a member of the Pontifical Commission appointed to look into the matter.


In the introduction to the book Tradition and Traditions, Y.Congar writes: “The reader must not expect to find here a series of consecutive essays, presenting a methodological and exhaustive study of the notion of tradition according to all the various authors – something beyond the capabilities of anyone man’s life-time and work”.[1] The same is true about this article. This is not an exhaustive presentation of the theme. As we try to elucidate the meaning of tradition, history, restoration, revision, adaptation, organic growth, inculturation etc. we fail to give a clear-cut definition as to what “Tradition” really means. We can make only some approximations. As Congar remarks: “ ‘Tradition’ designates a reality which is too large, a concept too dense, to be formulated in a concise definition”.[2] Even the definition of Bousset – ‘the ever manifest succession of doctrine left to and carried by the Church’ – conveys, according to Congar, only one aspect of the whole.[3]

According to another definition, tradition serves to indicate some one or other of the following realities: the apostolic practices and teachings not contained in the Scripture; the unwritten source of the whole Christian life; the rule of faith; the transmission of revealed truth; the teachings of the Church’s magisterium etc.[4]

In fact, as Pope John Paul II has remarked, the Churches of the East are “living interpreters of the treasure of tradition they preserve”.[5] However, a liturgical historian of today should be able to critique historical data in the light of the principles of Vatican II. These principles include the following: the central position of the paschal mystery (SC 5-7), the role of the Word of God in the liturgy (SC 24), active participation of the people (SC 14), congregational singing (114,121), community dimension of the liturgical celebration (SC 26,27), inculturation (SC 37– 40), pastoral needs (SC 21,34) etc.

1. Vatican II and the Understanding of Liturgical Renewal


The sacred liturgy, being the summit and the source of Christian life, Vatican II thought it fitting to revise it to impart “an ever-increasing vigour to the Christian life of the Faithful by adapting more closely to the needs of modern age those things that are subject to change” (SC 1). Therefore the Council decided “to revise the rites carefully in the light of sound tradition, and to give them new vigour to meet present-day circumstances and needs” (SC 4). According to the Council, in order to retain sound tradition a certain investigation – theological, historical and pastoral – should always be made into each part of the liturgy which is to be revised. At the same time, the way should remain open to legitimate progress (SC 23).

The identity of an Individual Church depends to a great extent on her liturgy. Therefore, the Council exhorts the members of the Eastern Churches “to preserve their own liturgical rites and ways of life” (OE 6). They are “ to aim always at a more perfect knowledge and practice of their rites, and if they have fallen away due to circumstances of times or persons, they are to strive to return to their ancestral ways” (OE 6) because the Church wishes “the tradition of each particular Church or rite to remain whole and entire, and it likewise wishes to adapt its own way of life to the needs of different times and places” (OE 2).

One of the primary aims of restoration and renewal of the sacred liturgy is the full and active participation of all the people since liturgy is an indispensable source from which the faithful derive the true Christian spirit (SC 14). In order to realize this aim, the Church “desires to undertake with great care a general restoration of the liturgy itself. For the liturgy is made up of unchangeable elements divinely instituted, and of elements subject to change. These latter not only may be changed but ought to be changed with the passage of time, if they have suffered from the intrusion of anything out of harmony with the inner nature of the liturgy or have become less suitable. In this restoration both texts and rites should be drawn up so as to express more clearly the holy things which they signify. The Christian people, as far as possible, should be able to understand them with ease and take part in them fully, actively, and as a community” (SC 21). From this statement, it may be assumed that restoration is not separate from revision and adaptation.

2. What is Tradition?

In the words of Pope John Paul II, Tradition “is the heritage of Christ’s Church. This is the living memory of the Risen One and witnessed to by the Apostles who passed on his living memory to their successors in an uninterrupted line, guaranteed by the apostolic succession through the laying on of hands, down to the Bishops of today. This is articulated in the historical and cultural patrimony of each Church”. Tradition is not, continues the Pope, “an unchanging repetition of formulas, but a heritage which preserves its original, living kerygmatic core. It is Tradition that preserves the Church from the danger of gathering only changing opinions, and guarantees her certitude and continuity”.

“When uses and customs belonging to each Church are considered as absolutely unchangeable, there is a sure risk of tradition losing that feature of a living reality which grows and develops and which the Spirit guarantees precisely because it has something to say to the people of every age. As Scripture is increasingly understood by those who read it; every other element of the Church’s living heritage is increasingly understood by believers and is enriched by new contributions, in fidelity and in continuity. Only a religious assimilation, in obedience of faith, of what the Church calls ‘Tradition’ will enable Tradition to be embodied in different cultural and historical situations and conditions. Tradition is never pure nostalgia for things or forms past, nor regret for lost privileges, but the living memory of the Bride, kept eternally youthful by the Love that dwells within her”.[6]

Appreciating the traditions of the Oriental Churches, the Pope writes: “The venerable and ancient tradition of the Eastern Churches is an integral part of the heritage of Christ’s Church” and hence “the first need for Catholics is to be familiar with that tradition, so as to be nourished by it”.[7] Precisely for this reason, the Prefect of the Oriental Congregation, Cardinal Simon Lourdusamy, asked the Syro-Malabar Bishops to make studies of the Syrian liturgical heritage and the patristic sources of tradition in order to fully understand the ecclesial meaning of Tradition in view also of meeting the challenges of present-day pastoral exigencies.[8]

Tradition involves three elements: a deposit of faith, a living teaching authority and a transmission of succession.[9] In a way, faith of the Church is in the faith of the Churches. Therefore, from an Eastern perspective, theology is grounded not only on  Scripture, but also on tradition, liturgy, fathers, monasticism, mysticism, spiritual writers, martyrology, practices of fasting, penance, abstinence, prayer etc.[10] To these we may add also the Ecumenical Councils, Creeds, magisterium and disciplinary norms.

When the early Christian writers speak of tradition, notes Congar, they mean primarily a Christological explanation of the Old Testament and the ecclesial understanding of the central mystery of Christ and the Church as witnessed to by the Scriptures. When they speak of apostolic traditions transmitted orally they have in mind liturgical and disciplinary practices held universally and with an origin which, even if it is not attested by Scripture, seems to be bound up with that of the Church.[11]

St.Paul says that he himself “received” from the Lord what he “transmits” (1 Cor 11:23). In St.Paul the content of “tradition” is composed of two groups of objects. Firstly, the basic message of the faith (deposit of faith) which must be received as a word from God. It is essentially centred on the death and resurrection of Christ. And secondly, this central message is handed over to the communities following their internal discipline or Christian behaviour. In other words, tradition is also “the explanation which is made of this deposit of faith, as a result of its being lived and defended, generation after generation, by the people of God”.[12] In this context, we need to make a distinction between “actively transmitted” tradition and a tradition having an “objective existence” (e.g. the Word of God) independently of the living subject which transmits them.[13] It is necessary to guard against unconsciously identifying the distinction between a ‘statement of faith’ and ‘rules of conduct’.[14] However, when dealing with St. Paul, one should not separate too sharply the tradition of the paschal faith from the tradition of apostolic rules of conduct since both build up the community. What is noteworthy here is that the two categories of tradition are not entirely of equal standing.[15]

St.Paul requests fidelity to the deposit of faith: “Follow the pattern of the sound words which you have heard from me,…. Guard the truth that has been entrusted to you by the Holy Spirit” (2 Tim 1:13-14). Here the “pattern”, writes Congar, signifies “outline, sketch, a summary presentation, a general definition; their model, example”.[16] In other words, it is ‘a brief note or a figure intended, not to be reproduced as a model, but to serve as an outline, as a suggested basis which must be completed and filled out by a detailed treatment’.[17]

The past, as Robert Taft notes, is only instructive and not normative. History does not teach us “what we should do today, and we study the past not to imitate it, but simply to understand. What the Church adheres to is not history but tradition, and tradition is not the past but the Church’s self-consciousness now of the present living reality that has been handed on to it out of its past. In judging what is tradition the Church, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, looks not to the past but within, to itself”.[18] “History is not the past. Rather it is the contemporary understanding of life in terms of its origin and evolution as seen through the prism of our present concern”.[19]

Preserving the tradition does not exclude progress and new development. According to the Instruction of the Oriental Congregation, “No Church, Eastern or Western has ever been able to survive without adapting itself continuously to the changing conditions of life. Rather, the Church guards against every undue and inopportune precipitation, requiring that any eventual modification be not only well prepared but also inspired and conforming to the genuine tradition”.[20]

Tradition is not a second source. It is, along with Scripture, “another and complementary way of handing on (these) truths. Furthermore, it acts as a vehicle for traditions, by which we mean customs, practices and rites, and which derive ultimately from the apostles. But this is no more than saying that their liturgical and disciplinary character has doctrinal implications and significance, especially if it concerns the sacraments in the strict sense”.[21]

3. Reception of Tradition

Writing about the ‘transmission of faith’, Congar notes that the tradition is not only transmitted, it is also to be actively received. ‘Actively’, that is, there exists a subject who is ‘active’ in receiving it. Thus “tradition will not be merely a transmission followed by a passive, mechanical reception; it entails the making present in a human consciousness of a saving faith”.[22] Therefore, there needs to be a “living fidelity of a mind reflecting upon the meaning of what is heard, drawing conclusions, trying to determine the boundaries between what is true and what is not”.[23]

The reception is possible only when the ecclesial dimension of tradition is properly understood. For this the sensus Ecclesiae is of utmost importance. Whom does the sensus Ecclesiae belong to? Should it belong to all members of the Church or only to some of them? Congar excludes the second hypothesis because all members of the Body of Christ are alive and living, active and responsible. At the same time, though all are responsible, some may have greater responsibility in virtue of a commission or an office in the Church. Such was the apostles’ situation at the Church’s origin, and then the situation of those ministers commissioned by them to preside over and tend the Christian communities; and lastly, it is the position of the hierarchical ministers in the Church today.[24]

“Tradition is more than just continuity; it is a dynamic, living continuity. It is not reducible to its external aspects…It is not attainable except from within, by living in the communion of the Church”.[25] Hence it is imperative that the faithful are educated to imbibe the meaning of sensus Ecclesiae. In fact, the heritage of faith “is received through tradition which guarantees its continuity and authenticity throughout time, ever since antiquity and especially since the testimony of the Apostles. It is received with open heart, maintained, transmitted, taught, confirmed, and clarified by the Holy Spirit”.[26]


4. Tradition in Relation to Liturgy


Tradition has a special application to liturgical restoration, revision and adaptation. According to Congar, there are three main ‘monuments’ in which Tradition’s character is particularly evident: Liturgy, Fathers and Ordinary expressions of Christian life. Among them liturgy has a place without parallel as an instrument of tradition because of its content.[27] Liturgy is, so to say, “a privileged custodian and dispenser of Tradition”.[28] It is the principal instrument of Church’s Tradition.[29] For the Church, “liturgy is not a dead monument, a kind of Pantheon to be visited as one visits a museum, but a home which is always lived in, the conditioning envelope or atmosphere of its whole life”.[30]

According to one of the pioneers of liturgical renewal, Dom P.Gueranger, “it is in the liturgy that the Spirit who inspired the Scriptures still speaks to us; the liturgy is tradition itself, as its highest degree of power and solemnity”.[31] In the words of Pope Pius XII, liturgy is “the faithful mirror of teaching handed on by our forefathers”.[32]

A large part of Church’s belief has become known to us through prayer which helps to enter into communion with God. Thus liturgy is a privileged locus of Tradition, not only from the point of view of conservation and preservation, but also from that of progress and development. The part it plays in the progressive development of our dogmatic understanding of revelation is considerable (Lex orandi lex credendi). Moreover, it is clear that such growth and development must be controlled by a magisterium which makes constant reference to the objective standards of the apostolic kerygma and especially, for verification, to the scriptural witness.[33] Therefore the first requirement of every Eastern liturgical renewal, as is also the case for the liturgical reform in the West, notes Roman Instruction, “is that re-discovering full fidelity to their own liturgical traditions, benefiting from their riches and eliminating that which has altered their authenticity. Such heedfulness is not subordinate to but precedes so-called updating. Although delicate task that must be executed with care so as not to disturb souls, it must be coherently and constantly pursued if the Eastern Catholic Churches want to remain faithful to the mandate received”. However, our attempts to preserve traditions “do not take away from the rightful exigency to express, as much as possible, the Gospel in a plain and clear way for the contemporary man and woman. Every formula necessitates, therefore, unceasing vigilance to remain alive under the breath of the Spirit”.[34]

In addition, every Individual Church should be faithful to her own traditions regarding the sacred buildings and the arrangements of the interior space and sacred images. For this the clergy should have an in-depth knowledge of their own tradition and a constant, well established and systematic formation of the faithful so that they may be able to fully perceive the richness of the signs entrusted to them. In order to achieve this aim, it is imperative that our Church comes to an acceptable understanding about the liturgical traditions of our Church. However, “fidelity does not imply anachronistic fixation, as the evolution of sacred art – even in the East – demonstrates, but rather, development that is fully coherent within the profound and, immutable meaning of how it is celebrated in the liturgy”.[35]

The ‘rites’ play an important role in the liturgy. Cardinal Ratzinger defines ‘rite’ as “the expression that has become form, of ecclesiality and of Church’s identity as a historically transcendent communion of liturgical prayer and action”.[36] According to him, the rite contains “an essential exposition of the biblical legacy that goes beyond the limits of the individual rites, and thus it shares in the authority of the Church’s faith in its fundamental form”.[37] For this reason, the rituals are to a great extent conservative. Besides, liturgy being a complex act in which many people participate in many different ways, it is by nature ‘conservative and restive to change’.[38] Very often the rituals are transmitted to generations in a fixed manner. Of course, in this transmission, there is the risk of empty formalism, a tradition in the sense of mechanical or routine gesture. On the other hand, we should also admit that the rituals preserve certain truths while everything else undergoes changes. In the eventful celebrations of Christmas, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter etc. the rituals have preserved for us a heritage offering us a powerful communion in the same reality between peoples separated by centuries.[39]


5. Restoration as Reformation

What is restoration? According to Ratzinger “if by ‘restoration’ is meant a turning back, no restoration of such kind is possible. The Church moves forward toward the consummation of history, she looks ahead to the Lord who is coming. No, there is no ‘restoration’ whatsoever in this sense. But, if by restoration we understand the search for a new balance after all the exaggerations of an indiscriminate opening to the world, after the overly positive interpretations of an agnostic and atheistic world, well then a restoration understood in this sense (a newly found balance of orientations and values within the Catholic totality) is altogether desirable and, for that matter, is already in operation in the Church”.[40] In the light of negative press comments on Cardinal’s opinion about restoration, he made a written statement on it. He wrote: “Above all I should simply like to recall what I really said: there is no return to the past. A restoration understood thus is not only impossible but also not even desirable. The Church moves forward to the consummation of history, she looks ahead to the Lord who is coming. If, however, the term ‘restoration’ is understood according to its semantic content, that is to say, as a recovery of lost values, within a new totality, then I would like to say that this precisely is the task that imposes itself today in the second phase  post-conciliar period. Yet the word ‘restoration’ is linguistically laden in such a way for us moderns that it is difficult to attribute this meaning to it. In reality it literally means the same as the word ‘reform’, a term that has a wholly different sound to us today”.[41]

Ratzinger objects to the ‘romantic archaeologism’ of certain liturgists ‘who would throw out everything done after Gregory the Great as being an excrescence  and a sign of decadence. For them, the criterion of liturgical renewal was not ‘What ought to be done today?’ but ‘What was it like then’? They forget that the Church is living and that her liturgy cannot be frozen at the stage reached in the city of Rome prior to the onset of the Middle Ages”.[42] In his words, ‘pure archaism is fruitless, as is pure modernism’.[43] However, he observes also that the medieval Church developed a liturgical depth which must be carefully examined before it is abandoned.

The Fathers, and the Councils themselves, thought of Councils as continuing, in new forms and in response to the demands of their time, the disclosure of God’s mystery made by the prophets, the Lord and the apostles. Thus in tradition a growth occurs, in the sense that what was involved in the deposit inherited from the apostles is developed and unfolded.[44] Thus tradition is not only ‘transmission’ but also ‘development’. While history is a science of humankind’s past, tradition is ‘God’s continuous inspiration of the Church’.[45]

According to Ratzinger, there are two fundamentally different views on the structure of liturgical celebrations: one view sees liturgy as creativity, freedom, celebration and community. The other view, consequently, considers things like rite, obligation, interiority and Church order as negative factors which belong to the “old” liturgy which is to be superseded. For those who hold this view, liturgy is not something officially prescribed ritual but a concrete celebration, fashioned as an authentic expression of the celebrating community, with the minimum of external control. For them the Missal is only a guidebook.[46] Obviously, this negative attitude will be detrimental to liturgical restoration and reformation.

6. Liturgy and Organic Development


According to the Decree on the Catholic Eastern Churches, changes in the liturgy are to be introduced only to forward its “organic growth” (OE 6). The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy says that in the process of liturgical renewal new forms adopted should in some way grow “organically” from forms already existing (SC 23).

The Congregation for the Eastern Churches explains the “organic growth” in the following words: “The organic progress in every Church sui iuris, implies taking into account first of all the roots from which the heritage of these Churches was initially developed, mainly in Jerusalem, Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople, Armenia, and in the ancient empire of Persia; and secondly, the manner in which such traditions were transmitted, adapting to the various circumstances and places but maintained in a coherent organic continuity”.[47] Then the Instruction quotes a discourse of Pope Paul VI delivered to the members of the Commission for the Revision of the Oriental Code which reads: “In presenting new things it is necessary to pay attention to take sufficiently into account the system of the transmitted message. Any renewal, in fact, should be coherent and agree with sound tradition, in such a way that the new norms do not appear as an extraneous body forced into an ecclesiastical composite, but blossoming as though spontaneously from already existing norms”.[48] Further, while modifying ancient liturgical practice, “it must be determined if the element to be introduced is coherent with contextual meaning in which it is placed. Such a context should be understood beginning with eventual references to Sacred Scripture, interpretations of the Holy Fathers, liturgical reforms previously made and mystagogical catechesis. Here it must be verified that the new change is homogenous with the symbolic language, with the images and the style specific to the liturgy of the particular Church”. [49]

Cardinal Ratzinger says that the liturgy cannot be compared to a piece of technical instrument or something manufactured, but to a plant, something organic that grows and whose laws of growth determine the possibilities of further development.[50]

Addressing the Syro-Malabar Bishops during their ad limina visit in 1980, Pope John Paul II said that the Syro-Malabar liturgical renewal must be based on ‘fidelity to genuine ecclesial traditions and open to the needs of the faithful, to the culture and to possible changes by way of organic progress’.[51]

Cardinal Rubin, Prefect of the Oriental congregation, made the following remarks on the Syro-Malabar liturgical renewal while addressing the Syro-Malabar Bishops in 1980: “In every living organism there must co-exist a power of assimilating new elements and a power of conservation, that is, of remaining oneself, of maintaining the identity. This fidelity must be presupposed; otherwise, one simply undergoes, and then is dilution and not vital assimilation. This ‘appropriate and organic development’, therefore, implies the avoidance of immobilism, on the one hand, but also of instability, on the other”. He continued: “I believe that in reconciling these two exigencies lies the key to the solution of the problem of revision, renewal and adaptation of the liturgy”.[52]

The “Fundamental Orientations concerning the Syro-Malabar Liturgy” given by Rome in 1998 has this to say about organic growth: “The just and praiseworthy concern to adapt liturgical celebrations to present-day living conditions and local culture, whether in the eparchies in the Church’s own territory or in mission eparchies, must not lead us to forget the basic principle of the secular life of liturgical worship, that of organic progress”.[53] Therefore, these adaptations have to respect “those principles fundamental to all Christian  liturgies and in particular, the Syro-Oriental liturgy”.[54]

In this context, it is worthy of note an observation made by Robert Taft: “It has been my constant observation”, writes he, “that liturgies do not grow evenly, like living organisms. Rather, their individual structures possess a life of their own. More like cancer than native cells, they can appear like aggressors, showing riotous growth at a time when all else lies dormant”.[55]

7. Liturgy and Inculturation


According to Vatican II, “even in the liturgy the Church does not wish to impose a rigid uniformity in matters which do not involve the faith or the good of the whole community. Rather does she respect and foster the qualities and talents of the various races and nations”. Among these qualities what is not bound up with superstition and error, the Church is prepared to admit into the liturgy, provided “they harmonize with its true and authentic spirit” (SC 37).

In 1980 the Oriental Congregation wrote to the Syro-Malabar Bishops about the need of “cultural integration”. The Syro-Malabar Church needs “an integration of the Eastern Rite with authentically Eastern spirituality and theology… This cannot be achieved without serious study and without acceptance in depth of the liturgical and patristic heritage, of which the Eastern rite is a privileged expression”.[56] Besides, it needs “the integration with the culture and the tradition (better: into the cultures and the traditions) of India. This is in view of the necessary ‘inculturation’, by which is meant the assumption of the more solid and sounder realities which these traditions contain, and which so unmistakeably characterize the authentic physiognomy of the Indian people”.[57] And “the ‘assumption’ of the realities that characterize Indian culture implies necessarily study and understanding of Hinduism, especially through a mature contact with its manifold sources”.[58]

Other directives from the Oriental Congregation too have references to the topic of inculturation. Thus, the Final Judgement of 1985 makes a reference to the ‘Indian patrimony’ of the Syro-Malabar Church. It reads: “It is therefore devoutly to be hoped that the church of the St.Thomas Christians may once again find its roots, at once evangelical and truly original, Oriental and Indian…”.[59] It also said that Rome in no way opposes recommendation for legitimate Indianization.[60] Regarding music in the liturgy, the document notes that the texts of refrains and chants more suitable to Indian culture could be proposed.[61]

The Directives of 1988 expressed the readiness of Rome to consider “adaptations to local culture and sensibilities” and to open the way ‘to renewal and adaptations to historico-cultural context’.[62]

The whole issue of inculturation is a complex one. Having this reality in mind Cardinal Rubin told the Syro-Malabar Bishops in 1980: “… it seems to me that the problem of inculturation  facing the Church, say, in Africa – where a true philosophy does not exist – is different from that of inculturation in India, where the Church is confronted by the various forms of Hinduism, philosophical thought so weighty that it has influenced our Western Idealists (from Schopenauer to Hegel) and – in ancient times – perhaps Plato himself”.[63]

According to Vatican II, the liturgy is “made up of unchangeable elements divinely instituted and of elements subject to change. These latter not only may be changed but ought to be changed with the passage of time, if they have suffered from the intrusion of anything out of harmony with the inner nature of the liturgy or have become less suitable” (SC 21). To a question on the changeable and unchangeable elements in the liturgy and the issue of inculturation in the mission lands, Cardinal Ratzinger replied as follows: “It must be said that both the Constitution on the Liturgy and the Decree on the Church’s Missionary activity explicitly allow for the possibility of far-reaching adaptations to the customs and cultic traditions of peoples. To that extent the new Missal is only providing a framework for mission lands. It is a feature of the new Missal that its very many ad libitum provisions give a great deal of scope for local variations”.[64] At the same time, Ratzinger has a word of caution too. These things should not be taken too naively and simplistically, he says. Therefore he writes that it would be “very dangerous to suggest that missionary liturgies could be created overnight, so to speak, by decision of Bishops’ conferences, which would themselves be dependent on memoranda drawn up by academics. Liturgy does not come about through regulation”.[65] Further he observes that the liturgical ‘rites’ are not simply products of inculturation, though they have incorporated many elements from the local culture. In his opinion, “the Christian faith can never be separated from the soil of sacred events”.[66]

8. Active Participation and Pastoral Implications


One of the contributions of Vatican II was the impetus it gave to the active participation of the faithful. “Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that full, conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebration which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy”. So much so, “the full and active participation of all the people” should be the aim to be considered before all else in the restoration and renewal of the liturgy (SC 14).In order to promote active participation, both internal and external, the pastors need to take into account the ‘age, condition, way of life and standard of religious culture of the people’ (SC 19).

But, the word ‘participation’ is sometimes misunderstood to mean “something external, entailing a need for general activity, as if as many people, as often as possible, should be visibly engaged in action”.[67] There is an impression that the active participation is speaking, singing, preaching, reading etc. But, Vatican II also included silence as part of active participation. For “silence facilitates a really deep, personal participation, allowing us to listen inwardly to the Lord’s Word. Many liturgies now lack of all trace of this silence”.[68] The real ‘actio’ in the liturgy, in which we are supposed to participate, notes Cardinal Ratzinger, “is the action of God himself. This is what is new and distinctive about the Christian liturgy: God himself acts and does what is essential”.[69]

The term ‘pastoral’ also needs to be understood in a correct perspective. In the name of ‘pastoral’, liturgy “cannot be an expression of what is current and transitory, for it expresses the mystery of the Holy. Many people have felt and said that liturgy must be ‘made’ by the whole community if it is really to belong to them. Such an attitude has led to the ‘success’ of the liturgy being measured by its effect at the level of spectacle and entertainment. It is to lose sight of what is distinctive to the liturgy, which does not come from what we do but from the fact that something is taking place here that all of us together cannot ‘make’”.[70]

From a pastoral point of view, simplification of liturgy is good and useful. But, “however much the liturgy is simplified and rendered comprehensible, the mystery of God’s action operating through the Church’s acts must remain untouched. This applies also to the heart of the liturgy: as far as both priest and people are concerned, it is something given, that cannot be manipulated. It partakes of the reality of the whole Church”.[71] Therefore, Ratzinger urges to oppose ‘rationalistic relativism and pastoral infantilism’ because they ‘degrade the liturgy’.[72] We also need to be led ‘from form to the content’. In other words, “we need an education which will help us to grow into an inner appropriation of the Church’s common liturgy”.[73]

However, in the pastoral context, the local customs play an important role in the celebration of the liturgy. Therefore, referring to CCEO 1507 – 1509, the Roman Instruction considers custom as the fruit of the continuous and uncontested practice of the local community and precious because it is rooted in the life of the people. However, concerning this subject “a wise discernment will be necessary to preserve that which is most valid and stimulating for a true Christian flourishing and to intervene in that which is superfluous or less suitable to the particular genuine traditions”.[74] Further, the concluding paragraph of the Instruction refers to the nature of the Instruction in the following words: “The indications contained here can be completed by the reflection and contribution of the individual Churches sui iuris, dedicating the necessary attention to them by studying how they should be applied in the various individual traditions and conditions”.[75] The reasoning behind this position seems to be what the “Directives” of 1988 referred to: ‘The good of the faithful is the pastoral norm governing all liturgical legislation’.[76] According to Robert Taft, the pastoral choices are “not ineluctable conclusions from history or theology”.[77]

9. Lessons from Latin Liturgical Renewal


In the first century (ca. AD 64) when the Church of Rome was established  the prevalent language in Rome was a popular type of Greek. The Latinization of the Western liturgy began in North Africa from the third century, thanks to Tertullian, Cyprian, Augustine and others. It was Pope Victor I (+203), an African by birth, who made the first attempt to introduce Latin into the liturgy of the Roman Church. The shift from Greek to Latin and the transitional period of bilingualism speak highly of the Roman Church’s pastoral sensitivity. Despite the Roman proverbial veneration for the traditions, they decided in favour of Latin language which people understood. It teaches us that “fidelity to tradition means adapting to the needs of the people in every age and of every cultural tradition”.[78] The transition from Greek to Latin was not merely a change of liturgical language. It was accompanied also by creativity composing new prayers in Latin itself.


The normal historical process of liturgical renewal had traditionally been the work of generations. The liturgical movement in the West began in 19th century France. Step One was restoration, a process whereby rites were slowly purged of less suitable later accretions and returned to a purer and more authentic state. This restoration phase, a slow, step-by-step renewal, was based on and accompanied by a lengthy process of study, lively debates and the propagation of ideas through journals and Liturgical Weeks; the founding of new liturgical periodicals, centres and societies… – all leading over a period of several generations, to the reforms of Vatican II. And underlying this official restoration, providing its firm foundation, was a massive effort of scholarship in the gathering, collating, editing, and studying of manuscripts and other liturgical and theological sources. In short, a whole century of intensive scholarship and maturation ultimately paved the way for the liturgical reforms of the Roman Rite in Vatican II.[79]

The Roman Instruction, referring to SC 23 which speaks about the need of making investigation into the theological, historical and pastoral aspects in the process of restoration, revision and adaptation, notes: “Indeed, the liturgical reform desired by the Second Vatican Council was able to be carried out precisely because it was preceded, and successfully followed , by lengthy experimentation, intense historical studies, critical textual analyses, theological studies, biblical studies and pastoral studies, culminating in the work of individual and committee research, both at the local and international level. Without all this, the references, frameworks, and precise contents necessary for a valid endeavour would not have been obtained”.[80]

  1. 10.  Liturgical Language


The liturgical texts are meant to nourish the faith of the people and to lift their hearts and minds to God. This is possible only when the texts are effective to communicate the message intended by the texts. Hence a good translation is necessary. The non-verbal parts of the liturgy (symbols, gestures etc.) communicate through visual senses whereas the verbal parts (prayers, hymns etc.) are communicated through aural contact. While some gestures, symbols, words etc. are transculturally understood (Amen, Halleluia, Cross etc.), some others are culturally bound as far as an assembly is concerned. This problem can be solved in two ways: either by translating texts into local idioms or by composing new prayers.

The “Fifth Instruction” on the use of vernacular in the liturgy given to the Latin Church by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments[81] has, among others, the following principles to be followed in the translation of the liturgical texts:

  • The words used in the liturgy (as well as in the Bible) are not intended primarily to express the interior disposition of the faithful; rather, they express truths which transcend time and space (No.19).
  • While it is permissible to use the style of the vernacular, the translation must be integral without tarnishing the content, and without paraphrasing (No.20).
  • Translation should be ‘beautiful’, ‘dignified’ and with ‘doctrinal precision’ (No.25).
  • It is the task of the homily or catechesis to explain certain texts which may not be easily understood (No.29).

Anyway, the liturgical language is different from colloquial language or even literary language of the people. It has a genre of its own. It has to be created by use by every Church. The liturgical language is inspired by Bible, devotion, spirituality etc. It is essentially a symbolic language and is ordered to express the divine.[82]

CCEO 657/2 specifies that the right to approve the translation of the liturgical books is up to the competent authority for the approval of the liturgical books themselves, after having sent a report to the Apostolic see in the case of patriarchal, major archiepiscopal and metropolitan Churches sui iuris.


  1. 11.   A Practical Model for Syro-Malabar Approach towards Restoration and Revision


“In the Syro-malabar tradition the process of renewal had barely begun”, notes Robert Taft, “when Malayalm was introduced into the liturgy with the publication at Alwaye of the bilingual Missal of July 3, 1962. That changed everything. At once the Syro-Malabar liturgy was no longer the arcane preserve of small coterie of clerical professionals who knew Syriac, but the property of the whole people of God”.[83] History tells us that the Syro-Malabar Church tried to do in a generation what the Roman Church, with infinitely greater resources, took a century to accomplish.[84] Therefore the study of the Syro-Malabar liturgical reform is a very complex issue which needs to be dealt with a proper historical understanding of the liturgical renewal and the experience of the last 50 years or so. A remark of Taft is relevant in this context: “All argumentation the polemicists have engaged in to prove from history or theology that the Creed should or should not be in the Eucharistic Liturgy, that there should not be an Offertory Procession of the people, that proleptic language must be jettisoned, that Eucharist should be celebrated facing the people or facing East, ultimately proves nothing. All that the study of the past can show us is what has been customary, what has changed, and the reasons why”.[85]  What history shows us is not one ideal form, but variety even within the various stages of one and the same tradition.[86] The only ‘bad liturgy’, says Taft, is that which does not contribute to the sanctification of God’s people.[87]

Speaking about the principles to guide liturgical renewal, Taft writes: “God expects those in pastoral charge of their flocks to see to it that the liturgy carries out its salvific purpose as perfectly as possible. Sometimes, this will mean liturgical reform and change. How should that be done? Vatican II and the Roman Pontiffs have already provided the fundamental principles and guidelines. A dose of realism and common sense provides the rest”.[88]

Then Taft points out 9 principles that may be followed in this process. Though these principles were proposed in the Syro-Malabar Synod held in the Vatican in 1996, they were not taken up for discussion by the Syro-Malabar bishops at any stage. It may be useful to ponder over them in the present context. The principles are:

  1. Recovery of the authentic tradition where it has eroded


The process of recovering tradition is a dialectic of “traditio et progressio” mandated by Vatican II. Authentic tradition cannot be considered in a vacuum outside of history. One problem with every liturgy is the question of “hybridisms”. “Like it or not”, observes Taft, “the truth of the matter is that liturgies have ALWAYS influenced one another and shall continue to do so”.[89] The Coptic and West Syrian Rites influenced the Ethiopian Rite; the West Syrian and Chaldean Rites influenced Maronite Rite; the Rite of Jerusalem influenced the Byzantines, the West Syrians and the Armenians; and the Byzantines influenced just about everybody. Even the Armenian Orthodox Church (besides the Armenian Catholic Church) borrowed elements from Mesopotamia, Cappodocia, Jesrusalem, and even Latin usages including the bishop’s mitre and ring, ordination rites etc.[90] Therefore Taft says: “In my view, then, to consider the Syro-Malabar tradition as simply the East Syrian Rite without taking any account of its evolution during more than a millennium of its existence in Southwest India, flies in the face of history. That would be like ignoring 50% of the vocabulary of English because it entered the English language from Norman French after the Battle of Hastings in 1066”.[91]

Again, “No tradition can realistically pretend to ignore 497 years of its history. That is not to say that what happened in those years was always positive, nor is to say that some of it should not be cast into the rubbish. It does mean that it cannot be ignored, for it is a huge part of (your) history, and must be dealt with realistically”.[92]

Taft also notes that fidelity to tradition needs to be a certain extent selective. Otherwise, the Syro-Malabar Church will have to stop daily Eucharistic celebration; may have to consider removing the Institution Narrative from the Anaphora of Mar Addai and Mar Mari. Catholicos Mar Aba introduced some Greek anaphoras in 6th century. In 7th century Catholicos Iso Yahb III reduced the number of anaphoras to three. Many similar changes occurred in the Liturgy of the Hours. So what is the “authentic” East Syrian/Chaldean tradition?, asks Taft. He concludes: “A living Rite is not some abstract ‘authentic tradition’, but a concrete and ever-changing historical reality that has existed in several forms, some of them good, some of them less so. The ‘authentic tradition’ for today is not some self-evident absolute, but a matter of selective choice within the framework of the tradition, and within the legitimate limits set by the Church”.[93]

  1. Renewal where needed


While keeping fidelity to tradition, liturgical adaptation and renewal, via organic development, in accord with the nature and genius of the tradition, too is needed. This means that even tradition with small “t” must be respected within its own limits. At the same time, the renewed liturgy must be adapted to the needs and cultures of God’s people today.[94]

  1. Fidelity to the substantial unity of the Rite


The rule of “substantial unity” does not outlaw varying legitimate local customs. Nor can it take away from the local Ordinary his right and duty to resolve concrete pastoral issues in the light of the overriding law of the good of the faithful. Such issues are resolved by the common norms of Canon Law, which makes provision for customs, even customs “contra legem”.[95]

4. Seriousness of purpose and preparation


The rule of substantial unity demands that change in the liturgy be carried out only with the utmost care and seriousness, after much study and preparation.[96]

5. Ecumenism

Every Catholic tradition must be attentive, in any change, not to distance itself unnecessarily from other traditions, especially from the tradition of Sister Churches.[97]

6. Inculturation and 7. Implementation and ongoing Formation

Inculturation and implementation should[98] be accompanied by liturgical formation.

8. Pastoral realism


When there are divided opinions on matters not affecting any doctrine, then common sense dictates a compromise solution, and where that is not attainable, then freedom in non-essentials must be left to the local hierarchs. Of course compromise solutions are never the ideal. But to ignore the will of an overwhelming majority in an issue of pastoral practice not touching faith or morals would fly in the face of the Catholic practice and teaching.[99]

9. Concentration on the essentials

Liturgy is not some abstraction. It exists to contribute to the glory of God. Our glorification of God is his gift to us, not our gift to him. And this is our sanctification, which results from that “communio sanctorum” that is the Church. Therefore, concentrate on the essentials.[100]

To these we may add also an observation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. “There must be no innovation unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them”. And, “as far as possible, notable differences between the rites used in adjacent regions should be avoided” (SC 23). (Here ‘rites’ means ritual actions within the same Individual Church).



Tradition is not simply history. Instead, it is the memory of the past kept alive for the people of the present. Restoration is always accompanied by revision. They are the two sides of the same reality. Any revision, especially in the realm of liturgy, cannot ignore the need for inculturation. Since culture is dynamic and not static, adaptation and inculturation of the liturgy is a continuous process which every generation needs to address.

The Syro-Malabar Church which carries a long history of 2000 years and influences of the East Syrian and Western traditions coupled with Indian elements, should face the present challenge of restoration and revision adhering to the basic principles of liturgy and the pastoral demands of the present circumstances. Sacrosanctum Concilium and Orientalium Ecclesiarum of Vatican II, the specific magisterial documents given to the Syro-Malabar Church during the last thirty years or so, and the decisions of the Syro-Malabar Bishops’ Synod are sufficient guidelines to set off the process of restoration, revision and adaptation of the Syro-Malabar liturgy.


[1]Y.Congar, Tradition and Traditions. An Historical and Theological Essay, London 1966, p.xix
[2] Congar , Tradition, p.234
[3] Congar, Tradition, p.234
[4] Congar, Tradition, p.234
[5] Apostolic Letter Orientale Lumen (1995), No.5
[6] Orientale Lumen, No.8
[7] Orientale Lumen, No.1
[8] Roman Documents on the Syro-Malabar Liturgy, Kottayam 1999, p.141-142
[9] Congar, Tradition, p.24.
[10] J.Kallrangatt, Dimensions and Perspectives of Oriental Theology, in X.Koodapuzha (Ed.), Eastern Theological Reflections in India, Kottayam 1999, p.88-89
[11] Congar, Tradition, p.63
[12] Congar, Tradition,p.267
[13] Congar, Tradition, p.297
[14] Congar, p.10. Rules concerning the wearing of the veil or the silence of women in 1 Cor 11:5 ff; 14:34 are examples of ‘Rules of conduct’.
[15] Congar, Tradition, p.10-11
[16] Congar, Tradition, p.22
[17] Congar, Tradition, p.22
[18]  J.Porunnedom (ed.),Acts of the Synod of Bishops of the Syro-Malabar Church held in the Vatican from 8 to 16 January 1996, Kochi 1996, p.129
[19] Robert Taft, The Liturgical Year: Studies, Prospects, Reflections, in Worship 55(1981) 2-3
[20] Congregation for the Eastern Churches, Instruction for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions of the Code of Canons of the eastern Churches, Rome 1996, No.11
[21] Congar, Tradition, p.64
[22] Congar, Tradition, p.253
[23] Congar, Tradition,  p.254
[24] Congar, Tradition, p.321
[25] Congar, Tradition,  p.105
[26] Instruction 1996, No.17
[27] Congar, Tradition,  p.427
[28] Congar, Tradition,  p.354
[29] Congar, Tradition,  p.434
[30] Congar, Tradition,  p.428
[31] Quoted  in Congar, Tradition,  p.434
[32] Encyclical Ad Coeli Reginam (1954), AAS 46 (1954) 631
[33] Congar, Tradition, p.429-430
[34] Instruction 1996, No.18
[35] Instruction 1996, No. 109
[36] The Spirit of the Liturgy, San Francisco 2000,  p.166
[37] The Spirit of the Liturgy, p.167
[38] A.Kavanagh, Elements of Rite, Monnesota 1990, Reprint, Bangalore 1996, p.35
[39] Congar, Tradition, p.428-429
[40] J.Ratzinger – V.Messori, The Ratzinger Report, San Francisco 1985, p.37-38
[41] The Ratzinger Report,p.38, Footnote No.5
[42] The Ratzinger Report, p.132
[43] The Ratzinger Report, p.132
[44] Congar, Tradition, p.267
[45] Congar, Tradition, p.452
[46] J.Ratzinger, Feast of Faith, San Francisco 1986, p.61
[47] Instruction 1996, No.12
[48] Instruction 1996, No.12
[49] Instruction 1996, No.20
[50] The Spirit of the Liturgy, p.165
[51] Roman Documents on the Syro-Malabar Liturgy, Kottayam 1999, p.65
[52] Roman Documents, p.71
[53] Roman Documents, p.287
[54] Roman Documents, p.287
[55] How Liturgies Grow: The Evolution of the Byzantine Divine Liturgy, OCP 43 (1977) 360. (These growths, according to Taft, occurred mainly in three places: Enarxis, Transfer of Gifts and Communion and Dismissal Service)
[56] Roman Documents, p.48
[57] Roman Documents, p.48
[58] Roman Documents, p.48
[59] Roman Documents, p.114
[60] Roman Documents, p.132
[61] Roman Documents, p.132
[62] Roman Documents, p.141
[63] Roman Documents, p.57
[64] Feast of Faith, p.80
[65] Feast of Faith, p.81
[66] The Spirit of the Liturgy, p.164
[67]  The Spirit of the Liturgy, p.171
[68] The Ratzinger Report, p. 127
[69] The Spirit of the Liturgy, p.173
[70] The Ratzinger Report, p.126
[71] The Ratzinger Report, p.120
[72] The Ratzinger report, p.121
[73] Feast of Faith,p.71
[74] Instruction 1996, No.28
[75] Instruction 1996, No.112
[76] Roman documents, p.143
[77] Acts of the Synod, p.130
[78] A. Chupungco, History of the Liturgy Until the Fourth Century, in Handbook for Liturgical Studies I,Collegeville 1997, p.106
[79] Acts of the Synod, p.125
[80] Instruction 1996, No.19
[81] Liturgiam Authenticam (2001)
[82] Anscar Chupungco, The Translation of Liturgical Texts, in Handbook for Liturgical Studies I, p.395 – 396
[83] Acts of the Synod, p.126
[84] Acts of  the Synod, p.127
[85] Acts of the Synod, p.129
[86] Acts of the Synod, p.130
[87] Acts of the Synod, p.130
[88] Acts of the Synod, p.130
[89] Acts of the Synod, p.131
[90] Acts of the Synod, p.131
[91] Acts of the Synod, p.132
[92] Acts of the Synod, p.132
[93] Acts of the Synod, p.132
[94] Acts of the Synod , p.133
[95] Acts of the Synod, p.133
[96] Acts of the Synod, p.133
[97] Acts of the Synod, p.134
[98] Acts of the Synod, p.135
[99] Acts of the Synod, p.136
[100] Acts of the Synod, p.136

Principles of Liturgical Theology and the Indian Context

Principles of Liturgical Theology and the Indian Context

Antony Nariculam


Today there is no difference of opinion regarding pluralism in theology and theological methodology. But, pluralism that claims that all points of view are of equal value ends up in relativism. All opinions, as a matter of fact, have a common reference point. When they are cut off from this common reality, it amounts to relativism. Such relativism destroys the very meaning of pluralism.

Pluralism is not a threat to unity rather it enhances unity. According to Vatican II decree on the Catholic Eastern Churches the variety of the Individual Churches in the universal Church ‘so far from diminishing its unity, rather serves to emphasize it’ (0E 2). The obstacle to unity is the attitude of exclusivity. However, for the sake of unity in diversity, the Church cannot be indifferent to doctrinal responsibility. Therefore, theological pluralism should be faithful to the Revelation, the sensus fidelium and the Magisterium. Legitimate pluralism in theology is essential for the Church to be meaningful to all peoples of all cultures. This is all the more needed in the theology of the liturgy since worship is an expression of faith in signs and symbols marked by cultures.

The theology of the liturgy is relatively a new subject in the study of liturgiology. Consequently, from ‘how’ to do liturgy (rites, rubrics etc.) liturgiology turned to ‘what’ is done in worship. In other words, from the category of a ‘practical’ subject, it came under the theological discipline.

The early scholars of the Liturgical Movement (Dom Gueranger, Dom Lambert Beauduin, Romano Guardini and later Odo Casel, Dom Cyprian Vagaggini, Josef Jungmann etc.) dedicated more of their efforts to the history of the liturgy though they did not fail to reflect on the theology of the liturgy too (especially Odo Casel and Cyprian Vagaggini). In the recent past, there has been greater interest among the scholars to understand more deeply what liturgy is from a theological perspective. So much so, the 17th Congress of Societas Liturgica, an International Society for Liturgical Study and Renewal, held in 1999, took up the theme “Liturgical Theology” for its deliberations.

This paper has two parts. This article is an attempt to spell out some general principles in liturgical theology which are fundamental to contextualizing or inculturating the liturgy and to applying them to the inter-ritual ecclesial situation in India. When we look at theology from an ‘Eastern’ perspective, the rupture between theological study and liturgical experience is an unhealthy symptom. The tenets of Indian religious ethos go more in line with the Eastern approach towards theologizing and hence a deeper understanding of Eastern and Western theology and liturgy can be of immense help to enrich the three Individual Churches in India.


  1. Theology and Theological Teaching


The Easterners generally make a distinction between “theology” and “theological teaching”. Theology is an existential experience of God whereas the theological teaching is scientific exposition of the experiential knowledge of God. For them the eternal bliss in heaven is not the ‘vision’ of God, but ‘deification’ (divinization), the union with the Trinity. Theology in the East, therefore, is more an outcome of a lived experience of God than an academic exercise.

In theology, the East prefers the apophatic way. Since God is a transcendental reality, human beings are incapable of fully comprehending Him. He is experienced in a personal relationship. The ultimate consequence of this relationship is the ‘mystical union’ (deification) with Him.

The Eastern theology makes a distinction between the “essence” and the “energy” in God. Human beings do not know the essence of God. The energy is the “acts” or the “grace” of God. In the mystical union with God we come into communion with God in His “energy” (grace) and not in His “essence”. But, this can be realized only through a

‘ sacramental fellowship’ with our brothers and sisters. Thus theology is not dogmatic assertions imposed on the people of God, rather it is truth gradually revealed in the Church through a personal encounter with the members of the Church. Therefore, a theologian is the one who has a genuine experience of God and who helps the people of God to live their faith without falling into errors. In the Eastern understanding a theologian is a ‘person of the Church’ (an ecclesial person) who shares the faith of the Church and the people of God. Faith is to be lived not only IN the Church, but also WITH the Church. The liturgy is the place where one can have this sacramental fellowship since every celebration is a communitarian experience in God, through Christ and in the unity of the Holy Spirit.

  1. Theology of Liturgy and Liturgical Theology


Among the liturgiologists there are some who make a distinction between the “Theology of the Liturgy” and “Liturgical Theology” (A.Schmemann, A.Kavanagh). For them the liturgical theology is theologia prima and the theology of the liturgy is theologia secunda. The liturgical theology is what happens in the celebration – in the divine-human act. The adage lex orandi lex credendi articulates well what is understood by liturgical theology.

The theology of the liturgy is liturgiology under various theological dimensions whereas the liturgical theology derives from the liturgical celebration which is a lived experience of faith. The theological disciplines (Trinity, Christology, ecclesiology, catechetics etc.), according to  this understanding, are explanations of a ‘foundational reality’, namely the celebration of the mysteries of God. A remark of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of Vatican II is of relevance in this context. After reminding us that the study of the sacred liturgy is to be ranked among the compulsory and major courses in the seminaries, the document notes: ‘Those who teach other subjects, especially dogmatic theology, Sacred Scripture, spiritual and pastoral theology, should expound the mystery of Christ and the history of salvation in a manner that will clearly set forth the connection between their subjects and the liturgy’ (SC 16).

In the liturgical theology there are two foundational principles. First of all, the liturgical community has a fundamental role in ‘shaping’ the liturgy. As a result, the ecclesial dimension (The Church as a worshipping community) is of vital importance. Secondly, the liturgical theology is based on historical liturgical rites.[1] Therefore, the liturgy has to be understood as something “given” to us. As St. Paul notes regarding the institution of the Eucharist, “I have received from the Lord what I also handed on to you” (1 Cor 11:23). In fact, the liturgy is not “made” by us, rather it “takes place”. The liturgy is not simply ‘produced’ by the talented celebrants. It is not something like ‘do-it-yourself’ performance. Instead it should manifest the holiness and action of God and it should be understood and experienced as a moment of salvation. Hence the ‘sacred’ liturgy must not be sacrificed for a ‘secular’ liturgy wherein the ‘sense of the sacred’ is obfuscated.

Some speak about ‘pre-Vatican’ and ‘post-Vatican’ liturgy. For them ‘pre-Vatican’ means rigidity and rubricism. The ‘post-Vatican’ liturgy, on the other hand, is described as the liturgy ‘fashioned by the concrete assembly’ in a particular place and time. For them the Missal is only a ‘guide book’. Consequently, a ‘successful’ and ‘participated’ celebration is understood in terms of ‘creativity’ and ‘spontaneity’ of the celebrants and the assembly.

Odo Casel is considered to be the one who contributed to a great extent in the 20th century to deepen the theological dimension of the liturgy. His main point is that of Mysteriengegenwart, that is, the presence in the mystery (in the sacrament) of the saving acts themselves. He found this theology beautifully expressed in the Prayer over the Gifts on the ninth Sunday after Pentecost. It runs as follows: ‘Lord, make us worthy to celebrate these mysteries. Each time we offer this memorial sacrifice the work of our redemption is accomplished’. The liturgical constitution refers to this liturgical dimension when it says that in the liturgy, especially in the divine sacrifice of the Eucharist, ‘the work of our redemption is accomplished’ (SC 2).

The Syro-Malabar Qurbana too has similar prayers. Before the Institution Narrative the celebrant prays: ‘Christ left for us the memorial of our salvation, this redemptive mystery which we now offer before you’.[2] On another occasion the celebrant prays: ‘Lord our God, your beloved Son has given us these sacred mysteries for the redemption of human race’.[3] In the epicletic prayer we have the following: ‘May this Qurbana grant remission of our debts, forgiveness of our sins, great hope in the resurrection of the dead and new life in your heavenly kingdom with all those who have found favour in your presence’.[4]


3.   Rite and Celebration


The era of equating liturgy with rubrics is gone. However, since the liturgy continues to be celebrated using ‘texts’ and ‘rites’ the rubrics are not to be ignored in the celebrations. Here we need to make a distinction between the liturgy prescribed by the texts and the liturgy celebrated by the community. This distinction is made clear by the Roman Congregation for the Oriental Churches in a document given to the Syro-Malabar Church: ‘The clear, irreducible distinction between the “Rite” and the “Celebration” is to be maintained and rightly understood. By “Rite” is meant that “form of celebration” which is drawn up by the Church as such and which is to be found solely in the official liturgical books… By “Celebration” is meant that “form of celebration” which is carried out by the concrete assembly.[5] This does not mean that the celebrating community can alter the texts as it likes since any liturgical assembly is ‘hierarchical’ by definition. Rite and celebration are in fact mutually inclusive like a musical score and its performance. Therefore, it is essential that we distinguish between the theology of the liturgy and the “art” of celebration. The study of the history of the liturgy, comparative liturgy, biblical and patristic sources etc. will bring out some of the finest examples of euchological and anaphoral traditions which form part of the restored texts. But the aim of these texts should be to help people  celebrate liturgy meaningfully, experientially and fruitfully. The question of inclusive language, the uses of ‘vengeful’ psalms in the Divine Office etc are issues to be discussed against this background. To be meaningful and experiential, the texts need to be adapted. As Anscar Chupungco says, the refusal to adapt – a reluctance to adapt the message of the text to the intended audience with its existing culture – “amounts to a denial of the universality of salvation”.[6]Even St.Benedict, who loved the recitation of the psalms in the Divine Office said that if anyone found the distribution of the psalms unsatisfactory, they should arrange whatever they judged better.[7]

In this context, an observation made by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger about the restoration of the Liturgical texts is pertinent. He objects to ‘romantic archaeologism of certain professors of liturgy who would throw out everything done after Gregory the Great as being an excrescence and a sign of decadence. For them, the criterion of liturgical renewal was not “What ought to be done today?” but “What was it like then?” They forget that the Church is living and that her liturgy cannot be frozen at a stage reached in the city of Rome prior to the onset of the Middle Ages’.[8] In the words of Pope John Paul II, tradition is never “pure nostalgia for things or forms past, nor regret for lost privileges, but the living memory of the Bride, kept eternally youthful by the Love that dwells within her”.[9] In order to keep this ‘living memory’ and ‘eternal youthfulness’ the art of celebration has to play an important role. This is an area neglected to a certain extent in the post-Vatican liturgical renewal. In fact, Vatican II had given some norms to realize this goal when it referred to adapting the liturgy to the temperament and traditions of peoples.[10] In this ‘celebratory art’ emphasis is given to the assembly because they are ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation and a redeemed people’ (I Pt 2:9) called to come together to break the Word and the Bread and to thank and praise the Lord.

4.    The Ecclesial Dimension of the Liturgy


The ecclesial dimension – the relationship between the Church and the liturgy – is of particular consideration since the Church is best expressed in her liturgy. “Liturgical prayer certainly conforms and perfectly expresses the authentic deposit of faith… The Church, therefore, understands herself in depth precisely starting from her nature as a celebrating assembly. In this sense, if the Church makes the Eucharist, the Eucharist makes the Church…”.[11] Vatican II documents have underscored the profound relationship between the Church and the Eucharist.[12] The Ignatian saying ‘Eucharist makes the Church and the Church makes the Eucharist’ clearly expresses this relationship. The Encyclical Letter “Ecclesia de Eucharistia” of Pope John Paul II (2003) amply testifies to this understanding of the Church and the Eucharist (nos.21 – 25).

The purpose of liturgy, especially the Eucharist, is to express the Church as the unity of that Body whose head is Christ. The Eucharist is not merely ‘one among several’ sacraments. It is the ‘summit and source’ (SC 10). Therefore, any liturgical theology not having the Eucharist as the foundation of its whole structure is basically defective.[13]

The Eastern Churches have maintained in a special way the primacy of the liturgy as the ‘summit and source’ of their ecclesial life. They consider liturgy as the place where catechesis is imparted, the Scripture is proclaimed and explained and the diakonia finds its rightful place. In other words, the whole life of the Church is summarized in the liturgy.[14] This fact is evident in many Eastern Churches that were oppressed by hostile regimes. In many cases, they survived and even strengthened themselves through liturgical celebrations that sustained their faith.

The liturgy is commemorating and celebrating the salvific acts of God accomplished in the history of salvation. These acts are ‘experienced’ by us in the liturgy. This takes place in the Church, the sacrament of Christ. The liturgy (lex orandi) is the expression of what the Church believes (lex credendi). As SC notes, since the time of the apostles the Church has never failed to come together to celebrate the paschal mystery, celebrating the Eucharist and giving thanks to God in Jesus Christ through the power of the holy Spirit (SC 6). Hence, liturgy is the summit and source toward which the activity of the Church is directed and it is also the fount from which all her power flows (SC 10). Precisely for this reason Vatican II insists on the communitarian dimension of the liturgy (SC 26 – 32, 41 – 42). In fact, the loss of sense of fellowship in prayer constitutes a major reason for the lack of meaningful liturgy. The ‘Churchless’ Christian faith is a tragic consequence of the inadequate understanding of the Church as a community. According to A.Schmemann, without liturgy our understanding of the Church’s faith and doctrine is bound to be incomplete.[15]

5.   Liturgy and Active Participation


One of the major contributions of the liturgical constitution of Vatican II is the expression participatio actuosa, the active participation of the people in the liturgy. Unfortunately, the phrase ‘active participation’ is understood by many merely as external activities in the liturgy, such as responses of the people, singing by the choir, reading by the lectors etc. On the whole, attention is given to the people. But when we search for the original meaning of actio in the liturgy, it means ‘Eucharistic Prayer’ or ‘Anaphora’.[16] The real action in the liturgy is of God Himself. This is the ‘newness’ and the ‘distinctiveness’ of Christian liturgy. The bread and wine are ‘transubstantiated’ into the Body and Blood of Christ by actio divina. Then what is the role of the minister and the people in this actio? They ‘participate’ in the action of God. This has been made possible for us through the Incarnation of Christ. The ultimate aim of this participation is ‘deification’ – communion with God. In order to achieve this aim one has to ‘get transformed’ through the daily activities of life (lex vivendi).

The distinction between ‘participation in the liturgy’ and ‘liturgical participation’ will make this point clearer. The ‘presence’ of the people in the liturgy by means of prayers, hymns, offertory procession, dance etc. may be called, in a sense, ‘participation in the liturgy’. The ‘liturgical participation’ does not simply mean ‘being present’ in the celebration. It is getting transformed by being ‘united to the Lord’ (I Cor 6:17) and also to our brothers and sisters in order to transform the world into Christ – to be ‘one body and one Spirit’ in Him.[17]

Pope John Paul II has made a practical application of the meaning of active participation in the Eucharistic celebration in his Apostolic Exhortation “Mane Nobiscum Domine”. After referring to I Cor 11:17-22, 27-34 where St. Paul vigorously reaffirms the impropriety of a Eucharistic celebration lacking charity expressed by practical sharing with the poor, the Pope writes: ‘Can we not make this Year of the Eucharist an occasion for diocesan and parish communities to commit themselves in a particular way to responding with fraternal solicitude to one of the many forms of poverty present in our world? I think, for example, of the tragedy of hunger which plagues hundreds of millions of human beings, the diseases that afflict the developing countries, the loneliness of the elderly, the hardships faced by the unemployed, the struggles of immigrants… By our mutual love and, in particular, by our concern for those in need we will be recognized as true followers of Christ. This will be the criterion by which the authenticity of our Eucharistic celebration is judged’ (No.28. Emphasis added).

  1. 6.      Music in the Liturgy and the Liturgical Music


Vatican II describes the musical tradition of the Church as a treasure of inestimable value. The reason for this preeminence is that it forms a necessary or integral part of the solemn liturgy (SC 112). Therefore the chants and sacred music in the liturgical worship should be conducive to the lofty end for which they are intended. It must exclude all profanity not only in itself, but also in the manner in which it is executed.

It is not enough that there be ‘music in the liturgy’. What we need is ‘liturgical music’ in which the sacred music and the liturgy are inseparably bound together. Today, in many cases, the liturgical music is not lex orandi. Rather, it tries to become an ‘artistic piece’ or an ‘ornamentation’ to the sacred worship. It turns out to be an end in itself without leading the community to the ultimate aim of the liturgical celebration. Therefore, we need to rediscover what St. Augustine meant when he said, ‘those who sing, pray twice’.

In any discussion on the liturgical music, the Old Testament psalms could be a starting point. They display the whole range of human experiences which became songs of praise  before God. They were unfolding a dialogue with God expressing the hope, sorrow, joy, fear, gratitude etc. of the people of God. The early Church made these songs her own using them in the Christian liturgy.

The recent biblical and liturgical studies have brought to the forefront the “Christ of the Psalms”. Along with the christologically interpreted psalms, the early Christians took up also the manner of singing of the synagogue. The Benedictus and Magnificat were thus two christologically focused Christian hymns. For Christians Christ is the true David of the psalms. With this new key, the Christians entered into the prayer of Israel. The Holy Spirit who inspired David to sing and to pray, enables us too to pray in the psalms through Christ, in the Holy Spirit, to the Father.[18] In this perspective, the Church music is a gift of the Holy Spirit and it should be dealt with accordingly.

In the course of history two elements began to influence the sacred music. One is a preoccupation to allow greater freedom to the artistic aspect of music. Some artists hold that the artistic inspiration is free and it is wrong to impose on it laws and standard extraneous to art, whether they are religious or moral, since such rules hurt the dignity of art and the inspiration of the artist. Arguments of this kind, notes Pope Pius XII, violates the supreme and final goal of the sacred music, namely the devotion and better disposition of the faithful for the reception of the fruits of grace belonging to the celebration of the most holy mysteries of salvation.[19] The other influence is the secular music making inroads into the sacred music. The freedom of the artist and the influence of the sacred music are not negative elements in themselves. But, an undue preoccupation with the artistic freedom and an indiscriminate use of secular music are counterproductive. Consequently, at times the sacred music turns out to be parodies of secular music. In this context it is worth mentioning that some Eastern Churches continue to keep up the vocal music in the liturgy without the instruments in order to safeguard the sanctity of the sacred music.

As far as the Individual Churches in India are concerned, besides the general principles of the sacred music, they need to pay attention to SC 119 that speaks about the ‘native genius’ of musical tradition. This is valid for both vocal music and the musical instruments. Here again what is more important is that the music and the instruments be in accordance with the ‘dignity of the house of God’ and that they contribute to the ‘edification of the faithful’ (SC 120).

  1. 7.      The Liturgical Prayer and the Prayers of Petition


Today most of the prayers, in the liturgy or otherwise, are ‘requests’ made to God for forgiveness, mercy, material or spiritual needs etc and hence the response to the ‘Prayer of the Faithful’ is invariably “Lord, hear our prayer” or something similar. This type of prayers of petition are generally centred around human needs rather than on God who is praised and thanked for His saving presence in our midst. It is true that in the Bible and in the Christian tradition there are many examples of prayers of petition. But a close examination of the biblical petitions will reveal that they are expressions of faith and trust in the Lord. A clear example is Mk 11:24: ‘So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours’.

In the Syro-Malabar holy Mass the ‘Prayer of the Faithful’ is called Karozutha, a Syriac word which means ‘proclamation’. Accordingly, the prayers are to proclaim the magnificent presence and deeds of God. The response of these prayers is always “Lord, have mercy on us”. Here below are a couple of examples:

Deacon: Our saviour and guardian, and the provider of all things, we pray to you.

People:   Lord, have mercy on us.

Deacon: For peace, unity and stability of the whole world and all the Churches, we pray to you.

 People:  Lord, have mercy on us.

Deacon: For our country, for all other countries, and for the faithful everywhere, we pray to you.

People:  Lord, have mercy on us.[20]

Asking someone for something normally implies two suppositions: informing someone about something that, that person does not know and asking the person to act on the basis of the information. It also implies that if that person does not act after being informed, it is because he/she does not wish to do it. Applied to God these two suppositions are out of place. At the same time, we know that the anthropological dimension of requesting God in words and gestures is a natural human need. But our concern here is to look at it from a theological perspective.

St.Mathew says that words are not very important in prayers since ‘your Father knows what you need before  you ask him’ (Mt 6:7-8). But the Christian tradition of prayer is often one of words. St. Augustine said that the words are necessary in prayer, but not as a means through which we hope to inform or convince God. In the words of St. Thomas Aquinas, we should pray not to inform God of our needs or desires, but to make ourselves aware that in everything we need to have recourse to divine help. Prayer is offered to God in order to arouse trust in us. Therefore, the primary aim in prayer is not to make God ‘turn towards us’, but to make us ‘turn towards God’.[21]

From an Eastern perspective, the human desire in prayer should be aimed at ‘deification’. Prayer is basically a praise and thanksgiving to God. Praising God means ‘to know’ him, in the biblical sense, that is, to be in communion with him. But this is not simply a psychological or emotional feeling of the devotee or an eschatological hope one looks for. Rather, it is a desire on his/her part to be transformed to commit himself/herself for fellow brothers and sisters here and now.


  1. 8.       The Liturgical Inculturation and the Inter-Ritual Situation in India


The Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches defines a Rite as ‘the liturgical, theological, spiritual and disciplinary patrimony, culture and circumstances of history of a distinct people, by which its own manner of living the faith is manifested in each Church sui iuris’ (CCEO 28. Emphasis added). As the canon clearly states, the culture and the circumstances of a given people are determining factors in the evolution of a Rite.

None of the three Individual Churches in India has an ‘indigenous’ liturgy since all of them originated outside the Indian soil. The existing liturgies are Western (Latin), East Syrian and Antiochian in the Latin, Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara Rites respectively.

Ary R.Crollius defines inculturation as ‘the integration of the Christian experience of the local Church into the culture of its people, in such a way that this experience not only expresses itself in the elements of this culture, but becomes a force that animates and innovates this culture so as to create a new unity and communion, not only in the culture in question but also as an enrichment of the Church universal’.[22]

The element of inter-culturation mentioned in the above definition is an important aspect to be taken note of in the process of inculturation in the liturgy, at least in the case of the Oriental Churches in India. One of the reasons why there are many Eastern Catholic Churches in the universal Communion is the cultural contacts they had with the soil in which they were implanted. Since the East Syrian and Antiochian traditions belong to the ‘oriental region’, it is natural that they have common grounds with the Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara traditions. Besides, there are specific local elements which were absorbed by the St.Thomas Christians of Malabar before the arrival of the Portuguese missionaries. The following are some of the indigenous elements found in their traditions.[23] Most of them are external to the sacraments, though there are some which became part of the sacraments and the sacramentals. Their church architecture was in the model of Hindu temples. The paintings and sculptures of the churches depicted the peacock, the lotus flower and the tiger that were common symbols among the non-Christians. Various local customs were adapted in connection with the birth of a child. Jatakaranam, Namakaranam, wearing of poonul (sacred thread), the ceremony of Ariyiliruthu are some among them.  Ritual bath, funeral rites, indigenous form of church administration etc. were other inculturated elements. Some superstitious practices like the horoscope, black magic etc. too had crept into their custom which were later corrected by the synod of Diamper in 1599. The anointing of the sick was administered by the lay people with the soil brought from the tomb of St.Thomas at Mylapore. The rite of marriage had taken the local elements of Thali and Manthrakody. According to the testimony of a Franciscan missionary, the Franciscans corrected the ‘abominable error’ of consecrating the sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ in cakes of rice and wine of palms! There was the custom of bringing the Eucharistic bread to the altar covered in lotus leaves. The ‘experiment with inculturation’ at Kurisumala Ashram is a good example of liturgical inculturation in the Syro-Malankara Rite.

The Latin Church in India, on the other hand, came to the field of inculturation in a big way only after Vatican II though there had been sporadic attempts in various parts of India by Western missionaries. One of the pioneers in this field was definitely Roberto de Nobili (1577-1656). The history of this process however tells us that it has not progressed as was expected in the “Church in India Seminar” held in 1969.

It is very clear that the history of the Oriental Churches in general bear ample proof to the practice of inculturation. “In the liturgy of the Eastern Churches”, notes the Instruction of 1996, “the experience of the incarnation of the faith is realized in the culture of the peoples, so that such culture is both the inspiration and fruit of faith, and especially of the liturgy”.[24]

In his Apostolic Letter Orientale Lumen (1995) Pope John Paul II writes: ‘From the beginning the Christian East has proved to contain a wealth of forms capable of assuming the characteristic features of each individual culture, with supreme respect for each  particular community… One of the great values embodied  particularly in the Christian East is the attention given to peoples and their cultures… At a time when it is increasingly recognized that the right of every people to express themselves according to their own heritage of culture and thought is fundamental, the experience of the Individual Churches of the East is offered to us as an authoritative example of successful inculturation’ (Nos. 5,7). The process of inculturation in the East, remarked the Congregation for the Catholic Education, sometimes reached such a point that their cultural life was ‘identified with the manner of Christian living’.[25]

The three Individual Churches in India should strive to go forward with the process of inculturation of their liturgies initiated by the St. Thomas Christians long before the arrival of the Western missionaries and intensified by the spirit of Vatican II.

  1. 9.        The Liturgical Theology as Doxological, Typological and Symbolic


The Indian liturgical theology should be more of apophatic nature than of cataphatic. By its very nature the apophatic method requires a language of doxology, typology and symbolism. The Indian religious ethos naturally tends to this method. As against the rationalistic method of definitions, the Eastern theology prefers to employ the method of symbols. The problem with definitions is that it puts ‘boundaries’ to the defined reality. It puts limits to the unlimited. In order to avoid this risk the Eastern theology, especially the Syriac East avoids rigid systematization and uses typology and symbolism. In this approach the attempt is to bring out the ‘concealed’ mystery to the level of experience. As a matter of fact, images and symbols are basic to human experience and they are prior to philosophical categorization.

St.Ephrem’s typological exegesis is becoming more and more attractive to the scholars since it appeals to the heart rather than to the head. His use of poetry is similar to the Indian manthras, that is, repetitive recitation. For the Eastern theologians, who consider the liturgy as a basic source of theology, the doxological nature of theology is of vital importance. Liturgical theology is also mystical since it aims at union with God, and pastoral since it is addressed to the believers rather that to the scholars or intellectuals. Therefore, the doxological, typological, symbolic, mystical and pastoral nature of the liturgy is very important in developing a liturgical theology in the Indian context.

  1. 10.    The Liturgical Theology and the East-West Complementarity


The East and the West have many things to borrow from each other. In fact, some of the borrowings have enriched the liturgies of the East and the West. For example, the Eastern emphasis on pneumatology with its liturgical epiclesis has been organically absorbed by the revised Eucharistic Prayers of the Latin Missal and it has now become a constitutive element of the anaphoras. Hence the role of the minister acting in persona Christi is being seen in a new light. The pneumatological emphasis has helped rediscover the liturgical celebration as a ‘new Pentecost’ as the Eastern Christians generally like to qualify it.

Two other examples, dear to the East, are the formulae used in Baptism (“you are baptized”) and Penance (“your sins are absolved”) instead of “I baptize you” and “I absolve you” respectively. The following commentary of St.John Chrysostom on this subject is very enlightening: ‘When the priest says over the candidate “so and so is baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”, he plunges that person’s head into the water three times and draws it up again, allowing that one through this mysterious rite is to receive the visit of the Holy Spirit. For it is not the priest alone who touches the head, but also the right hand of Christ. This stands out even in the words of the celebrant. He does not say “I baptize so and so”, but “so and so is baptized”, indicating that he is only lending his hand, because he was ordained for this purpose by the Spirit. The One who accomplishes all is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, the indivisible Trinity”. This commentary allows a better distinction between the liturgical mysteries and the author of grace and accords to each their due role.

The central position given to the proclamation of the Word of God in the Latin Church after Vatican II and the well-prepared lectionaries have influenced the Eastern Churches in articulating the theological and liturgical value of homilies.

The understanding of participatio actuosa in the liturgy is another example. While the West sought to foster active involvement of the people giving greater emphasis to the verbal and musical participation, the East tended more towards a plethora of signs, symbols and gestures. This again is an area where the Eastern and Western traditions can enrich each other by adapting suitable elements.

The Churches in India can adopt into their liturgical life many elements from the Indian religious culture that is a common heritage of all the three Individual Rites. Some of them are silence, the sense of the sacred, apophatism, music and symbolism.


  1. 11.    Liturgy and ‘Eschatology’ in the Indian Context


“Liturgy is for man and not man for liturgy”, said Pope Paul VI. The Christians are called upon to establish God’s kingdom in this world. The liturgy should not be, therefore, merely a ‘celestial’ celebration in the sanctuary. It is not simply a celebration of God’s mysteries, but it is also a celebration of our lives. Hence the liturgy should not be reduced to a ritualism of an imaginary heaven.

The Church has the image of a pilgrim journeying to the kingdom of God. But, the kingdom of God ‘to come’ must not be disconnected from the kingdom of God in this world. Our participation in the liturgy should help us to respond to injustice, oppression, inequality etc. and to establish God’s kingdom here and now. In this way, social justice becomes a constitutive element of the liturgy. Only then does the lex orandi become lex vivendi.


Slavery disappeared from the so-called ‘Christian’ countries only after eighteen centuries of Christian presence! The influence of the Good News should provoke Christians to bring about justice in the socio-economic life of the people. Karl Barth said that a theologian should have the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. The breaking of the Word and the Bread should be an occasion to break us for others, especially the weak and the needy. We in India have a lot to do to realize this goal.



The liturgists and liturgiologists should nurture and safeguard the liturgy just as a gardener takes care of the plants of the garden. They should not take the place of a mechanic or technician who creates, dismantles and recreates. An objectively correct perspective in the liturgy and its methodology would be, striking a balance between a certain ‘historical interest’ and ‘pastoral pragmatism’. An excess of either of them will be detrimental to the liturgical celebration and its theology. The first generation of the liturgiologists were mostly historians with an archaeological enthusiasm. They should not be allowed to say the last word in the reform of the liturgy. It is the duty of the pastors to take decisions in the liturgy on the basis of sound principles and the historical data. ‘Pastoral’, however, does not simply mean ‘anthropocentric’. It also means historical, solemn, beautiful, rational and sacred. Liturgy is always ‘God-centred’, though celebrated by human beings. Worship is not a time of mere human activity, but a time when God acts on our lives. Our participation in the mysteries of God make us effective partners in continuing the evangelizing mission of the Church establishing God’s kingdom in this world.

[1] D.W.Fagerberg, What is Liturgical Theology: A Study in Methodology, Minnesota 1992, p.9-13

[2] Fourth G’hanta prayer of the First Anaphora.

[3] First Oration for Sundays and Ordinary Feast Days.

[4] Epiclesis of the First Anaphora.

[5] Final Judgement of the S.Congregation for the Oriental Churches Concerning the Order of the Syro-Malabar Qurbana (1985) No.16.

[6] Handbook for Liturgical Studies, Vol.1, Introduction to the Liturgy, Collegeville 1997, p.382.

[7] Cf. Delores Dufner, With What Language will We Pray? , Worship, March 2006, p.158.

[8] The Ratzinger Report, San Francisco 1985, p.131.

[9] Apostolic Letter, Orientale Lumen (1995), No.8

[10] SC 37-40. Cf.also SC 119 on the indigenous music, SC 34 on the need of making the rites within the people’s power of comprehension etc.

[11] Congregation for the Eastern Churches, Instruction for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, Rome 1966, No.32.

[12] Cf. UR 15, LG 26, CD 11, SC 10.

[13] A.Schmemann, Introduction to Liturgical Theology, New York 1986,p.24

[14] Congregation for the Oriental Churches, Instruction , No.15

[15] Introduction to Liturgical Theology, p.19.

[16] Joseph Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, San Francisco 2000, p.172.

[17] Third Eucharistic Prayer of the Roman Missal

[18] J.Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, p.140

[19] Encyclical Musicae Sacrae (1955), Nos.22-23

[20] The Order of the Syro-Malabar Qurbana, Kochi 2005, p.35

[21] Andres Torres Queiruga, Beyond Prayer of Petitions, Concilium, 2006/1, p.70

[22] Edward .J.Kilmartin, Christian Liturgy: Theology and Practice, Kansas City 1988, p.42

[23] Antony Nariculam, Evangelization and Inculturation: Eastern Churches’ Perspective, Ishvani Documentation and Mission Digest, January-April 2000, p.96-103 for some aspects of liturgical inculturation among the St.Thomas Christians of India.

[24] Congregation for the Eastern Churches, Instruction, No.15

[25] Circular Letter concerning the Studies of the Oriental Churches, L’Osservatore Romano, 6 April 1987, p.12.




Dr Antony Nariculam

 Antony Nariculam


The universality of the Church makes it imperative that the Church and her liturgy are inculturated. God became man to save humankind. This saving mystery in Christ must be presented to the whole world in a manner that is understood by the people of a given place.

There was a period in history when some Christian theologians considered the ‘Christian culture’ as a universal monoculture. For them this Christian culture was ‘normative’. But in course of time, the empirical approach in philosophy and sociology began to affirm pluralism in culture. Slowly these theologians had to admit a multicultural world which led to the realization that universality does not necessarily mean uniformity.

One of the greatest achievements of Vatican II and the subsequent magisterial teachings is the openness the Church has towards the wider world with its religions and cultures. This ‘cultural opening’ was initially received with great enthusiasm. But later, due to a variety of reasons, it came to be looked upon with suspicion and diffidence.

Vatican II, which allowed vernacularisation in the liturgy, was aware of the variety of cultures. Hence it suggested that provision be made in the revision of the liturgical books “for legitimate variations and adaptations to different groups, regions and peoples, especially in the mission countries”.[1] This view is theologically supported by another statement of the same document: “The liturgy is made up of unchangeable elements divinely instituted, and of elements subject to change. These latter not only may be changed, with the passage of time, if they have suffered from the intrusion of anything out of harmony with the inner nature of the liturgy or have become less suitable” (SC 21).

Pope John Paul II, establishing the Pontifical Council for Culture on 20 May 1982, said that the synthesis between culture and faith is not just a demand of culture, but is also of faith. A faith which does not become culture is a faith which has not been fully received, not thoroughly thought through, not fully lived out.[2] In fact, there is never a cultureless Christianity and never yet a fully Christian culture.

On 19 November 1969, during the course of a General Audience, Pope Paul VI said: ‘The rite and the relative rubric are not in themselves dogmatic definitions. Their theological qualification may vary in differing degrees according to the liturgical context to which they refer. They are gestures and terms relating to a religious action – experienced and living – of an indescribable mystery of divine presence, not always expressed in a univocal way’.[3] This vision he already had as Cardinal John Baptist Montini when he stated on the floor of Vatican II that ‘Liturgy is for man and not man for liturgy’.[4]

This article is an attempt to point out how important is culture to express the Christian faith through liturgical celebrations.

  1. What is Liturgy?

 The rule of prayer is the rule of faith. Liturgy is the celebration of our faith. It is a response of man (the ‘ascending’ man) to the ‘descending’ God who comes to save humankind. Being a response of man, it has to be a fully ‘human’ act. No human act can be dissociated from his/her culture and life situations. Here we should remember that the liturgical celebrations are not only celebrations of our faith in God and our relationship with Him. It is also a celebration of our lives and the relation among human beings, not excluding the realities of the created world. Thus the ‘verticality’ with God cannot be separated from the ‘horizontality’ with our fellow-beings.

One of the most important acts by which the Holy Spirit reminds the Church about the message of Christ is the liturgical celebration because it is the memorial (anamnesis) of the Lord. It is an expression of faith. So much so, history tells us that there was no recitation of the Creed during the celebration of the liturgy since the whole liturgy is an expression of faith. The Creed was reserved to baptism as an immediate preparation for it.

Liturgy, though an expression of faith, is not simply an act of worship. The New Testament worship, as we understand from the Letter to the Hebrews, is not merely a ritual act. In fact, Christ abolished all rituals and replaced them with symbols (Heb 10:5-10). The rituals are very often conventional, and they can be performed even ‘impersonally’, whereas the symbols are used between living persons as a means of communication. The language of the new worship inaugurated by Christ is a symbolic one in which the body is very much involved.[5] Human beings normally require bodily expressions to actively participate in the celebration of the mysteries of Christ through worship. The signs and symbols are the ordinary means to have this participatory experience.

Speaking about active participation in the liturgy, Vatican II states that it should be “conscious, active and fruitful’ (SC 14). In order to achieve this goal, choice of appropriate symbols that emerge from the cultural context of the people is a must. The transformation of the sacramental celebrations, as a “means of grace” rather than as an act of faith by means of signs and symbols, has led to a distortion of the understanding of the liturgy itself. Therefore, we need to rediscover their meaning and value for the man of today.

  1. What is Inculturation?

 From a Christian point of view, inculturation means a dialogue between the gospel message and a culture. This message is not fully independent of a culture. In fact, the gospel message is not simply an idea or a dogma. It is the message about a person – the person of Jesus Christ himself. It is Christ who is coming into dialogue with cultures. Thus inculturation is a response to the call of Christ. It is a gradual transformation that has to take place in the community through individuals. No individual can impose it upon the community. The individuals can only act as agents of this transformation.

Thomas Groome describes inculturation as “a dialectical encounter between Christian faith and a particular culture in which the culture is affirmed, challenged, and transformed towards God’s reign, and in which Christian faith is likewise affirmed, challenged, and enriched by this unique instance of its realization”.[6] This description is based on the thesis that the Christian inculturation is a dialectical encounter between an already cultured version of Christian faith and another culture that is either new to Christianity or has aspects not yet explicitly permeated by it.

He further observes that for a meaningful application of the principles of inculturation one should be convinced of the following facts:

(i)                 There is never a cultureless Christianity or a faithless culture. That is, wherever the Christian faith is implanted, it has always taken elements from the local culture to grow, and that God’s saving presence is already planted in every culture.

(ii)               The ‘story’ and ‘vision’ of Christian faith continues to unfold throughout history. The Christian faith is a living tradition, and its vitality demands that it incarnates in every cultural and historical context.

(iii)             Each cultural expression of Christian faith should be profoundly unique, while remaining bonded in essential unity with all other expressions. ‘Unity in diversity’ should be the motto of the process of inculturation. No cultural expression should be detrimental to the essential unity of faith.

(iv)             The values of God’s reign should be reflected in the very process of inculturation. Inculturation should not be at the expense of the values of God’s kingdom in this world – that of love, peace , justice, freedom, integrity of God’s creation etc.[7]1

One of the greatest insights of Vatican II on inculturation is found in Ad Gentes 22: ‘In imitation of the plan of Incarnation, the young Churches, rooted in Christ and built upon the foundation of the apostles, take to themselves, in a wonderful exchange, all the riches of the nations which were given to Christ as an inheritance’. In the past the Christians in general thought that they had a ‘finished product’ by way of ecclesiastical structures, including the liturgy. But, Ad Gentes 21 notes that the lay people must give expression to the ‘meaning of life’ given to them in baptism ‘in the social and cultural framework of their own homeland according to their own national traditions… They must develop it in accordance with modern conditions, and finally perfect in Christ’. Therefore, openness towards cultures, traditions, customs etc. is a sine qua non if we really wish to make the Church and her worship relevant for the modern era. That is why the Vatican II decree on the Catholic Eastern Churches, while insisting on the need of returning to the sources and ancient practices, wishes that they are adapted to the needs of different times and places (OE 2).

Incarnation is one of the most important theological bases of inculturation. It is a redemptive incarnation. Christ became similar to us in all things but sin. Through his death and resurrection he redeemed the humankind. This leads to the conclusion that inculturation “recognizes the presence of evil in the world, the reality of sin and its imprints, forces and consequences in all realities of the world and human life”.[8] Any element taken from the cultures should be made to pass through the redemptive death and resurrection of Christ. In other words, the yardstick to judge the appropriateness of inculturation is the mystery of Christ. Consequently, inculturation has a double task: of liberating the cultures from sin, evil and error, and of giving them a true Christian meaning, orientation and fulfilment. Thus inculturation calls for a prophetical critique and a Christian interpretation. It calls for “dying and rising” on the part of the Church for new flowers and new fruits.

In this process of inculturation, it is not sufficient that we make the Christian formulae intelligible to the peoples of various cultures. Rather, it implies a genuine experience of Christ in every culture through authentic signs and symbols taken from the culture concerned.

  1. What is Liturgical Inculturation?

 To speak about the need of inculturation in liturgy is to repeat the obvious. Nobody seems to have any objection to its relevance and the need though there are apprehensions with regard to how to go about it and how far we can go with it. The renewal and updating of liturgy practically means inculturation in the same.

The Pan-Asian Consultation on Inculturation and Liturgy made the following statement after their meeting in 1995. “All Asian countries struggle with the issue of inculturation. Our sharing revealed that liturgical developments in Asia have consisted mainly

in the translation of the typical editions of the Roman liturgical books in the wake of Vatican II. This has, by and large, marked the first phase of inculturation. The translation of liturgical texts composed in another time and culture is an extremely difficult task. The transplantation of signs and symbols is even more difficult. Even supposedly universal signs and symbols, when transplanted into another culture, often hide or even distort the very mysteries they are meant to convey. No universal model can speak with equal clarity and force throughout the world. Moreover, no Christian community can become creative in language and symbol system that is basically alien to it. Unless the Word of God becomes flesh in our cultures, the soul of Asia will remain untouched”.[9]

What is liturgical inculturation? A. Shorter defines inculturation as “the on-going dialogue between faith and culture or cultures. More fully, it is the creative and dynamic relationship between the Christian message and a culture or cultures”.[10] And then he makes three observations about inculturation. First, it is an on-going process, and hence even the so-called ‘Christian’ nations need to undergo inculturation. In other words, it should not be confined to the newly evangelized missions. Second, the Christian faith transcends all cultures. At the same time, it cannot exist except in a cultural form. Third, there is need of a reciprocal and critical interaction between the Christian faith and culture.[11]These observations are of prime importance when we deal with the whole question of liturgical inculturation.

The issue of liturgical inculturartion is primarily an ecclesiological one. It cannot be understood and practised separate from the life of the Church in all its aspects. One reason for the relative failure of liturgical inculturation is the inadequate understanding of the liturgy as a vertical celebration in a numinous sphere unrelated to the real life situations of the celebrating community. There is a close relationship between a ritual and the community that enacts it. Ritual, in fact, is a symbolic expression of the structure of the society.

What are the areas of inculturation in the Church? There is no area of the Church that does not need inculturation. The liturgical inculturation should not be reduced to the exclusive sphere of worship. But, of course, one needs to fix priorities.

To worship God is a fundamental need of a religious minded person. It affects the core of his/her religiosity. It is a personal, deep experience of the human soul. Being persons with senses, they require visible signs and symbols to express this experience. This visible expression becomes meaningful and communicative only when it is understood by the generality of the people. Hence it is imperative that it is expressed through the symbols of the people of the place.

The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy underlines this dimension of the culture in relation to the liturgy in the following words: “Even in the liturgy the Church does not wish to impose a rigid uniformity in matters which do not involve the faith or the good of the whole community. Rather she does respect and foster the qualities and talents of the various races and nations… She sometimes even admits such things into the liturgy itself, provided they harmonize with its true and authentic spirit” (SC 37). The Council is also in favour of allowing ‘legitimate variations and adaptations to different groups, regions and peoples, especially in mission countries’ (SC 38). Conscious of its absolute need, the Council also notes that ‘in some places and circumstances however an even more radical adaptation of the liturgy is needed’ though it entails ‘greater difficulties’ (SC 39).

Liturgy is the expression of the experience of the risen Lord manifested in various cultural forms. One and the same experience is expressed by different peoples in different historical and geographical contexts. In this manifestation there are universal and unchangeable, as well as particular and changeable, elements. The universal elements are celebrated by a particular community in a particular place. The unchangeable truths are celebrated with changeable elements. And, the Divine is celebrated by human beings.  This is something marvellous in the universal Church. A successful liturgical inculturation depends upon striking a balance between these elements.

Jesus did not hand over to us a ‘prototype’ of liturgy, but an experience. Since this experience is linked with cultural manifestations, its expressions vary. This variety, however, is not to be determined by laws and regulations, but from the cultural experiences of a living community of a given place. Therefore, liturgical inculturation is defined as “a process of inserting texts and rites of the liturgy into the framework of the local culture”.[12]

In order to attain this goal, it is not enough that we merely adapt some cultural elements into the institutionalized form of Christianity. Rather, “we need to undergo a process of symbiosis by which our faith becomes an experience in the context and expresses itself in a symbol system that is capable of communicating this experience to others”.[13] Hence the liturgical inculturation is not simply a matter of discovering adequate cultural symbols to express the content of faith and worship, but is a question of ecclesiology and a pastoral methodology.

Regarding a practical methodology of liturgical inculturation  A.Chupungco suggests a three-step process. It consists of Dynamic Equivalence, Creative Assimilation and Organic Progression.[14]

Dynamic Equivalence is practically an adaptation of the editio typica. Though some creativity is involved in this process, it is dependent on the typical editions of the liturgical books. Creative Assimilation is a methodology used in the Patristic era. The giving of a cup of milk and honey in the baptismal Mass, renouncing Satan looking towards the West and making the profession of faith turning towards the East, the celebration of Epiphany on 6th January and Christmas on 25th December are examples. In Organic Progression comes the question of ‘new forms’ in worship which are unknown till then. Though they are ‘new’, they have to respect the principle of “organic growth”.[15]

Vatican II has identified certain areas of the liturgy where this process needs to be undertaken. Besides SC 37-40, which we have referred to above, the document mentions also the Christian initiation rites (SC 65), the rite of Marriage (SC 77), the liturgical music (SC119) and the liturgical art (SC 123).

In this process, the sacramentals, especially the blessings, have a special place as most of them are closely related to the day to day life of the people. Though there are sacramentals that have some sort of a universal character, mostly they are attached to the culture and the customs of the people. Therefore SC 39 names them among the liturgical books wherein the Conferences of Bishops have a free hand to make adaptations.

  1. Local Church: The Venue of Inculturation

 The Church being the sacrament of Christ is the visible manifestation of Christ. The institutional Church which is localized must have a visible expression congenial to the community of the people. The Church becomes authentically local in so far as she bears the imprint of the place and the people where she lives. “The Church becomes Church when it is incarnated in a place and this localization is called the local Church”.[16]

We know from history that liturgy developed in the local Churches resulting in liturgical diversities. Only later they began to be unified, a phenomenon more prevalent in the Western liturgy. In the East, maintaining the unity of faith, liturgies continued to flourish in diversity. As the decree on the Catholic Eastern Churches notes, the universal Church is made up of the faithful who are organically united in the Holy Spirit by the same faith, the same sacraments and the same government. But they combine into different groups which are held together by their hierarchy and so form individual Churches keeping their own particular liturgy, spirituality and discipline (OE 2-3). From this it is clear that the liturgical celebration is not a ‘universal act’. It is always an action of the community of faithful ‘here and now’. That is why the Eastern Churches are very particular about insisting on the universal Church as a ‘Communion of Individual Churches’. As Pope Paul VI notes, the universal Church is in practice incarnate in the individual Churches that are heirs of a cultural patrimony, of a vision of the Word of God, of an historical part of a particular historical substratum.[17] It responds to the deep aspiration of peoples and human communities to find their own identity ever more clearly.[18] One of the important characteristics of an individual Church is the manner in which it expresses its faith in worship form.

A local Christian community is not a ‘fraction’ of the universal Church. Every worshipping community manifests the full mystery of the Church. This manifestation is based on its social, cultural and religious milieu, and hence appropriate signs and symbols congenial to the people are to be employed. History of the Churches – both in the West and in the East – gives evidence to this fact. The existence of the liturgies according to the Roman Rite, the Ambrosian Rite, the Spanish Rite, and later the Indian Rite, the Philippino Rite, the Congolese Rite etc. are examples. The five liturgical families – Alexandrian, Antiochian, Byzantine, East Syrian and Armenian – with 22 individual Churches bear ample witness to it in the East. Even within an individual Church there can be diverse liturgical expressions according to the culture, place and the context of the people as we see in the Western and Eastern ecclesiastical traditions.

  1. Liturgical Inculturation: An Historical Review

 Inculturation is essentially an historical phenomenon, and the history of the Church is practically a history of inculturation.

When we examine the history of the Roman liturgy, we find that the so-called “classical period” (5th – 8th centuries) was a time of ‘classical’ inculturation too. It was a period of liturgical creativity with original composition of liturgical texts for the people of the time. The Popes like Gelasius, Leo the Great and Gregory the Great have contributed their insights for its growth. In the 8th century, as the Church spread to Franco-Germanic world, it underwent another type of liturgical inculturation.  Liturgy was transformed from its Roman simplicity and sobriety to a charming, dramatic and colourful one to suit the temperament of the Franco-Germanic people.

The first half of the first millennium was a period of intense inculturation in liturgy. Some examples will clarify this point.[19]

  • Though Christianity was in close relationship with the Jewish religious tradition, when it required the liturgical vestments the West adopted the festive attire of the Greco-Roman world and the East that of the Byzantine Empire.
  • From the Jews she inherited the Bema – a platform for reading from the Torah – for the proclamation from the Bible.
  • The morning and evening holocaust of the Jews appears in the form of morning and evening prayers in the Christian tradition.
  • The language used in the liturgy was the language of the people.
  • The apophatic (negative –  Neti, neti of the Indian tradition) approach towards God’s name (YHWH: I am who am) without a positive affirmation is adopted from the Jewish understanding of God as IN-visible, IN-comprehensible, IN-expressible, UN-fathomable etc.
  • The Christian litanic prayers are an imitation of the Roman manner of prayers.
  • The liturgical gestures like kissing the altar, the prostrations, the use of incense and the candles, etc are taken from the non-Christian practice.
  • The prayer turning to the East has its roots in the Sun-cult of the pagans.
  • The Christian tradition of fasting on Wednesday and Friday was influenced by the Tuesday and Thursday fasts of the Jews.
  • The pre-Christian mystery cults have influenced the Christian practice of exorcism, the imposition of hands and the anointing.
  • The architecture of the ancient churches followed that of the Roman basilicas’.
  • The “May they rest in peace” (R.I.P) in the funeral rites has its origin in the pre-Christian Roman funeral acclamation.
  • The feast of Transfiguration on 6th August is related to the Jewish commemoration of Moses’ transfiguration on Mount Sinai.
  • The feast of Epiphany on 6th January recalls another ‘epiphany’ (manifestation) of a ruler to a province of his kingdom.
  • The feast of Christmas on 25th December is inspired by the birth of the Invincible Sun-god.
  • The feast of the “Cathedra” of St. Peter is in imitation of the anniversary of the Roman emperor’s assumption of office.
  • The feast of martyrs, saints, etc originated from the pre-Christian practice of venerating the tombs of the dead.

In the later period of the Church too we have luminous examples of inculturation. The history of the St. Thomas Christians of India before the 16th century is a classical example of how the Christians could find themselves completely at home in the Indian culture. In their social and religious practices, and worshipping customs they were very much like their non-Christian neighbours.[20]

The Chinese experimentation of Matteo Ricci (1552-1610) with the cult of the familial dead that was administered with prostrations, the burning of incense and the offering of food at their tombs was condemned as superstitious practices. Roberto Nobili’s (1577-1656) attempts with Indian culture were frowned upon by his confreres, and later they had to be abandoned. Even during this period, we come across some silver lining by way of official sanction in favour of liturgical inculturation. Thus in 1615 Pope Paul V allowed the Chinese to use the Chinese language in the liturgy though this permission was withdrawn in 1661 due to the objections of the missionaries themselves. In 1659 Propaganda Fide wrote a letter asking the missionaries not to make attempts to persuade the people of the mission lands to change their rites, customs and ways, provided they are not very manifestly contrary to religion and morals.[21]

  1. Challenges of Inculturation

 One of the notable limitations of liturgical inculturation is the non-permanent nature of culture. Given culture’s susceptibility to change, the product of any attempt at inculturation is bound to be an unstable mixture. Therefore at no time can we have a complete and perfectly inculturated liturgy. It is a continuous search and a constant struggle. Only a genuine local Church can cope with the ever new demands of the changing culture.

All religions carry with them some cultural expression. Christianity, for example, has many semitic elements. For some people these cultural expressions are part and parcel of their religion, and any change in them is considered a threat to their religious experience. In other words, the cultural expressions are equated with religion itself. This is nothing short of religious fundamentalism.

In the process of liturgical inculturation a crucial factor should be borne in mind. Faith transcends all cultures. Faith in Christ can even purify and transform cultures. Therefore some hold that the duty of the Christian faith is to purify the cultures and make them ‘Christian’. As a matter of fact, culture is not good or bad, holy or sinful. Human choices make them bad or sinful. In this perspective, the Christian inculturation can also mean a purification of the sinful culture through the intervention of the Christian faith. At the same time, we should also remember that the mysteries we celebrate in the liturgy transcend all cultures though the expressions of the mysteries and the people’s response to it in the liturgy are culturally conditioned. Here the role of culture in relation to worship needs to be properly understood. “Christian worship should not end up being a mere ingredient of the local culture, nor should culture be reduced to an ancillary role. The process of interaction and mutual assimilation brings progress to both; it does not cause mutual extinction”.[22]


Pope Paul VI once warned that evangelization would lose much of its force and effectiveness “if it does not take into consideration the actual people to whom it is addressed, if it does not use their language, their signs and symbols, if it does not answer the questions they ask, and if it does not have an impact on their concrete life”.[23] Among them the signs and symbols employed in the liturgy are of great relevance because “the religious symbols have the power to render the real more real. They induce faith, conviction, commitment because they act upon the creative power of the human intellect and galvanize the will towards action… No religion can exercise this power if its symbols are not inseparable from those of culture”.[24]

However, we need to make a distinction between inculturation and ‘culturalism’. A religion, when it assumes various external forms by way of inculturation, should not lose its essential identity. If it loses its identity, it is no more inculturation, but ‘culturalism’, that is, absolutization of culture. Besides, the Christian religion cannot take cultural symbols of a place if they are inseparably associated with the religious faith of another religion.

There is the need to evolve a liturgy which speaks for itself, and which requires not much commentary. Therefore, clerically inspired and clerically managed inculturation is likely to fail. Inculturation is a way of life. It is an on-going search. Failures are possible. But they should not deter us from continuing our search. As Pope Benedict XVI rightly remarks, the abuses that have occurred in the process of inculturation  should not “detract from this clear principle , which must be upheld in accordance with the real needs of the Church as she lives and celebrates the one mystery of Christ in a variety of cultural situations”.[25]


[1] Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, SC 38

[2] L’Osservatore Romano, 28 June 1982, p.1-8

[3] Jacob Manathodath, Culture, Dialogue and the Church, Intercultural Publication, New Delhi 1990, p.141.

[4] J.Manathodath, Culture, Dialogue and the Church, p.139

[5] Paul Puthanangady, Challenges of Cultures and Religions in Asia to Christian Liturgy, in Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conference – Office of Education and Student Chaplaincy, Asian Worship in Spirit and Truth, Madras 1995, p.11

[6] “Inculturation: How to Proceed in a Pastoral Context”, Concilium 2(1994) 120-133. Here p.122

[7] “Inculturation: How to Proceed in a Pastoral Context”, p.122-129

[8] D.S.Amalorpavadass, Inculturation is not Hinduisation but Christianization, NBCLC Bangalore 1981, p.7

[9] FABC-OESC, Asian Worship in Spirit and Truth, p.201-202

[10] Aylward Shorter, Toward a Theology of Inculturation, Geoffrey Chapman  London 1988, p.11

[11] Toward a Theology of Inculturation, p.11-13

[12] Abscar Chupungco, Liturgical Inculturation: Sacramentals, Religiosity and Catechesis, The Liturgical Press Collegeville:MN 1992, p.30

[13] P.Puthanangady, Challenges of Cultures and Religions in Asia to Christian Liturgy, p.4

[14] A.Chupungco, Liturgical Inculturaion: Sacramentality, Religiosity and Catechesis, p.37-51

[15] SC 23, OE 2. Antony Nariculam, The Holy See, The Syro-Malabar Bishops’ Conference and the Syro-Malabar Bishops’ Synod on the Inculturation of the Syro-Malabar Liturgy: A Study, in Bosco Puthur (ed.), Inculturation and the Syro-Malabar Church, LRC Publications Kochi 2005, p.66-68

[16] D.S. Amalorpavadass, Gospel and Culture, NBCLC Bangalore 1978, p.22

[17] Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi (1975) 62

[18] Evangelii Nuntiandi, 63

[19] Julian Saldanha, Inculturation, St.Paul Publication Bombay 1985, p.25-28

[20] For details see Antony Nariculam, “Evagelization and Inculturation Eastern Church’s Perspective”, Ishvani Documentation and Mission Digest, January-April 2000, p.95-108

[21] Referred to in Cyprian Illickamuri, Inculturation and Liturgy, in Antony Nariculam (ed.), Inculturation and Liturgy, Star Publications  Alwaye 1992, p.85

[22] A.Chupungco, Liturgical Inculturation: Sacramentals, Religiosity and Catechesis, p.29

[23] Evangelii Nuntiandi, 63

[24] A.Shorter, Toward a Theology of Inculturation, p.41

[25] Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis (2007) 54

MUSIC IN LITURGY: Liturgical Music in the Syro-Malabar Church


ILA MEETING, NBCLC Bangalore, 26-28 October 2007


Liturgical Music in the Syro-Malabar Church [*]

Dr Antony Nariculam

  1. Introduction


 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.

5.  Sacraments


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.

17. Conclusion


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.

                                                                                                      Fr.Antony Nariculam

                                                                                                      Pontifical Seminary

                                                                                                      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”.




Dr Antony Nariculam


Since some years I have been giving a short Introductory Course on Oriental Theology to the students of various Major Seminaries in India.  In the course of these years I realized that many seminarians were not aware of the inter-ritual ecclesial reality in India and its implications.  I also realized that after my lectures students were happy to have had some understanding about the history, liturgy and theology of the Oriental (Eastern) Churches in general and in particular that of the Oriental Individual Churches – Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara Churches – in India.

From time to time the students were requesting me to give them my lectures in the form of cyclostyled notes or in a book-form.  For various reason I could not respond to their request.  Now I am happy to present the content of my lectures in the form of this small book.

This is not a scientific exposition of the subject or an exhaustive study of it.  The simple aim of this book is to introduce the various aspects of this subject to the students of Theology.  This is more a class-text than a detailed study of the vast subject of Oriental Theology.  In fact, there are Oriental theologies rather than Oriental theology.  It is a wide subject that cannot be contained in a small book of this nature.  Still I hope that this short exposition will help to have a general idea about the Oriental Churches, and their liturgy and theology.  In this hope I dedicate this book to my students of Oriental Theology.

I am grateful to my colleagues Dr.Thomas Pallipurathukunnel and Dr.Philips Vadakekalam who went through the manuscript and gave creative suggestions to improve the content and the language of this book. My thanks are also due to STAR Publications for undertaking its publication and Alwaye Press for its printing.

0. Introduction

Pluriformity is an accepted fact today in theology, liturgy, spirituality and discipline.  In fact, it is our daily experience that in all aspects of human life – culture, food, dress, language etc. – there is no uniformity.  But when it comes to the Individual Churches or Rites, many people opt for uniformity.  Their argument is very simple and straightforward: ‘After all, there is only one Faith, one Baptism, one Church founded by Christ; then why so many Churches, even in the One, Holy, Apostolic and Catholic Church’?  Apparently it is a relevant question.

We must remember that the history of the Church is one of pluriformity, and not of uniformity.  As Vatican II rightly observes, “The holy Catholic Church, which is the Mystical Body of Christ, is made up of the faithful who are organically united in the Holy Spirit by the same faith, the same sacraments and the same government.  They combine into different groups, which are held together by their hierarchy and so form particular Churches or Rites” (OE 2). And in another place Vatican II says:
”It has come about through divine providence that in the course of time, different Churches set up in various places by the apostles and their successors joined together in a multiplicity of organically united groups which, whilst safeguarding the unity of the faith and the unique divine structure of the Universal Church, have their own discipline, enjoy their own liturgical usage and inherit a theological and spiritual patrimony” (LG 23).

A classical example of this pluriformity is the four gospels.  All the gospels are narrating the same story of Jesus and his deeds.  Still we find diversities in their narration of the gospel events. These diversities are due to the context in which they were written and the people to whom they were addressed.  Consequently, we have the gospel ‘according to St. Mathew’, ‘according to St. Mark’, ‘according to St. Luke’ and ‘according to St.John’.  Though the ‘content’ of the narration is the same, its ‘expression’ is different.  Even in the sacrosanct Institution Narrative of the Holy Eucharist we come across certain variations.  While St. Luke mentions a ‘supper’ (Luke 20:20) between the blessing of the bread and the cup, there is not such a reference in St. Mathew (26:26-27) and St. Mark (14:22-23).  The genealogy of Jesus elaborately described by St. Mathew (1:1-16) is not found in other gospels.  Mathew considered it necessary while addressing the Jews who were very particular about genealogies.  Besides, the background of the Evangelists too has influenced their writings.  The long reflections on Jesus as the divine Son of God in St. John is an example thereof.  In other words, the ‘charism’ of the Evangelists had a role to play in sharing their experience of Jesus.

Another example of pluriformity is the ‘charisms’ of the religious congregations for men and women.  According to the Catholic Directory of India 2005 – 2006, there are 314 religious congregations in India.  All these men and women religious follow the same three vows – obedience, poverty and chastity.  Then why so many congregations?  Why each one of them starts its own novitiate and generalate?  Even when the number of novices is meagre, they conduct their own novitiates with the infrastructures needed.  The reason for this is very clear and justifiable: each congregation has its own ‘charism’ and they want to train their members in their own ‘charism’ or tradition.

The above mentioned principle is valid also for the Individual Churches or Rites.  Each Church has her own ‘charism’ which consists of her liturgy, theology, spirituality and discipline. According to the Code of Canon of the Eastern Churches, an Individual Church is “a group of Christian faithful united by a hierarchy according to the norms of law which the supreme authority of the Church  expressly or tacitly recognizes as sui iuris is called a Church sui iuris” (CCEO, can. 27).  And it defines a Rite as “the liturgical, theological, spiritual and disciplinary patrimony, culture and circumstances of history of a distinct people, by which its own manner of living the faith is manifested in each Church sui iuris”(CCEO can. 28 #1).  In other words, the same faith is expressed and lived in a variety of forms by different Individual Churches or Rites.

Before Vatican II, the Eastern Churches were known as the Eastern Church in the singular.  The new awareness about the diversity of Churches paved the way for the plural form while describing the Eastern tradition.  Accordingly, the Roman dicastery which was known as ‘Congregation for the Oriental Church’ was renamed ‘Congregation for the Oriental Churches’.

In the past, the Eastern Churches were supposed to take only spiritual and pastoral care of their faithful wherever they lived and they had no role in the work of evangelization.  This basic gospel duty was entrusted with the Latin Church.  This old view was corrected by Vatican II.  Thus all Individual Churches in the Catholic Communion are of equal rank and they have the ‘same rights and obligations even with regard to the preaching of the gospel in the whole world under the direction of the Roman Pontiff’  (OE  3).  As early as 1929, the Vatican Congregation for Universities and Seminaries had prescribed that the Oriental themes should form part of the theological curriculum.  In 1928 Pope Pius XI had mentioned about it in one of his Apostolic Letters.  In 1935 the Congregation for Seminaries asked all the Catholic Bishops to celebrate an ‘Oriental Day’ in every seminary to make the non-Oriental students aware of this ecclesial reality.  In 1987 the Congregation for Catholic Education sent a circular to all the Bishops, Rectors of Seminaries and Deans of Theological Faculties to introduce the Oriental subjects in the curriculum.  This last document, quoting Pope John Paul II, affirms that “the Church must learn to breathe again with its two lungs, its Eastern one and its Western one” (No.1).  It also notes that “by returning to the essential sources of the faith, the theologian who belongs to a particular Church not only enriches himself through this experience of the ‘Others’, but also, through this method, returns to his own roots” {No.5).  As a practical step, it suggests that “in seminaries and theological faculties, courses should be made available to the students on the fundamental notions regarding the Eastern Churches, their theological ideas, their liturgical and spiritual traditions” (No.10) because the various ecclesial traditions, as the Decree on Ecumenism notes, belong to “the full Catholic and apostolic character of the Church” (UR 17).

It is needed that all Christians grow in mutual understanding by improving their knowledge of one another.  Pope John Paul II suggests the following to realize this desire of the Church: ‘Know the liturgy of the Eastern Churches; deepen the knowledge of the spiritual traditions of their Fathers and Doctors; follow their examples for the inculturation of the gospel; encourage dialogue between Catholics and Orthodox; offer appropriate teaching on these subjects in seminaries and theological faculties, especially to future priests’ (Orientale Lumen, 24).

In the first millennium, the ecumenical Councils were all celebrated in the East.  The Councils of Nicaea (325), Constantinople I (381), Ephesus (431), Chalcedon (451) Constantinople II (553), Constantinople III (680) and Nicaea II (787) were held in the East.  Some of the dogmas of the Church like Word of God made flesh from Mary; Trinity etc. were defined by these Councils.  The Councils of the second millennium like Florence (1438 – 45), Lateran (1123, 1139, 1179, 1215), Trent (1545 – 63) etc. were all held in the West.

Diversity in the Church is not something to be just ‘tolerated’, but is a necessary reality as the life of the faith is always ‘incarnated’ in a particular culture and context.  It in no way stands in the way of unity, communion and catholicity.  Rather, as the Decree on the Catholic Eastern Churches states, diversity manifests unity (OE 2).  In fact, the Catholic Church has one faith with many faith expressions, one worship in spirit and truth with many liturgies and one life in the Spirit with many spiritualities.

This book has three chapters besides an introduction and a conclusion. The first chapter is a general introduction to the Eastern Churches and their liturgies.   It looks at the terms ‘Eastern’ and ‘Western’ Churches, the five Families of Eastern Churches, a brief history of the Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara Churches, and the Vatican II understanding of Catholic Eastern Churches.  In addition, it deals also with the understanding of the Catholic Church in India as a communion of three Individual Churches and the question of inculturation as understood and practised by the Eastern Churches.

The second chapter tries to explain the characteristics of the Eastern Churches.   It touches upon the liturgical, theological, spiritual and juridical characteristic of the Christian Oriental World.

The third chapter is devoted to the specific theological features of Oriental Theology.  The method of theologizing in the East is called the apophatic way.  The ‘mysteries’ of God cannot be fully comprehended or explained by human reasoning.  Therefore, the attitude of a devotee of God must be that of wonder and amazement before this ‘mystery’.  It is in this context that this chapter briefly explains some themes of theology from an Eastern perspective.

The Oriental Theology in India is not made, but is in the making.  Christianity is basically Asian.  Therefore, Eastern theology finds a suitable home in India.  It is hoped that the understanding of Eastern Theology would be a helpful tool also to delve deep into an Indian theology.

Chapter I

 Eastern Churches

There are many Eastern Churches in the universal Christian Tradition.  22 of them are Catholic and others non-Catholic.  The Catholic Churches are those which are in communion with Rome and therefore which accept the Roman Pontiff, the Successor of St. Peter, as the supreme Head and Pastor.  Our main concern in this chapter is the Catholic Individual Churches in communion with Rome.

1.1  The Origin of Eastern and Western Churches

The naming of the Church as ‘Eastern’ and ‘Western’ has its origin in a geographico-political division which in course of time became an ecclesiastical one.

Broadly speaking, this division is based on the demarcation of the Roman Empire made by Diocletian (A.D 284 – 305), which became permanent with the death of Theodisius I (+395) who divided the empire between his two sons – Arcadius and Honorius – who later became emperors of the Eastern (395 – 408) and Western (395 – 423) parts.  The Eastern empire took the name ‘Byzantine’ from Byzantium which was the ancient name of the capital.  Byzantium was called Constantinople or New Rome after AD 330 when it was made the metropolis (=mother city) of the Roman Empire.

In ancient times state and  religion were so closely interwoven that Churches which happen to grow in the Eastern part of the empire were called ‘Eastern Churches’ and those in the West ‘Western Churches’.  They are also called ‘Oriental’ (Oriens = East) and Occidental (Occidens = West) Churches respectively. These Eastern Churches centred mainly around the metropolis of Constantinople and the Western Churches around Rome.  This, as we have noted above, is a broad division as there were Eastern Churches outside the confines of the Eastern Empire such as the East Syrian, Armenian and Ethiopean Churches.

Another broad division was based on the language in use.  One of the predominant languages in the East was Greek and in the West, Latin.  Hence we come across the expression ‘Greek Churches’ for the Eastern Churches and ‘Latin Church’ for the Western Church.  But this division into ‘Greek’ and ‘Latin’ Churches does not do justice to the historical development of the Churches.  Actually in the East there was another important tradition of the Syriac Churches.  In the Greek or Hellenistic tradition we have the great theological contributions of the Cappodocian Fathers, John Chrysostom and Pseudo-Dionosius. In the Syriac tradition, which was semitic, there were renowned theologians like Aphraates, Ephrem, Jacob of Serugs and Babai the Great.

In the West, Rome played a very important role to keep up unity, and even uniformity, despite the fact that there were few schisms.  In the East, most of the schisms were followed by division and separation.  The undivided Eastern patrimony may be found till the Council of Ephesus held in AD 431.  Nestorianism and Monophysitism were the two major schisms that divided the Eastern Christendom.

Originally, that is during the Council of Nicaea in AD 325, there were three Patriarchates: Rome in the West, and Alexandria and Antioch in the East.  The third Eastern Patriarchate was Constantinople, the titlr conferred in AD 381 by the Council of Constantinople I. The fourth was Jerusalem Patriarchate.  The Persian Church, of which the centre was Seleucia-Ctesiphon, was the fourth Eastern Patriarchate was the fifth Eastern Patriarchate.

Today the geographical, political and linguistic factors that caused the division into ‘Western’ and ‘Eastern’ Churches do not apply because there are so-called Eastern Churches in the West and Western Churches in the East.  Besides, vernacularisation has made the division on the basis of languages irrelevant.  For practical purposes, however, all the Churches not belonging to the Western or Latin tradition are today called ‘Eastern Churches’.  According to the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, the Oriental Churches arise from the Alexandrian, Antiochian, Armenian, Chaldean and Constantinopolitan traditions (CCEO can. 28#2).

1.2  Church and Rite

In the Vatican II documents the term ‘Particular Church’ and ‘Rite’ have the same meaning (OE 2).  Here the term ‘Rite’ is used in the canonical sense and not in the liturgical sense.  However, elsewhere ‘Particular Church’ is used by Vatican II for the diocese (LG 23).

It may be useful to make a distinction between ‘Church’ and ‘Rite’. Very often these two terms are used to mean one and the same reality.  Thus, Latin Church and Latin Rite or Syro-Malabar Church and Syro-Malabar Rite mean the same.

The Indian theologians representing the three Catholic Individual Churches in India discussed the inter-ritual situation in India in 1993 and made the following distinction between a Church and the Rite.  A Church is a community which proclaims the Christ-event with its own identity; whereas a Rite is the liturgical, theological, spiritual and disciplinary patrimony, characterized by culture and history of the people, through which an Individual Church expresses its faith and life.  (ITA Statement of 1993, No.2) .  Though this is not a magisterial teaching on the Church and Rite, it is helpful to understand the faith believed and lived.  This distinction is broadly based on CCEO can. 27 & 28 #1 which defined a Church and a Rite.

In baptism one is born into a Church and not necessarily into a Rite.  Therefore, it is not easy to change one’s Church.  On the other hand, the Rite can be understood as the manner of the living the faith of the Church which is expressed in liturgy, theology, spirituality and discipline.  These four elements can undergo changes depending on the culture and the living context of the people.  Hence we have diverse forms of living our faith.  In other words, ‘inculturation’ of the liturgy, theology, spirituality and discipline is so natural to Christian living.  Thus in the Latin Church there is Roman Rite, Ambrosian Rite, Spanish Rite, Indian Rite, Congolese Rite etc.  Within an Eastern Individual Church too there can be diversities in ritual expressions.  The attempts of the Syro-Malabar Church to adapt its ecclesial life to the cultural context of North India is an example of a ‘new’ Rite in the Syro-Malabar Church.  The liturgy at Kurisumala Ashram in Kerala is yet another example experimented in the Syro-Malankara Church.  In short, there can be varieties of ‘Rites’ within the same ‘Church’.

1.3  Five Families of the Eastern Churches


The Churches are divided into various groups based on their liturgical tradition.  There are at present six liturgical Families of which one is Western (Roman) and five are Eastern.  The Eastern Families are the Antiochian, Alexandrian, East Syrian, Armenian and Byzantine.  Among these the Armenian Family has only one Church, and that Church is called Armenian Church.  The rest of the Families have two or more Individual Churches.   Here below are given the names of the Churches according to the Families.  In brackets are given the approximate number of faithful in each of them.  All these Churches, except the Maronite and Italo-Albanian, have Orthodox counterparts.

                                                            Alexandrian Family


                                                             (1)  Coptic Church (243000)

                                                             (2)  Ethiopean (197000)

                                                            Antiochian Family

                                                             (3)  West Syrian Church (124000)

                                                             (4)  Maronite Church (3107000)

                                                             (5)  Syro-Malankara Church (405000)

                                                            East Syrian Family

                                                             (6)  Chaldean Church (383000)

                                                             (7)  Syro-Malabar Church (3753000)

                                                            Armenian Family

                                                             (8)  Armenian Church (369000)

                                                            Byzantine (Constantinopolitan) Family

                                                                                  (9)  Albanian Church (not available)

                                                            (10)  Byelorussian Church (100000)

                                                            (11)  Bulgarian Church (10000)

                                                            (12)  Greek Church (2400)

                                                            (13)  Hungarian Church (269000)

                                                            (14)  Italo-Albanian Church (61000)

                                                            (15)  Melkite Church (1341000)

                                                            (16)  Romanian Church (746000)

                                                            (17)  Russian Church (not available)

                                                            (18)  Ruthenian Church (598000)

                                                            (19)  Slovakian Church (226000)

                                                            (20)  Ukranian Church (4322000)

                                                            (21)  Macedonian Church (6100)

                                                            (22)  Eparchy of Krizevci (77000)

1.3.1        Alexandrian Family

Alexandria is a city in Egypt.  The foundation of the Church in Egypt is associated with St. Mark, the Evangelist.  Their liturgical tradition is known in the name of the city itself.  This liturgy is used by two Churches – the Church that uses the Coptic language and the Church in Ethiopia.  Most of the Coptic faithful live in Egypt, and the members of the Ethiopian Church are mostly in Ethiopia.  There are over 9000000 Coptic Orthodox faithful, whereas the number of Catholic Copts is over 200000.

According to an ancient tradition St. Frumentius is the evangelizer of the Ethiopians.  They have retained many Jewish practices.  The liturgy is influenced by the Syriac tradition.  There are about 3000000 faithful in the Orthodox Ethiopian Church.  The number of the Catholic Ethiopians is only about 200000.  When Eritrea became independent from Ethiopia in 1993, the Eritrean Orthodox wished to form a Church separate from the Ethiopian Church and they became an Autocephalous Church in 1993 itself.  There are about 150000 faithful in the Eritrean Orthodox Church.

1.3.2        Antiochian Family

The Syrian Church of Antioch traces its origin back to early Christian community at Antioch mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles (11:19-26).  It was a great centre of Christianity in the early centuries.

There are three Churches in this Family.  One among them is the West Syrian Church.  Its members are spread over Syria, Lebanon etc.  The Malankara Orthodox Syrian and Malankara Syrian Orthodox Churches of India are the non-Catholic sections of this Family.  There are about 17000000 non-Catholic Syrians in the world.

Another Church of this tradition is the Maronite Church.  The name ‘Maronite’ comes from a monk called ‘Maron’ who lived in the fourth century.  A special feature is that unlike the other Churches this is one among the two Eastern Churches of which all faithful are Catholics.  This is the third largest Eastern Catholic Church with over 31000000 of faithful.  Many of them live in Syria and Lebanon.

The third Church of this tradition is the Syro-Malankara Church of India with about 400000 members.  These are the faithful who got separated from the Catholic St. Thomas Christians of India (Syro-Malabar Church) in 1653 after the ‘Coonan Cross Oath’, and who in 1930 got reunited with the Catholic Church.

1.3.3        East Syrian Family

The two Churches that belong to this liturgical Family are the Chaldean Church and the Syro-Malabar Church.  The birth place of the East Syrian or Assyrian liturgical tradition is the present-day Iraq.  The Assyrian Church was accused of Nestorian heresy, and a section of it got reunited with the Catholic Church in 1552 assuming the name ‘Chaldean’.  The non-Catholic section continues to be called ‘Assyrian’ Church.

The St. Thomas Christians in India happened to have had contact with this Syriac tradition probably from the fourth century.  Various reasons are pointed out to justify the introduction of the Syriac tradition in India.  The Syriac contact paved the way for the prefix ‘Syro’ to the name of the St. Thomas Christians of Kerala/Malabar.  The Syro-Malabar Church is the second largest Catholic Eastern Church with over 37000000 faithful.

1.3.4        Armenian Family

The Armenian liturgical tradition is followed by only one Church – the Armenian Church.  They are spread over countries like Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, Turkey etc. There are about 4000000 of Catholic Armenians.  Their liturgy was influenced by elements of the Syriac, Jerusalem and Byzantine traditions after seventh century.  The number of Orthodox Armenian is about 6000000.

1.3.5        Byzantine Family

The Byzantine liturgical Family has 14 Churches.  Since Constantinople was the capital of Byzantium, it is called ‘Constantinopolitan Family’. 10 of these Churches are without  proper hierarchy and other ecclesiastical infrastructures.  Therefore, they are directly under the pastoral guidance of the Roman Pontiff.  Most of these Churches were in the old Soviet Union or Eastern Europe, and hence they were under Communist regimes.

Among the Byzantine Catholic Churches the Ukranian, the Melkite, the Romanian and Ruthanian are the ones with large number of faithful.  The Ukranian Church is the largest among them with over 43000000 members.  There is a sizable number of Ukranian Catholic in Poland (13000000) and in the USA (105000).

The term ‘Melkite’ comes from the Syriac and Arabic word for ‘King’.  Originally the members of this Church were those who accepted the Christological faith professed by the Byzantine Emperor (King) after the Council of Chalcedon (AD 451).  They are the fourth largest Catholic Eastern community after the Ukranians, the Syro-Malabarians and the Maronites.  The smallest among them is the Greek Catholic Church with less than 3000 faithful, whereas there are 10000000 of Greek Orthodox faithful.

Of the 14 Individual Churches in the Byzantine tradition, the Italo-Albanian Church also, like the Maronite Church, has no corresponding Orthodox Church.  The Byelorussian Church is today called ‘Belarusan’ Church.

The largest among the Byzantine Orthodox Churches is the Russian Church with about 90000000 faithful.  Compared to the Catholics, some of the Orthodox Churches are quite large in the number of faithful.  There are 13000000 of Macedonians, 190000000 of Romanians, 6000000 of Albanians and 650000 of Bulgarians.  In the Slovakian Church, there are more Catholics (226000) than Orthodox (71000).  The Byelorussians are almost equal:  100000 Catholics and 1100000 Orthodox.

1.4  Churches not in communion with Rome

 Alexandrian Tradition                        Coptic Orthodox Church

                                                            Ethiopean Orthodox Church

                                                            Eritrean Orthodox Church

 Antiochian Tradition                          Syrian Orthodox Church

                                                            Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church

                                                            Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church

                                                            Thozhiyoor Church

                                                            Marthoma Syrian Church

 Armenian Tradition                            Armenian Apostolic Church

East Syrian Tradition

                                                            Assyrian Church of the East

                                                            Assyrian Church of the East of Trichur

 Byzantine Tradition                           Four Autocephalous Patriarchal Churches

                                   (“Autocephalous” in Greek means “self-headed”.  An autocephalous Church possesses the right to resolve all internal problems on its own authority.  They do not in any way depend upon other Churches for taking decisions which concern them like the choice of the Bishops or the Patriarchs.  Though each autocephalous Church acts independently, all remain in full sacramental and canonical communion with one another).

                                                            Orthodox Patriarchate of Constantinople

                                                            Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria

                                                            Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch

                                                            Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem

Eleven other Autocephalous Churches

Orthodox Church of Russia

Orthodox Church of Serbia

Orthodox Church of Romania

Orthodox Church of Bulgaria

Orthodox Church of Georgia

Orthodox Church of Cyprus

Orthodox Church of Greece

Orthodox Church of Poland

Orthodox Church of Albania

Orthodox Church of Czechoslovakia

Orthodox Church of America

 Autonomous Orthodox Churches

                                   (Autonomous Churches, though they function independently, are however canonically dependent on an Autocephalous Orthodox Church.  In practice this means that the head of an Autonomous Church must be confirmed in office by the synod of its Mother Autocephalous Church)

                                                            Orthodox Church of Mount Sinai

                                                            Orthodox Church of Finland

                                                            Orthodox Church of Japan

                                                            Orthodox Church of China

The Canonical Churches under Constantinople


American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Church

Greek Orthodox Church

Ukranian Orthodox Church of America and Canada

Russian Orthodox Archdiocese in Western Europe

Albanian Orthodox Diocese of America

Byelorussian Council of Orthodox Churches in North


1.5  The Origin of the Catholic Eastern Churches in India

There are two Catholic Churches in India.  They are the Syro-Malabar Church and the Syro-Malankara Church.  The origin of Christianity in India goes back to the Apostolate of St.Thomas who, according to tradition, came to India in AD 52 and died a martyr in AD 72.  The Eastern Churches in India – both Catholic and non-Catholic – trace back their origin to the apostolate of St. Thomas and hence they were called ‘St. Thomas Christians’. Here below is a short history of these Churches.

1.5.1        The Syro-Malabar Church

The name ‘Syro-Malabar’ for the old Catholics in India is not very ancient. It appears for the first time in one of the letters of Mgr. Aloysius Mary OCD who was the Vicar Apostolic of Malabar from 1784 – 1802.  The traditional name of this Christian community is ‘St. Thomas Christians’. ‘Malabar’ is a name attributed to the present southern Indian State of Kerala.  Their liturgy was in Syriac (Aramaic) language at least since the fourth century.  As this ‘Malabar’ Church was using ‘Syriac’ , it happened to be called ‘Syro-Malabar’ (= ‘Syriac’ in ‘Malabar’).  This designation was used to distinguish the St. Thomas Catholics of India from the Chaldean Catholics of Middle East because the Malabar Church was known also as ‘Chaldeo-Malabar Church’.

When we examine the history of the Syro-Malabar Church, we can identify five stages.

Stage One: The St. Thomas Period (AD 52 – 4th Century)

St. Thomas the Apostle is believed to have stayed in India from AD 52 – AD 72.  It is to be assumed that wherever the apostles went to preach the Good News, Christian communities were established, and the sacraments, especially baptism and the Eucharist, were celebrated.  Naturally, St. Thomas too must have celebrated these sacraments in the seven communities he founded in Kerala.

But what was the ‘shape’ of the liturgy he practised?  What was the language he used?  No ‘proof’ is available to answer these questions when we apply the historiographical rigorous methods of today.  However, we can arrive at certain possible conclusions from circumstantial evidence.  This is a very slippery area where opinions vary.  What we can guess with quasi-certainty is that the liturgical celebrations during that period had no definite shape, and that St. Thomas introduced some fluid form on the basis of what he learned from Jesus at the Last Supper.  It is to be assumed also that the Eucharistic bread and wine were some indigenous products rather than bread of wheat and wine.  Thus the first stage of St. Thomas period is one of uncertainties and hence one has to be satisfied with the above-mentioned plausible conjectures

Stage Two: The East Syrian [Persian] Period [4th – 16th century]

The origin of the East Syrian Liturgy in Malabar may be traced back to the arrival of Thomas of Knai in the 4th century or so.  It is known that Thomas belonged to the East Syrian Church.  This Church is understood to have been one of the most flourishing Christian communities which had developed theological schools and liturgical structures.  Hence it is quite probable that Thomas of Knai brought  to Malabar a developed Syriac liturgy.  This liturgy continued to be in use in Malabar almost intact till the arrival of the Portuguese Latin Missionaries in the16th century.  It seems that the contact of the Malabar Church with the East Syrian [Persian] Church, which was only a friendly one among sister Churches in the beginning, later developed into hierarchical dependence of the former on the latter.  However we have no evidence of any ‘conflicts of interests’ between these Churches.

Stage Three:  The Portuguese Period [16th century – 1896]

During the third stage of almost four centuries of the Portuguese period of the Latin Rite missionaries, there began to emerge some conflicts.  One reason for this was their attempt to meddle with the affairs of the St. Thomas Christians, especially their Syriac liturgy.  The missionaries even suspected them of ‘Nestorianism’ [ The heresy calling Virgin Mary only ‘Mother of Christ’ and not ‘Mother of God’] as the Malabar Christians were using the Syriac liturgical texts.  [The Syrian Church was accused of Nestorianism]

The conflict between the Portuguese missionaries and the St. Thomas Christians later developed into a serious crisis and it led to a sad split among the Malabar Christians with the ‘Coonan Cross Oath’ in 1653.  It was a public protest against the missionaries, and a group of Malabar Christians left Catholic communion. These separated Malabar Christians later took the Antiochian liturgical tradition abandoning their East Syriac liturgy. The formal acceptance of the Antiochia liturgy took place in the  Mavelikara Synod held in 1836.

Despite the crisis, the non-separated St. Thomas Christians continued to be under the Latin rule with their fragmented Syriac liturgical tradition.

Stage Four:  The Syro Malabar Period [1896 – 1992]

The Malabar Church got partial independence from the Latin rule in 1887 when Rome established two Vicariates for them.  She got greater independence in 1896 when the two Vicariates were reorganized into three Vicariates of Trichur, Ernakulam and Changanacherry, and three Syro-Malabar priests were appointed to head them.  That process came to a happy conclusion when the Syro-Malabar Hierarchy was finally established in 1923.  Since then the Syro-Malabar Church had a spectacular growth in terms of the faithful, dioceses, priests, religious and institutions.

Stage Five:  The Syro-Malabar Major Archiepiscopal Period [1992 –           ]

Though the Syro-Malabar Hierarchy was established in 1923, the Church had not achieved the full canonical status of an Eastern Catholic Church.  To be a full-fledged Eastern Church, she had to be recognized either as a Patriarchal Church or a Major Archiepiscopal Church with the Synod of Bishops as foreseen in the Eastern Code of Canons.  This happened in 1992 when she was raised to the Major Archiepiscopal status.

Today the Syro-Malabar faithful find themselves in a number of life-situations due to their history, evangelization and emigration.  They have traditional parishes with their agricultural background, rapidly growing urban parishes, inter-ritual situations, mission territories in North India, migrants in Indian cities, and in Europe, America and Gulf countries.

When we examine the liturgy of the Syro-Malabar Church today, we can identify various influences.  Though her liturgy is basically East Syriac, we can find influences of Latin and Indian elements. For example, the private confession and the anointing of the sick as practised today, are influenced by the Latin tradition.  The custom of tying the Thali and giving of the Manthrakodi in marriage, and the various customs connected with the funeral are definitely of Indian origin. ( See below, p…..)

1.5.2        The Syro-Malankara Church


The Syro-Malabar and the Syro-Malankara Churches have the same history till the split in 1653 (Coonan Cross Oath).  After the split, the dissident group of St. Thomas Christians began to follow the Antiochian liturgical tradition, and eventually came to be known as the Jacobite Church. It went on till the late 1920­­s.  In 1930 the Indian Jacobite Archbishop Mar Ivanios with another Bishop, a few priests and lay people decided to reunite with the Catholic Church assuming the name ‘Syro-Malankara’ Church, and using the Antiochian liturgy which they were using  since the split.  Instead of rejoining the Mother Church – the Syro-Malabar Church – they decided to keep their newly–found identity with the Antiochian liturgy, and the Pope recognized them as a new Church  under Antiochian liturgical Family.

The growth of this Church since 1930 has been phenomenal with new dioceses, parishes, institutions and a high number of vocations to priesthood and religious life.  In recognition of this growth, the Pope erected it as a Major Archiepiscopal Church in 2005 with the synod of Bishops, and thus it attained the characteristics of a full-fledged Catholic Eastern Church.

1. 6 The Non-Catholic Churches in India

The St. Thomas Christians who joined the Jacobite Church after the split in 1653 were later divided into different Christian denominations.   One group, as we mentioned above, got reunited with the Catholic Church in 1930.  The others are found in the following Christian Churches.

1.6.1        The Marthoma Syrian Church

The 19th century Anglican influence created new problems in the Jacobite Church.  A group of Jacobites was happy to welcome the Anglican alliance, and their ‘reform movement’ was influenced by Protestantism.  Eventually, after the synod of Mulunthuruthy held in 1876, they got separated from the Jacobite Church and organized themselves as a new group taking the name ‘Marthoma Syrian Church’.  As they are influenced by Protestant theology, they do not recognize some of the important traditional elements of Christian faith such as the sacrificial nature of the Holy Mass, the prayer for the dead and the intercession of the saints.  As a matter of fact, these are some of the faith-traditions of the Eastern Churches whether Catholic or non-Catholic.  Hence the ‘Eastern nature’ of the Mathoma Syrian Church is called into question, the reason being the strong influence of the theology of the Protestant Churches.  There are about 700000 Marthoma Syrians.


1.6.2        The Malankara Syrian Church and the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church


After the split of the Marthoma Syrian Church in 1876, there surfaced another crisis in the Jacobite Church in the early 20th century. The crux of the problem was the authority of the Antiochian Patriarch over the Jacobite Church in India. One group accepted the supreme authority of the Patriarch, but this group was reluctant accept his authority in temporal matters.  This led to a split within this community, and they were divided into two groups – one accepting the Patriarch in everything and the other opposing the temporal authority of the Patriarch.  The former was called ‘Patriarchal group’ and the latter ‘Bishop’s group’.  The latter group established a ‘Catholicate’ [A central administrative body headed by a Bishop who is called Catholicose].  Soon a litigation started between these groups for the possession, especially of the properties.  The Patriarchal group is now known as the ‘Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church’ and the Bishop’s [Catholicose’s] group is called the ‘Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church’.  Both groups are following the same liturgical texts.  Together they have a strength of about 13000000 – 14000000 faithful.

1.6.3        The Syrian Church of  Thozhiyoor

This is a small Church of about 10000 faithful which got split from the Jacobite Church in 1772.  Since they are established in a place called Thozhiyoor in the north of Kerala, they are also called ‘Thozhiyoor Church’.  The validity of their priestly and episcopal Orders is not established with certainty.

1.6.4        The Assyrian Church of the East

This Church was bon as a result of a conflict within the Syro-Malabar Church.  When the Syro-Malabar Church was under the Portuguese Latin rule, there were various attempts to bring Syrian Bishops to rule over them.  But the Latin missionaries always stood against it.  Finally the Chaldean Patriarch sent two bishops to Malabar – Mar Roccos in 1861 and Mar Mellus in 1874.  Despite Latin objections Mellus continued to lead a group of Syro-Malabarians.  Mar Mellus was followed by an Indian bishop Mar Abdiso.  After his death, an Assyrian bishop Mar Timotheos organized this group of Syro-Malabarians and brought them under the Assyrian Church, and later they came to be known as the ‘Assyrian Church of the East of Trichur’.  The Assyrian Church of Mesopotamia was one of the most flourishing Churches of the Christian East by early 14th century. They had some 30 Metropolitan Sees and 200 suffragan dioceses.  Their Catholic counterpart is the Chaldean Catholic Church.

1.6.5 The St. Thomas Evangelical Church


This is one of the recent Churches in the St. Thomas Christian tradition.  This was born out of Marthoma Syrian Church.  St. Thomas Evangelical Church was formed in the 1960s accusing the Marthoma Syrian Church of not fully following the fundamentalistic Protestant dogmatic views on the Eucharistic celebration and the prayers for the dead.

1.7      The non-Catholic Western Churches of India


The following are the non-Catholic Protestant, Anglican and Pentecostal Churches of India.

v  The Church of South India

v  Lutheran Church

v  Anabaptists

v  Brethren Church

v  Baptists

v  Methodists

v  Salvation Army

v  Assemblies of God

v  Church of God

v  Seventh Day Adventists

v  Yuyomayam

v  Witnesses of Yahweh

v  Pentecostal Churches

1.8      Vatican II and the Catholic Eastern Churches

On 21 November 1964 the Second Vatican Council passsed the Decree on the Catholic Eastern Churches (OE).  It has 30 paragraphs.  Paragraphs 1 – 6 give us the main thrust of this document.  Therefore, we shall make a short analysis of these paragraphs to highlight the importance of the Eastern Churches in the Universal Church.

The Eastern Churches, according to the decree, are ‘distinguished by their venerable antiquity’ and their traditions have come ‘from the Apostles through the Fathers’, and it is part of the ‘divine revealed, undivided heritage of the Universal Church’.  Therefore, Vatican II wants these Churches ‘to flourish and to fulfill with new apostolic strength the task entrusted to them’ (OE 1).

Though all the Catholic Individual Churches have the same faith, the same sacraments and the same government, they are organized under their own hierarchy with their own liturgy, spirituality and ecclesiastical discipline.  Between these Churches, notes the document, there is such a ‘wonderful bond of union that this variety in the Universal Church, so far from diminishing its unity, rather serves to emphasize it’.  Hence the Church wishes to keep their tradition ‘whole and entire’, but at the same time, it wishes also ‘to adapt them to the needs of different places and time’. (OE 2)

The Individual Churches are of ‘equal rank’ so that none of them is superior to the others, and all of them are equally entrusted to the pastoral guidance of the Roman Pontiff.  Therefore all of them have ‘the same rights and obligations, even with regard to preaching of the gospel in the whole world’, under the direction of the Roman Pontiff. (OE 3)

In order to safeguard the traditions and integrity of the Eastern Churches the document lays down the following:

–          Each should organize its own parishes and hierarchy where the spiritual good of the faithful requires it (OE 4).

–          All clerics should be well instructed concerning Individual Churches and rules regarding the inter-ritual questions (OE 4).

–          Lay people also should be given instruction about them in their catechetical formation (OE 4).

–          Every Catholic faithful must retain his/her own Rite wherever  he/she is, and live it to the best of his/ her ability (OE 4, 6).

–          All Individual Churches have the right and duty to govern themselves according to their own special discipline  (OE 5).

–          Changes in the rites may be made only to forward their own organic development (OE 6).

–          If the Eastern faithful have fallen away from their traditions, they are to aim always at a more perfect knowledge of their Rites and they are to strive to return to their ancestral traditions (OE 6).

–          If persons belonging to non-Eastern Churches are entrusted with the task of taking care of the Eastern faithful, they should be instructed in theoretical and practical knowledge of their rites, discipline, doctrine, history and character of the members of Eastern Churches (OE 6).

–          The Western or Latin Religious Orders working among the Eastern faithful are strongly exhorted to set up, so far as is possible, houses or even provinces of Eastern Churches to make their apostolate more effective (OE 6).

The decree also recalls the great contribution of the Eastern Churches to the Universal Church.  The Vatican II decree on Ecumenism has spelt out some of their  contributions.  It notes: “From their very origins Churches of the East have had a treasury from which the Church of the West has drawn largely for its liturgy, spiritual tradition and jurisprudence.  Nor must we underestimate the fact that the basic dogmas of the Christian faith concerning the Trinity and the Word of God made flesh from the Virgin Mary were defined in Ecumenical Councils held in the East” (UR 14).  Hence Vatican II considers the Eastern ecclesiastical and spiritual traditions as a ‘heritage of the whole Church of Christ’ (OE 5).

In the light of the teachings of Vatican II, the Roman Congregation for Catholic Education sent out a circular letter in 1987 to all the Catholic Ecclesiastical Educational Institutions like universities and seminaries affirming the need of imparting knowledge about the Eastern Churches to all the faithful of the Universal Church.  This is needed in order to have mutual understanding and love between Catholics of Latin tradition and the Christians, Catholics and Orthodox, belonging to the various communities of the East.  Commenting upon the lack of understanding which persists, and upon the ignorance of the spiritual traditions and values which form part of the heritage of so many Christians of Eastern Europe, the Near East, African and India, Pope John Paul II underlined the importance of these traditions for the life and well-being of the whole Church with the striking affirmation that “the Church must learn to breathe again with its two lungs, its Eastern one and the Western one”.  The circular letter of the Congregation for Catholic Education then asks : how much is known of the liturgical and spiritual traditions of these ancient Christian Churches?

The Apostolic Letter “Orientale Lumen” of Pope John Paul II published in May 1995 to mark the centenary of Orientalium Dignitas (An Apostolic Letter published by Leo XIII in 1894 to highlight the significance of the Eastern traditions for the whole Church) has put in unambiguous terms the need for all Catholics to be familiar with the Eastern traditions, so as to be nourished by and to encourage the process of unity of the Christians.  Hence the Pope writes: “The members of the Catholic Church of Latin tradition must be fully acquainted with this treasure and thus feel, with the Pope, a passionate longing that the full manifestation of the Church’s Catholicity be restored to the Church and to the world, expressed not by a single  tradition, as still less by one community in opposition to the other; and that we too may all be granted a full taste of the divinely revealed and undivided heritage of the Universal Church which is preserved and grows in the life of the Churches of the East as well as in those of the West”. (Orientale Lumen 1)

1.9      The Understanding of the Catholic Individual Churches in India and the Indian Theological Association

In 1993 the Indian Theological Association comprising members from all three Individual Catholic Churches in India met in Bangalore to discuss the inter-ritual situation in India.  In their final statement, they made some observations which are helpful to understand, evaluate and esteem the various roles of the three Individual Churches in India.

 The Church understands itself, observe the Indian Theologians, as the people of God.  However, a monolithic concept of Catholicity had often replaced the understanding of the Church as a communion.  The one Church of Christ made its appearance as many faith communities, each having its own specific, characteristics with regard to government, worship and life-style.  Thus we have the Church in Ephesus, in Jerusalem, in Corinth each one an ecclesial community in communion with the others.  The unity and catholicity were based on mutual recognition and communion, and not on the imposition of a common administrative or juridical structure.  The various individual Churches in the Universal Church is the best expression of the Church of Christ which keeps the tradition of authentic catholicity and communion (No. 12).

The structure of government and worship of these ecclesial communities emerged from within their life.  These were authentic Churches, having within them, all that is necessary to constitute them into the Body of Christ.  In course of time, they were less correctly called “rites”, a term which in some sense diminished their ecclesial identity, and reduce them to mere groupings of Christians within a monolithic catholicity.  Being authentic Churches, they developed their particular ecclesial expressions, such as liturgical celebrations, administrative structures, popular devotions etc.  These specific expressions of their faith were the manifestation of the vitality of the Holy Spirit operative within them.  There were thus able to manifest the catholicity of the Church in a rich variety of expressions and through a deep communion of sharing among the various Churches (No.13).

Referring to the St. Thomas tradition of Kerala, the statement notes: ‘The St. Thomas Christians in Kerala were self-governing communities for several centuries.  The Oriental Churches of the past were in fact people-centred communities; they were not autocratic.  The ancient practice of Church assembly could be revitalized in such way that the modern parish councils do not remain merely consultative bodies, but truly participate in building the body of Christ’ (No. 14. cf. LG 32, 33).

The misunderstandings about the ecclesial realities, the statement further notes, have caused certain problems and issues in the Catholic Church in India.  This should lead us, it observes, to a discerning understanding of what it means to be Church, help us to appreciate the context and function of rites in the Individual Churches, and above all, to discover how a successful mode of inter-ritual or inter-ecclesial co-operation can effectively offer service to the people of India.

1.10  Inculturation and the Eastern Churches


“One of the first great values embodied particularly in the Christian East is the attention given to people and their cultures, so that the Word of God and his praise may resound in every language”, remarks Pope John Paul II.  And the Pope continues: “At a time when it is increasingly recognized that the right the every people to express themselves according to their own heritage of culture and thought is fundamental, the experience of the Individual Churches of the East is offered to us as an authoritative example of successful inculturation” (Orientale Lumen 7).

Appreciating  the process of inculturation in the Christian East, the circular letter of the Congregation for Catholic Education (1987) says that the Eastern Churches have a long tradition in the matter of teaching Christian peoples, from the very moment of their baptism ‘to praise God in their own language’.  In many countries of the East, the document continues, this inculturation sometimes reached the point of a transformation, of an identification of one’s cultural life with the manner of Christian living.  The study of this process, the document suggests, can serve as an example and guide for those involved in a similar process today.

In his post-synodal exhortation Ecclesia in Asia Pope John Paul II notes that the liturgy of the Oriental Churches for the most part has been successfully inculturated through centuries of interaction with the surrounding cultures.  Their traditions and rites, born of a deep inculturation of faith in the soil of Asian countries, deserve the greatest respect.  The Catholic Eastern Churches possess a great wealth of tradition and experience which can greatly benefit the whole Church (Ecclesia in Asia 22, 27).

For the Eastern Churches, inculturation was an ecclesial praxis or a practical and pastoral reality rather than a theoretical-theological academic exercise.  It was a lived and shared reality.  Instead of a philosophical and historical-critical methodology, it was applying a psychological, sociological and empirical methodology.  Being a shared ecclesial praxis, it affected the entire community.

As an example of this praxis, let us take the St. Thomas Christian tradition of Kerala.  Despite all drawbacks, they had a glorious history of identifying themselves with the religious, social and cultural set-up of the country.  This has been ascertained by both Christian and non-Christian historians.  There are writings to show that the St. Thomas Christians adopted the local art and architecture in building their churches.  They were in the fashion of Hindu temples.  They were externally distinguished from the temple by the Cross raised on them.  The paintings and the sculptures of the churches depicted the peacock, the lotus flower and tiger which were common symbols among the non-Christians.

According to the testimony of a Franciscan Missionary, the Eucharistic species used by the St. Thomas Christian were made of rice and wine of palms.

One of their rituals that adopted many indigenous elements is marriage.  They have adopted instead of the exchange of rings, the local practice of tying the Thali (a small gold ornament with the cross carved on it) around the neck of the bride by the bridegroom.  The Christian Thali is distinguished from the Hindu Thali by the cross engraved on it.  Another local element is Manthrakodi (bridal veil) being given to the bride by the bridegroom.

At weddings the Hindus used to have a lighted lamp (koluvilakku) as a witness (sakshi) representing the fire-god (agni).  It seems that imitating this custom the Christians used to prepare the marriage banns under the sanctuary lamp in the presence of the witnesses of the families of the bride and the bridegroom.

As in the case of marriage, there are quite a few local customs absorbed into the ceremonies connected with  burial.

After the funeral service, the priest and those who participated in it return to the house of the deceased person.  The priest is then served a tender coconut, which he drinks after saying grace.  This recalls the local custom of offering tender coconuts in the name of the dead.  This is followed by a vegetarian meal called pattinikanji (= rice soup after fasting period) which is the formal breaking of the fast for the members of the family of the deceased person.

Another custom in connection with the funeral service is pulakuli (=defilement bath).  It is

a ceremonial bath for purification after the death of a member of the family.  It takes place on the 13th day after the burial, following the Hindu religious practice.  Then a meal is served followed by a prayer service.  At the end of the prayer, the eldest son of the deceased brings a plate with Jeerakam (cumin) and receives the blessing of the priest.  It may be recalled here that at the burial service of the Hindus the eldest son of the deceased has a special role to play.

The birth of a Christian child too was associated with some indigenous elements.  Following the Hindu custom of Namakarana (=Naming), the name of Jesus and the child’s own name are whispered into the ear of the child.  A Poonul (sacred thread similar to that worn by Hindu Brahmins) was blessed and given to the male child at baptism.  The baptismal names given were often taken from the Old Testament.  They included Abraham, Jacob etc., but had many local derivations.

The indigenized form of Church administration is another important feature of the St. Thomas Christian tradition.  Their parish assembly was called Palliyogam.   In this system the whole community was constituted as a well-knit unit that functioned as an autonomous entity.  It was almost like ‘village-republics’.  The palliyogam, consisting of the parish priest and the members of the parish, decided all matters pertaining to the parish in a democratic way. The local non-Christian communities already had this type of assemblies.

The history of the St. Thomas Christians can be a stimulus to further inculturate the Individual Churches in India.  The failures of the past should not tempt us to shy away from making progress in this direction.  As Pope Benedict XVI clearly states, the fact that certain abuses have occurred in the process of cultural adaptations should not detract  us from the clear principle of inculturation.  It must be upheld in accordance with the real needs of the Church as she lives and celebrates the one mystery of Christ in a variety of cultural situations.  (Sacramentum Caritatis 54).




As we have already mentioned, an Individual Church is distinguished by her liturgy, theology, spirituality and discipline. This chapter is devoted to the understanding of the liturgical, theological, spiritual and juridical characteristics of the Eastern Churches.

2.1   Liturgical Characteristics


2.1.1.      It is Communal Worship 


‘Privatization’ of liturgy (eg. Private Mass, Devotional Mass etc.) is not an Eastern practice.  Since the Eastern worship system has popular and cultural roots, it is naturally community worship.  Liturgy, especially the Eucharist, is a celebration of the unity of the local Church. The Divine Office too is the ‘public worship’ of the community of the faithful.  Therefore, the tendency to reduce the time of worship to a manageable length so that many Masses can be conducted at regular intervals is not of Eastern ethos.

2.1.2.   ‘Mystery’ Dimension and  Liturgical Celebration


The ‘mystery’ dimension (not ‘mysterious’ dimension) is highly emphasized in the Eastern tradition.  Various means like the use of the veil, incense, prayers with  expressions like ‘awful’ and ‘fearful’, numerous prayers revealing the unworthiness of the celebrant and the people etc. are used to underscore the mystery dimension.  Therefore, the Blessed Sacrament is not generally ‘exposed’ in the monstrance.  If at all it is exposed, a veil is put on it as in the Syro-Malankara Church. (The practice of putting a veil in front of the tabernacle, if there is Sacrament reserved, may be recalled in this context; so also, the veil of the ciborium containing the consecrated species). There are also Eastern Churches that ‘expose’ the covered ciborium with the Blessed Sacrament for adoration, instead of using the monstrance. The Eastern expressions like the mystery of baptism, the mystery of Eucharist, the mystery of matrimony etc. may be understood in this context.  The most solemn celebration of the holy Qurbana in the Syro-Malabar Church is even now called ‘Raza’ which literally means ‘mystery’.

2.1.3  Importance given to Symbols


A complaint about the Eastern liturgies is that they are ‘long’, ‘pompous’ and ‘complicated’.  This impression is based on an inadequate knowledge about the great importance the Easterners attach to symbolisms in worship.

The symbols are widely used in the Eastern liturgy. They include objects, places and movements.  The division of the church building into three parts – sanctuary, choir and nave – is an example thereof.  The sanctuary symbolizes the heavenly Jerusalem and the nave the earthly Jerusalem.  The choir symbolizes the angels who sing the praises of God.

In the Antiochian tradition, the thurible has a fantastic interpretation.  The upper part of the thurible represents heaven, the lower part the hell and the cup containing fire symbolizes the purgatory.  The three chains which support the lower part of the thurible are symbols of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and the single chain of the upper part symbolizes the Triune God.  Each chain has 18 rings representing the 72 (18×4) disciples and the 12 bells on the chains are the 12 apostles.

The gospel procession from the sanctuary to the ambo placed in the nave symbolizes Christ coming down from the heavenly Jerusalem to the earthly Jerusalem to announce his Good News. According to some Eastern Churches, the deacons undertaking various duties during the celebration are called Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. Of course, certain symbolisms would give the impression of allegories.  What is important, however, is the preference of the Eastern Churches for the appeal to the senses rather than for the intellect that expresses the invisible realities.

2.1.4 Postures and Gestures


The Eastern tradition is very particular about giving symbolic meaning to the postures and gestures used in the liturgy.  For example, standing symbolizes joy, and hence except on a few occasions, one has to stand up during the Eucharistic celebration as it recalls the joy in the Risen Lord.  One has to kneel down when prayers of penitence are said as kneeling is generally interpreted as a penitential act. One sits down ‘to listen’, and hence sitting posture is common during the scriptural readings (except gospel reading) and the homily.

In the Syro-Malabar Qurbana, the celebrant after entering the sanctuary kisses the altar at the centre, on its right and left, these places in turn symbolize the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit respectively.

2.1.5 Manner of making the Sign of the Cross

The universal practice of making the sign of the cross on oneself was from right to left.  Later some Churches began to make it from left to right.  Various interpretations are given to this practice.  Those who move their hand from right to left attach importance to the common understanding of the ‘right’ as the place of ‘goodness’ and ‘light’.  Hence one has to take the light from the right, and then to the left to dispel the ‘darkness’ of the ‘left’.  Those who move from left to right mean that at birth we are children of the ‘left’, and hence of ‘darkness’ as we are born with the ‘original sin’.  Moving to the right, we abandon the darkness and go to the light on the right. Another simple explanation is that when one blesses others with the sign of the cross, he moves his hand from the right to the left of the person blessed.  Hence it is proper that when he makes the sign of the cross on himself he does it in the same manner.

2.1.6 Continuity in the Liturgical Tradition


A special attachment to the liturgical tradition is very evident in the Eastern Churches.  This does not mean that their liturgy is immobile.  As a matter of fact, change and growth in their liturgy are slow, and sometimes imperceptible. One reason for this is that the changes are not dictated from above, but are part of a natural process taking place slowly.

2.1.7        Repetition of  Prayers and Hymns


Repetition of prayers and hymns is in fact a feature found in all Eastern Religions.  The Bhajans and Namajapas of Indian tradition are examples thereof.  Repetition is said to be helpful to concentrate on a particular idea and to underscore it.  Repeating the prayers is not entirely an Eastern tradition either.  The Kyrie Eleison and the Agnus Dei in the Latin Mass too are examples of repetition.  The Eastern liturgies, of course, use it more profusely.


2.1.8 Importance of Community Singing


‘Who sings, prays twice’ is a well-known and accepted dictum.  The Eastern tradition has always given importance to singing in the liturgy.  Even the prayers are said in a musical tone.  Therefore, the choir substituting community, found in some Eastern Churches, like  the Syro-Malabar Church, is entirely a new phenomenon.  Very often the hymns are sung alternating the stanzas between the celebrants and the choir (community) or between two groups of the choir (community) itself.  As community singing is the norm, the melodies are always simple.

2.1.9        Role of the Holy Spirit


The pneumatology of the East is well-known.  The importance attached to the epiclesis in the Eucharistic celebration, and in the blessing of the oil and water in baptism are concrete examples of this pneumatological emphasis.  The deprecative (declarative) formula in Baptism (‘you are baptized’) and Penance (‘you are forgiven’) are other examples.

2.1.10    Icons and Statues


The Eastern Churches prefer icons to statues.  In the Indian Eastern Churches, however, the statues need not be a taboo. The Indian religious culture has both statues and mural pictures. (The icons of the Eastern Churches are not the same as the pictures of the Indian tradition). Today the Syro-Malabar churches have more statues than icons.  The influence of the Western Church is evident in this development.

2.1.11    Communion of Saints and  Liturgy


The Church is not simply a place where the faithful worship God.  In a typical Eastern church we find the faithful going from one icon of saints to another, venerating and kissing them, and sometimes lighting a candle before them to express the ‘communion of saints’.  The icons are often the figures of the Old Testament and the Fathers of the Church.  Their great devotion to the dead too is noteworthy. The prayers and hymns in the liturgy bear ample witness to this devotion.

2.1.12    Construction of the Church Building


Vatican II, while referring to the construction of the churches for worship, remarks:  ‘When churches are built, let great care be taken that they be suitable for the celebration of liturgical services and for the active participation of the faithful’ (SC 124). The Eastern Churches have been always very careful in keeping the norms regarding the construction of the churches.  Each Individual Church has her own understanding of worship and worship symbols, and the churches were constructed accordingly. The setting up of the sanctuary, altar, tabernacle, ambo, choir and baptistery must be helpful to reveal this understanding.

Here below is described one model of church construction practiced in the East Syrian tradition.  Of course, this construction needs adaptations according to the needs of today and the availability of space.

The inside of the church consists of three parts, namely the sanctuary, the choir and the nave.  The choir is constructed one step above the nave, between the sanctuary and the nave.  This is to show that the choir represents the angels who sing glories of God in heaven.  The sanctuary built three steps above the choir symbolizes the Holy of Holies, the heavenly abode.

On both sides of the altar, a table each is put, one to prepare the bread and the other for the chalice. This is mainly not to allow the gifts to be prepared on the altar that represents the ‘sepulchre’ of Lord Jesus.

A veil is put between the choir and the sanctuary.  It separates the Holy of Holies (the mysteries) from the rest of the church building. (As a veil is put in front of the tabernacle when the Eucharist is preserved, a veil is put before the sanctuary to recall the mysteries being celebrated inside the sanctuary).

The ambo is placed in the middle of the nave.  The ambo is not simply a lectern.  It is a fixed platform called the bema on which are arranged a table for placing the candles, the cross etc., and two lecterns for the Old Testament and the New Testament readings, and  chairs for the celebrants.  The liturgy of the Word in the midst of the people (in the nave) is interpreted as Jesus coming to the people to proclaim his Word.

The tabernacle is placed on one side of the sanctuary and the baptistery on the other side.  The closeness of the baptistery to the sanctuary is understood to emphazise the relationship between the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist as  sacraments of Christian initiation.

The symbolic set-up of the East Syrian tradition has the influence of Jerusalem temple.  As a matter of fact, it is well-known that this tradition had close contacts with, and high influence of semitic tradition.  Since the Syro-Malabar liturgy belongs to the East Syrian family, she too is supposed to follow these liturgical settings.  But, due to the demands of modern pastoral situations, some changes had to be made in this arrangement.  For example, the place of the liturgy of the Word (bema) is now arranged just in front of the nave, instead of in the middle.  Since the community singing is preferred, the role of the choir has faded away to a certain extent.  The choir occupying the place one step above the nave has almost disappeared. The custom of the Mass facing the people, now prevalent in many dioceses of the Syro-Malabar Church, has put in question the relevance of the veil between the sanctuary and the choir.

However, one thing is certain.  Whatever the structure of the church and its settings, the church building should be such that it is conducive to worship and active participation, and that it should evoke a sense of the sacred and the mysteries celebrated.

2.1.13    Altar as a Symbol of Jesus’ Sepulchre


There are at least two main symbolisms expressed by the altar.  According to one, the altar symbolizes the ‘table’ of the Last Supper.  The other is the symbol of the ‘sepulchre’ of Lord Jesus.  The Easterners in general prefer the latter symbolism.  The prayer in the Syro-Malabar Qurbana bidding farewell to the altar after the holy Mass clearly expresses this symbolism.  The prayer runs as follows: “Praise to the altar of sanctification. Praise to you the sepulchre of Our Lord.  May the holy Qurbana that I have received from you, be for me unto the forgiveness of my debts and the remission of my sins.  I know not whether I shall come again to offer another sacrifice”.

The deposition of the gifts on the altar at offertory too alludes to this symbolism.  The celebrant after raising the paten and the chalice in the form of a cross, recalling the death of Christ, places them on the altar which symbolizes the sepulchre.  He thus commemorates the ‘burial’ of the Lord, and then covers the offerings with a sacred veil to recall the ‘tombstone’.  For this reason the Eastern altars are generally covered on all four sides.

2.1.14    Fermented Bread and the Eucharistic Celebration


Many Eastern Churches use the fermented bread for the Eucharist.  It is a break from the Jewish tradition of unfermented bread used for their Paschal Meal.  Some Easterners interpret the fermentation as a symbol of the ‘living’ bread that gives remission of sins and eternal life.  However, some Eastern Churches, including the Syro-Malabar Church, have switched on to the unfermented bread for practical reasons.  The Syro-Malankara Church continues to use the fermented bread.

2.1.15    Structure of the Anaphoral Prayers


When the ancient Roman Rite was using only one anaphora (Roman Anaphora), the Eastern Churches produced a number of anaphorae. The Antiochian tradition, and hence the Syro-Malankara Church, has over 70 anaphorae, though some of them have been lost or are only fragmentary.  The East Syrian tradition, and hence the Syro-Malabar Church, is said to have had about 10 anaphorae.  At present it has only three.

There is an important difference between the Western and the Eastern anaphorae. While the West was satisfied with one anaphora, it had a number of Prefaces according to the liturgical seasons and feasts.  As the East does not have the so-called ‘Preface’, it multiplied the anaphorae.  While the Eastern anaphorae try to cover the main events of salvation history as a whole, the Western anaphora concentrates just on one particular event in its Preface.

The Syro-Malabar anaphora has four cycles of prayers, each cycle consisting of four prayers.  The first cycle of prayers is Theological in content thanking God the Father for His great mercies towards humankind.  The second cycle is Trinitarian  thanking the Holy Trinity for creation.  The third cycle of prayers is Christological recalling the sacrifice of Christ on the cross and the institution of the holy Eucharist.  The fourth and  last cycle is Pneumatological or epicletic asking the Holy Spirit to come down and to sanctify and perfect the celebration.  The anaphora then concludes with a final doxology.

The Syro-Malankara anaphora has a total of 66 prayers of which 33 are fixed, symbolizing the 33 years of the life of Christ in this world. These prayers include the Institution Narrative, Epiclesis, prayers of thanksgiving, propitiation etc., and six intercessory prayers –  for the living and  the dead.



2.1.16  Concept of Concelebration


In general, the concept of concelebration in the East is different from that of the West.  A theological basis of the Western understanding of concelebration may be traced in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of Vatican II.  It shows the “unity of the priesthood” (SC 57).  There are Catholic Eastern Churches (eg. Syro-Malabar Church) which follows this understanding of concelebration).

In the Eastern perspective in general, the priest-celebrant represents Jesus Christ the High Priest who offers the sacrifice.  In this understanding, the other priests are only ‘assisting’ him, and not ‘concelebrating’ with him.  Hence all prayers of the anaphora are to be said by the main celebrant alone, and they are not to be distributed among the concelebrants.  In this understanding, the gospel has to be proclaimed by the main celebrant himself, and not by the concelebrants or the deacon as in the Latin West.

Co-consecration by the concelebrants is found in the West already in the 7th century Ordo Romanus III. The earliest Eastern practice is that of a Byzantine rubric book of 10th century. This text is a witness to the concelebration with only priests, without a Bishop.

Today there are various modes of concelebration in the Eastern tradition. The Armenians have it only for episcopal and priestly ordination. Among the Catholic Copts and Maronites there is verbal consecration by the concelebrants, whereas among the Orthodox Copts, the consecratory prayers are said only by the main celebrant. The Syrian Catholics and Orthodox have the so-called “synchronized” Mass, that is, each concelebrant has his own bread and chalice, and he joins the chief celebrant at the main altar by synchronizing his prayers and gestures.  In the Byzantine tradition there are various forms of concelebration.  There are those who practice verbal consecration by the concelebrants, and those who allow the main celebrant alone to utter the consecratory prayers. The Orthodox Byzantines normally have concelebration only when the bishop is present.  If only priests are present, one becomes the main celebrant, and others assist modo laico without sacred vestments.

According to the ancient East Syrian tradition, the priest who is ‘chosen’ to be the main celebrant alone says the consecratory prayers.  The other priests ‘assist’ him uttering some prayers of the pre-anaphoral and post-anaphoral parts. The Syro-Malabar liturgy which belongs to the East Syrian tradition, however, is now following verbal consecration by the concelebrants, though the main celebrant is given certain privileges.

2.1.17  Symbolism of East: Mass facing the Altar/People


Facing the East in prayer has been a universal tradition of Christian liturgies. Didascalia Apostolorum (3rd century) says: ‘Indeed it is required that you pray toward the East, as knowing that which is written: “Give thanks to God who rides upon the heaven of heavens toward the East”’. The symbolic significance of the East is based mainly on the rising sun. Christians considered it as a symbol of Christ. The symbolism of the East is supported also by the texts in the Bible. Paradise is said to be in the East (Gen 2:8). God’s glory comes from the East (Ezek 43:2). St. Augustine, Origen, St. Basil, St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Clement of Alexandria and St. John Damascene have mentioned the importance of prayer turning to the East.

For Christians, facing the East points to the eschatological hope. The East is symbolized as the place where the Lord will appear on the last day (Mt 24:30). Thus facing the East during prayers symbolizes the waiting for the Lord. It is a journey towards the heaven of the pilgrim Church. For these reasons the Eastern Churches – both Catholic and Orthodox – continue to face the East (for various reasons the ‘East’ is now symbolized also by the ‘Cross’ or the ‘Altar’) during the prayers, especially at the Eucharistic celebration.

But there are the Eastern faithful, especially in the Syro-Malabar Church, who prefer to face the congregation during the holy Qurbana. They are influenced by the Vatican II liturgical reforms and the practice in the Latin Church. After Vatican II, there was a conscious attempt to bring the liturgy closer to the people. One consequence of this move was to bring the ‘high altar’ to the people. Many consider it useful for active participation of the people. They are supported by the following arguments:

– God is present symbolically not only in the East, but also in the middle (midst). The monks who faced each other while praying experienced God in their midst.

– It brings about the symbolism of the Last Supper.

– It is not wrong that the priest who is alter Christus faces the people.

– Every celebration of the Mass is a turning to both God and the community.

– Facing the people is helpful to express better the ministerial priesthood of the celebrant and the common priesthood of the people.

2.1.18  Role of the Deacons in the Liturgical Celebration


The institution of permanent diaconate has never been absent in the Eastern Churches, though in practice there were only a few of them in both Orthodox and Catholic traditions of the recent past.  Today there are attempts to revive it.

The deacon has an indispensable role to play all throughout the liturgical celebration.  So much so, there are Eastern Churches that do not celebrate the holy Mass if a deacon is not available.  Some other Churches, like the Syro-Malabar Church, make use of the services of altar boys today in the place of the deacons.  Historically, the Syro-Malabar Church too had married deacons in the parishes to assist the priests in the liturgy.  It may be recalled that many Eastern Churches also had deaconesses to assist the priests, especially at the baptism of women.  The main duty of the deacon is to assist the celebrant and to help the people for active participation by means of exhortations and announcements during the liturgy.

2.1.19   Divine Office as the Prayer of the Church

According to the Decree on the Catholic Eastern Churches, the Oriental clerics and religious are to celebrate the Divine Office in accordance with the prescriptions and traditions of their Church sui iuris. It is recommended also to the lay people. This is attested also by the ancient practice. Even now, many churches continue the common recitation of the Divine Office with the faithful in the parish churches and monasteries. As for the clerics, it is an obligatory prayer according to the Code of Canons (CCEO 377).

2.1.20    Liturgical Year in the Eastern Understanding

The Liturgical Year in the Christian Orient must be seen in the background of Hebrew Liturgical Year. The Jews had arranged their Liturgical Year in four cycles: Daily Cycle, Weekly Cycle, Monthly Cycle and Annual Cycle.

The Daily Cycle consists of the morning and evening prayers. The Weekly Cycle is organized around Sabbath. The Monthly Cycle is based on the twelve lunations (light of the moon around the earth) of the year. The Annual Cycle based on three feasts, is of greater importance for us since it leads to the understanding of the Christian liturgical year.

The three feasts of the Annual Cycle are the feasts of the Unleavened Bread, Harvest and Ingathering (Ex 33:14-17; 34:18-23). These three feasts were agricultural celebrations of the Jews. In course of time, they were made ‘soteriological’ with the new awareness they had in the course of history. Consequently, they changed the names of the feasts giving them new meaning. Thus the feast of the Unleavened Bread became the feast of Passover, remembering their passage from the slavery of Egypt to the freedom of Canaan. The feast of Harvest was renamed the feast of Weeks and they commemorated the closing day of Exodus. The feast of Ingathering was called the feast of Tabernacles to recall their days in the desert when Yahweh lived with His people in the tents (Lev 23:4-36; Deut 16:1-17).

The Christian Liturgical Year in the East was inspired to a great extent by the Hebrew Liturgical Year. But in the Christian perspective, the only yardstick was the Lord of history, Jesus Christ. Thus for Christians, the feast of Passover became the feast of the Lamb of God and the feast of Weeks the feast of Pentecost commemorating the descent of the Holy Spirit. The feast of Tabernacles became the final stage of the liturgical year, the Eternal Bliss (Parousia).

The following are the four pillars on which the Eastern Liturgical Year is built up: Easter, Sunday, Temporal Cycle and Sanctoral Cycle. When we examine the Temporal Cycle of the East, we come across six important ‘moments’ of the liturgical year. They are:

(i)                 Epiphany (January 6): It commemorates the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan and the revelation of the Holy Trinity. Before the 25th of December became  Christmas Day, Epiphany was considered also as the day of Nativity.

(ii)               Transfiguration (August 6): As in the Epiphany, in the Transfiguration too there is the manifestation of the Holy Trinity. Therefore, it is a very important feast for the Eastern Churches.

(iii)             Exaltation of the Cross (September 14):  The veneration of the Cross is an important liturgical manifestation of the Eastern tradition. Hence the liturgical year dedicates a period for its veneration (Period of the Cross).

(iv)             Resurrection: All other ‘moments’ of the liturgical year are centred around the mystery of Resurrection. It is the mystery par excellence. It is the Day of the Lord. This mystery is commemorated on Sundays in the Weekly Cycle.

(v)               Pentecost: This may be considered as the culminating moment of the Paschal mystery. The renowned Eastern pneumatology is based on this Pentecostal theme.

(vi)             Parousia:  It is the final stage of the liturgical year. The Eastern liturgies give emphasis to this theme since all look forward to the Second Coming of the Lord – Maranatha!

The Syro-Malabar Liturgical Year may be examined to understand the application of the above mentioned six ‘moments’. It consists of 9 liturgical periods, each having a name and a theme. The prayers, hymns and the scriptural readings are arranged according to the spirit of the liturgical seasons. Each season commemorates a mystery of our salvation realized in Jesus Christ. The 9 periods and the mysteries celebrated are the following:

(i)                 Annunciation:  The mystery of Incarnation. This period has four Sundays.

(ii)               Nativity:  The mystery of Incarnation is continued. It has 1 or 2 Sundays.

(iii)             Epiphany:  The mystery of the Revelation of the Holy Trinity. It can have 5 to 8 Sundays depending upon the date of Easter.

(iv)             Lent:  The mystery of the Passion of Christ. It has always 7 Sundays.

(v)               Resurrection:  The mystery of Redemption. It has 7 Sundays.

(vi)             Apostle:  The mystery of the Power of the Holy Spirit. The period starts on the feast of Pentecost. It has 7 Sundays.

(vii)           Kaitha (Summer):  The mystery of the Growth of the Church. This period is called “summer” since, after the preaching of the apostles, there will be ‘summer’, that is, the growth of the Church. 7 Sundays.

(viii)         Elijah CrossMoses:  The mystery of the Second Coming of Christ. There is a traditional belief that Elijah and Moses would be present with Christ on the day of Judgement. That is why these two names are given along with the Cross (= Christ). It can have up to 11 Sundays depending upon the date of Easter.

(ix)             Dedication of the Church:  The mystery of the Heavenly Bliss. It has 4 Sundays.

Thus the Syro-Malabar liturgical year begins with the period of Annunciation which culminates with the birth of Christ (Nativity). Then Christ manifests himself on the day of his baptism (Epiphany). After this he begins his public life announcing the Good News, but had to suffer, and finally he was crucified (Lent). But that was not his end. He rose from the dead (Resurrection) and sent the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. After receiving the Holy Spirit, the apostles went about preaching the Good News (Apostle). As a result, the Church began to grow (Summer). The pilgrimage of the Church comes to an end on the day of Final Judgement (Elijah-Cross-Moses). And on the last day, the chosen ones will enjoy the eternal bliss (Dedication of the Church). In this way the liturgical year helps people to make the pilgrimage in the Church along with Christ from Annunciation to Parousia..

Besides the Temporal Cycle of the liturgical year centred on the life of Christ, there is also the Sanctoral Cycle commemorating the saints. Though there are feasts of saints on fixed dates ( June 29 for Sts. Peter and Paul, July 3 for St. Thomas etc.), the Easterners also have the tradition of celebrating the feasts of saints according to the seasons of the liturgical year. Thus the period of Annunciation is an appropriate time to recall Virgin Mary’s role in the salvation history. The period of Epiphany which recalls the public life of Christ, commemorates the great figures like St. John the Baptist, Sts. Peter and Paul, St. Stephen etc. The period of Summer is the most apt time to recall the martyrs who shed their blood for the growth of the Church.

2.1.21    Eschatological dimension


 The liturgical prayers, especially those of the holy Mass, reveal a profound expectation of the second coming of Christ. One looks eagerly to the Lord who comes. Therefore, the final blessing of the Eucharistic celebration almost always refers to this theme. One of the final blessings of the Syro-Malabar Qurabana ends as follows: “May we, who joyfully participated in these glorious, life-giving and divine mysteries, be crowned with glory”.  And in another blessing, the celebrant prays that may Christ “make us worthy of the glory of his kingdom, eternal happiness with his holy angels, and joy in his divine presence”.

2.2               Theological Characteristics


Pluriformity in theology is an accepted fact, provided they are complementary, and not contradictory. In this respect, Eastern theology has some special features, which, in some cases, are different from the Western perspective. As the Vatican II decree on Ecumenism remarks, “[I]n the study of the revealed truth East and West have used  different methods and approaches in understanding and confessing divine things. It is hardly surprising, then, if sometimes one tradition has come nearer to a full appreciation of some aspects of a mystery of revelation than the other, or has expressed them better. In such cases, these various theological formulations are often to be considered complementary rather than conflicting” (UR 17). Referring to this statement of Vatican II, Pope John Paul II notes: “I listen to the Churches of the East, which I know are living interpreters of the treasure of tradition they preserve. In contemplating it, before my eyes appear elements of great significance for a fuller and more thorough understanding of the Christian experience” (Oriental Lumen, 5). Among these elements the Pope especially mentions the following:

–          An original way of living their relationship with the Saviour, Lord Jesus Christ.

–          The respect they show towards the act of worship, especially the Eucharistic liturgy.

–          Their rootedness in the culture.

 Eastern theology does not pretend to solve all the paradoxes. It is divine and human, traditional and progressive, other-worldly and this-worldly, structured and free, and systematic and mystical. The following are some of its characteristics.

2.2.1        It is Scriptural

 Eastern theology is the fruit of meditation on the Word of God. For the theologians of the East, more important is what God has done for us, than who God is in Himself. Therefore, the basis of Eastern theology is the economy of salvation. As the Bible contains what this economy reveals, theology is primarily scriptural. In other words, theology is an interpretation of the Bible. This does not however mean that the East ignores the modern tools of form criticism, exegesis etc. As the Vatican II decree on Ecumenism notes, ‘with regard to the authentic theological tradition of the East, we must recognize that they are admirably rooted in Holy Scripture, are fostered and are given expression in liturgical life, are nourished by the living tradition of the apostles and by the works of their Fathers and spiritual writers of the East’ (UR 17).

2.2.2        It is Liturgical

 ‘Rule of prayer is the rule of faith’. Liturgy is in fact a celebration of Revelation. Therefore, the liturgy is not simply one among many sources of theology. It is locus theologicus. Rarely do we find the Western theologians quoting liturgical texts to substantiate their arguments. On the contrary, the Eastern theologians often refer to them as they consider the liturgical texts as source books.

2.2.3        It is Doxological

 Doxology is said to be the ‘grammar’ of theology. The doxological nature of theology is a consequence of its liturgical characteristic. Precisely for this reason, the Divine Office with its psalms and hymns, and the other liturgical texts, especially the holy Mass with their praise and thanksgiving, are of great importance in the Eastern Churches. Consequently, liturgy is a main source of their devotion and spirituality than the popular devotions.

2.2.4        It is Typological

 The preferred method of interpretation of the Sacred Scripture in the East is typology. The typological exegesis of St. Ephrem is widely known. An example is the pierced side of Christ, and the blood and water pouring out of it (John 19:34). The ‘blood’ and ‘water’ point to the sacraments of the Eucharist and Baptism. Another example is Adam’s side from where Eve comes forth. As Adam’s side is to Eve, so is Christ’s side to the Church. Breathing by Jesus on the apostles in the Upper Room with the words “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22) is compared to God’s breathing of life into the nostrils of Adam (Gen 2:7). Here the aim of the exegesis is to bring out the “hidden” mystery.

 Eastern theology understands the Sacred Scripture at two levels of meaning: An ‘historical-external’ meaning and a ‘spiritual-internal’ meaning. The Eastern theologians in general prefer to bring out the spiritual-internal meaning using the language of symbols.

2.2.5        It is Symbolic

  As against the rationalistic method of definitions, Eastern theology employs the method of symbols. The problem with definitions, which has foundation in pure philosophy, is that they put ‘boundaries’ to the defined reality. They try to contain what is ‘uncontainable’. They  put limits to the ‘unlimited’. In order to avoid this risk, the East, as far as possible, tries to evade logical systematization and categorization, and uses symbols and poetry. St. Ephrem is very famous for rendering theology into poetry. As we know, images and symbols are basic to human experience, and they are prior to philosophical categorization. The mountains as abode of God, and fire as the symbol of the Divinity are examples of this understanding.

2.2.6        It is Iconic

 Eastern theology is more akin to art than science. This leads to iconic theology. The basis of this theology is Incarnation, a spirituality of conforming oneself to Christ, and thus becoming an icon (image) of Christ. Genesis 1:27 (‘God created man in His image’) is its biblical basis. Christ is Father’s icon (2 Cor 4:4; Col 1:12; Heb 1:3).

The purpose of the Eastern icon is multiple: symbolic, didactic, catechetical, kerygmatic, liturgical and aesthetic. Therefore, an iconographer has to be a God-fearing and devout Christian who shares the faith of the Church.A theologian’s task is that of an iconographer. Both are engaged in proclaiming their faith. The icons make visible what is invisible. What Scripture expresses through words, the icons express through colours. Hence we can call it ‘visual theology’. The icons are said to be of great help to the less sophisticated people to deepen their faith and Christian life. As Gregory the Great says, Scripture is for the educated and the icons are for the less educated.

2.2.7        It is Ecclesial

 In the Eastern understanding, a theologian is a “person of the Church” (an ecclesial person) who shares the faith of the Church and that of the people of God. He is not ‘above’ other believers. One has to live faith not only in the Church, but also with the Church. Therefore, genuine theology is possible only in communion with the Church, the Body of Christ, because Christian faith is “faith with the Church”. Consequently, Eastern theology is also “pastoral”, that is, addressed to the faithful rather than to the scholars.

2.2.8        It is Pastoral

 In the first millennium of Christianity, especially in the pre-medieval Patristic period, theology was for life, both in the East and the West. Thus it was dogmatic as well as pastoral. But, by the second millennium, especially after scholastic theology, it became more an academic affair. It became philosophical, clear, concrete and concise. It became analytical with divisions and subdivisions, with definitions and distinctions, with objections and replies. Vatican II, however, rediscovered the pastoral dimension of theology to a certain extent. The good of the faithful (‘bonum fidelium’) is by now an important aspect in theological discussions. The flexibility and diversity in the Eastern theology is due to this pastoral concern.

2.2.9        It is Apophatic

 Eastern theology is a mixture of mysticism, asceticism, monasticism etc. In the Eastern tradition, there is no sharp distinction between theology and mysticism, between the dogma affirmed by the Church and the contemplative experience of the divine mysteries. Theology is, in fact, more an experience (anubhava). It is not knowing something about God, but having God in oneself. The focus of mystical understanding is not to know that God is unchanging essence and immutable, but somehow participating in the mysteries of God. Mysticism helps to appropriate this mystery in a conscious experience.

Theology and monasticism too are closely related. The monastic life in the East is meant to be a life of radical commitment of witness to the eschatological life. In the Eastern understanding, monasticism is something inherent in the life of every Christian, and not an exclusive ‘charism’ of the monks. Fasting, penance and ascetical practices are part and parcel of this life-style. They are not merely seasonal or occasional acts of a Christian. A true theologian, therefore, has to be, to a certain degree, both a mystic and a monk.

2.2.10    It is Eschatological

 Historical criticism, legal aspects and compartmentalization are not the main concerns of Eastern theology. Even authority is understood more in terms of communion than as a legal superior. The whole Christian life is directed towards the search for the Absolute which creates an eschatological tension.

2.2.11    It is Pneumatocentric

 Eastern theology is centred on the mystery of the Holy Spirit. It is, so to say, epicletic. The deprecative or declarative formula in Baptism (‘Your are baptized’ instead of ‘I baptize you’) and Penance (‘You are forgiven’ instead of ‘I absolve you’), and epiclesis as a crucial moment in the Eucharistic anaphora are examples of this pneumatocentricism in Eastern theology.

2.2.12    It is Ecumenical

 For a long time, the Eastern Catholic Churches were de facto excluded from all direct dialogue with their Orthodox brethren. Ecumenical dialogue was considered to be a prerogative of the Western Roman Church. However, Vatican II reminded the Eastern Catholics of their special duty to enter into dialogue with the separated Eastern brethren (OE 24).

Eastern theology is more ecumenical than apologetic. Theology has to see the other not as an opponent, but as a partner. This is all the more important for the Catholic Eastern Churches as they have to hold dialogue with their separated brethren. Therefore, an Instruction of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches gave the following directive to all the Catholic Eastern Churches: ‘In every effort of liturgical renewal the practice of the Orthodox brethren should be taken into account, knowing it, respecting it and distancing from it as little as possible so as not to increase the existing separation, but rather intensifying efforts in view of eventual adaptations, maturing and working together’ (1996 Instruction, No.21).

2.2.13    It is Contextual

 The Eastern Churches have always tried to identify themselves with the local culture. The praiseworthy practice of inculturation that took place in these Churches shows how they grew imbibing the culture of the place.

2.3            Spiritual Characteristics   

Christian tradition has various sources to nurture the spiritual life of its faithful. Each Individual Church has developed, besides common features of Eastern spirituality, her own means to deepen the faith experience. We shall see here below some of these features of the Eastern tradition.

2.3.1        Spiritual Life centred on Liturgy

 The liturgy, especially the Eucharist, is the founding element of Eastern spirituality. For every community of believers, liturgy is the “summit and source” of Christian life. However, history shows that the Eastern Churches have maintained, in a special way, the primacy of the liturgy as the summit of Christian spirituality, remaining faithful to the apostolic period and the spirit of the Patristic period. The whole life of the Church is, in a way, summarized in the liturgy. This is the reason why the Eastern Churches have less popular devotions compared to the Western tradition.

2.3.2        A Profound Sense of the Sacred

The apophatic dimension of the liturgy which expresses the sense of unworthiness of human beings before the unfathomable nature of the Divinity is to elicit a sense of the sacred in the devotee. The expressions like awe-inspiring mystery (mysterium tremendum), the use of the sanctuary veil, prayers revealing the unworthiness of the celebrant etc. are indicative of it.

2.3.3        Ascetical Practices as a Source of Spirituality

The Christian East has a rigorous discipline with regard to fasts and penance. They have a number of days during the year devoted to fasting. According to the St. Thomas tradition of Kerala, almost half the days of the year were days of fasting. They abstained from meat, fish, egg and milk products on Wednesdays and Fridays throughout the year. Though some of these rigorous practices have now disappeared, they still attach great importance to these practices as a means of spiritual growth.

2.3.4        Mysticism and Monasticism

 Mysticism and monasticism are not exclusive to the monks. Every Christian is, to a certain extent, a mystic and a monk. In the East, monasticism was not seen merely as a separate condition proper to a precise category of Christians, but rather as a reference point for all the baptized according to the gifts offered to each by the Lord. It is, so to say, a symbolic synthesis of Christianity (cf. Orientale Lumen, 9).

2.3.5        Cult of the Icons

 The icons are not merely  reminders of some persons or events of salvation history. They are means to reflect over the mysteries of God and the Church to deepen the spirituality of the faithful. For some Easterners they are almost equal to the sacraments as they make visible the hidden mysteries to nourish their faith.

2.3.6        Importance given to the Cross

 Veneration of the Cross is an important source of Eastern spirituality. Eastern faithful make the sign of the cross on themselves on a number of occasions during the liturgical celebration. The bishops carry a hand-cross with which they bless the people, and the people express their obeisance to the bishops by showing veneration to the cross being carried by them. The feast of Exaltation of the Cross (September 14) is therefore a central one in the Eastern liturgical calendar.

2.3.7        Devotion to the Virgin Mary

 There is no Eastern church – Catholic or Orthodox – that does not have an icon or statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She is highly venerated in the churches and at home. A good number of ancient churches are dedicated to her. But she is often depicted with the Child Jesus in her hands to emphazise the Christological nature of Marian devotion. There are special feasts in honour of Mary, especially among the womenfolk.

2.3.8        Popular Devotions

The Eastern Churches have their own traditional popular devotions which are more individual than communitarian. The veneration of the Cross, icons and relics, the use of candles, incensing etc. are some of them. Very often these expressions of popular piety are linked to their liturgical life. This may be the reason why many of the Western devotional practices did not develop in the Eastern Churches. However, due to close contact with the Latin Church, some Western devotions, especially the Rosary and the Way of the Cross, are freely accepted by some Catholic Eastern Churches, and they have, in fact, enriched their spirituality.

2.4            Juridical Characteristics


All the Catholic Eastern Churches are governed by the Roman Pontiff and the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches. In addition, each Individual Church has her own Particular Laws. In certain matters, each eparchy is free to formulate its own local laws. The importance given to the local church is one of the fundamental reasons for this multiplicity of laws and regulations.

2.4.1        Synod of Bishops and its Functioning

 The Eastern Synod of Bishops is different in structure and functioning from the Bishops’ Conference of the Latin Church. It is different also from the Synod of Bishops occasionally convened in Rome by the Pope. The Synod of the Eastern Churches is a juridical body, and the bishops are bound by the serious obligation to attend the same whenever it is convoked. If a bishop is unable to participate in it for a just impediment, he is to submit his reasons to the synod. The synod is to decide upon the legitimacy of the impediment. After the opening of the synod no bishop is allowed to leave the sessions of the synod unless it is for a just reason approved by the synod. The synod has the authority to elect and transfer bishops, bifurcate eparchies, and approve liturgical texts. But their decisions need the recognitio (approval) of the Holy See. The decisions of the synod are binding on all the bishops and the eparchies.

2.4.2        Four Categories of the Catholic Eastern Churches

 The 22 Catholic Eastern Churches are divided into four categories. The Churches having a Patriarch as its head, are called “Patriarchal Churches”. There are 6 Patriarchal Churches. They are the following: Coptic (1824), West Syrian, Melkite, Maronite, Chaldean (1553) and Armenian (1742).

The second category is called “Major Archiepiscopal Churches” of which the head is called Major Archbishop. There are 4 Churches under this category. They are: Ukranian (1963), Syro-Malabar (1992), Syro-Malankara (2005) and Romanian (2005).

The third is “Metropolitan Churches” having one archdiocese and other dioceses. The archbishop of the archdiocese will be head of that Church, and he is called Metropolitan. The 2 Metropolitan Churches are the Ethiopean and the Ruthanian.

The rest of the Individual Churches – 10 of them – are called “Other sui iuris Churches”. These are Churches having no proper hierarchy, and hence are unable to convoke a synod as other Eastern Churches. They come under the direct pastoral guidance of the Pope.

There are a couple of differences between a Patriarch and a Major Archbishop, though both have equal rights and obligations in their respective Churches as their heads. One difference is with regard to the honour given to them. Between the two, the Patriarch has precedence of honour in relation to the Major Archbishop. The other difference is more serious. When the Synod of Bishops of a Major Archiepiscopal Church elects their head – the Major Archbishop -, he requires “confirmation’ of the Pope to become the Major Archbishop. In other words, the Pope can ask the synod to elect another person if he is not ready to confirm the person elected. On the other hand, in the election of a Patriarch, all that is required is “ecclesiastical communion” with the Roman Pontiff by means of a letter signed in Patriarch’s own hand.

2.4.3        Respect for Customs

 Custom is said to be the best interpreter of law (CCEO 1508). Normally a custom obtains the force of law only when it has been legitimately observed for thirty continuous and complete years. This is so because the Church wants to respect the practices rooted in the life of the people. This again shows the importance given to the local church.

2.4.4        Pragmatism and Flexibility

 The Eastern Churches have Common Laws (CCEO), Particular Laws (enacted by the Synods) and Eparchial Laws. Besides these laws, there are also local customs. Consequently, in the application of the laws, there is room for flexibility depending upon the local traditions. This pragmatic approach is to respond to the concrete pastoral needs.

2.4.5        Religious ‘Obligations’

 The ‘obligation’ as understood in the West, generally speaking, is not an Eastern feature. Even ‘Sunday obligation’ to attend Mass was not strictly practised by many Eastern Churches in the past. Of course, Sunday, the Day of the Lord, is a ‘Holy Day’, a day of sanctification. It can be sanctified not only by attending Mass, but also by praying the Divine Office. In one of the documents of the Greek Catholic Church, we read something as follows: ‘The precept of divine worship on Sundays and feast days is to be observed. Those who neglect it sins more or less gravely according to the degree of negligence. However, this precept can be fulfilled also by participating in the Divine Office’. As of today, most of the Catholic Eastern Churches practise ‘Sunday obligation’ by participating in the Eucharistic celebration.




In this Chapter we shall deal with the sources of Eastern theology, the method of theologizing in the East and some selected themes of theology.

3.1 The Sources of Eastern Theology


The East has a variety of sources which influence its theology.

3.1.1 Scared Scripture: The Bible is considered to be the most sublime expression of God’s revelation. Hence it is the primary source of theology.

3.1.2 Liturgy: The rule of prayer is the rule of faith (Lex orandi lex credendi). Faith is expressed not in dogmatic terms, but in liturgical celebrations. The uninterrupted continuity of the Church is manifested in her liturgy.

3.1.3 Ecumenical Councils and Creeds: In a broad sense, we may call it Tradition. The Councils and Creeds are expressions of the faith of the Church in history and tradition.[ The Orthodox accept only the first seven Councils, namely Nicaea (325), Constantinople I (381), Ephesus (431), Chalcedon (451), Constantinople II (553), Constantinople III (680-681) and Nicaea II (787)].

3.1.4 Fathers of the Church: The Fathers of the Church are guardians of the mind of the apostles and the ancient Church. Though the Fathers did not have the charism of “inspiration”, they had the charism of “interpretation”. Their writings are an inexhaustible spring, faithful and true, that irrigate the Christian imagination with the life-giving water flowing from the biblical and spiritual sources of the faith. [The Western Catholic tradition has restricted the Fathers to the period of Isidore of Seville (+636) and the Eastern Catholic tradition to John of Damascus (+749). But the Orthodox believe that such a restriction would be tantamount to saying that the Holy Spirit  has deserted the Church].

3.1.5 Canons: Canons are the norms drawn up by the ecumenical and local Councils on the discipline and organization of the Church. The East sees a relationship between the dogmas and the canons. Accordingly, the canons apply the dogmas to practical Christian life.

3.1.6 Icons: Icons are considered to be a way of God’s revelation to man. The spiritual world is exteriorized through the icons. Therefore, the Easterners expect a practising Christian to paint the icons.

3.1.7 Other Sources: To the above mentioned sources we may add also other elements like monasticism, asceticism, mysticism, martyrology, spiritual writers, and practices of fasting, penance and abstinence which have some influence on the theological thinking of the East.


3.2 Theologizing in the Eastern Tradition


The Easterners make a distinction between theology and theological teaching. Theology is existential experience of God, whereas theological teaching is the scientific exposition of the experiential knowledge of God. In this sense, every practising Christian is a ‘theologian’. A ‘professional’ theologian is one who is capable of articulating the faith of the Church, and also who helps others to live it.

The eternal bliss in heaven, as understood in the East, is not the vision of the Essence of God, but “deification”, the “union” with the Holy Trinity. This union with God is not in his “Essence”, but in his “Energy”, that is ‘Grace’. What Western theology calls ‘supernatural’ is understood as ‘divine energy’ in the East. In short, theology in the East is not an academic exercise, but the outcome of a lived experience of God. Their theological method is more doxological than intellectual; it is more poetical than logical; it is more apophatic than cataphatic.

In theologizing, therefore, the East employs the so-called ‘apophatic way’ or the ‘negative way’. They try to know God in what He is not. It is very similar to the Indian way of ‘neti, neti’. Since God is a transcendent reality, man with his limitedness is incapable of fully comprehending Him. Therefore, philosophizing on the concept of God is not very effective. Precisely for this reason, God is called the ‘Invisible’, the ‘Incomprehensible’, the ‘Unfathomable’, the ‘Indescribable’, the ‘Beyond’, and the ‘Other’. As Pseudo-Dionisius (AD 500) says, the knowledge about God can be described as “knowing through unknowing”. The more man grows in the knowledge of God, the more he perceives him as an inaccessible mystery. This should not be confused with an obscure mysticism in which man loses himself in enigmatic, impersonal realities. On the contrary, the Christians of the East turn to God uttering a solemn, humble and majestic doxology (cf. Orientale Lumen, 17). They look at theology in its synthetical content, as a spiritual experience. This type of theology is called ‘apophatic theology’.

Apophatism’ literally means ‘negation’. In the Old Testament the Jews were afraid of using the name of God, and thus for them God was YHWH (= I am Who am). As St. John says, ‘no one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart who has made him known’ (John 1:18). According to Cyril of Jerusalem (315-386), the nature of God is known to God alone. Man can know it in so far as it is made known to man by God Himself. For Gregory Nazianzen (329-389) God is a relationship. The nature and essence of God are like an ocean – an ocean whose depth and limits cannot be determined. In this regard, there is a famous saying of Karl Rahner. It runs as follows: ‘My aim is not to teach about a God who can be fully understood by all. Instead, my aim is to teach that it is not possible to fully comprehend God with our intellect. God whom we are searching for is the same God who is looking at us’.

But, if this principle of apophatic theology is not properly understood and applied, one could be led to a denial of God Himself. Against this danger the Fathers like Gregory of Nyssa turned to mysticism  where one meets God in a personal relationship, that is, in the realm of “I-Thou” relationship. In this understanding, God is “known” to me “personally”. This approach is not ‘negative’, but positive or affirmative, and hence is called ‘cataphatic’. Here the invisible and unfathomable becomes ‘close’ to me. The ultimate consequence of this approach is a “mystical union” with God.

This way of ‘union’ takes us to the very meaning of Incarnation. In Incarnation the divinity takes human nature. The transcendent is made immanent. Revelation becomes an encounter and a communion.

The Eastern theology makes a distinction between  ‘Essence’ and ‘Energy’ in God. The apophatic approach is applied to the Essence of God because the Essence of God is unknowable to humans. Energy is the “acts” of God or His “grace”. In the mystical union, one comes into communion with God in His Energy (grace) and not in His Essence.

Here there is another danger. The knowledge of God depends upon one’s ‘personal encounter’. It is more of a ‘subjective’ nature, and not objective. If the encounter with God does not take place in one’s life, God does not exist ‘for’ him/her. Here we need to note that the ‘personal’ encounter is not an ‘individualistic’ encounter. A Christian is not an ‘island’. Being a member of the Church and an organ of a Body, a Christian is in a ‘sacramental fellowship’ with his/her brothers and sisters. Thus the ‘personal’ encounter with God takes place as a member of the Body of the Church and not simply as an individual.As St. Paul says, the true progress in faith is not coming to know God, but rather to be known by him (Gal 3:9). Though the transcendent God became immanent in Creation, in His presence in the history of Israel, and finally in Incarnation, he remains beyond all human knowing and beyond all human discourse.

The East has a two-directional way of speaking about God. An example is the Holy Spirit having two functions in the Church: He brings the Church to Christ, and Christ to the Church. This insight is the underlying principle of consecratory and communion epiclesis in the holy Mass. The Spirit is invoked to transform the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ (that is, to bring Christ to the Church – consecratory epiclesis), and on the congregation (that is, to bring the Church to Christ – communion epiclesis).

Theology in the East, therefore, is not dogmatic assertions imposed on the people of God, rather it is truth gradually revealed in the Church through the personal encounter of the members of the Church. A true theologian is one who has a genuine experience of God and who helps the people to live their faith without falling into errors.

3.3    Some Themes of Eastern Theology


3.3.1        Creation


Creation of the world is out of nothing (ex nihilo). It is a free and gratuitous act of God. The analysis of the Creed reminds us of the role of the Holy Trinity in Creation. Thus the Father is the ‘Creator of Haven and Earth’; the Son is the one ‘Through whom all things were created’ and the Holy Spirit is the ‘Creator of life’.

In the East Syrian anaphora of Mar Addai and Mar Mari we have a reference to the

Holy Trinity as the Creator. It reads: “Father, Son and Holy Spirit! The adorable name of Your most blessed Trinity is worthy of honour from every mouth, thanksgiving from every tongue, and praise from every creature. For, in Your great kindness You created the world and everything in it”. In this Eastern perspective, the Son and the Holy Spirit are “co-Creators” with the Father.

3.3.2        Original Sin

Misusing freedom Adam disobeyed God. Consequently, a new form of existence appeared in the world –  of disease and death. This is extended to Adam’s descendants. The members of the Church too inherit the consequences of Adam’s Fall. As the Church is the mystical Body of Christ, and the baptized persons are the organs of this Body, when one suffers all others also suffer. The Catholics and the Orthodox agree up to this point.

The Orthodox theology goes further. Adam sinned, they hold, not from the height of his full knowledge, but out of his simplicity and not so perfect knowledge of things. They also hold that the descendants of Adam automatically got his corruption and mortality, but not his guilt. They become guilty only when they imitate Adam with their free will. According to them, after the Fall, the ‘image’ of God in man is distorted and not destroyed. They admit, however, that the sin has created a barrier between God and man. This barrier can be broken only with the grace of God and not simply by man’s own efforts. Hence they too admit the need of God’s grace to be saved.

3.3.3        Incarnation and Deification


Despite the sin of man, the divine philanthropy is not withdrawn by God. The eternal plan of God – the salvation of man through the Incarnation of Christ – continues to invite man to get united with Him because the ultimate aim of man is ‘to become’ God, that is, Deification or Divinization. As St. Athanasius says, ‘God became man so that man may become God’. This concept is based on the understanding that man is created in the ‘image’ of God.

In the Western thinking, man is free to sin, but he will be punished. Only grace can save him. Hence he looks forward to his “justification”. The East, on the other hand, thinks in terms of reunion or communion with God (Deification). Therefore, the Church is seen not merely as a mediator of grace which has authority over the faithful to give guarantee on doctrines, but more as a place where man experiences this divine communion.

Deification is not pantheism. As we have already noted, the Eastern theology makes a distinction between Essence and Energy in God. Communion of man with God is in His Energy (grace) and not in Essence.  In other words, man does not become “God” by nature but by grace.

Deification is a process to be accomplished through love of God and neighbour. The full deification will take place on the Last Day.

3.3.4        Holy Trinity


The whole frame of Eastern theology is Trinitarian. There is a difference in the approaches of the East and the West in the understanding of the mystery of the Holy Trinity. The West presupposes God’s unity in three Persons whereas the East begins from the three Persons to reach unity in Godhead. Thus in the Western approach, oneness in nature is primary and difference in Persons is only secondary. The East reaches unity of the Godhead from the distinction of the three Persons of the Trinity.

The Eastern approach is in conformity with the Bible. ‘In the beginning was the Word’, ‘the Word was with God’ and ‘the Word became flesh’ (John 1:1,14). And again, ‘And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever’ (John 14:16). And ‘when the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf’ (John 15:26). Though the three Persons in the Godhead are related among themselves, in the unfolding of the Salvation History they are distinct. Thus the Father is the source, Son the procreated  (by the Father) and the Holy Spirit is the One who proceeds (from the Father). As St. Basil says, Father is the source, Son the manifestation and Holy Spirit the force that manifests.

When the Western theology emphasizes the concept of one Essence for the Persons of the Trinity, the East places empahsis on the Tri-Personality. Hence the East prefers to speak about God in concrete: God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob; God of Jesus Christ etc.

One of the contributions of the twentieth century theology is the Trinity as the foundation of the theology of the communion of Churches – Trinity as the foundation of ecclesiology. From a theological point of view, the Church is more a communion than an institution governed by the hierarchy. The communion in the Trinity is ontological . The terms like consubstantiality, hypostatic union etc. are used to make this idea clear. Unlike ontological communion in the Trinity, the communion among the Churches is vital and dynamic. This vitality originates from the communion of different persons inspired by the Spirit of the Lord.

Vatican II sees the Church as a result of Trinitarian procession. The Church shines forth as a ‘people made one with the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit’ (LG 4). In the words of J. Tillard, the Universal Church is a ‘Communion of communions’.

The structure of the Bishops’ Synod in the Eastern tradition is based on the Trinitarian theology. The Bishops “walk together” (= synod) as a body. Even the head of the synod (Patriarch, Major Archbishop, Metropolitan) cannot take decisions for the Church independent of the members of the synod.

The theology of the communion of Churches does not harm the Petrine ministry. In fact, it emphasizes it. The Roman Pontiff is the guardian of this communion.

3.3.5        Filioque (And from  the Son)


The ‘Filioque controversy’ is practically the consequence of the Trinitarian theology. It was added to the Nicene Creed for the first time in the Council Toledo (AD 589). By this addition the West wanted to fight the Arian heresy and affirm the divinity of Christ. In Rome it was added to the Creed by Pope Benedict VIII in AD 1014.

The objection of the East to the addition of Filioque is that it reduces the divine Persons of the Father and the Son to a mere relation, that is, the Father and the Son are two in relation to each other, but one in relation to the Holy Spirit. Instead, the East holds that the Father is to be considered as the only source of both the Son and the Holy Spirit. Otherwise the concept of Tri-Personality – three distinct persons in Trinity – will be destroyed. In other words, while the West emphasizes the unity of Essence in the three Persons of the Trinity, the East places emphasis on the Person of the Father from whom the other Persons originate. The East objects to its addition also on the ground that the West changed the decision of the ecumenical council of Nicaea (AD 325) unilaterally without consulting the Eastern Churches.

The West quotes St. Augustine: ‘Why then should we not believe that the Holy Spirit proceeds also from the Son since he is the Spirit of the Son? If he did not proceed from him, after his resurrection, he would not have breathed on his apostles saying: Receive the Holy Spirit. What then does breathing mean, but that the Holy Spirit proceeds from him too’? The West argues that if there are three Persons in the Trinity, then there should be some relationship among them. Thus there is paternity between the Father and the Son, and procession between the Father and the Holy Spirit as well as between the Son and the Holy Spirit. In Essence all three Persons are equal. The difference is only in their relationship.

Some Orthodox theologians are prepared to admit Filioque as an opinion, but reject it as a theological principle because it would mean that there are two sources (originating principles) in Godhead.

The Council of Florence (1438-45) tried to mitigate the expression saying that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son. The Council based its arguments on Gal 4:6, Rom 8:9 (Spirit of the Son); Mt 10:20 (Spirit of the Father); John 16:13-15 (All that Father has is mine); John 15:26, John 16:17 (The Counsellor whom I shall send to you from the Father) etc. Later the Council of Trent (AD 1545 – 63) made it obligatory for the Latin Church to confess the Creed with the addition of Filioque. However, this obligatory nature was not binding on the Eastern Churches.


There are some Orthodox theologians who subscribe to the expression ‘Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through or after the Son’, considering the whole issue as a question of language and not of content. The Syro-Malabar Church has put Filioque in brackets, and has left it optional.

3.3.6        Christology


Trinity is one Nature and three Persons. Christ is a single Person with two Natures. The divinity and humanity are united in Christ.

The Christology of Eastern thought is characterized by the following elements:

(i)                 Christ is the Saviour of the world. Its basis is the confession of Peter in Mt 16:16: ‘You are Christ, Son of the living God’. The fallen humanity is saved not through any intermediary created by God, but by God Himself, becoming man.

(ii)               Christ is Emmanuel (=God with us). The Eastern Fathers see two supreme moments in the ‘human’ (incarnated) life of Christ: His incarnation and death on the cross.

(iii)             Christ is fully God and fully Man. Christ is consubstantial with the Father by his divinity and is consubstantial with man in his humanity. Thus in Christ there are two consubstantialities making him true God and true man. One does not absorb the other. They are not ‘mixed up’. But there is an inter-penetration between them.

(iv)             The Church is the Body of Christ. Christ restored unity of all humanity with himself. This restoration is not ‘automatic’. It requires free human cooperation and communion of the believers within the assembly of the Church. This assembly is realized most meaningfully in the Eucharistic celebration.

3.3.7        Pneumatology


The Holy Spirit is understood as the Person of the Godhead who restores the original status of innocence to humans. Therefore, the role of the Holy Spirit is very important in the celebration of the sacraments, and the life and activities of the Church.

In the Eastern perspective, the Holy Spirit is not only a Gift but also a Giver. The role of  God’s Spirit in Creation (Gen 1:2), in the ‘new creation’ when Jesus was conceived in the womb of Virgin Mary (Lk 1:35) and at Pentecost as an anticipation of Parousia (Acts 2:17) are important pneumatological themes in the Eastern theology.

The works of Christ and the Holy Spirit are complementary and reciprocal. Christ’s work of redemption cannot be separated from the Holy Spirit’s work of sanctification. As St. Athanasius says, ‘The Word took flesh that we might receive the Spirit’.



3.3.8        Eschatology


The Catholic Eastern view on eschatology is practically similar to that of Western Catholic theology. It has the same understanding on Heaven, Hell, Purgatory, Prayer for the dead, Particular Judgement and Final Judgement.

Among the Orthodox there are diverse opinions about the Last Things. Though they do not follow the Catholic understanding of Purgatory, they seem to think that all the dead await in a middle state till the day of Final Judgement. This applies also to the saints (unlike the Catholic position). However, they do pray for the dead. So also, they do request the intercession of the saints.

There are also Orthodox theologians who refuse to discuss eschatological questions saying that it is not for humans to know about God’s plan on after-life.

3.3.9        Grace and Will


There is a special union between the grace of God and the free will of man. The term used to explain this union is “synergy” (=cooperation). This means that the grace of God and the will of man have to work together. Of course, God’s cooperation is far superior to man’s. A classical example of this synergy is Mary’s Fiat (Lk 1:38). This idea of synergy is expressed in I Cor 3:9 where St. Paul says that we are God’s “fellow workers”. Another example is Rev 3:20: ‘If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me’.

According to Cyril of Jerusalem, it is for God to shower His grace and it is up to man to receive it and guard it. In the words of St. John Chrysostom, God never draws anyone to Himself by force and violence.

3.3.10    Man


The concept of man in Orthodox theology is not the same as the Catholic understanding. According to the Orthodox, as do Catholics, man is created ‘in the image of God’. But they make a distinction between “image” and “likeness”. ‘Image’ indicates rationality and freedom, whereas ‘likeness’ means assimilation to God through virtues. The image  enables man to know God and to be in communion with him. It is a gift of God. ‘Likeness’ is achieved through man’s own efforts assisted by grace. By committing sin Adam lost his ‘likeness’ and not the ‘image’.

The Orthodox hold that man was perfect at creation not in actual sense, but only in potentia. He will become perfect only when he acquires the likeness through his own choices assisted by God’s grace. This position contradicts St. Augustine’s according to which Adam had reached the point of perfection.

3.3.11    Ecclesiology

In ecclesiology the Eastern theology has always given emphasis to the community nature of the Church rather than to its juridical aspect. The ecclesiological aspects are in fact presupposed  in the theological reflection. The Church, being a ‘worshipping community’, is the place where a Christian experiences his/her ‘life in Christ’. Foremost among the ecclesiological presuppositions is the awareness they have about the apostolic foundation of their individual Churches. The Church is apostolic in more than one sense. The apostolicity is related to the Christocentricity of the Church because Christ is the only true head of the Church. Therefore, ecclesiology is not merely an appendix to Christology. The diversity of the Individual Churches has also basis in the apostolicity. The diversity of Christic experience of the apostles is carried down to the ecclesial traditions.

Another ecclesiological presupposition is, as mentioned above, the perception of the Church as a communion (koinonia) rather than as an institution. The communion of the Trinity is the foundation of this ecclesial communion.

In the early Patristic thought, the Church is cosmic and eschatological. That is, the  Church is the ‘mystery of new creation’ and also the ‘mystery of the kingdom’. Therefore, more than the aspect of institution, emphasis is on the ‘sacramentality’ of the Church. In other words, the Church is the ‘epiphany’ (manifestation) of the kingdom in this world. The liturgy is one of the principal means to become aware of this cosmic and eschatological dimension of the Church.


On the hierarchical structure of the Church, apostolic succession, intercession of the saints, episcopate and priesthood, infallibility and the universal jurisdiction of the Roman Pontiff, the Eastern Catholics have the same views as that of the Western Catholic Church. As for the Orthodox, they disagree on the infallibility and the universal jurisdiction of the Roman Pontiff.

The Eastern ecclesiology has various images about the Church:

(i)                 Church is the image of the Holy Trinity: As the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are united into one Godhead, the baptized believers are united into one Body, the Church. And, as there are three Persons in the Holy Trinity, there are various Individual Churches in the universal Church.

(ii)               Church is the Body of Christ:  The Church is the extension of Christ in space and time. As various organs are united into one body, we are all untied into the Body of Christ, the Church. This communion reaches its climax in the Eucharist since the Church is a ‘sacramental community of worship’. The Church is the mystical body in so far as she is the Eucharistic body.

(iii)             Church is a continued Pentecost: Where the Church is, there is the Holy Spirit; where the Holy Spirit is, there is also the Church. Jesus has in fact promised that he would send the Spirit who would be with us always (John 14:15 ff.)

Regarding the nature and the characteristics of the Church, the Eastern theology has the following to say:

(i)                 Unity and Infallibility: Unity in God justifies the unity in the Church. But his unity is not manifested in a juridical organization, but in the celebration of the Eucharist. Therefore, one who is not in communion with the Church is outside the Church. Unity of the Bishops in the synod too has the same basis. Hence a Bishop who is not in communion with his fellow Bishops too is ‘outside’ the synod! The Church is infallible because of her relationship with God. Since the Church is the image of the Holy Trinity, Body of Christ and a continued Pentecost she is infallible.

(ii)               Church as an Ark of Salvation: Extra ecclesia nulla salus. The Church as an image of the ‘Ark of Noah’ is guided by ‘Christ the steersman’ is an expression of St. Ephrem. St. Cyprian says that a man cannot have God as his Father, if he does not have the Church as his Mother. This does not mean that everyone who is visibly in the Church is necessarily saved. As St. Augustine asks: ‘How many seeps there are without and how many wolves within’?

(iii)             Apostolic Succession: St. Cyprian says that the Church is the people of God united with the Bishop. He also says that if one is not with the Bishop, he ceases to be in the Church. However, the Orthodox understanding of the role of the Bishop is slightly different from that of the Catholics. Accordingly, the Bishop is not placed over the people. His authority is fundamentally the authority of the Church. Practically he is a holder of an office in the Church for the people. Regarding the teaching authority, though the traditional Orthodox believe that it rests with the hierarchy, there are modern thinkers who consider that every Christian is duty-bound to teach. However, for practical reasons this power is transferred to the Bishops.

What is more important from an Eastern perspective is to understand the Church as a charismatic community rather than as a juridical organization. Though there are ordained ministers like bishops, priests and deacons, the people of God too are priests who exercise their common priesthood. In the Orthodox understanding, the bishop is the divinely appointed teacher of faith, but the guardian of faith is every baptized Christian because proclamation of the faith is not the same as its possession. They also hold that all believers possess the Truth, but it is the duty of the bishops to formally and officially proclaim it.

3.3.12    Sacraments


Both Catholic and Orthodox Eastern Churches accept seven sacraments. However, among the Orthodox there is no formal decision in any Council determining the number of the sacraments. Since the Protestant reformation, number seven is generally accepted by them.

The Orthodox do not make a clear distinction between the sacraments and the sacramentals. Though, as a rule, they do not repeat the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Order, there is no clear teaching among them about the ‘indelible character’ of these three sacraments.

A basic concept in the Eastern sacramental theology is that the Church is a mystery of which the sacraments are the normal expressions. Here again, the emphasis is not on ‘validity’ and ‘liceity’, but on the Church community gathered around the bishop on which God sends His Spirit. The concept of ‘ex opere operato’ therefore, is not a serious concern of the Easterners.

(i) Baptism:  Baptism is administered either by immersion, infusion or pouring water over the head of the candidate. The formula used is deprecative or declarative, and not indicative. The oil used for Baptism is blessed  by the priest himself mixing it with the sacred oil (holy Muron) blessed by the bishop.

Baptism is considered to be an ‘ecclesial act’. Therefore, according to CCEO 683, ‘Baptism must be celebrated according to the liturgical prescriptions of the Church sui iuris in which the person to be baptized is to be enrolled’.


               Normally, Baptism is administered along with Confirmation and the Eucharist in order to emphasize the unity of the Sacraments of Initiation. The Eastern Churches continue to uphold the doctrine behind this unity not only in theory, but also in practice. The Eastern thinking on this is the following: Initiation is the one and the indivisible celebration of the entrance into the life of Christ and into the community that lives in him. This entrance, initiated with the first call to the faith, reaches its culminating point in the Paschal Mystery of Christ. We are thus rendered fit to participate in the banquet of the kingdom. In Baptism one is ‘reborn’ to a new life and is incorporated into the Church, in Confirmation is signed with the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit and with the reception of the Eucharist becomes in ‘full’ communion with the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ.

The ordinary minister of Baptism is a bishop or a priest (not a deacon). In case of urgent necessity, Baptism can be administered by any Christian faithful (but not by any person who has the requisite intention as in the Latin tradition) (cf. CCEO 677; CIC 861).

The rites of Baptism in the Eastern tradition consist of renunciation of Satan and profession of faith, laying on of hands, blessing of oil and water, pre-baptismal anointing, baptismal anointing and recitation of the Lord’s Prayer. In the present understanding, the renunciation of Satan is oriented more towards the future life rather than to the past slavery to sin of the baptized. That is, it is meant more as a preparation for future fight against evil tendencies than as an exorcism. Therefore, renunciation of Satan and profession of