Introduction to Liturgy | Fr Kuriakose Moonjelil MCBS


            The focal point of ecclesial life is liturgy for it is the source and summit of Christian endeavors on earth (SC. 10). Ecclesial life has to be woven around the liturgy through which the work of our redemption is carried out. Gabriel M Brasso says that the church carries on the work of spiritual formation of her children primarily when she gathers them for public worship. At the liturgical assembly one actually participates in the mystery and acquires a greater understanding of the same. The primary purpose of liturgy is not teaching, however liturgy provides a great school of formation.

            A person is not born a Christian, he has to become one. In order that we become a Christian we have to be initiated to the church. The gospel has to be announced to us and we must be prompted to surrender our hearts to its compelling power. Christian formation is not simply conveying a code or imparting a doctrine. But it is going deep in to the mysteries of salvation and living it out.  Doctrine is important but it is given flesh and blood through a whole series of details of life. The life of a priest or a religious is especially linked to the celebration of the Eucharist and sacraments. So, their life is to be specially attuned to the Eucharist- Liturgy- and the sacraments.

            The faithful also are to be formed according to the spirit of liturgy. “Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful be led to that full, conscious and active participation in the liturgical celebration which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy. Such participation by the Christian people as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a purchased people” is their right and duty by reason of their baptism” (SC. 14).

In order that the formation of the faithful be liturgical the pastors of the Church should be formed according to that. This formation should be given from the beginning of the formation. Sacro sanctum Concilium exhorts the pastors to become fully imbued with the spirit and power of the liturgy and capable of giving instruction about it. It also exhorts to take necessary steps to ensure liturgical training to the clergy (SC 14, 15, 16, 17).

In order to achieve a liturgical formation in the seminaries the council gives the following direction. The study of sacred liturgy is to be ranked among the compulsory and major courses in the seminaries and religious houses of studies; in the theological faculties it is to rank among the principle subjects. It is to be taught under its theological, historical, spiritual, pastoral and juridical aspects. More over other professors while striving to expound the Mystery of Christ and the history of salvation from the angle proper to each of their own subjects must nevertheless do so in a way which will clearly bring out the connection between their subjects and the liturgy; as also the unity which underlies all priestly training. Instruction on liturgical formation in seminaries is very clear in this regard.  Let me quote: “the students should remember that the liturgical actions are not private, but are the celebrations of the church. They belong to the whole body of the Church and show forth and affect that body. This is why their actions are governed by the laws of the Church. Therefore the celebrations of the liturgy in the seminaries must be exemplary with regard not only to the ritual, but also to the spiritual and pastoral mentality adapted in the observance of the norms and liturgical texts and the laws issued by the Apostolic See and Bishops’ Conferences”.[1] The Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in his sacramentum Caritatis says that “the ars celebrandi is the fruit of faithful adherence to the liturgical norms in all their richness”.[2]

            In the formation of sacred ministers, care should be taken to promote progressive growth of the interior participation in the Holy Mysteries and in Him who operates in them. In order to be mystagogues of the people they must live in an exemplary way the same mystegogy. Their role in the liturgy is to be the font, food and model for a life of fullness received by the grace of Our Lord. Moreover, they are to be perfectly formed towards a precise, in-depth and well founded knowledge of the holy liturgy, in its theological, spiritual and canonical aspects.

            The importance of the liturgical life is emphasized in the canons that address seminaries. These affirm that the liturgy is to be font and culmination of seminary life (canon 346: 2), that it is to be taught in virtue of its special importance as a necessary source of doctrine and of a truly Christian spirit (C.35: 3) and that the candidates of priesthood are to nourish their spiritual life from it (C.346: 2, 3). It is there for necessary that liturgy is celebrated with great care and always in its integral form in Eastern seminaries and formation institutes of monks and religious, such that the candidates may be shaped by it and learn all its richness and completeness, giving due space not only to the Eucharist but also to the Divine Office. The liturgy is to be the true font of spirituality by which the candidates are formed, the element that unifies all that they learn and the place in which doctrine become celebration of praise and thanksgiving and life is transformed by grace. Such prominence given to the liturgy will allow the candidates to draw fully as much as necessary for their interior life and will prevent their seeking it in environments foreign to their own heritage. Canon 343 prescribes that all candidates of priesthood are to be formed according to their own rite, even if they have been admitted in to a seminary of another Church ‘sui juris’ or in to a common seminary for several churches sui juris rebuking any custom to the contrary.[3] 

            In seminaries and religious houses clerics shall be given a liturgical formation in their spiritual lives. For this they need a proper initiation enabling them to understand the Sacred Rites and participate in them whole heartedly. They will also need to celebrate the Sacred Mysteries and popular devotions which are imbued with the spirit of liturgy. Likewise they must learn to observe the liturgical laws so that life in the seminaries and religious institutes may be thoroughly influenced by liturgical spirit.[4] The council observes that liturgical study is not simply the study of some rubrics we must be able to go beyond i.e. we are to go in to the spiritual and theological meaning of the liturgical celebration. So, liturgical formation is to be given through seminars, retreats and other suitable means.


The English word liturgy comes from the Latin word Liturgia which in turn has its origin from the Greek word leitourgia. For the Greek people leitourgia meant “public work” or “a service in the name of or on behalf of the people”. This is a service freely under taken by an individual or a family for the people of the province, of the city or of the state. In course of time it lost its character of freedom and became something which is imposed on by the authorities. Thus it became all the works of service more or less obligatory rendered to the state.  In the Greek translation of the OT i.e. the Septuagint, this word, without any exception, indicates, the religious service rendered to Yahweh by the Levites, in the beginning in the tent and later in the temple of Jerusalem. It is a technical term which designates the public and official cult according to the Levitical laws. It is distinct from the private cult which the Septuagint designates by the words “latria” or “doulia”.

            In the NT the word liturgy never appears to express the cult in the NT. This is because the word had a close relation with the Levitical priesthood which had no place in the NT. But we can see this in the extra biblical Judeo Christian writings as in Didache (Ch. 14) and in the first letter of Pope Clement. In Didache this word clearly refers to the celebration of the Eucharist. Pope Clement compared the Christian cult with Jewish cult using this word. It may be because of this parallelism that the word Liturgy acquired its place in the Church. Here it refers mainly to worship where the content is totally different. Even if the exterior form is same in many aspects, because of the link with its Jewish origin, the content is basically different i.e. the priesthood of Jesus Christ.

            Though this term was not used in the NT to denote divine worship exactly this is used to mean proclamation of the Gospel, active charity and worship to Yahweh. In Lk 1:23, Acts 13:2, Rom 15:16, 27, 2Cor 9:12, Phil 2:25, 30 we can see this word used in the sense of a service of God and neighbor. This idea we can see in CCC 1070.    

            In Christian tradition liturgy means the participation of the people of God “in the work of God”[5]. This word did not have the same significance in different Churches. Once the term is applied to the Christian worship its original meaning as service is retained to certain extend. In the Greek Churches “Liturgy” indicates the Christian worship in general and Eucharistic celebration in particular. In the Latin Church this word remained unknown to them for a long time. From XVI century onwards this word was used by scholars to signify the ancient rituals and to signify everything regarding the Christian worship. This term was popularized in the nineteenth century. Before the 20 th century this term hardly occurs in the official Church documents.

            Many authors have tried to define and explain “Liturgy”. Here we do not examine all the definitions. But we take two or three definitions given by some eminent authors.     Dom L. Beauduin (1873-1960): He defines liturgy as the “cult of the Church” All the strength of this simple definition contain the word “church”. This word gives Christian specificity to worship. It shows the “communitarian” and “public “aspect of the cult. Liturgy is the continuation of the worship which the Son rendered to his Father during his earthly life. The Church is a visible community reunited in and centered on Christ.

            Dom Odo Casel (1886-1948): According to Odo Casel “liturgy is the ritual enactment of the redemptive work of Jesus and the actualization of the salvific plan of God in symbols”. This definition does not give importance to the effort of man who seeks a contact with God through adoration. On the contrary the importance is to the initiation of God.

            Pope Pius XII (1939- 1958): According to him liturgy is ‘ the public worship which Our Redeemer as head of the Church renders to the Father, as well as the worship which the community of the faithful renders to its founder, and through Him to the Heavenly Father”. [6] In short, liturgy is the worship of the Mystical Body of Christ i.e. to say of the head and body. According to him liturgy is the continuation of the priestly function of Christ. He gives this explanation in his encyclical Mediator Dei.  

            Christ as the priest and mediator of the NT, did not want to interrupt the worship which he gave to his Father during his earthly life. He wanted that worship be continued in history. So he gathered a people who become a holy temple in the Lord (Eph. 2: 21). The primary and constitutive element of the liturgy is the personal worship of Christ. According to Mediator Dei this primary character of the liturgy is to be safeguarded.

            Christ rendered worship to the Father not only by recognizing and proclaiming His glory but also instituting His kingdom of glory. That kingdom is the Church. He sanctifies the man so that we also give glory to the Father. The sanctification consists in the transformation of the self through his union with Christ. This union takes place when he participates in the mystery of salvation. This participation is achieved in and through the sacraments in the Church.

            The rites in the liturgy set its value because of the sacramental nature. Liturgy is rather the action of Christ in the Church than the action of the Church. The CCEO 668 gives the following explanation of liturgy in a canonical point of view. “Liturgy is Divine worship carried outin the name of the Church by persons legitimately appointed for this and through acts approved by the ecclesiastical authority. This is public otherwise it is private” (Para 1).


            The council felt it important to give prominence to the liturgy as an integral part of Christian life. It tries to explain the liturgy than to define it. There are some similarities with Mediator Dei and the constitution on liturgy.

            Mediator Dei declares that the “liturgy is no other thing than the exercise of the priestly function of Jesus”. The council says that the liturgy is rightly seen as an exercise of the priestly office of Jesus Christ (SC 7).The MD states that the sacred liturgy constitutes the public worship of the Mystical body of Christ i.e. to say the worship by the head and its members. SC also has the same wording. It says “in it full public worship is performed by the mystical body of Christ, that is, by the Head and his members” (SC 7). Both documents consider liturgy as the real continuation of the incarnation of the Lord.

            The constitution on sacred liturgy is not content with repeating what has already been said in Mediator Dei. It throws light on the salvific plan of God designed from eternity and realized progressively in history of salvation by prophets and lastly in Christ and by Christ. According to the council the wonderful works of God in the OT were prelude to the works of Christ Our Lord. In Christ we are reconciled with the Father, and we are enabled to worship the Father in Truth and Spirit.

            Introducing the concept of “Paschal Mystery” this constitution places the NT worship in a liturgical and theological ambience. The Catechism of Catholic Church No 1067 says “the Church celebrates in the liturgy above all the Paschal Mysteries by which Christ accomplished the work of our salvation”.

            As a conclusion, we can give more or less the following definition to liturgy. According to SC “liturgy is the sacred act of Christ through the priestly function of Jesus which becomes real and continued in the Church in signs and symbols”. Through this the sanctification of man and the glorification of God are achieved. 


            The sacred scripture narrates the wonderful works of God for the universe. Here the central point is the birth, passion, death and resurrection of Our Lord. The OT prepares the background for this central mystery (DV15), the Gospels narrate the Christ Event (DV 17) and the other books of the Bible describe the after effects of this central mystery (DV. 20). Since the Bible is the narration of the Paschal Mysteries the Church venerates the Word of God as she venerates the Body of Christ (DV.20).

            In liturgy we celebrate what is narrated in the Bible. Robert Taft says: “Liturgy publicly feasts the mystery of our salvation already accomplished in Christ”.[7] Here we not only “tell but also do the story of salvation” i.e. the mystery of God in His Son. Every liturgical celebration is the anamnesis and celebration of the Paschal Mysteries.[8]

            In Ecclesia de Eucharistia Pope John Paul II says: “when Church celebrates Eucharist, the memorial of her Lord’s death and resurrection, the central event of salvation becomes really present”[9]. It is indelibly marked by the event of the Lord’s passion and death of which it is not only a reminder but also a sacramental presentation. At every celebration of the Eucharist we are spiritually brought back in to the Paschal Triduum: to the events of the evening of the Holy Thursday, to the Last supper and to what followed it.[10]

            Quoting from Roman Missal the instruction according to the Redeemptionist and Sacramentum that teaches, “In the most Holy Eucharist, mother Church with steadfast faith acknowledges the Sacrament of Redemption, joyfully takes in to herself, celebrates it and renews it in adoration, proclaiming the death of Jesus Christ and confessing his Resurrection until he comes in glory”[11]. In liturgy the Church celebrates above all the paschal mystery by which Christ accomplished the work of salvation:  says CCC 1067.

            The Instruction for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions of the Code of Canon of the Eastern Churches declares that “the liturgy of the Church is first of all celebration of the mystery of our salvation accomplished in the Passover of the Lord Jesus” (No.1). The apostolic letter Orientale Lumen says: “the whole liturgy of the oriental churches is the anamnesis of the mystery of salvation and a prayer for the second coming of Jesus Christ”.[12]

            In the fourth G’hanta of the Syro- Malabar Qurbana the Church prays: “and we also, my Lord, your week, frail and miserable servants who are gathered in your name, and who stand before you at this time and have received by tradition celebrating this great, awesome, holy, vivifying and divine mystery of the passion, the death, the burial and resurrection of Or Lord and Savior Jesus Christ”

            From generation to generation the Church receives her liturgical tradition and makes it her own by celebrating the mystery of salvation for the glory of God and edification of God’s people.


            Liturgy is communitarian celebration of the Paschal Mysteries in faith. It also proclaims the faith of the Church. It is essentially “a prayer done in faith” in the sense that the ‘rationale’ and basis for any liturgical prayer is the fact that it is based on the faith that shared, expressed and professed by a community gathered in the name of the Lord. Liturgies are the manifold expressions of faith and in this we celebrate the faith professed.

            SC says that the Liturgy contains many instructions for the faithful (SC 33). It sanctifies men and builds up the body of Christ in faith. The signs presuppose faith; they also nourish, strengthen and express faith. When the Church celebrates liturgy she confesses the faith received from the apostles that is why the ancient saying “lex orandi lex credenti” i.e. the law of prayer is the law of faith. The Church prays as she believes and she believes that which she prays. Pope Benedict XVI says that liturgy is an event by means of which we let ourselves is introduced in to the expansive faith and prayer of the Church.[13] For this reason no sacramental rite may be modified or manipulated at the will of the minister or of the community. The CCC says that even the supreme authority of the Church may not change the liturgy arbitrarily but only in the obedience of faith and with religious respect for the mystery of the liturgy.

            In 1999 when the Pope handed the authority to take decision on liturgical matters over to the synod of bishops of the Syro- Malabar Church he exhorted the bishops saying: “we, as bishops, must be fully conscious that we are the guardians of a ‘heritage of faith’ and grace which precedes and accompanies us”. The liturgy contains the faith handed over to us through generations. Our duty is to transmit this deposit of faith to the coming generations faithfully. Liturgical prayers and celebrations have an inexhaustible educational value since they progressively raise the faithful to the faith of the Church. In these celebrations the Holy Spirit takes the Church in his protection and makes her fertile, continually bringing forth new children of God the Father.


            The Church is basically a worshipping community. That is why Florovskij says, “In the Church worship comes first, doctrine and discipline second”. For the council, liturgy is the outstanding means by which worship comes first, doctrine and discipline second”. For the council, liturgy is the outstanding means by which the faithful can express in their lives and manifest to others the mystery of Christ and the real nature of the true Church (SC. 2). According to Robert Taft the Church is Church only in liturgy. The first letter to the Corinthians 11:18 points to this truth. “The Church becomes visible for people in many ways, the charitable activity or in missionary projects, but the place where the Church is actually experienced most of all as Church is the liturgy”[14]. The Church is a reality which is earthly as well as heavenly and liturgy is the means by which the faithful is assembled as a Church. The Liturgy builds up the Church as well as it exists in the Church. In the creed we proclaim that the Church is One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. The Church manifests herself as One, with that unity which comes to her from Trinity, especially when the holy people of God participates in the one Eucharist in one and the same prayer, at the one altar, presided over by the bishop surrounded by his presbyterate and his ministers. The Church expresses the holiness that comes to her from Christ when, gathered in one body by the Holy Spirit who makes holy and gives life, she communicates to the faithful by means of the Eucharist and the other sacraments all the graces and blessings of the Father. In liturgical celebration the Church expresses her catholicity, since in her the Spirit of the Lord gathers together people of all languages in the profession of the same faith. In the Liturgy the Church manifests herself as apostolic, because the faith that she professes is founded upon the witness of the apostles. This is because the liturgical celebration is presided over by a minister ordained in the apostolic succession.  The relation between the Church and liturgy especially the Eucharist is so deep that we can use these qualifications to liturgy also. Liturgical celebrations are icons of the Church.


            Liturgy is the public worship rendered by the mystical body in the entirety of its head and members (MD. 20). It is an act of the people of God hierarchically ordered; and the Church’s way of praying in common. The council is so clear in declaring that the liturgical services are not private functions but are the celebrations of the Church (SC 26). The official liturgical instructions always prefer to con-celebrations rather than the so called individual celebrations without people.[15] Pope John Paul II in his apostolic letter Mane Nobiscum Domine says that even when celebrated in obscurity or in isolation, Eucharist always has a universal character.[16]

            The Code of Canon law for the Latin Church says that “a priest may not celebrate the Eucharistic sacrifice without the participation of at least one of the faithful, unless there is a good reasonable cause for doing so” (CIC 906). This canon shows the public nature of the liturgy. Pope John Paul II says that even when the liturgy is celebrated on the humble altar of a country church; it is always in some way celebrated on the altar of the world.  The liturgical norms are concrete expressions of the authentically ecclesial nature of the Eucharist. Liturgy is never anyone’s private property, be it of the celebrant or of the community in which the mysteries are celebrated.[17] Pope Francis in his apostolic exhortation desiderio desideravi states that “the action of the celebration does not belong to the individual but the Christ- Church, to the totality of the faithful united in Christ” (No. 19). So, he says that “every aspect of celebration must be carefully intended to (space, time, gesture, words, objects, vestments, song, music…) and every rubrics must be observed, Such attention would be enough to prevent robbing from the assembly what is owed to it: namely, the paschal mystery celebrated according to the ritual that the Church sets down” (No.23).


            The Eucharistic space-time is an image of the heavenly space-time. The earthly liturgy is only an image of the heavenly liturgy. The places, time and objects of liturgical celebrations are symbols of heavenly space-time. The temple is the present world, and is like the outer sanctuary of the tabernacle of the covenant in to which the priests, deacons and the assembly of the people always enter. The altar or the sanctuary is indeed the type of the future world, and of the ‘holy of holies’ of the tabernacle of the covenant into which once a year the high priest entered. The veils have an important function in the cosmic symbolism. They mark the boundary between the heavenly and earthly space-time. The priest in our liturgy is not just a man in space and time. The church building is not just a structure in space and time. Likewise the prayers, gestures and movement in our liturgy transcend the level of ordinary space-time. Christian liturgy is something more than a symbol; it shares in the reality itself. Christ is our High priest in reality. The priest represents the true High priest, performing the figure of the service of the ineffable sacrifice of Christ. The Eucharistic space-time is only an anticipation of the heavenly Eucharistic space-time. The reality of the Eucharistic celebration in its space-time, persons and actions is a mystery anticipating the Eucharistic celebration in the new space-time. The prayers and actions of Christ symbolized through the prayers and actions of the persons give to the liturgical space the power of representing heaven and earth. Therefore, the space and time of our Eucharistic celebration here and now are not to be compared with space-time of empirical knowledge. The individual element of the liturgical space-time symbolically represents the mystery of Christ. It is Christ who is acting and praying in the liturgy. According to Mar Ephrem in the liturgy Christ is the altar and the lamb, the offering and the offered. Commentators like Gabirel Qathraya, Abraham Bar Lipha, the Anonymous Author, and Yohannan Bar Zobi interpret the prayers, actions and persons of the liturgy as symbols of the Mysteries of Christ.

            The liturgical persons like the priest, archdeacon, deacons, and the ministers symbolize the persons of the history of salvation. The liturgical actions such as the procession between sanctuary and bema, celebration of the liturgy of the Word, transfer of gifts, anaphora and communion symbolize the whole history of salvation. The liturgical celebrations also symbolize the heavenly phase of the salvation. Thus communion is a participation in the heavenly banquet. The praise and thanksgiving of the liturgical assembly are made in communion with the heavenly assembly. In the liturgical space and time God is entering our space-time; on the other we are entering God’s space- time. In short “liturgy is truly a glimpse of heaven appearing on earth. It is a glorious ray of the heavenly Jerusalem which pierces the clouds of our history and lights up our journey.”[19]

            We conclude this explanation of the liturgy with the words of Catechism of the Catholic Church. In 1090 we read “in the earthly liturgy we share in a foretaste of that heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the Holy city of Jerusalem towards which we journey as pilgrims, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God, Minister of the sanctuary and of the true Tabernacle with all worriers of the heavenly army we sing a hymn of glory to the Lord, venerating the memory of the saints, we hope for same part and fellowship with them, we eagerly await the Savior, Our Lord Jesus Christ, until he, our life shall appear with him in glory”. As a conclusion we can say that “liturgy gives glory to God because it allows us- here, on earth- to see God in the celebration of the mysteries, and in seeing Him to draw life from his Passover”(Desiderio desideravi No.43). 


            A liturgical celebration is woven from signs and symbols. In keeping with the divine pedagogy of salvation, their meaning is rooted in the work of creation and in human culture, specified by the events of the old covenant and fully revealed in the person and work of Christ (CCC 1145). In human life signs and symbols occupy an important place. As a being of body and spirit, man expresses and perceives spiritual realities through physical signs and symbols. As a social being, man needs signs and symbols to communicate with others. They communicate with others through language, gestures and actions. The same holds true for the relationship with God. The liturgy of the Church presupposes, integrates and sanctifies elements from creation and human culture, conferring on them the dignity of signs of grace, of the new creation in Jesus Christ. In the OT circumcision, anointing and consecration of kings and priests, laying on of the hands, sacrifices, the Passover are liturgical signs.

            Jesus in his preaching often makes use of creation to make known the mysteries of the kingdom of God (Lk. 8:10). He gives new meaning to the deeds and signs of the OT.

Since Pentecost, it is through sacramental signs of his Church that the Holy Spirit carries on the work of sanctification. They signify and make actively present the salvation wrought by Christ, and prefigure and anticipate the glory of heaven (CCC.1145-1152). The symbols serve like windows or doors to the saving reality of the salvific event. They make one experience the eternal reality of salvation, here and now.  Without properly recognizing the worth of the symbols one cannot properly practice the religion.

            The symbols and signs of the Holy Qurbana are instituted either by Christ himself or by the Church. Christ himself has revealed the meaning of the signs and symbols he has instituted. We get the meaning of the signs and symbols instituted by the Church from the prayers of the liturgy and from the commentaries of the church fathers. There are more signs and symbols in the oriental liturgies than in occidental liturgies. Signs point to something else; e.g. a sign board shows the way to some direction or to a building etc. A symbol is a sign which has an inner meaning; e.g. National flag. All symbols are signs but all signs are not symbols. We can take the cross as an example. For a Christian it is a symbol of salvation but for a non-Christian it may be a sign which shows that it is a Christian establishment.

            There are two kinds of symbols: representative symbol and realizing or sacramental symbol. A tomb stone can be seen considered as a representative symbol. Sacramental symbols make present what they signify. Signs may be natural, free or conventional. Where there is smoke there is the presence of fire. This is a natural sign. Green light is a traffic sign accepted by the world. This can be considered as free or conventional sign.

            Every symbol is at the same time both powerful and fragile. If it is not respected, if it is not treated for what it is, it shatters, looses its force, becomes insignificant (DD 44).


            A sacramental celebration is a meeting of God’s children with their Father in Christ and Holy Spirit. This meeting takes place the form of a dialogue through actions and words (CCC. 1153). The liturgical prayer in the east shows a great aptitude for involving the human person in his or her totality. In the sacred act, even bodylines are summoned to praise and beauty appears everywhere. The lengthy duration of the celebrations, the repeated invocations, everything expresses gradual identification of one’s whole personality with the mystery celebrated (CCC. 1154). The liturgical word and actions are inseparable both in so far as they are signs and instructions and in as far as they accomplish what they signify (CCC. 1155).

  • Processions

            The liturgical celebration consists of many liturgical actions. In the Eucharistic celebration there are three processions: 1) The movement from the sanctuary to the Bema for the liturgy of the Word, 2) The movement from the Bema to the sanctuary for the celebration of the Holy Mysteries, 3) The movement from the sanctuary to the Qestroma for the distribution of Communion. These movements show a dynamic connection between the different parts of the celebration. These processions are symbolic presentation of the movements from earth to heaven and from heaven to earth and show the pilgrim nature of the Church. The Anonymous Author interprets the entrance procession of the celebrant from the Sanctuary to the Bema as a symbol of the coming of Christ from heaven to earth. He states that the Gospel procession is the symbol of the manifestation of Jesus at Jordan. The procession of the bishop and the priests into the Sanctuary represents the mystery of the resurrection and ascension of the Lord and entrance of the elect into the banquet of the Kingdom of God. The procession of the celebrant and the ministers to the door of the sanctuary to distribute the Communion is the symbol of the second coming of Christ in glory. The communion procession of the people is the symbol of the entry of the people into future joy in the Kingdom of Heaven. It is the time of the encounter of the faithful with the Risen Lord face to face.[20]

  • Facing the East

            In the celebration of the liturgy east ward position is very important. Till 1962 all the catholic churches celebrated the liturgy facing the east. The churches were built in order that the liturgy may be celebrated turning to the east. After the second Vatican council a change happened in the Latin Church. Many Oriental Churches also imitated the Latin Church without any study and permission. The church never allowed the Syro-Malabar Church to celebrate the Eucharist facing the people.

            Ever since ancient times, it has been customary in the prayer of the eastern churches to prostrate oneself to the ground, turning toward the east; the building themselves were constructed such that the altar would face the east. St. John of Damascus explains the meaning of this tradition: “it is not for simplicity nor by chance that we pray turned toward the regions of the east. Since God is intelligible light (I Jn.1:5), and in the Scripture, Christ is called the Sun of Justice (Mal 3:20), and the East (Zec. 3:8 of the LXX), it is necessary to dedicate the East to him in order to render worship. The Scripture says: “then the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east and he placed there the man whom he had formed (Gen 2:8). In search of the ancient homeland and tending towards it, we worship God. Even the tent of Moses had its curtain veil and propitiatory facing the east. And the tribe of Judah, in as much as it was the most notable, encamped on the east side (Num. 2:3). In the temple of Solomon, the Lord’s gate was facing the east (Eze. 44:1). Finally, the Lord placed on the Cross looked towards the west, and so we prostrate ourselves in his direction, facing him. When he ascended to heaven, he was raised towards the east and thus his disciples adored him, and thus he will return, in the same way as they saw him go to heaven (Acts. 1:11), as the Lord himself said: “for just as lightning comes from the east and is seen as far as the west, so will the coming of the son of man be” Mt 24:27). Waiting for him, we prostrate ourselves towards the east. It is an unwritten tradition, deriving from the apostles”.[21]

            This rich and fascinating interpretation also explains the reason for which the celebrant who presides in the liturgical celebration prays facing the east, just as the people who participate. It is an age old tradition of expressing the pilgrim nature of the church in which the celebrant guiding the people towards the heavenly Jerusalem.[22] It is very relevant to quote here the observation of Card. Ratzinger in his book Feast of Faith. He says: “the true location and the true context of the Eucharistic celebration is the whole cosmos. Facing the east makes the cosmic dimension of the Eucharist present through liturgical gesture. Because of the rising sun, the east is naturally both the symbol of resurrection and a hope of Parousia”.

            “Liturgy, in truth, is an event by means of which we let ourselves be introduced into the expansive faith and prayer of the Church. This is the reason why the early Christians prayed facing the east, in the direction of the rising sun, the symbol of the returning Christ. In so doing, they wanted to show that the whole world is on its way toward Christ and that he encompasses the whole world. This connection between heaven and earth is very important. It was no accident that ancient churches were built so that the sun would cast its light into the house of God at a very precise moment. Today we are rediscovering the importance of the interactions between the earth and the rest of the universe, and so it makes perfect sense that we should also relearn the cosmic character of the liturgy”[23].

            Turning towards east is also an expression of the second coming of Christ. We must keep in mind that the second coming of Christ is sure and certain. This truth comes before everything else. “This is also why the Mass is originally celebrated facing east, toward the returning Lord, who is symbolized in the rising sun. Every Mass is therefore an act of going out to meet the One who is coming”[24]. In the liturgy it is ‘already but not yet’ like the wedding at Cana. At Cana Jesus says “My hour has not yet come”. But in spite of that he gives the new wine.

  • Sitting

            The commentators of the east Syrian liturgy, Gabriel Qathraya and Anonymous author as well as Bar Lipha see the liturgical action of sitting as a symbol of death. The deacon asks the people to sit down and to keep silence during the OT readings. Then all people sit down to signify their equality before the face of death. The sitting of the bishop and the priests during the hymn ‘Onitha d- Raze’ is the symbol of their death with Christ. They are dying with Christ in order to live with Him at the resurrection. During the reading of the Epistle the bishop is sitting symbolizing the sitting of our Lord in silence without showing his power. It also shows the expectation of the fulfillment of the OT promises.[25]It shows also the readiness to hear the word of God attentively.

  • Genuflection

            The liturgical symbol of sitting and genuflection go together, and both symbolize death. On the days of fasting the people genuflect but on feast days and Sundays there is no genuflection.

  • Standing

            The commentators explain the liturgical meaning of standing in the light of the resurrection theology of St. Paul. For him standing signifies the end of slavery (Gal 5:1, Eph 6:14). It is a symbol of the participation in the heavenly liturgy and an anticipation of the future glory in the kingdom of heaven. Standing signifies the resurrection. It also signifies happiness, respect and hope.

  • Bowing

            Bowing is a sign of veneration, reverence, and gratitude towards the presence of God in the midst of the people. It is a liturgical gesture to show the submission of the people of God to receive his blessing. In the celebration of the Holy Mysteries, the celebrant and other ministers bow their heads at the mention of the Trinity as a sign of thanksgiving. The community bows to one another as a sign of their unity of heart.[26]

  • Incensing

            It is a sign of true adoration, prayer and worship of the Church to God. The incensing has a Christological significance: it recalls the embalming of Christ’s body on the day of his burial (Jn 19:39). It symbolizes Christ’s sweetness and the smell of the divine perfume and future glory.

  • Washing of hands

            This is passed from Judaism into Christianity. It shows the washing of one’s own heart before approaching the altar.

  • Stretching the hands

            Stretching the hands in different ways during the celebration symbolizes many internal attitudes of the celebrant as well as the people. They are the symbols of intercession, petition, repentance, devotion and reverence.

  • Kneeling

            In the eastern liturgies there is less kneeling than in the western liturgy. Since the liturgy gives importance to resurrection in these Churches they stand during the celebrations. Kneeling symbolizes sinfulness and repentance. It also shows the fall of man due to sin.

  • Kissing

            During the liturgical celebrations the celebrant kisses the altar, the sliba and the gospel. This is to express love, devotion and submission to these holy things.[27]

  • Giving Peace

            Peace is Jesus Christ himself (Eph 2:14) and he has made us one and has broken down the dividing wall. So, giving of peace expresses reconciliation and unity. It shows that all faithful are united in Christ and made his body.

  • Sign of the Cross

            The fundamental sign of the Christian prayer is the sign of the Cross. It expresses externally our faith in the Lord. Making a sign of the cross is a profession of faith. It also makes us remember our baptism especially when we make it using the holy water.[28] During liturgy the members of the community- the main celebrant, the servers and the faithful- make sign of the cross. It symbolizes the sacrifice on the cross and through this sign we proclaim the Holy Trinity. The Syro- Malabar Church makes the sign of the Cross from right to left.  Sacred space, sacred time, sacred persons, sacred objects, sacred words and music, sacred gestures and actions are all symbols which realize the celebration of the Paschal Mysteries and the salvific encounter with Christ. It is through these signs and symbols that Christ accomplishes the work of our redemption.


            The Mystery celebrated in the liturgy is one, but the forms of its celebration are diverse. The Mystery of Christ is so unfathomably rich that it cannot be exhausted by its expression in any single liturgical tradition. They are complementary to each other. When the Churches lived their respective liturgical tradition in the communion of faith they enriched each other. Through the liturgical life of the local church Christ is made manifest to the particular people and culture to which that Church is sent in which she is rooted. The diverse liturgical traditions or rites recognized manifest the catholicity of the Church, because they signify and communicate the same mystery of Christ.

            The Churches are grouped mainly on the basis of their liturgical tradition. The particular form of worship of a church has a unique role in determining and specifying its identity. The Eucharistic sacrifice, the sacraments, the feasts, the fasts, administrative systems, hierarchical set up, discipline, ecclesiastical calendar, vestments etc. are different aspects which contribute to the distinctiveness of the individual Churches.[29] There are six liturgical families in the Catholic Church. They are: Alexandrian, Antiochean, Armenian, Byzantine, Chaldean, Roman. The Church holds all lawfully recognized rites to be of equal dignity and right, and that she wishes to preserve them in the future and to foster them in every way (CCC 1203).

            In the fourth century the Roman Empire was divided in to Eastern and Western. The Roman liturgical tradition spread in the west and the local variations as Ambrosian, Gallican, Mozarabic ete. Gradually, they merged into the Roman tradition except for a few local differences. But the situation in the east was entirely different> There the Churches of the important centers like Edessa, Constantinople, Antioch and Alexandria developed their own liturgical traditions which gradually spread in to the neighboring regions as well.

            The Origin and Development of Different Liturgical Families

          One and the same Paschal Mystery is celebrated in diverse forms in different Churches. However, the emphasis on a particular aspect of the mystery differs in different liturgical traditions. For example, even though the eucharistic mystery is commemoration of the entire Paschal Mystery of Christ the East Syrian anaphoras seem to emphasize the resurrection where as the Roman anaphoras emphasise the passion and death. The plurality of Liturgy is a characteristic feature of the Christian Orient. However the Christian west was well acquainted with the liturgical diversity. There were many other liturgies such as Ambrosian, Celtic, Mozarabic and African liturgies. Of these the Ambrosian and Mozarabic survive today.

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

          The ultimate ground for the liturgical diversity is Church’s mission itself. The apostolic preaching was characterized by the Christ experience that each of the apostles had. This different Christ-experience was proclaimed in different cultures. Thus the diversity of the Christ-experience of the preaching and the cultural background of the people who took the Gospel message accounted for different Churches and different modes of the celebration of faith. Churches of the same geographical and cultural area came to celebrate the mystery of Christ through particular expressions characterized by the culture (CCC1202).

          It took centuries before each liturgy acquired its own individuality or genuine characteristic shape. The end of the Patristic age may be regarded as the final stage in this development. Each liturgy may be regarded as the Patristic Synthesis on the basis of Sacred Scripture and Tradition.

          Families of Eastern Liturgies

  1. Antiochean
  2. West Syrian
  3. Malankara
  4. Maronite

II. East Syrian (Mesopotamian or Persian)

  1. Assyrian
  2. Chaldean
  3. Syro-Malabar

III. Alexandrian

  1. Coptic
  2. Ethiopian

IV. Byzantine (Constantinopolitan)

  1. Albanian
  2. Bulgarian
  3. Greek Orthodox
  4. Hungarian
  5. Italo-Albanian
  6. Melkite
  7. Romanian
  8. Russian
  9. Ruthenian
  10. Slovak
  11. Ukrainian
  12. Yugoslavian
  13. Byelorussian

V Armenian


            The main constituents of the liturgy are the Eucharist (The Holy Qurbana), the sacraments, and the Liturgy of the Hours. The liturgical year helps us to go deep in to the Paschal Mysteries. It is a theological and systematic methodology to imbibe the spirit of the liturgy and put in to practice the Paschal Mysteries in our day-to-day life.

  • The Holy Qurbana

            The primitive Christian community had the Christ experience actualized in the Qurbana. The weekly celebration of the passion, death and resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ helped them to identify themselves with the life of Christ. In the Holy Qurbana the worshipping community enjoys full and complete experience of the Mystery of Christ. When we center our whole life in the Paschal Mysteries “personal prayer and interior silence spontaneously gush forth”.[30] Our life of prayer centered on Holy Qurbana transforms us in to a living oblation. The Eucharistic celebration helps us to understand and assimilate better the Word of God. ‘The daily celebration of the Eucharist is the moment of renewal and deepening of Christian consecration. The Holy Qurbana of each day makes every day we live a microcosm of our whole Christian life just as the natural day is a microcosm of our whole natural life’.[31]

  • The Sacraments

            They help us to grow in our Christian vocation. They are to sanctify men to build up the body of Christ and finally to give worship to God (SC. 50). They are the moments of disclosure of redemption of Christ. They are also “the means through which the faithful share in the life of God”.[32]They are the visible signs of the invisible grace.[33] The seven sacraments are: the sacraments of initiation, sacraments of healing and the sacraments of maturation.

  • The liturgy of the hours

            The liturgy of the hours is a constant reminder of the Paschal Mysteries. It also helps us to assimilate and appropriate the paschal mysteries. For the easterners it is not a prayer reserved to the priests and religious but a prayer of the whole church. The salvific reality we celebrate in the Holy Qurbana is extended to the whole year through this prayer extending the spirit of the Holy Qurbana in to the hours and minutes of the day. It is a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. This prayer has a superior value over other forms of prayer because it is approved by the Church and it is the prayer of the Church. The prayer of the Church is the prayer of Christ himself. This prayer is biblical, objective, and traditional and is filled with the theological and spiritual thinking of the church fathers. It has stood the test of the time in every church.

                        Role of a Choir in the Liturgical Celebration

          The Second Vatican council clearly teaches about the role of a choir in the liturgical celebration. The sixth chapter of the Sacrosanctum Concilium deals with the liturgical songs. The hymns and presence of a choir in the liturgical celebrations enrich the active participation of the community.

          The art and music used in the liturgical celebrations should have the following characteristics.

  1. They should express the beauty of the divine realities.
  2.  They should be truly worthy, becoming and beautiful.
  3. They are to represent the divine realities celebrated in the liturgy’
  4. They are to be in accordance with the faith, tradition, devotion and laws of the Church.
  5. There should be a sense of beaty and sacredness in them (SC.124).
  6. Those works of art and music which are repugnant to faith, morals and Christian piety and which offend the true religious sense should be excluded (SC. 124).
  7. They are to be suitable for the celebration of liturgical services and for the active participation of the faithful (SC.124,125).

In short, we can say that the liturgical music must be religious i.e. It inspires the people to lift up their hearts to God, inspires them to pray, devotional, simple so that all may sing easily in accordance with the role they have to play in the celebration. It is very important that they get the approval of the competent authority.    


            Liturgy is the celebration of the Paschal Mysteries in space and time. The church building is the meeting place of heaven and earth. The Eucharistic space time is the image of the heavenly space time and therefore Eucharistic space time acquires many of the features of the heavenly space time.[34]The Holy Qurbana is celebrated in the sacred space, namely church, dedicated for that purpose. Church building is the house of God. It is not a mere gathering place, but it makes visible the Church living in that place, the dwelling of God with men reconciled and united with Christ (CCC 1180). “Visible Church is the symbol of the Father’s house towards which the people of God is journeying and where the Father will wipe every tear from their eyes” (CCC 1186).


            The construction of a Church where the Latin Mass is to be celebrated should be according to the genius of that celebration. Then only the celebration will be fruitful and active. For a church building of Latin tradition there should be the following arrangements. It is different from those of the Oriental Church.

  • The Altar

            This is an elevated platform. It is elevated from the place where the people stand during the celebration. It is here the table of sacrifice is placed. The reading stand and the tabernacle also are arranged here. The celebrant and the servers always stand here during the celebration. Sometimes the table of sacrifice also is known after this name.

The Throne It is also called throne. It is situated in the altar. The tabernacle, the crucifix as well as the statues are placed here. Usually wall behind the table of sacrifice is used as the throne. This is the symbol of the heaven and the symbol of the presence of God. The place is called Thronos (Throne) because this is considered as the place where god is seated.

  • The table of Sacrifice

            This is the place where we celebrate the Mass. It is the most sacred place where the body and blood of Christ is made present. It is symbolized as the sepulcher of Jesus Christ. The church does not allow arranging flowers and candles on this sacred place. There should be other arrangements for this purpose. Only the objects for the sacrifice and the Missal can be placed over this. If there is a Crucifix already in the altar there is no need of another one on the table of sacrifice. It is to be kept in mind that this table is meant only for the breaking of the bread.

  • The Reading Stand

            It is here that the Word of God is celebrated and homily is delivered. Since the table of sacrifice is meant only for the breaking of the bread there should be reading stand for the breaking of the Word of God. The reading stand is arranged at the right side of the Altar while the Paschal Lamp is placed at the left. All the readings and the announcements are made from the reading stand. The rite does not encourage celebrating the word of God standing at the sacrifice table.

  • The Tabernacle

            It is the sacred place where the Eucharist is kept. The apostolic tradition of the Church is that the hosts shall not be left after the celebration. But if it is kept either for the distribution to the sick or for the adoration due respect shall be given. It is to be noted that we shall not show respect to the Eucharist while the celebration is going on. From the time of the celebration the presence of Jesus is on the Altar.

  • The Baptismal Pond

            In the ancient days there was a special room for the baptism of the newly converted. Today there is no special room for the baptism. The baptismal font is arranged at the main entrance of the church symbolizing the official and solemn entranced of the person in to the Church.

  • The Sanctuary Lamp

            In order to remind us of the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament an ever-burning lamp is kept in front of the Tabernacle whenever we keep the Holy Eucharist.

  • The Sacristy and the Confessional

            The sacristy is the place where the celebrants as well as the servers prepare themselves, vest and unvest for the celebrations. The confessional is the place where the priest hears confession. This is the liturgical arrangements we have to make for a meaningful and active celebration of the Holy Mass in the Latin Rite.


            The Qurbana of the Syro- Malankara Church belongs to the West Syrian or Antiochean liturgical tradition. The Orthodox Church and the Jacobite Church also follow the same liturgical tradition. From the Bible as well as from the history we understand that the first Christians broke bread in the houses. Slowly special places were set apart for the celebration of the Eucharist. There are historical evidences for the existence of Christian churches in Edessa in the second century itself. It is by fourth century that Christian churches were built extensively and systematically. We must keep in mind that it is by fourth century that liturgy began to get a fixed shape.

The West- Syrian Church has mainly the Sanctuary (Madbaha), the Choir (Questruma), the Nave (Haikala) and the Narthex (Mondalam). They build churches in east- west direction and the sanctuary will be at the eastern end of the building. Their main orientation in prayer is eastward position which has biblical, traditional and theological foundations.

  • The Narthex (Mondalam)

            This is at the west end of the church. This is the place where the public sinners and those who are preparing to receive baptism stand during the second part (Eucharistic part) of the liturgical celebration.

  • The Nave (Haikala)

            This part where the people stand is the biggest part of the church. During liturgical celebration women stand in the northern part of the haikala and men at the southern part. The three doors at the western side of the Church symbolize the Trinity. The nave symbolizes the earth.

  • The Choir (Questruma)

            The place where the members of the choir stand is one step elevated platform. It is between haikala and madbaha and separated from haikala with rails. In Questruma there is a table on which the Holy Bible together Mar Sliba is placed.

  • The Sanctuary (Madbaha)

            The sanctuary is the place where the liturgy of the Eucharist is celebrated. This is the most elevated place in the church which is separated from the questroma with a veil. This is the most sacred area of the church and only the ordained ministers are allowed to enter here. This is considered as the paradise and the symbol of heaven on earth. This is the holy of holies where the Triune God is present. Since it is a holy place those who enter here should be barefooted or should wear special shoes destined for the liturgical celebrations.

  • The Altar (Thronos)

            This is the central part of the sanctuary. It is on this altar we celebrate the Paschal Mysteries. The altar is of rectangular shape made of either precious wood or stone. This is called the throne or Thronos because of the special presence of God after the consecration of the same. It is considered as the throne of God which the prophet Isaiah saw as well as the sepulcher of Jesus Christ. It is also the symbol of Jesus himself. So they dress the altar in their tradition. It is because of these symbolisms that they do not allow to deposit the relics of the saints. It is not allowed also to put flowers or candles here. In between the eastern wall and the thronos there should be a space so that the procession at the begging of the Holy Qurbana may be performed solemnly.

  • The Altar Stone (Thableetho)

            This is a wooden piece of rectangular shape. This is placed in the center of the altar. This represents the Cross on which Jesus died. This can be considered as a portable altar. It has one and half feet length, one feet breadth and half inch thickness. At the time of the consecration of the Church the bishop consecrates the altar stone also.

  • (Virikkoottam)

            This is a set of veils stitched in the order of white, green and red. The white in the middle represents the church while the green and the red represent the earth and the universe respectively. Virikkoottam as a single unit shows that the sacrifice we offer on the altar is a sacrifice offered together with the whole universe.

  • The Cross (Mar Sleebo)

            The eastern churches always venerated the Sleeba and expressed their devotion in different ways. For them the Cross is Jesus himself. It is not a symbol of his death only but a symbol of his resurrection also. So, they do not use crucifix in the Madbaha. They use Easter cross to symbolize the light and new life. The imageless cross which they use in their sanctuary has a piece of wood on the top with the inscription INRI.

  • The Altar Step (Durga)

            This is a step-in front of the altar. It has three feet length, one and half feet breadth and half feet height. Those who are not in the rank of priesthood are not allowed to enter there. This step symbolizes the Upper Room where Jesus went to institute the Eucharist.

  • The Canopy (Baldakin)

            This is a decorative protection over the Altar. This is made either of wood or cloth.

  • The Madbaha Veil (Thiraseela)

            The veil which covers the whole madbaha shows the sacredness of the Madbaha. At the center of this veil there will be a depiction of Sleeba. The veil is removed from left to right. The whole madbaha is covered with this and there is no special direction about the color of the veil. It is removed only during the liturgical celebrations and it is according to the rubrics of the celebration.

  • The Baptismal Font (Beth Mamodeesa)

            Till the Middle Ages the oriental churches administered the sacrament of baptism in the house of baptism. It was constructed outside the church and was beautifully decorated. In course of time beth- mamodeesa were disappeared and baptismal fonts were made instead. The Syro- Malankara Church arrange baptismal font either at the right side of western entrance of the church or at the right side in the Questruma.


            The church setting of St. Thomas Christians in Malabar was very much inculturated externally to the local customs. The external architecture was in the model of Hindu temples or pagodas (Viharas) of Buddhist center of manram. The word ‘pally’ originated from the Buddhist tradition. For them it meant the place of worship. The element which distinguished the Christian church from those of other religions was the Cross at top of the building. It was rectangular facing the west with sanctuary in the east. The roof of the sanctuary was raised a little from the rest of the building. This is to indicate the holy of holies from other parts of the church even from outside. L. Bouyer observes that the Syrian churches appear as a Christianized version of a Jewish synagogue.

            The internal settings for the celebration of the Sacraments were according to the east- Syrian liturgical tradition. Three main parts were the sanctuary (Madbaha), chancel (Questhroma), and nave (Haikala). These three main parts resemble almost to the interiority of the Jerusalem temple. Each part has its own function in the celebration of the Eucharistic mystery. The place for the celebration of the word is the Bema; the celebration of the Mysteries is in the Sanctuary-Madbaha-and the rite of Communion in the Questroma. The porch in front of the church used to serve for keeping all accompaniments, like arms of men, before they enter the Church. The church furnishing of the whole interior is carefully designed to suit the proper celebration of the liturgy. For a proper celebration of the most solemn qurbana of this church, there should be the following arrangements in the Syro- Malabar Church.

  • The Sanctuary (Madbaha)

            The sanctuary stands at the east end of the Church. It is called Beth qudsa in Syriac which means House of the Sacred. It is the symbol and prototype of heaven. Three steps from the Sanctuary to the Questroma symbolize the boundary between the earthly paradise and heaven. The sanctuary is separated from the questroma by a veil. The opening of the Sanctuary veil symbolizes the opening of heaven with the divine dispensation of Our Lord.

  • The Holy Altar

            The Holy Alter stands in the middle of the Sanctuary. It is the perfect place and the mystical center where the New Covenant sacrifice is celebrated. It is the symbol of the tomb of Jesus. It is also the symbol of Christ as well as the table of divine banquet and the throne of Christ.

  • Masdabsa

            It is a small platform on which the altar is situated. It is considered as the most holy place after the altar. We can compare it with the Darga of Syro- Malankara churches. For them it is the upper chamber where Jesus instituted the Holy Eucharist.  

  • The Sanctuary Lamp

            A burning lamp is hung in the middle of the Sanctuary, keeping the same distance from the altar as from the door of the Sanctuary. The Sanctuary lamp is the symbol of the eternal presence of God in the consecrated Sanctuary. According to the commentators this lamp is perpetually burning, while those outside are lighted only during the liturgical services. It also fixes the boundary for the sub deacons since they cannot go beyond the lamps. The part between the Sanctuary lamp and the door of the Sanctuary is the place of the sub deacons who have no right to go further into the Sanctuary.

  • The Qestroma

            It is the elevated place between the Sanctuary and the Hykla (by three steps). The commentators confer symbolism of Paradise to it since it acts as a link between heaven and earth. It acts as a mediator between the Sanctuary and the Hykla.

  • The Sqaqona

            It is the straightway that leads from the Bema to the Sanctuary. It is the bridge that links earth to heaven represented by the Sanctuary and the Hykla respectively. It is the way of truth and the way to heaven. All the liturgical movements from the Bema to Sanctuary and vice versa are always through the Sqaqona. The arrival of the Bishop from the Sanctuary to the Bema is through the Sqaqona. The gospel procession and the communion procession are also through Sqaqona. George of Arbel compares it to the ladder which Jacob saw (Gen 28:12). The symbolism of ladder explains well the true symbolic value of the Sqaqona. It has one end on the earth and other end in heaven. The deacons and other ministers of the liturgy who are going up and down along this path represent the ascending and descending of the angels.

  • The Haykla

            It is the place of the faithful, and symbolizes the whole earth. According to the taksa the bema is to be placed in the center of the hykla.

  • The Bema

            The bema and the celebration on it are unique to the East Syrian liturgy. At present the use of the bema is restored in many churches. The origin of the bema may be related to the synagogue architectural tradition.  According to the commentators it is the symbol of Jerusalem, the place of the commandments and the place of the accomplishment of divine dispensation. The bema, an elevated platform, stands in the midst of the Haykala in a rectangular shape and contains adequate seats for the bishop and a considerable number of priests. The main use of the bema is not only for the celebration of the Holy Mysteries but also for the celebration of the other three services, namely, Ramsa, Lelya and Sapra. According to the ancient plan of the church bema has three steps.

  • The Beth Qaroye

            These are two reading stands made of wood, steel or stones.

  • The Altar on the Bema

            A small altar in the midst of Bema is the symbol of Golgotha where the cross and Gospel are placed. It is made of wood. There are seats for the celebrant and the concelebrants. They sit towards the east that is towards the sanctuary.

  • The Baptistery

            The baptistery is placed at the south side of the altar

  • The Tabernacle

            The Tabernacle is placed at the north side of the Altar

            Liturgy is celebrated in a sacred place, namely church, dedicated for that purpose. Church building is the House of God. It is the meeting place of heaven and earth. In CCC the church teaches: “to enter in to the house of God, we must cross a threshold, which symbolizes passing from the world wounded by sin to the world of new Life to which all men are called. The visible church is a symbol of the Father’s House toward which the people of God is journeying and where the Father ‘will wipe every tear from their eyes” (1186). The church building is not a mere gathering place, but it makes visible the Church living in that place, the dwelling of God with men reconciled and united with Christ ( CCC 1180).


Introductory Rites: Entrance Procession and Entrance Song

            Entrance Procession, Turifer, one who carries the Cross, with two candles on the both sides of the cross. The Gospel Lectionary held by the Deacon or one of the servers. The Concelebrant comes with the assistant or with the Concelebrants (The procession from the sacristy to the altar symbolizes the truth that we all are pilgrims in this world and we are moving towards Heavenly Jerusalem). When the procession reaches the Sanctuary all bows before the altar and the celebrants (celebrant) and the deacons kiss the altar (Altar symbolizes Jesus himself as well as the place of sacrifice).If there is the tabernacle on the Altar the priest and the servers bow before it. If there is turible the celebrant incenses the Altar and the Crucifix Entrance song at the beginning of the celebration explains the importance of the day, feast, or of the season. The entrance song ends when the procession reaches the Sanctuary. Incensing symbolizes the rising up of our prayers to the Almighty. Through the incensing we show respect to the Altar and the Crucifix. It also shows the purification of the liturgical assembly.

  • Sign of the Cross and Salutation

            The sign of the Cross prepares the assembly for the celebration of the mystery in the name of the Trinity. It reminds the assembly that the sacrifice on cross is being re-enacted here on the altar and that Cross is the symbol of our salvation. It symbolizes our own baptism also. There are three forms of salutation one of which is to be used. This salutation reminds us of the presence of Jesus in the liturgical assembly. After this salutation the celebrant is allowed to give a small introduction.

  • Penitential Rite

            The celebrant invites all to the penitential service in brief words. The people keeps silence for a moment then the celebrant begins “I confess to Almighty God …” and at the end the celebrant concludes with a prayer for the pardon of sins. On Sundays and paschal season sprinkling of the holy water is recommended. This rite shows that only those who are reconciled with God and men are worthy of taking part in the Holy Mass. It is with this meaning the rite is performed at the beginning of the celebration.

  • Lord, have mercy

            It is with this prayer the faithful ask the Lord for pardon of the sins.

  • Gloria: The assembly which is gathered in the Holy Spirit glorifies the Father and the Son who is at the right hand of the Fatherthrough this prayer. This hymn is very ancient. The basis of this hymn is Lk 2/14. This prayer should be sung or recited on all Sundays and feast days except on Advent and Lent.
  • Opening Prayer

            The priest invites the people to offer their intensions and pray for the same as well as to exam their conscience. The people together with the priest keep silence for this purpose. When the celebrant concludes this part with this prayer the people respond saying ‘Amen’.

  • Liturgy of the Word

            The first part of the Liturgy of the Word includes the readings from the Scriptures with songs or responsorial psalms in between. In the second part there is homily, profession of faith, prayer for the Church as well as for the World.

  • Readings from the Bible

            Through the readings the word of God is addressed to the people and the treasures of the word is opened to them. There are three readings of which the first one is from the OT and the second from the epistles or from the Book of revelation and the third one is from the Gospel. The OT readings are included to show their relation to the NT.

  • Homily

            Homily is a part of liturgy and it is highly recommended on all days because it is necessary for the nourishment of Christian life (SC 52). Usually homily is preached by the main celebrant.

  • Profession of Faith

            This is the response given to the Word of God which they heard through the readings and the homily. The creed was formulated by the councils of Niece (325) and Constantinople (381) and it was confirmed by the council of Chalcedon.

  • Prayer of the Faithful

             In the prayer of the faithful the people exercising their common priesthood intercede for all the people. Usually the order of this prayer is the following:

  • Prayer for the needs of the Church
  • The heads of the nations
  • Salvation of the world
  • Those who are in misery
  • The local community

            Main celebrant begins the prayer and the deacon or the servers continue. The main celebrant concludes this with a prayer extending his hands. The liturgy of the word concludes with this prayer.

  • Liturgy of the Eucharist

            This is the second main part of the celebration. This, especially the Eucharistic prayers, is the source and summit of the whole celebration. Here we commemorate what Jesus did and said during the last supper. The celebrant asks the people to raise their hearts to the Lord.

This part has the following elements.

  1. The preparation of the gifts
  2. Eucharistic prayers
  3. The communion rites.
  4. The preparation of the gifts

     At the beginning of the second part of the Eucharistic liturgy the bread and wine are brought to the Altar. Before this the altar is prepared by arranging the corporal, purificator, chalice, paten and the missal. There is offertory procession in the Latin Rite. When the rite of preparation is performed the assembly sings the song of preparation. Formerly this part has been known as offertory but now it is called preparation of gifts. There is incensing to symbolize the lifting up of our prayers to the Lord. It also shows the purification of our gifts. There is also the purification of the people through incensing. After these rites the celebrant washes his hands to show the purification of his own heart.

  • Eucharistic Prayers

      This is the center and summit of the whole celebration. Here the Eucharistic prayer, thanks giving and consecration are the main elements. The priest invites the people to thank and glorify the Father through Jesus Christ. There are eight elements in the Eucharistic prayer. They are:

  • Praising God the Father for all graces.
  • Acclamation: all the people with the angels through Sanctus.
  • Epiclesis.
  • Institution Narrative
  • Anamnesis
  • Offering: the church offers the victim without blemish with all those who are gathered to the Father.
  • The Intercessory Prayer.
  • Final Doxology.
  • The Communion Rite

       Responding to the invitation of the Lord to eat his body and drink from his blood the faithful come to receive the mysteries which is a food for the spiritual nourishment. The following elements are seen in this part.

  • The Lord’s prayer
  • The rite of peace
  • Fraction
  • Mingling of the Body and Blood- the priest puts a piece of host in to the chalice
  • Lamb of God
  • Priest’s preparation to receive communion and his communion while the people prepare for the same.
  • Priest shows the Body and Blood and the communion of the people. There is the communion song.

After Holy Communion the assembly gives thanks to the Lord either in silence or through a hymn or psalm or by another hymn of praise.

Concluding Rites

  • The salutation and blessing by the celebrant
  • Command to live what is celebrated in the Holy Mass.

            Colors used in the Latin liturgical celebration have special significance. It gives special indications to the mysteries celebrated. Main colors used in the Latin liturgy are white, red, green, violet, black, rose and green. Each color has its significance.  

White: Signifies holiness and innocence. This color is used on most important and solemn days. They are:

  • Seasons of resurrection and nativity
  • On the feast days and commemoration days of Our Lord except on Good Friday.
  • On the days of Our Lady, Angels and Saints other than martyrs.
  • All saints day. (Nov.2).
  • Birth of John the Baptist (June 24)
  • John the Evangelist (Dec. 27)
  • The throne of Peter (Feb 22)
  • Conversion of St. Paul (Jan25)

Red: The symbol of suffering, pain and martyrdom

  • Palm Sunday
  • Good Friday
  • Pentecost
  • Days of Apostles and Evangelists
  • Days of Martyrs.

Green: Symbol of hope. We are people who are hopefully waiting for the second coming of Jesus. This color is used on ordinary days. Violet: Symbol of repentance. This color is used on Lent, Advent and for the mass of the dead. Black: It was in use formerly but today it is not used. It also may be used for the Mass of the dead. Rose: On the joyful days of the lent, on the third Sunday of advent and also fourth Sunday of Lent. Golden: On the most solemn days. Usually they use this color instead of white. No rubrics are given in the liturgical text concerning the use of this color.

[1] Instructions on Liturgical Formation in Seminaries No.16

[2] Benedict XVI, Sacramentum Caritatis 38-40

[3] CCEO and Liturgy No. 71.

[4] SC. 17

[5] CCC 1069

[6] Mediator Dei No 20.

[7] Robert Taft, The Liturgy of the Hours, in East and West, The Origins of the Divine Office and its Meaning for Today, Collegeville, MN, 1986, 341.

[8]  Thomas Elevanal, The Memorial Celebration, Kottayam 1989.

[9]  John Paul II, Ecclesia de Eucharistia No 11.

[10]  Ibid No 3.

[11]  Redemptionis Sacramentum 1.

[12]  John Paul II, Orientale Lumen, 18.

[13]  Benedict XVI, Light of the World, Asia Trading Corporation, Bangalore, 2010, P.105

[14]  Ibid P.155.

[15] The congregation for the Oriental Churches, 57.

[16]  Mane Nobiscum Domine, 27.

[17] P.Johv Paul II,Ecclesia de Eucharistia,52.

[18] Maniyattu P,” East Syrian Theology of Liturgical Space-time”, Christian Orient XVII. 2(1996)


[19] Pope John II, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 19.

[20] Pittappillil, F, The Celebration of the Holy Mysteries, OIRSI. 2011, p. 136.

[21] John of Damascus, Expositio accurate fidei orthodoxae IV,12: PG 94 1133-1136

[22] Congregation for the Eastern Churches, Instructions for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions of the CCEO, No.107.

[23] Benedict XVI, Light of the World, Asian Trading Corporation, India, 2010, p 105

[24] Ibid, 180.

[25] Francis Pittappallil, The celebration of the Holy Mysteries, OIRSI-Kottayam, 2011, P.126, 127.

[26] Ibid, P. 131.

[27] Perumthottam Joseph, Visuddha Qurbana Chithrangaliloode, Chenganacherry, 2002, P.22.

[28] Ratzinger Joseph, L’espirit de la Liturgy, ad solem, France, 2000, P.142,143.

[29] Xavier Koodapuzha, Christianity in India, OIRSI Kottayam, 1998, P. 25

[30] G. Brasso, Liturgy and Spirituality,

[31] L. Bouyer, Life and Liturgy, 195.

[32] T. Elevanal, The Memorial Celebration, P.168.

[33] K. Rahner, Sacramentum Mundi, Vol V, P.378.

[34]  Maniyatt Pauly, “East Syrian Theology of Liturgical Spacetime (Christian Orient XVII.2 (1996), 62.

[35] Moolaveettil Louis, Yacobinte Anaphura  oru  Patanam, Bethany Publications, Kottayam, 1999 P. 9-26.

Fr Kuriakose Moonjelil MCBS


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