Tag: second vatican council








ALUVA -683 112

                                                                                    MCBS GENERALATE, ALUVA


Dear Rev. Fathers,

“The ‘door of faith’ (Acts14:27) is always open for us, ushering us into the life of communion with God and offering entry into his Church.”—Pope Benedict XVI, Apostolic Letter Porta Fidei

In the Acts of the Apostles we read that God has opened the door of faith for the early Church. But did you know that God has opened the door of faith for each one us and he invites us to step through the threshold into a deeper relationship with him. With his Apostolic Letter of October 11, 2011, “Porta Fidei, Pope Benedict XVI declared that a “Year of Faith” will begin on October 11, 2012 and conclude on November 24, 2013. October 11, 2012, the first day of the Year of Faith, was the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council   and also the twentieth anniversary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. During the Year of Faith, Catholics are asked to study and reflect on the documents of Vatican II and the Catechism so that they may deepen their knowledge of the faith. The upcoming Year of Faith is a “summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the One Saviour of the world” (Porta Fidei 6). In other words, the Year of Faith is an opportunity for Catholics to experience a conversion – to turn back to Jesus and enter into a deeper relationship with him. The “door of faith” is opened at one’s baptism, but during this year Catholics are called to open it again, walk through it and rediscover and renew their relationship with Christ and his Church.

In connection with the year of Faith MCBS Eucharistic Apostolate is privileged to organize a renewal program for our members.  It is the fine opportunity to renew our religious commitment basing on the study, reflection, and discussions on the official teachings of the Catholic Church on Religious life, namely Catechism of the Catholic Church Nos. 871-945, Perfectae  Caritatis, Redemtionis Donum, Vita Consecrata and other homilies of Popes. It was also one of the decisions of the 18th special General Synaxis (No.8) to organize renewal programs as part of our ongoing formation. So we humbly request you to co-operate, participate and take the best advantage of this renewal program. As we cannot conduct a new evangelisation without new evangelizers let us earnestly be prepared for the New Evangelization.

Yours Fraternally in the Eucharistic Lord

Frs. Jacob Naluparayil, George Theendapara & Jose Thundathil

Councillors for the Eucharistic Apostolate



Dear Rev.Fathers,

As all of you know the Holy Father Benedict XVI has declared the Year of Faith on 11th October 2012 which will be concluded on 24th November 2013. In preparation to this great event He has promulgated an apostolic letter under the title Porta Fidei explaining the aim of the Year of Faith and how we shall implement it in our life. The Bishops’ Synod to be held in October 2012 in Rome shall studied and discussed the New Evangelization. All these attempts aim at the renewal of the Church. All feel that there is an urgent need of an Aggiornamento – an updating of the Church with its contents. Since the Religious Life is the vital part of the Church, the renewal of the Church necessarily implies renewal of the Religious Life

The KCBC has also given norms for putting into practice in our context the guidelines given by Rome. There are nine action plans given by the KCBC to be adopted in the communities of consecrated people. We have to study them and bring them into action.

In His apostolic letter Porta Fidei Pope Benedict XVI writes: “One thing that will be of decisive importance in this Year is retracing the history of our Faith, marked as it is by the unfathomable mystery of the interweaving of holiness and sin. … By Faith, men and women have consecrated their lives to Christ, leaving all things behind so as to live obedience, poverty and chastity with Gospel simplicity, concrete signs of waiting for the Lord who comes without delay” (# 13) By this the Pope reminds us of the urgent need of renewal and revival of Religious life. Since faith is the source and constant stimulation of our religious consecration, strengthening of faith means the resurgence of our commitment.

Besides, our previous General Synaxis has earnestly recommended a renewal course in the whole Congregation which will help the members to revive the commitment they have made in religious profession. Imbibing inspiration from all these authentic sources the General Council has decided to conduct in this Year of Faith a renewal course for all the members of the Congregation. The members are divided into five groups according to their age. The department of Eucharistic Apostolate, headed by Rev.Fr.Jose Thundathil is entrusted to organize the course. He will inform you in time the details of the course.

My dear Fathers, I cordially invite each one of you to co-operate with the programme and participate actively in the course to which you are assigned. Consider it as a religious obligation. I am sure that this course will bring more life and vigor to our Congregation.

Fraternally Yours in the Eucharistic Lord,

Fr.George Kizhakkemury mcbs

Superior General





Dear Reverend Fathers/ Brothers,

It gives me real joy to join you in thanking and glorifying God for the great and benevolent love He has showered on the Missionary Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament (MCBS) since its very conception. As we are on the threshold of Year of Faith let us acknowledge the commitment, courage and dedication of our Founding Fathers Very Rev Fr Mathew Alakkalam and Very Rev Fr Joseph Paredom and our forfathers. Let us appreciate their resolute faith, unwavering determination and unmatched self-sacrifice for the causes of the Universal Church particularly of the Syro Malabar Church.

The Year of Faith summons us to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the One Savior of the world (Porta Fidei 6). Its an opportunity to experience a conversion – a return to Jesus and enter into a deeper friendly relationship with him. The Holy Father has described this conversion as opening the “door of faith” (Acts 14:27). The “door of faith” is opened at one’s baptism, but during this year we are called to open it again, walk through it and rediscover and renew our relationship with Christ and His Church.

Year of Faith is closely associated with the New Evangelization recently launched by Pope Benedict XVI. It is a call to deepen our own faith, have confidence in the Gospel, and possess a willingness to share the Gospel. The New Evangelization is first and foremost a personal encounter with Jesus Christ; it is an invitation to deepen our relationship with Christ. It is also a call to share our faith with others. In the same the Year of Faith also calls religious to conversion in order to deepen our relationship with Christ and to share it with others.

The story of MCBS is the history of being witness to the Word of God. Our commitment to the Word is praiseworthy. A religious congregation like MCBS certainly exists to serve and love  people of God, to nurture them, motivate them, fit them morally and spiritually and above all to have an optimistic attitude towards life and its challenges. I am sure that the renewal programmes anchored by MCBS Eucharstic Apostolate Team in the Year of Faith for our members will provide ample opportunity to renew and strengthen our religious commitment. I wish and pray that all the MCBS members translate their dream in to reality, in their various fields of apostolates. “What the world is in particular need of today,” Benedict XVI wrote, “is the credible witness of people enlightened in mind and heart by the word of the Lord”

I extend my heartiest congratulations and appreciation to  Rev Dr Jose Thundathil, the General Councilor, Rev Dr Jacob Naluparayil and Rev Fr George Theendappara, the Provincial Councilors for Eucharistic Apostolate, and all the members of Eucharistic Apostolate team. It is my fervent hope and prayer that the Good Lord will continue to guard, guide and sustain us to grow from strength to strength to His glory.

With prayerful regards, yours in Eucharistic Lord,

Fr Francis Kodiyan MCBS

Emmaus Provincial Superior



Precious Brother Priests

Prayerful greetings from our Zion.

 As we know, every fiber of our being is having tremendous ‘Mission Spirit’. That is why we earnestly wanted to reach the four corners of this planet to sow the seeds of THE WORD.

 At the same time we are to make a thorough examination of conscience about our faith life in particular and the faith life of the people whom we serve, in general. Let us humbly acknowledge the truth and fact that we are not up to the expectation of Jesus in this regard. What we are to do is just meditate upon:  Luke 22, 31-33, and do the needful.

 This is the opportune time to serve the purpose as Pope Benedict XVI declared ‘ Year of Faith’,  that truly focus on genuine and radical introspection upon the faith life of each one of us. Let us pray, think and work together with our Leader to regain and reinstate our solid faith life through our whole hearted support and cooperation in the programs headed by the Eucharistic Apostolate of our Congregation.

 Fraternally yours in the Eucharistic Lord

 Fr Jose Mulangattil

Provincial superior

MCBS Zion Province.



DATE             :  24,25 JANUARY 2013


  1. Arackal Mathew
  2. Arackal Sebastian
  3. Ayyampally Alex
  4. Ayyampally George
  5. Chittilappilly Inasoo
  6. Edayal Thomas
  7. Elavanal Zacharias (Batch Leader)
  8. Kadukanmackal Joseph
  9. Kalapura Antony
  10. Karathuruth Joseph
  11. Karimtholil George
  12. Karott Philip
  13. Kizhakkemury George
  14. Kizhakkemury Mathew
  15. Kizhakkethalackal Emmanuel
  16. Kizhakkethalackal Eppachen
  17. Konickal Joseph
  18. Konukunnel Sebastian
  19. Kottayarikil Cyriac
  20. Kuttickal George
  21. Kuttiyanil George
  22. Madathikandam Joseph
  23. Maleparambil Joseph
  24. Maliyil George
  25. Manampurath Jacob
  26. Mattam George
  27. Moloparambil Abraham
  28. Mulangattil Joseph
  29. Nadackal Augustine
  30. Palakkattukunnel Joseph
  31. Parackal Joy
  32. Paremackal Joseph
  33. Pathiyamoola Jose (Batch Leader)
  34. Pattery Thomas
  35. Peedikaparambil Jose
  36. Pooppallil Joseph
  37. Poovathumkal Sebastian
  38. Puthenpurayil John
  39. Puthiyidath Joseph
  40. Thekkekuttu Cyriac
  41. Therukattil George
  42. Valliyamthadathil Joseph
  43. Vallomkunnel Joy
  44. Vattapara Thomas
  45. Vellanickal Sebastian
  46. Vengasseril Xavier



DATE       :  21,22 FEBRUARY 2013


  1. Alavelil Varghese
  2. Akkanath Jacob
  3. Anthyamkulam Joseph
  4. Chencheril Mathew
  5. Kaipayil Joseph
  6. Kannamplackal George
  7. Karikunnel Vincent
  8. Karimankal James
  9. Kariyilakulam Tomy
  10. Kochukaniyamparambil Isaac
  11. Kochupurayil Abraham
  12. Kodiyan Francis
  13. Kozhimala Thomas
  14. Kunnumpuram Xavier
  15. Kuttickal Antony
  16. Meempuzha Kuriakose
  17. Meledath James
  18. Moonjely Kuriakose
  19. Morely Francis
  20. Mukaleparambil Kuriakose
  21. Mundattu Dominic
  22. Naduvilekunnekatt Thomas
  23. Naluparayil Jacob
  24. Olickal Mathew
  25. Paikkatt Augustine
  26. Painadath Jose George
  27. Plathottathil Thomas
  28. Plathottathil Tomy
  29. Puliyurumbil Mathew
  30. Punnassery Augustine
  31. Thadathil Thomas
  32. Thayil Varghese
  33. Theendappara George
  34. Thottankara Thomas
  35. Thundathil Jose
  36. Vallikattukuzhy George (Batch Leader)
  37. Valiyaparambil Cyriac
  38. Vadakkeputhenpura Mathew
  39. Vandanath Antony
  40. Vazhappally George
  41. Vettukattil Thomas (Batch Leader)



DATE             :  14,15 MARCH 2013


  1. Chennakkattukunnel Sebastian
  2. Cheruvamkalayil Kurian
  3. Chiramel Simon
  4. Chunayanmackal Alex
  5. Edamannel George (Batch Leader)
  6. Edapparackal Jose
  7. Elavathinkal Sebastian
  8. Elavumkal Joseph
  9. Kaithamattathil Mathew
  10. Kalapurackal Devasia
  11. Kallirikumkalayil Joseph
  12. Kanipallil Stephen
  13. Kanjiramparayil Thomas
  14. Karisseril Mathew
  15. Kochanichuvattil Joseph
  16. Koonathan Joseph
  17. Kumblanickal Joseph
  18. Kuzhikkattumyalil Jose George
  19. Madathiparambil Mathew
  20. Malamackal Cyril
  21. Maniyampara Joseph
  22. Manjaly John
  23. Mavelil John
  24. Muttamthottil Sebastian (Batch Leader)
  25. Nattuvazhiparambil Joseph
  26. Orapuzhickal Michael
  27. Pallath Thomas
  28. Parathottil Thomas
  29. Paruvanmoottil Varghese
  30. Pathiparambil Joseph
  31. Payyappallil Mathews
  32. Peedikackal George
  33. Peringalloor Sebastian
  34. Perumbattiikunnel Thomas
  35. Podippara Varghese
  36. Pulichumackal James
  37. Pullukalayil Abraham
  38. Puramchirayil Varghese
  39. Puthuparambil Joseph
  40. Thannickal Sebastian
  41. Thekkanal Xavier
  42. Thekkath Mathew
  43. Thuruthiyil Sebastian
  44. Valloppallil Mathew
  45. Varekkalam Joseph
  46. Vattakeril John



DATE             :  11,12 APRIL 2013


  1. Areekkattu Paul
  2. Attickal George
  3. Chelakunnel Joseph
  4. Edakkarott Augustine
  5. Elamplackal Dominic
  6. Ittiyappara Francis
  7. Kalarithara Varghese
  8. Kallarackal Abraham
  9. Kallupalam Joseph
  10. Kandavanathil John
  11. Kattoor George (Batch Leader)
  12. Kochuchira James
  13. Kolattukudy Varghese
  14. Koonananickal Joseph
  15. Kottupallil Thomas
  16. Kulakkottu Varghese
  17. Kunnathett Thomas
  18. Makkiyil Devasia
  19. Manickathukunnel Philip
  20. Mathoor Chacko
  21. Melukunnel Joseph
  22. Mundunadackal George
  23. Mylackal Stephen
  24. Naduviledath Thomas
  25. Nalukandathil Francis
  26. Njondimackal Martin
  27. Palathinkal Sebastian
  28. Pandiyamackal Joseph
  29. Pathiyaparambil Joseph
  30. Plathottathil Mathew
  31. Polethara Sebastin
  32. Pootharayil Sebastian
  33. Pulimoottil Kuriakose
  34. Punnakkalayil Cyriac
  35. Puthenchira Joseph
  36. Puthettupadavil John
  37. Thoonatt George
  38. Thottathil John
  39. Valikulath Sebastian
  40. Vathapallil Michael (Batch Leader)
  41. Vattamattathil Martin
  42. Venatt Kuriakose
  43. Vettarumuriyil John



DATE             :  23,24 MAY 2013


  1. Cheeramvelil Cherian
  2. Chekkathadathil Joseph
  3. Chellamtharayil Xavier
  4. Cherukattikalayil George
  5. Choorapoikayil Pius
  6. Chundelikattil Sebastian
  7. Edathinal Joseph
  8. Elakkadunaluparayil Martin
  9. Idimuzhithadathil Devasia
  10. Kadamthodu Mathew
  11. Kaduvannoor George
  12. Kalambukatt Mathew Joseph
  13. Kanjoothara Jose Anto
  14. Kochuparambil Joseph
  15. Koottakara Abraham
  16. Kottarathil Varghese
  17. Kottayil Nixon George
  18. Kudiyiruppil George
  19. Kureekombil Joseph
  20. Kuttarappallil Joseph
  21. Kuttentharappel James
  22. Kuzhivelithadathil John
  23. Kuzhiyadichira Thomas
  24. Madathikandathl Antony
  25. Mangalathil Mathew
  26. Manickathan Joseph
  27. Muttath Alex
  28. Njavarivaditharayil Joseph
  29. Olamkannel Joseph
  30. Palackal Abraham
  31. Paliyathil Chacko
  32. Palolil Thomas
  33. Panackachalil Varghese
  34. Panathara Varghese (Batch Leader)
  35. Parathanath John
  36. Paravakkadu Joseph
  37. Plakuzhiyil Joseph
  38. Polackal Jose
  39. Ponnadampackal Joseph
  40. Puthiyidathu Mathew
  41. Puthumana Thomas
  42. Thaipparambil Thomas
  43. Vathalloor Joseph
  44. Vavolil Joseph
  45. Vazheeparambil Joseph
  46. Vellaringatt Joseph (Batch Leader)





CONCECRETED LIFE IN THE CATHOLIC CHURCH. (Nature and relevance of consecrated life, its Scriptural and theological aspects. Why does a Christian choose the religious life? Is religious life a superior way of Christian life? Chapter VI of Lumen gentium and the decree Perfectae caritatis imply a higher excellence when they refer to the “special” nature of this life (Lg 44; Pc 1), when they use comparatives in stating that religious are “more intimately consecrated” to Christ and enjoy a union with the Church by “firmer and steadier bonds” (Lg 44), and when they emphasize the “unique” eschatological sign value of the religious state (Lg 44; Pc 1). Rev. Dr. Francis Kodiyan mcbs



CATHOLIC PRIESTHOOD (Official teachings of Catholic Church on Priesthood, priestly identity.  “Priests by sacred ordination and mission which they receive from the bishops are promoted to the service of Christ the Teacher, Priest and King. They share in his ministry, a ministry whereby the Church here on earth is unceasingly built up into the People of God, the Body of Christ and the Temple of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, in order that their ministry be carried on more effectively and their lives be better provided for, in pastoral and human circumstances which very often change…” (Presbyterorum Ordinis).

Rev. Dr. Mathew Olickal mcbs



NEW EVANGELIZATION The new evangelization is not a program; the mission of the Church is not a program. Our faith is a way of life. The mission entrusted to the apostles and to the whole Church is bold, specific, and deliberate, to teach and baptize all nations. The new evangelization requires new evangelizers. Evangelization will always contain as the foundation, centre and, at the same time, the summit of its dynamics. A clear proclamation that, in Jesus Christ salvation is offered to all men, as a gift of God’s grace and mercy.

Rev. Dr. George Koilparambil



FAITH OF JESUS AND THE TRUST OF THE DISCIPLES. The faith lived and demonstrated by the Jesus of the Gospels is the basic foundation of the disciple’s faith. Jesus passionately engaged to cultivate in his disciples His own trusting faith in the Father. These being the fundamental constituents of Christian faith, i.e., the faith of every Christian, it is all the more so for us religious, who seek perfection of baptismal consecration. Anyone who undergoes such a faith formation is automatically oriented towards the proclamation of the gospel, or evangelization. How can a religious belonging to the MCBS, advance in his faith formation each day, in the context of the ministry he has undertaken? How can he discover innovative ways and means of evangelization within the charism and the context of MCBS ministries?

Rev. Dr. Jacob Naluparayil mcbs



MCBS  CONSECRATION (Nature, Charism and Challenges of MCBS Vocation, the founding Fathers of the Congregation have entrusted to its members, as their spiritual heritage, a religious life marked by love and single minded devotion to the Eucharistic Lord and missionary vitality. Its charism is to live and proclaim the Eucharistic mystery that is celebrated, to gather the children of God around the alter, to ‘praise God in the midst of His church, to take part in the sacrifice and to eat the Lord’s supper’ (SC 10) and up hold the real presence of the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. The members try to obtain this through their dedicated life and various apostolates (Constitution No.8).

Rev. Fr. Jose Peedikaparambil mcbs




09.00                                       Arrival

09.30                                       INAUGURATION and CLASS I

10.30                                       Tea break

11.00                                       CLASS II and DISCUSSION

12.20                                       Examination of Conscience

12.30                                       Lunch, Rest

03.00                                       CLASS III

04.00                                       Coffee

06.00                                       CLASS IV and DISCUSSION

07.15                                       HOLY HOUR, Supper

09.00                                       SAT SANG, Night prayers, To Bed


05.30                                       Rising

06.00                                       Morning Prayers, Meditation and Holy Mass

08.00                                       Break Fast

09.30                                       CLASS V

10.30                                       Tea break

11.00                                       CLASS VI and DISCUSSION

12.20                                       Examination of Conscience

12.30                                       Lunch, Rest

02.00                                       CLASS VII

03.00                                       Free

03.15                                       CLASS VIII and DISCUSSION

04.30                                       Coffee, Departure


Very  Rev. Fr. George Kizhakkemury (Chairman)

Very Rev. Fr. Francis Kodiyan (  “  )

Very Rev. Fr. Joseph Mulangattil (  “  )

Rev. Fr. Jose Thundathil (Coordinator)

Rev. Fr. Jacob Naluparayil (   “   )

Rev. Fr. George Theendapara (   “   )

Rev. Fr. Issac Kochukaniyamparambil

Rev. Fr. Thomas Kanjiramparayil

Rev. Fr. John Vattakkeril

Rev. Fr. Kuriakose Venatt

Rev. Fr. Pius Choorapoikayil

Rev. Fr. Joseph Vazheeparambil

Rev. Fr. Zacarias Elavanal (First Batch Leader)

Rev. Fr. Jose Pathiyamoola (First Batch Leader)

Rev. Fr. George Vallikattukuzhiyil (Second Batch Leader)

Rev. Fr. Thomas Vettukattil (Second Batch Leader)

Rev. Fr. Sebastian Muttamthottil (Third Batch Leader)

Rev. Fr. George Edamannel (Third Batch Leader)

Rev. Fr. Michael Vathapallil (Forth Batch Leader)

Rev. Fr. George Kattoor (Forth Batch Leader)

Rev. Fr. Joseph Vellaringatt (Fifth Batch Leader)

Rev. Fr. Varghese Panathara (Fifth Batch Leader)


Church Documents on Priestly Formation

Church Documents on Priestly Formation

  1. Second Vatican Council Documents: 
  2. Papal Documents: 
  3. Other Documents of the Holy See: 

Ecclesiological Models: Vatican II and after

Ecclesiological Models: Vatican II and after

  Dr George Karakunnel

As a systematic reflection on the Church ecclesiology is comparatively a recent branch of theology. For the Fathers the Church was an experienced reality and it deeply entered into their Christian consciousness. Their works include many ecclesiological aspects. But if we look for a treatise on the Church, we do not find it even during the medieval period. The early works on the Church were the creation of canonists, rather than of theologians. The ecclesiological developments that shaped the present-day self-under­standing of the Catholic Church mostly were to come from 19th and 20th century with its crowning point in Vatican II.


  1. I.                     The Use of Models in Ecclesiology

The Second Vatican Council has remained as the spring­board for all theological reflections for the four decades. In a sense the council was the conclusion to many points of theological discussion and in another sense it was an introduction to many others. Many of the theolo­gical discussions that went in the preceding period found clarity and official approval in the council. The theme of Church, which has been the central theme of the council, did find clarity with regard to many aspects. But it still left many things open to further discussion and theological elaboration regarding the Church. The council’s way of looking at the Church using various metaphors or paradigms such as “Mystery”, “Sacrament”, “People of God“, “Body of Christ” set the stage for different ecclesiological elabora­tions. The post-conciliar ecclesiology is characterized by various points of emphasis. The different trends in .post-conciliar ecclesiology could be assessed by asking the question “What are the models used?”.1


Model here means an idea or a catch-word or phrase taken from tradition or present-day language to explain the reality of the Church. There is the possibility of various models and they need not be opposed to each other. In fact models are mutually complementary. All the models will not be of the same value and nature. Some are very abstract while others are very concrete. Among .the many models, there could be a basic model. In this essay the following models are considered in order to bring out various approaches to the Church: The Church as a Mystery, The Church as the People of God, the Church as the Body of Christ, the Church as Communion, The Church as Servant, the Church as Herald.


  1. 2.        The Church as Mystery

For a long time in the past the Church was seen as an institution and as a society. It was clearly defined and mea­sured by standards derived from the social, political or cultural spheres.5 In the work of Robert Bellarmine the Church is a society “as visible and palpable as the community of the Roman People, or the Kingdom of France, or the Republic of Venice”.3 The institutional view of the Church which reached its climax in the 19th century was nicknamed as “hierarchology” by Yves Congar. The Church was here seen as a “machinary of hierarchical mediation, of the powers and primacy of the Roman See, in a word, hierarchology. On the other hand the two terms between which that mediation comes the Holy Spirit on the one side, the faithful people or the religious subject on the other, were as it were kept out of ecclesiological consideration.


Institution-centred approach to the Church does not present an ideal model. In fact it distorted the image of the Church. In a deliberate way Vatican II wanted to stress the understand­ing of the Church more according to the Bible and the Fathers using the term “Mystery”.5 Consideration of the Church as mystery in Lumen Gentium is fundamental to the ecclesiology of Vatican II. The invisible, transcendent, super­natural character of the Church is shown by using the term “Mystery”. Because it is a divine reality, it cannot be ex­pressed in human language. The Fathers of the Church used symbols and metaphors to speak about the Church. We cannot objectify the Church and extract scientific knowledge out of it because the Church is a faith-reality. We can have only participative knowledge of the Church.


The term “mystery”,which is used to describe the Church, has the advantage of bringing out the divine dimension of the Church. Rather than indicating something hidden, it shows the salvific plan of God fully unveiled and concretized in history through Jesus Christ. The consideration of the Church as “Mystery” can be linked with “Church as Sacrament”. The term “Sacramentum” was originally used as translation of the Greek “Mysterion” which meant God’s plan of salvation and its visible expression in Christ and the Church. Following this very ancient understanding of the Church, Lumen Gentium calls the Church Sacrament. “By her relationship with Christ the Church is a kind of Sacrament of intimate union with God and of the unity of all mankind, that is, she is a sign and an instrument of that union and unity” (LG 1).


Twentieth century theological reflections have brought out the idea of Christ as the Sacrament of God and Church as the Sacrament of Christ. Lubac, Congar, Rahner, Schillebeeckx, Chenu, Semmelroth and many others agree on this line of explanation of the Church. In fact they have especially followed the Fathers of the Church, especially, Cyprian and Augustine, in speaking about the Church as Sacrament. The theological meaning of mystery and sacrament, which are, used in modern ecclesiolo­gy points to the divine offer of salvation in and through Christ to human race. The Church in this way is spoken of as the “Sacrament”. It remains on earth as the visible sign and instrument of the reality of salvation offered by God to human beings.


The notion of the Church as mystery of salvation or as sacrament of salvation for humanity has the great advantage of pointing to the Trinitarian source of the Church. The Church thus viewed is an extension of God’s history into human history. It is the realization of God’s self-communi­cation to people and the world. This model of the Church has not been without criticisms one which is that, though expressed with the help of the rich theological terms, mystery and sacrament, the idea of the Church here seems to be rather abstract. Another criticism raised  is its lack of pastoral appeal. While it underlines the divine aspect of the Church, it does not give sufficient consideration to the human side of the Church.


In connection with the sacrament model we can also mention the Church seen in her relationship with the Holy Spirit. This presents Church as the temple or sacrament of the Holy Spirit. The Church is seen in this way as the continuation of the mission of the Holy Spirit. It is through the Spirit that the Church is born and sustained all thro­ughout history. This view looks at the Church with a strong emphasis on Pneumatology. The approach is biblical and has found support in theological works of the present time. K. Rahner’s Dynamic Element in the Church, Moltmann’s Church in the Power of the Spirit, Congar’s I Believe in the Holy Spirit (3 Vols) are works that consider pneumatology as the main constituent element of ecclesiology. Although giving a very important insight about the Church, some ex­pressions of this understanding of the Church, seen as the temple or sacrament of the Holy Spirit have received criticisms for its excessive spiritualistic view of the Church and not sufficiently stressing the temporal and social aspects of the Church.


  1. 3.         The Church as the People of God

The Fathers of the Church in Vatican II created a Copernican revolution in the theological thinking about the Church. Instead of a hierarchy-centred perspective they gave a people-centered perspective. Although Vatican II contains other models its typical ecclesiological model is pointed out as the people of God model which forms the subject of the second chapter of LG. Coming from the Bible as found in both OT and NT, this is the oldest name for the Church. But since the people of God idea regarding the Church was forgotten for a long time and was revived only in the twentieth century this has the claim to be the newest name for the Church.


In the beginning of the fourth decade of the present century an understanding of the Church as the people of God was put forward by the German theologian, M. D. Koster in his work Ekklesiologie im Werden (1940). In the pre-conciliar era this approach was not officially acceptable to the Church. Even Vatican II accepted this model only with hesitation. In the first drafts of LG we do not find this model. When it was finally brought it revolutionized the whole ecclesiological approach of the Council. Put forward as a foundational theme in the Church’s self-understanding, the people of God idea determines the whole outlook of the Dogmatic Con­stitution. In presenting the people of God concept as an all-comprehensive one, so as to include all categories of members of the Church, before they are differentiated into hierarchy and laity, LGhas resorted to Old and New Test­aments. The most celebrated text of 1 Pet. 2:9-10 is quoted at the centre of the first article of the chapter dealing with people of God: “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a purchased people…You who in times past were not a people but are now the people of God”.


The dignity and functions of all the members of the people of God quite in an unprecedented way are placed in clear light by the Council (LG 10-12). Through baptism all believers are called to a fellowship and are dedicated to the love and service of Christ. Vatican II wanted to correct a long-standing misconception that not all people are important in the Church. The vast majority of the people in contrast to members of the hierarchy were just peripheral members having no dignity and function of their own. There is a passage in Karl Rahner’s authobiographical interview published as I Remember. The interviewer Meinold Krauss asked Rahner, “Is the Pope the highest representative of Christi­anity?” With his characteristic depth and insight Rahner replied: I believe that you have to make a few distinctions. The Pope is the highest representative of the church, and if you like, with respect to certain juridical, ecclesial structures. But I maintain that the most humble, the most loving (to put in this old fashioned way), the most holy, the most ap­parently obscure person in the Church and not the Pope, is at the top of the hierarchy, the real hierarchy for which the Church is only a means”.11 The vision that lies behind the words of Rahner characterise the LG. In the context of the people of God frame, the Church is a community of brothers. Those in hierarchy are also brothers ordained to serve the community. Thus a new understanding of office is given by people of God ecclesiology.


The people of God concept has several strong points. It expresses the historical and dynamic character of the Church. It emphasizes growth and development of the Church in time and history. The people, as understood here, is a pilgrim people journeying to see the eschatological fulfilment. In fact, this people lives in the time that is between the incarnation and parousia. Through this people, the whole history is assumed to eschatology. The people of God is a messianic people which has received salvation. Being inserted into the large community of the human family, this people has a great task to fulfil. This means that the people of God is a community charged with a mission. The basis of reflection about the Church’s mission in the modern world, as GS has shown, lies in the understanding that the Church is the people of God living in the midst of human race united with it, and fulfilling a ministry of salvation in view of the whole humanity.


The model of ecclesiology based on the people of God expresses the participation and coresponsibility of all the believers. The Church is seen here “from below” rather than from “above”. LG says that the Church is a fellow­ship of life, charity and truth”. Perhaps this suggests too much people-centered ecclesiology for some. The post-conciliar reflection has shown that the reception of the people of God idea was complete neither in the leaders nor in the other members of the Church. It is also felt that much needs to be done in bringing the concept to practicality. The people-centred approach calls for a new form of Church ministry, government and leadership. It can be suggested that the synodal principle made operative in the Church would be quite in accordance with the people of God model.


Placed within the context of the people of God, the role of bishops and priests could be better understood. The essence of the hierarchical office, from the point of view of the people of God concept is ministry. The advantage of the people of God model is that, in a very positive way, it helps us not to forget the basic realty in the Church, namely, the people. It can also help us to under­stand a mode of functioning as far as leadership of the Church is concerned. Does the people of God idea suggest a democracy for the Church? Ratzinger points out that although Church may not be a democracy, it is also not a monarchy, or a modern centralized state.12 This suggests practically a people-centred pastoral leadership which does what is good for the people not only from the pastor’s point of view, but also from the community’s point of view. Having the people involved in making decisions and in executing those decisions, are important. This would imply a method of operation “from below”.

The BEC (Basic Ecclesial Communities) or BCC (Basic Christian Communities) model of the Church could be considered in this context. BEC are centred on the people. They attempt to form Christians into communities of faith, worship and love. Their appearance has been hailed as the resurgence of the ideal form of Christian living in the apostolic period. In the BEC the Gospel is accepted seriously. Listening to the Word and reflection on the Word with a view to living and acting feature the BEC. In these communities there is no sharp contrast between “ecclesia docens” and “ecclesia discens”. All are active members of the community. The Spirit of the BEC basically derives from an ecclesial vision which sees every person as important and essential to the formation of a dynamic Christian community.


  1. 4.        The Church as the Body of Christ

The typical theology of the Church in the pre-conciliar period was (Mystical) Body of Christ ecclesiology.   This concept of the Church is known from the time of St. Paul.13 Following St.  Paul   the Fathers spoke of the Church as the Body of Christ.    It was in the middle ages that the adjective “mystical” was added to the Pauline use of Body of Christ. There was clear relationship maintained by the Fathers bet­ween the Eucharist and the idea of the Church.    The Church was   nourished, sustained   and constituted by the Sacrament of the Eucharist, the   body   of Christ. The ecclesiology of the Fathers was, in this way Eucharist-centred.    But this insight was lost sight of in the medieval period. The   Eucharist was called by medieval theologians “Corpus Christi Verum” and Church was named “Corpus Mysticum”.    Medieval theology later spoke about “Corpus ecclesiae mysticum” and the re­ference to Christ’s   Eucharistic   body   became   altogether absent.


The development of ecclesiology in the 19th century is connected with the revival of mystical body idea of the Church under the initiative of J. A. Moehler. The idea of the Church as mystical body was proposed by Moehler as a way out of the institutional view of the Church. For Moehler the term “mystical” pointed to a deep spiritual reality. Mystical body as applied to the Church indicated a super­natural organism vivified by the Holy Spirit. The under­standing of the Church as Mystical Body gained wide accept­ance in the Catholic Church with the publication of the encyclical “Mystici Corporis” by Pope Pius XII in 1943.


In the mystical body theology developed by Moehler and his followers there was no clarification for the visible aspects of the Church. The encyclical clarified these aspects. The mystical body concept was harmonized with the institutional reality of the Church. It was clearly stated that the Catholic Church is the mystical body of Christ. The encyclical pointed to the Pope and bishops as “joints and ligaments of the body” and asserted, “those who exercise sacred power in the Body are its first and chief members”. The lay people were considered helpers to ecclesiastical hierarchy in spreading the Kingdom of the Redeemer.


Much of the theology of the Church found in Mystici Corporis has been changed by LG. First of all it does not say that Mystical Body of Christ is coterminus with the Catholic Church. Secondly, although LG shows the distinction between Church as the hierarchical society and as body of Christ, the two are very closely related to each other, in a way comparable to the divine and human natures of Christ. The structure of the Church is seen as serving the Spirit who through his active presence builds up the body of Christ.


The people of God theme and the body of Christ theme can be seen as complementary themes in ecclesiology. In fact most of the modern theologians ask for a combination of the two themes. Schmaus, Philips, Ratzinger, Congar and Kueng agree in this regard. The people of God theme very well expresses the human elements that go into the making of the Church. But under what form does the people of God exist? To answer this question the body of Christ will show the way.


The specific character of the Christian Church is brought out by the name “Body of Christ”. It establishes strong links between the Church and Christ. It is appreciated by Schnackenburg saying  that in the theology of the Body of Christ what is new, specific and unique in the Christian idea of the Church clearly emerges.14[ R.Schnackenburg, The Church in the New Testament p.176] The name “people of God is a common denominator to both OT and NT community of salvation. The NT community is the people of God that forms the body of Christ and exists as the temple of the Holy Spirit.” Some critics of the theme, body of Christ, see it as showing a static image of the Church. But it actually is used in Pauline epistles to point out the active role of every one in the Church. The criticism that it looks looks unreal and vague seems to be also unfounded. It is true that in history one finds sometimes overemphasis of differences in the body of Christ.


The body of Christ ecclesiology has many practical in­sights. It unequivocably asserts that the identity of the Church, of the Christian, is the identity of Christ. The idea of discipleship and ministry of each Christian comes in here. Realization of the fact that the members of the Church are organs of the body of Christ can inspire people to lend their service to the cause of Christ. The moving lines by Annie Johnson Flint tell us such an inspiration:


Christ has no hands but our hands

To do his work today;

He has no feet but our feet

To lead men his way;

He has no tongue but our tongues

To tell men how he died;

He has no help but our help

To lead men to his side.

We are the only Bible

The careless world will read;

We are the sinner’s gospel,

We are the scoffer’s creed;

We are the Lord’s last message

Given in deed and word—

What if the line is crooked?

What if the type is blurred?

What if our hands are busy

With other work than his?

What if our feet are walking

Where sin’s allurement is?

What if our tongues are speaking

Of things his lips would spurn?

How can we hope to help him

Unless from him we learn?


  1. 5.         The Church as Communion

In the post-conci!iar era together with “the people of God” model, communion (koinonia) model stands as another imposing model for a theology of the Church. According to some theologians, if people of God is the basic ecclesiological idea of the Council, according to some others, “communion” forms the basic ecclesiological idea. Since Vatican II has juxtaposed many models, it is difficult to say which one is more important than the other.15 It is significant that the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops in 1985, although not over­looking the idea of the people of God, showed its preference for the communion model. The reason was not because the idea of “people of God” was wrong but its reception was not in the way that was expected. It seemed to present a one-sided sociological description of the Church undermining the inner reality. The shift from “people of God” to “communio” was intended to effect a return to an integral understanding. For this purpose, “mystery” seemed to be too spiritualistic. Hence it was not used.


What is the meaning of communion as applied to the Church? The Church is basically a gathering of the people who participate in the life of God who is trinitarian. The participation effects a relationship between participants, and this is expressed as communion.16 All relationships and all activities among persons imply Communion. In the Trinity the missions of the Son and the Spirit are expressions of communion. LG, when speaking the Church points to “union with God and unity of the entire human family”. The idea here is communion. Communion ecclesiology is strongly rooted in the Bible and tradition of the Church. Keeping the limits of our enquiry, it is not possible to go into its Biblical sources. The idea of communion is closely related to the Eucharist where the salvific event is represented and re­membered in celebration. Ekklesia is most real in Eucharistic fellowship. It is from the Eucharistic fellowship that the Church began to draw the basic elements of its ecclesiology. Each Eucharistic community formed a full-fledged Church according to the NT. We read in Acts about Church in Jerusalem, Church in Antioch and later Churches in Judea, Samaria, spoken of in the plural. Patristic tradition clearly gave expression to this when he said: “The Church consists of communio of the whole world”.17 This would imply that communion includes diversity. But there are common ele­ments that bind together the different Churches. They are: 1. Confession of the same apostolic faith, 2, Participation in the same sacraments; 3. Common Christian life-style, life in the service of the kingdom of God; 4. Mutual recog­nition of pastoral leadership.


The Synod of Bishops, taking up a communion model ecclesiology showed that salvation begins from Trinitarian unity and it goes on to create the same unity in human sphere through Baptism and Eucharist. There is unity and pluriformity in the Church as in the Trinity. The monarchical and pyramidal structure of the Church is not acceptable because the source of the Church which is the Trinity is “communion” or “fellowship”. Only an unqualified monism or strict monotheism can lend support for a monarchical structure, which does not allow freedom for individual churches. The Synod of Bishops affirmed that the unique catholic Church exists in and through the particular Churches.”


The principle of communion has different levels of appli­cation: at the parish level, at the diocesan level, at the regional level and on a global level. It also finds expression in the collegiality of the bishops, body of presbyterate and in the people of God as a whole.


Communion reaches out to most real situations of life. It is no mere spiritualistic idea. The responsibility of order­ing the economic and cultural life of the society is part of constructing stronger communion. To be a credible sacrament and true expression of communion there should be concern even for all the material aspects of human life. Serving the brethren who suffer from poverty, hunger, sickness or other reasons form indispensable aspects of full communion. The source of all communion, it should be pointed out is the Eucharist, which should not be understood narrowing down the concept to a liturgy alone. Vatican II cautioned such a danger when it said in SC: “The sacred liturgy does not exhaust the entire activity of the Church”. The Church is Eucharistic communion not only because it stands around the altar for liturgical celebration but also because it loves and serves, once it is dispersed. Eucharist is a privileged moment of communion. But the Church requires a communion under a third species also—that is, not merely in the transformed body and blood of Jesus but also in the species of those things that satisfy the physical and material needs of man.


The Episcopal Council of Latin America in 1979 already long before the Synod of Bishops, took up “communion” as a basic ecclesiological category and from Trinitarian and Eucharistic communion, they came down to concrete, socio-economic programme. Authentic communion should include the personal, social and institutional levels of human living, When Eucharistic communion does not reach up to these levels it falls short of its true dignity and worth. It should be also pointed out that communion expressed merely as interpersonal relationship of human beings and help to satisfy physical and material needs does not make true ecclesial communion. What is needed is integral communion.


“Pluriformity” is a new word found in the final report of Synod of Bishops held in  1985. The word is intended to con­vey the idea of legitimate differences among Christian com­munities. This notion has significant bearing in the Indian context. India is a land of diversity. Today and tomorrow, the Christian presence in this country has to be pluriform in nature. There are differences in customs and traditions of our various groups of people, various regions of our country and that will enter into the ecclesial identity also. In this context the plea for communion should find strong expression. The communion understood in all its aspects– Trinitarian, Christological, Pneumatological, Eucharistic, socio-cuJtural aspects– form a right model for ecclesiology. It can serve to highlight both the divine and human aspects of the Church. It shows that the Church is both in the level of its vertical relationship and in the level of horizontal rela­tionship It can bring out the meaning of tradition and tradi­tions, Church and Churches. Communion idea of the Church also can remain open to the world with the characteristic spirit of Vatican II, expressed in Gaudium et Spes.


  1. 6.        The Church as the Servant

Concern for the world was one of the important features of Vat. II. The reflection on the Church was to take place, according to John XXIII on two levels: First, as a reflection on the ”Church ad intra”. Secondly, as a reflection on the “Church ad extra”. If LG was the realization of the first, GS was the realization of the second. The ad extra reflection takes its origin from the openness of the Church to the world. For a long time in the history of the Church official attitude to the world was negative. This is very well pointed out with the example of syllabus of errors” issued by Pope Pius IX in 1864.


“The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World” conceives the role of the Church as service to the world. Here is a positive approach, which is not found very much in the history of the Church. The Pastoral Constitution says: “The Christians cannot yearn for anything more ardently than to serve the men of the modern world even more gener­ously and effectively” (GS 93). Concluding the theological part of GS, Vatican II spoke about the ways the Church renders service to the world, to person, to community, and to human activity. As Christ was the man for others the Church should exist as community for others. This is the spirituality of the servant model Church assumes her humble position as “servant”. As a sign of that the word Church even becomes written with a small “c”.


The present model carries particular application in the context of a Church living in the midst of poverty, misery and injustice. The statement of Bonhoeffer is worth consider­ing in this context: “The Church is the Church only when it exists for others. To make a start, it should give away all its property to those in need. The clergy must live solely on the free-will offerings of their congregations or possibly engage in some secular calling. The Church must share in the secular problems of ordinary human life, not dominating, but helping and serving”.19


The service   of the Church is fully conceived only if it takes into   consideration all the aspects of the Church’s mission which may be spelled out as: 1.    Ministry of the word, 2.    Ministry of worship, 3.    Ministry of leadership, 4.    Ministry of social apostolate, especially   to the  most   needy.    GS has pointed out assistance   to   people in their fundamental questions re­garding life, suffering, death, belief as pertaining to the role of the Church (GS 10).    Church is shown in GS: as related to   various    subjects   Church   and   Human   Rights, Church and Culture    Church and   Politics, Church and Liberation, Church and Socio-economic life.    In all these related areas, as   GS   has   pointed out, Church should render her service. Being in (a theology of the proposition “in”) the world me­ans   that   all   these   things   are   important   concerns of the Church.


The servant model   cannot   overlook   the   tension   that exists   between Church   and the world.    Therefore Congar would   say that the Church is in the world, but it is not of the world.    Involvement in the world does not take away the duty   of evangelization.    Church’s   service to the   world is ultimately a service to the Kingdom of God.   The Church is the   servant because it does not ecclesiastify the world, but rather lead the world to the Kingdom.    Being in the world the Church has to operate within the structures of the world. The Church in the world should not build up many parallel structures.    That   means   Church should not involve herself excessively in institution building. As Congar says   “Christo-finalizing” should happen the world through normal channels of life would be the ideal.20


The “Servant” idea is biblically based. The OT tradition sees Israel as servant of Yahweh. Jesus in the NT is one who serves. But servant idea is placed in the Bible both in the OT and NT in relation to God primarily. In the NT service to the brethren occupies an important place. But this has to be understood in the context of the kingdom of God, rather than taking it in its own category. The Kingdom idea has received strong emphasis in all modern ecclesiolo-gies.21 When the Church is understood as the servant of the Kingdom, the servant-model acquires fuller significance. The servant model of the Church carries with it a spirituality of involvement, which should be accompanied by Christian virtues of humility, simplicity and sacrifice. It would make radical demands on individual Christians as well as on the Church as a whole.


  1. 7.        The Church as the Herald

Earlier we considered the model of the Church as the sacrament. In the place of the “Sacrament” the “Word” occupies a central place of importance in the present-model. God’s Word gathers and forms Ekklesia. The Church is called to proclaim the Word which it has heard and lived. There­fore the herald model could be called the “Kerygmatic model” which arises from an evangelical perspective. McBrien has summarily featured this ecclesiology of proclamation: “This mission of the Church is one of proclamation of the word of God to the whole world. The Church cannot hold itself responsible for the failure of men to accept it as God’s word; it has only to proclaim it with integrity and persistence. All else is secondary. The Church is essentially a Kerygmatic community which holds aloft, through the preached Word, the wonderful deeds of God in past history, particularly his mighty acts in Jesus Christ. The community itself happens wherever the Spirit breathes, wherever the word is pro­claimed and accepted in faith. The Church is event, a point of encounter with God”.22


Historically, the herald model has come to be associated with Barth and Protestant tradition. Among all the modern theologians it is Barth who has given the greatest emphasis to the relation between Word and the Church. The Protestant Christianity has accused Catholic Christianity of giving undue insistence on the Church of glory. It makes a strong plea to see the Church under the sign of the cross in its present state, requiring, repentance and renewal. The Church cannot glory in herself because it still needs to listen to the word-The Church’s role is to proclaim as John the Baptist while acknowledging its own unworthiness.


The Church which is the “herald of the good news” is also understood here as one who is called by a herald. Therefore ekklesia here means both the process of congregating and the congregated community’ The herald model also places the Church on earth in clear distinction from the kingdom of God. Though nourished by the Word the Church is never a perfect Word-community. It is a community that is always in the process of becoming. It is faith, in response to the Word that makes this community. According to Barth the role of the Church is primarily religious He did not entertain an unqualified optimism regarding the world and man’s involvement in it. But Barth certainly moved to a positive and down-to-earth approach in his later years. He showed an evangelical spirit which made him say “No” to the “Nazis.2


The herald model of the Church carries a missionary thrust, which is to be appreciated. The model also fits into the prophetic tradition of OT and the missionary concern of the NT. This model can show very well the power of the Word as a corrective force to the Church. Not only that, if “Church as the herald” (of the good news) is understood in its broadest sense it can serve as a very practical concept. That means herald idea has to include in it not only announ­cing the good news, but also living the good news and fashioning a world of justice and peace in accordance with the demands of the Gospel. The social emphasis in the pro­clamation of the word is relatively new in the official teaching of the Church. Announcement of the Word of God is pointed out as the important duty in the documents of Vatican II. In fact the proclamation of the Word and listening to the Word certainly should become the most important aspect of ecclesial life. SC puts it very clearly: “Christ is present in His Word, since it is He Himself who speaks when the Holy Scriptures are read in the Church” (SC 7). DV speaks about “hearing the Word of God with reverence and proclaiming it confidently” (DV 1). This involves the fulfilment of a duty which will give birth to social order founded on truth built on Justice, and animated by love” (GS 26)

  1. 8.        Beyond Models

The models that we have brought above help us to explore the meaning of the Church. Certainly all models of the Church are not of equal value. Each of them enlightens us more on one or other aspect of the Church. The question that could be further asked is: “What is the basic model of the Church? Can there be basic model? In the post-conciliar theology two dominant models stand out: the people of God model and communion model. This is not to ignore the other models especially the Sacrament model or Body of Christ model, which are also of importance and are given in LG.


The people of God model has the power to inspire the Church to see its most important human constituents, namely, the people themselves. No one is insignificant in the light of this. Every one in the Church has his dignity and function in the Church. The role of the laity is easily brought to light in “the People of God”. Seen in the right perspective, the role of the hierarchy also is placed in clear understanding. Here hierarchy is seen as an organ of serving rather than domineering. “Hierarchy” exists for the people and not that “people exist for hierarchy”. It has been feared that “People of God” concept might cause the “Socialization” of the Church. If the second part of the appellation “People of God” is kept in sight, it can show that this people are a worshipping community, fundamentally related to God. Thus a proper understanding of people of God can forestall any “socialization” of the Church with the detriment to interiority.


The Church seen as “communion” also can serve to comprehend the values that are mentioned above in relation to the people of God.. Participation and fellowship of all the members form essential aspects of communion model. The communion model brings at once the “theological” and “anthroplogical” nature of the Ekklesia. Fellowship of human beings is rooted in the fellowship of the Trinity. The “communion model” has applicability to different levels of the Church. In that way it is also a very flexible and adaptable concept, which can bring diversity and pluriformity into one communion.


Models should come down to concrete pastoral situations. Otherwise they will be mere abstract models. Both the “People of God model” and ‘Communion” model call for changes and renewal in the organizational and structural aspects of the Church. The role of the parish yogam, parish councils, pastoral councils, etc. gains new meaning in the light of these models. Often pastors are not trained to work in the community, with the vision provided by the new models. Models once accepted should be made operative. Often on the ground that democracy is not the form of government in the Church, priests follow an authoritarian model which people know is not the right one, bypassing even the given structure which are there to guarantee an ecclesial style of life that gives participation to people. This way of acting alienates the members of the Church. Instead of playing their active in the Church people indifferent. Sometimes priests meet with violent reactions from parishio­ners because they have a very authoritarian behaviour or approach in their pastoral ministry. It is true that many conflicts today in parishes also arise from unecclesial values mainly coming from politics, The pastor has to guard the community from such dangerous influences which destroy communion and fellowship.


To conclude, models are important in ecclesiology. Once a basic model is chosen the contents and implications of other models should not be overlooked. A true pastoral approach should try to discover the insights and values given by each model, while at the same time holding on to a basic model which can serve as the guiding light to other models.



1    See A. Dulles, Models of the Church (New York 1974); B. Mondin, Le Nuove ecclesiologie (Rome 1980); R. Kress, The Church: Communion Sacrament, Communication (New York 1985); Rikhof, The Concept of the Chwch; R. Michiels “The Self-Understanding of the Church after Vatican II” Louvain Studies 14 (1989), pp. 83-107.

2    K. McNamara, Vatican II: The Constitution on the Church, (London 1968), p. 76.

3    De Controversiis, 2, lib, 3. cap, 3, vol. 2, (Naples 1857), p. 75.

4    Y. Congar, Lay People in the Church (Westminster 1964), p. 45.

5    A. Grillmeier, “The Mystery of the Church Commentary on the Documents on Vatican II ed by H. Vorgrimler (London 1967), p. 138.

6   H. Rikhof considers it difficult to define the Church because of this particular nature of the Church. See H. Rikhof, The Concept of the Church (London 1981), p. 206.

7. R. Michiels, “The Self-understanding of the Church after Vatican II” Lonvian Studies 14 (1989), p. 89.

8.Cf. Joel 2:28; Ezek 36:27; i Cor 3: 16-17; 1 Cor 12:2-4.

9    K.   E.   Untener,   The Church-World Relationship according to the Writings of Yves Congar  (Rome 1976), p 10.

10    A. Dulles, Models of the Church, p. 48.

11. K. Rahner S. J.,   / Remember.    An Autobiographical Inter­view with Meinold Kraus (New York 19S5), p. 96.

12.  J. Ratzinger Das Neues Volk Gottes (Diisseldorf 1970), p. 209.

13. Cf.  1Cor. 6:15-17; 10:17; 12:12-30, 31; Rom 12:4-8; Gal 3:26-28; Col. 1:18,24; 2:19; 3:15; Eph 1:22,23; 2:16; 4:12,16; 5:23; 5:30.

14.    R. Kress,  The Church: Communion,.., p. *9

15.   H. Rikhof, The Concept of the Church, see Chapt. 1.

16. K. Me Donnell, “Vatican II… Koinonia/ Communion as an Integral Ecclesiology” Journal of Ecumenical Studies 25:3 (1988) p. 401 ff. Cf. Ibid., p. 406. Cf. also for an evaluation of commu­nion ecclesiology of “Synod of Bishops 1985”, Concilium (Dec. 1986). Final Report of the Synod.

19    D. Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison (New York 1967), pp. 203-204.

20   K.   E.   Untener, The Church-World Relationship, pp. 18ff.

21    Cf. H. Kueng, “The Coming Reign of God”, in Church (New York 1976) pp. 69ff; also J. Moltmann, “Church of the Kingdom of God” (Part 4 of Church in the Power of the Spirit. (London 1977). also L. Boff, Church, Charism and Power (London 1982); A. Dulles, A Church to Believe in (New York 1985), pp. 8-10.

22   R. P. McBrien, The Continuing Quest (New York 1970), p. 11.

23    H. Kueng, The Church  p. 114

24   Cf. Roger L. Shinn, Man: the New Humanism, (New Directions in Theology Series VI), (London 1968), pp. 36-37.






 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”.

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

The Reception of the Conciliar Reform in the Liturgy

of the Syro-Malabar Church


Fr Antony Nariculam



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

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

Vatican II and  Liturgical Reform

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

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

Conciliar Reform and Reception in the Syro-Malabar Church


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

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

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

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

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

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

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



[1]  The Ratzinger Report, p.38

[2]  The Ratzinger Report, p.132.

[3] Directives of 1988, No.2

[4] Acts of the Synod, p.133

[5] Acts of the Synod, p.98

[6] Acts of the Synod, p.109

[7] Orientale Lumen, No.8

[8] Instruction  of 1996, No.11

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

[10] Acts of the Synod, p.94

[11] Acts of the Synod, p.95

[12] How liturgies Grow? p.360



Dr Antony Nariculam

             Antony Nariculam


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


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


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


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


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


  1. Priest as ‘Liturgist


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


The Cultic Ministry of the Priests


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


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


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


Liturgy as Ritual Action


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


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


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


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


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


Ars Celebrandi and the Priest


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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

enemies and glorified our frail nature by your immense grace.


  1. Priest as President of the Assembly


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


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


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


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


  1. Creativity and Liturgical Celebration


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


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


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


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


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


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


  1. Priest as Homilist

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


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


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


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


  1. Priest as Promoter of Active Participation

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


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


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


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


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




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


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


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







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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[11] Redemptionis Sacramentum, No.30

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

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

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

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

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

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

[18] Redemptionis Sacramentum, No.32.

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

[20] The Spirit of the Liturgy, 209.

[21] The Spirit of the Liturgy, 211.

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

[23] Pastores dabo Vobis, No.48.

The Liturgy of the Blessings in the Syro-Malabar Church

LRC Seminar

13 – 15 June 2006

The Liturgy of the Blessings in the Syro-Malabar Church


Fr.Antony Nariculam

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

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

Part One

1. Vatican II and Sacramentals

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

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

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

2. Catechism of the Catholic Church and Sacramentals

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

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

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

CCC identifies the following categories of sacramentals:

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

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

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


3. Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches and Sacramentals

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

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

4. Syro-Malabar Particular Law and Sacramentals

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

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

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

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

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

I think that three observations are in order here.

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

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

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

6. Blessings: A Short Historical Survey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. Blessings and Inculturation

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

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

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

8. Nestorian Rituals

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

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

9. Latin Rite and the Book of Blessings

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

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

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

 The Latin Rite divides the Blessings into five categories:

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                            Part Two


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

1. Blessings in the Syro-Malabar Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Syro-Malabar Rituals of Blessings

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

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

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

Part 2: Blessing of ‘Buildings and Places’: (Houses, Hospitals, Schools, Shops etc)

Part 3: Blessing of ‘Persons’: (Children, Sick persons etc.)

Part 4: Blessing of ‘Sacred Objects’: (Vestments, Vessels, Religious articles etc)

Part 5: Blessing of ‘Animals’.

Part 6: Other ‘Useful Objects’: (Vehicles, Food etc).

   The appendix has the prayer of ‘consecration of the family’ to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Litany of Our Lord, a prayer-service that can be used when the priest visits a family etc.

(2) Blessings (Asirvadhaprarthanakal):[25] This book was published by Denha Services, Kottayam, in 1988. The book has a sub-title too, namely “Sacramentals”(Koodasanukaranangal).

  The preface of the Ritual states that the book is prepared making use of the sources and taking into consideration the present needs of the Syro-Malabar Church. It defines the sacramental as the rites which are ‘formed from the sacraments and are similar to them in spirit and structure’. It also opens the way for adapting them according to the circumstances. The sacramentals being communitarian celebrations, it is recommended that at least a few people should be present when they are administered. According to the Ritual, the priests are the celebrants of the sacramentals though the deacons can substitute them in their absence.

The book has three parts and an appendix.

Part 1: It is entitled ‘Blessings’ (Venchirippukal). There are 18 items in this category beginning with ‘House Blessing’. Other Blessings are of holy water, religious articles, buildings, animals, vehicles etc. It includes also the betrothal ceremony, exorcism etc.

Part 2: Blessing of the sick and the dying.

Part 3: Blessings to be used on ‘Special Occasions’ which includes prayer before and after meals, for good harvest, on birthday etc.

The appendix gives a rite for the ‘Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament” integrating the Ramsa prayer.

(3) Blessings (Venchirippukal): This Ritual was published from Ernakulam in 1992 by the Inter-diocesan Committee for Liturgy. A special feature of this book is the addition of an inculturated Rite of House Blessing into which some traditional Indian elements like Arathi, Bhajans etc are incorporated.

The book has 7 parts divided as follows:

Part 1: Buildings and Institutions (Houses, Chapels, Shops etc.)

Part 2: Sacred Objects (Altar, Sacred Images, Rosaries, Medals etc.)

Part 3: Various Objects (Food items, Boats etc.)

Part 4: Vehicles

Part 5: Animals

Part 6: Food Offerings

Part 7: Holy Water

(4)  A Collection  of Various Booklets of Blessings

(i)     A “Collection of Prayers” (Prarthanasamaharam) by Cardinal Joseph Parecattil, Ernakulam 10980. It contains 42 prayers or prayer-services for various occasions.

(ii)   An Order for Blessing the Houses of the Religious and Priests, Denha Services, Kottayam 1984.

(iii)  Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and Benediction, Denha Services, Kottayam 1984.

(iv)  Betrothal, Oottunercha, Rite of Healing the Sick, Ernakulam 1985.

(v)   Prayer- service in honour of Blessed Chavara and Alphonsa, Denha Services, Kottayam 1986.

(vi)  Rite of Christmas Celebration, Denha Services, Kottayam 1987.

(vii)                       Christmas Celebration, Sandesanilayam, Changanacherry (No date)

(viii)                     Message of Christmas, Prayer on Year-End, Prayer at the Beginning of the Year, Ernakulam 1987.

(ix) Sacred Rites in the Church (Devalayathirukkarmangal), Inter-diocesan Committee for Liturgy, Ernakulam 1991.

(5)  Prayer for the Dead

 Various diocesan committees have published a series of prayer books under the title ‘Prayer for the Dead’.

(i)     Prayers during and after Death, Ernakulam 1969.

(ii)   Prayer Service for the Dead, Ernakulam 1980

(iii)  Commemoration of the Dead, Ernakulam 1984

(iv)   Anuthaparchana, Changanacherry 1992

(v)   From the Valley of Death, Kottayam 1996

(vi)  Prayer for the Dead, Irinjalakuda 1997

            (vii) Prayer for the Dead, Thamarassery 2003

            (viii) Prayer Service for the Dead, Ernakulam 2006

            (6) Home Liturgy

In the history of Syro-Malabar Blessings a new path was opened by Fr.Jacob Aeranat who published his “Home Liturgy” (Kudumbaliturgy) in 1980. Two books are now available in this category.

(i)     Home Liturgy (Kudumbaliturgy) by Fr.Jacob Aeranat, Ernakulam 1980.

      This book got a very enthusiastic reception in the Syro-Malabar families. In 2003 it had its 11th reprint. The book has about 130 Blessings and prayers for various occasions.

(ii)   Family Rites (lKudumbasusrooshakal) By Fr.Thomas Mathasseril CMI, Kottayam 2002.

                               This book has 200 Blessings and prayer- services under 28 headings. The approach of this book is a little different from that of ‘Home Liturgy’ in some respects. For example, there are 42 prayer- services connected with marriage and family alone. (e.g. Vivaham Urappikkal, marriage, after marriage, child-birth, baptism etc.)

3. Some Remarks

An examination of “Blessings” in the Syro-Malabar Church brings out the following categories:

(i) Blessings reserved to the Bishops (Muron, Church, Deppa(?) etc.). They are often called ‘consecrations’.

(ii) Blessings reserved to the Bishops or priests (Ashes, Palms, Water, House etc.).

(iii) Quasi-blessings the deacons may administer. (Generally, the deacons do not impart any blessing in the Eastern tradition. However, the Particular Law of the Syro-Malabar Church allows the deacons to be official witness at the betrothal).

(iv) M’samsana, Hevpadyakna and Karoya are allowed by the Syro-Malabar Particular Law to be the ministers of the sacramental of Adima though they are not allowed to impart blessing with the Sign of the Cross.

(v) The Syro-Malabar faithful ‘administer’ the so-called ‘Home Liturgies’ with a prayer of invocation to God for His blessings in connection with various domestic religious occasions like marriage, baptism, holy communion etc.

Among the various categories of Blessings in the Syro-Malabar Church we may identify the following:

(i)                 Persons: (Children, Sick persons etc.)

(ii)               Buildings: (Presbytery, Religious Houses, Corner-stone etc.)

(iii)             Objects (Tools): ( Food  Vehicles, Boats etc.)

(iv)             Sacred Objects: (Altar, Baptismal Font, Cross, Sacred Vessels, Holy Water, Sacred Images, the Stations of the Cross etc.)

(v)               Places: ( Cemetery, Fields etc.)

(vi)             Animals

(vii)           Various Occasions: (Home Liturgies)


In today’s secularised and secularising world how far do the Blessings influence the people? It is true that the progress of science, technology, urbanization etc. have made certain Blessings lose their original Christian meaning. At the same time, we find also a growth of various Blessings, some of them even slipping into near-superstitious and magical practices.

Another phenomenon is the shift of emphasis regarding the content of Blessings. The original meaning of praise and thanksgiving to the Lord has given way to prayers of petitions. Though the petitions do part of the Blessing, we need to rediscover the original meaning of Christian Blessings.[26] The karozutha prayers of the Syro-Malabar Qurbana is a right indicator in this direction. The response of each petition is “Lord, have mercy on us”.




[1] Here the document mentions the sacramentals before the sacraments which, in my judgement, implies that the sacramentals are more vitiated than the sacraments in the historical process.

[2] No example is given in CCC. The blessing of ‘Pesaha Appam’ could be an example.

[3] When the Church publicly and authoritatively asks that a person be protected from the dominion of the power of the Evil One, it is called exorcism.

[4] This translation is taken from George Nedungatt, A Companion to the Eastern Code, Rome 1994, p.204.

[5] Congregation for the Eastern Churches, Instruction for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, Rome 1996

[6] Cf. Mario Righetti, Storia Liturgica IV: Sacramenti e Sacramentali, Milano 1959, p.474

[7] Cf. Ibid, p. 476

[8] Cf. Reiner Kaczynski, Blessings in Rome and the Non-Roman West, in A.J. Chupungco (ed.), Handbook for Liturgical Studies IV, Collegeville 2000, p. 398

[9] Cf. Ibid, p. 399

[10] Cf. Elena Velkova Velkovska, Blessings in the East, in A.J.Chupungco 9ed.), Handbook for Liturgical Studies, p. 388

[11] Cf. Ibid, p. 384

[12] ICEL, Book of Blessings, Washington DC 1987, General Instructions No. 24

[13]  Ibid, General Instructions No. 39

[14] Cf. Circular Letter Concerning Studies of the Oriental Churches, L’Osservatore  Romano, 6 April 1987, p. 12

[15] Cf. SMBC Report of 19 June 1973, p. 1-2; Report of 14 August 1974, p. 1; Report of 6 December 1980, p. 1; Report of 7 November 1985, p. 3; Report of 3 December 1986, p. 5; Report of the Synod of November 1999 etc.

[16] G.P. Badger, Nestorians and Their Rituals, Vol. II, London 1852

[17] Cf. Book of Blessings, Preface, p.7.

[18] Book of Blessings, General Instructions, No.10.

[19] Ibid., No.13

[20] Examples: Blessing of altar, chalice, paten etc.; Jubilee celebration of marriage, Blessing of  bed-ridden sick persons at home etc.

[21] However, when a priest or a deacon is present, the ministry of blessing should be left to them.

[22] Congregation  for the Eastern Churches, Instruction, No.38. See above, p.3.

[23] See above, Footnote No.9.

[24] For example, the Jewish domestic liturgy of Birkat ha Mazon which was a prayer of thanksgiving  was not meant simply for the food, but also for all the gifts of Yahweh.

[25] This Ritual is translated into English, but without the appendix. ‘Blessings and Prayers (Sacramentals), Denha Services, Kottayam 1990.

[26] Andres Torres Queiruga, Beyond Prayer of Petitions, in Concilium, 1/2006, pp.63-75.

The Syro-Malabar Liturgical Reform and Pastoral Adaptation

The Syro-Malabar Liturgical Reform and Pastoral Adaptation

Antony Nariculam

The Syro-Malabar Bishops’ Synod, in its attempts to arrive at a consensus regarding the  liturgical issues, has been studying their various aspects with the help of  liturgists, historians, pastors and scholars  in different fields. One of the areas of their study is “Liturgical Reform and Pastoral Adaptation”. This article deals with this particular topic under its various dimensions.

In 1988 the Congregation for the Oriental Churches made the following statement: “The good of the faithful (‘bonum fidelium’) is the pastoral norm governing all liturgical legislation”.[1]Other Roman documents, addressed to the Syro-Malabar Church, too have similar references.

The present articl focuses on eight areas in order to highlight the topic of pastoral adaptation in the  Syro-Malabar liturgy.

  1. The Guidelines for Liturgical Reform, especially those emerging from the Canonical Prescriptions


Vatican II Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium) was a turning point in the liturgical history of the Church at a universal level. Some norms laid down by the Constitution, as the document itself states, “can and should be applied both to the Roman rite and also all other rites” (SC 3). Since then, especially from 1980 onwards, the Syro-Malabar Church has received many guidelines in view of restoring and reforming the liturgy. Of these some are of a general nature and others with specific indications.[2]

According to an Instruction of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, the first requirement of every liturgical renewal is that of rediscovering full fidelity to one’s own liturgical tradition, benefitting from its riches and eliminating that which has altered its authenticity. Such heedfulness is not subordinate to but precedes the so-called updating.[3] Quoting John Paul II, the Instruction reminds us that there needs ‘to trim extraneous forms and developments, deriving from various influences that come from liturgical and paraliturgical traditions foreign to one’s own tradition’.[4]

The modern mentality of the people tends to excessive activism and wants to attain results with minimum effort. This attitude, warns the Instruction, can negatively influence the approach towards liturgy too.[5] However, this consideration should not deter us from meeting the exigencies of the contemporary world.[6] According to the Instruction, a basic principle in the liturgical reform is the one laid down by Sacrosanctum Concilium No.23: ‘In order that sound tradition be retained , and yet the way remains open to legitimate progress, the revision of any part of the liturgy should occur only after careful investigation – the theological, historical and pastoral’.[7]

In the light of the necessary studies, the Instruction suggests the criteria for liturgical renewal in the following words: “In modifying ancient liturgical practice, it must be determined if the element to be introduced is coherent with the contextual meaning in which it is placed. Such a context should be understood beginning with eventual references to Sacred Scripture, interpretations of the Holy Fathers, liturgical reforms previously made, and mystagogical catechesis. Here it must be verified that the new change is homogenous with the symbolic language, with the images and the style specific to the liturgy of the particular Church. The new element will have its place if, required for serious pastoral reasons, it blends within the celebration without contrast but with coherence, almost as if it had naturally derived from it. In addition, it should be ensured that it is not already present, perhaps in another form, in a different moment of the celebration or in another part of the liturgical corpus of that Church. Every renewal initiative should be careful not to be conditioned by other systems which may appear to be more efficient”.[8]

With regard to cultural adaptations, the Instruction refers to an address by Pope John Paul II to the Copts: “Do not adhere with excessive improvisation to the imitation of cultures and traditions which are not your own, thus betraying the sensibility of your people (…). This means it is necessary that every eventual adaptation of your liturgy be founded on an attentive study of the sources, objective knowledge of the specific features of your culture, and maintenance of the traditions common to all Coptic Christianity”.[9]

In this context, it may be useful what the Oriental Congregation had to say to the Syro-Malabar Church in the Report of 1980. It observes that the Syro-Malabar Church needs to integrate itself with the cultures and the traditions of India. This is in view of the necessary inculturation by which is meant the assumption of more solid and sounder realities which these traditions contain, and which so unmistakably characterize the authentic physiognomy of the Indian people.[10] Opening up the doors for liturgical renewal in the Syro-Malabar Church, it further says that “the liturgy – as the Church itself – is perennially to be reformed. It is a living reality, and it cannot be an immobile reality, but must live with the people of God to which it belongs. Remaining itself, it must grow everyday and conform itself to the reality of the ever-new gifts that the Lord grants His people. This continual reforming itself and hence of changing itself is a basic condition of its truth. It is true, therefore, that  liturgy is received as something given nevertheless, no text is to be considered intangible for centuries or marked  by the perennial prohibition ‘ne varietur’”.[11] Hence the measures to be taken by the Syro-Malabar Church should be that of a ‘double-direction’, namely an ‘Eastern-Christian’ direction through a deep contact with the Syriac liturgical, theological and spiritual tradition, and an ‘Indian-direction’ by favouring serious study of Hinduism in order to contribute towards a more  authentic insertion in the life of the Indian people.[12]

The ‘Final Judgement’ of 1985 too had some indications concerning the cultural adaptations in the Syro-Malabar Church. It declares that ‘Rome in no way opposes recommendations for legitimate Indianization’ and that ‘texts of refrains and chants more suitable to Indian culture’ could be proposed for use.[13]

However, in the process of liturgical reform, warns the Instruction, the Catholics need to bear in mind its ecumenical dimension, that is, they have to be sensitive to the Orthodox brethren. Any distancing from the common heritage can cause the existing separation to deepen. Still the document does not rule out the possibility of Catholics proceeding with their own renewal programme, though with necessary precautions. Hence it says: “In every effort of liturgical renewal, therefore, the practice of the Orthodox brethren should be taken into account, knowing it, respecting it and distancing from it as little as possible so as not to increase the existing separation, but rather intensifying efforts in view of eventual adaptations, maturing and working together”.[14]

  1. The Syro-Malabar Liturgical Texts and their Adaptation


The following are the Syro-Malabar liturgical texts:

Thaksa of Holy Qurbana (with propers), Thaksa of Sacraments(Infant Baptism, Adult Baptism, Chrismation,  Penance, Anointing of the Sick and Marriage), Pontifical (Ordination to Karoya, Hevpadyakna, Msamsana, Priesthood, Episcopal Ordination, Installation of the Major Archbishop, Metropolitan and Bishop, Blessing of Oil, Dedication of the church, Rededication of the church and Blessing of Deppa), Divine Praises, Calendar, Lectionary, Holy Week liturgy (Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Passion Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter), Christmas liturgy, Thaksa of Sacramentals (Profession of the Religious, Dedication of the Members of the Secular Institutes and Apostolic Life, Funeral and various rites for the dead, Rite of Reconcilation, Blessing of persons, objects, places etc.).

Of these, not all texts have been formally approved and promulgated. The texts formally promulgated are the Thaksa of Holy Qurbana, Thaksa of Sacraments and the Pontifical. The Divine Praises, Calendar, the propers of holy Qurbana etc are now used ad experimentum. Some other texts are awaiting final approval and promulgation. The Lectionary and the texts of various blessings are yet to be prepared though some of them are available as temporary experimental texts.

Almost all these texts are based on the East Syrian sources. However, many omissions and additions are made in the original Syriac texts in order to adapt them to the needs of today. Some minor attempts were also made to introduce some of the elements from the Indian culture. Touching the altar/gospel book with the forehead or placing the hands first on them and then bringing the hands to the forehead instead of kissing them, exchanging the peace by turning face to face with folded hands and inclining the head slightly in the holy Qurbana, the bride and the groom garlanding each other in the rite of matrimony, etc are examples of such elements.

 Though all the texts are not yet promulgated, there remains also further revision of the text of the holy Qurbana as foreseen in the Decree of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches approving the text of the holy Qurbana in the Simple and Solemn forms (Prot.No.955/65, 3 April 1989). The Decree states that the text may not be changed for the next five years. After this period of experimentation, the Bishops’ Conference could propose further revision and adaptation in the text to the Oriental Congregation. Due to various reasons, the Bishops could not take up its revision after five years. However, after the erection of the Syro-Malabar Church to the status of a Major Archiepiscopal Church, there was an attempt to revise the text of the holy Qurbana at the initiative of the Pontifical Delegate Archbishop Abraham Kattumana. Later, the Synod of the Syro-Malabar Bishops held at Varanasi in March 1997 appointed an ad hoc committee to take up the revision of the holy Qurbana. The committee gave its Report to the Synod in October 1998 proposing their suggestions for the revision of the text. Though the Report was to be discussed in the Synod of November 1998 “some of the members of the synod were of opinion that the Commission had no mandate to present such suggestions and its act was ultra vires”.[15] And that was the end of it.

When we think about liturgical renewal and adaptation to local culture, it is useful to have some clarity regarding the process of inculturation and its methodology. Anscar Chupungco, an authority on the principles of inculturation, proposes a methodology which consists of Dynamic Equivalence, Creative Assimilation and Organic Progression.[16]

a) Dynamic Equivalence: It is practically an adaptation of the editio typica. Though some creativity is involved in this process (e.g. the use of local language) it is dependent upon the typical edition of the liturgical books.

 When we examine the vernacular version of the Syro-Malabar liturgical books, especially the present text of the Qurbana, we can see that the principle of ‘dynamic equivalence’ has been one of its concerns. An example from the Qurbana is the interpretative initial hymn in Malayalm ‘Annappesahathirunalil’ from ‘Puqdankon’ which in Syriac simply means “your commandment”.[17]

b) Creative Assimilation: This is a methodology used in the Patristic era. The giving of a cup of milk and honey in the baptismal Mass, renouncing Satan, looking towards the West and making the profession of faith, turning towards the East, the celebration of Epiphany on 6th January and Christmas on 25th December are examples. Some of the ancient Syro-Malabar practices in connection with baptism, marriage, funeral etc[18]can be included in this category.

c) Organic Progression: Here the question is of ‘new forms’ in worship. It is something like the ‘particular laws’ of an Individual Church on the basis of the ‘general law’. But, of course, these new forms have to respect the principle of ‘organic growth’.

An example for ‘organic progression’ from the Syro-Malabar liturgical calendar is the addition of Syro-Malabar ‘Fathers’ along with ‘Greek and Syriac Fathers’ in the period of Denha.[19] The composition of prayers for the feasts of the Blessed Chavara, Alphonsa, Mariam Thresia, Euphrasia and Kunjachan are other examples. The permission given by Rome to compose new prayers (slothas) after the initial Lord’s Prayer, the thanksgiving prayers of the celebrant after the holy communion, the final blessing (huttamma) etc in the Qurbana too may be considered as ‘organic progression’.

Besides the above three methodological approaches, we may speak also of ‘Creative Liturgies’. These are creativities needed for special groups in special circumstances. The anaphora of the Latin Rite for Children’s Mass is an example thereof. The text of the Mass has provision to break the long sentences with responses of children.[20] This is in view of catching the attention of children who are easily distracted and of making the prayers more comprehensible to them.

  1. Growth in the Liturgy: A Necessary Organic and Dynamic Process


‘Liturgy is for man and not man for the liturgy’. This memorable statement was made by Cardinal Baptist Montini (late Pope Paul VI) in the Second Vatican Council.[21] Therefore, changes in the liturgy are to be introduced by way of adaptation according to the needs of the people and of the locality. However, necessary precautions are to be taken so that the changes respect the norms of the liturgy and the spiritual growth of the people.

Liturgy, though it is actio Dei, is meant for human beings. The actio Dei becomes fruitful in human beings proportionate to their cooperation with it. One of the conditions necessary for this, according to Pope Benedict XVI, is “the spirit of constant conversion which must mark the lives of all the faithful”. Besides, the faithful need to be reminded that there is no active participation in the sacred mysteries “without an accompanying effort to participate actively in the life of the Church as a whole, including a missionary commitment to bring Christ’s love into the life of the society”.[22] ‘Growth’ without keeping ‘Tradition’ might lead to the danger of gathering only “changing opinions”.[23] Therefore a proper balancing act is necessary. Precisely for this reason, Vatican II, while exhorting us to preserve the tradition of every Individual Church, desires also to give them “new vigour to meet present-day circumstances and needs” (SC 4). The same desire is expressed by the Decree on the Catholic Eastern Churches. The Church which wishes that the traditions of each Individual Church remain whole and entire, wishes also “to adapt its own way of life to the needs of different times and places” (OE 2).

            4. Simplicity and Clarity in the Liturgy and the Repetitive Prayers


A general norm suggested by Vatican II for the liturgical revision is the following: “The rites should be distinguished by a noble simplicity. They should be short, clear, and free from useless repetitions. They should be within the people’s power of comprehension, and normally should not require much explanation” (SC 34).

‘Simplicity’ of the rites, however, should be understood in the right perspective. Vernacularisation of the liturgy was in view of simplifying it. Avoidance of clumsiness in the rites, omission of certain repetitions etc., too were part of simplification. However, simplification should not be understood as making liturgy a banal celebration. In this context an observation of Cardinal Ratzinger seems to be pertinent. “One thing is clear”, writes Ratzinger, “however much the liturgy is simplified and rendered comprehensible, the mystery of God’s action operating through the Church’s acts must remain untouched. This applies also to the heart of the liturgy: as far as both priests and people are concerned, it is something given, that cannot be manipulated. It partakes of the reality of the whole Church”. “It follows”, Ratzinger continues, “that we must be far more resolute than heretofore in opposing rationalistic relativism, confusing claptrap and pastoral infantilism. These things degrade the liturgy to the level of a parish tea party and the intelligibility of a popular newspaper”.[24]

Repetition of prayers and hymns in themselves is neither good nor bad. SC 34 only says that ‘useless’ repetitions should be avoided. The Asian religious mind tends to repetitious prayers. The Namajapa or Bhajan of Indian tradition is an example thereof. The Eastern Churches which have their basis in the Asian context naturally imbibed this religious tradition. Therefore, repetition in itself is not to be eschewed. At the same time, the options provided in the text give opportunity to avoid repetitive prayers and hymns as and when needed.

Here it is good to remember that the ritual which consists of words, gestures, symbols etc. is a fundamental form of religious manifestation. Depending upon the cultural contexts, the expressions of singing, dancing etc bring worshippers into contact with the Sacred. They are not merely emotionalism; they have a cognitive dimension too. Therefore, the liturgy should not be stripped of its ritual character. That is why certain liturgical celebrations touch the hearts and minds of the people more than an eloquent lecture on the same. Hence, writing about Asian Christian theology, a document of the Office of Theological Concerns of the FABC noted: “Perhaps, we should learn from the liturgy of the Eastern Churches. Although their liturgy is elaborate and long, it is appreciated because it mediates a strong presence of the Sacred. Furthermore, theology has always spoken of God as the Fascinating and the Awesome, who evokes in us both an attraction and yet a deep respect for the Mystery. Even non-believers feel the awesomeness and the presence of God when they enter churches of  the mediaeval period which are rich in the arts”.[25]

  1. The Range of Diversity in the Liturgy


Vatican II, after emphasizing an important pastoral norm (There must be no innovations in the liturgy unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them) and underscoring a basic principle of liturgical reform (Care must be taken that any new form adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already existing) observes that “as far as possible, notable differences between the rites used in adjacent regions should be avoided” (SC 23).

Since, as noted above, the good of the faithful (“bonum fidelium”) is the pastoral norm governing all liturgical legislation[26] diversity and not uniformity is the rule today. This is all the more true in the mission context of the Syro-Malabar Church. To a certain extent, diversity has become ‘normal’ in the celebration of the Syro-Malabar liturgy, due to the options provided in the text. However, as SC suggests, ‘notable differences’ in ‘adjacent regions’ should, as far as possible, be avoided.

Two conspicuous differences now found in the celebration of the holy Qurbana are the Mass versus altare/populum and the use of the sanctuary veil which are ‘dispensations’ granted. Other diversities like certain gestures, prayers, repetitions etc. can be explained easily through a proper catechesis on the meaning and the application of the options.

The non-use of bema, bethgazzas and the celebration without processions, which are not sanctioned  in the Thaksa, also now appear as ‘notable differences’.

The Oriental Congregation had given, already in 1985, the principle governing the options. It says: One must carefully distinguish substantive ritual form and the inevitable  and legitimate adaptations that take place in a particular celebration, depending on the arrangement of the church building, the size of the congregation, the solemnity of the celebration, local customs, the rhythm and style of the well-trained and practised celebrant, etc. For this, the document says, the clear, irreducible distinction between the ‘rite’ and the ‘celebration’ is to be rightly understood. By ‘rite’ is meant that ‘form of celebration’ which is found in the official liturgical books, namely editio typica. By ‘celebration’ is meant that ‘form of celebration’ which is carried out by the concrete assembly. The ‘liturgical adaptations’ are made on the editio typica. The possibility of these adaptations is already foreseen by the rubrics themselves or is called for by the concrete situations.[27]

One of the thrusts of Vatican II liturgical reform was active participation of the people. Among various norms and practical steps to foster it, the Constitution exhorts the pastors ‘to promote liturgical instruction of the faithful and also their active participation, taking into account their age, condition, way of life and standard of religious culture’ (SC 19).

As for the Roman Rite we find the following norm in this regard. “Provided that the substantial unity of the Roman Rite is preserved, provision shall be made, when revising the liturgical books, for legitimate variations and adaptations to different groups, regions and peoples, especially in mission countries” (SC 38). Therefore, the Congregation for the Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments remarked that for promoting active participation ‘ample flexibility is given for appropriate creativity aimed at allowing each celebration to be adapted to the needs of the participants, to their comprehension, their interior preparation and their gifts, according to the established liturgical norms’.[28]

In order to foster active participation, Pope Benedict XVI suggests to have provision for adaptations appropriate to different contexts and cultures since the Church celebrates the one Mystery of Christ in a variety of cultural situations.[29] This is nothing new as far as the Eastern Churches are concerned. “From the beginning”, notes Pope John Paul II, “the Christian East has proved to contain a wealth of forms capable of assuming the characteristic features of each Individual culture, with supreme respect for each particular community”.[30] However, a warning of the Congregation for the Divine Worship too is worthy of mention here. It notes that the power of the liturgical celebrations ‘does not consist in frequently altering the rites, but in probing more deeply the Word of God and the mystery being celebrated’[31]

As far as the Syro-Malabar Church is concerned, unity must be fostered with a correct understanding of the dispensations and options, and their application. Unity does not mean uniformity. The Motu Proprio “Summorum Pontificum” of Pope Benedict XVI published on 7 July 2007[32]has allowed the ‘Tridentine Mass’ to be used by particular ‘stable groups’ in the Latin Church. The Syro-Malabar Church has a lot of lessons to learn from this document.

According to the Pope, there are no contradictions between the Vatican II Mass (New Rite Mass) and the Tridentine Mass (Old Rite Mass). The New Rite Mass may be considered as the ‘ordinary form’ and the old as ‘extraordinary form’. Since there are ‘groupisms’ in the Latin Church due to the controversies on the celebration of the Mass, the Pope feels that for an ‘internal reconciliation’ within the Church, permission to celebrate both forms appears to be the need of the hour. With this Motu Proprio, the Pope sent also a letter to the Bishops in which he writes as follows: “I now come to the positive reason which motivated my decision to issue this Motu Proprio updating that of 1998. It is a matter of coming to an interior reconciliation in the heart of the Church. Looking back over the past, to the divisions which in the course of centuries have rent the Body of Christ, one continually has the impression that, at critical moments when divisions were coming about, not enough was done by the Church’s leaders to maintain or regain reconciliation and unity. One has the impression that omissions on the part of the Church have had their share of blame for the fact that these divisions were able to harden. This glance at the past imposes an obligation on us today: to make every effort to enable for all those who truly desire unity to remain in that unity or to attain it anew”.[33]

The situation in the Syro-Malabar Church is much less complicated than in the Latin Church. The Syro-Malabar Church is using the same text of the holy Qurbana all over the Church with dispensations and options. These are approved by Rome on being requested by the Syro-Malabar Bishops. Once these diverse possibilities are respected and properly made use of, there can be an adapted rite of the same editio typica of the holy Qurbana according to the local needs of the various eparchies of the Syro-Malabar Church.

  1. The Process of Experimentation in the Liturgy


Vatican II Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy has laid down some norms for experimentation which directly concern the Roman Rite. These norms are given in the context of ‘radical adaptations of the liturgy’ which entails ‘great difficulties’ (SC 40). Here the document is referring to the liturgical inculturation. It proposes the following methodology:

(i)                 The competent territorial ecclesiastical authority must carefully and prudently consider which elements from the traditions and cultures might appropriately be admitted into the divine worship. Adaptations which are considered useful or necessary should be submitted to the Holy See, by whose consent they may be introduced.

(ii)               To ensure that adaptations may be made with all the circumspection necessary, the Apostolic See will grant power to permit and direct, as the case requires, the necessary preliminary experiments over a determined period of time among certain groups suitable for the purpose. (Emphasis added)

(iii)             Because liturgical laws usually involve special difficulties with respect to adaptation, especially in mission lands, men who are experts in the matter in question must be employed to formulate them (SC 40/1,2,3).

In the light of article 40 of SC, the process of experimentation in the Roman Rite is as follows:

Step 1: Study by specialists

Step 2: Approval of the study by the Bishops’ Conference

Step 3: Preliminary approval by the Holy See

Step 4: Experimentation for a time and in certain groups

Step 5: Reassessment in the light of the experimentation

Step 6: Final approval by the Holy See and full implementation [34]

The Instruction of the Oriental Congregation for applying the liturgical prescriptions of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches does not speak about ‘experimentation’ as such, though it does refer to the need of revising and adapting the liturgical texts for the contemporary man and woman.[35] However, it clearly states that the general principles and the practical norms laid down in it “do not pretend to exhaust the totality of the indications regulating the liturgical celebrations for every single Church sui iuris. Such prescriptions belong, in fact, to the particular laws of each Church”.[36] Therefore, it is up to the Synod to devise a methodology for experimenting the liturgical texts.

When the Bishops of the Synod were asked to express their opinion regarding the guidelines for preparing, finalizing and implementing the liturgical texts, some suggested the use of the texts as ad experimentum in small groups or in some centres for a limited period of time. This time could be from one year to three years. It was also suggested that after the experimentation period the text be revised in the light of the observations from the experimentation centres and the evaluation by the Central Liturgical Committee.[37] It is important to note that this suggestion of the Bishops was about all the liturgical texts and not simply about the inculturated texts as mentioned in SC 40.

The following steps may be taken by the Syro-Malabar Church in order to restore, revise and adapt the liturgical texts. These steps foresee the collaboration of the experts and the representatives of all those who are in some way connected with the liturgical celebrations, such as the pastors, the religious and the laity. The Syro-Malabar Church which was called a “Christian Republic” by the foreign missionaries will do well to involve all sections of the faithful in such a vital realm of the Church. In fact, this process has been already introduced by the Bishops to a certain extent. Here are the proposed steps:

Step 1: Study by experts and Central Liturgical Committee

Step 2: Preliminary approval by the Synod

Step 3: Texts are sent to the eparchies for comments by the competent bodies

 Step 4: Experimentation for a time and in certain groups

Step 5: Evaluation of the experimentation by experts, the Central Liturgical Committee and the


Step 6: Approval by the Synod

Step 7: Recognitio from Rome and full implementation

  1. The Short Term and Long Term Plans for the Revision and Adaptation of the Syro-Malabar Liturgy


    The erstwhile Syro-Malabar Bishops’ Conference (SMBC) held in December 1986 appointed a sub-committee to study the process of inculturation and to propose a short term and a long term plan for its implementation. Accordingly, the sub-committee presented its report to the SMBC with a short term and a long term plans.[38]

Some elements of the short term programme proposed are the following:

–          The removal of the footwear in the church, especially in the sanctuary.

–          The use of the Indian bowl for incensing in the place of the thurible.

–          A ‘purificatory action’ before entering the church by making provision outside the church for the people to cleanse themselves.

–          The use of oil lamp as the ‘sanctuary lamp’ instead of the widely used electric lamp.

–          The use of Nilavilakku or Kuthuvilakku instead of candles.

–          The use of natural flowers in the place of worship instead of artificial flowers.

–          The use of a fixed stand in the sanctuary to keep the dhoopam (incense) during the liturgy.

–          Introduction of Christian bhajans and kirthans.


Among the long term plan we find the following:

–          A symposium for an in-depth understanding of inculturation with the participation of bishops, members of the Central Liturgical Committee, Syro-Malabar graduates in liturgy and the representatives of the religious and the laity.

–          A research seminar in the light of the findings of the symposium.[39]

This programme was presented to the Bishops’ Conference held on 2-3 June 1987. But due to the misunderstandings and suspicions that prevailed in the Church, particularly among the Bishops, that report could not be taken up for discussion in the conference. Its discussion was blocked on the ‘technical ground’ since, according to some bishops, it had to be submitted to the SMBC through the Episcopal Commission for Liturgy and not directly by the sub-committee.[40] And it never came up for discussion in any of the subsequent SMBC meetings.

  1. The Confusion surrounding the Options


In order to satisfy the local needs, Rome had given a few options in the celebration of the holy Qurbana. Soon a new controversy emerged as to the right of options. Are they the prerogative of the eparchial bishop or that of the celebrating priest? This was the root cause of the controversy.


The text of the holy Qurbana in the solemn and simple forms approved in 1989 and the accompanying directives of Rome make a distinction between dispensations and options. ‘To dispense’ is the prerogative of the eparchial bishop. Mass versus populum, offertory procession, sign of the cross at the beginning of the Qurbana and making the sign of the cross from left to right are ‘dispensations’. Besides, the bishop is authorized to decide upon the use of the sanctuary veil and the position of the deacons during the announcements .[41] On the other hand, the options are meant for adapting the celebration to the context. Normally, the context cannot be predetermined. Therefore, it is the duty of the celebrating priest to choose the options provided in the text as and when required.

The eparchial bishop is the moderator and guardian of the entire liturgical life in the eparchy. Therefore, he has to be vigilant that it be fostered as much as possible and ordered according to the prescriptions and legitimate customs of his own Church sui iuris. [42] It is his responsibility “to ensure unity and harmony in the celebrations taking place in his territory”.[43] However, in exercising his mandate as moderator of the liturgical life of the eparchy, the bishop should “neither act arbitrarily nor give way to the behaviour of groups or factions, but, together with his clergy, let him be an attentive guardian of the liturgical awareness present and operating in the living memory of the people entrusted to him. Just as the sensus fidelium is determinant of the comprehension of the faith believed, so is it in the safeguarding of the faith celebrated”.[44]

The issue of options was taken up for discussion in the  Synod held in November 1999 since there was some confusion with regard to the right of the individual celebrants to use options provided in the liturgical texts. In the  report of the Synod we read the following in this regard. “As for the options given in the Thaksa it was clarified that they cannot be restricted because they have been legitimately authorized by the Holy See”. Further we understand that after the draft of the directives concerning the uniform mode of celebration of the holy Qurbana was read out, “a clause was requested to be added concerning the options making it clear that they are within the competence of the celebrant”.[45] Finally, among the decisions of the same Synod, the following clause was included as No.10 of the Statement of the Commission for Liturgy: The options mentioned in the Thaksa of the Qurbana belong to the celebrants.[46]

  1. The Liturgy for the New Catholics

The Fathers of Vatican II had special concern for the mission lands and the new Catholics and their liturgy. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Nos.37-40, especially No.40, had mainly the mission territories in focus when it says that in some places and circumstances a ‘radical adaptation’ of the liturgy is needed which involves ‘special difficulties’ (SC 40). In such places, since there are people who have their own musical tradition, the hymns in the worship may have to be adapted to the native genius of the people (SC 119). As for the sacred art, it says that the Church has not adopted any particular style of art as her own. Rather, she admits styles from every period in history, in keeping with the genius of the peoples (SC 123). The Decree on the Church’s Missionary Activity says that the new faithful must daily become more conscious of themselves as living communities of faith, liturgy and charity. And the faith should be imparted by means of a well adapted catechesis and the celebration of the liturgy that is in harmony with the character of the people.[47] The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World too points to the link between the message of salvation and culture and its expressions in the liturgy.[48]

This brief survey of Vatican II documents shows how important it is to adapt the liturgy to the new Catholics who are living in a cultural context different from that of the preacher. It is up to every sui iuris Church to devise ways and means to adapt her liturgy to the newly evangelized faithful. In fact, the Syro-Malabar Bishops’ Conference as well as the Synod have on various occasions permitted local adaptations in the Syro-Malabar mission territories. Thus in 1973 SMBC stated: “The Syro-Malabar Bishops’ Conference feels it necessary to work out a scheme for liturgical developments, allowing possible variations for the Syro-Malabar Church, which is a particular Church, faced as it is with the need to accommodate to various situations and cultural demands of the country especially of the new mission areas in North India”.[49] In the same report we also read that “the Exarchs present at the meeting expressed their desire of making some adaptations ad experimentum in the liturgy to which the Conference did not object”.[50] In 1985 the Bishops resolved “to request the Holy see to consider favourably the unanimous wish of the Hierarchs of the Mission to allow them to make necessary adaptations on the text of the Raza for their Mission with due approval of the Holy See”. [51]

The Syro-Malabar Mission Assembly held under the auspices of the Synod in November 1999 made a reference to this issue  in the following words: ‘ When the Eastern and Indian identity of the Syro-Malabar Church which grew up in Kerala through centuries, is expressed in  the mission territories, it should assimilate and ennoble the cultural patterns of those places. The Syro-Malabar Church which developed in Kerala and which bears the apostolic tradition, should not ‘transplant itself’ to the mission territories as to obstruct its growth there’.[52]

Today the Syro-Malabar faithful find themselves in a number of life-sitautions due to their history, evangelization and emigration. One may identify the following:[53]

  • Traditional parishes and agricultural background (Kerala)
  • Rapidly growing urban situations (Central Kerala)
  • ‘Oriental regions’ without much contact with the Latin Church (Southern Kerala)
  • Inter-ritual situations where Syro-Malabar communities live intermingled with the Latin faithful (Central Kerala)
  • Developing areas of the mission territories (North India)
  • Migrants in the industrialized cities and towns (Central and North India)
  • Migrants abroad (Europe, America and the Gulf countries)

       The pastoral adaptation envisaged by the Syro-Malabar Church should be able to cope with these concrete realities.



The present article has chosen only some selected themes that are being considered by the Syro-Malabar Church at her various discussion forums. There are definitely other important areas that need to be addressed to have a comprehensive approach towards the process of pastoral adaptations. These include the understanding of ‘Tradition’ and ‘traditions’, the meaning of ‘organic growth’, inculturation etc. It is hoped that the various steps taken by the Syro-Malabar Bishops’ Synodal Commission for Liturgy, the Syro-Malabar Liturgical Research Centre and the Syro-Malabar Central Liturgical Committee in the recent past would help to arrive at the desired goal, and eventually bring about peace and harmony in the Church resulting in the spiritual growth of the people.



[1] Directives on the Order of Syro-Malabar Qurbana in Solemn and Simple Forms, in Roman Documents on the Syro-Malabar Liturgy (Hereafter ‘Roman Documents’), Kottayam 1999, p.143

[2] Congregation for the Oriental Churches, Report on the State of Liturgical Reform in the Syro-Malabar Church, Rome 1980; Observations on the Order of the Holy Mass, Rome 1983; Final Judgement Concerning the Order of the Syro-Malabar Qurbana, Rome 1985; Directives on the Order of Syro-Malabar Qurbana, Rome 1988; Instruction for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, Rome 1996; Besides, in addition to CCEO, there are also speeches of the Pope addressed to the Syro-Malabar Bishops, Communications from Cardinal Prefect of the Oriental Congregation etc.

[3] Instruction for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions, No.18.

[4] Instruction for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions, No.18. cf. John Paul II, Discourse to the participants of the Synod of the Catholic Armenian Patriarchate, L’Osservatore Romano, 27 August 1989, p.7.

[5] Instruction for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions, No.18

[6] Instruction for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions, No.14

[7] Instruction for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions, No.19

[8] Instruction for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions, No.20

[9] Instruction for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions, No.20. cf. John Paul II, Homily in the Prayer of Incense in the Alexandrian Coptic Rite, L’Osservatore Romano, 16-17 August 1988, p.5.

[10] cf. Roman Documents on the Syro-Malabar Liturgy, Kottayam 1999, p.48.

[11] Roman Documents on the Syro-Malabar Liturgy, p.52

[12] Roman Documents on the Syro-Malabar Liturgy, p.54.

[13] Roman Documents on the Syro-Malabar Liturgy, p.132

[14] Instruction for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions, No.21. Emphasis added.

[15] Cf. Synodal News, December 1998, p.35. The ad hoc committee had unanimously proposed 68 amendments and there was divergence of opinion on 33 points.

[16] A.Chupungco, Liturgical Inculturation: Sacramentality, Religiosity and Catechesis, Minnesota 1992. cf. also A.Nariculam. The Holy See, The Syro-Malabar Bishops’ Conference and the Syro-Malabar Bishops’ Synod on the Inculturation, in B.Puthur (ed.), Inculturation and the Syro-Malabar Church, Kochi 2005, pp.66-69.

[17] Cf. Raza Text (1989), p.1-2

[18] cf. P.Pallath, “St.Thomas Chroistian Church before the Sixteenth Century: A Model for Inculturation” in Ephrem’s Theological Journal, March 2002, pp.18-31; J.Moolan, “Birth Rite Customs and Baptism among St. Thomas Christians in Malabar”, in Studia Liturgica, 32/1 (2202), pp.111-118.

[19] Cf. Syro-Malabar Panchangam 2006-2007, p.21.

[20] cf. Nine Eucharistic Prayers with the Order of the Mass, NBCLC, Bangalore, pp.37-51

[21] Cf. J.Manathodath, Culture, Dialogue and the Church, New Delhi 1990, p.139

[22] Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, no.55

[23]  John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Orientale Lumen, No.8

[24] J.Ratzinger – V. Messori, The Ratzinger Report, San Francisco 1985, p.120-121

[25] FABC Papers No.96,  October 2000, p.95

[26] cf. Congregation for the Oriental Churches, Directives on the Order of Syro-Malabar Qurbana, Rome 1988, No.2

[27] Final Judgement of the S.Congregation for the Oriental Churches Concerning the Order of the Syro-Malabar Qurbana, Rome 1985, No.16

[28] Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum, No.39

[29] Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, No.54

[30] Apostolic Letter, Orientale Lumen, No.5

[31] Instruction Sacramentum Redemptionis, No.39

[32] L’Osservatore Romano, English weekly edition, 11July 2007, p.8-9

[33] L’Osservatore Romano, 11 July 2007, p.9

[34] cf. P.Puthanangady, Initiation to Christian Worship, Bangalore 1977, p.127

[35] Instruction for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions, Nos. 18-20

[36] Instruction for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions, No.4

[37] cf. Guidelines for Restoration, Revision and Adaptation of the Liturgical Texts of the Syro-Malabar Church, p.7)

[38] cf. Report of the SMBC sub-committee for Inculturation, 10 May 1987

[39] cf. A.Nariculam, The Holy See, the Syro-Malabar Bishops’ Conference and the Syro-Malabar Bishops’ Synod on the Inculturation of the Syro-Malabar Liturgy, pp.85-87.

[40] Cf. SMBC Report of 2-3 June 1987 Meeting, No.VI, p.4.

[41] cf. General Instructions, Raza Text (1989), No.6 and No.12

[42] CCEO 199/1

[43] Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, No.39

[44] Instruction for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions, No.23

[45] cf. Synodal News, December 1999, p.61

[46] cf. Synodal News, December 1999, p.73. The original text is in Malayalam. The translation is ours.

[47] Ad Gentes, No.19. Emphasis added.

[48] Gaudium et Spes, No.58

[49] cf SMBC Report of 19 June 1973, No.4, p.1-2

[50] cf SMBC Report of 19 June 1973, no.5, p.2

[51] cf. SMBC Report of 6-7 November 1985, p.3

[52] cf. Synodal News, December 1999, p.38. Our translation from Malayalam.

[53] A.Nariculam, Syro-Malabar Liturgy, in the Souvenir of the Syro-Malabar Emigrants’ Global Meet 2006 published by the Synodal Commission for Evangelization and Pastoral Care of the Migrants, Kochi 2006, p.25

Restoration, Revision, Adaptation and Organic Growth of the Liturgy and the Syro-Malabar Church

 Restoration, Revision, Adaptation and Organic Growth of the Liturgy and the Syro-Malabar Church

Dr Antony Nariculam 

Fr Antony Nariculam



The Syro-Malabar Church has been in a process of soul-searching from some years to find out ways and means of restoring and revising her liturgy in the light of Vatican II and the later documents. One of the stumbling blocks in this process has been the (mis)understanding about the principles of restoration, revision, adaptation and organic growth. This article is an attempt to study this subject in the light of magisterial documents and the interpretation of some renowned and reliable theologians. It is, in fact, a compilation of the relevant portions from the various documents and the writings of the authors concerned. We thought of presenting them without much comment as they are self-explanatory. This article seeks to facilitate the process of restoration and revision of the Syro-Malabar liturgy already being undertaken by the Syro-Malabar Synod of Bishops. The last part of this article presents some concrete suggestions of Prof. Robert Taft who was closely associated with the Syro-Malabar liturgical renewal and consequent ‘controversies’ in his official capacity as a member of the Pontifical Commission appointed to look into the matter.


In the introduction to the book Tradition and Traditions, Y.Congar writes: “The reader must not expect to find here a series of consecutive essays, presenting a methodological and exhaustive study of the notion of tradition according to all the various authors – something beyond the capabilities of anyone man’s life-time and work”.[1] The same is true about this article. This is not an exhaustive presentation of the theme. As we try to elucidate the meaning of tradition, history, restoration, revision, adaptation, organic growth, inculturation etc. we fail to give a clear-cut definition as to what “Tradition” really means. We can make only some approximations. As Congar remarks: “ ‘Tradition’ designates a reality which is too large, a concept too dense, to be formulated in a concise definition”.[2] Even the definition of Bousset – ‘the ever manifest succession of doctrine left to and carried by the Church’ – conveys, according to Congar, only one aspect of the whole.[3]

According to another definition, tradition serves to indicate some one or other of the following realities: the apostolic practices and teachings not contained in the Scripture; the unwritten source of the whole Christian life; the rule of faith; the transmission of revealed truth; the teachings of the Church’s magisterium etc.[4]

In fact, as Pope John Paul II has remarked, the Churches of the East are “living interpreters of the treasure of tradition they preserve”.[5] However, a liturgical historian of today should be able to critique historical data in the light of the principles of Vatican II. These principles include the following: the central position of the paschal mystery (SC 5-7), the role of the Word of God in the liturgy (SC 24), active participation of the people (SC 14), congregational singing (114,121), community dimension of the liturgical celebration (SC 26,27), inculturation (SC 37– 40), pastoral needs (SC 21,34) etc.

1. Vatican II and the Understanding of Liturgical Renewal


The sacred liturgy, being the summit and the source of Christian life, Vatican II thought it fitting to revise it to impart “an ever-increasing vigour to the Christian life of the Faithful by adapting more closely to the needs of modern age those things that are subject to change” (SC 1). Therefore the Council decided “to revise the rites carefully in the light of sound tradition, and to give them new vigour to meet present-day circumstances and needs” (SC 4). According to the Council, in order to retain sound tradition a certain investigation – theological, historical and pastoral – should always be made into each part of the liturgy which is to be revised. At the same time, the way should remain open to legitimate progress (SC 23).

The identity of an Individual Church depends to a great extent on her liturgy. Therefore, the Council exhorts the members of the Eastern Churches “to preserve their own liturgical rites and ways of life” (OE 6). They are “ to aim always at a more perfect knowledge and practice of their rites, and if they have fallen away due to circumstances of times or persons, they are to strive to return to their ancestral ways” (OE 6) because the Church wishes “the tradition of each particular Church or rite to remain whole and entire, and it likewise wishes to adapt its own way of life to the needs of different times and places” (OE 2).

One of the primary aims of restoration and renewal of the sacred liturgy is the full and active participation of all the people since liturgy is an indispensable source from which the faithful derive the true Christian spirit (SC 14). In order to realize this aim, the Church “desires to undertake with great care a general restoration of the liturgy itself. For the liturgy is made up of unchangeable elements divinely instituted, and of elements subject to change. These latter not only may be changed but ought to be changed with the passage of time, if they have suffered from the intrusion of anything out of harmony with the inner nature of the liturgy or have become less suitable. In this restoration both texts and rites should be drawn up so as to express more clearly the holy things which they signify. The Christian people, as far as possible, should be able to understand them with ease and take part in them fully, actively, and as a community” (SC 21). From this statement, it may be assumed that restoration is not separate from revision and adaptation.

2. What is Tradition?

In the words of Pope John Paul II, Tradition “is the heritage of Christ’s Church. This is the living memory of the Risen One and witnessed to by the Apostles who passed on his living memory to their successors in an uninterrupted line, guaranteed by the apostolic succession through the laying on of hands, down to the Bishops of today. This is articulated in the historical and cultural patrimony of each Church”. Tradition is not, continues the Pope, “an unchanging repetition of formulas, but a heritage which preserves its original, living kerygmatic core. It is Tradition that preserves the Church from the danger of gathering only changing opinions, and guarantees her certitude and continuity”.

“When uses and customs belonging to each Church are considered as absolutely unchangeable, there is a sure risk of tradition losing that feature of a living reality which grows and develops and which the Spirit guarantees precisely because it has something to say to the people of every age. As Scripture is increasingly understood by those who read it; every other element of the Church’s living heritage is increasingly understood by believers and is enriched by new contributions, in fidelity and in continuity. Only a religious assimilation, in obedience of faith, of what the Church calls ‘Tradition’ will enable Tradition to be embodied in different cultural and historical situations and conditions. Tradition is never pure nostalgia for things or forms past, nor regret for lost privileges, but the living memory of the Bride, kept eternally youthful by the Love that dwells within her”.[6]

Appreciating the traditions of the Oriental Churches, the Pope writes: “The venerable and ancient tradition of the Eastern Churches is an integral part of the heritage of Christ’s Church” and hence “the first need for Catholics is to be familiar with that tradition, so as to be nourished by it”.[7] Precisely for this reason, the Prefect of the Oriental Congregation, Cardinal Simon Lourdusamy, asked the Syro-Malabar Bishops to make studies of the Syrian liturgical heritage and the patristic sources of tradition in order to fully understand the ecclesial meaning of Tradition in view also of meeting the challenges of present-day pastoral exigencies.[8]

Tradition involves three elements: a deposit of faith, a living teaching authority and a transmission of succession.[9] In a way, faith of the Church is in the faith of the Churches. Therefore, from an Eastern perspective, theology is grounded not only on  Scripture, but also on tradition, liturgy, fathers, monasticism, mysticism, spiritual writers, martyrology, practices of fasting, penance, abstinence, prayer etc.[10] To these we may add also the Ecumenical Councils, Creeds, magisterium and disciplinary norms.

When the early Christian writers speak of tradition, notes Congar, they mean primarily a Christological explanation of the Old Testament and the ecclesial understanding of the central mystery of Christ and the Church as witnessed to by the Scriptures. When they speak of apostolic traditions transmitted orally they have in mind liturgical and disciplinary practices held universally and with an origin which, even if it is not attested by Scripture, seems to be bound up with that of the Church.[11]

St.Paul says that he himself “received” from the Lord what he “transmits” (1 Cor 11:23). In St.Paul the content of “tradition” is composed of two groups of objects. Firstly, the basic message of the faith (deposit of faith) which must be received as a word from God. It is essentially centred on the death and resurrection of Christ. And secondly, this central message is handed over to the communities following their internal discipline or Christian behaviour. In other words, tradition is also “the explanation which is made of this deposit of faith, as a result of its being lived and defended, generation after generation, by the people of God”.[12] In this context, we need to make a distinction between “actively transmitted” tradition and a tradition having an “objective existence” (e.g. the Word of God) independently of the living subject which transmits them.[13] It is necessary to guard against unconsciously identifying the distinction between a ‘statement of faith’ and ‘rules of conduct’.[14] However, when dealing with St. Paul, one should not separate too sharply the tradition of the paschal faith from the tradition of apostolic rules of conduct since both build up the community. What is noteworthy here is that the two categories of tradition are not entirely of equal standing.[15]

St.Paul requests fidelity to the deposit of faith: “Follow the pattern of the sound words which you have heard from me,…. Guard the truth that has been entrusted to you by the Holy Spirit” (2 Tim 1:13-14). Here the “pattern”, writes Congar, signifies “outline, sketch, a summary presentation, a general definition; their model, example”.[16] In other words, it is ‘a brief note or a figure intended, not to be reproduced as a model, but to serve as an outline, as a suggested basis which must be completed and filled out by a detailed treatment’.[17]

The past, as Robert Taft notes, is only instructive and not normative. History does not teach us “what we should do today, and we study the past not to imitate it, but simply to understand. What the Church adheres to is not history but tradition, and tradition is not the past but the Church’s self-consciousness now of the present living reality that has been handed on to it out of its past. In judging what is tradition the Church, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, looks not to the past but within, to itself”.[18] “History is not the past. Rather it is the contemporary understanding of life in terms of its origin and evolution as seen through the prism of our present concern”.[19]

Preserving the tradition does not exclude progress and new development. According to the Instruction of the Oriental Congregation, “No Church, Eastern or Western has ever been able to survive without adapting itself continuously to the changing conditions of life. Rather, the Church guards against every undue and inopportune precipitation, requiring that any eventual modification be not only well prepared but also inspired and conforming to the genuine tradition”.[20]

Tradition is not a second source. It is, along with Scripture, “another and complementary way of handing on (these) truths. Furthermore, it acts as a vehicle for traditions, by which we mean customs, practices and rites, and which derive ultimately from the apostles. But this is no more than saying that their liturgical and disciplinary character has doctrinal implications and significance, especially if it concerns the sacraments in the strict sense”.[21]

3. Reception of Tradition

Writing about the ‘transmission of faith’, Congar notes that the tradition is not only transmitted, it is also to be actively received. ‘Actively’, that is, there exists a subject who is ‘active’ in receiving it. Thus “tradition will not be merely a transmission followed by a passive, mechanical reception; it entails the making present in a human consciousness of a saving faith”.[22] Therefore, there needs to be a “living fidelity of a mind reflecting upon the meaning of what is heard, drawing conclusions, trying to determine the boundaries between what is true and what is not”.[23]

The reception is possible only when the ecclesial dimension of tradition is properly understood. For this the sensus Ecclesiae is of utmost importance. Whom does the sensus Ecclesiae belong to? Should it belong to all members of the Church or only to some of them? Congar excludes the second hypothesis because all members of the Body of Christ are alive and living, active and responsible. At the same time, though all are responsible, some may have greater responsibility in virtue of a commission or an office in the Church. Such was the apostles’ situation at the Church’s origin, and then the situation of those ministers commissioned by them to preside over and tend the Christian communities; and lastly, it is the position of the hierarchical ministers in the Church today.[24]

“Tradition is more than just continuity; it is a dynamic, living continuity. It is not reducible to its external aspects…It is not attainable except from within, by living in the communion of the Church”.[25] Hence it is imperative that the faithful are educated to imbibe the meaning of sensus Ecclesiae. In fact, the heritage of faith “is received through tradition which guarantees its continuity and authenticity throughout time, ever since antiquity and especially since the testimony of the Apostles. It is received with open heart, maintained, transmitted, taught, confirmed, and clarified by the Holy Spirit”.[26]


4. Tradition in Relation to Liturgy


Tradition has a special application to liturgical restoration, revision and adaptation. According to Congar, there are three main ‘monuments’ in which Tradition’s character is particularly evident: Liturgy, Fathers and Ordinary expressions of Christian life. Among them liturgy has a place without parallel as an instrument of tradition because of its content.[27] Liturgy is, so to say, “a privileged custodian and dispenser of Tradition”.[28] It is the principal instrument of Church’s Tradition.[29] For the Church, “liturgy is not a dead monument, a kind of Pantheon to be visited as one visits a museum, but a home which is always lived in, the conditioning envelope or atmosphere of its whole life”.[30]

According to one of the pioneers of liturgical renewal, Dom P.Gueranger, “it is in the liturgy that the Spirit who inspired the Scriptures still speaks to us; the liturgy is tradition itself, as its highest degree of power and solemnity”.[31] In the words of Pope Pius XII, liturgy is “the faithful mirror of teaching handed on by our forefathers”.[32]

A large part of Church’s belief has become known to us through prayer which helps to enter into communion with God. Thus liturgy is a privileged locus of Tradition, not only from the point of view of conservation and preservation, but also from that of progress and development. The part it plays in the progressive development of our dogmatic understanding of revelation is considerable (Lex orandi lex credendi). Moreover, it is clear that such growth and development must be controlled by a magisterium which makes constant reference to the objective standards of the apostolic kerygma and especially, for verification, to the scriptural witness.[33] Therefore the first requirement of every Eastern liturgical renewal, as is also the case for the liturgical reform in the West, notes Roman Instruction, “is that re-discovering full fidelity to their own liturgical traditions, benefiting from their riches and eliminating that which has altered their authenticity. Such heedfulness is not subordinate to but precedes so-called updating. Although delicate task that must be executed with care so as not to disturb souls, it must be coherently and constantly pursued if the Eastern Catholic Churches want to remain faithful to the mandate received”. However, our attempts to preserve traditions “do not take away from the rightful exigency to express, as much as possible, the Gospel in a plain and clear way for the contemporary man and woman. Every formula necessitates, therefore, unceasing vigilance to remain alive under the breath of the Spirit”.[34]

In addition, every Individual Church should be faithful to her own traditions regarding the sacred buildings and the arrangements of the interior space and sacred images. For this the clergy should have an in-depth knowledge of their own tradition and a constant, well established and systematic formation of the faithful so that they may be able to fully perceive the richness of the signs entrusted to them. In order to achieve this aim, it is imperative that our Church comes to an acceptable understanding about the liturgical traditions of our Church. However, “fidelity does not imply anachronistic fixation, as the evolution of sacred art – even in the East – demonstrates, but rather, development that is fully coherent within the profound and, immutable meaning of how it is celebrated in the liturgy”.[35]

The ‘rites’ play an important role in the liturgy. Cardinal Ratzinger defines ‘rite’ as “the expression that has become form, of ecclesiality and of Church’s identity as a historically transcendent communion of liturgical prayer and action”.[36] According to him, the rite contains “an essential exposition of the biblical legacy that goes beyond the limits of the individual rites, and thus it shares in the authority of the Church’s faith in its fundamental form”.[37] For this reason, the rituals are to a great extent conservative. Besides, liturgy being a complex act in which many people participate in many different ways, it is by nature ‘conservative and restive to change’.[38] Very often the rituals are transmitted to generations in a fixed manner. Of course, in this transmission, there is the risk of empty formalism, a tradition in the sense of mechanical or routine gesture. On the other hand, we should also admit that the rituals preserve certain truths while everything else undergoes changes. In the eventful celebrations of Christmas, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter etc. the rituals have preserved for us a heritage offering us a powerful communion in the same reality between peoples separated by centuries.[39]


5. Restoration as Reformation

What is restoration? According to Ratzinger “if by ‘restoration’ is meant a turning back, no restoration of such kind is possible. The Church moves forward toward the consummation of history, she looks ahead to the Lord who is coming. No, there is no ‘restoration’ whatsoever in this sense. But, if by restoration we understand the search for a new balance after all the exaggerations of an indiscriminate opening to the world, after the overly positive interpretations of an agnostic and atheistic world, well then a restoration understood in this sense (a newly found balance of orientations and values within the Catholic totality) is altogether desirable and, for that matter, is already in operation in the Church”.[40] In the light of negative press comments on Cardinal’s opinion about restoration, he made a written statement on it. He wrote: “Above all I should simply like to recall what I really said: there is no return to the past. A restoration understood thus is not only impossible but also not even desirable. The Church moves forward to the consummation of history, she looks ahead to the Lord who is coming. If, however, the term ‘restoration’ is understood according to its semantic content, that is to say, as a recovery of lost values, within a new totality, then I would like to say that this precisely is the task that imposes itself today in the second phase  post-conciliar period. Yet the word ‘restoration’ is linguistically laden in such a way for us moderns that it is difficult to attribute this meaning to it. In reality it literally means the same as the word ‘reform’, a term that has a wholly different sound to us today”.[41]

Ratzinger objects to the ‘romantic archaeologism’ of certain liturgists ‘who would throw out everything done after Gregory the Great as being an excrescence  and a sign of decadence. For them, the criterion of liturgical renewal was not ‘What ought to be done today?’ but ‘What was it like then’? They forget that the Church is living and that her liturgy cannot be frozen at the stage reached in the city of Rome prior to the onset of the Middle Ages”.[42] In his words, ‘pure archaism is fruitless, as is pure modernism’.[43] However, he observes also that the medieval Church developed a liturgical depth which must be carefully examined before it is abandoned.

The Fathers, and the Councils themselves, thought of Councils as continuing, in new forms and in response to the demands of their time, the disclosure of God’s mystery made by the prophets, the Lord and the apostles. Thus in tradition a growth occurs, in the sense that what was involved in the deposit inherited from the apostles is developed and unfolded.[44] Thus tradition is not only ‘transmission’ but also ‘development’. While history is a science of humankind’s past, tradition is ‘God’s continuous inspiration of the Church’.[45]

According to Ratzinger, there are two fundamentally different views on the structure of liturgical celebrations: one view sees liturgy as creativity, freedom, celebration and community. The other view, consequently, considers things like rite, obligation, interiority and Church order as negative factors which belong to the “old” liturgy which is to be superseded. For those who hold this view, liturgy is not something officially prescribed ritual but a concrete celebration, fashioned as an authentic expression of the celebrating community, with the minimum of external control. For them the Missal is only a guidebook.[46] Obviously, this negative attitude will be detrimental to liturgical restoration and reformation.

6. Liturgy and Organic Development


According to the Decree on the Catholic Eastern Churches, changes in the liturgy are to be introduced only to forward its “organic growth” (OE 6). The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy says that in the process of liturgical renewal new forms adopted should in some way grow “organically” from forms already existing (SC 23).

The Congregation for the Eastern Churches explains the “organic growth” in the following words: “The organic progress in every Church sui iuris, implies taking into account first of all the roots from which the heritage of these Churches was initially developed, mainly in Jerusalem, Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople, Armenia, and in the ancient empire of Persia; and secondly, the manner in which such traditions were transmitted, adapting to the various circumstances and places but maintained in a coherent organic continuity”.[47] Then the Instruction quotes a discourse of Pope Paul VI delivered to the members of the Commission for the Revision of the Oriental Code which reads: “In presenting new things it is necessary to pay attention to take sufficiently into account the system of the transmitted message. Any renewal, in fact, should be coherent and agree with sound tradition, in such a way that the new norms do not appear as an extraneous body forced into an ecclesiastical composite, but blossoming as though spontaneously from already existing norms”.[48] Further, while modifying ancient liturgical practice, “it must be determined if the element to be introduced is coherent with contextual meaning in which it is placed. Such a context should be understood beginning with eventual references to Sacred Scripture, interpretations of the Holy Fathers, liturgical reforms previously made and mystagogical catechesis. Here it must be verified that the new change is homogenous with the symbolic language, with the images and the style specific to the liturgy of the particular Church”. [49]

Cardinal Ratzinger says that the liturgy cannot be compared to a piece of technical instrument or something manufactured, but to a plant, something organic that grows and whose laws of growth determine the possibilities of further development.[50]

Addressing the Syro-Malabar Bishops during their ad limina visit in 1980, Pope John Paul II said that the Syro-Malabar liturgical renewal must be based on ‘fidelity to genuine ecclesial traditions and open to the needs of the faithful, to the culture and to possible changes by way of organic progress’.[51]

Cardinal Rubin, Prefect of the Oriental congregation, made the following remarks on the Syro-Malabar liturgical renewal while addressing the Syro-Malabar Bishops in 1980: “In every living organism there must co-exist a power of assimilating new elements and a power of conservation, that is, of remaining oneself, of maintaining the identity. This fidelity must be presupposed; otherwise, one simply undergoes, and then is dilution and not vital assimilation. This ‘appropriate and organic development’, therefore, implies the avoidance of immobilism, on the one hand, but also of instability, on the other”. He continued: “I believe that in reconciling these two exigencies lies the key to the solution of the problem of revision, renewal and adaptation of the liturgy”.[52]

The “Fundamental Orientations concerning the Syro-Malabar Liturgy” given by Rome in 1998 has this to say about organic growth: “The just and praiseworthy concern to adapt liturgical celebrations to present-day living conditions and local culture, whether in the eparchies in the Church’s own territory or in mission eparchies, must not lead us to forget the basic principle of the secular life of liturgical worship, that of organic progress”.[53] Therefore, these adaptations have to respect “those principles fundamental to all Christian  liturgies and in particular, the Syro-Oriental liturgy”.[54]

In this context, it is worthy of note an observation made by Robert Taft: “It has been my constant observation”, writes he, “that liturgies do not grow evenly, like living organisms. Rather, their individual structures possess a life of their own. More like cancer than native cells, they can appear like aggressors, showing riotous growth at a time when all else lies dormant”.[55]

7. Liturgy and Inculturation


According to Vatican II, “even in the liturgy the Church does not wish to impose a rigid uniformity in matters which do not involve the faith or the good of the whole community. Rather does she respect and foster the qualities and talents of the various races and nations”. Among these qualities what is not bound up with superstition and error, the Church is prepared to admit into the liturgy, provided “they harmonize with its true and authentic spirit” (SC 37).

In 1980 the Oriental Congregation wrote to the Syro-Malabar Bishops about the need of “cultural integration”. The Syro-Malabar Church needs “an integration of the Eastern Rite with authentically Eastern spirituality and theology… This cannot be achieved without serious study and without acceptance in depth of the liturgical and patristic heritage, of which the Eastern rite is a privileged expression”.[56] Besides, it needs “the integration with the culture and the tradition (better: into the cultures and the traditions) of India. This is in view of the necessary ‘inculturation’, by which is meant the assumption of the more solid and sounder realities which these traditions contain, and which so unmistakeably characterize the authentic physiognomy of the Indian people”.[57] And “the ‘assumption’ of the realities that characterize Indian culture implies necessarily study and understanding of Hinduism, especially through a mature contact with its manifold sources”.[58]

Other directives from the Oriental Congregation too have references to the topic of inculturation. Thus, the Final Judgement of 1985 makes a reference to the ‘Indian patrimony’ of the Syro-Malabar Church. It reads: “It is therefore devoutly to be hoped that the church of the St.Thomas Christians may once again find its roots, at once evangelical and truly original, Oriental and Indian…”.[59] It also said that Rome in no way opposes recommendation for legitimate Indianization.[60] Regarding music in the liturgy, the document notes that the texts of refrains and chants more suitable to Indian culture could be proposed.[61]

The Directives of 1988 expressed the readiness of Rome to consider “adaptations to local culture and sensibilities” and to open the way ‘to renewal and adaptations to historico-cultural context’.[62]

The whole issue of inculturation is a complex one. Having this reality in mind Cardinal Rubin told the Syro-Malabar Bishops in 1980: “… it seems to me that the problem of inculturation  facing the Church, say, in Africa – where a true philosophy does not exist – is different from that of inculturation in India, where the Church is confronted by the various forms of Hinduism, philosophical thought so weighty that it has influenced our Western Idealists (from Schopenauer to Hegel) and – in ancient times – perhaps Plato himself”.[63]

According to Vatican II, the liturgy is “made up of unchangeable elements divinely instituted and of elements subject to change. These latter not only may be changed but ought to be changed with the passage of time, if they have suffered from the intrusion of anything out of harmony with the inner nature of the liturgy or have become less suitable” (SC 21). To a question on the changeable and unchangeable elements in the liturgy and the issue of inculturation in the mission lands, Cardinal Ratzinger replied as follows: “It must be said that both the Constitution on the Liturgy and the Decree on the Church’s Missionary activity explicitly allow for the possibility of far-reaching adaptations to the customs and cultic traditions of peoples. To that extent the new Missal is only providing a framework for mission lands. It is a feature of the new Missal that its very many ad libitum provisions give a great deal of scope for local variations”.[64] At the same time, Ratzinger has a word of caution too. These things should not be taken too naively and simplistically, he says. Therefore he writes that it would be “very dangerous to suggest that missionary liturgies could be created overnight, so to speak, by decision of Bishops’ conferences, which would themselves be dependent on memoranda drawn up by academics. Liturgy does not come about through regulation”.[65] Further he observes that the liturgical ‘rites’ are not simply products of inculturation, though they have incorporated many elements from the local culture. In his opinion, “the Christian faith can never be separated from the soil of sacred events”.[66]

8. Active Participation and Pastoral Implications


One of the contributions of Vatican II was the impetus it gave to the active participation of the faithful. “Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that full, conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebration which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy”. So much so, “the full and active participation of all the people” should be the aim to be considered before all else in the restoration and renewal of the liturgy (SC 14).In order to promote active participation, both internal and external, the pastors need to take into account the ‘age, condition, way of life and standard of religious culture of the people’ (SC 19).

But, the word ‘participation’ is sometimes misunderstood to mean “something external, entailing a need for general activity, as if as many people, as often as possible, should be visibly engaged in action”.[67] There is an impression that the active participation is speaking, singing, preaching, reading etc. But, Vatican II also included silence as part of active participation. For “silence facilitates a really deep, personal participation, allowing us to listen inwardly to the Lord’s Word. Many liturgies now lack of all trace of this silence”.[68] The real ‘actio’ in the liturgy, in which we are supposed to participate, notes Cardinal Ratzinger, “is the action of God himself. This is what is new and distinctive about the Christian liturgy: God himself acts and does what is essential”.[69]

The term ‘pastoral’ also needs to be understood in a correct perspective. In the name of ‘pastoral’, liturgy “cannot be an expression of what is current and transitory, for it expresses the mystery of the Holy. Many people have felt and said that liturgy must be ‘made’ by the whole community if it is really to belong to them. Such an attitude has led to the ‘success’ of the liturgy being measured by its effect at the level of spectacle and entertainment. It is to lose sight of what is distinctive to the liturgy, which does not come from what we do but from the fact that something is taking place here that all of us together cannot ‘make’”.[70]

From a pastoral point of view, simplification of liturgy is good and useful. But, “however much the liturgy is simplified and rendered comprehensible, the mystery of God’s action operating through the Church’s acts must remain untouched. This applies also to the heart of the liturgy: as far as both priest and people are concerned, it is something given, that cannot be manipulated. It partakes of the reality of the whole Church”.[71] Therefore, Ratzinger urges to oppose ‘rationalistic relativism and pastoral infantilism’ because they ‘degrade the liturgy’.[72] We also need to be led ‘from form to the content’. In other words, “we need an education which will help us to grow into an inner appropriation of the Church’s common liturgy”.[73]

However, in the pastoral context, the local customs play an important role in the celebration of the liturgy. Therefore, referring to CCEO 1507 – 1509, the Roman Instruction considers custom as the fruit of the continuous and uncontested practice of the local community and precious because it is rooted in the life of the people. However, concerning this subject “a wise discernment will be necessary to preserve that which is most valid and stimulating for a true Christian flourishing and to intervene in that which is superfluous or less suitable to the particular genuine traditions”.[74] Further, the concluding paragraph of the Instruction refers to the nature of the Instruction in the following words: “The indications contained here can be completed by the reflection and contribution of the individual Churches sui iuris, dedicating the necessary attention to them by studying how they should be applied in the various individual traditions and conditions”.[75] The reasoning behind this position seems to be what the “Directives” of 1988 referred to: ‘The good of the faithful is the pastoral norm governing all liturgical legislation’.[76] According to Robert Taft, the pastoral choices are “not ineluctable conclusions from history or theology”.[77]

9. Lessons from Latin Liturgical Renewal


In the first century (ca. AD 64) when the Church of Rome was established  the prevalent language in Rome was a popular type of Greek. The Latinization of the Western liturgy began in North Africa from the third century, thanks to Tertullian, Cyprian, Augustine and others. It was Pope Victor I (+203), an African by birth, who made the first attempt to introduce Latin into the liturgy of the Roman Church. The shift from Greek to Latin and the transitional period of bilingualism speak highly of the Roman Church’s pastoral sensitivity. Despite the Roman proverbial veneration for the traditions, they decided in favour of Latin language which people understood. It teaches us that “fidelity to tradition means adapting to the needs of the people in every age and of every cultural tradition”.[78] The transition from Greek to Latin was not merely a change of liturgical language. It was accompanied also by creativity composing new prayers in Latin itself.


The normal historical process of liturgical renewal had traditionally been the work of generations. The liturgical movement in the West began in 19th century France. Step One was restoration, a process whereby rites were slowly purged of less suitable later accretions and returned to a purer and more authentic state. This restoration phase, a slow, step-by-step renewal, was based on and accompanied by a lengthy process of study, lively debates and the propagation of ideas through journals and Liturgical Weeks; the founding of new liturgical periodicals, centres and societies… – all leading over a period of several generations, to the reforms of Vatican II. And underlying this official restoration, providing its firm foundation, was a massive effort of scholarship in the gathering, collating, editing, and studying of manuscripts and other liturgical and theological sources. In short, a whole century of intensive scholarship and maturation ultimately paved the way for the liturgical reforms of the Roman Rite in Vatican II.[79]

The Roman Instruction, referring to SC 23 which speaks about the need of making investigation into the theological, historical and pastoral aspects in the process of restoration, revision and adaptation, notes: “Indeed, the liturgical reform desired by the Second Vatican Council was able to be carried out precisely because it was preceded, and successfully followed , by lengthy experimentation, intense historical studies, critical textual analyses, theological studies, biblical studies and pastoral studies, culminating in the work of individual and committee research, both at the local and international level. Without all this, the references, frameworks, and precise contents necessary for a valid endeavour would not have been obtained”.[80]

  1. 10.  Liturgical Language


The liturgical texts are meant to nourish the faith of the people and to lift their hearts and minds to God. This is possible only when the texts are effective to communicate the message intended by the texts. Hence a good translation is necessary. The non-verbal parts of the liturgy (symbols, gestures etc.) communicate through visual senses whereas the verbal parts (prayers, hymns etc.) are communicated through aural contact. While some gestures, symbols, words etc. are transculturally understood (Amen, Halleluia, Cross etc.), some others are culturally bound as far as an assembly is concerned. This problem can be solved in two ways: either by translating texts into local idioms or by composing new prayers.

The “Fifth Instruction” on the use of vernacular in the liturgy given to the Latin Church by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments[81] has, among others, the following principles to be followed in the translation of the liturgical texts:

  • The words used in the liturgy (as well as in the Bible) are not intended primarily to express the interior disposition of the faithful; rather, they express truths which transcend time and space (No.19).
  • While it is permissible to use the style of the vernacular, the translation must be integral without tarnishing the content, and without paraphrasing (No.20).
  • Translation should be ‘beautiful’, ‘dignified’ and with ‘doctrinal precision’ (No.25).
  • It is the task of the homily or catechesis to explain certain texts which may not be easily understood (No.29).

Anyway, the liturgical language is different from colloquial language or even literary language of the people. It has a genre of its own. It has to be created by use by every Church. The liturgical language is inspired by Bible, devotion, spirituality etc. It is essentially a symbolic language and is ordered to express the divine.[82]

CCEO 657/2 specifies that the right to approve the translation of the liturgical books is up to the competent authority for the approval of the liturgical books themselves, after having sent a report to the Apostolic see in the case of patriarchal, major archiepiscopal and metropolitan Churches sui iuris.


  1. 11.   A Practical Model for Syro-Malabar Approach towards Restoration and Revision


“In the Syro-malabar tradition the process of renewal had barely begun”, notes Robert Taft, “when Malayalm was introduced into the liturgy with the publication at Alwaye of the bilingual Missal of July 3, 1962. That changed everything. At once the Syro-Malabar liturgy was no longer the arcane preserve of small coterie of clerical professionals who knew Syriac, but the property of the whole people of God”.[83] History tells us that the Syro-Malabar Church tried to do in a generation what the Roman Church, with infinitely greater resources, took a century to accomplish.[84] Therefore the study of the Syro-Malabar liturgical reform is a very complex issue which needs to be dealt with a proper historical understanding of the liturgical renewal and the experience of the last 50 years or so. A remark of Taft is relevant in this context: “All argumentation the polemicists have engaged in to prove from history or theology that the Creed should or should not be in the Eucharistic Liturgy, that there should not be an Offertory Procession of the people, that proleptic language must be jettisoned, that Eucharist should be celebrated facing the people or facing East, ultimately proves nothing. All that the study of the past can show us is what has been customary, what has changed, and the reasons why”.[85]  What history shows us is not one ideal form, but variety even within the various stages of one and the same tradition.[86] The only ‘bad liturgy’, says Taft, is that which does not contribute to the sanctification of God’s people.[87]

Speaking about the principles to guide liturgical renewal, Taft writes: “God expects those in pastoral charge of their flocks to see to it that the liturgy carries out its salvific purpose as perfectly as possible. Sometimes, this will mean liturgical reform and change. How should that be done? Vatican II and the Roman Pontiffs have already provided the fundamental principles and guidelines. A dose of realism and common sense provides the rest”.[88]

Then Taft points out 9 principles that may be followed in this process. Though these principles were proposed in the Syro-Malabar Synod held in the Vatican in 1996, they were not taken up for discussion by the Syro-Malabar bishops at any stage. It may be useful to ponder over them in the present context. The principles are:

  1. Recovery of the authentic tradition where it has eroded


The process of recovering tradition is a dialectic of “traditio et progressio” mandated by Vatican II. Authentic tradition cannot be considered in a vacuum outside of history. One problem with every liturgy is the question of “hybridisms”. “Like it or not”, observes Taft, “the truth of the matter is that liturgies have ALWAYS influenced one another and shall continue to do so”.[89] The Coptic and West Syrian Rites influenced the Ethiopian Rite; the West Syrian and Chaldean Rites influenced Maronite Rite; the Rite of Jerusalem influenced the Byzantines, the West Syrians and the Armenians; and the Byzantines influenced just about everybody. Even the Armenian Orthodox Church (besides the Armenian Catholic Church) borrowed elements from Mesopotamia, Cappodocia, Jesrusalem, and even Latin usages including the bishop’s mitre and ring, ordination rites etc.[90] Therefore Taft says: “In my view, then, to consider the Syro-Malabar tradition as simply the East Syrian Rite without taking any account of its evolution during more than a millennium of its existence in Southwest India, flies in the face of history. That would be like ignoring 50% of the vocabulary of English because it entered the English language from Norman French after the Battle of Hastings in 1066”.[91]

Again, “No tradition can realistically pretend to ignore 497 years of its history. That is not to say that what happened in those years was always positive, nor is to say that some of it should not be cast into the rubbish. It does mean that it cannot be ignored, for it is a huge part of (your) history, and must be dealt with realistically”.[92]

Taft also notes that fidelity to tradition needs to be a certain extent selective. Otherwise, the Syro-Malabar Church will have to stop daily Eucharistic celebration; may have to consider removing the Institution Narrative from the Anaphora of Mar Addai and Mar Mari. Catholicos Mar Aba introduced some Greek anaphoras in 6th century. In 7th century Catholicos Iso Yahb III reduced the number of anaphoras to three. Many similar changes occurred in the Liturgy of the Hours. So what is the “authentic” East Syrian/Chaldean tradition?, asks Taft. He concludes: “A living Rite is not some abstract ‘authentic tradition’, but a concrete and ever-changing historical reality that has existed in several forms, some of them good, some of them less so. The ‘authentic tradition’ for today is not some self-evident absolute, but a matter of selective choice within the framework of the tradition, and within the legitimate limits set by the Church”.[93]

  1. Renewal where needed


While keeping fidelity to tradition, liturgical adaptation and renewal, via organic development, in accord with the nature and genius of the tradition, too is needed. This means that even tradition with small “t” must be respected within its own limits. At the same time, the renewed liturgy must be adapted to the needs and cultures of God’s people today.[94]

  1. Fidelity to the substantial unity of the Rite


The rule of “substantial unity” does not outlaw varying legitimate local customs. Nor can it take away from the local Ordinary his right and duty to resolve concrete pastoral issues in the light of the overriding law of the good of the faithful. Such issues are resolved by the common norms of Canon Law, which makes provision for customs, even customs “contra legem”.[95]

4. Seriousness of purpose and preparation


The rule of substantial unity demands that change in the liturgy be carried out only with the utmost care and seriousness, after much study and preparation.[96]

5. Ecumenism

Every Catholic tradition must be attentive, in any change, not to distance itself unnecessarily from other traditions, especially from the tradition of Sister Churches.[97]

6. Inculturation and 7. Implementation and ongoing Formation

Inculturation and implementation should[98] be accompanied by liturgical formation.

8. Pastoral realism


When there are divided opinions on matters not affecting any doctrine, then common sense dictates a compromise solution, and where that is not attainable, then freedom in non-essentials must be left to the local hierarchs. Of course compromise solutions are never the ideal. But to ignore the will of an overwhelming majority in an issue of pastoral practice not touching faith or morals would fly in the face of the Catholic practice and teaching.[99]

9. Concentration on the essentials

Liturgy is not some abstraction. It exists to contribute to the glory of God. Our glorification of God is his gift to us, not our gift to him. And this is our sanctification, which results from that “communio sanctorum” that is the Church. Therefore, concentrate on the essentials.[100]

To these we may add also an observation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. “There must be no innovation unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them”. And, “as far as possible, notable differences between the rites used in adjacent regions should be avoided” (SC 23). (Here ‘rites’ means ritual actions within the same Individual Church).



Tradition is not simply history. Instead, it is the memory of the past kept alive for the people of the present. Restoration is always accompanied by revision. They are the two sides of the same reality. Any revision, especially in the realm of liturgy, cannot ignore the need for inculturation. Since culture is dynamic and not static, adaptation and inculturation of the liturgy is a continuous process which every generation needs to address.

The Syro-Malabar Church which carries a long history of 2000 years and influences of the East Syrian and Western traditions coupled with Indian elements, should face the present challenge of restoration and revision adhering to the basic principles of liturgy and the pastoral demands of the present circumstances. Sacrosanctum Concilium and Orientalium Ecclesiarum of Vatican II, the specific magisterial documents given to the Syro-Malabar Church during the last thirty years or so, and the decisions of the Syro-Malabar Bishops’ Synod are sufficient guidelines to set off the process of restoration, revision and adaptation of the Syro-Malabar liturgy.


[1]Y.Congar, Tradition and Traditions. An Historical and Theological Essay, London 1966, p.xix
[2] Congar , Tradition, p.234
[3] Congar, Tradition, p.234
[4] Congar, Tradition, p.234
[5] Apostolic Letter Orientale Lumen (1995), No.5
[6] Orientale Lumen, No.8
[7] Orientale Lumen, No.1
[8] Roman Documents on the Syro-Malabar Liturgy, Kottayam 1999, p.141-142
[9] Congar, Tradition, p.24.
[10] J.Kallrangatt, Dimensions and Perspectives of Oriental Theology, in X.Koodapuzha (Ed.), Eastern Theological Reflections in India, Kottayam 1999, p.88-89
[11] Congar, Tradition, p.63
[12] Congar, Tradition,p.267
[13] Congar, Tradition, p.297
[14] Congar, p.10. Rules concerning the wearing of the veil or the silence of women in 1 Cor 11:5 ff; 14:34 are examples of ‘Rules of conduct’.
[15] Congar, Tradition, p.10-11
[16] Congar, Tradition, p.22
[17] Congar, Tradition, p.22
[18]  J.Porunnedom (ed.),Acts of the Synod of Bishops of the Syro-Malabar Church held in the Vatican from 8 to 16 January 1996, Kochi 1996, p.129
[19] Robert Taft, The Liturgical Year: Studies, Prospects, Reflections, in Worship 55(1981) 2-3
[20] Congregation for the Eastern Churches, Instruction for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions of the Code of Canons of the eastern Churches, Rome 1996, No.11
[21] Congar, Tradition, p.64
[22] Congar, Tradition, p.253
[23] Congar, Tradition,  p.254
[24] Congar, Tradition, p.321
[25] Congar, Tradition,  p.105
[26] Instruction 1996, No.17
[27] Congar, Tradition,  p.427
[28] Congar, Tradition,  p.354
[29] Congar, Tradition,  p.434
[30] Congar, Tradition,  p.428
[31] Quoted  in Congar, Tradition,  p.434
[32] Encyclical Ad Coeli Reginam (1954), AAS 46 (1954) 631
[33] Congar, Tradition, p.429-430
[34] Instruction 1996, No.18
[35] Instruction 1996, No. 109
[36] The Spirit of the Liturgy, San Francisco 2000,  p.166
[37] The Spirit of the Liturgy, p.167
[38] A.Kavanagh, Elements of Rite, Monnesota 1990, Reprint, Bangalore 1996, p.35
[39] Congar, Tradition, p.428-429
[40] J.Ratzinger – V.Messori, The Ratzinger Report, San Francisco 1985, p.37-38
[41] The Ratzinger Report,p.38, Footnote No.5
[42] The Ratzinger Report, p.132
[43] The Ratzinger Report, p.132
[44] Congar, Tradition, p.267
[45] Congar, Tradition, p.452
[46] J.Ratzinger, Feast of Faith, San Francisco 1986, p.61
[47] Instruction 1996, No.12
[48] Instruction 1996, No.12
[49] Instruction 1996, No.20
[50] The Spirit of the Liturgy, p.165
[51] Roman Documents on the Syro-Malabar Liturgy, Kottayam 1999, p.65
[52] Roman Documents, p.71
[53] Roman Documents, p.287
[54] Roman Documents, p.287
[55] How Liturgies Grow: The Evolution of the Byzantine Divine Liturgy, OCP 43 (1977) 360. (These growths, according to Taft, occurred mainly in three places: Enarxis, Transfer of Gifts and Communion and Dismissal Service)
[56] Roman Documents, p.48
[57] Roman Documents, p.48
[58] Roman Documents, p.48
[59] Roman Documents, p.114
[60] Roman Documents, p.132
[61] Roman Documents, p.132
[62] Roman Documents, p.141
[63] Roman Documents, p.57
[64] Feast of Faith, p.80
[65] Feast of Faith, p.81
[66] The Spirit of the Liturgy, p.164
[67]  The Spirit of the Liturgy, p.171
[68] The Ratzinger Report, p. 127
[69] The Spirit of the Liturgy, p.173
[70] The Ratzinger Report, p.126
[71] The Ratzinger Report, p.120
[72] The Ratzinger report, p.121
[73] Feast of Faith,p.71
[74] Instruction 1996, No.28
[75] Instruction 1996, No.112
[76] Roman documents, p.143
[77] Acts of the Synod, p.130
[78] A. Chupungco, History of the Liturgy Until the Fourth Century, in Handbook for Liturgical Studies I,Collegeville 1997, p.106
[79] Acts of the Synod, p.125
[80] Instruction 1996, No.19
[81] Liturgiam Authenticam (2001)
[82] Anscar Chupungco, The Translation of Liturgical Texts, in Handbook for Liturgical Studies I, p.395 – 396
[83] Acts of the Synod, p.126
[84] Acts of  the Synod, p.127
[85] Acts of the Synod, p.129
[86] Acts of the Synod, p.130
[87] Acts of the Synod, p.130
[88] Acts of the Synod, p.130
[89] Acts of the Synod, p.131
[90] Acts of the Synod, p.131
[91] Acts of the Synod, p.132
[92] Acts of the Synod, p.132
[93] Acts of the Synod, p.132
[94] Acts of the Synod , p.133
[95] Acts of the Synod, p.133
[96] Acts of the Synod, p.133
[97] Acts of the Synod, p.134
[98] Acts of the Synod, p.135
[99] Acts of the Synod, p.136
[100] Acts of the Synod, p.136

Principles of Liturgical Theology and the Indian Context

Principles of Liturgical Theology and the Indian Context

Antony Nariculam


Today there is no difference of opinion regarding pluralism in theology and theological methodology. But, pluralism that claims that all points of view are of equal value ends up in relativism. All opinions, as a matter of fact, have a common reference point. When they are cut off from this common reality, it amounts to relativism. Such relativism destroys the very meaning of pluralism.

Pluralism is not a threat to unity rather it enhances unity. According to Vatican II decree on the Catholic Eastern Churches the variety of the Individual Churches in the universal Church ‘so far from diminishing its unity, rather serves to emphasize it’ (0E 2). The obstacle to unity is the attitude of exclusivity. However, for the sake of unity in diversity, the Church cannot be indifferent to doctrinal responsibility. Therefore, theological pluralism should be faithful to the Revelation, the sensus fidelium and the Magisterium. Legitimate pluralism in theology is essential for the Church to be meaningful to all peoples of all cultures. This is all the more needed in the theology of the liturgy since worship is an expression of faith in signs and symbols marked by cultures.

The theology of the liturgy is relatively a new subject in the study of liturgiology. Consequently, from ‘how’ to do liturgy (rites, rubrics etc.) liturgiology turned to ‘what’ is done in worship. In other words, from the category of a ‘practical’ subject, it came under the theological discipline.

The early scholars of the Liturgical Movement (Dom Gueranger, Dom Lambert Beauduin, Romano Guardini and later Odo Casel, Dom Cyprian Vagaggini, Josef Jungmann etc.) dedicated more of their efforts to the history of the liturgy though they did not fail to reflect on the theology of the liturgy too (especially Odo Casel and Cyprian Vagaggini). In the recent past, there has been greater interest among the scholars to understand more deeply what liturgy is from a theological perspective. So much so, the 17th Congress of Societas Liturgica, an International Society for Liturgical Study and Renewal, held in 1999, took up the theme “Liturgical Theology” for its deliberations.

This paper has two parts. This article is an attempt to spell out some general principles in liturgical theology which are fundamental to contextualizing or inculturating the liturgy and to applying them to the inter-ritual ecclesial situation in India. When we look at theology from an ‘Eastern’ perspective, the rupture between theological study and liturgical experience is an unhealthy symptom. The tenets of Indian religious ethos go more in line with the Eastern approach towards theologizing and hence a deeper understanding of Eastern and Western theology and liturgy can be of immense help to enrich the three Individual Churches in India.


  1. Theology and Theological Teaching


The Easterners generally make a distinction between “theology” and “theological teaching”. Theology is an existential experience of God whereas the theological teaching is scientific exposition of the experiential knowledge of God. For them the eternal bliss in heaven is not the ‘vision’ of God, but ‘deification’ (divinization), the union with the Trinity. Theology in the East, therefore, is more an outcome of a lived experience of God than an academic exercise.

In theology, the East prefers the apophatic way. Since God is a transcendental reality, human beings are incapable of fully comprehending Him. He is experienced in a personal relationship. The ultimate consequence of this relationship is the ‘mystical union’ (deification) with Him.

The Eastern theology makes a distinction between the “essence” and the “energy” in God. Human beings do not know the essence of God. The energy is the “acts” or the “grace” of God. In the mystical union with God we come into communion with God in His “energy” (grace) and not in His “essence”. But, this can be realized only through a

‘ sacramental fellowship’ with our brothers and sisters. Thus theology is not dogmatic assertions imposed on the people of God, rather it is truth gradually revealed in the Church through a personal encounter with the members of the Church. Therefore, a theologian is the one who has a genuine experience of God and who helps the people of God to live their faith without falling into errors. In the Eastern understanding a theologian is a ‘person of the Church’ (an ecclesial person) who shares the faith of the Church and the people of God. Faith is to be lived not only IN the Church, but also WITH the Church. The liturgy is the place where one can have this sacramental fellowship since every celebration is a communitarian experience in God, through Christ and in the unity of the Holy Spirit.

  1. Theology of Liturgy and Liturgical Theology


Among the liturgiologists there are some who make a distinction between the “Theology of the Liturgy” and “Liturgical Theology” (A.Schmemann, A.Kavanagh). For them the liturgical theology is theologia prima and the theology of the liturgy is theologia secunda. The liturgical theology is what happens in the celebration – in the divine-human act. The adage lex orandi lex credendi articulates well what is understood by liturgical theology.

The theology of the liturgy is liturgiology under various theological dimensions whereas the liturgical theology derives from the liturgical celebration which is a lived experience of faith. The theological disciplines (Trinity, Christology, ecclesiology, catechetics etc.), according to  this understanding, are explanations of a ‘foundational reality’, namely the celebration of the mysteries of God. A remark of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of Vatican II is of relevance in this context. After reminding us that the study of the sacred liturgy is to be ranked among the compulsory and major courses in the seminaries, the document notes: ‘Those who teach other subjects, especially dogmatic theology, Sacred Scripture, spiritual and pastoral theology, should expound the mystery of Christ and the history of salvation in a manner that will clearly set forth the connection between their subjects and the liturgy’ (SC 16).

In the liturgical theology there are two foundational principles. First of all, the liturgical community has a fundamental role in ‘shaping’ the liturgy. As a result, the ecclesial dimension (The Church as a worshipping community) is of vital importance. Secondly, the liturgical theology is based on historical liturgical rites.[1] Therefore, the liturgy has to be understood as something “given” to us. As St. Paul notes regarding the institution of the Eucharist, “I have received from the Lord what I also handed on to you” (1 Cor 11:23). In fact, the liturgy is not “made” by us, rather it “takes place”. The liturgy is not simply ‘produced’ by the talented celebrants. It is not something like ‘do-it-yourself’ performance. Instead it should manifest the holiness and action of God and it should be understood and experienced as a moment of salvation. Hence the ‘sacred’ liturgy must not be sacrificed for a ‘secular’ liturgy wherein the ‘sense of the sacred’ is obfuscated.

Some speak about ‘pre-Vatican’ and ‘post-Vatican’ liturgy. For them ‘pre-Vatican’ means rigidity and rubricism. The ‘post-Vatican’ liturgy, on the other hand, is described as the liturgy ‘fashioned by the concrete assembly’ in a particular place and time. For them the Missal is only a ‘guide book’. Consequently, a ‘successful’ and ‘participated’ celebration is understood in terms of ‘creativity’ and ‘spontaneity’ of the celebrants and the assembly.

Odo Casel is considered to be the one who contributed to a great extent in the 20th century to deepen the theological dimension of the liturgy. His main point is that of Mysteriengegenwart, that is, the presence in the mystery (in the sacrament) of the saving acts themselves. He found this theology beautifully expressed in the Prayer over the Gifts on the ninth Sunday after Pentecost. It runs as follows: ‘Lord, make us worthy to celebrate these mysteries. Each time we offer this memorial sacrifice the work of our redemption is accomplished’. The liturgical constitution refers to this liturgical dimension when it says that in the liturgy, especially in the divine sacrifice of the Eucharist, ‘the work of our redemption is accomplished’ (SC 2).

The Syro-Malabar Qurbana too has similar prayers. Before the Institution Narrative the celebrant prays: ‘Christ left for us the memorial of our salvation, this redemptive mystery which we now offer before you’.[2] On another occasion the celebrant prays: ‘Lord our God, your beloved Son has given us these sacred mysteries for the redemption of human race’.[3] In the epicletic prayer we have the following: ‘May this Qurbana grant remission of our debts, forgiveness of our sins, great hope in the resurrection of the dead and new life in your heavenly kingdom with all those who have found favour in your presence’.[4]


3.   Rite and Celebration


The era of equating liturgy with rubrics is gone. However, since the liturgy continues to be celebrated using ‘texts’ and ‘rites’ the rubrics are not to be ignored in the celebrations. Here we need to make a distinction between the liturgy prescribed by the texts and the liturgy celebrated by the community. This distinction is made clear by the Roman Congregation for the Oriental Churches in a document given to the Syro-Malabar Church: ‘The clear, irreducible distinction between the “Rite” and the “Celebration” is to be maintained and rightly understood. By “Rite” is meant that “form of celebration” which is drawn up by the Church as such and which is to be found solely in the official liturgical books… By “Celebration” is meant that “form of celebration” which is carried out by the concrete assembly.[5] This does not mean that the celebrating community can alter the texts as it likes since any liturgical assembly is ‘hierarchical’ by definition. Rite and celebration are in fact mutually inclusive like a musical score and its performance. Therefore, it is essential that we distinguish between the theology of the liturgy and the “art” of celebration. The study of the history of the liturgy, comparative liturgy, biblical and patristic sources etc. will bring out some of the finest examples of euchological and anaphoral traditions which form part of the restored texts. But the aim of these texts should be to help people  celebrate liturgy meaningfully, experientially and fruitfully. The question of inclusive language, the uses of ‘vengeful’ psalms in the Divine Office etc are issues to be discussed against this background. To be meaningful and experiential, the texts need to be adapted. As Anscar Chupungco says, the refusal to adapt – a reluctance to adapt the message of the text to the intended audience with its existing culture – “amounts to a denial of the universality of salvation”.[6]Even St.Benedict, who loved the recitation of the psalms in the Divine Office said that if anyone found the distribution of the psalms unsatisfactory, they should arrange whatever they judged better.[7]

In this context, an observation made by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger about the restoration of the Liturgical texts is pertinent. He objects to ‘romantic archaeologism of certain professors of liturgy who would throw out everything done after Gregory the Great as being an excrescence and a sign of decadence. For them, the criterion of liturgical renewal was not “What ought to be done today?” but “What was it like then?” They forget that the Church is living and that her liturgy cannot be frozen at a stage reached in the city of Rome prior to the onset of the Middle Ages’.[8] In the words of Pope John Paul II, tradition is never “pure nostalgia for things or forms past, nor regret for lost privileges, but the living memory of the Bride, kept eternally youthful by the Love that dwells within her”.[9] In order to keep this ‘living memory’ and ‘eternal youthfulness’ the art of celebration has to play an important role. This is an area neglected to a certain extent in the post-Vatican liturgical renewal. In fact, Vatican II had given some norms to realize this goal when it referred to adapting the liturgy to the temperament and traditions of peoples.[10] In this ‘celebratory art’ emphasis is given to the assembly because they are ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation and a redeemed people’ (I Pt 2:9) called to come together to break the Word and the Bread and to thank and praise the Lord.

4.    The Ecclesial Dimension of the Liturgy


The ecclesial dimension – the relationship between the Church and the liturgy – is of particular consideration since the Church is best expressed in her liturgy. “Liturgical prayer certainly conforms and perfectly expresses the authentic deposit of faith… The Church, therefore, understands herself in depth precisely starting from her nature as a celebrating assembly. In this sense, if the Church makes the Eucharist, the Eucharist makes the Church…”.[11] Vatican II documents have underscored the profound relationship between the Church and the Eucharist.[12] The Ignatian saying ‘Eucharist makes the Church and the Church makes the Eucharist’ clearly expresses this relationship. The Encyclical Letter “Ecclesia de Eucharistia” of Pope John Paul II (2003) amply testifies to this understanding of the Church and the Eucharist (nos.21 – 25).

The purpose of liturgy, especially the Eucharist, is to express the Church as the unity of that Body whose head is Christ. The Eucharist is not merely ‘one among several’ sacraments. It is the ‘summit and source’ (SC 10). Therefore, any liturgical theology not having the Eucharist as the foundation of its whole structure is basically defective.[13]

The Eastern Churches have maintained in a special way the primacy of the liturgy as the ‘summit and source’ of their ecclesial life. They consider liturgy as the place where catechesis is imparted, the Scripture is proclaimed and explained and the diakonia finds its rightful place. In other words, the whole life of the Church is summarized in the liturgy.[14] This fact is evident in many Eastern Churches that were oppressed by hostile regimes. In many cases, they survived and even strengthened themselves through liturgical celebrations that sustained their faith.

The liturgy is commemorating and celebrating the salvific acts of God accomplished in the history of salvation. These acts are ‘experienced’ by us in the liturgy. This takes place in the Church, the sacrament of Christ. The liturgy (lex orandi) is the expression of what the Church believes (lex credendi). As SC notes, since the time of the apostles the Church has never failed to come together to celebrate the paschal mystery, celebrating the Eucharist and giving thanks to God in Jesus Christ through the power of the holy Spirit (SC 6). Hence, liturgy is the summit and source toward which the activity of the Church is directed and it is also the fount from which all her power flows (SC 10). Precisely for this reason Vatican II insists on the communitarian dimension of the liturgy (SC 26 – 32, 41 – 42). In fact, the loss of sense of fellowship in prayer constitutes a major reason for the lack of meaningful liturgy. The ‘Churchless’ Christian faith is a tragic consequence of the inadequate understanding of the Church as a community. According to A.Schmemann, without liturgy our understanding of the Church’s faith and doctrine is bound to be incomplete.[15]

5.   Liturgy and Active Participation


One of the major contributions of the liturgical constitution of Vatican II is the expression participatio actuosa, the active participation of the people in the liturgy. Unfortunately, the phrase ‘active participation’ is understood by many merely as external activities in the liturgy, such as responses of the people, singing by the choir, reading by the lectors etc. On the whole, attention is given to the people. But when we search for the original meaning of actio in the liturgy, it means ‘Eucharistic Prayer’ or ‘Anaphora’.[16] The real action in the liturgy is of God Himself. This is the ‘newness’ and the ‘distinctiveness’ of Christian liturgy. The bread and wine are ‘transubstantiated’ into the Body and Blood of Christ by actio divina. Then what is the role of the minister and the people in this actio? They ‘participate’ in the action of God. This has been made possible for us through the Incarnation of Christ. The ultimate aim of this participation is ‘deification’ – communion with God. In order to achieve this aim one has to ‘get transformed’ through the daily activities of life (lex vivendi).

The distinction between ‘participation in the liturgy’ and ‘liturgical participation’ will make this point clearer. The ‘presence’ of the people in the liturgy by means of prayers, hymns, offertory procession, dance etc. may be called, in a sense, ‘participation in the liturgy’. The ‘liturgical participation’ does not simply mean ‘being present’ in the celebration. It is getting transformed by being ‘united to the Lord’ (I Cor 6:17) and also to our brothers and sisters in order to transform the world into Christ – to be ‘one body and one Spirit’ in Him.[17]

Pope John Paul II has made a practical application of the meaning of active participation in the Eucharistic celebration in his Apostolic Exhortation “Mane Nobiscum Domine”. After referring to I Cor 11:17-22, 27-34 where St. Paul vigorously reaffirms the impropriety of a Eucharistic celebration lacking charity expressed by practical sharing with the poor, the Pope writes: ‘Can we not make this Year of the Eucharist an occasion for diocesan and parish communities to commit themselves in a particular way to responding with fraternal solicitude to one of the many forms of poverty present in our world? I think, for example, of the tragedy of hunger which plagues hundreds of millions of human beings, the diseases that afflict the developing countries, the loneliness of the elderly, the hardships faced by the unemployed, the struggles of immigrants… By our mutual love and, in particular, by our concern for those in need we will be recognized as true followers of Christ. This will be the criterion by which the authenticity of our Eucharistic celebration is judged’ (No.28. Emphasis added).

  1. 6.      Music in the Liturgy and the Liturgical Music


Vatican II describes the musical tradition of the Church as a treasure of inestimable value. The reason for this preeminence is that it forms a necessary or integral part of the solemn liturgy (SC 112). Therefore the chants and sacred music in the liturgical worship should be conducive to the lofty end for which they are intended. It must exclude all profanity not only in itself, but also in the manner in which it is executed.

It is not enough that there be ‘music in the liturgy’. What we need is ‘liturgical music’ in which the sacred music and the liturgy are inseparably bound together. Today, in many cases, the liturgical music is not lex orandi. Rather, it tries to become an ‘artistic piece’ or an ‘ornamentation’ to the sacred worship. It turns out to be an end in itself without leading the community to the ultimate aim of the liturgical celebration. Therefore, we need to rediscover what St. Augustine meant when he said, ‘those who sing, pray twice’.

In any discussion on the liturgical music, the Old Testament psalms could be a starting point. They display the whole range of human experiences which became songs of praise  before God. They were unfolding a dialogue with God expressing the hope, sorrow, joy, fear, gratitude etc. of the people of God. The early Church made these songs her own using them in the Christian liturgy.

The recent biblical and liturgical studies have brought to the forefront the “Christ of the Psalms”. Along with the christologically interpreted psalms, the early Christians took up also the manner of singing of the synagogue. The Benedictus and Magnificat were thus two christologically focused Christian hymns. For Christians Christ is the true David of the psalms. With this new key, the Christians entered into the prayer of Israel. The Holy Spirit who inspired David to sing and to pray, enables us too to pray in the psalms through Christ, in the Holy Spirit, to the Father.[18] In this perspective, the Church music is a gift of the Holy Spirit and it should be dealt with accordingly.

In the course of history two elements began to influence the sacred music. One is a preoccupation to allow greater freedom to the artistic aspect of music. Some artists hold that the artistic inspiration is free and it is wrong to impose on it laws and standard extraneous to art, whether they are religious or moral, since such rules hurt the dignity of art and the inspiration of the artist. Arguments of this kind, notes Pope Pius XII, violates the supreme and final goal of the sacred music, namely the devotion and better disposition of the faithful for the reception of the fruits of grace belonging to the celebration of the most holy mysteries of salvation.[19] The other influence is the secular music making inroads into the sacred music. The freedom of the artist and the influence of the sacred music are not negative elements in themselves. But, an undue preoccupation with the artistic freedom and an indiscriminate use of secular music are counterproductive. Consequently, at times the sacred music turns out to be parodies of secular music. In this context it is worth mentioning that some Eastern Churches continue to keep up the vocal music in the liturgy without the instruments in order to safeguard the sanctity of the sacred music.

As far as the Individual Churches in India are concerned, besides the general principles of the sacred music, they need to pay attention to SC 119 that speaks about the ‘native genius’ of musical tradition. This is valid for both vocal music and the musical instruments. Here again what is more important is that the music and the instruments be in accordance with the ‘dignity of the house of God’ and that they contribute to the ‘edification of the faithful’ (SC 120).

  1. 7.      The Liturgical Prayer and the Prayers of Petition


Today most of the prayers, in the liturgy or otherwise, are ‘requests’ made to God for forgiveness, mercy, material or spiritual needs etc and hence the response to the ‘Prayer of the Faithful’ is invariably “Lord, hear our prayer” or something similar. This type of prayers of petition are generally centred around human needs rather than on God who is praised and thanked for His saving presence in our midst. It is true that in the Bible and in the Christian tradition there are many examples of prayers of petition. But a close examination of the biblical petitions will reveal that they are expressions of faith and trust in the Lord. A clear example is Mk 11:24: ‘So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours’.

In the Syro-Malabar holy Mass the ‘Prayer of the Faithful’ is called Karozutha, a Syriac word which means ‘proclamation’. Accordingly, the prayers are to proclaim the magnificent presence and deeds of God. The response of these prayers is always “Lord, have mercy on us”. Here below are a couple of examples:

Deacon: Our saviour and guardian, and the provider of all things, we pray to you.

People:   Lord, have mercy on us.

Deacon: For peace, unity and stability of the whole world and all the Churches, we pray to you.

 People:  Lord, have mercy on us.

Deacon: For our country, for all other countries, and for the faithful everywhere, we pray to you.

People:  Lord, have mercy on us.[20]

Asking someone for something normally implies two suppositions: informing someone about something that, that person does not know and asking the person to act on the basis of the information. It also implies that if that person does not act after being informed, it is because he/she does not wish to do it. Applied to God these two suppositions are out of place. At the same time, we know that the anthropological dimension of requesting God in words and gestures is a natural human need. But our concern here is to look at it from a theological perspective.

St.Mathew says that words are not very important in prayers since ‘your Father knows what you need before  you ask him’ (Mt 6:7-8). But the Christian tradition of prayer is often one of words. St. Augustine said that the words are necessary in prayer, but not as a means through which we hope to inform or convince God. In the words of St. Thomas Aquinas, we should pray not to inform God of our needs or desires, but to make ourselves aware that in everything we need to have recourse to divine help. Prayer is offered to God in order to arouse trust in us. Therefore, the primary aim in prayer is not to make God ‘turn towards us’, but to make us ‘turn towards God’.[21]

From an Eastern perspective, the human desire in prayer should be aimed at ‘deification’. Prayer is basically a praise and thanksgiving to God. Praising God means ‘to know’ him, in the biblical sense, that is, to be in communion with him. But this is not simply a psychological or emotional feeling of the devotee or an eschatological hope one looks for. Rather, it is a desire on his/her part to be transformed to commit himself/herself for fellow brothers and sisters here and now.


  1. 8.       The Liturgical Inculturation and the Inter-Ritual Situation in India


The Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches defines a Rite as ‘the liturgical, theological, spiritual and disciplinary patrimony, culture and circumstances of history of a distinct people, by which its own manner of living the faith is manifested in each Church sui iuris’ (CCEO 28. Emphasis added). As the canon clearly states, the culture and the circumstances of a given people are determining factors in the evolution of a Rite.

None of the three Individual Churches in India has an ‘indigenous’ liturgy since all of them originated outside the Indian soil. The existing liturgies are Western (Latin), East Syrian and Antiochian in the Latin, Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara Rites respectively.

Ary R.Crollius defines inculturation as ‘the integration of the Christian experience of the local Church into the culture of its people, in such a way that this experience not only expresses itself in the elements of this culture, but becomes a force that animates and innovates this culture so as to create a new unity and communion, not only in the culture in question but also as an enrichment of the Church universal’.[22]

The element of inter-culturation mentioned in the above definition is an important aspect to be taken note of in the process of inculturation in the liturgy, at least in the case of the Oriental Churches in India. One of the reasons why there are many Eastern Catholic Churches in the universal Communion is the cultural contacts they had with the soil in which they were implanted. Since the East Syrian and Antiochian traditions belong to the ‘oriental region’, it is natural that they have common grounds with the Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara traditions. Besides, there are specific local elements which were absorbed by the St.Thomas Christians of Malabar before the arrival of the Portuguese missionaries. The following are some of the indigenous elements found in their traditions.[23] Most of them are external to the sacraments, though there are some which became part of the sacraments and the sacramentals. Their church architecture was in the model of Hindu temples. The paintings and sculptures of the churches depicted the peacock, the lotus flower and the tiger that were common symbols among the non-Christians. Various local customs were adapted in connection with the birth of a child. Jatakaranam, Namakaranam, wearing of poonul (sacred thread), the ceremony of Ariyiliruthu are some among them.  Ritual bath, funeral rites, indigenous form of church administration etc. were other inculturated elements. Some superstitious practices like the horoscope, black magic etc. too had crept into their custom which were later corrected by the synod of Diamper in 1599. The anointing of the sick was administered by the lay people with the soil brought from the tomb of St.Thomas at Mylapore. The rite of marriage had taken the local elements of Thali and Manthrakody. According to the testimony of a Franciscan missionary, the Franciscans corrected the ‘abominable error’ of consecrating the sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ in cakes of rice and wine of palms! There was the custom of bringing the Eucharistic bread to the altar covered in lotus leaves. The ‘experiment with inculturation’ at Kurisumala Ashram is a good example of liturgical inculturation in the Syro-Malankara Rite.

The Latin Church in India, on the other hand, came to the field of inculturation in a big way only after Vatican II though there had been sporadic attempts in various parts of India by Western missionaries. One of the pioneers in this field was definitely Roberto de Nobili (1577-1656). The history of this process however tells us that it has not progressed as was expected in the “Church in India Seminar” held in 1969.

It is very clear that the history of the Oriental Churches in general bear ample proof to the practice of inculturation. “In the liturgy of the Eastern Churches”, notes the Instruction of 1996, “the experience of the incarnation of the faith is realized in the culture of the peoples, so that such culture is both the inspiration and fruit of faith, and especially of the liturgy”.[24]

In his Apostolic Letter Orientale Lumen (1995) Pope John Paul II writes: ‘From the beginning the Christian East has proved to contain a wealth of forms capable of assuming the characteristic features of each individual culture, with supreme respect for each  particular community… One of the great values embodied  particularly in the Christian East is the attention given to peoples and their cultures… At a time when it is increasingly recognized that the right of every people to express themselves according to their own heritage of culture and thought is fundamental, the experience of the Individual Churches of the East is offered to us as an authoritative example of successful inculturation’ (Nos. 5,7). The process of inculturation in the East, remarked the Congregation for the Catholic Education, sometimes reached such a point that their cultural life was ‘identified with the manner of Christian living’.[25]

The three Individual Churches in India should strive to go forward with the process of inculturation of their liturgies initiated by the St. Thomas Christians long before the arrival of the Western missionaries and intensified by the spirit of Vatican II.

  1. 9.        The Liturgical Theology as Doxological, Typological and Symbolic


The Indian liturgical theology should be more of apophatic nature than of cataphatic. By its very nature the apophatic method requires a language of doxology, typology and symbolism. The Indian religious ethos naturally tends to this method. As against the rationalistic method of definitions, the Eastern theology prefers to employ the method of symbols. The problem with definitions is that it puts ‘boundaries’ to the defined reality. It puts limits to the unlimited. In order to avoid this risk the Eastern theology, especially the Syriac East avoids rigid systematization and uses typology and symbolism. In this approach the attempt is to bring out the ‘concealed’ mystery to the level of experience. As a matter of fact, images and symbols are basic to human experience and they are prior to philosophical categorization.

St.Ephrem’s typological exegesis is becoming more and more attractive to the scholars since it appeals to the heart rather than to the head. His use of poetry is similar to the Indian manthras, that is, repetitive recitation. For the Eastern theologians, who consider the liturgy as a basic source of theology, the doxological nature of theology is of vital importance. Liturgical theology is also mystical since it aims at union with God, and pastoral since it is addressed to the believers rather that to the scholars or intellectuals. Therefore, the doxological, typological, symbolic, mystical and pastoral nature of the liturgy is very important in developing a liturgical theology in the Indian context.

  1. 10.    The Liturgical Theology and the East-West Complementarity


The East and the West have many things to borrow from each other. In fact, some of the borrowings have enriched the liturgies of the East and the West. For example, the Eastern emphasis on pneumatology with its liturgical epiclesis has been organically absorbed by the revised Eucharistic Prayers of the Latin Missal and it has now become a constitutive element of the anaphoras. Hence the role of the minister acting in persona Christi is being seen in a new light. The pneumatological emphasis has helped rediscover the liturgical celebration as a ‘new Pentecost’ as the Eastern Christians generally like to qualify it.

Two other examples, dear to the East, are the formulae used in Baptism (“you are baptized”) and Penance (“your sins are absolved”) instead of “I baptize you” and “I absolve you” respectively. The following commentary of St.John Chrysostom on this subject is very enlightening: ‘When the priest says over the candidate “so and so is baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”, he plunges that person’s head into the water three times and draws it up again, allowing that one through this mysterious rite is to receive the visit of the Holy Spirit. For it is not the priest alone who touches the head, but also the right hand of Christ. This stands out even in the words of the celebrant. He does not say “I baptize so and so”, but “so and so is baptized”, indicating that he is only lending his hand, because he was ordained for this purpose by the Spirit. The One who accomplishes all is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, the indivisible Trinity”. This commentary allows a better distinction between the liturgical mysteries and the author of grace and accords to each their due role.

The central position given to the proclamation of the Word of God in the Latin Church after Vatican II and the well-prepared lectionaries have influenced the Eastern Churches in articulating the theological and liturgical value of homilies.

The understanding of participatio actuosa in the liturgy is another example. While the West sought to foster active involvement of the people giving greater emphasis to the verbal and musical participation, the East tended more towards a plethora of signs, symbols and gestures. This again is an area where the Eastern and Western traditions can enrich each other by adapting suitable elements.

The Churches in India can adopt into their liturgical life many elements from the Indian religious culture that is a common heritage of all the three Individual Rites. Some of them are silence, the sense of the sacred, apophatism, music and symbolism.


  1. 11.    Liturgy and ‘Eschatology’ in the Indian Context


“Liturgy is for man and not man for liturgy”, said Pope Paul VI. The Christians are called upon to establish God’s kingdom in this world. The liturgy should not be, therefore, merely a ‘celestial’ celebration in the sanctuary. It is not simply a celebration of God’s mysteries, but it is also a celebration of our lives. Hence the liturgy should not be reduced to a ritualism of an imaginary heaven.

The Church has the image of a pilgrim journeying to the kingdom of God. But, the kingdom of God ‘to come’ must not be disconnected from the kingdom of God in this world. Our participation in the liturgy should help us to respond to injustice, oppression, inequality etc. and to establish God’s kingdom here and now. In this way, social justice becomes a constitutive element of the liturgy. Only then does the lex orandi become lex vivendi.


Slavery disappeared from the so-called ‘Christian’ countries only after eighteen centuries of Christian presence! The influence of the Good News should provoke Christians to bring about justice in the socio-economic life of the people. Karl Barth said that a theologian should have the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. The breaking of the Word and the Bread should be an occasion to break us for others, especially the weak and the needy. We in India have a lot to do to realize this goal.



The liturgists and liturgiologists should nurture and safeguard the liturgy just as a gardener takes care of the plants of the garden. They should not take the place of a mechanic or technician who creates, dismantles and recreates. An objectively correct perspective in the liturgy and its methodology would be, striking a balance between a certain ‘historical interest’ and ‘pastoral pragmatism’. An excess of either of them will be detrimental to the liturgical celebration and its theology. The first generation of the liturgiologists were mostly historians with an archaeological enthusiasm. They should not be allowed to say the last word in the reform of the liturgy. It is the duty of the pastors to take decisions in the liturgy on the basis of sound principles and the historical data. ‘Pastoral’, however, does not simply mean ‘anthropocentric’. It also means historical, solemn, beautiful, rational and sacred. Liturgy is always ‘God-centred’, though celebrated by human beings. Worship is not a time of mere human activity, but a time when God acts on our lives. Our participation in the mysteries of God make us effective partners in continuing the evangelizing mission of the Church establishing God’s kingdom in this world.

[1] D.W.Fagerberg, What is Liturgical Theology: A Study in Methodology, Minnesota 1992, p.9-13

[2] Fourth G’hanta prayer of the First Anaphora.

[3] First Oration for Sundays and Ordinary Feast Days.

[4] Epiclesis of the First Anaphora.

[5] Final Judgement of the S.Congregation for the Oriental Churches Concerning the Order of the Syro-Malabar Qurbana (1985) No.16.

[6] Handbook for Liturgical Studies, Vol.1, Introduction to the Liturgy, Collegeville 1997, p.382.

[7] Cf. Delores Dufner, With What Language will We Pray? , Worship, March 2006, p.158.

[8] The Ratzinger Report, San Francisco 1985, p.131.

[9] Apostolic Letter, Orientale Lumen (1995), No.8

[10] SC 37-40. Cf.also SC 119 on the indigenous music, SC 34 on the need of making the rites within the people’s power of comprehension etc.

[11] Congregation for the Eastern Churches, Instruction for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, Rome 1966, No.32.

[12] Cf. UR 15, LG 26, CD 11, SC 10.

[13] A.Schmemann, Introduction to Liturgical Theology, New York 1986,p.24

[14] Congregation for the Oriental Churches, Instruction , No.15

[15] Introduction to Liturgical Theology, p.19.

[16] Joseph Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, San Francisco 2000, p.172.

[17] Third Eucharistic Prayer of the Roman Missal

[18] J.Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, p.140

[19] Encyclical Musicae Sacrae (1955), Nos.22-23

[20] The Order of the Syro-Malabar Qurbana, Kochi 2005, p.35

[21] Andres Torres Queiruga, Beyond Prayer of Petitions, Concilium, 2006/1, p.70

[22] Edward .J.Kilmartin, Christian Liturgy: Theology and Practice, Kansas City 1988, p.42

[23] Antony Nariculam, Evangelization and Inculturation: Eastern Churches’ Perspective, Ishvani Documentation and Mission Digest, January-April 2000, p.96-103 for some aspects of liturgical inculturation among the St.Thomas Christians of India.

[24] Congregation for the Eastern Churches, Instruction, No.15

[25] Circular Letter concerning the Studies of the Oriental Churches, L’Osservatore Romano, 6 April 1987, p.12.




Dr Antony Nariculam

 Antony Nariculam


The universality of the Church makes it imperative that the Church and her liturgy are inculturated. God became man to save humankind. This saving mystery in Christ must be presented to the whole world in a manner that is understood by the people of a given place.

There was a period in history when some Christian theologians considered the ‘Christian culture’ as a universal monoculture. For them this Christian culture was ‘normative’. But in course of time, the empirical approach in philosophy and sociology began to affirm pluralism in culture. Slowly these theologians had to admit a multicultural world which led to the realization that universality does not necessarily mean uniformity.

One of the greatest achievements of Vatican II and the subsequent magisterial teachings is the openness the Church has towards the wider world with its religions and cultures. This ‘cultural opening’ was initially received with great enthusiasm. But later, due to a variety of reasons, it came to be looked upon with suspicion and diffidence.

Vatican II, which allowed vernacularisation in the liturgy, was aware of the variety of cultures. Hence it suggested that provision be made in the revision of the liturgical books “for legitimate variations and adaptations to different groups, regions and peoples, especially in the mission countries”.[1] This view is theologically supported by another statement of the same document: “The liturgy is made up of unchangeable elements divinely instituted, and of elements subject to change. These latter not only may be changed, with the passage of time, if they have suffered from the intrusion of anything out of harmony with the inner nature of the liturgy or have become less suitable” (SC 21).

Pope John Paul II, establishing the Pontifical Council for Culture on 20 May 1982, said that the synthesis between culture and faith is not just a demand of culture, but is also of faith. A faith which does not become culture is a faith which has not been fully received, not thoroughly thought through, not fully lived out.[2] In fact, there is never a cultureless Christianity and never yet a fully Christian culture.

On 19 November 1969, during the course of a General Audience, Pope Paul VI said: ‘The rite and the relative rubric are not in themselves dogmatic definitions. Their theological qualification may vary in differing degrees according to the liturgical context to which they refer. They are gestures and terms relating to a religious action – experienced and living – of an indescribable mystery of divine presence, not always expressed in a univocal way’.[3] This vision he already had as Cardinal John Baptist Montini when he stated on the floor of Vatican II that ‘Liturgy is for man and not man for liturgy’.[4]

This article is an attempt to point out how important is culture to express the Christian faith through liturgical celebrations.

  1. What is Liturgy?

 The rule of prayer is the rule of faith. Liturgy is the celebration of our faith. It is a response of man (the ‘ascending’ man) to the ‘descending’ God who comes to save humankind. Being a response of man, it has to be a fully ‘human’ act. No human act can be dissociated from his/her culture and life situations. Here we should remember that the liturgical celebrations are not only celebrations of our faith in God and our relationship with Him. It is also a celebration of our lives and the relation among human beings, not excluding the realities of the created world. Thus the ‘verticality’ with God cannot be separated from the ‘horizontality’ with our fellow-beings.

One of the most important acts by which the Holy Spirit reminds the Church about the message of Christ is the liturgical celebration because it is the memorial (anamnesis) of the Lord. It is an expression of faith. So much so, history tells us that there was no recitation of the Creed during the celebration of the liturgy since the whole liturgy is an expression of faith. The Creed was reserved to baptism as an immediate preparation for it.

Liturgy, though an expression of faith, is not simply an act of worship. The New Testament worship, as we understand from the Letter to the Hebrews, is not merely a ritual act. In fact, Christ abolished all rituals and replaced them with symbols (Heb 10:5-10). The rituals are very often conventional, and they can be performed even ‘impersonally’, whereas the symbols are used between living persons as a means of communication. The language of the new worship inaugurated by Christ is a symbolic one in which the body is very much involved.[5] Human beings normally require bodily expressions to actively participate in the celebration of the mysteries of Christ through worship. The signs and symbols are the ordinary means to have this participatory experience.

Speaking about active participation in the liturgy, Vatican II states that it should be “conscious, active and fruitful’ (SC 14). In order to achieve this goal, choice of appropriate symbols that emerge from the cultural context of the people is a must. The transformation of the sacramental celebrations, as a “means of grace” rather than as an act of faith by means of signs and symbols, has led to a distortion of the understanding of the liturgy itself. Therefore, we need to rediscover their meaning and value for the man of today.

  1. What is Inculturation?

 From a Christian point of view, inculturation means a dialogue between the gospel message and a culture. This message is not fully independent of a culture. In fact, the gospel message is not simply an idea or a dogma. It is the message about a person – the person of Jesus Christ himself. It is Christ who is coming into dialogue with cultures. Thus inculturation is a response to the call of Christ. It is a gradual transformation that has to take place in the community through individuals. No individual can impose it upon the community. The individuals can only act as agents of this transformation.

Thomas Groome describes inculturation as “a dialectical encounter between Christian faith and a particular culture in which the culture is affirmed, challenged, and transformed towards God’s reign, and in which Christian faith is likewise affirmed, challenged, and enriched by this unique instance of its realization”.[6] This description is based on the thesis that the Christian inculturation is a dialectical encounter between an already cultured version of Christian faith and another culture that is either new to Christianity or has aspects not yet explicitly permeated by it.

He further observes that for a meaningful application of the principles of inculturation one should be convinced of the following facts:

(i)                 There is never a cultureless Christianity or a faithless culture. That is, wherever the Christian faith is implanted, it has always taken elements from the local culture to grow, and that God’s saving presence is already planted in every culture.

(ii)               The ‘story’ and ‘vision’ of Christian faith continues to unfold throughout history. The Christian faith is a living tradition, and its vitality demands that it incarnates in every cultural and historical context.

(iii)             Each cultural expression of Christian faith should be profoundly unique, while remaining bonded in essential unity with all other expressions. ‘Unity in diversity’ should be the motto of the process of inculturation. No cultural expression should be detrimental to the essential unity of faith.

(iv)             The values of God’s reign should be reflected in the very process of inculturation. Inculturation should not be at the expense of the values of God’s kingdom in this world – that of love, peace , justice, freedom, integrity of God’s creation etc.[7]1

One of the greatest insights of Vatican II on inculturation is found in Ad Gentes 22: ‘In imitation of the plan of Incarnation, the young Churches, rooted in Christ and built upon the foundation of the apostles, take to themselves, in a wonderful exchange, all the riches of the nations which were given to Christ as an inheritance’. In the past the Christians in general thought that they had a ‘finished product’ by way of ecclesiastical structures, including the liturgy. But, Ad Gentes 21 notes that the lay people must give expression to the ‘meaning of life’ given to them in baptism ‘in the social and cultural framework of their own homeland according to their own national traditions… They must develop it in accordance with modern conditions, and finally perfect in Christ’. Therefore, openness towards cultures, traditions, customs etc. is a sine qua non if we really wish to make the Church and her worship relevant for the modern era. That is why the Vatican II decree on the Catholic Eastern Churches, while insisting on the need of returning to the sources and ancient practices, wishes that they are adapted to the needs of different times and places (OE 2).

Incarnation is one of the most important theological bases of inculturation. It is a redemptive incarnation. Christ became similar to us in all things but sin. Through his death and resurrection he redeemed the humankind. This leads to the conclusion that inculturation “recognizes the presence of evil in the world, the reality of sin and its imprints, forces and consequences in all realities of the world and human life”.[8] Any element taken from the cultures should be made to pass through the redemptive death and resurrection of Christ. In other words, the yardstick to judge the appropriateness of inculturation is the mystery of Christ. Consequently, inculturation has a double task: of liberating the cultures from sin, evil and error, and of giving them a true Christian meaning, orientation and fulfilment. Thus inculturation calls for a prophetical critique and a Christian interpretation. It calls for “dying and rising” on the part of the Church for new flowers and new fruits.

In this process of inculturation, it is not sufficient that we make the Christian formulae intelligible to the peoples of various cultures. Rather, it implies a genuine experience of Christ in every culture through authentic signs and symbols taken from the culture concerned.

  1. What is Liturgical Inculturation?

 To speak about the need of inculturation in liturgy is to repeat the obvious. Nobody seems to have any objection to its relevance and the need though there are apprehensions with regard to how to go about it and how far we can go with it. The renewal and updating of liturgy practically means inculturation in the same.

The Pan-Asian Consultation on Inculturation and Liturgy made the following statement after their meeting in 1995. “All Asian countries struggle with the issue of inculturation. Our sharing revealed that liturgical developments in Asia have consisted mainly

in the translation of the typical editions of the Roman liturgical books in the wake of Vatican II. This has, by and large, marked the first phase of inculturation. The translation of liturgical texts composed in another time and culture is an extremely difficult task. The transplantation of signs and symbols is even more difficult. Even supposedly universal signs and symbols, when transplanted into another culture, often hide or even distort the very mysteries they are meant to convey. No universal model can speak with equal clarity and force throughout the world. Moreover, no Christian community can become creative in language and symbol system that is basically alien to it. Unless the Word of God becomes flesh in our cultures, the soul of Asia will remain untouched”.[9]

What is liturgical inculturation? A. Shorter defines inculturation as “the on-going dialogue between faith and culture or cultures. More fully, it is the creative and dynamic relationship between the Christian message and a culture or cultures”.[10] And then he makes three observations about inculturation. First, it is an on-going process, and hence even the so-called ‘Christian’ nations need to undergo inculturation. In other words, it should not be confined to the newly evangelized missions. Second, the Christian faith transcends all cultures. At the same time, it cannot exist except in a cultural form. Third, there is need of a reciprocal and critical interaction between the Christian faith and culture.[11]These observations are of prime importance when we deal with the whole question of liturgical inculturation.

The issue of liturgical inculturartion is primarily an ecclesiological one. It cannot be understood and practised separate from the life of the Church in all its aspects. One reason for the relative failure of liturgical inculturation is the inadequate understanding of the liturgy as a vertical celebration in a numinous sphere unrelated to the real life situations of the celebrating community. There is a close relationship between a ritual and the community that enacts it. Ritual, in fact, is a symbolic expression of the structure of the society.

What are the areas of inculturation in the Church? There is no area of the Church that does not need inculturation. The liturgical inculturation should not be reduced to the exclusive sphere of worship. But, of course, one needs to fix priorities.

To worship God is a fundamental need of a religious minded person. It affects the core of his/her religiosity. It is a personal, deep experience of the human soul. Being persons with senses, they require visible signs and symbols to express this experience. This visible expression becomes meaningful and communicative only when it is understood by the generality of the people. Hence it is imperative that it is expressed through the symbols of the people of the place.

The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy underlines this dimension of the culture in relation to the liturgy in the following words: “Even in the liturgy the Church does not wish to impose a rigid uniformity in matters which do not involve the faith or the good of the whole community. Rather she does respect and foster the qualities and talents of the various races and nations… She sometimes even admits such things into the liturgy itself, provided they harmonize with its true and authentic spirit” (SC 37). The Council is also in favour of allowing ‘legitimate variations and adaptations to different groups, regions and peoples, especially in mission countries’ (SC 38). Conscious of its absolute need, the Council also notes that ‘in some places and circumstances however an even more radical adaptation of the liturgy is needed’ though it entails ‘greater difficulties’ (SC 39).

Liturgy is the expression of the experience of the risen Lord manifested in various cultural forms. One and the same experience is expressed by different peoples in different historical and geographical contexts. In this manifestation there are universal and unchangeable, as well as particular and changeable, elements. The universal elements are celebrated by a particular community in a particular place. The unchangeable truths are celebrated with changeable elements. And, the Divine is celebrated by human beings.  This is something marvellous in the universal Church. A successful liturgical inculturation depends upon striking a balance between these elements.

Jesus did not hand over to us a ‘prototype’ of liturgy, but an experience. Since this experience is linked with cultural manifestations, its expressions vary. This variety, however, is not to be determined by laws and regulations, but from the cultural experiences of a living community of a given place. Therefore, liturgical inculturation is defined as “a process of inserting texts and rites of the liturgy into the framework of the local culture”.[12]

In order to attain this goal, it is not enough that we merely adapt some cultural elements into the institutionalized form of Christianity. Rather, “we need to undergo a process of symbiosis by which our faith becomes an experience in the context and expresses itself in a symbol system that is capable of communicating this experience to others”.[13] Hence the liturgical inculturation is not simply a matter of discovering adequate cultural symbols to express the content of faith and worship, but is a question of ecclesiology and a pastoral methodology.

Regarding a practical methodology of liturgical inculturation  A.Chupungco suggests a three-step process. It consists of Dynamic Equivalence, Creative Assimilation and Organic Progression.[14]

Dynamic Equivalence is practically an adaptation of the editio typica. Though some creativity is involved in this process, it is dependent on the typical editions of the liturgical books. Creative Assimilation is a methodology used in the Patristic era. The giving of a cup of milk and honey in the baptismal Mass, renouncing Satan looking towards the West and making the profession of faith turning towards the East, the celebration of Epiphany on 6th January and Christmas on 25th December are examples. In Organic Progression comes the question of ‘new forms’ in worship which are unknown till then. Though they are ‘new’, they have to respect the principle of “organic growth”.[15]

Vatican II has identified certain areas of the liturgy where this process needs to be undertaken. Besides SC 37-40, which we have referred to above, the document mentions also the Christian initiation rites (SC 65), the rite of Marriage (SC 77), the liturgical music (SC119) and the liturgical art (SC 123).

In this process, the sacramentals, especially the blessings, have a special place as most of them are closely related to the day to day life of the people. Though there are sacramentals that have some sort of a universal character, mostly they are attached to the culture and the customs of the people. Therefore SC 39 names them among the liturgical books wherein the Conferences of Bishops have a free hand to make adaptations.

  1. Local Church: The Venue of Inculturation

 The Church being the sacrament of Christ is the visible manifestation of Christ. The institutional Church which is localized must have a visible expression congenial to the community of the people. The Church becomes authentically local in so far as she bears the imprint of the place and the people where she lives. “The Church becomes Church when it is incarnated in a place and this localization is called the local Church”.[16]

We know from history that liturgy developed in the local Churches resulting in liturgical diversities. Only later they began to be unified, a phenomenon more prevalent in the Western liturgy. In the East, maintaining the unity of faith, liturgies continued to flourish in diversity. As the decree on the Catholic Eastern Churches notes, the universal Church is made up of the faithful who are organically united in the Holy Spirit by the same faith, the same sacraments and the same government. But they combine into different groups which are held together by their hierarchy and so form individual Churches keeping their own particular liturgy, spirituality and discipline (OE 2-3). From this it is clear that the liturgical celebration is not a ‘universal act’. It is always an action of the community of faithful ‘here and now’. That is why the Eastern Churches are very particular about insisting on the universal Church as a ‘Communion of Individual Churches’. As Pope Paul VI notes, the universal Church is in practice incarnate in the individual Churches that are heirs of a cultural patrimony, of a vision of the Word of God, of an historical part of a particular historical substratum.[17] It responds to the deep aspiration of peoples and human communities to find their own identity ever more clearly.[18] One of the important characteristics of an individual Church is the manner in which it expresses its faith in worship form.

A local Christian community is not a ‘fraction’ of the universal Church. Every worshipping community manifests the full mystery of the Church. This manifestation is based on its social, cultural and religious milieu, and hence appropriate signs and symbols congenial to the people are to be employed. History of the Churches – both in the West and in the East – gives evidence to this fact. The existence of the liturgies according to the Roman Rite, the Ambrosian Rite, the Spanish Rite, and later the Indian Rite, the Philippino Rite, the Congolese Rite etc. are examples. The five liturgical families – Alexandrian, Antiochian, Byzantine, East Syrian and Armenian – with 22 individual Churches bear ample witness to it in the East. Even within an individual Church there can be diverse liturgical expressions according to the culture, place and the context of the people as we see in the Western and Eastern ecclesiastical traditions.

  1. Liturgical Inculturation: An Historical Review

 Inculturation is essentially an historical phenomenon, and the history of the Church is practically a history of inculturation.

When we examine the history of the Roman liturgy, we find that the so-called “classical period” (5th – 8th centuries) was a time of ‘classical’ inculturation too. It was a period of liturgical creativity with original composition of liturgical texts for the people of the time. The Popes like Gelasius, Leo the Great and Gregory the Great have contributed their insights for its growth. In the 8th century, as the Church spread to Franco-Germanic world, it underwent another type of liturgical inculturation.  Liturgy was transformed from its Roman simplicity and sobriety to a charming, dramatic and colourful one to suit the temperament of the Franco-Germanic people.

The first half of the first millennium was a period of intense inculturation in liturgy. Some examples will clarify this point.[19]

  • Though Christianity was in close relationship with the Jewish religious tradition, when it required the liturgical vestments the West adopted the festive attire of the Greco-Roman world and the East that of the Byzantine Empire.
  • From the Jews she inherited the Bema – a platform for reading from the Torah – for the proclamation from the Bible.
  • The morning and evening holocaust of the Jews appears in the form of morning and evening prayers in the Christian tradition.
  • The language used in the liturgy was the language of the people.
  • The apophatic (negative –  Neti, neti of the Indian tradition) approach towards God’s name (YHWH: I am who am) without a positive affirmation is adopted from the Jewish understanding of God as IN-visible, IN-comprehensible, IN-expressible, UN-fathomable etc.
  • The Christian litanic prayers are an imitation of the Roman manner of prayers.
  • The liturgical gestures like kissing the altar, the prostrations, the use of incense and the candles, etc are taken from the non-Christian practice.
  • The prayer turning to the East has its roots in the Sun-cult of the pagans.
  • The Christian tradition of fasting on Wednesday and Friday was influenced by the Tuesday and Thursday fasts of the Jews.
  • The pre-Christian mystery cults have influenced the Christian practice of exorcism, the imposition of hands and the anointing.
  • The architecture of the ancient churches followed that of the Roman basilicas’.
  • The “May they rest in peace” (R.I.P) in the funeral rites has its origin in the pre-Christian Roman funeral acclamation.
  • The feast of Transfiguration on 6th August is related to the Jewish commemoration of Moses’ transfiguration on Mount Sinai.
  • The feast of Epiphany on 6th January recalls another ‘epiphany’ (manifestation) of a ruler to a province of his kingdom.
  • The feast of Christmas on 25th December is inspired by the birth of the Invincible Sun-god.
  • The feast of the “Cathedra” of St. Peter is in imitation of the anniversary of the Roman emperor’s assumption of office.
  • The feast of martyrs, saints, etc originated from the pre-Christian practice of venerating the tombs of the dead.

In the later period of the Church too we have luminous examples of inculturation. The history of the St. Thomas Christians of India before the 16th century is a classical example of how the Christians could find themselves completely at home in the Indian culture. In their social and religious practices, and worshipping customs they were very much like their non-Christian neighbours.[20]

The Chinese experimentation of Matteo Ricci (1552-1610) with the cult of the familial dead that was administered with prostrations, the burning of incense and the offering of food at their tombs was condemned as superstitious practices. Roberto Nobili’s (1577-1656) attempts with Indian culture were frowned upon by his confreres, and later they had to be abandoned. Even during this period, we come across some silver lining by way of official sanction in favour of liturgical inculturation. Thus in 1615 Pope Paul V allowed the Chinese to use the Chinese language in the liturgy though this permission was withdrawn in 1661 due to the objections of the missionaries themselves. In 1659 Propaganda Fide wrote a letter asking the missionaries not to make attempts to persuade the people of the mission lands to change their rites, customs and ways, provided they are not very manifestly contrary to religion and morals.[21]

  1. Challenges of Inculturation

 One of the notable limitations of liturgical inculturation is the non-permanent nature of culture. Given culture’s susceptibility to change, the product of any attempt at inculturation is bound to be an unstable mixture. Therefore at no time can we have a complete and perfectly inculturated liturgy. It is a continuous search and a constant struggle. Only a genuine local Church can cope with the ever new demands of the changing culture.

All religions carry with them some cultural expression. Christianity, for example, has many semitic elements. For some people these cultural expressions are part and parcel of their religion, and any change in them is considered a threat to their religious experience. In other words, the cultural expressions are equated with religion itself. This is nothing short of religious fundamentalism.

In the process of liturgical inculturation a crucial factor should be borne in mind. Faith transcends all cultures. Faith in Christ can even purify and transform cultures. Therefore some hold that the duty of the Christian faith is to purify the cultures and make them ‘Christian’. As a matter of fact, culture is not good or bad, holy or sinful. Human choices make them bad or sinful. In this perspective, the Christian inculturation can also mean a purification of the sinful culture through the intervention of the Christian faith. At the same time, we should also remember that the mysteries we celebrate in the liturgy transcend all cultures though the expressions of the mysteries and the people’s response to it in the liturgy are culturally conditioned. Here the role of culture in relation to worship needs to be properly understood. “Christian worship should not end up being a mere ingredient of the local culture, nor should culture be reduced to an ancillary role. The process of interaction and mutual assimilation brings progress to both; it does not cause mutual extinction”.[22]


Pope Paul VI once warned that evangelization would lose much of its force and effectiveness “if it does not take into consideration the actual people to whom it is addressed, if it does not use their language, their signs and symbols, if it does not answer the questions they ask, and if it does not have an impact on their concrete life”.[23] Among them the signs and symbols employed in the liturgy are of great relevance because “the religious symbols have the power to render the real more real. They induce faith, conviction, commitment because they act upon the creative power of the human intellect and galvanize the will towards action… No religion can exercise this power if its symbols are not inseparable from those of culture”.[24]

However, we need to make a distinction between inculturation and ‘culturalism’. A religion, when it assumes various external forms by way of inculturation, should not lose its essential identity. If it loses its identity, it is no more inculturation, but ‘culturalism’, that is, absolutization of culture. Besides, the Christian religion cannot take cultural symbols of a place if they are inseparably associated with the religious faith of another religion.

There is the need to evolve a liturgy which speaks for itself, and which requires not much commentary. Therefore, clerically inspired and clerically managed inculturation is likely to fail. Inculturation is a way of life. It is an on-going search. Failures are possible. But they should not deter us from continuing our search. As Pope Benedict XVI rightly remarks, the abuses that have occurred in the process of inculturation  should not “detract from this clear principle , which must be upheld in accordance with the real needs of the Church as she lives and celebrates the one mystery of Christ in a variety of cultural situations”.[25]


[1] Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, SC 38

[2] L’Osservatore Romano, 28 June 1982, p.1-8

[3] Jacob Manathodath, Culture, Dialogue and the Church, Intercultural Publication, New Delhi 1990, p.141.

[4] J.Manathodath, Culture, Dialogue and the Church, p.139

[5] Paul Puthanangady, Challenges of Cultures and Religions in Asia to Christian Liturgy, in Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conference – Office of Education and Student Chaplaincy, Asian Worship in Spirit and Truth, Madras 1995, p.11

[6] “Inculturation: How to Proceed in a Pastoral Context”, Concilium 2(1994) 120-133. Here p.122

[7] “Inculturation: How to Proceed in a Pastoral Context”, p.122-129

[8] D.S.Amalorpavadass, Inculturation is not Hinduisation but Christianization, NBCLC Bangalore 1981, p.7

[9] FABC-OESC, Asian Worship in Spirit and Truth, p.201-202

[10] Aylward Shorter, Toward a Theology of Inculturation, Geoffrey Chapman  London 1988, p.11

[11] Toward a Theology of Inculturation, p.11-13

[12] Abscar Chupungco, Liturgical Inculturation: Sacramentals, Religiosity and Catechesis, The Liturgical Press Collegeville:MN 1992, p.30

[13] P.Puthanangady, Challenges of Cultures and Religions in Asia to Christian Liturgy, p.4

[14] A.Chupungco, Liturgical Inculturaion: Sacramentality, Religiosity and Catechesis, p.37-51

[15] SC 23, OE 2. Antony Nariculam, The Holy See, The Syro-Malabar Bishops’ Conference and the Syro-Malabar Bishops’ Synod on the Inculturation of the Syro-Malabar Liturgy: A Study, in Bosco Puthur (ed.), Inculturation and the Syro-Malabar Church, LRC Publications Kochi 2005, p.66-68

[16] D.S. Amalorpavadass, Gospel and Culture, NBCLC Bangalore 1978, p.22

[17] Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi (1975) 62

[18] Evangelii Nuntiandi, 63

[19] Julian Saldanha, Inculturation, St.Paul Publication Bombay 1985, p.25-28

[20] For details see Antony Nariculam, “Evagelization and Inculturation Eastern Church’s Perspective”, Ishvani Documentation and Mission Digest, January-April 2000, p.95-108

[21] Referred to in Cyprian Illickamuri, Inculturation and Liturgy, in Antony Nariculam (ed.), Inculturation and Liturgy, Star Publications  Alwaye 1992, p.85

[22] A.Chupungco, Liturgical Inculturation: Sacramentals, Religiosity and Catechesis, p.29

[23] Evangelii Nuntiandi, 63

[24] A.Shorter, Toward a Theology of Inculturation, p.41

[25] Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis (2007) 54

MUSIC IN LITURGY: Liturgical Music in the Syro-Malabar Church


ILA MEETING, NBCLC Bangalore, 26-28 October 2007


Liturgical Music in the Syro-Malabar Church [*]

Dr Antony Nariculam

  1. Introduction


 The development of the Syro-Malabar liturgy and its musical tradition has a long history. It has had Syriac, Indian and Western influences. Its history is spread over five stages.

1.1  Stage One: The first stage is the earliest period of Christianity on the coast of Malabar ( Ist to 4th century). We do not have any concrete evidence as to the shape of the liturgical period during this period.

1.2  Stage Two: With the arrival of the Syrian merchant Thomas of Knai in the 4th century begins the second stage – the period of Syriac liturgical tradition, and consequently also of the Syriac musical tradition. In course of time, the Syriac hymns practically became the liturgical music of the Syro-Malabar Church. However, history shows that the Syro-Malabarians were not simply imitating the Syriac music as it was practised among the Syrians. Rather, they made adaptations in pronouncing the words as well as in the tunes. For example, the Arabic influence on the Syriac hymns did not affect the Syro-Malabar manner of singing. Therefore, many opine that the Syro-Malabar musical tradition without Arabic influence is more archaic and original.  Another example is the Trinitarian conclusion of the hymns (Glory be to the Father and to the Son… Subha Laha…). It has a Syro-Malabar nuance not found in the Syriac music. Singing “Glory to God in the highest” at the beginning of the holy Mass too has its special features. The Syro-Malabarians sing it three times, each time raising the voice a little higher. Before the elevation and at the end of incensing, the Syro-Malabar priests used to sing Barekmor…Barekmor…Barekmor (= Bless O Lord) in a devotional melody, something not found in the Syriac tradition. It is also interesting to note that there was a slight difference in the tunes of the Divine Office used by the Carmelites (CMI) and by the diocesan priests.

1.3  Stage Three: The third stage is the period of Western influence that begins after the arrival of the Portuguese missionaries in the 16th century. Consequent upon the Latinization of the Syro-Malabar liturgy, the liturgical music too began to take new shapes. One of its results was the use of the Gregorian chant. One example is the final blessing of the holy Mass sung in the tune of  Vere dignum est justum est salutare. However, the general policy was to give Syriac tunes to the Latin hymns after translating them into Syriac. Thus the hymns of the Eucharistic benediction like Pange lingua, Tantum ergo Sacramentum, Panem de caelo, and Oremus were rendered into Syriac tunes. Another Syriac tune was that of Lak Alaha (Te Deum). Some of the psalms and orations of the burial service of the Latin Rite also were rendered into Syriac tunes. These new tunes were not imported from outside. They were creative additions by the Syro-Malabar musicians.

1.4  Stage Four:  The fourth stage begins after the erection of the Syro-Malabar hierarchy in 1923. Since then there were serious attempts to sing the Syriac hymns in a systematic and scientific way. Fr. Saldhana SJ helped the Church to publish a Syriac hymnal in 1937 with musical notations. Its title in Malayalam was “Malayala Suriani Keerthanamalika” (= Syriac Hymnal in Malayalam). Later in 1954 it was modified and enlarged by Fr. Mathew Vadakkel and Fr. Aurelius OCD , and this hymnal was published by St. Joseph Seminary, Alwaye. Its title was “Kerala Kaldaya Suriani Reethile Thirukkarmageethangal” (= Hymns for the Sacred Rites of the Kerala Chaldean-Syriac Rite). As the preface of the book clarifies, one of the aims of the hymnal is to help the choir in singing the Syriac hymns correctly. It gives notations for the portions to be sung by the celebrant. It omitted the Latin tunes that were in vogue in singing certain prayers (eg. Final blessing) of the holy Mass.

1.5  Stage Five: The fifth stage is the period after Vatican II. The liturgical reforms of Vatican II led to renewed attempts to revise the liturgical hymns. Even before the reform movement took proper steps to revise the hymns, the hymns of the Divine Office (published in three volumes in 1886-87 for the Chaldean Catholic Church, and in 1938 for the Syro-Malabar Church) were published with notations in 1967. Its author was Heinrick Hussman, and its title was “Die Melodien des Chaldaischen Breviers Commune” (= The melodies of the Chaldean Breviary).

2. After 1960

The late 1960s and early 1970s were a period of creativity in the Syro-Malabar liturgy and its hymns. The All India Seminar held at NBCLC, Bangalore, in 1969 gave a new impetus to this movement. Even before that, vernacularisation in the liturgy had led to the publication of the funeral services and the office for the dead in Malayalam (1967). Though the lyrics were in Malayalam, the tunes continued to be Syriac. The Syriac tunes of the Divine Office too were unaffected by the new tunes that began to emerge after Vatican II.

During this period, Cardinal Joseph Parecattil, a pioneer and visionary of the Syro-Malabar liturgical movement, helped to establish a musical academy called “Kalabhavan” under the directorship of a gifted musician Fr. Abel CMI. He produced a number of records and cassettes, composed in South Indian  ragas and talas, with the assistance of  a Karnatic musician K.K.Antony Master. Besides many popular devotional songs, they produced a number of hymns for liturgical and paraliturgical services. Thus a solemn sung Syro-Malabar Mass was published in 1971 that was widely acclaimed by the community, and it was enthusiastically used in the Syro-Malabar churches. Other hymns were of Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter and Christmas.

3.  Sung Mass since 1986


When the restored text of the holy Mass was introduced in 1986, almost all of its hymns were in Syriac tunes. But when it was revised in 1989, two more tunes were added to the hymns. One of them was more in line with Indian melodies, while the other employed modern music with long preludes and interludes. The 1989 compositions made use of many ragas like Sankarabharanam, Anandabhairavi, Kalyani etc., and talas like Aditalam, Rupakatalam etc.

Besides these three sets of hymns for the holy Mass, there were also individual attempts to produce new albums with new music.

4. Karnatic Solemn Sung Mass


Fr.Paul Poovathinkal CMI has produced an album of Syro-Malabar sung Mass based on pure Karnatic ragas. He has used the musical forms such as Kirthans, Bhajans, Hymns and Chanting in it.

5.  Sacraments


The hymns composed for the sacraments in 1970s, especially those of marriage, were widely acclaimed by the faithful. The new hymns were not following the Syriac musical style. Instead, they employed scales of modern music, including the Western.

The restored and revised texts of the sacraments published in 2005 have newly composed hymns for Baptism, Confirmation and Marriage. They are in the format of ragas and talas of Karnatic and Hindustani music.

6.  Holy Week Liturgy


The Holy Week liturgical hymns, especially of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, were produced by Fr. Abel CMI and K.K. Antony Master in 1970s, departing from the Syriac style. They used Karnatic ragas and talas. Some of these hymns like Thalathil Vellameduthu (= Taking water in a bowl) on Maundy Thursday, and Gagultha Malayilninnu (= From mount Golgotha) on Good Friday have made deep imprints on the hearts and minds of the faithful. However, the hymns of Palm Sunday, Holy Saturday and Easter as a whole have not made such lasting impressions.

7.  Christmas Liturgy


Though a couple of hymns are composed for Christmas night using Karnatic ragas and talas, they are not wholeheartedly received unlike the hymns of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.

8.  Divine Office 


One of the liturgical texts that continue to use Syriac tunes is the Divine Office. However, the Divine Office prepared by Fr. Abel CMI, smaller in size compared to the official one, has introduced Karnatic ragas and talas along with the traditional Syriac tunes.

9. Funeral Services


Though modern trends have invaded the Syro-Malabar liturgical music, they have not in any way affected the Syriac tunes of the Requiem Mass and the funeral services. The clergy and the people wholeheartedly welcome them, and it seems that they would reject any attempt to substitute them with modern tunes since the Syriac tunes have become part and parcel of their funeral services. So much so, the Syriac tunes are called “tunes for the services for the dead”!

When Fr. Abel CMI composed the Malayalm hymns from Syriac liturgical texts in the 1960s, he slightly changed some of the rhythmic patterns of Syriac chants, and used Karnatic talas. An example is the tune of Kambel Maran sung in the office for the dead. The original Syriac tune with a lot of grace notes and modulations, but without a tala frame, was restructured with a simple melody using Rupaka talam.


10.  Various Musical Forms found in the Syro-Malabar Liturgy

As of today, we can see a combination of different musical styles in the Syro-Malabar liturgy. Among them we find Karnatic and Western music along with Syriac melodies. Unfortunately, the non-devotional musical style of the modern era too has made inroads into the liturgical music of the Syro-Malabar Church. At present we may identify the following styles:

10.1 Antiphonal Singing:  The antiphonal singing is a traditional Syriac style popularised by St. Ephrem already in the 3rd century. Therefore, the ‘hymns’ are called “Onitha” (plural Oniatha) in Syriac. These are hymns to be sung always in two groups alternating the stanzas. Each stanza is preceded by a refrain.

10.2 Chanting:  It is another musical form in the Syro-Malabar liturgical music. The doxologies and refrains are chanted. Chanting style is applicable, to a certain extent, to the whole of the liturgical prayers also.

10.3Hymns:  This is a musical form developed by St. Ephrem in the East. Hymn is “a song in praise of God”. It is slightly different from the South Indian Kirthans. In a hymn we find different stanzas with the same melodic texturing.

10.4 Bhajans: In the post-Vatican period, especially after the All India Seminar in 1969, the Syro-Malabar Church did make various attempts to introduce Bhajans in their liturgy. The Syro-Malabar holy Mass “according to the Indian Rite” prepared by Dharmaram College, Bangalore, and “Bharatheeya Pooja” by Cardinal Joseph Parecattil, Ernakulam, employed many Bhajans and Slokas. Some of the Syro-Malabar dioceses outside Kerala too introduced Bhajans in their liturgical music. The Syro-Malabar Divine Office in Hindi has many Bhajans. In course of time, a number of Bhajans and Namajapas have been composed and used in liturgical and paraliturgical services.

10.5 Kirthans:  This musical form, prevalent in the devotional singing, is used also in the liturgy. It focuses on Bhaktibhava.


10.6  Modern Style: This is a modified form of hymns and kirthans using musical preludes and interludes as background music with the help of orchestration. Initially this style began as a help to the vocalist. But today it has invaded the melodic and devotional simplicity of the liturgical hymns.


11.  The Choir and the Musical Instruments

A traditional Syro-Malabar church choir had five members. Their instruments were violin, harmonium, drum and triangle. However, after the arrival of the Portuguese missionaries, some Syro-Malabar churches had pedestal harmonium, and even pipe organs. The drum is known by its Portuguese name tambor and the triangle is called thiriamkol, a Portuguese (triangulo) flavoured Malayalam word. Violin is known as fiddle or Rebec.

12. The Eastern Liturgical Music

In the Eastern tradition, the musical instruments have little importance compared to the voice of the people. Some Eastern Churches like the Russian and the Greek who continue to keep up the original spirit of the Eastern liturgical music, have very little dependence on the musical instruments. The Eastern policy is to minimize the use of the instruments. They are to be employed just to help the congregation to sing better, and with devotion and ease. Therefore, the present trend in the Syro-Malabar Church, the ‘filmy orchestral performance’, is completely alien to the  Eastern ethos.

13.  The Musical Style proper to the Syro-Malabar Church


By use of almost 1600 years, the Syriac liturgical music has become the hallmark of the Syro-Malabar sacred music. It continues to be used to the great satisfaction of the clergy and the people in the Requiem Mass and funeral services. The same is kept up also in the Divine Office. The Syriac music in the Syro-Malabar Church can be compared to the Gregorian music in the Latin Church. Therefore, despite various  attempts at inculturation of music, the Syriac melodies continue to enjoy a place of honour in the Syro-Malabar musical tradition.

14.  Common Musical Heritage of the Latin Church and the Syro-Malabar Church


Though there are Malayalam liturgical hymns characteristic of the Latin and Syro-Malabar Churches in Kerala, there are also hymns that have now become common heritage of these Churches during the Eucharistic celebration. These are sung mainly at the entrance procession, offertory, sanctus, holy communion and dismissal. Some of them have lasting impression on the faithful of these Churches because of their devotional and melodious nature, and they continue to be sung on ordinary days as well as on solemn occasions.

15.  Rethinking about the Syro-Malabar Liturgical Music


In the recent past, a number of church choirs mushroomed, and they literally began to invade the Church music introducing hymns, tunes and instruments that are not always conducive to the prayerful atmosphere during the liturgical celebration. Thus the Church music practically became a ‘stage performance’ with all modern gadgets, and the solo singing became widespread. Though ordinary parish celebrations continue to enjoy the simplicity of the hymns and tunes, the solemn occasions like church feasts, marriages and such other celebrations have become a venue of filmy orchestration. Despite the interventions of the Church authorities to stop this tendency, they do not seem to have made great impact on these choirs. Complaints from various quarters have been pouring in to control this trend. Finally, the Syro-Malabar Liturgical Research Centre under the auspices of the Synod of Bishops conducted a seminar on Syro-Malabar Liturgical Music in July 2005, and made proposals to the Synod requesting it to take concrete steps to remedy the situation. The Syro-Malabar Central Liturgical Committee consisting of representatives from all the Syro-Malabar dioceses also requested the Synod to take effective steps in this regard. Some of the bishops did send circulars to the parishes and institutions to correct the drawbacks. But, things did not improve as desired.

The Synod of Bishops held in August 2006 decided to send a circular letter to all the parishes and institutions of the Church, and to give instructions to the departments concerned of the dioceses to take necessary steps to rectify the defective manner of singing in the liturgy. Accordingly, the Major Archbishop, Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil, wrote a common Pastoral Letter in December 2006. Referring to the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of Vatican II, Catechism of the Catholic Church, and the exhortations of the Popes, especially Pius X, Pius XII, John Paul II, and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Major Archbishop requested all concerned to take immediate steps to make the sacred music really “sacred”, avoiding the lyrics, tunes and instruments not conducive to the prayerful and recollected atmosphere in the church. He requested them to give prominence to the voice of the people than to the choir members and the instruments. He reminded the members of the choir that they should realize that they are doing a “ministry” in the Church to help people to pray better.

16.  Decisions of the Synod regarding Sacred Music


The Synod of Bishops held in August 2006 discussed the various aspects of church music, and decided to publish certain guidelines to the whole Church. Among them we find the following:

  • A Hymnal to be published under the auspices of the Syro-Malabar Commission for Liturgy.
  • Only approved hymns may be sung during the liturgy.
  • Community singing should be fostered. People should be trained to sing as a community.
  • Recorded hymns should not be used in the liturgy.
  • There should be training for the church choirs under the auspices of the dioceses.
  • Along with poetic quality, the liturgical hymns should have sound theological basis.
  • There should be model choirs in every diocese.
  • The traditional Syriac melodies should be preserved. At the same time, Karnatic and Hindustani tunes should have their rightful place in the liturgical music.
  • In seminaries and formation houses of the religious, sacred music should form part of the official curriculum.
  • The Research Centre of the Syro-Malabar Church should start a Documentation Centre collecting all the musical styles of the past and the present for future study and research.

It is encouraging that some dioceses have already published hymnals to be used in the holy Mass. Steps have been taken by some dioceses to train the choir members of the parishes to sing liturgical hymns shortening the preludes and interludes, and to foster community singing.

17. Conclusion


The Syro-Malabar liturgical music is in a process of change and growth. The spread of this Church to various parts of the world – USA, Canada, Latin America, Europe, Africa etc. -, besides the various States of North India, definitely obliges her to adapt the liturgical music to the culture of the place. Though the traditional musical style is Syriac, in the present multicultural and global context, she cannot remain unaffected by the influences of different musical styles. Therefore, she must be open to the changing situations. However, every change should be in view of raising the hearts and minds of the people to the Lord who has come and who is to come.

                                                                                                      Fr.Antony Nariculam

                                                                                                      Pontifical Seminary

                                                                                                      Alwaye 683 102



[*] I am indebted to Fr.Jacob Vellian, an expert in Syriac liturgical music, for the analysis of the Syro-Malabar Syriac musical tradition, and Fr.Paul Poovathinkal CMI, a Ph.D holder in Indian music from Madras University, for the analysis of the present adapted hymns and chants of the Syro-Malabar liturgy. I have taken many findings from the papers they presented at the seminar on “Liturgical Music of the Syro-Malabar Church” conducted by the Syro-Malabar Liturgical Research Centre in July 2005. Their papers were entitled “Syriac Liturgical Music of the Syro-Malabar Church” and “The Influence of Karnatic Music on the Liturgical Music of the Syro-Malabar Church”.

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.

Dr George Karakunnel

Theological Anthropology

Theological Anthropology

The Contribution of Vatican II


George Karakunnel

(Professor, Institute  of  Theology, Aluva & Member of the Pontifical Academy of Theology, Rome)



The human person and society are central themes which always challenge our thinking and vision. Contemporary theology features an anthropological approach which has had an authoritative articulation with the Second Vatican Council in its Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes. Anthropology or the doctrine of man presented by Vatican II makes this conciliar text unparalleled when compared to previous official documents by a Council. “It is man himself”, says the Council, “who must be saved: it is mankind that must be renewed. It is man, therefore, who is the key to this discussion, man considered whole and entire, with body and soul, heart and conscience, mind and will.”[1] Again, the Council says: “Believers and unbelievers agree almost unanimously that all things on earth should be ordained to man as to their centre and summit”[2] The anthropological concerns of Vatican II are not just speculative or theoretical, but practical and concrete. The present essay will try to show the importance and influence of this vision in the ongoing thinking and vision of the Church.

The Actual Human Situation


The situation of man in the world today is the starting-point of the Council’s theology. A picture of man as individual person and as member of the society, living in the world and history is what Vatican II tries to draw by analyzing the human condition.  The present context of the world is the frame of the Council’s thinking. The scrutinization of the signs of the times is part of the task here. “At all times the Church carries the responsibility of reading the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel, if it is to carry out its task.  In language intelligible to every generation, she should be able to answer the ever recurring questions which people ask …”[3]  This approach of the Council in the Pastoral Constitution shows the attempt to do theology in the context of the stark realities of the world. The Constitution’s theme itself being an entirely a new one required a new methodology. Reading the signs of the times and interpreting them forms an important aspect of this new methodology. One of the great signs of the times as seen by the Council is rapid change which has given rise to a new age of history bringing critical and swift upheavals.[4]

Change has its impact on man as individual and as society. Man is both subject and object of change. “Triggered by the intelligence and creative energies of man, these changes recoil upon him, upon his decisions and desires, both individual and collective, upon his manner of thinking and acting with respect to things and people.”[5] The perception of the Pastoral Constitution is important here. The human situation as shown by Vatican II is paradoxical. In the very progress of which humanity can be proud, there is a breakdown. Human welfare promoted by governments and social bodies often does not materialize. True, there is greatness. But at the same time there is misery. Victory and defeat characterize the modern phase of human history. Gaudium et Spes has shown the polarities that constitute the human situation: “Since all these things are so, the modern world shows itself at once powerful and weak, capable of the noblest deeds or the foulest. Before it lies the path to freedom or to slavery, to progress or retreat, to brotherhood or hatred. Moreover, man is becoming aware that it is his responsibility to guide aright the forces which he has unleashed and which can enslave him or minister to him.”[6]

According to the Pastoral Constitution human situation is a locus theologicus, a theological resource. Both the human achievements and setbacks with their accompanying uncertainty, ambiguity and confusion in the individual and social living call for a theological discernment. Theology which is based on the Scriptures not only can account for the fact of human experience, but also can point to the way of well-being and happiness. But this work of theology has to take seriously the human situation. The novelty of the approach of Gaudium et Spes is precisely this. A theological anthropology rooted in human experience as well as guided by the scriptural vision is what emerges in the Second Vatican Council’s Pastoral Constitution.

Man, the Image of God

What is man? This is a fundamental question. The analysis of the human situation raises this fundamental question. Gaudium et Spes after analyzing the human situation brings the question like this: “But what is man? About himself he has expressed and continues to express many divergent and even contradictory opinions.”[7]  The human person and society are engaged in a relentless search for better living. But unless the identity of the human person is correctly visualized there would be no clear idea about what one wants to achieve for the individual and community. The Bible interprets human being as the image of God.

Then God said, ‘let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”[8]

The Second Vatican Council has used the biblical notion of image of God as the key to understanding what man is and developing its anthropological vision. The Council tries to show the implications of the divine image showing its different dimensions. First of all it means that every human being stands in direct relationship with God. It des not mean that man is equal to God. The divine image in man implies human being’s relational capacity for God. Classical theology as in St Augustine has shown man’s capacity for God as that which enables him to know and love God.[9] This basic teaching of Christian anthropology affirms that human beings cannot seek fulfillment apart from God. The intellectual and spiritual quality in man makes him different from other living beings, whom God has created. However man must make his way to God by a conscious and free choice.

The relational character of human being is also seen in his social orientation. The creation story in the Bible brings man’s relationship to others. Basing on scriptural sources, Gaudium et Spes says:

But God did not create man as solitary. For from the beginning male and female he created them (Gen.!:27). Their companionship produces the primary form of interpersonal communion. For by his innermost nature man is a social being, and unless he relates himself to others, he can neither live nor develop his potential.[10]

According to the vision of Vatican II man is a being who exists in relationships. If he stands vertically related to God, the designer and creator of all, on a horizontal level he stands related to his fellow-human beings. Biblical anthropology, from which Vatican II draws, has interpersonality as its basic character. Family is the primary form of interpersonal communion which is open to building up of larger human communities and ultimately contributing to one human race and one human family. It is significant to observe that the document says “man is a social being and unless he relates himself to others, he can neither live nor develop his potential.” But the relationship with God stands as the centre of all interpersonal relations among human beings. Communion among human beings is ordained to God himself. The foundation and the goal of human existence cannot be separated from God. As Ratzinger has said commenting on the conciliar text, “the circle of human solidarity is open to a third, who is wholly other, God. And that, for the Council is the content of the doctrine that man is made to the image of God, he does not merely have to do with God indirectly through his work and his relations with his fellowmen. He can know and love God himself.”[11]

The Disfigured Image


The image of God in man has undergone a breakdown, though the basic reality of the divine image still remains. The biblical term that speaks about this is “sin”. Every aspect of human life is affected by the fact of sin. In man’s personal life and social life the consequences of sin become manifest. It has created estrangement from God and disharmony at all levels. If image of God in man is the theological reason for man’s greatness, disfiguration of the image by sin is the reason for man’s misery. Both the bright and dark aspects of human existence are brought under the light of revelation in Gaudium et Spes.” The call to grandeur and the depths of misery are both a part of human experience. They find their ultimate and simultaneous explanation in the light of God’s revelation.”[12]

Sin which causes the disfiguration of the image comes from the abuse of freedom. The manner of man’s abuse of freedom is described as “setting himself agaist God and desiring to find his goal apart from God”.[13] This way of going agaist God in fact is a simultaneous contraposition against fellow human beings as well as the entire creation. Biblical story telling on sin in the book of Genesis drives home the alienation and enmity developing in the human community. Ever since the first disruption by the sin of Adam there has been further increase of evil. The whole book of Genesis shows this. The enmity among brothers, Cain and Abel flares up into murder.[14] Lemech not only commits crimes against human fellowship but also boasts of his savage deeds.[15] The men at Babel who do not understand one another present a classical example of the repercussions that sin causes in the social sphere.[16]

The whole human history, due to sin, shows itself as torn by hatred and war.

In a world that is caught by the destructive power of sin, man’s work, becomes futile, even after spectacular achievements. The history of great civilizations and cultures demonstrate this. This does not say that there is nothing good in history. It once again makes it clear that the actual human situation one of ambiguity and uncertainty often bringing unexpected turn of events bringing much disappointment and suffering. All this give rise to a “dramatic struggle between good and evil, between light and darkness”.[17] The important question in Christian anthropology is not how bad the human situation is but how it is possible to find liberation from the breakdown and chaos experienced by man. Christian anthropology believes that in following God’s will and design a better world can be created. The re-creation of the divine image in man is basic to this project. This re-creation of the divine image in man and renewal of humanity has already taken place in Jesus Christ. Christ himself is the image of God. He is the new man and the promise of renewed humanity.

Christ, the Normative Man

The perfection of the human person and fulfillment of the entire humanity come from Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the liberator of man. He is the new man and the normative man. The Pastoral Constitution, Gaudium et Spes acknowledges the need of a liberator and points to Jesus Christ: “Indeed, man finds that by himself he is incapable of battling the assaults of evil successfully, so that every one feels as though he bound in chains. But the Lord Himself came to free and strengthen man, renewing him inwardly and casting out the prince of this world (Jn 12:31) who held him in bondage to sin (Jn8:34)”.[18] Here the anthropology of Vatican II meets with Christology. In the Christian view it is not possible to speak meaningfully about man without introducing Jesus Christ. Anthropology is completed and perfected only in Christology. This was acknowledged in the Second Vatican Council when the document, Gaudium et Spes was introduced with the following words: “To speak about man is also to call upon Christ, the origin and source of human perfection and at the same time the supreme exemplar.”[19]

In the Bible Adam, the first man symbolizes the old humanity which stands in need of liberation. Jesus Christ is the second Adam who was prefigured by Adam, the first man. Gaudium et Spes says, “For Adam, the first man was a figure of him who was to come. Christ the new Adam, in the very revelation of the mystery of the Father and of his love, fully reveals man to man himself and brings to light his most high calling”.[20] The image of God could not find fulfillment in the original creation because sin entered into the human family and the disruption caused by sin continued in its history. In Christ the image of God shines in all its perfection. Christ as the image of God is part of New Testament Christology.[21] Christ being the perfect image of God is capable of recreating the image of God in man. “To the sons of Adam He restores the divine likeness which had been disfigured from the first sin onward.”[22] Jesus Christ does this because he is “the normative image” for humanity.

Christ, the perfect image of God is also the perfect man. Jesus Christ is not far removed from the human world. He is of our human flesh and blood. He has in him the fundamental structures of every man. The divinity of Christ does not set aside his humanity. Jesus has full human existence. He has all the genuine features and qualities of being human. Because he has in him all that being human means, he is the exemplary man.[23] The document makes this affirmation: “Born of the Virgin Mary He has truly been made one of us, like us in all things except sin.”[24] As Scripture says, he “learned obedience through what he suffered”.[25] He had our dilemmas and underwent our trials. Yet he is different. He is united to God the Father in the unbreakable bond of his sonship, obedient and trusting. In the Christian vision the vocation of man is to be conformed to the image of Christ. The fulfillment and perfection of man is in Jesus Christ. Christ is the perfect human person and the normative man for all humanity.

Towards a New Humanity


Every one in the world hopes to see a better tomorrow. The coming of a glorious era for humanity belongs to a collective dream. The Kerala poet Kumaran Asan has written the following lines:

Breathing truth, observing equality

Enjoying the elixir of love and feeling elated

Let men march forward in the path of Dharma

Let this earth be heaven[26]

The noble aspirations of humanity are given expressions in Asan’s poem. Christian anthropology drawing from human wisdom and divine revelation envisages the building up of a better world. All human values cherished by people everywhere find their realization in Christ. The word and work of Jesus Christ show the beginning of a new humanity.

The greatest teaching of Jesus is love. The building up of the human society is possible only when interpersonal relations are characterized by unselfish love. “Love one another” is the command that Jesus gave (Jn15:16). The great economic theories and political systems though allegedly stand for social welfare are not primarily based on love. In fact it is in contemporary discussion, as with the great economist Amartya Sen, that the importance of ethical concerns has surfaced in economic welfare. Christian anthropology based on the teaching and example of Jesus gives emphasis to love as the basis of interpersonal relations and building up of society.  Drawing from the teaching of the New Testament Gaudium et Spes says:

Love of God and one’s neighbour, then, is the first and greatest commandment. Scripture teaches that love of God cannot be separated from love of one’s neighbour: Any other commandment is summed up in this sentence: You shall love your neighbour as yourself…therefore love is the fulfilling of the law (Rom 13:9-10; cf1Jn 4: 20). It goes without saying that this is a matter the utmost importance to men who are coming to rely more and more on each other and to a world which becoming more unified every day[27]

Christian anthropology is based on the vertical and the horizontal dimensions of human existence. The first is concerned about the relation between the human person and God. The second dimension is about interpersonal relations. Both these are interrelated. The first is in fact based on the second. More than ever today there is an increase of reciprocal ties and mutual dependencies among human beings. But despite this the Pastoral Constitution observes that “people are often diverted from doing good and spurred towards evil.”[28] “Social order and its development” says the Constitution, “must unceasingly work to the benefit of the human person.”[29] To all the basic things necessary for leading a truly human life, such as food, clothing and shelter, should be made available. Moreover the right to choose a state of life freely and to found a family, the right to education, to employment, to good reputation, to respect, to appropriate information, to activity according to the norm of one’s  conscience etc are to be protected.[30]

The Council has shown the example of Jesus who showed his solidarity and fellowship with all especially for the poor and deprived.[31] “Being for oneself” and “being for others” are expressions that speak two attitudes in life. Jesus’ attitude may be characterized by the latter.  The anthropology of the Council is concrete. Basing on the fundamental principle of love it shows that reverence for the human person, whoever he may be: an old person abandoned by all, a foreign worker unjustly looked down upon, a refugee, a child born of unlawful union, or a hungry person.[32] The Christian vision is related to the practice of love and the demands of the principle of justice.


A New Heaven and A New Earth

Christianity is eschatological. It is in that way future-oriented.  Based on the biblical vision of “a new heaven and a new earth” it looks forward with hope to a better tomorrow for the entire human race. The Christian eschatological hope is not unrelated to the world and history. It has thorough-going demands for the present. These are demands of love and justice. The Constitution wants to show that “every one must consider his neighbour without exception as another self, taking into account first of all his life and the means necessary to living it with dignity.”[33] The practice of justice demands an end to discrimination. “Every type of discrimination” says Gaudium et Spes, whether based on sex, race, colour, social condition, language or religion, is to be curbed and eradicated as incombatible with God’s design.”[34] The need to work for fairer and more humane conditions, removal of excessive economic and social disparity are required to bring about a united and peaceful world.[35]


The anthropological vision of the Council has an integral character.  It includes not only the human person and society but also the earth which is the natural habitat of man. The image of God that man is carries a responsibility for the entire creation. The human beings are entrusted with the duty of stewardship. Building up the human community is impossible without the care for the entire creation. Environment has suffered at the hands of man. The biblical concept of “rule over the earth” has been misinterpreted especially by Western theology to suit the colonial greed of peoples and nations. Ecological concern is today recognized as concern for man.

Theologically the entire creation is the subject matter of redemption. “The new heavens and new earth” to which Christian faith looks forward has continuity with the present. The works of love, justice and peace will endure and go into the perfection of the new age. “Far from diminishing our concern to develop this earth, the expectancy of a new earth should spur us on; for it is here that the body of a new human family grows foreshadowing the age which is to come”[36]



Theological anthropology is not marginal to Christian doctrine. Man created in the image of God is at the centre of Christian faith and practice. If presentday theology is not only oriented to man but also centred on man it is right to be so. Karl Rahner said: “If we come down to fundamentals a theocentric theology is not opposed to what is called anthropocentric theology.”[37] The contribution of Vatican II in the Pastoral Constitution shows this. The Church’s relation to world has its basis in man. “The living man”, said Irenaeus “is the glory of God.”[38] That is the vision of Gaudium et Spes which showed the way to fulfillment for the human person and community.

[1] GS, 3
[2] GS, 12
[3] GS, 4
[4] GS, 4
[5] GS, 4
[6] GS, 9
[7] GS,12
[8] Gen. 1:26-27; cf Wis. 2:23; Ps. 8:
[9] St Augustine, De Trinitate XIV, 8, 11.
[10] GS,12
[11] Joseph Ratzinger, “The Dignity of the Human Person,”   Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II (London 1969), pp.122-123.
[12] GS, 13
[13]  GS,13
[14] Gen. 4: 8-16.
[15] Gen.4: 23-24.
[16] Gen.11: 1-9.
[17] GS, 13
[18] GS, 13
[19] The Acts of the Second Vatican Council, IV, I,  p. 555
[20] GS, 22
[21] Col.. 1: 15.
[22] GS 22.
[23] Joseph Ratzinger, Introduction  to Christianity (New York 1969), p.179
[24] GS,22
[25] Heb. 5: 8
[26] Kumaran Asan, “The Song of Freedom”, The Selected Poems of Kumaran Asan (Trivandrum 1975), stanza 7, p.76.
[27] GS, 24
[28] GS, 25
[29] GS,25
[30] GS,26
[31] GS,32
[32] GS,26
[33] Acts of the Council IV, VI,  p.455.
[34] GS, 29
[35] GS,29
[36] GS,39.
[37] Karl Rahner, The Theological Investigations Vol XVII (London 1976), p.55
[38] Adversus Haereses !V, 20: PG7,255.