Tag: Catholic Church



 Dr George Karakunnel

             To understand the theology of the Church in Vatican II one needs to see both the background from which it has come and the various stages of its own development.

Historical Background

            In early centuries the Church was vividly experienced and believed in, but her nature was not analysed.  Even in the great age of scholasticism there was no treatise “De Ecclesia”: none will be found in St.Thomas’ “Summa Theologica”.  Such a treatise first appeared at the end of the Middle ages, but chiefly as a creation of Canon Law. Then came the reformation and the need to oppose the Protestant concept of the Invisible Church and to prove that the Roman Church was the only true one.  To do this the idea of the Church as a “perfect society” was much developed, and a fully visible society – “as visible as the Kingdom of France” said St.Robert Bellarmine, the leading counter-reformation controversialist.  Moreover, in discussing the nature of this society little was considered beyond its governmental aspect, and that was seen again in secular terms: those of monarchical government.  Thus a sort of typical ecclesiology for the period from the 16th to 19th century grew up.

            To sum it up:

–         It was apologetic in approach.

–         It defined the church as a “perfect society” understood in terms similar to those of a secular state.

–         It was mostly concerned with the visible aspect of the Church.

–         It spoke chiefly of the governmental side of the society.

–         It explained that government in terms of monarchy.

The best way to show this ecclesiology from which the Second Vatican Council has now finally delivered us is to give an example. So, here is a brief summary of the “De Ecclesia Christi” of Cardinal Billot, 4th edition, 1921. Billot was probably the most distinguished and influential Catholic theologian of the first quarter of this century. His treaties has 870 pages, divided into three parts. Namely;

–         The first part (267 pages) is straightforward apologetics. It proves that the Roman Catholic Church is true and all sects separated from her false.

–         The second part is the most important; its 450 pages are devoted to the Church’s internal constitution. The first chapter is on the members of the Church (all the baptized except those cut off by heresy or schism.)

All the other nine chapters are on ecclesiastical authority: first in general, then the powers of order, of teaching, of jurisdiction. There follow 200 pages on the monarchical character of the Church and on the Roman Pontiff. Finally there are 13 pages divided between bishops and councils.

The third part considers the relationship of the Church with civil society, the two ‘powers’. Its first chapter deals with the error of Liberalism, the second proves that the State is (indirectly) subordinate to the Church, the third and the last speaks of the Church’s immunity.

Why go into all this? Because it shows us so clearly what is new in the “New Ecclesiology”. The old ecclesiology – the teaching of most manuals up till a few years ago – had a terribly juridical and rather secular view of what the Church is.  One finds in Billot’s work no account of the people of God or even of the body of Christ; no reference to the sacraments other than the initiation of baptism; not concern with the laity or even with the priests except as ‘subjects’ for authority; no treatment of the Church’s mission, etc. The old ecclesiology appeared as principally concerned with power in the Church and then chiefly with that of the Pope. Bishops and councils between them got a bare 13 pages. The central thesis of the whole thing was undoubtedly ‘the Church’s monarchy as instituted in St. Peter’ even though Billot – unlike many theologians of his time did temper this by recognizing the existence of a true ‘college of bishops’. The old ecclesiology was not wrong in its chief affirmations;  we cannot reject the visible hierarchical and papal aspects of the Church – but it was very one-sided.

Twentieth Century Developments

            In the forty years following 1921 ecclesiology has been in a constant state of change as the influences of Scripture, the Fathers and Liturgy have been growing, in place of those of canon Law, apologetics and comparisons with civil government. In particular we may note the following developments:

–         The theology of the “Mystical Body” coming back especially in the years after 1925.

–         The Lay Apostolate Movement, greatly encouraged by Pope Pius XI and Pius XII

–         The theology of the People of God, coming in chiefly after 1940.

–         A closer linking up of the Church with sacramental theology.

–         The beginning of ecumenical contacts with non-Catholics.

The manuals of theology written or revised in those years often tried to bring in some of these new ideas (especially, of course, that of the mystical body after the encyclical of 1943), but on the whole they stuck to the old framework and you get some odd results as when the mystical body is mentioned indeed but in a ‘corollarium’!


The first text of the “De Ecclesia” to appear at the Council, that produced after much discussion by the Preparatory Commission and debated during the last week of the first session, did much of this.

Many new ideas appeared here and there but the general impression was still strongly of the old point of view in its order, its stresses and its terminology. The bishops strongly criticized it as too heavily institutional and juridical. Although not specifically rejected by the Fathers it was clear that this draft was not acceptable, and it was almost entirely rewritten by the Doctrinal Commission between the first and second sessions.

This new draft  (B) was an enormous improvement. It was very carefully discussed in the second session and a great many further amendments and additions many of them of the first importance, were proposed. It was also decided to add two further chapters, one eschatological, the other Marian. This resulted in a further extremely careful writing or rewriting of the various parts; these were prepared in a number of sub-commissions which included many of the most distinguished international theologians. The new draft (now eight chapters) was sent out to the Fathers in July, 1964. Further small but significant amendments had still to be made to it during the third session and in that form it was finally voted on and approved.

Let us compare the order of the three chief drafts by chapter divisions.


          A                                                  B                                                      C

Presented in Session I                Presented in Session II               Presented in Session III

  1. Nature of the militant Church
  2. Members of the militant Church
  3. Episcopate and Priesthood
  4. Residential Bishops
  5. The states of perfection
  6. Lay people
  7. Teaching authority
  8. Authority and obedience in the Church
  9. Relations of Church and State
  10. Necessity of Universal Evangelization
  11. Ecumenism
  1. The mystery of the Church
  2. The hierarchy
  3. The people of God and the laity
  4. The vocation of all to holiness; religious
  1. The mystery of the Church
  2. The People of God
  3. The hierarchy
  4. The Laity
  5. Call of the whole Church to holiness
  6. Religious
  7. Eschatological nature of the pilgrim Church and her union with the heavenly Church

8.  The role of Mary in the  mystery of Christ and the Church


–         The original text clearly what we may call ‘Billot’s general order and approach’ while inserting some new sections in what seems a rather arbitrary way.

–         However, text A did already include many ideas of the ‘New Ecclesiology’, e.g. the terms ‘people of God’ and ‘body of Christ’ appear at once in c. l. ; lay people were given a separate chapter which speaks of the universal priesthood.

–         Yet the ‘old approach’ was still too clear: four different chapters were devoted to the organs of clerical authority, while the tone of the actual text was in many places very juridical.

–         The later texts have put everything that was to be said about the ‘hierarchical ministry’ into a single chapter (a long one).

–         The final text develops the idea of ‘God’s people’ before speaking of the hierarchy.

–         The Church’s spiritual and invisible purpose, ‘holiness’, appears clearly in the later texts.

–         ‘The Laity’ were treated after religious in the first text before them in the second and third.

–         The traditional chapter on the two ‘potestates’ (powers) ‘Church and State’- is simply left out in the later texts; other matters such as the Church’s missionary character, which appears in the first text as a sort of ‘corollarium’ are integrated into the general treatment; on the other hand quite new themes (especially concerning invisible aspects of the Church) make their appearance.

–         The term ‘militant’ falls out; the term ‘pilgrim’ comes in.

–         Already this brief analysis of Chapter headings shows us quite a lot about the way thinking on the Church developed during the Council. But to understand that development properly what we must examine is the text itself of the final constitution, for, the whole ‘new theology’ of Christian life in the church is really to be found within its chapters.



A Brief  Commentary

Chapters 1 and 2

                       I.     Ecclesia                        a.1.      Introduction: the Council intends to set

                  de Trinitate                               forth the nature of the Church

                  a. 1-4.                          a.2.      the Father’s work.

                                                      a.3.      the Son’s.

                                                      a.4.      the Holy Spirit’s.

1.The mystery

   of God’s gift

                                                                        a.5.      Jesus’ preaching of the Kingdom.

                                                      a.6.      Images of the Church:

                                                                  sheepfold, flock, olive tree, vineyard;

                                                                  building, temple of God, holy city;

                                                                  bride of Christ.

      II.         Aspects of the mystery

                  a.5-8                            a.7.      the body of Christ.

                                                      a.8.      a visible, hierarchial society; but one of

                                                                  service not of power.

III.       Nature of the people

                  a. 9-12                         a.9.      constituted by the new covenant with

Christ as head.

                                                      a.10-11.priestly character.

                                                                        a.12.    prophetic character, including charisms.

2.The People

   of God.

                        IV.       Relationship                  a.13.    universality of the people.

                                    with the human race.     a.14.    fullness of incorporation.

                                    a.13-17.                       a.15.    separated Christians.

                                                                        a.16.    non-Christians.

                                                                        a.17.    the mission of universal


The Title:

The conciliar documents, like papal encyclicals, are to be known by the first words of their latin text, and so special care was presumably taken to make these significant.  The words LUMEN GENTIUM which open the constitution on the Church appeared with the 1963 text.  That of 1962 began AETERNUS UNIGENITI PATER, rather reminiscent of Vatican I’s PASTOR AETERNUS.  The words LUMEN GENTIUM look outwards and stress the universal mission of both Christ and the Church.  They are an implicit quotation from Isa. 42:6, but ‘gentes’ here of course no longer means the gentiles in opposition to Israel but simply all the peoples of the world.  We may be especially glad that this phrase entitles the Council’s greatest document not only because of its missionary significance but also because it was a phrase very dear to Pope John, and was used as the key words of his radio message to the world on 11 September, 1962, just before the Council opened.  It is Christ who is the light of the nations, but his light shines through the Church.

Common theme of these two chapters:


The first two chapters of the constitution stand together, providing a rich basic  theology of the Church.  In draft B of the document the order followed was: c.1, Mystery of the Church; c.2, the Hierarchy; c.3, the People of God and the Laity.  But it was pointed out in the second session that the term ‘People of God’ includes the whole Church, the hierarchy as well.  Laity and hierarchy are divisions within God’s people, and therefore a study of the People of God must come before one of the hierarchy.  PEOPLE OF GOD, in fact, is an important name for the Church, while the hierarchy is a ministry within the Church (or rather, those performing that ministry).  We have to see the Church as a whole before we speak of a ministry within her.  Hence a chapter on the People of God was placed before that on the hierarchy.

The matter of c.2 might in fact have been merged into c.1.  It was kept apart both to stop c.1 from becoming too long and then because of a certain difference of approach: c.1 deals more with the divine, c.2 with the human side of the Church’s nature.  The Church on earth is a gathering of men by God: he forms and gives this gathering its special characteristics.  So, in studying the Church’s nature, there are two aspects to be considered – that of the gift, and that of those who receive it.  Roughly speaking, c.1 deals with the first aspect: the Church’s mystery as a gift of God; c.2 deals with the second aspect: the human community, the people of God.  But the two sides are so completely inter-involved that not only is there of course no division between them, but even a distinction should not be pressed.

The very existence of these two well-developed chapters on the Church’s general nature, placed before any treatment of the hierarchy, is the first and possibly even the most important contribution of the constitution to our understanding of the Church.  Never again will others be able to say that we seem only to speak about the governmental side of the Church; in the past that was often almost true.  From now on it cannot be.  In these two chapters on the nature of the Church there is no detailed mention of the hierarchy at all.  The body of the Church is described, and only when that has been done does the constitution go on to speak in detail of the ministry within the Church.

Note that each of these two chapters is fairly clearly divided into half, as in the summary above; if the four units are seen as such a study of the main lines of thought will be greatly assisted.

Chapter – 1:


The essence of the Church is very finely expressed in a.1.  The Church is the sacrament of  UNION WITH GOD and of unity among men.  That is where we start from – not a juridically conceived ‘perfect society’ but ‘union with God’, of which the Church as we know her is the sacrament, that is to say the visible sign and embodiment.

Union with God means union with the three persons of God, Father, Son, Holy Spirit.  The Church is indeed DE TRINITATE.  In order to gather men into this unity of God, the Father sent the Son in whose life and especially in whose death and paschal sacrifice the Church is inaugurated.  It is in the eucharistic sacrifice and sacrament that what Christ did then is continually expressed and made effective for us: in this way the unity of men, the body of Christ, is brought about.  But it is the Holy Spirit who continually vivifies, sanctifies, and rejuvenates the Church of God: Christ provides the ‘shape’ of the Church, the Spirit the breath of life.

This opening section is concluded with the fine sentence: ‘Thus the universal Church is revealed as “a people brought into unity from the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit” (a.4).  These four opening articles really provide an exquisite summa of essential ecclesiology and deserve deep meditation.

a.5 provides an extension of a.3: the historical work of Christ especially in terms of the kingdom.  The meaning of the kingdom is not easy to express precisely.  The kingdom of God is the fullness of humanity’s service of God.    Preaching the kingdom, Jesus inaugurates the Church, and the Church is continually bringing the kingdom nearer to realization, but the two cannot simply be identified – at least until the end of time.

 In a.6 we find the presentation of a wide variety of scriptural images for the Church.  Drawn from the life of the countryside and the common trades they can be specially valuable for catechetical work in non-industrialized societies.  The images given in a.6 could very well form the basis for a course of sermons.  Note that the ‘body of Christ’ in a.7 is not given simply as another image.  This title cannot be put on the same level as the images previously referred to, as it has a deeper and more precise theological meaning.

In a.8 for the first time we meet the word ‘society’.  The Church is indeed a visible society.  We live in a visible world.  Christ was a visible man and the divine communion he came to bring, which has been described up till now, must take a visible and social form.  It involves the gathering of men in a human society  which requires leadership, etc. like other human societies.  Therefore the divine fellowship, the body of Christ existing in the visible world, must take the form of a visible society, the earthly (hierarchical) Church.  The identity of the two was stressed in Pius XII’s encyclicals MYSTICI CORPORIS and HUMANI GENERIS; it is repeated here, but in a modified form.  The single Church of Christ cannot be simply and absolutely identified with the one visible Roman communion, for the Council recognizes important ‘ecclesial elements’ separated from the latter.  The visible Church as sacrament (manifest and effective sign) of union with God is one and exclusive, but what it signifies extends beyond its visible frontiers.  Hence, whereas draft B stated unequivocally ‘This Church is the Roman Catholic Church’, the final text declares ‘This Church SUBSISTS in the R.C. Church’.  The implications of this tiny verbal modification may be very great.

Chapter – 2:


a.9 is a fundamental one.  The PEOPLE OF GOD is the Councils characteristic name for the Church.  Note that the description of the people starts with the fact of the covenant.  The Church is God’s new people.  Why? Because Christ instituted a new eternal covenant in his blood of cross and Eucharist.  We cannot understand this term ‘people of God’ without the covenant idea: the historical agreement whereby a group of men are made into God’s chosen people.

God’s people is ‘a kingdom of priests’.  Until recently we have greatly neglected the truth of the priesthood of all the faithful, so stressed by Lutherans.  Here it is called the ‘common priesthood’ as distinguished from the ‘ministerial priesthood’ of holy orders.  Note that both are sacramental in origin and expression and, of course, that all ministers share in the common or universal priesthood.  This is a real participation in Christ’s Priesthood, and it is actuated in the whole of the Church’s worship centred upon offering the Eucharist, to which every Christian is called.

The final paragraph of a.11 speaks of the universal vocation of Christians to perfect sanctity; it anticipates the theme of c.5.

Besides the priestly and prophetic gifts which are common to all the christian people, there are many other special one to this person or that which are given by the Holy Spirit for the good of the Church.  These are called ‘charisms’’; some may be remarkable others very simple.  They are to be welcomed by the hierarchical ministry, but their genuineness and proper use may require testing.

Articles 13-17 must again be seen as a unit.  The key to all five is the initial sentence: ‘All men are called to belong to the new People of God’.  The whole section works out the implications of this statement.  The picture of God’s people is one of an ever richer diversity in unity as the universality of its vocation is little by little realized through historical growth.  Catholics in a state of grace and the communion of Rome are fully incorporated into the unity of the one people, but non-Catholic Christians too are joined to it in many ways – by baptism and the Scriptures and faith and the Holy Spirit: a.15 must, of course, be studied with the Decree on Ecumensim.  Non-Christians as well (Jews, Muslims, everyone) are positively related to the one people in one way or another, for all God’s sons have been called to membership of the new people.  Nevertheless here and now they still lack much; to give it to them and so achieve the desired fullness missionary work is absolutely necessary.  This is not a valuable extra in Church life.  On the contrary: “Proclaiming saving truth to the ends of the earth’ expresses the very purpose and being of the Church and without it the Church would not indeed be here self.  Only thus can we bring to achievement the Catholicity and unity of God’s people: all humanity fully within the one Church, and the one Church fully diversified with the variety of mankind.

Notice that we have said ‘Roman Catholics in a state of grace are FULLY incorporated into the one people’.  Draft B of a.14 had declared that ONLY Catholics are REALLY incorporated into the Church (‘Reapse et simpliciter…illi tantum’); this was a repetition of the words of the encyclical MYSTICI CORPORIS (‘Reapse illi soli’).  But the Fathers preferred to replace the above words with ILLI PLENE.  Full membership, to the mind of the Council, furthermore implies not only fulfilling the external conditions of belonging to the Roman communion, but also includes possession of the Spirit of Christ: ‘Dead” members cannot be ‘full’ members.  If Catholics are incorporated into the ‘full communion’ of the visible Church, non-Catholic Christians are truly but not fully members of the visible communion.  This does not PER SE limit their sharing in the fellowship of faith and love which is signified, but at the sign level at least their communion with the great Church is not complete.  This is an important advance on earlier official teaching.

This beautiful treatise on the Church ends as it began, with the three persons of God, from whom (in a.1) our eucharistic communion and mission comes and to whom (a.17) it returns.  The universal mission must bring about a universal Eucharist-in the prophetic words of Malachi, ‘In every place there is a sacrifice’-that in this way ‘the fullness of the whole world may pass into the People of God, the Body of the Lord and the Temple of the Holy Spirit, that in Christ, the head of all things, all honour and glory may be rendered to the creator, the Father of the universe’.



1. Introduction.                                                             a.18.    purpose of the chapter

                                   I. Its origin                                a.19.    the apostolic college.

                                                                                    a.20.    bishops are the apostles’

                                                                                                successors by divine institution.

                                                                                    a.21.    entry through consecration-the

                                                                                                fullness of Holy orders.

2. The Episcopate         II. Its nature                              a.22.    the Episcopal college and the

                                                                                                Position of its head.

                                                                                    a.23.    mutual relations of bishops;

                                                                                                world missionary responsibilities

                                    III. Its work                              a.24.    the ministry in general.

                                                                                    a.25.    teaching, and ecclesial infallibility

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            a.26.    sanctifying.

                                                                                    a.27.    pastoral rule.

                                                                                    a.28.    the priesthood.

3. Lesser Orders                                                          a.29.    the diaconate.

Chapter 3 is the longest in the constitution.  Certain points in it were discussed very extensively and finally formulated with great precision, but it would be a mistake to limit the significance of this chapter to those points.  The chapter as a whole is very rich in its teaching.  Its general characteristics are as follows: It is clear in the New Testament that Christ entrusted the direction of His Church to the twelve as a body, a collective unit, and they acted as such in the early days described in the Acts. To them was given full authority: Peter was one of the twelve , their leader. He could not act except as an apostle because that is what he was; but he was not merely their president.  What was given to the Twelve collectively, was explicitly given to him individually.  The one fullness of authority bestowed by Christ was given both to the college and to its head – they not being their collective whole without him, while he in principle acted always as leader of the Twelve.

Peter’s primacy was passed to the popes; the apostles’ ministry to the bishops.  Catholics have never doubted that.  What has not been so clear is that bishops have not merely succeeded individually to a limited charge, but also collectively to the universal one-to a real shared responsibility for the whole Church. It should have been clear, of course, because it was implied by the whole long history of ecumenical councils.  What this chapter now teaches us is just how the character of the Church’s ministry has remained, as it was in apostolic times, collective-cum-individual.  Papal authority is no less than Vatican  I defined it, but it looks rather different when seen as the divinely planned headship of a continuing college.

It will take time to shape the Church’s concrete institutions effectively according to this new vision of collegiality.  We can say in fact that the administration of the Church in the last two or three centuries has been rather un-collegial: instead it has been over-centralized and curial.  Pope Paul’s establishment of the Synod of Bishops in 1965 and its first meeting in October, 1967, is a step in the direction of a regular, practiced collegiality, though of course Pope John’s calling of the Council itself was the first great modern recognition that the Church really needs collegial leadership.

The old ecclesiology frequently described the Church as MONARCHICAL.  Neither the word ‘monarchy’ nor its adjective appear anywhere in the constitution.  We may judge that they are not really very suitable words for our subject, for two reasons: firstly, the concept of a monarchy is too different from that of a college, whose head has indeed a quite unique authority, but of which he is still a member.  Secondly, ‘Monarchy’ is a too secular term, brought in from comparison with civil government; its use was rather characteristic of the general secularization of ecclesiology after the fourteenth century.  Some people today are saying ‘Monarchy is out; democracy is in’.  That is not the sense of the constitution.  These terms fit the government of civil states, but neither really suits the Church, though doubtless they can both in some way be used of her.  “Hierarchical’ is a more helpful word, just because it is not used so characteristically of civil society, and because its general sense is not in itself precise.  To describe what sort of pattern the Church’s hierarchical ministry takes, we may now use the word ‘collegial’.  But its precise meaning is to be ascertained from revelation, not from secular parallels: it signifies that unique balance, first existing between the twelve apostles and their leader, now perpetuated in the permanent pattern of the Church’s ministry.

a.18. Note again the immediate stress on pastoral ministry and service in the opening paragraph.  The job of the hierarchy is ‘to serve its brothers’.  This theme is taken up again later, especially in the last para of a.20, in a.24, and in a.27 where its repetition balances and softens the juridical statement that bishops have proper, ordinary and immediate ecclesiastical authority.

The purpose of the Council here is to follow up Vatican I, proclaimed the ministry of the pope, Peter’s successor and the visible principle of unity in the Church, by speaking of that of the bishops, the successors of the apostles.  Most of a.18 (except the first paragraph) is in fact taken word for word from Vatican I.

At the end of a.20 comes the first of the particular truths which the Fathers wished to state definitely in this chapter and around which their earlier discussions had centred: ‘Bishops have by divine institution taken the place of the apostles as pastors of the Church’.

In a.21 comes the second precise point of teaching: ‘The fullness of the sacrament of Orders is conferred by Episcopal consecration’.  This fullness includes not only the ministry of sanctifying (i.e. the power to administer certain sacraments) but also that of teaching and ruling.  The ‘high priesthood’ of bishops, as received in their consecration, implies this whole circle of work, being a true presentation amid the faithful of the high priesthood of Jesus Christ himself.  It cannot be seen, then, as simply a gift of ‘orders’ to which jurisdiction may be added, even though its actual exercise does require subsequent (normally territorial) delimitation to be settled by the Episcopal college or (as generally at present) its head.

Note that almost nothing is said about whether bishops have specifically sacramental functions (e.g. ordination) absolutely proper to them, that is to say which other priests cannot perform: only episcopal consecration itself is mentioned: it is for bishops to consecrate other bishops.  Even here, however, an earlier text which read that ‘only bishops can admit…. was modified to say simply ‘it is for bishops to admit’.  The sacramental fullness of the episcopate is not to be seen, then, in terms of some isolated sacramental powers but as the sacramental imparting of a total office and function in the Church.

a.22  gives us the heart of the doctrine of Episcopal collegiality and merits especially careful reading.  (The authoritative comment entitled the NOTA PRAEVIA and attached to the constitution at its end bears especially upon the interpretation of this article).  As Peter and the apostles formed one apostolic college, in a similar way the pope and the bishops form one Episcopal college.  Membership of this college depends on consecration AND hierarchical communion with its head and members (a consecrated bishop could exclude himself or be excluded from the college on account of failure to co-operate in the work of the hierarchical ministry).  Both the college and its head permanently possess the fullness of Church authority, but the college is not meaningful without its head and cannot act without at least his approval or concurrence.

a.23 deals with the continuous ‘collegial’ aspect of a bishop’s work-his extra-diocesan responsibilities of one kind and another, including that of helping missionary work; a bishop is by his nature not only a minister for the communion, he is also a minister for the mission.

a.25 is another long and important one.  It presents a summary of doctrine on the Church’s magisterium.  The first section deals with the ordinary non-infallible teaching authority of bishops and pope; the second part with infallible authority seen both in the universal episcopate and in the pope.

What should be particularly noted are the following two points:

The stress is on ECCLESIAL infallibility, on what the Council calls’ the Church’s charism of infallibility’ present both in the pope and in general council.  Whereas draft A, having spoken of papal infallibility, went on to say that the definitions of a general council enjoyed the same infallibility as those of the pope, the final text stresses that ‘the infallibility promised to the Church’ is present in the body of bishops as in the pope.  This is in fact in strict line with the way of speaking of Vatican I.

The text twice stresses the relationship between the infallible teaching authority of the Church and the deposit of revelation.  The former extends as far as the latter and is ruled by it.  It is very important to be clear about this because there have been tendencies to interpret the Church’s infallible authority as extending far beyond revelation, and this was indeed proposed also in draft A.

a.26-27 speak of other sides of the bishop’s work.  Note that every bishop is called a ‘vicar of Christ’; also that the meaning of a bishop’s office is expressed in terms of a local church centred upon the Eucharist.

The last two articles (28 and 29) speak of the ministry of priests and deacons, who also form part of the Church’s divinely instituted hierarchy and share in almost every side of the bishops’ ministry.  Let us note that the general pattern of collegiality is seen as applying to the particular church (the diocese) as well as to the universal Church.  The priests of the diocese form, with their bishop, a sort of sacerdotal college, a single PRESBYTERIUM, which does not limit the bishop’s authority but indicates the way his ministry should be mediated to his whole flock across the co-operation of his co-workers.  The old idea of a ‘monarchical episcopate’ is as misleading as that of the monarchical papacy.

Article 29 quietly indicates what brings about a further revolution in the ministry in coming years.  For long the DIACONATE has been no more than a stage in seminary life.  This article points out its real purpose in the service of the people of God, and of how many functions – at present in practice reserved to priests – deacons can carry out.  With the present growing shortage of priests, it would be most valuable in many countries to have a permanent diaconate restored, but as it would surely be difficult to find many unmarried men for this work the Council envisages the ordination of married men as deacons in the future.

As with priests, bishops, the pope himself, their ordination and status will be for the service of God’s people, the building up of the body of Christ.  (For further treatment of collegiality see the decree on Bishops).


Chapter 4 THE LAITY:


a.30. Introduction.

a.31. What we mean by laity.

a.32. Their ecclesial character in general.

a.33. Their apostolate in general.

a.34. The laity share in the priesthood of Christ.

a.35. They share in his prophetic office.

a.36. They share in his kingly power.

a.37. Co-operation with the clergy.

a.38. Conclusion.

Note that this chapter on the laity is linked very closely both with c.2 (they were originally joined together) and with the decree on the lay apostolate where, of course, its practical implications are developed.

In a.31 the meaning of the word ‘laity’ is considered under two aspects:

NEGATIVELY – all the faithful who are not in the hierarchy or religious orders.

POSITIVELY – the laity are those of the people of God who have a properly secular character, their normal activities being the activities of the world.  Whereas the characteristic activity of the clergy derives materially from the nature of the Church, the characteristic activity of the laity derives materially from the nature of the world, of ordinary human society .  Both must equally seek the kingdom of God.

a.32. The laity are full members of the body of Christ, of the people of God.  Variety of functions in the body causes no inequality in essentials; what unites clergy and laity is of far greater importance than what distinguished them.  What unites them is Christian brotherhood in grace and a common call to perfection; what distinguishes them is diversity in service and function.  Note how here as in a.30, the theology of the laity grows naturally out of the doctrine of the Church as the body of Christ: the unity of many diverse members.

The basic sense of the lay apostolate is established in a.33.  The laity have an apostolate because they are laity.  They share in the mission of the Church just because they are living members of the people of God; appointed to this mission by the very fact of their consecration in baptism and confirmation.  In the past the lay apostolate was sometimes defined as ‘the co-operation of the laity in apostolate of the hierarchy’.  This was not a good definition.  The hierarchy have an apostolate proper to them and so have the laity.  The lay apostolate comes primarily, not from a special offer to do part of the hierarchy’s job for it, but from the obligation of every baptized Christian to share actively in the mission of Christ.  Evidently many laymen are called over and above this to join in the apostolate of the hierarchy, and this work may be very important.  But basically the lay apostolate is precisely that apostolate which is proper to laity as laity, i.e. as Christians not sharing in the hierarchical ministry.

a.34 is really a repeat of a.10 – 11, and a.35 in part of a.12.  They were inserted when the old chapter on ‘the People of God and the laity’ was split into two and the former sections dealing with the priestly and prophetical aspects of Christian living were carried to c.2.

However a.35 adds some special stresses on the most characteristic lay aspects of implementing Christ’s prophetic role.  In many circumstances evangelization, witnessing to Christ, can be done only by them; moreover, at the very heart of human life-the family – it is for married people to be witnesses of  Christian faith and give love to one another and to their children.

Laymen have a special function in the carrying through of the royal work of Christ (a.36).  This work entails the re-ordering of the earth and of human society so that across the attainment by the terrestrial city of human culture, distributive justice, personal freedom, the light of Christ will be manifested and creation enabled to give greater glory to God.  But all this work belongs principally to the laity – the ensuring that the kingdom of Christ is advanced not only by the progress of the Church but also by the progress of the world.

a.37 earnestly advocates a truly active co-operation between clergy and laity, even though its style remains rather clericalist.  While all Christians have a duty of respect and obedience in Church matters towards their pastors, they have also a duty of free action and personal responsibility.  What is required is a two–way traffic.  Suggestions, initiatives, criticisms, if given in the right way, are needed from the laity who, when competent, must be ready to speak out and act with confidence and courage.  The health of the Church depends upon mutual trust and sharing of responsibilities between hierarchy and laity.

The whole chapter stresses the outward-looking side of the Church.  In Pope Paul’s words ‘the Church is for the world’.  Now this world-serving character of the Church is born especially by the laity.  It is in a way for the clergy to serve the laity, the laity to serve the whole human society.  This theme of course is developed in the constitution on the Modern World and in the decree on the Lay Apostolate.  The present chapter is the link between the constitution on the Church and those other more obviously ‘outward-looking’ documents.  The layman, it concludes, must be the sacrament of the living God before the world.  What the soul is in the body, let Christians be in the world.

‘The apostolate which deals with the temporal order itself and seeks to imbue it with a Christian spirit is normally the special responsibility of the layman, so that in this task he has a larger role than the cleric, whose first responsibility is that of preaching the word of God and dispensing the divine mysteries.  In the relation of the faithful to the Church hierarchy the principle of subsidiarity should be followed…..This means that those things which parish priests can do by themselves should not be taken over by the bishop’s curia, and just as those things which – leaving the hierarchical structure of the Church intact-can be done by bishops or bishops’ conferences should be left to them, so also those things which the layman can accomplish on his own initiative and responsibility should not be taken over by the clergy, always with the proviso that the hierarchical structure of the Church is preserved’. (From a council speech of Bishop Hoffner of Munster).

Chapters 5 and 6 HOLINESS:

5. The universal call to holiness              a.39.    the Church is holy with the holiness of

                                                                        Christ, her spouse and head.

a.40.    all her members are called to share in this

                                                           a.41.    every condition of life has its own way to


                                                           a.42.    but the heart of holiness for everyone is love.

6. The particular call through the

religious life                                           a.43.    definition of the religious state: a stable way of

                                                                        life embodying the evangelical counsels.

                                                            a.44.    personal and ecclesial reasons for its existence

                                                           a.45.    relation to ecclesiastical authority.

                                                           a.46.    relation to human society.

                                                           a.47.    conclusion.


History of the text:

The 1962 text of the constitution followed the order: bishops, priests, religious, laity; and the chapter on religious was entitled ‘the states of perfection’.  As we saw, in the course of the council this order was changed.  The hierarchy – laity division is basically part of the essential structure of the Church, and should therefore be treated first.  Religious, on the other hand, as the constitution states, are really divided between hierarchy and laity: some belong to one group, some to the other.  Their special state can be better understood when the positive characteristics of both hierarchy and laity have been explained.  Hence the 1963 text adopted the order: hierarchy, laity, religious.  However, the last chapter was given a quite new title, “The Vocation to Holiness in the Church’, and its first section spoke briefly of that vocation as universal’.  The passage ‘Be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect’ was quoted, and as referring to all men.  Its second section then spoke of the particular vocation to religious life, still described as the ‘state of perfection’.

This was not the end of the story.  As a result of the discussions of the second session, further drastic alterations were undertaken.  Among them we may note: (a) The section on the universal vocation to holiness was greatly enlarged, ceasing to be little more than an  ‘opener’ to a treatment of religious.  It had become the most striking part of the chapter.  (b) All reference to the ‘state of perfection’ (or ‘state of acquiring perfection’) was dropped from the text of the section on religious, as (previously) it had been dropped from the title – though traditional, it is a misleading term, for all men are called to perfection, not just religious; equally in this life no one attains it.  The term had a juridical rather than a theological meaning.  (c) This second section now stresses the ecclesial and eschatological significance of the religious life.

Questions still remained, however, on the dividing and placing of this matter.  Should it continue to form a single chapter, or be divided clearly into two? Again, many urged that now a fine section on the universal vocation to sanctity had been written, it was in fact in the wrong place.  It should not follow the chapters on the hierarchy and the laity and precede that on religious; it should precede all these chapters and be linked with that on the people of God.  The order would then have been:

The People of God.

Its vocation to sanctity.

The hierarchy.

The laity.


In principle this might well have been the best and most logical plan.  However, it would have involved a very big rewriting of many sections of the constitution at a late date, and would also have cut in half the treatment of matters which were really linked together in the two sections of this chapter.  It was agreed therefore to retain the existing order, while inserting in c.2, a.11 a brief paragraph pointing forward to c.5 Secondly, it was decided (by a general vote of the fathers in the third session, 30 September, 1964) to constitute these two sections as two separate chapters.  This division shows the importance of the religious life for the Church as a whole, and that surely corresponds to the facts of the case.  Many fathers had feared that, with the new stress on the universal vocation to holiness, there was a danger of minimizing the significance of the religious vocation.  They felt that a separate chapter would counteract this danger.  The chapter as finally written shows this significance as a truly theological ore; the religious state, as canonically established in the church, constitutes a sign-a visible human embodiment-of the deep things of spiritual life and of the other-worldliness of the Church of God.

Chapter 5:

The Church is essentially holy, as we affirm in the Creed.  This holiness is of God, not of men.  She is holy because Christ, her lord and her head, has made her holy.  Being a member of her necessarily means being called to share in this holiness; one cannot be a Church member and not be so called.  Though given by God, the holiness of the Church will then be manifested in the lives of her members.  Called to grace in baptism and faith, all Christians must develop in their lives the holiness they have received from God.  This chapter really offers a very fine SUMMARY OF CHRISTIAN MORAL THEOLOGY-of a morality wholly informed by love.  God is love; being given his life means being invited to love and to grow up into a fullness of charity-love of God, love of one’s fellow men.  For bishops and priests this takes a predominantly pastoral form; for married people a faithful commitment to the family, for workers, for the disabled, for every group and every individual person the holiness of love takes on its special form.  It is a pity that the sentence in a.41 referring to the widowed and the unmarried from this point of view is so very weak.  In fact the treatment of the variety of people described in a.41 on `the forms and tasks of life` is very over-weighted on the clerical side. This is a point where the Council`s intended width of view did not quite come across in the form of words used.  But anyway the whole of the preceding chapter was really concerned with the holiness of the laity and the principle is here: diversity of human life and character combined with unity in the transforming love that comes from God to be the very life and purpose of the Church. One and all we are called to `the pursuit of perfect love`.

Christ gave his disciples  both counsels and commands.  There is no clear distinction between them, but Christian writers and ecclesiastical tradition concentrated on three of the former as the foundation  for a special life of detachment from the world and christened them `the evangelical counsels`-virginity, poverty, obedience.  In fact there are many counsels in the New Testament, though obedience is not clearly among them.  The vows are means approved by the Church as of special value upon the road to holiness; but the counsels are elements in Christ`s teaching which concern the whole Christian community, and are therefore spoken of in c.5 and not only in c.6




Chapter 6:


Nevertheless the exteriorization of the counsels in a clearly visible form has an importance of its own for the Church.  And that is what has happened.  Historically they have been embodied in various `stable ways of life`, proper to different religious orders and societies, whose membership can be most helpful for attaining the full supernatural end of man; sound teaching, a fraternal communion, the continual harmonizing of freedom with obedience, fidelity to vowed resolutions-all these things can help man greatly on `the road of love`.

A chapter on the religious life in a constitution DE ECCLESIA must, however, necessarily consider it not so much from the personal viewpoint as from that of the strict ecclesial significance of this particular form of living.  The immediate purpose of the profession of the evangelical counsels is two-fold: to cut away hindrances to the service of God  and to be consecrated positively and wholly to that service.  Now, for the baptized, the service of God has always to be given in and across the life of the Church.  Christian spirituality is personal, but personal IN THE CHURCH.  The ecclesial sense of religious profession can be summed up in three points:  Firstly, it is an explicitation and affirmation, by a most deliberate human action, of the baptismal consecration of this Christian and of every Christian; by it the fruit of the original consecration can become more abundant.  Secondly, it is a visible sign of the Church`s nature-both of her bridal union with Christ and of her `other-worldliness`.  The Church transcends the needs and aspirations of the earthly city.  True religious manifest this transcendance in their lives.  Thirdly, it is made effectively fruitful for the whole Church by the kind of life and work proper to each institute: prayer, teaching, nursing……No religious society may be `useless` as regards the life of the whole body, but this does not mean that each  society must undertake external apostolic activities.  Contemplatives are at least as ecclesially fruitful as active orders.

In the past there has been an age-old rivalry between `seculars` and `regulars` between the local diocese and its authority and the `exempt` international religious society. Councils have traditionally been an occasion for bishops to try and bring EXEMPTION to an end, by imposing Episcopal authority upon the local members of a religious order.  This Council witnessed something of the kind but like previous attempts it was largely rejected.  The need for exemption is restated in a.45.  As a matter of fact, if members of religious orders have often seemed uninterested in the pastoral needs  of the local church, members of the secular clergy have often seemed uninterested in the wider missionary and intellectual needs of the universal Church. The solution of such rivalries and misunderstandings is not to be found in a chance of legislation, but rather in a greater awareness upon both sides of the fullness of the body of Christ and the variety of its needs.   Religious societies must indeed be willing to share in the life and work of the local church under the authority of its bishop, but the general good of the whole Church requires too wider organizations which could not function without some measure of canonical exemption of congregations from local authorities.

There is a paradox in religious life which parallels and indeed reflects a paradox in the Church`s own nature-the linking of retreat from the world and from some ordinary human patterns of living with the SERVICE OF THE WORLD and of human society.  In the nature of the Church one may say that laity and religious manifest opposite aspects: the function of the lay state is the service of God within the pattern of the most normal human life and the consecration thereby of the human city to God; the function of the religious state is the renunciation of much normal human life and the erection of a sign that the Church believes in another world and that `the people of God has here no lasting city` (compare a.44 with a.36).  Nevertheless any individual Christian, in either state, has to live the fullness of the Christian vocation, not just that side of it which is symbolized by his state: thus the layman needs to practise supernatural hope, the religious must reach spiritual maturity across a truly human development.  Each state has its own temptations to be avoided, related to an unbalanced grasping of its own particular ideal.  Hence (in a.46) the Council stresses that the religious life, when accepted and lived in the right way, is opposed neither to human maturity, nor to spiritual freedom, nor to the service of human society.  On the contrary.  It is because the Church is essentially other-worldly that she can so disinterestedly and fruitfully serve this one.  The religious life must be the visible sign of both these things.  The more fully religious live the meaning of their vows, the more effective will be their ministry among their fellow men.  In it the Church wishes to portray, in a specially manifest way, Christ and his ministry.



A chapter on this theme was explicitly asked for by Pope John, but it only materialized late in the council’s deliberation.  In fact there was no discussion on c.7 in general congregation until the third session.  The text had only been prepared in theological commissions in the course of that year, 1964, and it was little changed in the third session, except for some substantial additions in a.48.  The fact that it did not elicit much controversy does not lessen its importance in helping to provide a really full picture of what the Church is.

Its aim is not to describe the Church in heaven or in purgatory, so much as to show how the pilgrim Church on earth is journeying towards heaven and remains united with those who have gone before us to pass from earth to purgatory or the contemplation of God.  We are ‘seeking the city which is to come’, the condition of the Church as we know it is essentially temporary; we are on our way to something perfect and eternal.  This chapter is concerned with the whole vista of the ‘beyond’ and our relationship to it – a beyond whose fall pattern is future and collective: a ‘renewal of all things’ with the manifest perfecting of the universe and the whole human race under the kingship of Christ.

Concern with all this is what we mean by ESCHATOLOGY-a key word in modern theology and scripture interpretations: the doctrine of the last things.

Eschatology deals then with the ‘last things’: death, judgement, hell and heaven.  However, if we compare the eschatology which we find in the scriptures (located chiefly in Matt. 24 and 25, 1 and 2 Thess., and Rev.) with the usual treatises of theological manuals on this subject we cannot help noticing that the former is much more collective in its concern, the latter individualist.  The manuals lay more stress upon the individual’s judgement and eternal reward in heaven or punishment in hell; the scriptures the ‘last times’ of the world, the collective judgement, the full establishment of the kingdom of Christ, the new heaven and the new earth.  In fact the initial draft constitutions, sent to the bishops, before the Council began, included one on the deposit of faith which had a chapter devoted to the ‘last things’.  This was very much akin to the approach of the manuals, an individualistic approach; it included a lengthy section on the punishments of hell.  This draft constitution never, in fact, got discussed at all, but the last things reappeared two years later in our c.7, but now with an altered approach.

It is vitally important in eschatology to balance the collective with the individual, and the future with the present.  It is this that c.7 tries hard to do.  A teaching on the ‘last things’ cannot be silent upon the fate of the individual: the judgement that follows death, the states that can follow judgement-and a.48 speaks explicitly of all this.  Nevertheless the fate of the individual, to be understood aright, must be seen within the context of the fate of the body to which he belongs.  What this chapter shows so finely is that a treatise ‘on the last things’ must be an ecclesial treatise, that the body of Christ itself has a future and a final condition.  The beatitude of the individual only makes full sense within the context of the wedding feast of the Lamb and his bride, the new Jerusalem.  Moreover, the new Jerusalem is not only the Church perfected, but also the world.  Eschatology is a doctrine about the cosmos: all things must be renewed.

Every aspect of the pilgrim Church must be seen in the light of the heavenly Church, not as two parallel organizations, but as sign and reality, or as that which is in process of becoming and that which it will finally be.  However, if this is a relationship between present and future, it is also true that it involves a relationship within the present, because the heavenly Church does already exist.  Many missions of members of the body of Christ have passed out of the state of wayfaring into that of glory and the Church on earth shares their active communion.  This is the difficulty in eschatology: it is dealing both with the final state of completeness when the pilgrim Church will no longer exist and the whole of creation is reformed in Christ, and with the already arrived heavenly state of the holy dead and of their relations with the still existing pilgrim Church.  Hence eschatology refers both to the future and to something already realized in the present, and concerns both the collective fate of Church and world at the end of time and the individual fate of the human person whose span of earthly pilgrimage is short and quickly over.

All this is difficult, but eschatology is notoriously difficult.  Nevertheless the Council refused to leave it aside, and we cannot either.  The above considerations should help in understanding the themes which have been brought together in this brief but beautiful chapter so full of scriptural passages and liturgical references.  Let us note too that the eschatological aspect of the Church is not confined to this chapter;  it is woven into the whole constitution- for example, in the last sentences of a.2, 8 and 42 (see also L.a.8, MW. A.39, etc.).  Furthermore a.44 suggests the eschatological significance of the consecrated religious life and a.68 that of the Virgin Mary:  she is the sign offered in hope to the pilgrim Church of how the final perfection will be.

While a.48 is more concerned with the future, a.49 and 50 treat chiefly of the earthly Church’s present communion with the Church beyond the grave.  If the visible Church is a human society with ministry and sacraments, all this is a sign of the wider communion of all who are of Christ and share his Spirit.  This ultimate communion is one of charity and worship:  we love and we glorify God.

The union of the pilgrim Church on earth with the Church in heaven has then the following characteristics.

It is a UNION OF MUTUAL LOVE.  The saints are our friends and co-heirs in Jesus Christ, and their example shows us the way to grow in perfect union with Christ.

It is a UNION OF MUTUAL PRAYER.  We on earth pray for and to the dead.  We pray to the saints that they may pray for us; we know very well that they have no power outside Christ to hear or help us, but we know too that we and they form one body in Christ, that it is a body of mutual concern, and that this is what our head desires.

It is a UNION IN LITURGY.  Just as the whole constitution teaches that the life of the pilgrim Church is centred upon the Eucharist, so this chapter emphasizes that the union of the earthly and heavenly Churches is above all a liturgical one, and that it is in the celebration of the Eucharist that we are most united with the saints when we are most fully offering worship to God (cf.L.a.8).  For this reason the treatment of the subject is closed in a.50 with the words of the Roman canon.

The point of a.51 is pastoral.  Having stated the doctrine of the communion of saints (for which see also L.a.104), the Council recognizes that in fact there have been abuses whereby the cult of the saints has become almost disengaged from its essential Christological and ecclesiological context.  In reaction some have tended to deny all point to prayer and communion with them.  The Council wishes such wrong attitudes to be corrected:  a truly Catholic sense of union with all the blessed should rather excite in us a still greater determination to praise and glorify God both now and for ever in the heavenly Jerusalem.


History of the Text:

Chapter eight is entitled ‘The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God in the mystery of Christ and the Church’.  As other parts of the constitution this text stands at the end of a lengthy evolution, but one of its own.  In 1962 the Fathers were given a draft text for a dogmatic constitution on ‘The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and Mother of Men’.  This text (A) was never debated but was reissued in April, 1963, with a new title-‘The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church’.  In the second session, when the second text of DE ECCLESIA was being extensively discussed, it was proposed that no separate document should be produced on Mary, but instead that a chapter devoted to her should be included in that constitution.  It was argued that this would better show Mary’s organic place within the pattern of redemption.  Others argued strongly to retain a separate Marian constitution as more in line with the various Marian developments of the last century.  The bishops voted on the question on 29 October, 1963.  By 1,114 votes to 1,074 it was decided to speak of her within the DE ECCLESIA.

A new text was therefore needed, which would fit in with the rest of the constitution.  A theological sub-commission, representing both tendencies, set to work and in March, 1964, after four previous versions, brought forth a fifth (B) which they judged satisfactory.  Very little of A remained in it.  B was then considerably revised in June by the Doctrinal Commission to produce C.  Then B and C were together dispatched to the bishops and C was discussed at the beginning of the third session.  Some further changes were made, to give us D, the final text, which was approved almost unanimously.

Differing Tendencies:

Clearly, the very considerable difficulties encountered in producing this text arose from the existence of two contrasting attitudes in the Church with regard to Mariology.  One point of view is more plainly Mariological, in an evident way.  It has rejoiced in the increasing number of Marian definitions, declarations, feasts and congresses of the last hundred years, and it hoped for a further notable ‘advance’ in Marian teaching from the Council.. For years this body of opinion has been concentrating on the title ‘Mediatrix of all graces’ and it expected the Council to produce a constitution firmly enshrining this idea.

The other point of view is more closely linked with the biblical, liturgical and ecumenical movements.  It has urged the return on all sides of the Church’s life to a more scriptural and liturgical way of viewing things, and it has wanted to apply this also to Marian teaching and devotion.  It has argued that while everything in Modern Marian developments and expression may be capable of theological justification, yet the impression given is still very different from that of scripture and the liturgy, and that a good deal of popular Marian devotion has been clearly unbalanced.  The need today is not so much to advance as to deepen and purify Marian devotion.  Moreover this point of view has stressed ecumenical considerations.  Protestants are very suspicious of Mariology.  Every Marian ‘advance’ seems to them to dig a new ditch between us and them.  The opportune thing for the life of the Church today is not then to press Marian doctrine to all its logical conclusions, but so to express it in such a scriptural and traditional way as to commend it to all non-Catholic Christians.

Both these points of view have full right to exist when the Church, and of course many people would hold a bit to both.  Nevertheless clearly two opposing tendencies have been present and it was the Council’s duty to produce a statement which, so far as possible, would prove satisfactory to all important bodies of opinion.  That it managed to obtain an almost unanimous final vote, after a practically fifty-fifty division one year before, is a measure of the balance of  this chapter and also, surely, of docility to the guiding of the Holy Spirit.

Clearly the basic decision to include a Marian text within the Church constitution had to be adhered to and this naturally determined the general treatment to some extent.  It was decided to make of it the final chapter.  This seemed the natural place.  The other chapters have a certain internal cohesion, leading up, in c.7, to the vision of the heavenly Church.  c.8 relates to this in two ways.  Firstly, it is clearly related to c.7.  Much of what is said there about the saints in general applies in a special way to Mary.  Paragraphs in c.7 on their position in the Church, intercession and cult prepare the way for comparable ones in c.8.  Secondly, this last chapter somehow sums up the whole constitution.  May as the type of the Church bears within her all its varied characteristics.  Having treated of them in the life of all Christians in the preceding chapters, the constitution concludes by showing them in her who most perfectly fulfilled the Church’s whole vocation in faith, charity and obedience.

It is explicitly stated in a.54 that the Church did not intend to say EVERYTHING about Mary or to rule out all approaches or ideas not appearing in the constitution.  It does appeal for balance and the awareness of ecumenical needs, but its aim is not to condemn those who would like to express their love for the Virgin Mary in rather different terms.  The freedom  which the Council has called for in so many other fields surely applies here too.

Chief characteristics:

This chapter offers a broad, rounded teaching about OUR LADY.  There is certainly no minimizing tendency.  It speaks of all the chief aspects of Marian doctrine and draws them together in a simple but beautiful synthesis.  Never before has a council of the Church offered such an extensive or profound statement upon the position of Mary in the plans of God.

The tone is nevertheless very MODERATE  and restrained, though no less devoted for that.  There is nothing here to jar on the ears of non-Catholics unless, of course, they are rather uncritically anti-Marian.  It is interesting to see that there is no single reference in text or notes to St Bernard of Clairvaux, St. Alphonsus Liguori or St. Louis-Marie De Montfort, the three great Marian writers of the post-patristic period, some of whose expressions nevertheless seem to some a bit extreme or overemotional.

Instead the text is extremely SCRIPTURAL and PATRISTIC.  References to the early Fathers, both Greek and Latin, abound and so do quotations from the New Testament, beginning with a brief but basic Pauline text.  Every effort has been made to show that Marian devotion is not-as critics have maintained-ainti-scriptural.

It is clearly shown how Marian doctrine and devotion fit into a completely CHRISTO-CENTRIC scheme of things.  In no way can Mary detract from Christ`s work or from the closeness of the union of Christians with him.  On the contrary she manifests just how perfectly a simple human being can be united with her saviour.

It is ECCLESIAL.  This indeed is its most striking positive characteristic as of course befits a chapter within DE ECCLESIA.  A rediscovery of patristic doctrine on the deep relationship of Mary and the Church has been a key aspect of modern scientific Mariology.  In the fullest way we here see Mary standing in all her glorious humility both in and for the Church.

Finally, as has been indicated, there is a deep ECUMENICAL PREOCCUPATION  running through the text and stressed explicitly in a.67.  Everything is to be done to help other Christians see the truth about Mary. That should be the great Marian `advance` of our time: not a new doctrine but the rediscovery by all believers of her place in the redemption.  Eastern Christians already venerate her most devoutly (a.69), as do very many Anglicans` and growing number of other Protestants.  We should pray that the teaching of this chapter  will help to increase their number still more in years  to come .  In the past,  as a matter of fact, Marian devotion has been a cause of division.  Instead we must make it today a cause of unity.



The central doctrine concerning Our Lady is shown to be the divine maternity.  All else follows from this that she was `the Mother of God` (a.53) and that she freely accepted to be so: she gave her assent to the World of God, committing herself whole-heartedly to his will in faith obedience (a.56).  The constitution stresses her faith: she did not understand everything but unhesitatingly she `advanced in her pilgrimage of faith` (a.58).  Just as in philosophy we find that AGERE SEQUITUR ESSE, so in theology it is universally true that the more we receive God’s grace, the more we share in the giving of it.  Mary` s singular adherence to God` s will made of her a singular sharer in her Son` s work of giving divine life to all men.  The fullness of her personal acceptance permitted a fullness of active co-operation and made of her truly the mother of men, especially the faithful (a.54, 60-62)

A word here must be said about the title `MOTHER OF THE CHURCH`.  It does not appear in the constitution.  It was part of draft A, especially with its revised title, but had no place in B or C. However, in one of the final changes of the third session an addition was made to the end of a.53  which in some way hints at this title without quite using it.  At the clost of the third session, 21 November, 1964, Pope Paul proclaimed the Virgin Mary ‘Mother of the Church, that is to say of all the people of God, of the faithful as well as of the pastors’.  It is clear that a majority of the fathers preferred not to use this title in the constitution, doubtless because in itself it is rather untraditional.  On the other hand the pope was perfectly free to make use of it himself if he saw fit; it is clearly only the phrase, not the idea, which is untraditional.  That Mary is the MATER FIDELIUM  is most traditional, and ‘the faithful’ is only another way of saying ‘ the People of God’.  Now that we are stressing the human side of the Church and that ‘the People of God’ is a highly fitting name for the Church, it is clearly the same thing to say ‘Mother of the faithful’ and ‘Mother of the Church’.  Pope Paul stressed this way of looking at it by repeating twice ‘the Church, that is to say the people of God’.  Mary remains a member of the Church, just as  the mother of a family remains a member of the family.  That the mother of Jesus is the mother of all his brethren is simply the full meaning of John 19: 26-7.

Type of the Church:

Mary is the type of the Church.  For many Catholics this may well be the most striking affirmation of this chapter.  It is stated explicitly in three separate articles (a.53, 63, 65).  It must be understood within a whole developing context.  First of all, in her full acceptance of the word of God, Mary represents humanity itself.  She is ‘the daughter of Adam’, the new Eve, as many of the earliest Fathers of the Church asserted (a.56). Representing all humanity in its passive need for God and potential active acceptance of his gift, she specially represented the chosen people of God, the children of Abraham, who had been prepared for the coming of the saviour.  She is not only ‘daughter of Adam’ but ‘daughter of Sion’ (a..55), faithfully accepting the promise made to her fathers.

The Church is the new Sion the new Israel.   Mary is a member of both the old people and the new, and she represents both.  Her undeviating faith and charity, her virginal surrender to God of her whole self, her fruitful motherhood, her presence at the foot of the cross: all this typifies the Church, virgin and mother.  Mary’s life on earth perfectly represents the life of the pilgrim Church, and her life in heaven perfectly represents the final fullness of the celestial Church after the resurrection of the dead.  God chose to manifest the character of humanity’s acceptance of his Son not only through the multiple community of the redeemed but also through the example of  a single historical personality, who typifies the perfection of the whole in the more easily understood career of one individual.  And for this he chose his mother.

In this way the constitution treats of Mary’s position less in terms of static privileges than as a dynamic sharing in the history of salvation.



a.62 touching on Mary as mediatrix ( or mediator) was undoubtedly a focal point of argument.  Some fathers were much in favour of proclaiming Mary mediatrix of graces, others were equally opposed to it.  The history of the texts is significant.  A included a strong section on the subject including the title ‘Mediatrix of all graces’.  Text  B omitted the word entirely.  C put it in a very restrained sentence.  Finally, in the third session, it was retained but joined with the title of ‘advocate, helper, benefactress’ which takes away from a technical sense.  Furthermore, a new paragraph (‘No creature could ever….’) was added at this last stage to prevent any possible misunderstanding in the use of the title.

This extra paragraph is in fact an important one for it expresses very clearly the principle of the active co-operation of the redeemed in every aspect of the redeemer’s work. We all share in his priesthood (mediation and priesthood are, moreover, very closely connected concepts), we share in his kingship, we share in his redemption – not only in receiving, but in giving. Mary is not unique in this role. It is part of the Christian vocation, But she is unique in the fullness of her response to it.


The concluding section of the chapter refers first to the liturgy and pastoral requirements of Marian devotion. a.66 and 67 can be compared with a.51, the point being the same: not emotion or vain credulity but solid faith and a special care to avoid scandalizing separated  Christians. Finally the Council proclaims Mary as a sign of hope and comfort for the pilgrim Church. As the Church is the sign of salvation lifted up among the nations, so is she a sign within the Church: a sure sign of how faith is fulfilled in beatitude, of the perfection to come, of the final transformation of humanity in the light of Christ to the glory of  God.

‘In the Blessed Virgin the Church learns to love the concrete and the limited: a basic antidote to pride’ (Cardinal Silva papal legate to the 1965 Mariological Congress).

‘You should concentrate on a deeper understanding and love of the mysteries of Mary rather than on theological extensions which are questionable and lead to division rather than union     ……You must restrain unbalanced and not very enlightened sentimentalities….You should encourage a serious and living devotion which moves within the great coherent framework of the liturgy’ (Pope Paul to the Mariological Congress of San Domingo, 1965).

Is the Church necessary for salvation?

Is the Church necessary for salvation?

Dr George Karakunnel

                “This holy Council first of all turns its attention to the Catholic faithful. Basing itself on scripture and tradition, it teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and baptism (cf. Mk. 16:16; Jn.3:5), and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through baptism as through a door.  Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it, or to remain in it.”  (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, no.14)

                “Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with as sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience – those too may achieve eternal salvation. Nor shall divine providence deny the assistance necessary for salvation to those who, without any fault of theirs, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God, and who, not without grace, strive to lead a good life.” (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, no.15)

The answer is “Yes” but that’s the easy part. Explaining why it’s “Yes” is more difficult. Because the Church is the Body of Christ, it embodies the presence of Christ and carries on his redemptive work for all of humanity. In that sense, the Church is indeed necessary for salvation, that is, in the same way that Jesus Christ himself is necessary for salvation. But does that mean that only those who profess faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior can be saved?

            Jesus himself gave us the beginning of an answer to both questions when he said. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’, will enter the kingdom of heaven. But only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matt 7:21). Confessing the Lordship of Jesus, therefore, isn’t in itself sufficient for salvation. But even if it’s not sufficient, is it absolutely necessary? Later in the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel Jesus narrates the parable of the sheep and the goats in which he implies that many who enter the kingdom of heaven will not even have been aware of the Lord. Rather, they will only encounter the Lord anonymously, as it were, in the hungry, the thirsty, the homeless, and all others in need.

            Catholic belief and teaching about salvation, therefore, is that no one is saved apart from the redemptive work of Jesus Christ on behalf of all humanity, but that it is possible to be the beneficiary of that redemptive work even if one does not confess Jesus as Lord and Savior, which means even if one is not a member of the Church, Catholic or non-Catholic.

            That wasn’t always the understanding of the Church’s role in salvation, however. In the first three centuries the saying. “No salvation outside the Church”, was used exclusively as a warning against Christians who had separated themselves from the Church by heresy or schism. Historians have found no instance where that same warning was issued against the pagan majority in the Roman Empire. It was only after Christianity became the official religion of the Empire in the fourth century that the saying began to be applied to Jews and pagans as well. The naive assumption was that, by this time, the Gospel had been preached to the whole world. Those who still had not accepted it were culpable and, therefore, heading for damnation. This was the view associated especially with Fulgentius, bishop of Ruspe, in the sixth century, and it remained standard Catholic teaching for almost a thousand years. The Council of Florence in 1442 used Fulgentius’ formula in its own teaching. With the discovery of America, however, only fifty years after Florence, it became clear that the world was much larger than had been thought. There were still many thousands – perhaps millions – of people who had never heard of Jesus Christ. Only gradually thereafter did the hard-line teaching of Fulgentius and others yield to a broader, more ecumenical view of salvation outside the Church.


            At first, a distinction was made between members of the Church in re (that is, actual, baptized members) and members of the Church in voto (that is, people of good will who remain outside the Church through no fault of their own). All those who are saved because of some relationship with the Church, whether in re or in voto. The Second Vatican Council went a step beyond that position. It recognized in its Decree on Ecumenism that non-Catholic churches are a “means of salvation’, although “they derive their efficacy from the fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church “ (n.3). The council also recognized in its Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions that the “Catholic Church rejects nothing which is true and holy in these religions” (n.2). Salvation, brought by the different religions as the Church understands, is related to the one economy of salvation under Jesus Christ.  This is the present day inclusivist approach which replaced a rather exclusivist approach of the past.

            Does the Church, then, play any necessary role at all in the salvation of the world? Yes, says the Council, it is the “universal sacrament of salvation” (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, n.48; Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World).  Not only are all people related to the Church by the grace which the Holy Spirit offers them, but the Church itself is a sign and instrument of their salvation. And that is the newer, more ecumenical, more universal meaning of the traditional saying, “No salvation outside the Church”.

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

Church and Sacraments: Contemporary Understanding – A Practical Study

Church and Sacraments: Contemporary Understanding – A Practical Study

Nelson MCBS

Table of Contents

Table of Contents. 1

Abbreviations. 1

Part 1. 2

Church and Sacraments: Contemporary Understanding. 2

1.0 Introduction. 2

1.1 Contemporary Problems of Sacramental Life. 2

1.1.1 Over-Emphasis on Popular Devotions. 2

1.1.2 Ignorance of the People. 3

1.1.3 Carelessness of the Pastors. 3

1.1.4 Problem of Improper Communication Medias. 3

1.1.5 Increase in the Number of Sects. 3

1.1.6 Lack of Models in the Church. 4

1.2 Contemporary Trends in Sacramental Theology. 4

1.2.1 Sacraments as Official Acts of the Church. 4

1.2.2 Return to the Patristic Understanding. 5

1.2.3 Promoting Active Participation. 5

1.2.4 Sacraments as Signs of the Church. 6

1.2.5 Church as the Continuation of Jesus Christ, the Sacrament 7

1.2.6 Priests as the Ministers of the Sacraments. 7

1.3 Conclusion. 8

Part 2. 9

The Interview.. 9

1. Questions Asked. 9

2. Participants’ Data. 9

3. Evaluation of the Interview.. 10

3.0 Introduction. 10

3.1 On Sacraments of Initiation. 10

3.2 On Sacraments of Healing. 11

3.3 On Sacraments of Communion. 11

3.4 On Popular Devotions. 11

3.5 On Active Participation. 12

3.6 On Ministers of the Sacraments. 12

3.7 On Other Religions. 13

4. Synopsis. 13

5. Conclusion. 13

Bibliography. 14


CCC                –Catechism of the Catholic Church

CCEO             -Code of Canons of the Eastern Orientals

LG                   –Lumen Gentium

SC                   -Sacrosanctum Consilium

Vat. II             -Second Vatican Council

Part 1

Church and Sacraments: Contemporary Understanding

1.0 Introduction

Sacramental theology is a much discussed theme in the present world especially among the theologians and even among the laity. One of the reasons which the Sacramental theology became a matter of discussion is that the popular devotions in the Church develop very fast and it and it creates deep rooted effects among the ordinary people. Therefore they have got a tendency to replace Sacramental celebrations with popular devotions. Any way the Catholic Church has got a clear idea about the real nature of the Sacraments and its development in the Church. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1131 teaches: “The Sacraments are efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us. The visible rites by which the Sacraments are celebrated signify and make present the graces proper to each Sacrament. They bear fruit in those who receive them with the required dispositions.”

1.1 Contemporary Problems of Sacramental Life

In order to have clear idea of the contemporary trends in Sacramental theology one should have basically the idea that how Sacramental life of the people are going on. Ofcourse there is no doubt that the people of today like to have religious life. They do have a thirst for God. They seek for spiritual food. But most often they are unable to choose between the real and fake. The major problems of Sacramental life could be understood from the following heads:

1.1.1 Over-Emphasis on Popular Devotions

Popular devotions are very much essential to the people and they help them to grow spiritually. People are interested in popular devotional practices such as Rosaries, Novenas, Way of the Cross, Veneration of Relics, Pilgrimages, etc. Catholic Church always encourages such devotional practices. But the problem is that the people do have a tendency to replace it with the Sacraments of the Church. Actually what the devotional practices should serve as a stepping stone to grow faithfully in the Sacramental life of the Church. When otherwise considered it goes wrong. When devotion becomes a matter of emotional satisfaction alone, the faith becomes meaningless. Faith is not a meaningless practice of our personal devotion but is an act of Holy Spirit at a particular place, time and community. [1]

1.1.2 Ignorance of the People

People are ignorant about the true meaning for the Sacrament. They wanted to know more about Jesus and His Church and they seek for it too. But often the source they depend up on is wrong. They are not careful enough in searching for the true knowledge but go after mere satisfaction of their senses. Knowledge of God must be attained through a continuous search for the truth. That which provides us temporal satisfaction cannot be considered as the real knowledge and the blessing of the God. Search for truth is continuous task and it is the work of the Holy Spirit in accordance with our cooperation.[2]

1.1.3 Carelessness of the Pastors

The pastors must have taken special care in the spiritual and material well being of the souls entrusted to them. But most often our Pastors fail to feed their sheep. Having taken interest in so many other activities priests often forgets the primary duty, which is feeding the shepherds. Church has always the intention of Jesus in treating the people of God; and pastors must imbibe the attitude of Jesus seeking the one by leaving the twelve. Those who search for God and God experience shall not be denied it or in other way they do not loose the occasion of knowing Christ because of the carelessness of the minister of Christ. [3]

1.1.4 Problem of Improper Communication Medias

The field of communication is growing very fast. There are new techniques developments in the area of communication and knowledge. The children and especially the youth of today are more open and exposed to media. In this context the pastors have the duty to educate them through using all these proper Medias. The old ways of communication may feel boring to the youth of today who are in the cyber world and the world of visuals. Therefore it is the duty of the priests to update themselves to the present situations as it was done from the part of church through the great Vatican II.

1.1.5 Increase in the Number of Sects

Sects are increasing day by day. In this context proper and timely shepherding of the people become very relevant and at the same time necessary for  the perseverance of the genuine teaching of the Church and there by the message of Jesus himself. The modern sects are often interested in gathering people through their attractive presentation of Christ and his message. They imitate the Sacramental celebrations of the church in such way that people feel a kind of attachment to it. They may not be true in their presentations; but the people go after them only because they make it attractive. The church therefore has the duty to proclaim the true message of Jesus in an attractive way both by our Sacramental presentation of it and in our external proclamations.

1.1.6 Lack of Models in the Church

Church lacks genuine models. People are in search of persons who are moving in Spirit. But often they are discouraged because of the lack of such genuine models. Priests do have a responsibility in bringing back people to real Christian life by way of their examples in life. They should celebrate the Sacrament of the Church with such a zeal that the people might feel that the priest who celebrate the Sacrament for them really encounter Christ. This would be an example an inspiration to the whole community to participate in the Sacrament more meaningfully.[4]

1.2 Contemporary Trends in Sacramental Theology

There is an absolute change in the understanding of the Sacraments today. There is a shift of emphasis from the cultic aspect of the Sacrament to a mystic aspect of the Sacraments. This paradigm shift of understanding may help the people to understand Sacraments as the highways to their journey towards the Eschatological Kingdom.

1.2.1 Sacraments as Official Acts of the Church

People have the doubt why they should participate in the Sacraments and whether they could compensate with something else. It was Karl Rahner who gave a solution to this problem properly. According to him we participate in the Sacramental celebrations of the church not get grace or something else, but because they are the official acts of the church.[5] The Catechism of the Catholic Church also gives answer to this problem. “The fruit of Sacramental life is both personal and ecclesial. For every one of the faithful on the one hand, this fruit is life for God in Christ Jesus; for the Church, on the other, it is an increase in charity and in her mission of witness.” (CCC No.1134). Fathers of second Vatican Council Says,

“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. For the goal of apostolic endeavor is that all who are made sons of God by faith and Baptism should come together to praise God in the midst of his Church, to take part in the Sacrifice and to eat the Lord’s Supper. The liturgy, in its turn, moves the faithful filled with “the paschal Sacraments” to be “one in holiness”; it prays that “they hold fast in their lives to what they have grasped by their faith.” The renewal in the Eucharist of the covenant between the Lord and man draws the faithful and sets them aflame with Christ’s insistent love. From the liturgy therefore, and especially from the Eucharist, grace is poured forth upon us as from a fountain, and the sanctification of men in Christ and the glorification of God to which all other activities of the Church are directed, as toward their end, are achieved with maximum effectiveness. (SC No. 10)

1.2.2 Return to the Patristic Understanding

There is tendency today to return to the patristic understanding of the Sacraments. Fathers considered Sacraments as mysteries. According to the Fathers Sacraments are the mysteries revealed to the Church through different manifestations of God either through his saints or through the magisterial body of the Church. The real meaning of the mysteries is known to God alone and He manifests it according to the way he likes. It is foolishness that if one attempt to explain mysteries of God in human terms. [6]

1.2.3 Promoting Active Participation

Sacraments are official actions of the Church. Therefore they are to be celebrated in a community where maximum of its members are present. Private celebrations and personal interests in Sacramental action are discouraged by the Church. The council Fathers had a clear vision about the participation in the Sacraments.

“With zeal and patience pastors of souls must promote the liturgical instruction of the faithful and also their active participation, both internal and external, taking into account their age, condition, way of life and standard of religious culture. By so doing pastors will be fulfilling one of the chief duties of a faithful dispenser of the mysteries of God, and in this matter they must lead their flock not only by word by also by example.”  (SC No. 19).

Participation does not mean only presence but also action accordingly. It is not reciting prayers loudly and standing with devotion and attention alone. Active participation must change our hearts and it also makes us able to participate in the day to day life of our fellow brethren. The participants must understand the true meaning of the Sacrament and must be able to incorporate its spirit to the Christian life.[7]

1.2.4 Sacraments as Signs of the Church

Another modern approach in theology is the doctrine of the Church as the basic Sacrament of the salvation of the world. For the moment we are not concerned with the relationship in terms of connection, distinction, and subordination in which the Church as basic Sacrament stands to Christ as the historical arch-Sacrament in whom God’s self-utterance as forgiveness and divinization comes to its historical manifestation and its irrevocable fullness, It is in any case an explicit word of the Second Vatican Council, which itself in turn is connected with the patristic theology with its more comprehensive concept of the mysterion and Sacramentum, the ‘Sacrament of unity,’ the ‘Sacrament, i.e. sign and instrument of intimate union with God and of the unity of all mankind’ (LG No. 1). The Second Vatican Council never developed in any truly systematic or explicit way the concept of the Sacrament of the salvation of the world which is the Church. For this reason it is not very easy to say what precisely is being expressed by this term in the mind of the Council. At best we will have to take as our starting-point the fact that ultimately speaking it is in virtue of her entire reality, and so above all through those factors which belong to her very nature as determinative and constitutive, that the Church constitutes this basic Sacrament, and at the same time we shall have to apply to the Church precisely those basic properties which are familiar to us from the official and established theology of the individual Sacraments. This latter approach is justifiable if only because the Church is in fact intended to be the Sacrament of the salvation of the world and of the unity of mankind as a unity in God which brings about salvation – in other words between the Church on the one hand and salvation and unity on the other a distinction is drawn and at the same time a connection is established which is characterized as ‘Sacramental,’ signifying that in the concrete it can consist only in the fact that the Church is the sign in history which brings to manifestation at the historical level, and thereby also ‘effects,’ that will of God towards the world which creates salvation and unity.[8] “A Sacramental celebration is woven from signs and symbols. In keeping with the divine pedagogy of salvation, their meaning is rooted in the work of creation and in human culture, specified by the events of the Old Covenant and fully revealed in the person and work of Christ.” (CCC No. 1145)

1.2.5 Church as the Continuation of Jesus Christ, the Sacrament

Contemporary theology considers Jesus Christ as the primordial Sacrament and Church as the continuation of what has been initiated in Jesus Christ. The role of the Church is to be fulfilled in space and time. Therefore she has to present it in such way that people shall be able to experience it with their day to day life. Sacraments must be visible and concrete reality. It must be served as the good news to the people who are suffering and are in distress. As people of God Church is the witnessing community witnessing to God’s salvific deeds in Jesus Christ. The council Fathers says,

“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. For the goal of apostolic endeavor is that all who are made sons of God by faith and Baptism should come together to praise God in the midst of his Church, to take part in the Sacrifice and to eat the Lord’s Supper. The liturgy, in its turn, moves the faithful filled with “the paschal Sacraments” to be “one in holiness”; it prays that “they hold fast in their lives to what they have grasped by their faith.” The renewal in the Eucharist of the covenant between the Lord and man draws the faithful and sets them aflame with Christ’s insistent love. From the liturgy therefore, and especially from the Eucharist, grace is poured forth upon us as from a fountain, and the sanctification of men in Christ and the glorification of God to which all other activities of the Church are directed, as toward their end, are achieved with maximum effectiveness. (SC No. 10)

1.2.6 Priests as the Ministers of the Sacraments

The priests are the ministers of the Sacrament of Christ. It is not they themselves offer the Sacraments for the people but God works through them.[9] In order to express this attitude of the church the Orientals use the passive formula in all the liturgical texts. The church also teaches it clearly through its catechism text:

“The ordained ministry or ministerial priesthood is at the service of the Baptismal priesthood. The ordained priesthood guarantees that it really is Christ who acts in the Sacraments through the Holy Spirit for the Church. The saving mission entrusted by the Father to his incarnate Son was committed to the apostles and through them to their successors: they receive the Spirit of Jesus to act in his name and in his person. The ordained minister is the Sacramental bond that ties the liturgical action to what the apostles said and did and, through them, to the words and actions of Christ, the source and foundation of the Sacraments.”  (CCC No. 1121).

Second Vatican council clearly says the role of the ministerial priesthood in the church,

Christ the Lord, high priest taken from among men (cf. Heb. 5: 1-5), made the new people “a kingdom of priests to God, his Father” (Apoc. 1:6; cf. 5:9-10). The baptized, by regeneration and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, are consecrated to be a spiritual house and a holy priesthood, that through all the works of Christian men they may offer spiritual sacrifices and proclaim the perfection of him who has called them out of darkness into his marvelous light (cf. 1 Pet. 2:4-10). Therefore all the Disciples of Christ, persevering in prayer and praising God (cf. Acts 2:42-47), should present themselves as a sacrifice, living, holy and pleasing to God (cf. Rom. 12:1). They should everywhere on earth bear witness to Christ and give an answer to everyone who asks a reason for the hope of an eternal life which is theirs. (cf. 1 Pet. 3:15). (LG No. 10)

1.3 Conclusion

Sacramental theology could be understood only in relation with the church and necessarily in relation with Jesus Christ, the primordial Sacrament. It is the celebration of the paschal mysteries by the community in signs and symbols. “Liturgy is an “action” of the whole Christ (Christus totus). Those who even now celebrate it without signs are already in the heavenly liturgy, where celebration is wholly communion and feast” (CCC No. 1136). The church teaches further,

It is the whole community, the Body of Christ united with its Head, that celebrates. “Liturgical services are not private functions but are celebrations of the Church which is ‘the Sacrament of unity,’ namely, the holy people united and organized under the authority of the bishops. Therefore, liturgical services pertain to the whole Body of the Church. They manifest it, and have effects upon it. But they touch individual members of the Church in different ways, depending on their orders, their role in the liturgical services, and their actual participation in them.” For this reason, “rites which are meant to be celebrated in common, with the faithful present and actively participating, should as far as possible be celebrated in that way rather than by an individual and quasi-privately.” (CCC No. 1140).

Sacraments are thus the official acts of the church. We participate in it not to gather grace but to express our communion with the church as Christians being united in Christ through his church. Through the Sacraments we participate in the mysteries of Christ the primordial Sacrament and there by become part of the salvific event.

Part 2

The Interview

1. Questions Asked

1. What do you feel when you participate in the Holy Mass?

2. Which mass you prefer to participate in: Latin or Syro-Malabar? Why?

3. What do you understand by Sacraments? Which Sacrament made you happy more when you received it?

4. Do you have a practice of personal prayer in your life other than common prayers?

5. What do you prefer: personal prayer or community prayer?

6. What is your experience with confession? Why do you make confessions?

7. There are people who are interested only to participate in Novenas? What is your opinion about them?

8.  How do you prefer to baptize your child: alone or with many other children?

9. Do you feel proud to be a Christian with Eucharist and other Sacraments?

10. What do you like most in the Eucharistic celebration, and the least?

11. When the Sacraments are celebrated do you feel that Christ himself is the minister of it?

12. Do you understand the signs and symbols used in the Sacramental celebrations?

13. Do you have particular intentions when you go for the Eucharistic celebrations?  Which are the ones most used to have?

14. Non-Catholic religions often do not accept 7 Sacraments. What do you feel about this?

15. Are you informed about the recent developments in the understanding of the Sacraments?

16. What is the difference between Sacraments and Sacramentals or devotional activities?

17. What is your opinion about the huge festal elements in parish feast celebrations?

18. While participating in the Sacraments, do you feel that you are not given the expected graces?

19. Which part do you consider as the most important part of the Eucharistic celebration?

20. How do the People of other religions consider our Sacraments?

2. Participants’ Data

Category Age Group Number Response
Household Men 25-40 3 Good
Household Women 25-40 3 Best
Men 40-60 2 Best
Sisters 30-40 2 Rather Good
Women 40-60 2 Very Good
Youth (Girls) 15-25 4 Good
Youth 1 (Boys) 15-20 4 Good
Youth 2 (Boys) 20-25 4 Very Good

Total Participants      – 24

3. Evaluation of the Interview

3.0 Introduction

It was a wonderful experience for me to have an interview withal these people in different ways and styles. I have chosen people mainly from the parish of Njrackal, Ernakulam. I have asked the questions to a few indirectly and to others introducing that I am going to have an interview with them as a part of my study. Both groups responded well. I am satisfied with the persons I interviewed in the sense that their cooperated me well and I am very much dissatisfied with the result I have collected from them. People are quiet ignorant about the basic principles of the church and at the same time they have got a curiosity to know the things. And as far I understand they are not fed well by the ministers.

3.1 On Sacraments of Initiation

The general idea of the people on the Sacrament of initiation is richer than any other Sacraments. They are almost aware of the Sacrament of Baptism and Eucharist. Meaning of confirmation is not that known to them. The idea they have in general is that of Pre-Vatican. Almost all of them I met believe that Baptism is the Sacrament of Christianizing and a remedy for the Original sin. 60% of them do not like Baptism celebrating in common. And 40% of them said they like to have Baptisms in common. I have also noticed an attitudinal change in the 60% when I talk to them of meaning of a communal Baptism.

Regarding Eucharist people are well aware of the presence of Jesus in the Sacrament. They are almost convinced that Jesus himself stands in the place of priest. But they are almost ignorant about the signs and symbols used in the Eucharistic celebration. Youth like mostly the Latin Mass the reason they say is that it is sweet and short. Sisters and all other groups like Syro-Malabar Mass. 40% of people do have intentions in participating in the holy mass. And these ones come under the female group.

Their knowledge about the Sacrament of reconciliation is nothing but it gives them Holy Spirit and they like to receive it from a bishop. Some of them received it from a bishop. And they think that this Sacrament is very much precious and sacred.

3.2 On Sacraments of Healing

100% of the people underwent the interview admire the Sacrament of confession in the Catholic Church.  But they have differences of opinion about the priests to whom they confess. They have personal preference of priests in hearing their confession. Youth group 1& 2 prefer young priest for confession. They don’t like old way of advising and giving longer penance. But the female groups wanted a holy priest who can give them adequate advice too.

The general idea of the people regarding the Sacrament of the sick is that of as an ‘Extreme unction’. 70% believe that it should e given only once ad has to be offered before death as a preparation to it. They generally don’t think that they will be healed by receiving this Sacrament.

3.3 On Sacraments of Communion

50% of the people do not realize the Sacramentality of Christian marriage. It is being done in the church to get a merely a blessing of the priest. One youth and a married one asked me why the church does not permit divorce. And they say it is their right to get divorced. Most of the married people are not satisfied with the preparatory course for the marriage. They say that they did not like to participate it then, but now thinks that it would be better if it had lasted for a week and could have attended little more seriously. Anyway they recommend some ongoing programs for the Christians in marriage life. But the youth in general has got a tendency to make their marriage an event with their friends. They don’t want to reduce any celebrative aspect of it.

With regard to the Holy Order they consider it as higher vocation and a special call. They have high expectation of the priests and wanted to get the service of the priest as much as possible. They wanted to have ordinations in their parishes itself. All of them whom I interviewed had participated at least once in an Ordination.

3.4 On Popular Devotions

People do not know really the distinction between popular devotions and Sacraments. Only 10% answered the difference to an extent. They like to participate in the popular devotions. One lady asked me ‘if Mother Mary or a saint can give me a blessing why should I hesitate to get it.’ People are going for devotional practices out of their needs in their life. They demand blessings to a saint and continue to ask for it. They are not bothered about the internal grace or the personal purification. Another Lady told me that she goes for the Sunday mass only because the church has a law. Otherwise she has to present it on the confessional too. But she likes to go for Novena, Retreats etc. ad she certifies that she got many external blessings when began to go for a Novena at a particular church and advised me to go there. 90% of the people have got the practice of reciting the rosary and the rest lack it; not because they don’t like it but because they don’t get time. They like to celebrate the Parish feast more splendidly. 80% present like the celebrative elements in the feasts and all. 20% say that some of the elements like fireworks, bands, decorations, etc. could be reduced to an extent. They also like solemn masses on feasts.

3.5 On Active Participation

People understand by the active participation is simply reciting the prayers loudly and attending every part of the Sacramental celebration devotedly.  And in order to have an active participation they recommend church music. They also wanted that the priest too recite the prayers in such way that it would evoke in them a kind of feeling piety and devotion. They actively participate in the popular devotions because they are short and priest gives occasional commentaries so that they can keep attentive again and again. Only 30% of people have a thirst and genuine intention in participating in the Holy Mass. For others, it is only part of a custom and they obey it since the law demands it; otherwise they say they would like to replace it with some other devotional practices. Therefore it is duty of the priests to make the Sacramental celebrations meaningful and effective.

3.6 On Ministers of the Sacraments

Generally all the participants like priests and love priesthood. But they have a lot of suggestions about the minister of the Sacraments. Their priest should pray before and after the celebration of the Sacrament. They don’t behave in such way that as if they hate their people when they approach them for Sacramental purposes. They wanted the priest should be simple and they must approachable at every time and everywhere. They should respect the dignity of the person. They don’t want to be offended publically. They shall not be angry to them in confessional. They wanted the priest to make good sermons during the mass. They have the feeling that the ministers do not t really understand the situation of the people. They think that the priests live far from the realities. They want their needs to be remembered in the Alter. Ministers must pray for the people and they say they must feel it. They are happy to see them sometimes praying in the church. They like the priest giving guidance and instructions in the church. They also wanted to know about the Sacramental life and contemporary teachings too.

3.7 On Other Religions

90% of the people believe that other religions are false religions and they do not have valid forms of worship. The positive thing is that all of them I interviewed are proud to be a Christian. 10% believe that the people of other religions are also worshipping God in different way and they would be saved if they live a sinless life in their religion. They also recommend that if they could come to Catholic faith it would be easy for them to lead a virtuous life because the church provides everything helpful for their salvation. 25% are intolerable to other religions and their way of cult. 20% has got a tolerable attitude. 55% has got neutral attitude.

4. Synopsis

Generally I was satisfied with the interview. People have differences of opinion and their opinions, as far as I understand, is moulded from their living conditions and particular situations. The answers that I got would have been slightly changed if I could meet the persons from some other area. Anyway the evaluation gave me the conviction that the lay men of the church needed to be guided in their spiritual as well as material life and should be well educated by the priest. For that the priests must be prepared well. They understand and admire people to a great extend. Not only that they thirst for good priests. People are still in the traditional frame work of belief systems. It is not that easy to change their flow of thought; but gradual progress in their attitude could be a possible thing. At least the basic Catechism should be taught to people. Sunday sermons are to be made use of catechetical instructions too – not in an isolated way but as the part of biblical interpretation and faith formation of the people.

5. Conclusion

The mission of Christ is being continued in the church. Church is the Sacrament of Christ. We the ministers of the Christ and their by the church has special duty and obligation to feed the people of God in their pastoral needs. People respect people very much and they need the priests. They seek peace and words of consolation from the ministers of the church. Priest has therefore to understand the needs of the people and must be prepared properly to guide and lead the people of God to their supreme destination.


COOKE, BERNARD, Sacraments Sacramentality (Connecticut, USA: Twenty-Third Publications, 1983).

EVELY, LOUIS, Church and the Sacraments (New Jersey: Dimension Books, 1971).


FARRELL, CHRISTOPHER-THOMAS ARTZ, The Sacraments Today: their Meaning and Celebration (Liguori, USA: Liguori Publications, 1978).

KELLY, W., Sacraments Revisited Darton, London: Longman Ltd., 1998).


MARGERIE, BERTRAND DE, Sacraments and Social Progress (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1974).

MICK, LAWRENCE, Understanding the Sacraments Today (Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 1987).

RAHNER, KARL, The Church and Sacraments (Montreal: Palm Publishers, 1963).

SCHANZ, JOHN P., Introduction to the Sacraments (New York: Pueblo Publishing Company, 1983).

SEGUNDO, JUAN LUIS, Sacraments Today (New York: Maryknoll, 1971).

TAYLOR, MICHAEL J. (Ed.), Sacraments: Readings in Contemporary Sacramental Theology (New York: Alba House, 1981).

[1] LAWRENCE MICK, Understanding the Sacraments Today (Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 1987)101-103.

[2] CHRISTOPHER FARRELL -THOMAS ARTZ, The Sacraments Today: their Meaning and Celebration (Liguori, USA: Liguori Publications, 1978)17-18.

[3] CHRISTOPHER FARRELL -THOMAS ARTZ, The Sacraments Today: their Meaning and Celebration, 19-24.

[4] JOHN P. SCHANZ, Introduction to the Sacraments (New York: Pueblo Publishing Company, 1983)12.

[5] KARL RAHNER, The Church and Sacraments (Montreal: Palm Publishers, 1963) 42-46.

[6] W. KELLY, Sacraments Revisited Darton, London: Longman Ltd., 1998)12–20.

[7] MICHAEL TAYLOR J.,  (Ed.), Sacraments: Readings in Contemporary Sacramental Theology (New York: Alba House, 1981)24-28.

[8] EVELY, LOUIS, Church and the Sacraments (New Jersey: Dimension Books, 1971)11-17.

[9] JUAN LUIS SEGUNDO, Sacraments Today (New York: Maryknoll, 1971)24-27.

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.

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.


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”.

Social Involvement of Syro-Malabar Church: A Historical-Critical Analysis

Social Involvement of Syro-Malabar Church

(A Historical-Critical Analysis)

Kundukulam Vincent


All religious segments play a significant role in shaping the vision and character of the national civilization. They influence the national life through spirituality, ethics, culture and social involvement. The Syrian Christians, though a minority, have been playing a pertinent role in shaping the social life of Kerala from the early days. Jawaharlal Nehru has rightly mentioned it in 1946 by saying: ‘Indian Christians are part and parcel of the Indian people. Their traditions go back 1500 years and more and they form one of the many enriching elements in the country’s cultural and spiritual life’. On the occasion of the Silver Jubilee Celebration of Paurastya Vidyapitham, an Institute renowned for its commitment to the Oriental studies, it is quite opportune to look into the Syro-Malabar Church’s social involvement, an essential factor for her theological reflection.

The study on the social involvement of Syrian Catholics is challenging mainly for three reasons. Primarily the majority of sources at our disposal do not enable us to reconstruct concretely the particular story of the Syro-Malabar Church’s social involvement. There is ample literature on the contribution of Kerala Christians to the nation building but few documents directly deal with Syrian Catholics’ unique role in this process. Secondly, we lack reliable sources about their social involvement. Much literature exists regarding their history. There are only a few authors who sociologically analyzed their involvement in the society. Hence our search is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Yet, we can glean some data that suggest trends of social impact of Syrians from what is generally told about the Christians in Kerala.

 Thirdly, when we go through the literature concerning the Christian involvement in the society we come across people belonging to different denominations in Christianity including Latin Catholics, Non-Catholic Churches and others. By the very fact that some Syrian Catholics were involved in a social intervention will it be considered as a Syrian intervention? On what basis we determine the Syrian aspect in a social involvement? In the same way the community based identity is practically insignificant with regard to some areas of life. For example what does it mean in saying that Syrian Christians have made outstanding contribution to politics on account of the fact that A.K. Antony is by birth a Syrian? Above all, will it not be communal to identify an involvement on the basis of race or rite? This problem cannot be solved here as it is beyond the scope of this paper. Therefore for the time being we will avoid mentioning the contribution by way of individuals and movements where the Syrian identity does not have any special emphasis.

Let me briefly explain the limits of the following exposition:  (1): We are trying to engage with the role and history of Syrian Catholics living only in Kerala. As we know, at present, thousands of Syrians live outside Kerala and a good number of them are settled abroad. Unfortunately we don’t have records about the social roles played by them in their respective regions. (2). Again we are constrained to focus our attention only to certain periods in the history of the Syrian Christians. Their history is crowded with incidents of various genres, protracting through twenty centuries, which we can in no way expound in this short paper. Therefore we concentrate on two periods of their life: a) from the early beginnings of Christian era to the arrival of Portuguese missionaries; b) from the end of 19th century to the formation of Kerala state in 1956.  (3). We have to precise also the types of social involvement of the Syrians we deal with. The role played by a community is determined in terms of several factors: culture, economy, politics, education, literature, media, etc.  Since the faith experience of Syrian Catholics in their cultural context is already studied in another paper we would like to concentrate more on their economic, political and social involvement.

This paper has a critical function. Our intention is not merely to assemble some data regarding the social involvement of Syrians. If not assessed with scientific tools history becomes a decayed story. In the academic world social involvement is the concern of social sciences and hence we will examine our corpus with the instruments of social sciences. Thus, this paper is a search into the political and social involvement of Syrians Catholics in ancient and modern periods of their history in Kerala and a critical assessment of their contribution in the light of theories of nationalism and communalism.

The procedure of the study is as follows. There will be three parts in the paper. At first, we will investigate the social stature the Syrians enjoyed until the arrival of the Portuguese. The second part will be about the social and political interferences done by the Syrians at the end of the 19th century and in the first half of the 20th century, a period marked by growing political consciousness in Kerala. Finally we will put in perspective the findings of the first two parts and interpret the nature of Syrian social involvement.

Part 1:  From the Early centuries to the arrival of Portuguese

Christianity was introduced in Kerala three centuries before it became the established religion in Rome. The Syrian Christian population, comprised of immigrants from Asia Minor and the inhabitants of the land developed into a powerful community because of their investment in the field of trade and commerce. What helps us to pinpoint their position in the early centuries of Christian era are four Copper Plates, which deal with the privileges granted by the Hindu monarchs to the Christians settled in Quilon and Cranganore. The earlier document is a grant given to Thomas Cana in 372; the second dated 774 offered to Iravan Kortan, chief of the Christians of Cranganore; the third and fourth both dated 849 and addressed as Teresapalli to the local Church at Quilon by Ayyan Atikal Tiruvatikal[1].

Genevieve Lemercinier and Francois Houtart in their work on the ‘Genesis and Institutionalization of Indian Catholicism’ after analyzing the rights conferred to the Syrians make a few important conclusions. The social position of Syrians was largely determined by their function in the mercantile economy. They had monopoly over commercial transactions: foreign trade in spices, salt, sugar and oil. By the title of manigranam the group had the right to deal in all kinds of trade goods. In addition, they could collect the customs duties on commercial transactions[2].

The Syrians were also predominant in the areas of agriculture and warfare. They excelled in the production of pepper, a coveted commodity in the pre-industrial European markets. ‘Thomas Christians maintained a high standard in the art of war’ testifies historian Edward Gibbon. They were finest soldiers and this persuaded the kings to respect them and to protect their rights and privileges[3]. The greater the number of Christians a king had in the army, the more his neighbors respected him. Hindu monarchs constructed churches for Christians and endowed them with tax free lands in order to secure their military service.[4]

The kings accorded three types of grants to the Syrians: a) symbols of the integration of the group into the cosmic universe:  the right to erect a pandal on the occasion of wedding and setting up a pillar before their houses; b) symbols recognizing the status of the leader of the group: right to speak in the assemblies, to use a carpet and a palanquin and to employ sandalwood paste; c) symbols carrying privileges to the whole group: the right to wear festal attire, the right to build a wall around their houses, etc[5].

The mercantile economy gained for the Syrian group an enviable stature because it was central to the social structure of Kerala of that age. It was the mercantile money, which enabled the whole system to function without any danger to the interests of the various dominant groups of the society. Due to the lack of experience in the trade and the inability to engage commercial transactions with the foreigners the Hindus failed to play role of intermediaries between the foreigners and the Kings[6]. What made it easy for Christians to step into such a privileges position might be also the absence of a vaishya caste in the Kerala society of the time.

Needless to affirm that the Syrians were well integrated into the culture of mainstream castes in Kerala. There were a number of ceremonies derived from the local social practices like the Yogam or Church assembly at the local as well as general level. They had close ties with the aristocrat class namely Nayars. Until 16th century marriages took place between them. The lower casts had to keep rules of untouchability towards Christians[7]. The chiefs of Christians enjoyed the same privileges as were enjoyed by Hindu feudal landlords[8]. The Christians were noted for their courteous manners. They kept high morality in business dealings. Unlike the Hindu women, the Christian women were fully dressed, covering the upper part of their body. The Syrians wore practically the same ornaments as the Hindus. The vast majority among them were vegetarians and as a class was not addicted to drink during this period. The fact that the rulers of the time like the Cochin Raja and the chiefs of Vadakkumkur, Thekkumkur and Ambalapuzha helped the progress of Christianity in their kingdoms by donating lands for the erection of churches shows that they had an esteem position in the state[9]. It is said that at that epoch a word by a Christian was as good as signing an official stamped paper[10].

The Syrians seems to have played an impressive role also in the field of education. Hindu educational institutions were the guarded preserve of a few elite Hindus, but Christians opened them to all. At the close of the 15th century when the Portuguese arrived in Kerala there were schools conducted both by Hindus and Christians. Children irrespective of religious affiliations attended these schools. This is evident from relevant decrees adopted by the Synod of Diamper requiring the removal of shrines kept in schools run by Christian teachers for the worship of Hindu children and according permission to Christian children to attend schools run by Hindu teachers without showing any religious reverence to idols[11].

The Syrians accepted the caste system as they were reckoned among the high castes, on par with the Nairs, writes Cardinal Tisserant, in the light of decrees of the Diamper Synod. This Synod forbids the Syrians from the practices like purification of vessels, touched by the members of the low castes (decree 3), piercing the ears like the Nairs (decree 17), etc. The Council blames the women for omitting to attend any service during the forty days (Session IX, decree 5)[12] Mathias Mundadan interprets the oneness of Syrians with their social-cultural milieu as an expression of implicit way of living the incarnational approach of inculturation, in the model of Christ who assumed everything human and redeemed all social and cultural values[13].

Part 2. The closing decades of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century

The Syrian Christians, though a petit minority, played vigorous role in the struggle for freedom at the national level. In the historic Salt March to Dandi on the sea set out on 12 March 1930, 78 members of the Sabarmati Ashram accompanied Mahatma Gandhi. Among these disciples of Gandhi was Thevarthundiyil Titus, a member of a Thomas Christian Family in Travancore. He was taking care of the Ashram diary[14].

Coming to Kerala, at the end of the 19th century there was widespread resentment among the educated classes against the Government’s policy of importing Tamil Brahmins to hold the most important posts in the public service even when persons with similar qualifications were available inside the State. Their resentment found expression in the ‘Malayali Memorial’ submitted to the Maharaja on 1 January 1891. Among the 10, 028 petitioners who called the attention of Maharaja to the exclusion of the educated natives from higher grades of the public service and asked to provide fair quota of government appointments, there was considerable number of Christians[15]. Nidhirikkal Manikathanar and Cyriac Nidhiri played a leading role along with C.V. Raman Pillai and K.P. Kesava Menon[16].

The Christians actively participated in the Nivarthana (abstention) movement, which was a joint venture against the Nairs by the Ezhavas, Muslims and a section of the Christian community claiming representation in the Legislature in proportion to their numerical strength. They formed an organization known as Samyukta Rashtriya Samiti (Joint Political Congress) of which at the top was Syrian Christians like T. M. Varghese, N. V. Joseph, Joseph Chazhikkatu, A.C. Kuriakose, A.O. Joseph, etc.[17] The Travancore government was entrusted to the people as the result of the deliberations made by the then Congress leaders including Syrians like T. M. Varghese, A. J. John,  P.T. Chacko, Thariathu Kunjithomman and K.M. Chandy. The resolution on Responsible Government presented by T. M. Varghese in the Sri Moolam Assembly is described as historic. As E.M. Kovoor notes, T.M. Varghese, one of the leading heads of Travancore state Congress from its inception on February 23, 1938 was a person who sacrificed most and struggled most for establishing Responsible Government in the State. The women who joined the agitation for the freedom of Travancore came mainly from Thomas Christian community.  The heroic resistance of the Catholic Bishop Mar James Kalassery of Changanachery Diocese against the attempt of Travancore government (1945) to bring Christian Primary school system under its control is another hallmark in the fight of the Christians for the freedom in education[18].

In the field of education, the Syrian schools and colleges have been expression of social justice and equality. Quality and discipline remained always as the hallmarks of their institutions. Among the Syrian pioneers of education Fr. Chavara Kuriakose Elias, the co-founder of Carmelites of Mary Immaculate (CMI) deserves special mention. He started religious houses, seminaries and institutes for secular education, printing and publication[19].  He popularized the idea that there should be a school along with the church. With a revolutionary insight he started pallikuudams for pulayas when only high caste people had the right to study. He founded a Sanskrit school at Mannanam and taught lower caste students along with the Brahmin students. He introduced Uchakanji (midday meal) in schools so that students were attracted to schools. For that he popularized the custom of pidiyari (a handful of rice set apart every day for the poor)[20]. Thus the Syrian educational institutions, as others in this field, worked untiringly for the eradication of injustices, social evils and taboos.

In the field of media, Nazarani Deepika, which was launched on 15th April 1887, deserves our special attention. It was begun to represent the atrocities, injustices and cruelties meted out to the poor folk before the court of rulers and ministers, and to voice the grievances of the mass like a faithful messenger. It has succeeded to pass on to the 21st century making it the oldest existing Malayalam Newspaper.  Deepika provided chance to many leader-writers and columnists of the different religious sections in Kerala. Deepika fought from the very beginning against social evils like caste system and untouchability and gave impetus to the social movements like Malayalee Memorial and Nivarthana movement and freedom struggle of Travancore. It took up causes of opening the temples to all Hindus[21].

The service of the Syrians in the field of agriculture cannot be left unstated. Land has always remained a weakness for the Syrian Christians. They proved a thrill of their own in tilling the soil and sowing the seeds and reaping the harvest. They demonstrated an inimitable sense of adventure in going the mountains and forests, fighting the wild animals, resisting the hostile weather and climate and taking to their strides all hardships on the way. The health care services rendered by the Syrians, as it can be said about other Christian institutions alike, is the embodiment of preferential option for the poor. Hospitals, clinics, rehabilitation centers, mental health care centers, leprosy cure centers, orphanages, destitute homes and care centers for HIV patients are to be mentioned in this respect. Among the veteran leaders of the Syrian community we don’t ignore the first woman High court Judge Anna Chandy, first woman Chief Engineer P.K. Thressia, Chevaliar Joseph Thaliath, Kattakkayam Cherian Mappila, Sr. Mary Baninja, all eminent personalities[22] in the public life of Kerala.

Part 3 Critical Appraisal of Social Involvement of the Syrians

We have briefly stated the contributions of Syrian Catholics in the economic, social and political fields.  Our remaining task is to study critically the Syrian interactions in Kerala applying scientific tools of research.  The two ideologies with which we can analyse the impact of social involvement of the Syrians in our state are nationalism and communalism. Let us see now whether their involvements go par with either nationalism or communalism?

Hans Khon defines nationalism as the state of mind in which the supreme loyalty of the individual is felt to be due to the nation-state. The essential element of nationalism is the living and active corporate will[23]. A.D. Smith distinguishes two types of nationalism: ethnocentric and polycentric. The advocates of ethnocentric nationalism are very adamant in preserving the cultural and religious heritage of their own group and in imposing them on other ethnic groups. On the other hand, polycentric nationalists recognize that other groups do have noble ideas and structures and they assimilate them for the common good of the society. There are three essential elements in the polycentric nationalism. They are collective autonomy, collective individuality and pluralism. According to Smith the polycentric nationalism only merits the title of nationalism for it only stands for the common well being of a nation[24].

In India, the equivalent of ethnocentric nationalism is communalism.  In our political scenario communalism is a negative concept. One becomes communal when he or she discriminates others on account of immoderate attachment to one’s own community. As Rasheedhudin Khan has rightly observed, religious communalism has taken the shape of narrow and blind devotion to one’s own religious community for acquiring political and economic benefits. In that sense communalism is opposed to secularism and nationalism.[25] Though communalists play with religion, in fact, religion is not the fundamental cause of communal conflicts. As Louis Dumont, a French sociologist, remarks religion becomes here a mere appearance. People are not really concerned about the substance of religion. Religious communalism is the affirmation of the religious community as a political group. What appears to be clash of religions is really clash of interests of a small group. [26]

The political and economic undercurrents of religious communalism are thoroughly examined by the Indian sociologist Asghar Ali Engineer. One of the macro-factors promoting communal tension in the society is the uneven development of the economy. The upper classes of the less-developed community feel a strong sense of rivalry vis-à-vis their counterparts in the developed community.  In such a situation, in order to win the support of masses of one’s community, the grievances are formulated in terms of the ethos, including religious ethos[27]. A recent example for economic basis of religious communalism is the joint venture done by the leaders of the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam (SNDP) and the Nair Service Society (NSS) to form a grand political Hindu alliance against minorities in Kerala. There is a widely held perception that Muslims and Christians possess more political and economic clout than their numbers would warrant.  A study on the economic scenario of Kerala shows that the 82.5 per cent of Non Resident Keralites (NRK) during the period 1998-2002 are in the Gulf countries. Out of these, 49.5 per cent were Muslims and 31.5 percent Christians. The Hindu share is only 19 %.[28] “The accumulated money amongst the minorities is mostly invested in land. A little over sixty percent of available cultivable land in Kerala is in the possession of Christians and the Muslims are fast acquiring the urban land and properties to the envy and dismay of other communities. In the field of education, the Muslim and Christian communities together manage 223 arts and science colleges, whereas Hindu jatis all together possess only 42 colleges.[29]

In the light of above analysis we have to examine whether the social interactions of the Syrian Catholics project nationalist or communalist tendencies? I would say that they were rather communalist in the economic and political spheres whereas nationalist in the field of education and social service. The behaviour pattern of Syrians towards the lower casts until the coming of Portuguese was certainly guided by communal spirit and not by any Christian principle. I seriously doubt whether the Syrian insertion into the higher castes can be interpreted as an incarnational model of inculturation? Likewise, to my mind, many a struggle that the Syrian elites led in the beginning of the 20th century to compute the number of posts their members held in the government cannot be whitewashed as freedom struggles[30].  In saying so I don’t put the whole blame on the Syrian Christians. They performed exactly as other communities of the age. The history of modern Kerala became partially the history of communalism because the political parties in their turn used also the ideology of communalism to divide the community affiliations and gain electoral support from the different groups within the same religious community[31].


As a concluding note I would like to make the following suggestions. 1) The Syrian Christians couldn’t be accused of communalism in the field of education and social service until the formation of Kerala state. 2) What we said about the past cannot be applied uncritically for our times. We may need to do a sole searching criticism to deliver us from both falling into self-absolution and self-pitying. 3) The threat of communalism whether on the basis of religion or caste is eroding the social fabric of society in many overt and covert conflicts. How efficient are our institutions to fight out this evil? 4) This paper is limited by reading the past from a sociological perspective. Biblical and theological evaluation can throw further light on these comments, which is beyond the scope of present exposition. Let this exercise become an eye-opener in the pursuit of Syro-Malabar Church to carry out her mission in the third millennium on the basis of gospel.

Mangalapuzha Seminary

P.B. No:1, Alwaye 683102


[1] Fancois  Houtart & Genvieve Lemercinier, Genesis and Institutionalization of the Indian Catholicism, Universite Catholique de Louvain, 1981, Chapter 1

[2] Ibid.,

[3] George Thomas, Christianity and the Modern Indian Civilization, Indian Christian Directory, Rashtradeepika, Kottayam, 2000, p. 70.

[4] C.V. Cherian, Kerala-Empowerment through Enlightenment, Indian Christian Directory, p. 132.

[5] Fancois  Houtart & Genvieve Lemercinier, Genesis and Institutionalization of the Indian Catholicism, Universite Catholique de Louvain, 1981, Chapter 1

[6] Ibid.,

[7] R. Deliege, Inde, Dictionnaire d’Histoire et de Geographie Ecclesiastiques, Paris, p. 990.

[8] A. Sreedhara Menon, Social and Cultural History of Kerala, pp. 49-51.

[9] A. Sreedhara Menon, A Survey of Kerala History, Madras, 1991, p. 228-229

[10] Cyriac Thomas, Christian Involvement in the Building up of the Nation, Christian Contribution to Nation Building, S. Ponnumuthan (ed.), POC, 2004, p. 67.

[11] C.V. Cherian, Kerala-Empowerment through Enlightenment, Indian Christian Directory, p. 130.

[12] Cardinal E. Tisserant, Eastern Christianity, pp. 164-165.

[13] A.M. Mundadan, St. Thomas and St. Thomas Christians, Indian Christian Directory, p. 55.

[14] George Thomas, The Christians and the Freedom Movement, Indian Christian Directory, p. 65.

[15] A. Sreedhara Menon, A Survey of Kerala History, pp. 300-301.

[16] Pala K. M. Mathew, The Role of Christians in India’s Freedom Struggle, Christian Contribution to Nation Building, p. 30.

[17] A. Sreedhara Menon, A Survey of Kerala History,  pp. 302-303

[18] George Thomas, The Christians and the Freedom Movement, Indian Christian Directory, p. 67; Pala K. M. Mathew, The Role of Christians in India’s Freedom Struggle, Christian Contribution to Nation Building, p. 32.

[19] G. Menacherry, Christian Saints and Sages of India, Indian Christian Directory, p. 76.

[20] Antony Kalliath, Paths of Contextualizing Indian Spirituality, Christian Contribution to Nation Building, p. 206.

[21] Thomas A. Aykara, The Deepika, Indian Christian Directory, pp. 90-92.

[22] Cyriac Thomas, Christian Involvement in the Building up of the Nation, Christian Contribution to Nation Building, p. 68.

[23] H. Khon, Nationalism: Its Meaning and History, Florida, 1982, pp. 9-10.

[24] A.D. Smith, Theories of Nationalism, London, 1971, pp. 158-163; 170-171.

[25] R. Khan, South Asian Portents, India Nation-State and Communalism, G.S. Balla [ed.], 1989, 40-42

[26] L. Dumont, Nationalism and Communalism, Contribution to Indian Sociology, VII, 1964, 45-47.

[27] A.A. Engineer, A theory of communal riots, Seminar, November 1983, 15

[28] Economic Times, May 19, 2003.

[29] Organizer, September 26, 2004

[30] For a detailed study of the subject refer George Mathew,  Communal Road to A Secular Kerala, New Delhi, 1989, chapter three.

[31] For a detailed study read P.M. Mammen, Communalism VS Communism, Minerva Associates, Calcutta, 1981, pp. 183-190

Reception of Inter-religious Dialogue in India

Reception of Inter-religious Dialogue in India

Dr Vincent Kundukulam

Vincent Kundukulam



To assess the reception of the Second Vatican Council by the Indian Church with regard to inter-religious dialogue is a complex exercise for many reasons. First of all, the initiatives for dialogue vary from place to place on account of different local factors. Besides, the fact of reception is not uniform in theological and practical realms. To take stock of the dialogical scenario in India is also difficult due to the lack of serious research already done on this topic. Nevertheless, this task is indispensable if we want to carry on the achievements of the Council to the present day. This paper is a humble attempt to inquire into the perspectives and practices that are emerged in Indian Church in the sphere of dialogue after the Council.

We will commence by clarifying the key terms of this article – reception and dialogue.  Secondly, we will resume the basic intuitions as regards Church’s attitude towards Non-Christians in the documents of Lumen gentium, Gaudium et spes, Ad gentes and Nostra aetate. Next section will be an illustration and evaluation of the theology and practice of dialogue in India. This will follow the problems and challenges that the mission of dialogue confronts in our country. In conclusion we will make some proposals to keep at the orientations of Council about dialogue in India.

1) Clarification of terms

Reception: The concept of ‘reception’ raises before us a certain number of questions: Is reception purely a human endeavor? Do humans need divine assistance to follow the teachings of Church? Does reception point to merely a democratic process that looks for majority’s consensus? Can we reduce reception to the passive acceptance of a hierarchical position by a local Church? Who is ultimately responsible for reception – theologians, faithful or hierarchy? When is the process of reception completed:  by mere acceptance of a document or by implementing its suggestions?

To discuss the above mentioned questions is beyond the scope of this article. Therefore,  I remain here with the stance taken by Evelyn Monteiro, who after studying this point summarizes the following: ‘A document can be said to have been received at the outset if it is faithful to Christian experience and is in continuity with the tradition of the Church. Secondly, reception is not merely a juridical determination, either of authority or on the part of the faithful; as Lumen gentium no: 12 remind us, ‘the whole Church is involved in grasping the Christian truth’. Thirdly the reception will occur only when the document is sensitive to the demands of current Christian situation. Finally, reception does not confer validity to a universal document; rather acknowledges its worth for the local Church and thus imparts certain credibility to the statement[1].  We will therefore understand reception in this article in an integral sense i.e. loyalty to the magisterium which is to be derived through the process of dialogue where the entire people of God in a local Church expresses their sensus fidelium in a responsible way under the help of the Holy Spirit.

Dialogue: Dialogue has become inevitable for peaceful co-existence in the contemporary world. For Church, dialogue is not a strategy of co-existence but a constituent of her identity. She is originated from God’s initiative to dialogue with the humanity. Jose Kuttianimattathil, in his book, ‘The practice and theology of inter-religious dialogue’ has proposed a description of inter-religious dialogue, which I think, is fitting for our understanding of dialogue in this discussion. ‘It may be described as all positive and constructive inter-religious relations, be it through living and working together, study and discussions, witness and sharing in depth, prayer and contemplation, etc. by religiously committed individuals and communities of one religious tradition with those of other faiths, which are directed at mutual enrichment and commitment to joint-action for the integral liberation of people, in obedience to truth and respect for freedom’[2].

2) Insights of the Council regarding Dialogue

In the Second Vatican Council, Lumen gentium, Gaudum et spes, Ad gentes and Nostra aetate are the main documents which enclose orientations for inter-religious dialogue.

The prime concept that promotes dialogue in these documents is unity of the human race: ‘All men stem from one stock and share in a common destiny, God. God’s providence, goodness and saving designs extend to all humans’ (NA 1). Consequently even those who have not received the gospel are related to the People of God. The plan of salvation includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Moslems… Nor is God remote from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, since he gives to all men life and breadth and all things (Acts 17, 25-28). Those who seek God with a sincere heart, and try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience – those too may achieve eternal salvation. Whatever good or truth is found amongst them is considered by the Church to be a preparation for the Gospel. (LG 16) The humble and preserving investigator of the secrets of nature is also led by the hand of God. In any case believers, no matter what their religion, have always recognized the voice and the revelation of God in the languages of creatures. (GS 36)

Another point in the Council that boosted the dialogue initiatives is the rediscovery of the role of the Holy Spirit in the world. Without doubt, the Holy Spirit was at work in the world before Christ was glorified (AG 4). The activity of the Holy Spirit is not restricted to the Catholic Church; He directs the course of time and renews the face of the earth (GS 26). Consequently, Church understood herself as a worldwide reality than merely a Europe-centered religion. As Spirit is active in the religious traditions of the world, it is proper that Church enters into dialogue with them in order to recognize the riches of God present in them and realize God’s plan on earth.

Council fathers stressed also God’s universal salvific plan. All men, including those who do not possess an explicit knowledge of God, are exposed to the presence of the saving grace of Christ because the whole humankind is called by the grace of God to salvation (LG 13,16). God wills all men be saved (I Tim 2,4). ‘Since Christ died for all, and since all men are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partners, in a way known to God, in the paschal mystery (GS 22). The Spirit reaches the depth of everything and that the Spirit blows where it pleases (Jn 3, 8).

In the light of the above-said theological stands, Council observed that other religions are not mere human enterprises. Whatever truth and grace are found among them is a sort of secret presence of God. Therefore the Fathers advised the faithful ‘to reject nothing of what is true and holy in these religions’. They affirmed that Church keeps a high regard for the manner of life and conduct, the precepts and doctrine which, although differing in many ways from her teaching, nevertheless, often reflect a ray of truth which enlightens all men (NA 2). They encouraged the faithful to collaborate with other believers. ‘The Church, therefore, urges her sons to enter with prudence and charity into discussion and collaboration with members of other religions.  Let Christians, while witnessing to their own faith acknowledge, preserve and encourage the spiritual and moral truths found among non-Christians, also their social life and culture’ (NA 2). The Sacred Council begs Christian faithful to conduct themselves well among the Gentiles and if possible, depends on them, to be at peace with them and thus be true sons of the Father who is in heaven (NA 5). In brief, Council refused the old exclusive adage – Outside Church no salvation -and recognized positive values in other religions.

3) Areas of reception

Dialogue with other religious cultures is not truly a post Vatican reality in India. Since the very beginning, Christians, in particular the St. Thomas Christians in Kerala, kept friendly relation with the surrounding religions. But Council’s position is decisive in the sense that the universal Church officially encouraged dialogue with other faith traditions.

3.1 Theological reception

The positive attitude of the Council towards other faiths enhanced Indian theologians and pioneers of dialogue to elaborate a theology of dialogue proper to their contexts.  In 1989, the CBCI Commission for Dialogue and Ecumenism brought out the ‘Guidelines for Inter-religious Dialogue’, a unique text that explains the raison d’etre and dynamism of dialogue-ministry.

According to this document, ‘dialogue is both an attitude and an activity of committed followers of various religions who agree to meet and accept one another and work together for common ideals in an atmosphere of mutual respect and trust. They do not meet in superficial manner leaving aside their religious convictions. Rather they reach out for each other from the very core of their respective faiths, for they are confident that not only what they have in common but also those things in which they differ can provide a motive for coming together’. The Commission elaborates also the attitudes for genuine dialogue. They are prayer, commitment to faith, willingness to change, truthfulness, honesty, humility, spirit of forgiveness, knowledge of the other and sense of justice. The dangers to be avoided in the mission of dialogue are unwillingness to accept other as different, attitude of suspicion, desire to score a point over the other, syncretism and indifferentism[3].

The theology of dialogue developed in India can be traced also from the statements of the Twelfth and Thirteenth Annual Meetings of the Indian Theological Association. These meetings define dialogue ‘as a mode of being and a way of life. It is a sharing and a process of mutual enrichment. Like all realities dialogue also contains a paradox: commitment to one’s own ideals and acceptance of others. Genuine dialogue implies that the partners respect one another and learn from one another. Hence there can be no dialogue without accepting the equality of partners’[4].  In order to conduct dialogue meaningfully, says the Indian theologians, ‘we should be aware of the limitations of our own faith-experience. While holding to the specificity of faith we have to transcend the limits of the same in order to experience the ineffable mystery of God. We thus recognize ourselves as pilgrims in Christ to that fullness of truth which is beyond all claims of expression and possession. No religion can exist in isolation; nay more, a religion that is not open to the other becomes irreligious. In a pluralistic society to be religious is to be inter-religious’[5].

The advocates of dialogue in India elaborated also frameworks that would facilitate reading of non-Christian Scriptures and participation in their worship. Under the leadership of D.S. Amalorpavadass, a Research Seminar on Non-Biblical Scriptures was organized at Nagpur in 1975 and the proposals of this Conference became the torchlight for the Catholics in using other Scriptures. The prominent reason they emphasized was Holy Spirit’s active presence outside the confines of Church. Thanks to the works of the Spirit other Scriptures reflect genuine religious experiences of those people. Reading the Non-Christian scriptures the Christians will be better equipped for a more profound sharing with the members of other religions. It will help them discover the universal will of God expressed in other faith traditions. [6]

3.2 Reception via Praxis

Envisaging mission as being a leaven in the world, the supporters of dialogue began ashrams and centers in various parts of the country to promote interaction among the believers of religions. The main activities of such centers are the following.

Monthly meetings: Most of the dialogue centers conducted ordinary meetings in which believers from all religions participated. These meetings begin by a prayer. It comprises lighting the Indian lamp, chanting devotional songs, readings from the Sacred Scriptures, lectures on special themes, discussion of the participants, sharing a small meal, etc.

Seminars: Once in a while, the dialogue groups host seminars where the scholars from different religions are invited to make systematic presentation on a chosen theme and that is followed by discussion in the group.

Experience Sharing: Some hardly arrange dialogue meetings. They feel that sharing of experiences are more fruitful than the arranged dialogues. Fr. Bede Griffiths writes: ‘It is one thing to know about a particular religion by reading and discussion but it is another thing to know a person. After all there is no such thing as Hinduism; there are only Hindus each living and experiencing his religion in a different way. There is no such thing as Christianity; there are only Christian men and women, living out their faith from day to day. Dialogue teaches one not to encounter an abstract doctrine but to discover the living reality of religion[7]. X. Irudayaraj who has been pioneering the dialogue sessions in St. Paul’s Seminary Tiruchy expresses the same view:  ‘As secretary to the meetings I used to worry choosing themes for dialogue. But now I see that the ‘themes present themselves’ as we focus on sharing and praying together and I have come to realize that dialogue consists more in silent togetherness than in verbal exchange[8].


Celebration of festivals: The festal gatherings not only build up inter-religious friendship but also help people to get acquainted with the spiritual meaning of the rituals and customs of other religions and strengthen their own personal spiritual lives.

Common Pilgrimage: The interfaith groups go to places of pilgrimage once in a year. This includes also visiting religious institutions of the participants. Such visits help the members remove the doubts and misunderstandings regarding other believers and get in touch with the worship of their co-religionists.

Co-operation in the social field: Common activities by members of different religions are a form of inter-religious dialogue. Certain dialogue units undertake public services in view of nation-building. Some others take up a wide range of issues pertaining to human rights and freedom of the backward people in the country. The activists of dialogue engage also in exorcizing the demons of casteism, regionalism and communalism. Through these sorts of action-oriented programs people come to know about the liberative drive of religions and stick on to religions to solve the issues of life.

Inculturation: The process of inculturation got momentum immediately after the Council. The liturgy began to be celebrated in the vernacular languages. In many places churches and chapels were constructed in Indian style. Indian music, bhajans and dance were introduced into liturgy.  Oil lamps replaced candles and arati took the place of the thurible in worship. Priests, religious and seminarians became interested in studying Indian spirituality and yoga. Christian ashrams sprang up in different corners of the country.  But these days, a sort of frozenness is installed in indigenization, partly due to the disciplinary guidelines from different ecclesial corners.


Live-together Sessions: The live-in programmes are those in which members of different religions come together for some days of staying together. They are arranged in quiet and beautiful places. During these days the participants meditate, sing, eat and conduct sat-sang as one community. Dialogue goes to the deepest level when the members live together in proximity for days through prayer, contemplation, cooking and eating, discussion and cultural activities.

Through these various types of practical dialogue participants get the conviction that all religions are willed by God in his mysterious economy of salvation. They are meant by God to throw light on one another, enrich one another and stimulate one another in seeking Him and serving the humanity.

4) Evaluation of the reception

Though it is difficult to determine exactly the status of inter-religious dialogue in India in the existing paradigms of theology of religions – ecclesio-centrism, christo-centrism, theo-centrism, and soterio-centrism[9] – we will make a random classification in order to have a bird’s-eye view on the situation of dialogue ministry in Indian Church. The following comments are not based on any scientific study but in the light of my experiences with those who are involved in dialogue under different capacities in India.

Starting from above, majority of the bishops in India attest the positive and open attitude of the Council towards other religions. Since pluralism has become an irreversible fact of today’s culture they come out to recognize in public other religions as ways of salvation to their respective believers. This position is closer to the theology of salvific grace, a position held by Karl Rahner. But when the ecclesial authorities speak within the board of Christians they may be content with the theology of accomplishment i.e. all religions are natural religions and Christianity is the supernatural religion.

There may be only a least minority in the hierarchy who, in both private and public circles, attribute to other religions an authentic salvific value. While holding firm on the unique mediatorship of Christ they may consider gods of other religions as co-mediations of salvation for the world.   Such bishops don’t express satisfaction vis-à-vis the ‘going-back attitude’ of the recent official documents regarding dialogue. They are deeply sad about the ghetto culture that is getting momentum among the Catholics today. The following comment made by Bishop Patrick D’Souza, Bishop of Varanasi, on Dominus Iesus is an instance. While holding on to what the Church teaches in this document he asks, ‘if there is not a different way telling that Jesus is the only Saviour?’ Can we affirm quantity about God? Is there a way that is not offensive in defending the particularity of Jesus to the Indians? Any true dialogue to be possible the partners must be open to learn from each other. We must not claim to have fully the whole truth. Such a claim will not only be a sign of foolish arrogance, but also a denial of the pilgrim character of the Church. A Christian can respect other faiths without surrendering his/her commitment to the central declaration of the Scripture. The oldest as well as the briefest confession of faith in the NT is Jesus is the Lord; He is the way, the Truth and the Life. It is different from saying that Jesus is the only Saviour.[10].

Among the theologians and activists who thrive after inter-religious dialogue a major section will hold on some of the intuitions related to either theo-centric and soterio-centric attitudes while being at the same time faithful to inclusive Christo-centrism. They are not happy while Magisterium imposes in a unilateral way its documents on the local Churches. Paul Puthenangady remarks: ‘We all believe that the local Church is not a branch of the universal Church. Every local Church is fully Church on its own right, in communion with the Universal Church. If this is true universal magisterium need not be a one-way traffic. The local Churches have the duty and right to contribute effectively in the formulation the universal magisterium. Magisterium is more a communication leading to communion than an instruction following the style of a teacher-pupil relationship’[11].

Coming to the laity, they are not very much worried about the dogmatic formulations regarding dialogue. What matters them is the praxis of dialogue. The relation of the Christians towards other believers in India depends on various factors. Among them we will mention only two here. a) The antiquity, numerical strength, and economic status of Christians in a region: For example, where Christians are numerically weak they go for healthy relationship with others while in areas where Christians have considerable strength they are reluctant for cultural integration. Since they can stand on their own legs, they will not be ready to make any sacrifice for the sake of dialogue. b) Christian involvement in dialogue may vary also according to the forms of dialogue. Laity feels at ease with the ‘dialogue of life’ and the ‘dialogue of action’ if the Hindus in the region are not averse to such initiatives. But they are not very much disposed to the dialogue of prayer. Joining other believers in worship seems to be disastrous for their faith because reverence shown to Hindu deities is equal to idolatry for them.

5) Problems and Challenges

a) Though the official documents of the Council encouraged the ministry of dialogue the Catholics in the mainstream have not fully accepted it. Even now, the mission is confined to the traditional forms of apostolate such as education, social service, medical care, etc. It is difficult for them to shift from the institutional services to the people oriented ministry. They consider dialogue a waste of time. Some ask: What have you achieved in all these years? To the traditional Catholics mission must lead to tangible results such as baptism and consolidation of the visible structure of the Church.

b) Another block in the way of dialogue is the fear of the Catholics. They fear that appreciation for other faiths and joining their celebrations may dilute or betray the Christian faith. They see in this ministry a danger of syncretism. A handful of Christians consider the Hindu spiritual exercise like Yoga, as diabolic’. Felix Machado, who had been in charge of the dialogue mission at Mumbai and now bishop, writes: ‘The suspicion comes from the people of my own religious community as well as from other religions. The people of my religious tradition either want me to dialogue with the intention of propagating religion or they think that dialogue is compromising the revelation of God. It is obvious that I cannot enter into dialogue with the hidden agenda of propagating my religious tradition on others. That would simply not be dialogue[12].

c) Another challenge that comes up in the path of dialogue is the manner in which we Christians articulate the uniqueness of Jesus. Dialogue presupposes that no one claims to have the fullness of truth and that the partners accept each other as equals. Any hint of superiority will disturb the process of dialogue. As regards the doctrine of the uniqueness of Christ I have heard Hindus saying: Why can’t you accept Christ also as one saviour? Swami Siddhinathananda referring to Vivekananda’s speech in the Parliament of Religions which was held in Chicago 1893 says: ‘All are God’s children and all have equal right to the Father’s love and legacy. God is neither Hindu, nor Christian nor Muslim. There is no wall or fence in heaven. God is not sectarian or doctrinaire. He will respond to any call from any one in any place and in any language, if it is sincere and earnest. This has been the approach of the religions of Indian origin[13].

d) Ministry of dialogue faces challenge also from the staunched Hindus who look at the dialogue initiatives as a new tactic for conversion. Sr. Vandana Mathaji who have done the dialogue pilgrimage from 1971 onwards in different places like Christa Prem Seva Ashram in Pune, in Rishikesh, in the Himalayas and in the West refers to a question that is often raised by Hindus: Why should Christians who for all these years have been happy to follow Christ suddenly bend over backwards to take on Indian names, bhajans, kirtans, japa, Bharat Natyam and Hindu gestures? Is this so-called inculturation a new stunt for conversion? – the old wolf in a new sheepskin?.[14]

6) Concluding remarks

Problems are many in the path of dialogue. But we cannot abandon this mission for it is one of the essential constituents of evangelization today. In this concluding part, I would like to make two suggestions, which may strengthen the mission of dialogue.

a) The basic requirement for the success of inter-religious initiatives of the Church is to have Catholics with genuine spirituality. Spirituality is the only uniting factor in the world. Anything without God creates division. Wealth, power and fame are making people more self-centered and competitive. The mission of dialogue will flourish only that day when the number of the faithful interested in spiritual quest augments. People with spiritual outlook will never question about the usefulness of dialogue. Gispert Sauch writes: ‘What profit do I obtain from the experience of dialogue? The main fruit is that we are enabled to love more deeply believers of other faiths. We know them precisely in that by which they are different from us. The mystery of dialogue is that in accepting and affirming difference we come closer to people. Our experiences of dialogue lead us to the very mystery of God. We become aware of the incomprehensible mystery that surrounds us and in which all exist. Even when we confess that fullness of God dwells in Christ still He remains a mystery. In the experience of our inability to speak adequately about God and in the realization that others too experience the same inadequacy we are drawn deeper into that silence which is deepest form of adoration we can offer to God’[15].

b) Another necessary element for the betterment of dialogue ministry is that Christians recognize the identity other faiths. If Christians perceive themselves as superior to other ways of salvation it will endanger the spirit of inter-religious fellowship. Accepting in others only that which is Christian and rejecting the rest is equal to denying their alterity. The participants have to constantly purify the motives behind dialogue initiatives. Christians must recognize in other revelations some irreducible elements which is unknown to Christianity. This does not mean that those who engage in dialogue cannot take up a definite stand regarding their own faith. Commitment to one’s own faith is not an obstacle to dialogue if the person is ready to award the same right to others.  What endangers dialogue is the triumphant attitude saying: ours is the only true religion and others are false.

Any religion without dialogue has the potential danger of alienation. And alienation breeds non-communication and non-communication leads to communalism. In dialogue, partners are called to be at the service of God who transcends all religions. Pope John Paul II said, ‘Dialogue is a sign of the hope that religions of the world are becoming more aware of their shared responsibility for the well-being of the human family[16]’. As Bernard Ugeux says, ‘to turn towards the believer of another religion with respect to learn how to understand him and to discover the values that make him live is to reproduce concretely the attitude that Jesus-Christ always sought to promote in his encounter with people’[17].

[1] E. Monteiro, The theological and ecclesiological concept of reception in the tradition of the Church, Paper presented in Bishops – Theologians Colloquium, held from 26th  to 28th November 2003, at NBCLC Bangalore.

[2] Jose Kuttianimattathil, Practice and Theology of Inter-religious Dialogue, Bangalore: Kristu Jyothi Publications, 1998, p. 592.

[3] CBCI Commission for Dialogue and Ecumenism, Guidelines for Inter-religious Dialogue, New Delhi: CBCI Centre, 1989, nos: 31, 40-55.

[4] Statement of Indian Theological Association, Twelfth Annual Meeting, December 28-31, 1988, Towards Theology of Religions: An Indian Christian Perspective, Religious Pluralism, K. Pathil (ed.), Delhi: ISPCK, 1991, p. 331.

[5] Statement of the Indian Theological Association, Thirteenth Annual Meeting, December 28-31, 1989, Towards an Indian Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism, , Religious Pluralism, K. Pathil (ed.), , Delhi: ISPCK, 1991, pp. 343 – 348.

[6] Sharing Worship, Final Statement of the Interdisciplinary Research Seminar 20-25 January 1988, Bangalore: NBCLC, 1988, pp. 21-22

[7] B. Griffiths, My Reflections, Inter-faith Dialogue in Tiruchirapalli, Madras: Aikkiya Alayam, 1978, p. 139.

[8] X. Irudayaraj, My Experience, Inter-faith Dialogue in Tiruchirapalli,  Madras: Aikkiya Alayam, 1978, p. 146-147.

[9] Eclessio-centrists think that outside Church there is no salvation; the Christo-centrists see Jesus as the only source of salvation; for the Theo-centrists God is the centre of salvation and for the Soterio-centrists no matter who saves; what matters is whether people are saved from oppression.

[10] P. D’Souza, A Brief Reflection, Paper presented in the Bishops – Theologians Colloquium, held from 26th  to 28th November 2003, at NBCLC Bangalore.

[11] P. Puthanangady, Reception of universal magisterium in the local Church from the perspective of inculturation, Paper presented in the Bishops – Theologians Colloquium, held from 26th  to 28th November 2003, at NBCLC Bangalore.

[12] Felix Machado, My Dialogue Pilgrimage, Pilgrims of Dialogue, A. Pushparajan (ed.), Munnar: Sangam Dialogue Centre, 199, p. 181.

[13] S. Siddhinathananda, Dialogue, Pilgrims of Dialogue, op. cit., p. 81.

[14] Vandana Mathaji, Ongoing learning to dialogue: Some Experiences and Reflections, Pilgrims of Dialogue, op. cit., pp. 87-88.

[15] Gispert Sauch, Dialogue and Life, Pilgrims of Dialogue, op. cit., p. 118.

[16] Dialogue with the World Religions, Origins, 29/24, Nov. 25, 1999, p. 398.

[17] Bernard Ugeux, Reflections on the Inter-religious dialogue 40 years after Nostra aetate, ‘Vatican II A Gift and a Task: International Colloquium to mark the 40th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council’ 18-20 November 2005, Jnana-Deepa Vidhyapeeth, Pune,

Deepening Inculturation

 Deepening Inculturation

 Dr Vincent Kundukulam

Dr Vincent Kundukulam

 Dr Vincent Kundukulam



            Since the Second Vatican Council the theologians spoke much about the necessity of transmitting the gospel values in the indigenous cultures. Various local Churches in Africa Asia and Latin America took initiatives to develop Christian practices proper to their cultures. This interaction of the Christian message with the local cultures gave birth not only to adapted liturgies but also to diverged forms of theologies like liberation theology, theology of dialogue, etc. which sowed certain confusion in the Church. There was a feeling that individual Churches are moving away from the old traditions of the catholic Church. As a result certain precautions are taken by the Church to make sure that the efforts of inculturation do not risk the faith and unity of the universal Church. Unfortunately, today many individual Churches left aside the efforts to reinterpret the gospel message in their religious cultures and are content with adopting a few local external customs in the liturgy. The objective of this article is to show that inculturation is to be done not merely at superficial realms of indigenous cultures but also at religious aspects. The meaning of inculturation, its relation with the mystery of incarnation, the process of inculturation and the intrinsic connection that exists between the culture and religion proves the pertinence of such an argument.


1. Meaning of Inculturation

Origin: We don’t know the exact date of the first apparition of the term inculturation[1].  It seems that it was Fr. Pedro Arrupe, the Superior General of Jesuits, who first used this term during the thirty-second general assembly of their Congregation, which took place in Rome from 1st December 1974 to 7th April 1975[2]. The first Assembly of Federation of Asian Bishops Conference (F.A.B.C) organised at Taipei between 22nd to 27th April 1976 had also spoken about an indigenous and inculturated church[3]. This word first appeared in the official text of the Catholic Church during the Synod of Bishops in 1977. John Paul II officially pronounced this word during his allocation addressed to the members of Pontifical Biblical Commission on 26th April 1979. In his speech, he placed inculturation at the centre of the Mystery of incarnation[4]. Since then during his various visits in different countries and in his official documents Pope speaks about inculturation as a constitutive element of evangelisation. We can better understand the significance of inculturation if we compare it with other notions like adaptation, accommodation, localisation, indigenisation, contextualisation, acculturation and enculturation which are often employed in missiology to explain the new rapport established between the Church and different cultures.

Adaptation, accommodation and localisation: The initiative for adaptation was existing in the Church from the very beginning of her mission. It was more prevalent from 16th century when the European missionaries began to go in the Far East countries. It denotes the efforts taken by the missionaries on the one hand to adapt to the local customs in dress, lodging and food and on the other hand to present the Bible in an intelligible and understandable way for the non-Christians. In this sense the accommodation and localisation signify the same reality of adaptation. But inculturation is distinct from them in two aspects: a) Adaptation is essentially the work of missionary while inculturation is the result of the efforts taken by the members of the local Church to receive the Christian message in their culture. b) Adaptation limits itself to external aspects of the culture while inculturation is a process in which the Church makes of gospel new expressions and interpretations in a given culture[5].

Indigenisation and contextualisation The missiologists do not prefer to use the term Indigenisation to designate the transmission of the gospel in a particular culture because the term Indigenous designate those people who lived in ancient colonised countries. It revives the memory of colonial culture. As regards the term contextualisation, in its original usage, refers to the theological formation in the non-accidental countries. Later, it was utilised for explaining the various aspects of life and the mission of the church[6]. The benefit of this term is that it evokes the sum total of cultural political social and religious situations in which the Bible must be inculturated and by the same fact it represents well the object of inculturation. But the disadvantage of this term is that it does not represent well the theological dimension i.e., the encounter of gospel with human situations.

Acculturation:  This term is employed in sociology to evoke what one designated by inculturation in theology. Since thirty years, the missiologists use it to explain the relation between the Church and various cultures. Acculturation stands for that process by which one person moves from one culture to another with the consequence of changing the modes of his original culture. It is a historical process in the sense that the individuals and the groups do not stop modifying their cultural traditions by the contact of other people and other cultures[7]. But since this term is of sociology, the theologians prefer to use the word inculturation, which belongs properly to the theology.

Enculturation: This term also has its origin in sociology to indicate the process by which an individual is initiated and grown up in his culture, the first act of socialisation[8]. What distinguishes enculturation from inculturation is that the former is concerned about the insertion of an individual in a particular culture while the latter points to the process by which Church becomes a part of the culture of the people. Again, in the case of former, the child does not have a-prioi the culture while in the case of latter, the Church is already deep-rooted in a particular culture[9]. The above explanations helped us to see the differences between inculturation and other concepts, which describes the relationship between the Church and the culture in missiology. Now we have to study the significance of the term inculturation in a positive way.

            Fr. Arrupe used the term inculturation for the first time in his letter to the Jesuits written on 14th May 1978 defining it as follows: “Inculturation is the incarnation of Christian life and of the Christian message in a particular cultural context, in such a way that this experience not only finds expression through elements proper to the culture in question (this alone would be no more than a superficial adaptation), but becomes a principle that animates, directs and unifies the culture, transforming and remaking it so to bring about a new creation”. Then Arrupe gives the following explanation: “In every case, this Christian experience is that of the People of God, that lives in a definite cultural space and has assimilated the traditional values of its own culture, but is open to other cultures. In other words, it is the experience of a local Church which, accepting the past with discernment, constructs the future with its present resources”[10]. The FABC at Taipei in 1976 used the term inculturation when it defined the local Church: “The local Church is Church incarnate in a people, a Church indigenous and inculturated[11]. Pope John Paul II in his first utilisation of this term, he connects it with the mystery of incarnation: ‘the term inculturation is perhaps a neologism, but it expresses very well one of the components of the great mystery of incarnation’[12].

            The above explanations make clear that inculturation is more than adaptation. The gospel must be inculturated in the cultural political social and religious situations of the indigenous communities. Let us now contemplate on the inseparable link that exists between inculturation and mystery of incarnation, which will convince us of the need of giving flesh to the Word even at religious level.

2. Inculturation – Incarnation

            The heart of mystery of incarnation is the fact that the ‘word is made flesh’. (Jn.1:14)  God has taken the contingent form of humanity. The ultimate divinity has been incarnated in a man called Jesus. The connection between incarnation and inculturation consists in the fact that the latter follows the same logic of the former. In the process of inculturation, Gospel becomes a concrete word for the people. It takes a new expression and at the same time it enriches the culture. The advantage of comparing inculturation to the incarnation, as Claude Geffre says, is that there will be evangelisation only if the gospel is presented in a particular culture as the fullness of revelation of God in a man can take place only if he is incarnated in a particular and concrete man called Jesus of Nazareth.  Another advantage is that we can show the incorruptible nature of the word of God. Gospel does not lose its identity even though it is realised in different cultures, as the transcendence of God is not compromised in the incarnation[13].

            St. Paul presents the mystery of incarnation as a real denouncement  (kenosis) of God (Phil.2:6,7), a mystery according to which God accepted to incarnate as one of the member of a particular group (Jews) in order to open the way of universal salvation. The process of inculturation contains also this aspect of kenosis. The four gospels, even though they are inseparably linked with the cultures of their times, in order that they become a ferment in a particular context of today, they must be detached of the cultural contingencies of their time. The Indian theologians are really convinced that inculturation will take place only when there is kenosis of the word of God: “ To become a Christian is to become incarnated: to become a seed, to die, to be reborn in the cultural roots. There must be a fundamental transformation in our attitudes. We are born here and we must be harmonised to the vibrations, to the rhythms and to the music of Indian culture.”[14]

            R. Jaouen gives the example of a seed to speak about inculturation. As soon as the seed is fallen on the earth, it begins to work slowly and invisibly. The sower does not know how the seed sprouts and grows. The same way, the missionary sows the Word but the result is produced without him. Everything happens as a mysterious action that takes place between gospel and culture where the missionary remains as a useless servant. This reference to the symbol of seed helps us to understand the gist of inculturation: The principal actor of inculturation, as in incarnation, is not man but Jesus Christ himself who germinate his church in each man where he is preached. In other words inculturation is not the product of a human project. It is not the result of an encounter between two human cultures. But it is a divine project realised due to the encounter of Gospel with a particular culture. Jesus Christ is the Word proclaimed by the predicator and the Word received by a culture[15].

            As incarnation, inculturation is also an evangelising act. Amalorpavadass mention the missionary connection that exists between the process of incarnation and that of inculturation. According to him by incarnation, Christ has assumed in his humanity the whole creation and by the death and resurrection, he has recapitulated it in him. The church is called to continue the mission of recapitulation of everything in Christ of which inculturation is the accessible means for the church. If the church does not follow the same channel of incarnation done by Christ, she cannot fulfil her mission[16]. We listen to the same idea in the mouth of a bishop working in a missionary region of Kerala: “The incarnation of Christ is mission to be lived continually and everything that is good in different cultures must be assumed in his humanity[17]. Puthanangady affirms this dimension of inculturation saying that it does not mean simply the encounter of gospel with a culture in view of making a pertinent and adequate formulation of Gospel but it is the way in which God encounters the humanity in need of salvation[18]. In short, inculturation is a fundamental exigency for the church which is missionary among the diverse cultures of the world.

            Even though there are common elements between these two concepts, we cannot for the same reason exchange them mutually since the mystery of incarnation is absolutely unique. The incarnation has taken place only once for all while inculturation has to be realised many times everywhere in the world. Another important element which distinguishes inculturation from incarnation is that the latter evoke the relation between one person, Jesus Christ and a Jewish Aramanic culture while the former suppose a relation between a religion, Christianity which has already assimilated the elements of particular cultures and an another culture[19].

            This study on the relationship between the mystery of incarnation and inculturation shows the necessity of realising the process of inculturation even in religious level. We have seen that by incarnation, God has not taken shape only in the superficial aspects of humanity but in all the dimensions of man’s life. If the inculturation has to follow the same logic of incarnation, we cannot be content with an adaptation of the Church in Indian culture. We have also seen that incarnation was an act of evangelisation. Jesus has recapitulated the whole humanity in God. In order that the inculturation becomes an act of evangelisation, the gospel must assimilate and transform the profound aspects of human person including his religious culture. The study on the double movement of inculturation will clarify such a necessity in a better way.

3. The double movement of inculturation

            Inculturation is an encounter of the gospel with the culture. In this encounter, the two partners transform by the grace of their dialogical rapport. As the local culture is transformed by the gospel, the gospel is renewed by the culture. John Paul II in his encyclical Slavorum Apostolii published in 1985 during the 11th Centenary of the evangelising works done by Saints Cyril and Methode mentions this double face of inculturation: In the work of evangelisation that they undertake in the territories of Slav, one finds  a model which we call today inculturation: The incarnation of gospel in the native cultures and at the same time the presentation of the cultures in the life of the Church.[20]

3.1 The inculturation of the Gospel

            It designates today the process by which the gospel takes shape in the local culture of our time as the four gospels were formed in the early Christianity. The four gospels witness the possible cultural variants of the translation of the word of God. For e.g. in the discourse on love of enemies, when Matthew speaks to Jews, he uses the term- gentiles. (Do not even the gentiles do the same? Mt 5: 47) On the other hand, Luke uses another expression, sinners, while addressing to the Gentiles:  (For even sinners do the same; Lk 6:33) Thus the evangelists do not reproduce the exact words of Jesus, but translates the thoughts of Jesus in the cultural patterns of his addressee.[21] The objective of inculturation is, as says Peelman, to write a fifth gospel.[22]

   What does this expression mean? Should we try to write a gospel for India another for Brazil and a third one for Cameroon? I would never say that the gospel must be radically transformed. Anyway, by inculturation we would not be able to produce texts equivalent to the four gospels, which are part of the Canon of the church. The four gospels due to their proximity with Christ and the apostles are unique and they cannot be reproduced in any place. But at the same time, the process of inculturation of the Gospels implies that if the gospel takes root deeply in a culture of a particular people today, the latter will receive gospel in a quite different manner than the first Christian communities. The fact that the words of Christ are read and re-interpreted in a pertinent way for a particular people will bring a certain novelty in the very understanding of gospel. These new elements cannot be reduced to simple adaptations or applications of the word of God because they modify the very understanding of Christ, Church and her mission in the world. Inculturation is the renewal or the updating of the good news without losing its unique message. In realising such a task, the Spirit of Christ incorporates into the Church the new fruits of the kenosis of the word of God.

   In the process of inculturation, even though the principle agent is the Spirit of Christ, it is the missionary who acts in his name. When the Word of God is sown on the earth, it is the missionary who represents the presence of the church in that place. What is the role of missionary in the inculturation of gospel? First of all, let us remember that like gospel, the missionary is never culturally pure. Take the case of a Indian missionary in Africa. He is profoundly conditioned on the one hand by the Hindu culture and on the other hand by a Indian catholic culture. The gospel, which he announces, is in determined by the specific cultural paradigms of India that he lived during the course of centuries.  As says Jaouen, the cultural and religious affinity of a missionary compels him to create certain apriori cultural ethnocentrism. In order that his personal cultural roots do not become an obstacle in the encounter between the gospel and the local community, he has to put in dialectical contact his original culture and the new culture in which he is sent. In any way he has to avoid the risk of imposing the ecclesiastical culture proper to him upon the local Church. The missionary must act in such a way that the indigenous Christian community respond in an authentic manner to the gospel. On the contrary, if the missionary tries to implant his own Church, he imposes there a response, which is already made by his Church a few centuries ago. It has nothing to do with the local culture of Africa. The missionary must wait patiently so that the encounter between the gospel and the indigenous culture give shape to a new Church, which is the improvisible creation of Holy Spirit.[23]

   But in this process, the preacher should not also forget the risk of reducing the Christian message to the local culture because it will make Christ and his gospel to merely a human wisdom. St. Paul had averted the Christian communities of his time about such a danger. “For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin” (Gal.1, 11) “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ“”(Col. 2, 8) It is therefore Evangelii Nuntiandi after having indicated the necessity of inculturation of the gospel says: “But on the other hand evangelisation risk losing its power and disappearing altogether if one empties or adulterates its content under the pretext of translating it; if, in other words, one sacrifices this reality and destroys the unity without which there is no universality, out of a wish to adapt a universal reality to a local situation. Now, only a Church which preserves the awareness of her universality and shows that she is in fact universal is capable of having a message which can be heard by all, regardless of regional frontiers”. (EN 63) Bishop Poupard has reason to say that any effort to make cultural assimilation in a totalitarian manner, will end up in the very refusal of Christianity. In her concern to reach man in his modern culture, the Church cannot at the same time allow to be perished. She has to bring leaven to the local culture.[24]  Such an observation leads us to speak about the evangelisation of cultures, the other face of inculturation.

3.2 Evangelisation of cultures

   It means to criticise those elements in the local culture, which contradict the spirit of the gospels and to transform it by creating a new culture, which is in harmony with the gospel. The document Gaudium et Spes stresses this aspect of transformation of the culture when it speaks of the evangelisation. “Good news of Christ continually renews the life and culture of fallen man; it combats and removes the error and the evil which flow from the ever present attraction of sin. It never ceases to purify and elevate the morality of people. It takes the spiritual qualities and endowments of every age and nation, and with supernatural riches, it causes them to blossom as it were, from within; it fortifies, completes and restores them in Christ” (G.S. 58, 4) The Evangelii Nuntiandi explain like this: “For the Church, evangelising means bringing the Good News into all the strata of humanity, and through its influence transforming humanity from within and making it new  … the Church evangelises when she seeks to convert, solely through the divine power of the message she proclaims, both the personal and collective consciences of people, the activities in which they engage, and the lives and concrete milieu which are theirs.” (EN 18) The question that we have to ask here is this: why and how the gospel is capable of transforming the cultures?

   We can find the answer in the creative power of the Word of God. As we have said earlier, it is Christ himself, who is the word preached and the missionary. The good news that Christ is made man, died and resurrected is too strange that it provokes in the mind of the listener a rupture with his original culture. It results in the change of the person and the reception of the gospel.[25] According to Puthanangady, the word of God is a critical word and so it is liberating. If Church allows the gospel to play its critical role, it will bring in the conversion of oppressors and the liberation of the oppressed.[26] Those who receive the gospel message like Saccheus (Lk.1:19), says Amaladoss, change their representations of God, of the world and  of the other, of  the material things, etc. Thus a new culture is born in the society.[27]

   Those who are actively participating in the activities of the Church are aware of the transforming aspect of inculturation: “The inculturation includes also the process of questioning the Hindu cultural practices which are not in harmony with the gospel message. We have to accept what is coherent with the spirit of gospel and refuse which do not[28]. “The church must assimilate the concepts of Hindu culture but at the same time, she has to re-interpret them in order that they become capable of carrying evangelical sense. The Christians must purify and evangelise the cultures and if nessary, they have to formulate a new one.[29]” The process of evangelisation of cultures finishes only when the gospel exercises its critical function and contributes to the creation of new evangelical cultures. It is not sufficient that the anti-gospel and the anti human values are denounced. We must detect the spiritual aspirations hidden deep inside the minds of the people, which may enlighten in a better way the gospel message and thus create a new gospel culture.

   But this evangelisation of the culture must be lead without destroying the prestigious indigenous culture, which may appear to the missionaries eyes as non evangelical due to his estrangement to the local culture. The directives given by the Congregation for the Propagation of Faith to the first missionaries of Asia in 17th century had already evoked the necessity of being prudent vis-à-vis the local cultures: “Don’t make any tentative to persuade the people to change their customs, way of life and daily practices, when they are not contrary to the morals and religious life. It is absurd to transport to China what is lived in France, Spain and Italy or in other parts of Europe. Don’t bring them at all, but only faith which does neither reject nor offend the way of life and the usage of the people when they are not bad. On the contrary, the faith may conserve and protect those morals and ideas.”[30] Even then, these instructions do not come from the urge for the inculturation of the gospel, as we understand it today. Rather it shows the desire to be successful in the conversion of gentiles.

   But in our time, Pope John Paul II in his address to the Australian aborigines on 29th November said: “Your culture, which witness the permanent genius and the dignity of your race, should not be disappeared. Don’t believe that your talents are not of great value that you need not preserve them no more. Share them among you and transmit them to your children; your songs, your stories, your paintings, your dances, your language…They should never be lost.”[31]  The objective of all these official declarations of the church is the same: We should not confuse the values, the cultures and the way of life in Europe or in Mediterranean world with the substantial and essential message of the gospel. The missionary Church is neither Christ nor the Kingdom of God Her mission is to witness Christ and to dispose herself at the service of the Kingdom as the sign and sacrament of God. Such a conviction will allow the preachers to make gospel a leaven in the inside of each culture.[32] Finish this treatise with the description of inculturation proposed by Crollius who resumed the double movement in inculturation as follows: “Inculturation of the Church is the integration of the Christian experience of a local Church into the culture of its people, in such a way that this experience not only expresses itself in elements of this culture, but becomes a force that animates, orients and innovates this culture so as to create a new unity and communion, not only within the culture in question but also as an enrichment of the Church universal”.[33]

            The above study shows that if the inculturation is made only in the exterior aspects and if we remain foreign to the profound dimensions of Christian life that is not the spirit of the theology of inculturation. A serious approach to inculturation demands that the Gospel penetrate even in the religious cultures of a locality in order to transform them and recapitulate them in Christ. In this mission, Church cannot leave aside the non-Christian religious traditions, which guide the half of human population. As says Claude Geffre, all the existing values and ideas must undergo a metamorphosis and a new synthesis of which the Christian message is the catalysing factor. Thus re-actualising the fundamental Christian experience in new historical forms, the Church will become really universal.[34] To achieve this objective, as bishop Zoa of Cameroon says, ‘It will not be sufficient to put together the rituals of some religions or cultures. The word of God must take flesh in the economic, political and social situations of the local people. One must be able to say as the Samarians told to the Samaritan woman converted by Jesus. “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe. For we have heard for ourselves and we know that this is truly the saviour of the World” (Jn 4:42)’[35].

   Evangelii Nuntiandi reminds that the gospel message must be be inculturated not merely in a decorative way as it were by applying a thin veneer, but in a vital way, in depth and right to their roots. (EN 20) During the encounter with the Pontifical Council for the Culture, on 13 January 1986, Pope John Paul II referred to the work done by the Synod of Bishops and affirmed it clearly: ‘Inculturation is another thing than mere simple exterior adaptation. It signifies a deep transformation of the authentic cultural values by the integration into Christianity and the deepening of Christianity in the different human cultures’[36]. If this is the very objective of inculturation, we cannot be satisfied with adaptations in the superficial level.

4. Culture and religion

   The concept of culture can be studied from different angles. There is the classical understanding of the culture according to which it is the sum total of refined habits that are practised by the dominant classes. The modern anthropologists prefer a more open definition of the culture. Among many definitions, I would like that of Edward Tylor and Clifford Geertz: “Culture is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, customs and any other capabilities or habits acquired by man as a member of society[37]. “Culture is a system of inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic forms by means of which human beings communicate perpetuate and develop their knowledge about and their attitudes towards life”[38].

   The description of the culture given by Gaudium et Spes is in coherence with the modern anthropological vision: “The word culture in the general sense refers to all those things which go to the refining and developing of man’s diverse mental and physical endowments. He strives to subdue the earth by his knowledge and his labor: he humanises social life both in the family and in the whole civic community through the improvement of customs and institutions; he expresses through his works the great spiritual experiences and aspirations of man through out the ages; he communicates and preserves them to be an inspiration for the progress of many even of all mankind.” (G.S. 53:2) These definitions show that the term culture is to be understood in its largest sense: the integral vision of the life which is developed from not only social but also religious heritage of people through the history in a determined context.

   The relation between the culture and the gospel brings into our focus the inevitable place of religious factor in the processes of inculturation. With regard to the message of salvation, gospel is distinct from diverse cultures and still there cannot be total separation between gospel and culture. Gaudium et Spes says that God revealed himself to his people until the coming of his son through different cultures of the time.(G.S. 58) For the same reason in every culture we can find some sort of preparation to receive the gospel message. (G.S.57) Evangelii Nuntiandi affirms also the connection between culture and gospel: The Gospel, and therefore evangelisation, is certainly not identical with culture, and they are independent in regard to all cultures. Nevertheless, the Kingdom, which the Gospel proclaims, is lived by men who are profoundly linked to a culture, and the building up of the kingdom can not avoid borrowing the elements of human culture or cultures. (E.N. 20) As Cardinal Poupard says if Bible had been completely separated from the culture, it could not have the capacity to transform, to purify, to elevate, to strengthen, to perfect and to renovate the cultures as it does since 2000 years[39].

            There exists a reciprocal interaction between culture and religion in almost every countries. Religion is often the secret motor of every culture. So any attempt to get involved in a culture will necessarily lead to the involvement in their religious sphere. Perhaps what keeps away the missionaries from the religious inculturation is the fear of losing the Christian identity. Some think that by adopting some Hindu symbols, the Christians will be ‘Hindusised’. This fear is understandable because the co-habitation of the symbols belonging to different religious languages may cause syncretism. But the universal character of symbolic language shows that such a fear is baseless. As Michel Meslin says, ‘The symbol reveals a logic of correspondence: Above the immediate signification, there will be a second meaning which surpasses the material reality and make possible a mediation between man and his world. The efficient symbol speaks to man at a cosmic and social level. The symbols exist in and through the signification given by human individuals.’[40] If it is the human interpretation that gives sense to a symbol and if the symbols have the capacity to represent the ideas in a universal realm, I think that the Christianity can re-interpret the Hindu religious symbols without committing the mistake of syncretism.


            The inculturation is an inter-religious encounter. The particular culture that the gospel meets is not devoid of religious elements. The culture is transporting the human aspirations about transcendental realities and it is very difficult to separate the religious elements from the culture even in those countries which are very much secular. Much more difficult in countries like India where the daily life is some way or other related with a event in Scriptures which are numerous. So Indian Church has to take a renewed interest in reading and interpreting the word of God in the diverse religious cultures of this land. This is part and parcel of her mission to transform the Indian society from within. Only when the she fulfils this task she will be really Indian and Catholic.

                                                                                                Vincent Kundukulam

                                                                        Mangalapuzha, Aluva, January 2000

[1] For the details see A.A.R.Crollius, ‘What is so new about Inculturation? A concept and its implications’ , Gregorianum, Vol 59 n.3. 1978, pp. 721-738 : M. Sales, ‘Le christianisme, la culture et les cultures, Axes XIII – 1-2, 1980, pp.3-40: J. Masson, L’ Eglise, Ouverte sur le monde,  Nouvelle Revue Theologique, Vol 84, 1962, p.1038.

[2] Cf. P. Arupe, Fr.P Arupe’s letter on Inculturation to the whole society of Jesus,  Indian Missiological Review, January 1979, p.87.

3 Cf. G.B. Rossalez and C.G. Arevalo (eds), For All The Peoples Of Asia : Federation Of Asian Bishops Conference Documents From 1970-1991 , Clarition Publication, Quenzon City, 1992, p. 14

[4] John Paul II, Allocution a la Commission  biblique Pontificale: L’insertion culturelle de la Revelation, Documentation catholique, no: 776, 1979, p. 455

[5] Cf. N. Standaert, L’histoire d’un neologisme, Nouvelle revue theologique, no: 111, 1988, pp. 556-557.

[6] Cf. A.A.R. Crollius, What is so new about Inculturation? op.cit., p.723.

[7] Cf. A. Shorter, Toward a Theology of Inculturation, Orbis, New York, 1994, p.7.

[8] Ibid., p.5.

[9] Cf. A.A.R. Crollius, What is so new about Inculturation? op.cit., pp. 726-727

[10] P. Arupe, Fr.P Arupe’s letter on Inculturation to the whole society of Jesus,  op.cit., pp.87-88

[11] G.B. Rossalez and C.G. Arevalo (eds), For All The Peoples Of Asia, op.cit., p. 14

[12] John Paul II, Allocution a la Commission  biblique, op.cit., p. 455

[13] Cf. C. Geffre, Mission et inculturation, Spiritus, vol. 28, no: 109, 1987, p. 412

[14] Interview with Albert Nambiaparambil at Delhi.

[15] Cf. R. Jaouen, Les conditions d’une inculturation fiable, Observations d’un missionnaire au Cameroun, Lumiere et Vie, vol. 33, no: 168, 1984, pp. 29. 35-38.

[16] Cf. D.S. Amalorpavadass, Theological Reflections on Inculturation, Indian Theological Studies, vol. 27, no: ¾, 1990, pp. 234-240.

[17] Interview with Bp. Zoosai Pakiam at Trivandrum, Kerala.

[18] Cf. P. Puthanangady, Which Culture for Inculturation: The Dominant or the Popular, East Asian Pastoral Review, vol. 30, no: ¾, 1993, p.301.

[19] Cf. N. Standaret, L’histoire d’un neologism, op.cit., pp. 561-562.

[20] Jean Paul II, Homelie pour le jubile des saints Cyrille et Methode, le 14 fevrier 1985, La Documentation catholique, no: 1893, 1985, p. 308.

[21] Cf. S. Anand, The Local Church and Inculturation, Ishvani Kendra, Pune, 1985, pp. 34-36.

[22] Cf. A. Peelman, L’inculturation: L’Eglise et les cultures, Desclee, Paris, 1989, pp. 91-92.

[23] Cf. R. Jaouen, Les conditions d’une inculturation fiable, op.cit., pp. 34-37

[24] Cf. P. Poupard, L’Eglise au defi des cultures: Inculturation et Evangelisation, Desclee, Paris, 1989, p.44.

[25] Cf. N. Standaret, L’histoire d’un neologism, op.cit., p. 563.

[26] Cf. P. Puthanangady. Which culture for Inculturation: The dominant or the popular ?, East Asian Patoral Review, vol. 30, no: ¾, 1993, p. 302

[27] Cf. A. Amaladoss, Inculturation and Intentionality, East Asian Pastoral Review, vol. 29, no:3,1992,p.240

[28] Interview with Paul Thelakkatt, editor of Satyadeepam weekly at Ernakulam, Kerala.

[29] Interview with Francis Kodenkandath, Diocesian Pastoral Council member of Thrissur, Kerala.

[30] Alexandre VII, Instructions a l’usage des Vicaires Apostoliques en partenance pour les Royaumes chinois de Tonkin et de Cochinchine, Collectanea SC Propaganda Fide, 1, p. 42, no: 35

[31] Jean Paul II, Voici pour vous l’heure d’une novelle naissance: Discours aux aborigenes a Alice Springs, La Documentation Catholique, no: 1932, 18 janvier 1987, p. 61

[32] Cf. A. Peelman, L’inculturation: L’Eglise at les cultures, op.cit., pp. 78-85

[33] [33] Cf. A.A.R. Crollius, What is so new about Inculturation? op.cit., p.735.

[34] Cf. C. Geffre, Mission et inculturation, Spiritus, vol. 28, no: 109, 1987, pp. 418.420.

[35] From the homily which was made at Notre Dame de Lorette in Paris on 10 December 1995.

[36] Jean Paul II, Un temps nouveau de la culture humaine, La Documentation Catholique, no: 1912, 16 fevrier 1986, p. 191.

[37] E.B. Tylor, Primitive culture: Researches in to the development of Mythology, Philosophy, Religion, Art, Custom, vol.1, Peter Smith, Gloucester, 1871, p.1.

[38] C. Geertz The Interpretation of Cultures, New York, 1975, p. 89.

[39] Cf. P. Poupard, L’Eglise au defi des cultures, op.cit, p. 27.

[40] Cf. M.Meslin, L’experience humaine du divin, Cerf, Paris, 1988, pp. 197-201.

The Mission of the Syro-Malabar Church:Theological Considerations

The Mission of the Syro-Malabar Church

Theological Considerations

Dr George Karakunnel

Dr George Karakunnel


             After the Second Vatican Council communion has emerged   in the Church as the leading ecclesiological idea. Communion is understood not merely as the form of being for the Church but also as the essence of the Church at the micro and macro levels of her existence. The mission of the Church is linked to this key concept. The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church shows this in the very opening article: “Since the Church, in Christ, is in the nature of sacrament — a sign and instrument, that is, of communion with God and of unity among all men – she here purposes, for the benefit of the faithful and of the whole world, to set forth, as clearly as possible, and in the tradition laid down by earlier Councils, her own nature and universal mission[1]. The very being of the Church as communion demands mission. Ecclesiology is already missiology. This paper would search for an understanding of the mission of the Syro-Malabar Church remaining within the general frame of the theology of the Church as communion while at the same time looking at the identity and role of Individual Churches within the context of oriental ecclesiology.


I. The Reality of Individual Churches

The Catholic Church comprises of various Individual Churches of which the Latin Church with over 1000 million people is the largest body. There are twenty-three Eastern Churches altogether having around 22  million faithful.[2] The composition of the Catholic Church in India is from three individual Churches, namely, the Syro-Malabar Church, the Latin Church,  and the Syro-Malankara Church. The presence of diversity of Churches within the one Church needs not only to be theologically accounted but also to be practically accepted and lived within the horizon of a broad ecclesiology. The Catholic Church, which has been long dominated by a one-sided vision of the Church determined by Latin Canon Law, came to a new awareness of the ecclesial reality with the Second Vatican Council. The earlier narrow outlook got slowly changed and is replaced by a new ecclesiological vision.[3]

The Second Vatican Council which remains as the springboard of contemporary ecclesiology has employed a variety of concepts and terms in interpreting the reality of the Church. The following usages are especially important: particular Church, individual Church, local Church, and universal Church. Particular Church is often identified with a diocese[4]. It is also used to refer to Church of a region, village, town, state or nation[5]. Sometimes it is used to refer to individual Churches[6]. A diocese is often described as local Church over which a bishop is given charge[7]. The terms “local Church” and “particular Church” also are used for patriarchal Churches[8].

           The term “Individual Church” is used in the context of an all-inclusive ecclesiology. It means a Church that has emerged with specific form of life having its own liturgy, theology, spirituality and discipline. This can be well described in the words of Lumen Gentium:


By divine providence it has come about that various Churches established in diverse places by the Apostles and their successors have in the course of time coalesced into several groups, organically united, which, preserving the unity of faith and unique constitution of the universal Church, enjoy their own discipline, their own liturgical usage, and their own theological and spiritual heritage. Some of these Churches, notably the ancient patriarchal Churches, as parent-stocks of the faith, so to speak, have begotten others as daughter Churches. With these they are connected down to our own time by a close bond of charity in their sacramental life and in their mutual respect for rights and duties.[9]

The difference in the identity of Individual Churches is the reason for their separate existence and government.[10]  Every Individual Church is linked with a rite and sometimes the term “ritual Church” is used to denote Individual Churches.[11] It is not just by having a liturgical rite alone that an Individual Church is constituted. The identity of a Church is not constituted by one factor alone. It is related to the entire life and history of a Church.[12] Since liturgical rite is one of the concrete and explicit differentiating factors of a Church, the term “rite-Church” or “ritual Church” is used to denote Individual Churches that belong to the Oriental tradition. But in fact these                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             usages are misleading and do create a false understanding of the Individual Churches. In fact many Individual Churches’ names also have apparently a false connotation. The term, “Syro-Malabar” may be suggestive of a geographically situated Church. For that reason theologians have found difficulty with its name.[13] But this is so because of historical reasons of its origin. In fact there are people who are not familiar with Oriental Churches think that the Syro-Malabar Church and other Individual Churches are limited to a locality and cannot exist as a world-wide ecclesial body.

The Decree on Oriental Churches has stated clearly that Individual Churches both Eastern and Western are of equal rank, so that none of them is superior to others because of its rite.[14] They, as Individual Churches, are autonomous self-expressions of the full reality of the Church. The Code of Canon Law calls these Churches “sui iuris” to show their autonomous character.[15]  Autonomy is rooted in the history and tradition of these Churches. It is not created or given. It presupposes certain distinctive features. Theological understanding of autonomy may be described in the following words: “Autonomy is not something that one obtains from someone or somewhere but it is a constitutive element in the very being of a person or a Church. It is an essential condition for both, a free and genuine self-expression and self-determination. It is the result of the action of the Spirit in a given community, and not a mere juridical concession made over by hierarchy. God sends his Word and Spirit into the community in order that he may bring it into being and make it operative. Autonomous means to be operative according to a norm that is self-contained – not self-produced — which is in fact the law of the Spirit.”[16] The Syro-Malabar Church with its history of two millennia has a missionary heritage which it strives to preserve and promote through its life and witness. The Marga (Way) as Christian faith was known in the tradition of St Thomas Christians became genuinely inculturated in the milieu it encountered.[17] In the interaction between Gospel and culture in India the Church of St Thomas Christians offers a paradigm in itself.

2.  Autonomy, Diversity and Communion


The Universal Church is understood as a communion of Individual Churches. It is constituted by them and cannot exist apart from them. Vatican II has seen Individual Churches within the ecclesiology of communion, which is rooted in the Bible and the teachings of the Fathers. The use of the plural term “Churches” in the New Testament contains the idea of diversity as determining the concrete shape of the one Church, which is constituted by different Churches. The Individual Churches though different are bound together by common elements, namely, confession of the same apostolic faith, participation in the same sacraments, common Christian life-style i.e. life in the service of the Kingdom of God and mutual recognition of pastoral leadership.

There is often a wrong ecclesiology that tends to image the Universal Church as the sum total of various small units, that are equated with dioceses which are understood as  “parts” of the “whole”. Such an understanding does not respect autonomy. As a consequence there will be centralization and domination of one Church over others. An authentic ecclesiology sees the Church as a communion realized in a legitimate diversity. The Catholic Church in this way would be described as the communion of many Individual Churches, which are in communion with each other, and with the Bishop of Rome who is seen as the visible sign and focal point of this communion. Vatican II articulated its ecclesiology accepting the individuality of Churches most clearly in its decree on Eastern Churches. The decree says:

That Church, Holy and Catholic which is the Mystical Body of Christ, is made up of the faithful who are organically united in the Holy Spirit through the same faith, the same sacraments, and the same government and who, combining into various groups held together by a hierarchy, form separate Churches or Rites. Between these, flourishes such an admirable brotherhood that this variety, within the Church in no way harms her unity, but rather manifests it. For it is the mind of the Catholic Church that each individual Church or Rite retains its traditions whole and entire, while adjusting its way of life to the various needs of time and place.[18]

Church is a communion within each Individual Church and at the same time is a communion of different Churches. Vatican II has spoken of communion under both these aspects, and there is no conflict between them. Moreover, they contribute to the reality of the one Church at the local and universal levels. The ecclesiological understanding among the theologians in India is stated clearly: “The existence of various Individual Churches in the Church is the best expression of the Church of Christ which keeps alive the tradition of authentic catholicity and communion”.[19] However to give practical expression to authentic catholicity and communion there is the need of recognizing the equality of Churches and their rights. The acceptance of an authentic communion ecclesiology can prepare the theological ground for better relations among Individual Churches, especially between the Latin Church and the Individual Churches of Oriental tradition. But that alone will be no solution. There is the need to develop a broadminded approach based on mutual charity in order to overcome self-interest and practice communion.

Communion means participation in a shared reality, something so prominent in the New Testament. St. John has expressed this clearly: “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his son Jesus Christ” (1Jn 1:3). A vertical dimension and a horizontal dimension are characteristics of communion. The participation in the life of God makes Christians one with each other. The idea of communion is also intimately related to the Eucharist, in which the above-mentioned dimensions are concretely expressed. The Eucharist builds up the Body of Christ, the Church, which grows in a two-fold relationship i.e. with Christ and one another.[20] The New Testament shows the practical implications of communion:  (i). Those who are in communion participate in another’s joys and sorrows. (Heb.10:33; 2Cor.1:6-7)  (ii). There is mutual giving and receiving of spiritual and material goods, not only between individuals but also between communities on the basis of fellowship in Christ. (Rom. 15:26-27; 2Cor 8:1-15)

The New Testament does not have different norms for communion within a Church and communion between Churches. The diversity of Churches is like plurality of persons that constitute a society. Christian understanding attaches great importance to persons.  Different persons join together and build up Church. Every Church built in this way is a communion. The different Individual Churches form one communion, that is, one Church of Churches. The missiological perspective that emerges here is rooted in the individuality of Churches.

3.   Divine Tri-unity and Individual Identities

The paradigm of unity in diversity is most uniquely realized in the Holy Trinity, which for the Church is the original source and best exemplar for communion. In the Trinity there are three persons who make one unity. The individual identities of persons are not abolished for the sake of unity. In the Trinity it is relationships that make differences of persons and their unity. The Father is the unoriginated source from where the Son and the Spirit take their origin. Being from the Father they both have relation to the Father as well as to one another. Three persons sharing the same divinity are co-equals. In the Church, all Individual Churches have their origin from the one Church Christ himself founded. Having the same origin various Individual Churches must have brotherly/sisterly relations among them. By reason of their origin and existence they too are co-equals, just like the divine persons of the Holy Trinity are.

Differences of persons in God do not make divisions. Because they are held together by relationships there is unity and harmony in God. Equality and rights of persons are here recognized without causing friction or rivalry, domination or elimination. The Fathers of Church have used the Greek term perichoresis which indicates the co-existence of the divine persons in mutual love. Perichoresis found Latin translations as circumsessio (mutual indwelling) and circuminsessio (having the same meaning but understood as more dynamic). What is significant in the Triunity of persons in God is that the freedom and individuality of each divine person is not sacrificed for the sake of unity. Suppression of persons and their rights for the sake of unity results in tyranny.[21] Many totalitarian systems try to achieve unity in this way. The unity of Churches, we seek is communion in freedom, mutually recognizing sisterly/brotherly relationship. The identity of Individual Churches is not to be abandoned for the sake of communion. As every person of the Trinity fully possesses divinity, which is the essence of the Trinity, every Individual Church possesses the fullness of ecclesiality. The Individual Churches are not simply parts of the Universal Church. It is in and through them that the real Universal Church exists.[22] As the inner dynamism of the Trinity is love, both Individual Churches and Universal Church should be animated by love and should resist all temptations against it.

The Holy Trinity is no mere model, but the very source of the life of the Church. The value of ecclesial pluralism is rooted and founded in the Holy Trinity. A conscious recognition of the unity in the plurality of persons in God can help to promote authentic identity and rights of the Individual Churches, making it possible to live and witness to the one Gospel without mutual clash or conflict. In fact the growth of the Universal Church is possible only through the growth of the Individual Churches.[23] What the Churches need is positive and open inter-ecclesial relations after the manner of the inner dynamism of the Trinity. This Trinitarian love is not closed. It flows outwards to the world of humans, building communion of persons. Communion of Churches can be realized only through commitment to love, which has to be expressed in mutual support and cooperation. The mission of the Church is fulfilled to the extent it realizes communion to which all people are invited not merely by word but by life and example.

4. Ecclesial Pluralism and Mission

If mission belongs to the very essence of the Church, each Individual Church has this task. In the context of the diversity of Churches, which form one communion, every Church bears its missionary responsibility and has the right for evangelization. There are two aspects in the mission of a Church. The first is mission ad intra and the second is mission ad extra. As the New Testament shows these two aspects are intimately linked. Living the Gospel in one’s ecclesial context is primary to missionary witness. Every help provided to realize this is part of missio ad intra. It cannot be simply regarded as mere pastoral service.  This becomes in fact the basis for the missio ad extra of the Church, bringing the Gospel to those who do not yet know Christ. The fulfillment of the missionary task requires attention to both these aspects. In the context of ecclesial pluralism the question as to how this is to be done is a matter not practically settled.

           In the context of ecclesial pluralism within the Catholic Church in India there is much difficulty for missionary activity. The difference also lies in theological approaches of the Latin Church and the Oriental Churches. When the question is about mission policy and practice there is disagreement even as to the theological understanding of the nature of the Church. In the CBCI the Latin and Oriental views have been very often uncompromising. The Oriental Bishops of India have presented the following theological views, with their consequent bearings on pastoral and missionary issues.[24]

–          The Catholic Church is a communion of Individual Churches.

–          Individual Churches are equal in dignity.

–          Particular liturgy, discipline, spirituality and hierarchy are constituent elements of an individual Church.

–          Jurisdiction is a constituent element of ecclesial individuality.

–          Pastoral care and evangelization are ecclesial acts.

–          Unity in diversity is the richness of Catholic Church.

These theological views have resulted in some concrete moves. Following the plea made by Syro-Malabar Bishops there was the appointment of the Apostolic Visitator for the migrants and report was submitted to Rome. The statistical data about Syro-Malabar migrants outside Kerala showed the need of evangelizing the diaspora communities.[25] The need to establish parishes or even hierarchies wherever necessary is far from fulfilment. Multi-ritual practices ensuring cooperation among pastors belonging to different rites are called for in situations where mixed communities are present. But inter-ecclesial relations have not grown to the level of mutual recognition and cooperation.

The ecclesiology of the Latin Church also implies the concept of communion. But in practice it sees the Church as communion of particular Churches, not of Individual Churches as understood in oriental ecclesiology. One can find a number of well-written books on the theology of the Church which though speaking of communion as a key notion does not have  the idea of communion of Churches differentiated by liturgy, discipline, theology and spirituality.[26] According to the Latin tradition the emphasis goes to diocese which is a particular Church considered as a single territorial unit. The practical consequences of this ecclesiological approach for pastoral care and mission do not seem to agree with the Oriental perception. Without distinction of rite, language or caste, pastoral care, as the Latin Church argues, belongs to the obligation of the local ordinary.

In the opinion of the Latin Church, the right to do evangelization has been tied down to the concept of jurisdiction. Evangelization and pastoral care are to be carried out without multiplication of jurisdiction. The insistence of the Latin hierarchy in India on the principle of “one territory, one bishop, one jurisdiction” has been in direct opposition to equal rights of the Orientals to minister to their faithful and to evangelize. The rights of the Oriental Churches have been recognized by the Second Vatican Council. The decree on the Catholic Eastern Churches says: “They enjoy the same equal rights and are under the same obligations even with respect to preaching of the Gospel to the whole world under the guidance of the Roman Pontiff”.[27] Commentators on the documents of Second Vatican Council have pointed out that the Council has said this in reference to the situations of the Oriental Churches in India. According to J.M. Hoeck:

The real reason why the right to preach the Gospel, that is, the right to engage in the missionary activity, is especially mentioned among the rights and obligations of all the Individual Churches is to be traced to the situation in India, where the Malabar Church, which has a large surplus of priests, was until recently only permitted to convert people to the Latin rite.[28]


The demand for freedom in evangelization and pastoral care is not derived from a sort of ecclesial imperialism which certainly is a theologically repugnant idea. In fact imperialist attitudes surface in the policy of clinging to the concept of one Church, “one Bishop, one Jurisdiction”. In fact the idea of jurisdiction in the Latin Church is a residue of the Roman Empire which was divided into prefectures and provinces for the sake of political administration. Every part of the empire had its own authority, which was accountable to the supreme authority, namely the emperor. A long past secular paradigm is no more acceptable to a realist view of the Church which is not a politically centralized system. If Church is a communion of Churches, the respect that is due to the rights of every Individual Church demands the recognition of each other’s freedom. Pluralism, which is a reality in the society today, should be reflected also in the Church. A multi-jurisdiction is the consequence of admitting the rights of Individual Churches. As theologians in India have seen, it is the only alternative in a pluralistic and ecumenical situation like ours.[29]  The presence of two bishops in one place is possible in the circumstances envisaged under the provision of the Latin Code of Canon Law. G. R. Evans rightly points out that this provision is intended to allow respect for the ecclesial integrity of Churches of the Eastern Rite.[30] The pastoral and missionary duties that belong to the essence of being a Church necessitate the creation of structures, which may be parishes or dioceses or a hierarchy in places where there is a need.

5. Concerns and Hopes

            The pastoral ministry exists in the Church to carry out its threefold function, namely, teaching, sanctifying and leading the faithful. But the Syro-Malabar Church today is not in a position to exercise this ministry to its own  faithful who have migrated and settled in cities outiside Kerala. Surveys and statistical findings show that the Syro-Malabar Church has got thousands of faithful belonging to it, spread out in different cities in India and abroad.[31]  Because the Syro-Malabar Church has no jurisdiction beyond its present territorial demarcations, it is not able to offer pastoral care in its fullness to the people.  The members of the Syro-Malabar Church have either to depend on the Latin Church or remain satisfied with “chapliancy services” offered to them.  This is far from being the real pastoral care to which the faithful are entitled.  The right to spiritual goods is not simply to be assured in the Church in general, but in one’s own sui juris Church.   Canon Law makes it clear: “The Christian faithful have the right to worship God according to the prescriptions of their own sui juris Church and to follow their own form of spiritual life consonant with the doctrine of the Church”[32] The right of the faithful to worship in one’s own liturgical tradition and to live as a Christian in accordance with one’s ecclesial heritage is rooted in baptism by which a person is incorporated as a member in a specific sui iuris Church[33]  Canon Law prohibits any one to induce someone to change membership to another sui juris Church.[34]  No one is allowed to opt for another sui juris church validly.[35] The faithful have an obligation to know, retain and promote their own rite[36]

            Thousands of Syro-Malabar faithful today, due to circumstances are compelled to follow Latin rite and gradually become alienated from their own Church and its tradition.  These Syro-Malabar faithful, having lost their roots, have to be satisfied with certain nominal faith-practices. The obligation of the bishops to provide the necessary help to their faithful for worship and Christian life in the tradition of the sui juris Churches was stressed by Pope John Paul II in his Letter to the Catholic Bishops of India on 28th May 1987. The pastoral care of the people, as the work of evangelization, requires necessary structures.  Establishing separate parishes for the faithful, appointing separate episcopal vicars to take care of the faithful, creating dioceses etc are important for effective and stable pastoral care of the faithful.  Vatican II already envisaged this when it spoke of setting up of parishes and their own hierarchies wherever the spiritual good of the faithful requires it.[37]   According to Canon Law, it is the right and duty of the patriarch or major archbishop to collect information regarding those faithful of his Church living outside his territory, even through a visitor.  Once the report is discussed the Synod can propose to the Apostolic See measures which include the erection of a parish, an exarchy, or an eparchy.[38]

             The Major-Archiepiscopal Assembly of the Syro-Malabar Church has expressed one of its most important concerns: “Erection of parishes, dioceses outside Kerala and India are required for the Syro-Malabar Church so that effective pastoral care can be given to its faithful.  Moreover, the Syro-Malabar Church should have ‘All India Jurisdiction’ in order to do missionary work freely throughout the country.”[39] As every sui juris Church the Syro-Malabar Church has a heritage of its own.  If structures that are necessary for the protection and promotion of this heritage are absent, the life of the Church will be stiffled.  Pope John Paul II, in his allocution to the plenary session of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, said: “I would be grateful if you would pay attention to the pastoral care of the Eastern faithful in the diaspora.  In this regard, it is necessary for every one, both Latin and Oriental, to grasp the sensitive implications of the situation, which is a real challenge for the survival of the Christian East and for a general reconsideration of its pastoral programmes.  Indeed, the pastors of the Latin Church are first of all invited to deepen their knowledge of the existence and heritage of the Eastern Catholic Churches and to encourage the faithful entrusted to their care to do the same.   Secondly they are called to promote and defend the right of the Eastern faithful to live and pray according to the tradition received from the fathers of their own Church”.[40]           Despite all these there is a continuing contradiction between theology and practice, between law and implementation. The highest body like the General Council of the Church, Vatican II has clear articulation on the matter. The authority of the supreme pastor has also called for a resolution of the problem. Yet the present situation is one of limitations but not without hope.[41] There is much writing of theologians and voice of leaders of the Syro-Malabar Church asking for the recognition of the legitimate rights. They speak of this “unjust, artificial and abnormal situation which must be rectified at earliest. The Church leaders who cry for justice in the society, should first of remove injustice from within the Church itself.”[42] But despite everything, the inter-ecclesial problems remain unresolved.[43] Recently in the Synod of Bishops Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church, Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil gave strong expression to this:

 Even though the right of every individual Church to preach the Gospel everywhere in the world under the guidance of the Roman Pontiff and the right of all the faithful of the Oriental Churches to have pastoral care by their own bishops and priests throughout the world are recognised by Vatican Council II and the two Codes of Canon Law, the Syro‑Malabar Church is neither given new mission territories in India, Africa, etc., nor the freedom to exercise her right to give pastoral care by her own bishops and priests to the hundreds of thousands of migrants in India, in the Gulf Countries, Europe and elsewhere, even 43 years after the conclusion of Vatican Council II. … The Church has not only to preach the Word of justice to the faithful, but they should be pastorally helped to live by it. It is more so when it concerns practising justice within the Church. Peace is disturbed when justice is not done, because peace is the fruit of justice. Justice will also build up communion. In the case of the Syro‑Malabar Church, this justice has been denied for many centuries. It is high time that this Synod reflected over this unjust situation within the Church and proposed lasting remedies[44]

6.   Making Ecclesial Pluralism Functional

The Indian Catholic Church is aware of the problems that are encountered in the context of ecclesial pluralism. Errol D’ Lima has observed: “In spite of Roman dictates followed by exhortations, and protestations, of unity by episcopal leaders it is difficult to discern genuine harmony in the function of the three Ritual Churches”.[45] The crucial issue in India, as has been already pointed out, is jurisdiction. The Latin Church’s insistence on “one territory, one bishop, one jurisdiction” is not acceptable to Oriental Churches which see in it a political concept of unity deriving from the Roman empire where power was centralized and all diversity remained suspect. Moreover it is a plain fact that in the context of present-day society both in India and the world in general, a rigid uniform ecclesiality is impractical. Societies everywhere is already pluralistic in religion, language and culture. The relevant thinking for fostering unity should recognize diversity as an indispensable factor.

Harmony and fellowship should be created not by eliminating diversity, but allowing diversity to exist and function. Bishops as the heads of the Churches should witness to the unity not by monarchical jurisdiction but through pastoral charity. Christian brotherhood should animate and guide the communities and their heads even though they belong to different individual Churches. “The universality of the Church,” says John Paul II, “involves in the one hand a most solid unity and on the other, a plurality and diversification which do not obstruct unity, but rather confer upon it the character of communion”.[46]

The ecclesiological thinking in the post-Vatican era shows that “a richly diverse unity-in-diversity in no way calls for a formal, institutional and administrative unity, nor a super-Church”.[47] The otherness of the other has been experienced in the past as “a threat”. So nations and states tried to eliminate “the other” whether they are mere ethnic groups or religious communities, and tried to impose homogeneity. Enmity and hatred of the other have created ethnic cleansing, war and genocide. Pluralism in religion was eliminated by aggressive strategies of the protagonists of respective religion. Religious wars were fought not only between adherents of different religions but also between different groups within the same religion. Plurality in that way has often become exclusive, trying to inflict a fatal blow on “the other”. But plurality need not necessarily be so. In the opinion of G.R. Evans, “Although there is a historical plurality on a system of exclusion, there is also a multiplicity which need not arouse opposition and can be experienced within communion and mutual recognition”.[48]

In the Church what make the scandal are not differences or pluriformity; it is aggressiveness and infighting that create scandal. Schillebeeckx says, “The scandal is not that there are differences but that these differences are used as an obstacle to communion”.[49] There is often the tendency to domination, which occurs in the Church as in political or social spheres. Though all individual Churches are equal, there is a sad situation when one of them puts on superiority and considers others as subordinates. It has happened in history that the Latin Church once claimed superiority on account of its rituals. The Clementine Instruction of 1595 on inter-ritual marriages said that a Latin husband or wife should not follow the rite of a Greek spouse, but a Greek wife should follow that of her Latin husband, children follow their father’s rite, unless the mother is a Latin.[50] In 1742 Pope Benedict XIV in the Bull Etsi Pastoralis established the principle that the Latin rite was in fact to be deemed superior.[51]

           Suppression or subordination of non-Latin traditions, even of local variations of the Latin tradition, has been a fact of history. Missionaries who came for evangelization succeeded in establishing the supremacy in imposing their form of Christianity over the Church of St. Thomas Christians in South India. Indian Church history bears the scars of this oppression of one Individual Church by another. The struggle for regaining independence and recapturing a lost heritage has featured the history of the Syro-Malabar Church, the Catholic part of St. Thomas Christians in India. To undo the wrongs of the past and to have the fraternal communion today, the Individual Churches have to recognize each other not as rival groups but as different and autonomous. Churches can achieve unity only by the recognition of the “otherness” of the “other”. If fears, anxieties, distrust and resentment characterize the inter-ecclesial scene, we have to ask the question, why so? Things that must be done in mutual understanding and charity are done with much argumentation and without good will. This seems to be the reason for the absence of harmony and peace among individual Churches. A lot of problems belong to practical and administrative matters rather than to theological understanding. However if theology succeeds in creating a genuine understanding of the Church, many of the inter-ecclesial problems will vanish.

The Second Vatican Council, as noted above, was directly concerned about the inter-ecclesial problems in India. The teachings of the Council with its emphasis on the dignity, rights and obligation of Individual Churches have not been put into implementation, as desired, even after forty-three years. One can see in India a very cautious move and slow progress in giving concrete shape to the vision of Vatican II concerning the Church. The right of the Oriental Churches in India to do evangelization in areas reserved to the Latin Church was affirmed by allotting to the Syro-Malabar Church mission territories, the first of which was the creation of the exarchate of Chanda in 1962. By 1977 seven mission dioceses were erected in North India and entrusted to the Syro-Malabar Church. However, the demand for the pastoral care of the immigrants belonging to the Syro-Malabar Church in different parts of India, especially in big cites, did not meet with proper response because the Latin Church had argued that extension of multiple jurisdiction is detrimental to the unity of the Church. When discussions among hierarchies in India seemed to be reaching no solution, Pope John Paul II set up a committee of Cardinals. In 1987 Pope John Paul II wrote a historic letter to all the Bishops of India. The rights of the Oriental Churches to do missionary work and the need to give pastoral care to the immigrants were the contents of the letter. The erection of the new Syro-Malabar eparchy of Kalyan was announced by Pope John Paul II in 1988.

However, the inter-ecclesial problems persist. Until the freedom and rights of all Individual Churches are properly recognized, these problems will continue to bother us. The vocation of the Church is to promote communion, which is possible only by accepting diversity. Hence, diversity or pluriformity should not be opposed in the name of unity. A policy of rigid uniformity and monopolization of rights will also do serious harm to the promotion of ecumenical relations.[52] The Statement of the Indian Theological Association says:

A Spirit-filled community is capable of breaking down barriers to communication and communion. The Latin and Oriental Churches in India, with all their diversities, should be seen as sources of enrichment rather than as causes of division. By the common sharing of riches, the members of different Churches will become a genuine community of love, capable of living and working together and thus fulfilling their common mission.[53]

In the Indian context where pluralism is the normal fabric of the society, the Church’s witness to unity in diversity through living communion is of great value. Protests and agitations in different parts of the nation are the result of the ignoring of some sections and groups, which also make up the nation. The Church’s way of unity while allowing diversity can certainly serve as the best model for nation building.


6. Mission in the Context


             After stating the mission of the Church to humanity the Second Vatican Council spoke of the need of scrutinizing and interpreting the signs of the times.[54] Looking into the social, political and religious situation in our world today the Church has to respond to the challenges of religious fanaticism and fundamentalism, consumerism and materialism, at the same time attend to the problems of injustice, inequality, exploitation and oppression. Over and above these challenges, mission theology today emphasizes the task of dialogue with religions and cultures, and the need of working for the promotion peace and harmony which is considered as belonging to the very core of the ecclesial mission.

            The identity of the Syro-Malabar Church carries a heritage which is the result of living the Gospel in the context. The history of this Church is a missiological source for the present.  The Oriental Churches in general are esteemed for their concern for the context. Their identity is shaped by contextual concerns. Pope John Paul II has said: “one of the great values embodied particularly in the Christian East is the attention given to peoples and their cultures, so that the Word and his praise may resound in every language”[55] The Syro-Malabar way of living the Gospel in the Indian context reveals a lived theology of dialogue with religions and culture it encountered. Living in the midst of a pluralistic religious milieu it developed a way of mission approach which is specifically its own and which differs from that of West.[56] There was never any aggressive missionary strategy or a crusade of conversion in its history. Harmony with people of all religions and positive approach to local culture incorporating customs and practices into ecclesial life feature the Syro-Malabar Church’s long period of existence in India. If mission aims at not merely the realization of ecclesial fellowship but unity of all members of the human family[57] it has to be realized by building relationships through dialogue with  adherents of all religions and ideologies.

          Today there are questions that go beyond the Individual Churches and their given identities. No serious theological reflection on the Church can bypass them. In fact, they must be addressed by all Churches. The Kingdom of God offers the basic perspective for the ecclesial mission. The good news of the kingdom is at the center of Jesus’ proclamation and this has to be the overriding concern of all Churches. Seen in the perspective of the Kingdom of God, the Church is a provisional reality, and this underlines the idea of the Church as means and not an end. The historical and eschatological nature of the Church also points to the same understanding. It is not possible to stop at any given form of the Church in history because the Church is always in via. This shows that the given identities of the Church are ephemeral and can never be idolized. Christians worship God in Jesus Christ, but not Church, however admirable may be its form and shape. The individual identity of the Church cannot remain closed, obliterating the goal to which all historical ecclesial forms are only means. The Church certainly stands with its roots in the past. But it has to live in the present and move towards future. Therefore no given ecclesial identities should be considered ultimate. At the same time no Church can do away with its identity because loss of Church’s identity would mean the loss of the Church itself.

            The task of the Church placed in the perspective of God’s Kingdom calls for critical evaluation of the socio-economic and cultural changes taking place in the world today. This process is largely the result of the phenomenon of globalization, which affects not just individuals or groups but peoples and cultures in a massive way. The most powerful factor behind today’s globalization is market which is supported by media. The impact of all these is that our culture and the values it stood for are eroded by powerful currents which are beyond control. At the top of the listing of megatrends in our world comes the following: i. Megamergers and concentration of wealth. ii. Global economy under megaplayers.  iii. Economic ideology of money-theism. The consequences of these are individualism, consumerism and increasing marginalization of the poor.

              The process of globalisation is linked to science and technology. John Naisbitt says:“Intoxicated by technology’s seductive pleasures and promise, we turn our backs to technology’s consequences…Technology marches to the beat of our economy, while we left to plug in, get on line, motor on, take off, and ultimately pick up the pieces. We feel that something is not quite right but we can’t put our fingers on it. The Intoxicated Zone is spiritually empty, dissatisfying and dangerous and impossible to climb out of unless we recognize we are in it”[58] The Post-Synodal document on the Church in Asia speaks rather deploringly about our contemporary situation: “In the process of development, materialism and secularism are also gaining ground, especially in urban areas. These ideologies, which undermine traditional, social and religious values, threaten Asia’s cultures with incalculable damage. These changes have both positive and negative aspects. There is also accompanying phenomenon of urbanization often associated with the rise of organized crime, terrorism, prostitution and the exploitation of the weaker sectors of the society”.[59] Speaking about challenges to Churches in Asia, Anthony Rogers says: “In the context of the emerging mega trends in the beginning of the twenty-first century the church is being challenged to respond in new and creative ways to make the Gospel of Jesus relevant to people of today”.[60]


            What then should be the understanding of identity with which the Churches’ existence is interwoven? The identity of a Church has to be understood not in a static way, but in a dynamic way. Viewed in this way, any ecclesial identity is in a continuous process of change and growth which has an organic character in the sense that it is in constant link with the past when it interacts with the present. The question of tradition comes in here. Tradition should remain open to change and growth. It can never mean preservation or perpetuation of the past. As the Apostolic Letter of Pope John Paul II, Orientale Lumen, says, “Tradition is not 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”.[61] The Church lives in history and responds to every epoch in accordance with the promptings of the Spirit.


            The continuous process through which ecclesial identity passes should be characterized by dialogue and inculturation. The context in which the Gospel is lived has a definite say in shaping the Church in every historical moment. The Churches living in the context of India and Asia have the duty to enter into a deep relationship with the poor and the suffering. Solidarity is a key-word that should mark the mode of being the Church. Arising from an ecclesiology of wider communion, commitment to the liberation of all enslaved ones of the society would feature the daily life of the Church. The work of evangelization has to be concerned about poverty, deprivation and dehumanization caused by injustice and domination, exploitation and oppression. The good news of the Kingdom cannot find tangible expression except through the removal of all dehumanizing forces. Solidarity with the poor is the way for Churches in India and other Asian countries to live and announce the Gospel of Jesus.

           To work for the poor and the marginalized needs the collaboration of all peoples. Dialogue with all religions and ideologies is another aspect of Church’s commitment to the Gospel. Dialogue involves more than intellectual concern or academic discussions. All religions and ideologies profess and aim at human well-being and the creation of a better world. The mission of the Church cannot exclude cooperation with them. Today inculturation is a leading idea in mission studies. Inculturation includes both solidarity and dialogue. It tells something that is related to the very being of the Church, which has been inserted into and shaped by every cultural context. Inculturation should not be considered a programme to adopt the elitist culture of the society. Society is multi-layered and complex. In the Indian society the Dalits and the Tribals are sections of people to whom no proper attention has been given. The subaltern groups and their cultures should figure in the being and becoming of the Church. The concern for contextually relevant ecclesial identities in India or abroad should be the result of an incarnational involvement in the lives of peoples. This would demand also an understanding of ecclesial identity which is open and dynamic.

          The Syro-Malabar Church is today a world-wide reality. Therefore it has not got just one context, but several contexts. The Syro-Malabar Church today functions at local, national and global levels. There is ecclesial life to be lived by St Thomas Christians not only in their original homeland, but also in different Indian cities and states or countries abroad belonging to different geographical zones. This makes it necessary that attention is given to a wide variety of contexts.  Pope John Paul II underlined the relevance of the heritage of Oriental Churches: “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. From this model we learn that if we wish to avoid the recurrence of particularism as well as of exaggerated nationalism, we must realize that the proclamation of the Gospel should be deeply rooted in what is distinctive to each culture and open to convergence in a universality, which involves an exchange for the sake of mutual enrichment.”[62] The paradigm for ecclesial mission provided by Oriental Churches in general is an invitation to look into the heritage of each Individual Church. The study of the heritage the Syro-Malabar Church can bring out a methodology, a way of being for the Church, if not ready solutions for the fulfillment of the ecclesial mission today.

                                                                                                Fr George Karakunnel,

                                                                                                           St Joseph Pontifical Seminary,



[1] LG 1.

[2] Cf Bp Gregory Karotemprel, The Syro-Malabar Church Today (Rajkot Deepthi Publications 2008),p.8. Cf.  also Ronald G. Roberson  CSP,  The Eastern Christian Churches: A Brief Survey, Revised third edition, (Roma: Pontificium Institutum Studiorum Orientalium, 1990).

[3] The  post-synodal document, Ecclesia in Asia ( nos 22, 27) shows its esteem for the diversity of Churches.

[4] LG 27, AG 22, CD 11, 23, 28, 36.

[5] A G 22

[6]OE 2, 3, 4, 10, 16, 19.

[7] AG 19, 27; LG 27

[8] UR 14

[9], LG, 23. Cf also Decree on Oriental Churches, OE 1,2

[10] Abp Joseph Powathil, “The Missionary Role of the Syro-Malabar Church”, Mission in India Today, the Task of   St Thomas Christians ed. K. Pathil, (Bangalore, Dharmaram Publications 1988), p.5.

[11] Cf.OE, 3

[12] Prof. Borys Guziak, “ Sulla Questione dell’ Identita delle Chiese Orientali Cattoloche: Identita Cme Categoria Teologica e sua Definizione” L’Identita delle Chiese Orientali Cattoliche, published by Congregazione per le Chiese Orientali (Libreria Editrice Vaticana 1997), p.71ff

[13] Cf. Bosco Puthur, “Ecclesial Vision and Mission of the Syro-Malabar Church”,  Syro-Malabar Theology in the Context, ed. by Mathew Manakatt and Jose Puthenveettil (Vadavathoor, Kottayam Paurastya Vidyapitham 2007), p.236ff. Bp Gregory Karotemprel, The Syro-Malabar Church Today , p.773

[14] Orientalium Ecclesiarum, 3

[15] CIC 111, 1; 112, 1-2.

[16] “The Issue of  ‘Rites’  in the Indian Church”, Theologizing in Context, Statements of the Indian Theological association, ed. by Jacob Parappally MSFS, (Bangalore Dharmaram Publications 2002), p. 203.

[17] Abp Andrews Thazhath, St Thomas Missionary Heritage of the Syro-Malabar Church”, The Mission Theology of the Syro-MalabarChurch, ed. by Pauly Kannookadan, (Mount St Thomas, Kochi LRC Publications 2008), p. 17f.

[18]  Orientalium Ecclesiarum, 2

[19]  Indian Theological Association, “Statement of the Annual Meeting on the Issue of ‘Rites’ in the Indian Church”, (Bangalore, 1993), no. 12.

[20] R. Schnackenburg, Church in the New Testament (London: Burns & Oates, 1974), 165ff.

[21] Walter Kasper, The God of Jesus Christ, (New York: Cross Road Publishing Company, 1991), p.291.

[22] Jacob Parappally MSFS, “Communion  among the Individual Churches” Vidyajyothi 59 (1995),


[23] The Mission Policy of the Syro-Malabar Major ArchiepiscopalChurch  (Mount St Thomas, Kakkanad, Kochi 2006), no. 5.6

[24] S.Arulsamy and S. Singaroyan, Guide to the CBCI- CCBI Documents (New Delhi: CBCI Secretariat, 2000), p. 215.

[25] Bp Gregory Karotemprel has described the present situation of  Syro-Malabar migrants in his study, “The Pastoral Care of Syro-Malabar Migrants” in The Mission Theology of the Syro-Malabar Church, ed. by Pauly Kannookadan (Mount St Thomas, Kochi 2008), pp. 212ff.

[26] One may refer for example to the following works: J.M.R. Tillard, The Church of Churches: the Ecclesiology of Communion (Minnesota, The Liturgical Press 1992); M.M. Ganjo-Guembe, Communion of Saints: Foundation, Nature and Structure of the Church (Minnesota, The Liturgical Press 1994).

[27] Orientalium Ecclesiarum, 3

[28] Johannes M. Hoeck, “Decree on Eastern Catholic Churches” Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II, Vol. I, ed. by H. Vorgrimler (London: Burns and Oates, 1966), p. 315.

[29] Kuncheria  Pathil, Indian Church at the Cossroads, (Rome: Centre for Indian and Interreligious Studies & Bangalore: Dharmaram Publications, 1994), 94.

[30] G.R Evans, The Church and the Churches (Cambridge University Press, 1994), 80.

[31]  Bp Gregory Karotemprel gives the data of  Syro-Malabar migrants in India and abroad. See “Pastoral Care of the Syro-Malabar Migrants”, The Mission Theology of the Syro-Malabar Church, pp. 213-215.

[32] CCEO, 17; CIC, 214.

[33] CCEO, 29,CIC, 111

[34] CCEO, 31; cf also 1465.

[35] CCEO, 32, CIC, 112

[36] CCEO, 39-41.

[37] CD,23; OE, 4

[38]CCEO, 148.

[39] Statement of the Major Archiepiscopal Assembly on 12 November 1998.

[40] L’Osservatore Romano, Weekly Eng. Ed. N.42, 21 October 1998, p.7.

[41] Abp Joseph Powathil, “Missionary Activities of the Syro Malabar Church in the Present Context”, The Mission Theology of the Syro-Malabar Church,  pp.176, 177.

[42] Kuncheria Pathil, Indian Churches at Crossroads (Rome, Centre for Indian and Interreligious Studies & Bangalore, Dharmaram Publications 1994), p. 89.

[43] Cf. The Mission Policy of the Syro-Malabar Major ArchiepiscopalChurch, ( Mount St Thomas, Kakkanad, Kochi 2006), No 5.4

[44] “Summary of Synod of Bishops” Vatican Information Service, 0810(520), 15-16 October 2008.

[45] Errol D’ Lima, “Ritual Reality in the Indian Church”, The Church in India in Search of a New Identity, ed. by  K. Kunnumpuram et al. (Bangalore: NBCLC, 1997), p.193.

[46] John Paul II, “Address”, General Audience 27 Sept 1989, Insegnamenti di Gioanni Paulo II (Rome: 1989), p.679.

[47]        E. Schillebeeckx, Church: the Human Story of God (London: SCM Press, 1989), p.197.

[48] G. R. Evans, The Church and Churches, p.176.

[49] E. Schillebeeckx, Church: the Human Story of God, p.176.

[50]   Pope Clement VIII,  “Instructio super ritibus Italo-Graecorum”, Bullarium Diplomatum et Privilegiorum Sanctorum Romanorum Pontificium, Tomus X, cxii (Augustae Taurinorum, MDCCCLXV), p.211.

[51]   Hubert Jedin,  History of the Church, vol. VI, (London: Burns & Oates, 1981), p. 227.

[52] Cyril Mar Baselios, “Evangelization and Pastoral Care: Some Concerns of the Malankara Catholic Church”, Christian Orient 3 (1982), pp.30-31.

[53]   Indian Theological Association, “Statement of the Annual Meeting 1996”, no. 34, The Church in India in Search of a New Identity, p.397.

[54] The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, 3, 4.

[55] Orientale Lumen, 7

[56] George Karakunnel, “The Uniqueness of Jesus Christ in Indian Theological Reflection”, Cristologia e Missione Oggi, ed. by  G. Colzani et alii (Roma, Urbaniana University Press 2001), p.112ff.

[57] Cf. Lumen Gentium, 1.

[58] John Naisabitt, High Touch High Tech (New York Broad way Books 2000).

[59] Ecclesia in Asia, 7.

[60]  Anthony Rogers FSC, “The Challenges in Asia”, Christian Conference of Asia  FABC No 102, p.38

[61]  Orientale Lumen, 8.

[62]  Orientale Lumen, 7.