Principles of Liturgical Theology and the Indian Context

Dr 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 GuerangerDom Lambert BeauduinRomano 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.

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