The Eucharist: A Mystery to be Celebrated

The Eucharist: A Mystery to be Celebrated

 

 Antony Nariculam

Introduction

 

The second part of Pope Benedict XVI’s Apostolic Exhortation “Sacramentum Caritatis” speaks about the celebratory dimension of the Eucharist. In 36 paragraphs (Nos. 34 – 69) the document deals with mainly five areas of Eucharistic celebration. They are the Art of Celebration, the Structure of the Eucharistic Celebration, the meaning of Active Participation, the need of Interior Participation and Adoration and Eucharistic Devotion. As an introduction to these themes we come across two key phrases in this document: Lex orandi lex credendi (Rule of prayer as rule of faith) and Ars celebrandi (Art of celebration). The Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist, held in Rome in 2005, on which this document is based, had discussed the relationship between the Eucharistic faith (Part One of this document) and the Eucharistic celebration (Part Two). This relationship is so natural since any liturgical celebration is intrinsically bound up with faith. This article aims at giving an overall picture of the Eucharist as enunciated in this papal exhortation.

1. Some General Observations

 

Before we deal with the various aspects of the Eucharistic celebration, some general observations seem to be in place.

1.1  The document refers to the unitary understanding of the three sacraments of initiation, namely, Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist. In fact, Baptism and Confirmation are ordained to the Eucharist. As the document notes, though there are differences between the East and the West in the understanding and interpretation of these three sacraments, it remains true that for the completion of Christian initiation all three sacraments are necessary. The Eastern and Western variations in their interpretation, according to the Pope, are not of a ‘dogmatic’ nature, but only ‘pastoral’. However, the Pope seems to appreciate better the Eastern practice of giving them together.[1]

1.2   The term ‘Transubstantiation’ is not overemphasized unlike in many previous magisterial documents on the Eucharist. However, similar expressions are found in No.6 (substantial change), No.11 (substantial conversion of bread and wine) and Nos. 13,15 (Transubstantiation).

1.3  The relationship between the “Institution Narrative” and the “Epiclesis” is sufficiently clarified. This clarification is important as the “moment” of transformation of the bread and the wine into the Body and Blood of Christ is still being debated in many circles. Referring to the anaphora, the Pope notes: “Along with the words spoken by Christ at the Last Supper, it contains the epiclesis, the petition to the Father to send down the gift of the Spirit so that the bread and the wine will become the body and blood of Jesus Christ” (No.13).

1.4   In many respects the explanation of the Eucharistic celebration is based on the Western tradition, rather than the Eastern. The following may be pointed out as examples:

  • In order to make known to the people the ars celebrandi, it is important that they become familiar with the general Instructions of the Roman Missal (No.40).
  • There is need for a catechesis on the colour of the liturgical vestments (No.40).
  • The homily could be thematic based on the three-year-cycle of the lectionary (No.46).
  • The faithful need to be instructed about the real meaning of the dismissal formula (Ite Missa est) at the end of the Mass (No.51).
  • The Gregorian chant needs to be esteemed in the Latin tradition, and hence the seminarians should be trained in Latin language and the Gregorian chant (No.62).
  • The unity of the faithful within the ecclesial communion is explained relating the second Eucharistic Prayer of the Roman Missal to the invocation of the Holy Spirit (No.15).
  • There is need for a balanced and sound practice of Indulgence (No.21).
  • Priestly spirituality is referred to in relation to the words spoken by the Bishop during the ordination liturgy of the Latin rite (No.80).
  • In order to explain the presentation of the gifts, the document has used the prayers of the Roman Missal (No.92).

1.5    Despite Latin overtones, the document has not failed to mention some of the Eastern practices. They are:

  • The Eastern custom of conferring the three sacraments of initiation together (No.18).
  • Respect for the non-celibate priests found in some Eastern Churches (No.24).
  • The laudable devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary (No.96).

2. Rule of Prayer as Rule of Faith (Lex orandi lex credendi)

 

Lex orandi lex credendi is a widely accepted dictum in the liturgical tradition. This principle emphasizes the primacy of the liturgical action. There is an intrinsic relationship between faith and its authentic celebration in the liturgy. Therefore, any undue alteration of the liturgical formulae can have negative repercussions on the life of faith of the people. That is precisely the reason why the magisterium of the Church time and again reminds all concerned about not tampering with the liturgical texts.[2] Since the Eucharistic liturgy is an “action of God”, it cannot be subjected to changing trends in the society. As St. Paul says, ‘I have handed over to you what I have received from the Lord’ (1 Cor 11.23). Eucharistic liturgy is part of the Church’s living Tradition being commemorated uninterruptedly on the Lord’s Day (No.37). Therefore, the liturgical prayers as ‘expressions of faith’ should be respected.

3. The Art of Celebration (Ars Celebrandi)

 

Before dealing with the celebratory dimension of the Eucharist, the document speaks about “Beauty and the Liturgy”. Here the reference is to the ‘aesthetic beauty’ and not ‘aestheticism’. Any liturgical celebration has to be ‘beautiful’. The use of the term ‘beautiful’ is not to be understood simply as a harmony of proportion and form, as a mere decoration. It is the radiant expression of the paschal mystery. It is the truth of God’s love in Christ that encounters, attracts and delights us, enabling us to emerge from ourselves and drawing us towards our true vocation, which is love. The beauty of the liturgy is a glimpse of heaven on earth (No.35). The greatest beauty is when we become ‘one’ with Jesus himself in Holy Communion. It is in this sense that the liturgical action is beautiful.

The ‘art of celebration’ has to take note of two fundamental things. One is proper celebration itself. The other is the consequence of a proper celebration, namely a full, active and fruitful participation of the people in it. In other words, the ‘art of celebration’ is the best way to ensure ‘active participation’ (No.38).

3.1 There are a few elements to be taken care of in the ‘art of celebration’.

3.1.1 Faithful adherence to the liturgical norm

 In this regard the primary duty is that of the Bishops. Then come the priests and the deacons. Therefore, the Pope asks the diocesan Bishops to have ‘model celebration’ in the cathedral churches under their presidentship (No.39).

3.1.2 Fostering the sense of the sacred

One has to take care of a lot of things to foster this sense. The sacred vestments, the furnishings, the sacred space, the signs and symbols, the harmony of the rite, etc are conducive to realize this goal. In addition, the various ‘languages’ used in the liturgy, such as words, music, gestures, silence and movements are also helpful (No.41).

3.1.3 A correct understanding about the Church architecture

The symbolic meaning of the altar, the crucifix, the tabernacle, the ambo and the celebrant’s chair need to be properly understood. The same is valid also regarding paintings and statues. Hence the document suggests the need for training the seminarians and priests to understand and appreciate the Church’s treasury of the sacred art (No.41).

3.1.4        Liturgical Music

It is a patrimony of faith, and hence this heritage must be preserved. As far as liturgical hymns are concerned, it is not correct to say that one hymn is as good as another. Every hymn should be well integrated into the overall celebration. Therefore, its text, music and execution must correspond to the mystery being celebrated, the structure of the rite and the liturgical seasons (No.42).

4. The Structure of the Celebration

 

The document takes the various parts of the Roman Missal to explain the structure of the Eucharistic celebration. It is explained under seven titles.

4.1    The Liturgy of the Word and the Eucharistic liturgy

There is an intrinsic relationship between these two parts of the Eucharistic celebration. They are not juxtaposed. Indeed, the Word we proclaim is the ‘Word made flesh’ (Jn 1:14). St. Jerome said that ‘the ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ’. Therefore, proper care should be given in its proclamation. Well prepared readers should be appointed to read it. If needed, a short introduction may be given before each reading (Nos. 44-45).

4.2    The Homily

 

Homily is part of the liturgical action. It is a golden moment to help people to live their faith. Hence generic and abstract homilies are to be avoided. It should be based on the Word of God that touches the life of the community. In short, it should be such that it becomes a vital nourishment for the people (No.46).

4.3    The Presentation of the Gifts

The document speaks about the bread and wine brought for the celebration. Along with  the bread and the wine, we bring to the altar all creation that Christ may transform them and present them to the Father. Through them we bring also all the pain and suffering of the world to the altar.[3]

4.4    The Eucharistic Prayer (Anaphora)

It is the centre and summit of the entire celebration of the Eucharist. It has elements like Thanksgiving, Acclamations, Institution Narrative, Epiclesis, Anamnesis, Offering, Intercession and Doxology. Here the document clearly states the profound unity between the Institution Narrative and the Epiclesis (No.48).

4.5    The Sign of Peace

By its very nature, the Eucharist is a sacrament of peace. The sign of peace during the celebration denotes it. In today’s world, fraught with fear and conflict, this gesture has become particularly eloquent. However, it should be expressed in an appropriate manner without distracting the assembly (No.49).

4.6    The Distribution and Reception of Holy Communion

 

The rules governing the correct practice in distributing Holy Communion should be respected. The Pope refers to the recent documents in this regard.[4]  He also asks not to neglect the thanksgiving after Holy Communion. Though singing during and after Holy Communion may be good, a silent time for recollection should not be neglected.

In connection with Holy Communion, the document raises a pastoral problem encountered in the pilgrimage centres, and during the funeral or nuptial Masses when there could be the presence of non-Christians or Christians who are not in communion with Catholic faith. In such cases, there is need to find a brief and clear way to remind those present of the meaning of sacramental communion and the conditions required for its reception. In very difficult cases, the document even suggests not to celebrate the Eucharist, and confine the celebration to the liturgy of the Word alone (No.50).

4.7    The Dismissal ( Ite Missa Est)

The dismissal at the end of the Mass is not just sending the participants out after the celebration. It is actually in view of the mission entrusted to the Christians in this world. It succinctly expresses the missionary nature of the Church. The Pope feels that the present formula may not be adequate to express this idea sufficiently well. Therefore, he suggests providing new texts for the final blessing in order to make this idea clearer (No.51).

5. Active Participation

 

The meaning of “active participation” is often misunderstood as the external activity of the participants. Pope Benedict XVI had already spoken about the incorrect understanding of it when he wrote that ‘participation’ is misunderstood to mean “something external, entailing a need for general activity, as if as many people, as often possible, should be visibly engaged in action”.[5] The real “actio”, the Pope continues, “is the action of God himself. This is what is new and distinctive about the Christian liturgy: God himself acts and does what is essential”.[6] According to Vatican II Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, active participation means “conscious, devout and fruitful” participation (SC 14).

5.1    For a meaningful participation in the Eucharist, the Pope suggests the following:

  • The specific roles of the various participants like the priest, deacon, lay people, etc are to be respected (No.53)
  • Adapting the celebration to the culture of the place ( The process of inculturation) is a must. Certain abuses that crept into the liturgy in the name of inculturation should not deter us from continuing this process. Incarnation of Christ is the basis of inculturation. In order to avoid possible abuses, the norms laid down by various magisterial documents in this regard must be respected.[7]
  • The interior preparation of the participants is a prerequisite for active participation. This preparation consists in conversion, recollection, silence, sacramental confession in view of receiving Holy Communion, etc (No.55). (However, there could be cases where individuals are not able to receive Holy Communion under the Eucharistic species. In such cases, they need not be discouraged from attending the holy Mass because, as the document observes, their ‘participation at Mass remains necessary, important, meaningful and fruitful’.  For such individuals it is beneficial ‘to cultivate a desire for full union with Christ through the practice of spiritual communion’).[8]

5.2    While provisions are made for active participation, the following categories of people must be given due attention.

  • Special care should be given to the elderly and the sick, and the physically and mentally disabled (No.58).
  • Necessary steps should be taken for the participation of the prisoners (No.59).
  • Another category that requires special attention is the migrants. The Eastern Rite migrants are to be given facilities to participate in the liturgy according to their own ecclesial tradition (No.60).
  • At times it may be useful to celebrate the Eucharist for small groups. But, such celebrations should not give the impression that these groups are parallel to the local Church. These must be occasions to unify the community, and not to fragment it (No.63).
  • It is praiseworthy that the elderly and the sick are given opportunity to participate in the Eucharistic celebration transmitted through radio/television. But it should be remembered that in normal circumstances, it is not sufficient to fulfil the Sunday obligation (No.57).

5.3   The ecumenical aspect of the Eucharistic celebration should be properly understood. Holy Communion should not be taken as a “means” to attain ecumenical communion. Rather, it should be the final fruit of ecumenical dialogue because communion is not merely a personal communion with Jesus. It has to be extended to the Church too (No.56).

 

6.  Interior Participation

 

Interior participation is absolutely necessary for active participation, and hence the Pope suggests the following for the same. First and foremost is the mystagogical catechesis in order to enable the people to offer themselves to God in unity with the sacrifice of Christ. For this they need a systematic understanding of the content of faith. Only then can they participate in the Eucharistic celebration in a meaningful and fruitful manner.

A proper mystagogical catechesis means at least three things:

  • The rites are interpreted in the light of the events of Salvation History.
  • The meaning of the signs and the symbols are explained.
  • The significance of the celebration for Christian life is explained, that is with lex orandi and lex credendi; lex vivendi too is given adequate importance (No.64).

Along with these, people need to be taught about the ‘external reverence’ required of them during the celebration. The gestures and postures are part of it. The best catechesis is perhaps a good celebration itself. In this Eucharistic catechesis, the document seems to be particularly concerned about the usefulness of ‘kneeling’ during the anaphoral prayers. Though it is not obligatory, as different liturgical traditions have varying practices in this regard, Pope Benedict XVI seems to be in favour of this practice (No.65).

7. Adoration and the Eucharistic Devotion

 

The last section of Part Two of Sacramentum Caritatis is on the Eucharistic devotion. The first observation of the document in this regard is that there is an intrinsic relationship between the celebration of the Mass and adoration (No.66).

After Vatican II, there were objections from some quarters against Eucharistic adoration. The objection raised was: Is not the Eucharist “to be consumed”, and not “to be looked at”? According to the document, this question is based on a misunderstanding. In fact, this distinction is a false dichotomy. In order to justify adoration, the document quotes St. Augustine’: ‘No one eats that flesh without adoring it; we should sin were we not to adore it’.[9]The document further notes that the Eucharistic adoration is simply “the natural consequence of the Eucharistic celebration” (No.66). It prolongs and intensifies it.

7.1  The Pope suggests the following practical steps in order to foster Eucharistic adoration:

  • Adoration should be continued both individually and in community.[10]
  • It is recommended the chapels should be established for perpetual adoration in densely populated areas (No.67)
  • Children getting ready for First Holy Communion should be helped to grow in Eucharistic devotion (No.67).
  • The religious, lay associations and confraternities who spend time in adoration are to be appreciated and encouraged (No.68).
  • Eucharistic procession, especially on Corpus Christi, 40 Hour Adoration and local/national/international Eucharistic Congresses are to be encouraged (No.68).

7.2    In order to emphasize the prime importance of the Eucharistic presence in the house of God, the Pope makes some observations regarding the location of the tabernacle. They may be summarized as follows (No.69):

  • It is advisable to have a chapel of the Blessed Sacrament.
  • If there is no Blessed Sacrament chapel, it is appropriate to continue to keep the tabernacle at the high altar.
  • In the newly built churches, it is good to position the Blessed Sacrament chapel close to the sanctuary. If that is not possible, it is preferable to locate the tabernacle in the sanctuary, in a sufficiently elevated place, at the centre of the apse area, or in another place where it will be equally conspicuous.
  • Where be the tabernacle, it should be readily visible to anybody who enters the church.
  • There should be a sanctuary lamp.
  • The chair of the celebrant should not be placed in front of the tabernacle.

Conclusion

As we have mentioned at the beginning of this article, the two key phrases of this Apostolic Exhortation are “Lex orandi lex credendi” and “Ars celebrandi”. The underlying concern of Pope Benedict XVI seems to be, as in the case of Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia, a prevalent lack of reverence due to the Eucharistic celebration. The externals of celebration, the requirements of liturgical reform and the steps for active participation should not be at the expense of the sense of the sacred and the need for a fruitful participation.

 

 

 

 

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[1] Sacramentum Caritatis, Nos. 17 -18

[2] Redemptionis Sacramentum 4; Ecclesia de Eucharistia 52, Sacrosanctum Concilium 22

[3] No.47; Redemptionis Sacramentum 70

[4] Redemptionis Sacramentum 80-96

[5] The Spirit of the Liturgy, San Francisco 2000, p.171

[6] The Spirit of the Liturgy, p.173

[7] These norms are contained in the General Instructions of the Roma Missal, the 4th Instruction of the Congregation for the Divine Worship, Varietatis legitimae (1994), Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortations Ecclesia in Africa, Ecclesia in America, Ecclesia in Asia, Ecclesia in Oceania and Ecclesia in Europa

[8] No.55; Ecclesia de Eucharistia 34.

[9] Enarrationes in Psalmos 98:9, CCL XXXIX, 1385

[10] No.67; Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy (2001), Nos.165-165; Instruction Eucharisticum Mysticum (1967).

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The Syro-Malabar Liturgical Reform and Pastoral Adaptation

The Syro-Malabar Liturgical Reform and Pastoral Adaptation

Antony Nariculam

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. The Syro-Malabar Liturgical Texts and their Adaptation

 

The following are the Syro-Malabar liturgical texts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

  1. The Range of Diversity in the Liturgy

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. The Process of Experimentation in the Liturgy

 

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

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

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

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

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

Step 1: Study by specialists

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

Step 3: Preliminary approval by the Holy See

Step 4: Experimentation for a time and in certain groups

Step 5: Reassessment in the light of the experimentation

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

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

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

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

Step 1: Study by experts and Central Liturgical Committee

Step 2: Preliminary approval by the Synod

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

 Step 4: Experimentation for a time and in certain groups

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

             Synod

Step 6: Approval by the Synod

Step 7: Recognitio from Rome and full implementation

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

–          The use of Nilavilakku or Kuthuvilakku instead of candles.

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

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

–          Introduction of Christian bhajans and kirthans.

 

Among the long term plan we find the following:

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

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

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

  1. The Confusion surrounding the Options

 

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

 

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

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

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

  1. The Liturgy for the New Catholics

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

 

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

                                                               *********************

 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[22] Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, no.55

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

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

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

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

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

[28] Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum, No.39

[29] Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, No.54

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

[31] Instruction Sacramentum Redemptionis, No.39

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[42] CCEO 199/1

[43] Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, No.39

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

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

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

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

[48] Gaudium et Spes, No.58

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

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

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

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

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

LITURGY AND ARS CELEBRANDI

LITURGY AND ARS CELEBRANDI

 

 Antony Nariculam

Introduction

 

Lex orandi lex credendi is a widely accepted dictum in the liturgical tradition. This principle emphasizes the primacy of the liturgical action. “Liturgy is the anamnesis of the act of the Triune God, using symbolic means, to enact that Trinity in the lives of the enactors, transforming them through faith into the Church. Liturgy is composed of seven structural parts that are arranged causally, each being the form of the previous and the matter of the next. These parts are time/space, matter, gesture, word, faith, Church, and Sacrament”.[1] There is an intrinsic relationship between faith and its authentic celebration in the liturgy. Therefore, any undue alteration of the liturgical formulae can have negative repercussions on the life of faith of the people. That is precisely the reason why the magisterium of the Church time and again reminds all concerned about not tampering with the liturgical texts.[2] Since the liturgy, especially the Eucharistic liturgy, is an action of God (actio Dei), it cannot be subjected to changing trends in the society, though it needs to respect the local needs and the context of the celebrating community. As St. Paul says, “I have handed over to you what I have received from the Lord” (I Cor 11:23).

Though liturgy is actio Dei, it is performed by human beings employing human signs and symbols. Being a human action also, it needs to respect human sentiments. One among them is the ‘artistic beauty’ of the celebration, which is traditionally called “ars celebrandi” or “art of celebration”. In the recent past Pope Benedict XVI has referred to this ‘art’ for a meaningful and ‘beautiful’ celebration of the Eucharistic liturgy.[3] The present paper focuses its attention on this document in order to develop the various aspects of this particular dimension of the liturgy.

  1. 1.      Ars Celebrandi

 

In the Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, Pope Benedict XVI has devoted a short section (Nos. 38-42) on ars celebrandi. Here the Pope speaks about “Beauty and Liturgy”. By ‘beauty’ he means ‘aesthetic beauty’ and not ‘aestheticism’. Any liturgical celebration has to radiate beauty. This term is not to be understood simply as harmony of proportion and form, as a mere decoration. It is primarily a radiant expression of the paschal mystery. It is the truth of God’s love in Christ that encounters, attracts and delights us, enabling us to emerge from ourselves and drawing us towards our true vocation, which is love. In other words, the beauty of the liturgy is when we become ‘one’ with Jesus himself in holy communion. It is in this sense that the liturgical action is beautiful.

The ars celebrandi has to take note of two fundamental things. One is proper celebration itself. The other is the consequence of a proper celebration, namely a full, active and fruitful participation of the people in it. So much so, the best way to ensure active participation is to celebrate the liturgy respecting the ‘artistic ingredients’ of the celebration.[4] Naturally, our first task here is to identify these ‘ingredients’ that are at the basis of a meaningful and participative celebration.

1.1  Fostering the Sense of the Sacred

 

In order to foster the sense of the sacred, an important element is the church architecture which highlights the unity of the furnishings, of the sanctuary such as the altar, the crucifix, the tabernacle, the ambo and the chair of the celebrant. Ultimately, the purpose of sacred architecture is to provide a fitting place for the celebration of the mysteries of faith, especially the Eucharist.[5]

This principle is valid also for other sacred things in the church, namely the statues and the icons. Special care must be given also to the vestments, the furnishings and the sacred vessels. In short, everything connected with the liturgical celebrations should be marked by beauty. Not every priest is an artist or an architect. Therefore, we need to depend upon the professional artists and architects to create an artistic but sacred atmosphere in the place of worship. They should be reasonably knowledgeable in the history and notions of the sacred art. According to Pope Pius XII, to bring to churches the works devoid of any religious inspiration and completely at variance with the right rules of art is a grave offence against piety. Such artists try to justify their conduct by arguments which they claim are based on the nature and character of art itself. The question of religious art is not to be answered by an appeal to the general principles of art or aesthetics. It must be decided in terms of the supreme principle of the final goal of the liturgical action, namely the attainment of divine bliss.[6]

1.2  Employing Proper Liturgical Music

 

The musical tradition of the Church is a treasure of inestimable value. The reason for this preeminence is that, its words and music form a necessary and integral part of the solemn liturgy.[7] The Church considers it as a patrimony of faith. Therefore the chants and sacred music in worship should be conducive to the lofty end for which they are intended. It should have qualities proper to the liturgy and in particular sanctity and goodness of form. Hence it must exclude all profanity not only in itself but also in the manner in which it is presented by those who execute it.[8]

According to Pope Benedict XVI, it is not correct to say that one hymn is as good as another. Every hymn should be well integrated into the overall celebration. Therefore, its text, music and execution must correspond to the mystery being celebrated, the structure of the rite and the liturgical seasons.[9]

1.3  Contextualizing the Celebration

 

Every liturgical celebration is commemorating the mysteries of our salvation. But it is not an ‘abstract’ celebration. It is always the celebration of a community here and now. Therefore, the ‘context’ of the assembly deserves to be taken into consideration for a meaningful and fruitful celebration. The fathers of Vatican II were aware of this reality when they stated that the Church does not wish to impose a rigid uniformity in matters which do not involve the faith or the good of the people. Rather she is ready to admit into the liturgy those cultural qualities of various peoples provided they are not bound up with superstitions and errors.[10] Thus legitimate variations and adaptations to different groups and regions are officially sanctioned.[11] Besides, the pastors are exhorted to promote the liturgical life of the communities instructing them ‘according to their age, condition, way of life and standard of religious culture’.[12]

1.4  Understanding the Rites

 

Liturgy is not simply a prayer, but a rite. Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) defines rite as “the expression that has become form, of ecclesiality and of Church’s identity as a historically transcendent communion of liturgical prayer and action”.[13] According to him, the rite contains “an essential exposition of the biblical legacy that goes beyond the limits of the individual rites, and thus it shares in the authority of Church’s faith in its fundamental form”.[14] For this reason, the rituals are to a great extent conservative. Besides, the liturgy being complex acts in which many people participate in many different ways, it is by nature restive to change.[15]

Very often the rituals are transmitted to generations in a fixed manner. Of course, in this transmission there is the risk of empty formalism, a tradition in the sense of mechanical or routine gesture. On the other hand, we should also admit that the rituals preserve certain truths while everything else undergoes changes. In the eventful celebrations of Christmas, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter etc. the rituals have preserved for us a heritage offering us a powerful communion in the same reality between peoples separated by centuries.[16] At the same time, we should also bear in mind what Pope John Paul said in his Apostolic Exhortation Orientale Lumen. “When the uses and customs belonging to each Church are considered as absolutely unchangeable, there is a sure risk of Tradition losing that feature of a living reality which grows and develops…. Tradition is never pure nostalgia for things or forms past, nor regret for lost privileges, but the living memory of the Bride, kept eternally youthful….”[17]

1.5  Respecting the Liturgical Calendar

 

In the course of the liturgical year, the Church unfolds the whole mystery of Christ from incarnation and nativity to the Ascension, Pentecost and the expectation of the coming of the Lord. Thus recalling the mysteries of redemption, she opens up to the faithful the riches of her Lord’s powers and merits so that these are in some way made present for all times.[18] Besides, in celebrating this annual cycle of the mysteries of Christ, the Church commemorates also the Virgin Mary, the martyrs and other saints.[19] A meaningful celebration of the liturgy has to pay due attention to this liturgical cycle that helps the faithful to lay hold of the fruits of the mysteries of redemption and to be filled with saving grace.

  1. 2.      Ars Celebrandi and Active Participation

 

One of the contributions of Vatican II is the impetus it gave to the active participation of the faithful in the liturgy. “Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that full, conscious and active participation in liturgical celebration which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy”. Therefore ‘the full and active participation of all the people’ should be the aim to be considered before all else in the restoration and renewal of the liturgy.[20] In order to promote active participation, both internal and external, the pastors need to take into account ‘the age, condition, way of life and standard of religious culture of the people’.[21]

2.1  Silence and Participation

 

The term ‘participation’ is sometimes understood to mean “something external, entailing a need for general activity, as if as many people, as often as possible, should be visibly engaged in action”.[22] There is an impression that active participation is speaking singing, preaching, reading etc by the celebrant and the community. The real ‘actio’ in the liturgy, in which we are supposed to participate, notes Cardinal Ratzinger, “is the action of God himself. This is what is new and distinctive about the Christian liturgy: God himself acts and does what is essential”.[23] Vatican II has explicitly included silence as part of active participation.[24] For, “silence facilitates a really deep, personal participation, allowing us to listen inwardly to the Lord’s Word. Many liturgies of today lack all trace of this silence”.[25]

 

2.2  Simplification of Liturgy and Active Participation

 

The rites of the renewed liturgy “should be distinguished by a noble simplicity. They should be short, clear, and free from useless repetitions. They should be within the people’s powers of comprehension, and normally should not require much explanation”.[26]  Undoubtedly this is a golden principle to be followed for a better participation of the people in the liturgy. But, as Cardinal Ratzinger rightly observes, “however much the liturgy is simplified and rendered comprehensible, the mystery of God’s action operating through the Church’s acts must remain untouched. This applies also to the heart of the liturgy: as far as both priest and people are concerned, it is something given that cannot be manipulated. It partakes of the whole reality of the Church”.[27] Therefore Ratzinger urges us to oppose ‘rationalistic relativism and pastoral infantilism’ in the process of liturgical adaptation.[28] We need to be led from form to the content. In other words, ‘we need an education which will help us to grow into an inner appropriation of the Church’s common liturgy’.[29]

2.3  Pastoral Context and Active Participation

 

The term ‘pastoral’ needs to be understood in a correct perspective. In the name of pastoral, liturgy cannot be an expression of what is current and transitory, for it expresses the mystery of the Holy. Liturgy is not something that is simply ‘made’ by the community. Such an attitude has led to the ‘success’ of the liturgical celebration being measured by an ‘able’ celebrant and an equally cooperative faithful. This attitude can obfuscate the distinctive nature of liturgy which does not come from what we do. Rather it is something that takes place with which we cooperate consciously and devoutly.

The good of the faithful is the pastoral norm governing all liturgical legislation.[30]  A distinction is to be made between the ‘rite’, that is the “form of celebration” which is drawn by the Church and which is found in the editio typica of the liturgical books, and the ‘celebration’, that is the “form of celebration” that is carried out by the concrete assembly.[31] Normally, the text itself provides these forms of celebration by way of  options.

In the pastoral context, the local customs can play an important role in the celebration of the liturgy provided it is not against the law.[32] The ‘laws of customs’ seem to be more flexible in the case of the Eastern Churches than that of the Western Church. In the light of CCEO 1507-1509, the Congregation for the Oriental Churches considers custom as the fruit of continuous and uncontested practice of the local community, and thus rooted in the life of the people.[33] According to a renowned Eastern Catholic liturgiologist, Robert Taft, the pastoral choices are determined by the context, and they are not ineluctable conclusions from history or theology.[34]

2.4  The Church Building and Active Participation

 

Liturgical worship takes place in space. The meaning we attach to the space is a determining factor for an effective celebration. First of all, it is a place where we experience the presence of the Lord. In principle, the liturgical space is not to be arranged according to the ‘taste’ of the celebrant or the ‘convenience’ of the community. In every liturgical or ritual tradition, this space is organized according to one’s own liturgical need.

Being ritual celebrations, liturgical actions require the necessary movements, objects and persons. Therefore the place of the altar, tabernacle, crucifix, lectern, choir, baptismal font, etc is of great importance for an active participation of the people.

  1. 3.      Ars Celebrandi and the Eucharistic Celebration

Liturgy is the summit towards which the activity of the Church is directed. “From the liturgy, therefore, especially from the Eucharist, grace is poured forth upon us as from a fountain, and the sanctification of man in Christ and the glorification of God to which all other activities of the Church are directed”.[35] In fact, the Eucharist builds up the Church as a community.[36] Therefore, in this section of the paper, I would like to deal with the ars celebrandi in relation to the Eucharistic celebration as referred to by Pope Benedict XVI in his Apostolic Exhortation “Sacramentum Caritatis”.

3.1  The Liturgy of the Word and the Eucharistic Liturgy

 

There is an intrinsic relationship between these two parts of the Eucharistic celebration. One must avoid the impression that these parts are juxtaposed. They form one single act of worship. The Word must be so proclaimed that it naturally leads to the Eucharist.[37]

Every effort must be made to ensure that the proclamation of the Word is entrusted to well-trained readers. If needed, a brief introduction may be given before each lesson in order to focus the attention of the people on the passage.[38] It is also important to keep a right proportion of time between the breaking of the Word and the breaking of the Bread.

3.2  Homily

 

Homily is part of the liturgical action and is a time for mystagogical catechesis. It is a golden moment to help the people deepen their faith. In order to make it effective, generic and abstract homily should be avoided. It should focus its attention on the Word proclaimed and its application to the life of the community, thereby making the Word of God a vital nourishment and support for the people. As for the Latin Church, the three-year-cycle of the lectionary is adequate to preach “thematic” homilies treating the great themes of Christian faith based on the four ‘pillars’ of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, namely the Profession of Faith, the Celebration of the Christian Mystery, the Life in Christ and the Christian Prayer.[39] The Eastern Churches have their lectionary based mainly on the themes of the various seasons of the liturgical year.

3.3  The Presentation of the Gifts

 

The presentation of the gifts is a significant moment when the bread and wine are brought to the altar. There all creation is taken up by Christ to be transformed and presented to the Father. Through these we bring to the altar not only the handiwork of man, but also all the pain and suffering of the world.[40]

The offering of the gifts has another dimension too. It may include gifts given by the faithful in the form of money or other things for the sake of charity towards the poor. These external gifts are visible expression of that true gift that God expects from us, namely a contrite heart, the love of God and neighbour by which we are conformed to the sacrifice of Christ.[41]

3.4  The Eucharistic Prayer (Anaphora)

 

It is the centre and summit of the entire celebration of the Eucharist. It has elements like Thanksgiving, Acclamations, Institution Narrative, Epiclesis, Anamnesis, Offering, Intercession and Doxology. There is a profound unity between the Institution Narrative commemorating the Last Supper and the Epiclesis through which the Church implores the power of the Holy Spirit so that the gifts offered by human hands are consecrated and transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ to be received in holy communion for the salvation of those who will partake of it.[42]

3.5  The Sign of Peace

 

By its very nature the Eucharist is a sacrament of peace. Therefore the sign of peace exchanged during the Eucharistic celebration is not merely the peace that the world can offer. Jesus is our peace (Eph 2:14). This gesture is particularly eloquent in our times, fraught with fear and conflict, as the Church is increasingly conscious of her responsibility to pray for the gift of peace and unity for herself and for the whole human family.

The Church seems to be concerned about the ars of exchanging peace. Pope Benedict XVI notes that the sign of peace should be marked by “a sobriety which preserves the proper spirit of the celebration” and hence it is done appropriately without causing “distraction” in the assembly.[43] The Congregation for the Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments too reminds us of the ‘sober manner’ of exchanging peace.[44]

3.6  Distribution and Reception of the Eucharist

 

In this part of the Eucharistic celebration, there are various areas one needs to pay attention to. They are:

  • It sometimes happens that the people approach the altar to receive holy communion indiscriminately without necessary disposition. The pastors should prudently and firmly correct them if such things happen.[45]
  • In pilgrim centres and such other places where holy Mass is celebrated for large crowds, prudent steps should be taken lest out of ignorance people not in communion with the Catholic faith and Church come forward for holy communion.[46]
  • The precious time after thanksgiving after holy communion by way of silent recollection is appropriate.[47]

3.7  The Dismissal: “Ite Missa Est”

 

These are eloquent words that help us to grasp the relationship between the Mass just celebrated and the mission of the Christians in this world. It succinctly expresses the missionary nature of the Church.[48] It is, in fact, a point of departure for those who take part in the Eucharistic celebration. Unfortunately, this dimension of the holy Mass is not sufficiently understood and practised.

  1. 4.      Some Remarks

 

Now I would like to make a few remarks on the liturgical celebration and its ars, which, I feel, are pertinent. These remarks are based on the observations made by Aidan Kavanagh in his handbook on the ‘Elements of Rite’, and those based on my own observations.

  1. Since the liturgy is hierarchically structured, the various liturgical ministries are to be kept clearly distinct.
  2. Though the priest presides over the liturgy, he should not forget that he is called ‘to serve’ the assembly. Therefore, he should avoid the possible temptation of ‘clericalizing’ the celebration.
  3. Since the liturgy is basically worship of God, its didactive aspect should not have an upper hand.
  4. ‘Liturgical style’ is not automatically obtained in ordination. It is achieved under grace by constant prayer, reflection, self discipline and continuing practice by the minister.
  5. The non-verbal parts of the liturgical celebration, such as silence (not an embarrassing or barren moment, but an integral part of the rhythm of the service), procession (not a poorly executed utilitarian exercise, but a coordinated rhythmic movement), gestures (not as an obligatory action but as spontaneous communicative action), sounds of musical instruments, bells etc. (a liturgical component to which scant attention is given as a whole), sights (since the liturgical celebration is also ‘seen’ by the participants, the physical behaviour of the ministers, the colours, the decorations, etc are to be simple, but dignified), smells (since the human faculty of olfactory sense is also a means of communication, the use of incense is to be made use of in an appropriate manner) and touches (exchanging peace, anointing, imposition of hands, etc are the traditional liturgical expressions of using the sense of touch) deserve proper attention for a ‘beautiful’ ritual action.
  6. Liturgy is also ‘canonical’, and hence it is governed by common and particular laws that need to be respected.
  7. Since the liturgy has a ‘ritual language’, the ministers should be fully aware of the time and manner of doing things so that confusions are avoided.
  8. It is advisable to choose a liturgical style, and as far as possible, hold to it. Each liturgical tradition normally has a style. Juxtaposing various styles taken from different sources or traditions can only weaken the logic and genius of one’s own tradition.
  9. The options are permitted to accommodate the celebrations to various contexts. Therefore, applying all options in one and the same celebration may not be the ideal.
  10. Concelebration, as Vatican II observes, helps to manifest the ‘unity of the priesthood’. However, from a practical point of view, the concelebrants should discreetly share the role of the presider without obscuring his function. Filling the space in the sanctuary with the concelebrants needs to be reconsidered. They should not substitute altar servers, readers, thurifers, etc.
  11. Announcements during the liturgy may be a ‘necessary evil’. They should be kept to minimum and said at an appropriate moment without disrupting the rhythmic flow of the service.
  12. The hands have an important role to play in the liturgy like spreading them for prayer, folding in devotion, extending them in invitation, raising for blessing, relaxing them by placing on the altar, etc. It applies also to other body languages such as the movement in a procession.
  13. Secularizing the greeting formulae (Good morning!, for example), breaking the bread at Institution Narrative, changing texts well known to the assembly, ignoring the liturgical year and minimalism and pontificalism are to be avoided.
  14. Each liturgical tradition has its own ‘vocabulary’ and ‘grammar’, though all traditions may have some common words or actions (eg. Amen, Halleluiah). A syncretism may not be helpful for a liturgical assembly.

Conclusion

 

Liturgical style is not simply an aesthetic matter, though aesthetics is involved in it. Any style involves taste. However, taste is not innate; rather it is learnt through experiences. Liturgical style requires personal effort and patience. Mannerisms, bizarre vestments, prayers in strange accents, heavy ceremonial, etc cannot be justified on the basis of taste. The approach to liturgy should be plain, simple, orderly and sincere. A liturgist who tinkers with ceremonies is not a good liturgist as one who merely tinkers with language is not a good poet.

As a parish priest notes, ‘there is a huge variation in the way that priests preside at Mass, which can range from wonder-filled celebration to perfunctory walk-throughs. The key is to remember the ancient principles of good liturgy, and that it is not only the laity who must actively participate – it is the priest too’.[49]

 

                                                      ***************

 


[1] R.D.McCall, Do This: Liturgy as Performance, Notre Dame 2007, p.105

[2] Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum (2004) No.4; John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Ecclesia de Eucharistia (2003) No.52; Benedict XVI, Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis (2007) No.22.

[3] Sacramentum Caritatis, Nos. 38-42

[4] Sacramentum Caritatis, No.38

[5] Sacramentum Caritatis, No.41

[6] Pius XII, Encyclical Letter Musicae Sacrae (1955) Nos. 22-25

[7] Second Vatican Council, Sacrosanctum Concilium, No.112

[8] Pope Pius X, Motu Proprio Inter Sollecitudines (1903) No.2

[9] Sacramentum Caritatis, No.42

[10] Sacrosanctum Concilium, No.37

[11] Sacrosanctum Concilium, No.38

[12] Sacrosanctum Concilium, No.19

[13] The Spirit of the Liturgy, San Francisco 2000, p.166

[14] The Spirit of the Liturgy, p.167

[15] A.Kavanagh, Elements of Rite, Minnesota 1990, Reprint, Bangalore 1996, p.35

[16] Y.Congar, Tradition and Traditions. An Historical and Theological Essay, London 1966, p.428-429

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

[18] Sacrosanctum Concilium, No.102

[19] Sacrosanctum Concilium, Nos.103-104

[20] Sacrosanctum Concilium, No.14

[21] Sacrosanctum Concilium, No.19

[22] J.Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, p.171

[23] The Spirit of the Liturgy, p.173

[24] Sacrosanctum Conciliun, No.30

[25] J.Ratzinger – V.Messori, The Ratzinger Report, San Francisco 1985, p.127

[26] Sacrosanctum Concilium, No.34

[27] The Ratzinger Report, p.120

[28] The Ratzinger Report, p.121

[29] J.Ratzinger, Feast of Faith, San Francisco 1986, p.71

[30] Congregation for the Oriental Churches, Directives on the Order of Syro-Malabar Qurbana in Solemn and Simple Forms, in Roman Documents on the Syro-Malabar Liturgy, Kottayam 1999, 143

[31] Congregation for the Oriental Churches, Final Judgement of the S.Congregation for the Oriental Churches Concerning the Order of the Syro-Malabar Qurbana, in Roman Documents, p.123

[32] CCEO 1507-1509; CIC 24/2, 25,26

[33] Congregation for the Eastern Churches, Instruction for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions of  the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, Rome 1996, No.28

[34] R.Taft, The Syro-Malabar Liturgical Controversy, in J.Porunnedom (ed.), Acts of the Synod of Bishops of the Syro-Malabar Church, Kochi 1996, p.130

[35] Sacrosanctum Concilium, No.10

[36] John Paul II, Encyclical Letter, Ecclesia de Eucharistia (2003), Nos.21-15

[37] Sacramentum Caritatis, No.44

[38] Sacramentum Caritatis, No.45

[39] Sacramentum Caritatis, No.46

[40] Sacramentum Caritatis, No.47

[41] Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum (2004) No.70

[42] Sacramentum Caritatis, No.48

[43] Sacramentum Caritatis, No.49

[44] Redemptionis Sacramentum, No.72

[45] Redemptionis Sacramentum, No.83

[46] Redemptionis Sacramentum, No.84; Sacramentum Caritatis, No.50

[47] Sacramentum Caritatis, No.50

[48] Sacramentum Caritatis, No.51

[49] A.Rossiter, What are You Doing Up There? in The Tablet, 28 June 2008, p.19

Syro-Malabar Liturgy

Syro-Malabar Liturgy

Dr Antony Nariculam

Introduction

My aim in this paper is to give a general picture of the Syro-Malabar Liturgy under its various aspects, such as its history, theology, celebratory dimension, the various liturgical texts published so far etc. As is well known, the Syro-Malabar liturgy has been a subject of ‘controversy’ since at least early 1950s due to various concerns of the persons involved. It is a fact that consequent upon divergent opinions with regard to the liturgical issues, there arose at least two ‘camps’ in the Church. But a close examination will reveal that both camps wanted to make liturgy more meaningful, experiential and relevant to life. At the same time, their understanding and approach towards the issues were diverse, resulting in apparent contradictions. Fortunately, since the Church became a Major Archiepiscopal Church, things have begun to take a new turn and today there is greater convergence on most of the issues though this spirit of newly-found convergence has not permeated down to the grass root level. It is hoped that the constant and concerted efforts of the Liturgical Research Centre and the findings of its research would eventually lead to a happy conclusion and the Syro-Malabar Church would rediscover her lost vitality and regain her glorious past.

    1. Fivefold Historical Division

The two- thousand-year-old history of the Syro-Malabar liturgy may be divided into five  stages.

First Stage                   : The St Thomas Period (AD 52-4th Century)

Second Stage              : The East Syrian Period (4th -16th Century)

Third Stage                 : The Portuguese Period (16th Century-1896)

Fourth Stage               : The Syro-Malabar Period (1896-1992)

Fifth Stage                  : The Syro-Malabar Major Archiepiscopal Period (1992-    )

(1) First Stage: The St Thomas Period (AD 52-4th Century)

According to the living tradition of the Syro-Malabar Church, St Thomas, one of the apostles of Christ, came to India in AD 52 and died in AD 72. This is an uncontested fact as far as the Syro-Malabarians are concerned. It is to be assumed that wherever the apostles went to preach the Good News, Christian communities were established and the sacraments, especially Baptism and the Eucharist, were celebrated. Naturally, St Thomas too must have celebrated these sacraments in the seven communities he founded in Kerala.

What was the ‘shape’ of the ‘breaking of the Bread’ he practised? What was the language he used? No ‘proof’ is available to answer these questions when we apply the historiographical rigorous methods of today. However, we can arrive at certain possible conclusions from circumstantial evidence. This is a very slippery area where opinions vary. What we can guess with quasi-certainty is that the liturgical celebrations during that period had no definite shape and that St Thomas introduced some fluid form on the basis of what he learned from Jesus at the Last Supper. It is to be assumed also that the Eucharistic Bread and Wine were some indigenous product rather than bread of wheat and wine. Thus, the first stage – the St Thomas Period – is one of uncertainties and hence one has to be satisfied with some plausible conjectures.

(2) Second Stage: The East Syrian Period (4th -16th Century)

The origin of the East Syrian liturgy in Malabar may be traced back to the arrival of Thomas of Knai in the fourth century or so. It is known that Thomas belonged to the East Syrian Church. And from history we know that the Syrian Church was one of the most flourishing Christian communities in the early centuries with the two famous ecclesiastical centres of Edessa and Nisibis. Famous theologians like St Ephrem and liturgical interpreters like Narsai were eminent scholars of these centres. Hence, it is probable that the East Syrian Church had a developed liturgy and Thomas of Knai had brought this liturgy to Malabar.

According to some authors, the Syrian liturgy was  ‘naturally’ adopted by the St.Thomas Christians in Malabar. They point to the apostolic, cultural, ethnic, linguistic, spiritual and hierarchical relationship between the East Syrians and the Malabarians for its acceptance. But some others dispute this claim. Without entering into the merits or demerits of their arguments, it is to be presumed that the Syriac liturgy was used in Malabar since fourth century or so. As Cardinal Eugene Tisserant states, “The Indian Christianity was definitely connected with the See of Selucia- Ctesiphon only about AD 450, at a time when the Mesopotamian, also called Persian, Church was itself being strongly established and was a well-knit unit”.[1] It appears that the contact of the Syro-Malabar Church with the Persian Church, which was only a friendly one among sister Churches in the beginning, later developed into hierarchical dependence of the former on the latter.[2]

(3) Third Stage: The Portuguese Period (16th Century-1896)      

During the third stage – the Portuguese Period of almost four centuries – there were attempts on the part of the Latin missionaries to meddle with the affairs of the Syro-Malabar Church, including her liturgy. They tried to introduce Western liturgical elements sidestepping, even mutilating, the longstanding Syriac tradition. They even suspected the St Thomas Christians of ‘Nestorianism’ as the Malabar Christians were using the Syriac liturgical texts.

The Synod of Diamper of 1599 is one of the milestones in the history of the Syro-Malabar Church and her liturgy. Another important event is the sad split of 1653 called the ‘Coonan Cross Oath’ which led to the introduction of Antiochian liturgical tradition among the St Thomas Christians. Despite the crisis, one group of Christians continued to be under the Latin rule with their fragmented Syriac liturgical tradition. Though the Western missionaries in their enthusiasm to make the Syro-Malabar Church ‘Catholic’ tried to introduce the Latin liturgy and Western theology and ecclesiastical discipline, it is an undeniable fact that the Syro-Malabar faithful also gained some spiritual benefits through their popular devotional practices like the Rosary, the Stations of the Cross and the Eucharistic devotion.

(4) Fourth Stage: The Syro-Malabar Period (1896-1992)

The Syro- Malabar Church got partial independence from the Latin rule in 1887 when the Vicariates of Trichur and Kottayam were established. She got greater independence in 1896 when the Vicariates of Trichur, Ernakulam and Changanacherry were erected with Syro-Malabarians themselves as their heads. That process came to a happy conclusion when the Syro-Malabar hierarchy was formally established in 1923.

After the establishment of the hierarchy there were attempts to reintroduce the Syriac tradition in its entirety. To this effect Rome appointed a liturgical Commission in 1934. For some reason the Commission could not take up its work seriously. Later, another Commission was set up in 1954 while Cardinal Tisserant was the Head of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches.

The primary aim of the Commission was to restore the ancient East Syrian tradition in Malabar. However, the then bishops of the Syro-Malabar Church were not in favour of a pure restoration of the Syriac tradition. This conflict of interest led to a lack of enthusiasm on the part of the Syro-Malabar bishops in implementing the decisions of Rome. Despite objections from the bishops, the Roman Commission restored the text of the Holy Qurbana (1957 in Latin; 1960 in Syriac; 1962 in Malayalam-Syriac), the variable prayers of the liturgical seasons and feasts (1960: Supplementum Mysteriorum), the Pontifical (1958) and the book of the rubrics (1959: Ordo celebrationis). As the year of publication of these texts reveal, all of them were texts prior to the renewal thrust of Vatican II. The texts were more ‘restored’ than ‘revised’ and ‘adapted’. This seems to be the reason why the bishops were rather reluctant to implement them. One should also add that due to long periods of use, the bishops were more familiar with the Latinized liturgical texts than the original Syriac texts.

In spite of reservations on the part of the bishops, the restored text of the Holy Qurbana was introduced for public use in 1962. Though the text was basically in Malayalam, some prayers were in Syriac. Besides, not all restored parts of the Qurbana (Three anaphoras, the variable prayers according to liturgical seasons etc.) were incorporated into it. It seems that not all sections of the Church were happy with the text. On the basis of complaints against this text from various quarters, Rome made some adjustments in it in 1963 by shortening the length of the readings and the Psalms and by avoiding of repetitions of certain prayers.

Dissatisfied with the state of affairs, the bishops prepared a thoroughly revised text of the Qurbana in Malayalam in 1968 and obtained temporary approval from Rome for its experimental use. However, one section of the Syro-Malabar Church could not savour the 1968 text and argued for the restored text of 1962. This led to the birth of two liturgical ‘camps’ in the Syro-Malabar Church.

In 1980 the Congregation for the Oriental Churches convened a meeting of the Syro-Malabar bishops in Rome on the occasion of their ad limina visit to discuss the liturgical issues. In the light of the decisions taken in the meeting, the bishops prepared a new text of the Qurbana in 1981 and sent it to Rome for their perusal. But in 1983 Rome replied rejecting the text and gave new directives to prepare another text. The text thus prepared (Raza text) was inaugurated by Pope John Paul II during the Beatification of Fr Chavara Kuriakose and Sr Alphonsa in February 1986.

Many expected that the ‘liturgical crisis’ would be over with the publication of the text of the Qurbana and its inauguration by the Pope. Instead, it aggravated the crisis which prompted the Cardinal Prefect of the Oriental Congregation to visit the Syro- Malabar dioceses in view of tackling the issue. Consequent upon the Cardinal’s visit, a new set of directives were given in order to prepare the text of the Qurbana in its Simple and Solemn Forms and it was introduced in 1989. This text allowed a few ‘dispensations’ and many ‘options’. The text now in use is this text of 1989.

In the meantime – in the 1970s – some other liturgical texts were also published. All were experimental ones. The texts of the Sacraments, Liturgical Calendar, the Divine Office, the Holy Week Liturgy etc. are some among them. Besides, Sacramentals like the Funeral Service, the Blessings, the Profession of the Religious, the Christmas Service etc. also were published for experimental use. As part of inculturation, an ‘Indian Mass’ was also experimented in some places for some time.

(5) Fifth Stage: The Syro-Malabar Major Archiepiscopal Period (1992-    )

In 1992 the Syro-Malabar Church was raised to the Major Archiepiscopal status. But the Pope reserved to himself the liturgical matters. The reservation was later lifted in 1998 and the Syro-Malabar Church was given the right to take decisions in liturgy, subject to ‘review’ by the Holy See.

The Pontifical delegate Archbishop Abraham Kattumana initiated a process to solve the liturgical issues by restoring, revising and adapting the liturgical texts. At that time the only liturgical texts formally approved for use was the text of the Holy Qurbana. After drafting and redrafting, the text of the Sacraments – Baptism, Chrismation, Penance, Marriage and Anointing of the Sick – was formally approved and was introduced in January 2005. Later the variable prayers of the liturgical Seasons and Feasts – the Propria – were given temporary approval by Rome and were introduced for common use in December 2005.

Some other texts are already approved by the Synod but not yet sent for ‘review’ to Rome. They are the ordination to Karoya, Hevpadyakna, M’samsana, Priesthood and Episcopate, installation of the Major Archbishop and the Bishops, Blessing of the Oil and the Penitential Service.

The texts under consideration by the Synod now are the Holy Week Liturgy, Christmas Liturgy and Vibhoothi Liturgy.

The texts already drafted by the Central Liturgical Committee, but not yet discussed in the Synod are Dedication of the Church, Profession of the Religious, Dedication of the Members of the Secular Institutes and Apostolic Life, Blessing of the Deppa, Rededication of the churches and Blessing of the sacred vessels etc.

The texts yet to be prepared by the Central Committee are the Revised texts of the Divine Office, Liturgical Calendar, Second and Third Anaphoras and Sacramentals.

  1. Syro-Malabar Liturgy: The Preparation of the Texts

The Syro-Malabar Synod has an Episcopal Commission for Liturgy, consisting of three bishops. This Commission is assisted by a Central Liturgical Committee which has members from all Syro-Malabar dioceses. The newly reconstituted Central Committee has also religious sisters and lay people. At present the Committee has 67 members divided as follows:

Bishops                       : 3

Diocesan Priests          : 38

Religious Priests          : 14

Religious Brothers      : 1

Religious Sisters          : 3

Lay Men                      : 7

Lay Women                : 1

The members are representatives of dioceses, Syro-Malabar Religious Conference, major seminaries, lay men and women. The members are experts in various fields like liturgy, theology, Bible, pastoral involvement etc.

Before a text is finally approved by Rome for public use, it undergoes the following process. The Central Liturgical Committee prepares the draft (if needed, also a second, third …draft) and it is sent to the dioceses for their study. The draft text comes back to the Central Committee and it is modified in the light of the suggestions from the dioceses. It then goes to the Episcopal Commission for Liturgy who presents it before the Synod. Once the Synod approves the text it is sent to Rome for their ‘review’. After obtaining the approval of the Holy See the Major Archbishop promulgates the text and it becomes the official liturgical text.

  1. Liturgical Research Centre

The Syro-Malabar Synod held in the Vatican in January 1996 decided to set up a Liturgical Research Centre under the auspices of the Synod to make deeper studies about the history, theology, pastoral practices etc. of the Syro-Malabar liturgy. The Centre has already conducted 27 seminars on various topics such as The Life and Nature of the St Thomas Christian Church in the Pre-Diamper Period; St Thomas Christians and Nambudiris, Jews and Sangam Culture: A Historic Perspective; Inculturation and the Syro-Malabar Church; Social Life of Kerala in the First Millennium; Liturgical Music of the Syro-Malabar Church; Kerala Christian Art and Architecture and The Cultural Heritage of St Thomas Christians.

Some of the findings of the research seminars have already been published. Although the studies have not yielded many new findings not known to us before, the seminars have definitely helped to create an atmosphere of serious dialogue towards easing tensions in the realm of liturgy.

  1. Liturgical Books

The following are the Liturgical Books of the Syro-Malabar Church.

  • Thaksa of the Holy Qurbana
  • Thaksa of the Sacraments (Child Baptism, Adult Baptism, Chrismation, Penance, Marriage and Anointing of the Sick)
  • Divine Office
  • Liturgical Calendar and Lectionary
  • Variable Prayers according to Seasons and Feasts (Propria)
  • Pontifical (Ordination to Karoya, Hevpadyakna, M’samsana, Priesthood and Episcopate, Installation of the Major Archbishop and the Bishops, Blessing of the Oil, Consecration of the Churches)
  • Funeral Services and various Prayers for the Dead
  • Sacramentals (Profession of the Religious, Dedication of the Members of the Secular Institutes and Apostolic Life, House Blessings, Betrothal, Laying of Foundation Stone, Blessing of various institutions, objects etc.)
  • Blessing of the deppa, sacred vessels etc.
  1. Syro-Malabar ‘Liturgical Controversy’

This presentation will be incomplete if I do not mention a word about the so-called Syro-Malabar ‘liturgical controversy’. I do not intend to go into the details of it. Rather, I would prefer to give a broad outline of the ‘crisis’ and the underlying reasons.

Robert Taft, a renowned Oriental theologian, well-versed with the Syro-Malabar liturgy and the controversy surrounding it, points out the following factors which led to the crisis:[3]

(i)                 The Syro-Malabar liturgical movement was caught up in the collapse of the historical process. The normal historical process of liturgical renewal had traditionally been the work of generations. In the Syro-Malabar Church it took place within a span of 30 years or so.

(ii)               The first step to be taken was the restoration phase, which consists of deep studies, lively debates, propagation of ideas through Journals etc. in view of a slow step-by-step renewal. This did not happen with the Syro-Malabar Church.[4]

(iii)             There was the need to cope with the desires of the common people, especially in the context of the democratic societies. Vernacularisation, inculturation etc. are products of this new awareness. Without going through a restoration process in all its details, the Syro-Malabar Church got the Malayalam text of the Holy Qurbana in 1962.

(iv)             The Syro-Malabar Church was not exempt from the universal cultural turbulence of 1960s and consequently changes in liturgical rites were introduced with a certain spontaneity bypassing the normal procedures for liturgical change and adaptation.

I personally feel that Robert Taft has made a correct assessment of the situation. To his observations I would like to add one thing more. The Syro-Malabar Church found it hard to break with the longstanding  Latin liturgical and devotional practices which, in some cases, however, were beneficial to their spiritual life. In addition to this, we have to take into consideration the overall mentality of our people which is the result of greater secular education, exposure to other traditions and cultures and the fast tempo of life in the context of an industrialised society.

Vatican II has clearly directed the Eastern Churches “to preserve their own legitimate liturgical rites and ways of life” and if they have fallen away from them due to historical reasons, they are “to strive to return to their ancestral traditions”.[5] Therefore, the Syro-Malabar Church is duty-bound to search for her liturgical roots. This search will lead mainly to the East Syrian tradition. However, as Robert Taft has remarked, “To consider the Syro-Malabar tradition as simply the East Syrian Rite without taking any account of its evolution during more than a millennium of its existence in Southwest India, flies in the face of history. That would be like ignoring 50% of the vocabulary of English because it entered the English language from Norman French after the Battle of Hastings in 1066. No tradition can realistically pretend to ignore 497 years of its history. That is not to say that what happened in those years was always positive…It does mean that it cannot be ignored, (…) and  be dealt with realistically”.[6] As a matter of fact, all liturgical traditions are to a certain extent ‘hybrid’ as all have borrowed elements from others. As Taft notes, his own liturgy – the Byzantine Rite – is only half-Byzantine. The Armenians have borrowed even Latin elements during Crusades.[7]

If an Individual Church wants to exist, undoubtedly, it should have its liturgical identity because a Church is identified, among other things, also by her liturgy. Therefore, the Syro-Malabar Church needs to rediscover her liturgical identity in the light of her two-millennium-old history enriched by various sources. True, we need traditions. But, as Pope John Paul II once remarked, ‘tradition is never pure nostalgia for things or forms past, but the living memory of the Bride, kept eternally youthful by the Love that dwells within her’.[8] According to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI), the criterion of liturgical renewal is not ‘What was it like then’, but ‘What ought to be done today’ because the Church is living and hence her liturgy cannot be frozen at a stage in history.[9]

  1. Syro-Malabar Church Today

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

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

The SMC needs to have an open mind to cope with these realities when she plans out the future course of action in the realm of liturgy.

  1. Looking Ahead

It is an undeniable historical fact that the Syro-Malabar Church was hierarchically dependent on the East Syrian Church. It is also true that the East Syrian contact led to the introduction of their liturgy in the Syro-Malabar Church. However, as Placid Podipara notes, the Thomas Christians were ‘not an integral part, nor an output’ of the East Syrian Church.[10] It is true that the East Syrian tradition is an important source of the Syro-Malabar liturgy. To this one needs to add the ‘original’ source of St Thomas period. The ‘original shape’ of the breaking of the Bread may be found in the New Testament to which the apostle was a witness. The search for the sources of ‘auricular confession’, the anointing of the sick, the present bread and wine for the Eucharistic celebration etc. will take one to the Latin tradition. The custom of tying the Thali, giving of the Manthrakodi etc. in marriage undoubtedly leads one to the Indian sources. Therefore one can rightly conclude that the Syro-Malabar liturgy is shaped by various influences, two among them being the East Syrian and the Indian.

Being aware of this historical reality, the Congregation for the Oriental Churches suggested in 1980 that the Syro-Malabar liturgy requires a ‘double integration’, namely an ‘Eastern-Christian direction’ through a deeper contact with the Syriac liturgical, theological and spiritual traditions and an ‘Indian direction’ by favouring serious study of the Indian reality.[11] In the context of this Syro-Malabar Global Meet, I am compelled to add that we need yet a third direction, namely a ‘catholic’ or ‘universal’ direction by promoting inculturation according to the needs of the times and places.[12]

Conclusion

As Archbishop Joseph Powathil has rightly observed, the question of identity of an Individual Church is of vital importance since it has far-reaching implications and consequences for the life and activities of that Church.[13] It includes ecclesial identity, liturgical identity, theological identity, spiritual identity and so on and so forth. The specific question here is: What is the Syro-Malabar liturgical identity? An answer to this question can be found in a patient and thorough search of the 2000 year old history of the Syro-Malabar Church. In this soul-searching process two principles – one of St Augustine and the other an American colloquial aphorism – may be helpful. According to St Augustine’s principle, we should strive for ‘Unity in essential things, Freedom in doubtful things and Charity in everything’. The American aphorism – ‘you cannot put the tooth-paste back into the tube’ – reminds us that when something is practiced and lived for a long time, it may be very difficult to reverse it regardless of the merits of the issue.

                                                            ************

Fr.Antony Nariculam

Pontifical Seminary

Alwaye 683102

Email: antonynariculam@yahoo.co.in


[1] E. Tisserant, Eastern Christianity in India: History of the Syro-Malabar Church from the Earliest Time to the Present Day, Authorised Adaptation from the French by E. R. Hambye, London, New York, Toronto 1957, p.10

[2] Cf. Jacob Thoomkuzhy, Liturgy of the Syro-Malabar Church, in Jose Porunnedom (ed.), Acts of the Synod of Bishops of the Syro-Malabar Church, Kochi 1996, p. 91

[3] Robert Taft, The Syro-Malabar Liturgical Controversy in Jose Porunnedom (ed.), Acts of the Synod of Bishops of the Syro-Malabar Church, pp. 124-127

[4] In the Latin Church about a century-old study of this type took place which eventually led to the liturgical reform of Vatican II.

[5] Decree on the Catholic Eastern Churches, No. 6

[6] Robert Taft, The Syro-Malabar Liturgical Controversy, p. 132

[7] Ibid. Cf. also, Elena Velkova Velkovska, Blessings in the East, in Anscar  J. Chupungco, Handbook for Liturgical Studies IV, Collegeville 2000, p. 388

[8] Cf. John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Orientale Lumen, 1995 No. 8

[9] Cf. Joseph Ratzinger-Vittorio Messori, The Ratzinger Report, San Francisco 1985, pp. 131-132

[10] Cf. P.J. Podipara, The Hierarchy of the Syro-Malabar Church, Alleppey 1976, p.35

[11] Cf. Report on the State of Liturgical Reforms in the Syro-Malabar Church, Rome 1980

[12] Cf. Vatican II, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, No. 4; Decree on the Catholic Eastern Churches, No. 2

[13] Joseph Powathil, Identity and Dignity of the Syro-Malabar Church, in Jose Porunnedom (ed.), Acts of the Synod of Bishops of the Syro-Malabar Church, p. 61

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

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

Dr Antony Nariculam 

Fr Antony Nariculam

 

Introduction

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

 

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

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

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

1. Vatican II and the Understanding of Liturgical Renewal

 

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

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

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

2. What is Tradition?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Reception of Tradition

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

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

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

 

4. Tradition in Relation to Liturgy

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

5. Restoration as Reformation

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

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

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

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

6. Liturgy and Organic Development

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. Liturgy and Inculturation

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

8. Active Participation and Pastoral Implications

 

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

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

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

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

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

9. Lessons from Latin Liturgical Renewal

 

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

 

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

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

  1. 10.  Liturgical Language

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

  1. Recovery of the authentic tradition where it has eroded

 

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

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

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

  1. Renewal where needed

 

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

  1. Fidelity to the substantial unity of the Rite

 

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

4. Seriousness of purpose and preparation

 

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

5. Ecumenism

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

6. Inculturation and 7. Implementation and ongoing Formation

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

8. Pastoral realism

 

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

9. Concentration on the essentials

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

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

Conclusion

 

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

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

                                                     ***********


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

Principles of Liturgical Theology and the Indian Context

Principles of Liturgical Theology and the Indian Context

Antony Nariculam

 Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

                                                           

  1. Theology and Theological Teaching

 

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

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

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

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

  1. Theology of Liturgy and Liturgical Theology

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

3.   Rite and Celebration

 

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

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

4.    The Ecclesial Dimension of the Liturgy

 

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

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

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

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

5.   Liturgy and Active Participation

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

People:   Lord, have mercy on us.

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

 People:  Lord, have mercy on us.

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

People:  Lord, have mercy on us.[20]

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

Conclusion

 

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.

 

LITURGY AND INCULTURATION

LITURGY AND INCULTURATION

Dr Antony Nariculam

 Antony Nariculam

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. What is Liturgy?

 

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

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

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

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

  1. What is Inculturation?

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. What is Liturgical Inculturation?

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Local Church: The Venue of Inculturation

 

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

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

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

  1. Liturgical Inculturation: An Historical Review

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Challenges of Inculturation

 

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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


[1] Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, SC 38

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[17] Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi (1975) 62

[18] Evangelii Nuntiandi, 63

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

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

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

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

[23] Evangelii Nuntiandi, 63

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

[25] Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis (2007) 54

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

MUSIC IN LITURGY

ILA MEETING, NBCLC Bangalore, 26-28 October 2007

 

Liturgical Music in the Syro-Malabar Church [*]

Dr Antony Nariculam

  1. Introduction

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. After 1960

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

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

3.  Sung Mass since 1986

 

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

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

4. Karnatic Solemn Sung Mass

 

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

5.  Sacraments

 

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

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

6.  Holy Week Liturgy

 

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

7.  Christmas Liturgy

 

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

8.  Divine Office 

 

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

9. Funeral Services

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

11.  The Choir and the Musical Instruments

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

12. The Eastern Liturgical Music

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

15.  Rethinking about the Syro-Malabar Liturgical Music

 

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

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

16.  Decisions of the Synod regarding Sacred Music

 

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

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

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

17. Conclusion

 

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

                                                                                                      Fr.Antony Nariculam

                                                                                                      Pontifical Seminary

                                                                                                      Alwaye 683 102

                                                                              antonynariculam@yahoo.co.in

                                                             ************


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

Unitive Pluralism: An Answer to Religious Extremism

Unitive Pluralism: An Answer to Religious Extremism

Dr Vincent Kundukulam
Dr Vincent Kundukulam

Vincent Kundukulam

The greater danger in the religious world today is that the believers, in fear or pride, cling to their own religion and refuse to learn from the stranger. A world of strangers is a world of enemies. In a world of so many differing opinions some of the more unsecured take refuge in their own religions as the sole source of Truth and that leads them to hold extreme positions towards others. Religious extremism takes various shapes, mainly that of fundamentalism, fanaticism, and communalism, according to the different cultural political and economic contexts. This paper tries to analyse these phenomenon, to determine the role of religion in their formation, to expose anti-extremist potential inherent in religions, and to propose unitive pluralism as the efficient means to counter the religious extremisms.

1. Religious extremist ideologies

1.1 Religious fundamentalism

The origin of the term fundamentalism dates back to the last phase of the 19th century in USA. It was mainly a deliberate reaction to the liberal interpretation of the Bible made in with the new exegetical methods. The traditionalists perceived it as an attempt to water down the essentials of revelation. The term fundamentalist seems to have been used for the first time by Cutis Lee Laws, a Baptist from North America in the editorial of a New York weekly The Watchman Examiner (on 1st July 1920).  It designated those who were blindly attached to the great fundamentals of Christian faith and vehemently opposed to modern interpretations of the Bible[1]. It was characterized by the aggressive efforts to impose its creed upon the public and on denominational schools of the country. It insisted upon the obligatory prayer before classes, the reading of the Bible and divine service in colleges and universities. It removed from the churches and educational institutions those who did not share the conservative faith. It induced state legislatures to pass laws prohibiting the theory of evolution[2]

Fundamentalism has cut across Christian world and has become one of the most obvious characteristics of almost all the institutionalized religions of the world. The fundamentalists are always certain of what they say. Their value system is non-negotiable. To argue that there could be a plurality of ideas which could be equally valid is for them sacrilege. Another feature is the moral fervor with which they speak. They are convinced of having God’s authority to do what they will. They supply literalist interpretations of the Scriptures, which legitimate the exclusion of the other. They consider the progressive thinkers as creatures of devil and they don’t mind in using violence against them[3]

1.2 Religious fanaticism

Fanaticism is the anglicized form of a word, which in ancient times was used of priests supposed to be inspired by divinity. By the sixteenth century this original meaning expanded to include forms of noisy madness having no religious basis. In the seventeenth century immoderate adherents of the sects in England were called fanatics. Gradually this term denoted blind zeal in any cause whether religious social or political.

A thorough study of the various forms of fanaticism shows that it has three important components. The most obvious among them is extreme narrowness and rigidity of temper. It is impossible for the fanatics to learn anything that would dislodge their fixed idea. The end which they select as supreme and the path they follow to arrive at that end are never open to question. Another character of fanatics is their unyielding determination to make the fixed idea of triumph over others. They are men of fiction and fiery missionaries. A fanatic may intertwine himself with political parties and social forces in the destiny of the religious struggle. Another trait no less characteristic to fanaticism is callousness to pain. The fanatics become insensitive to human suffering to the point of cruelty. Its extreme narrowness of sin, inflexibility and brutal disregard of other values make fanaticism a deeply disruptive force in the society. Whether it arises out of religion, politics or class struggle, the fanatic regards himself as specially chosen for the purpose. According to analysts, neurological abnormality, unhappy environmental conditions and strong ambition contribute to the growth of fanatic culture in an individual[4].

1.3 Religious communalism

What is communalism? To commune means feel as one with somebody or some group. Communal in the positive sense is commitment for the well being of the community. It becomes communal in the negative sense when one discriminates others on account of immoderate attachment to one’s own community. As Rasheedhudin Khan has rightly observed, in India, religious communalism has taken the shape of narrow and blind devotion to one’s own religious community for acquiring political and economic benefits. In that sense communalism is opposed to secularism and nationalism.[5]

Though communalists play with religion, in fact, religion is not the fundamental cause of communal conflicts. As Louis Dumont remarks, religion becomes here a mere appearance. People are not really concerned about the substance of religion. Religious communalism is the affirmation of the religious community as a political group. What appears to be clash of religions is really clash of interests of a small group. It neither represents religion nor patriotism; it represents vested interests of the communal leaders.[6] There are various stages in the growth of religious communalism. First a feeling is promoted that the people of the same religion have not only common religious beliefs but also common economic political and cultural interests. In the second stage it emphasizes that the political, economic and social interests of one religious community are different from those of other religious communities. In the third stage people are made to believe that not only their differences are different but also antagonistic to those of other communities[7].

The above explanation shows that all forms of extremism contain some sort of exclusive attitude, which provokes violent attitude in the adepts towards their opponents. If for the fundamentalists the enemy is progressive thinkers of their own religion, believers of other religions are the targets of religious fanatics. The religious communalists are not, in fact, serious about the religion. Their interest is only economic and political. However, whatever be the form of religious extremism all of them manipulate directly or indirectly the sentiments of believers to achieve their vested interests. This leads us to ask a very prominent question regarding the nature of religion: is extremism innate to religion?

2. Are religions prone to extremist ideologies?

When we study the history of religions we come across several incidents where the religious leaders made pejorative remarks despising other religions as enemies. Crusades are best examples in the history of Christianity. When Islam conquered much of Christian territories and holy places in Europe, Popes instigated the Christians to fight against Muslims. Pope Urban II’s appeal for war is very famous: “I beseech and exhort you – and it is not I but God who beseeches and exhorts you as heralds of Christ – both poor and rich, to make haste to drive that vile breed from the regions inhabited by our brethren, and to bring timely aid to the worshippers of Christ. I speak to those here present, I will proclaim it to the absent, but it is Christ who commands …If those who go thither lose their lives on land or sea during the journey, or in battle against the pagans, their sins will at once be forgiven[8].”

The destruction of Babri Masjid at Ayodhya on 6th December 1992 brought into light the fanatic potential of the Hindutva forces in India. The worldwide dismay and outrange caused by Taliban’s edict of 26th February 2001 ordering the demolition of the Bamiyan Buddhas raised a host of questions of fanatic nature. The supreme Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar was quoted as saying: ‘I ask Afghans and the worlds Muslims to use their sound wisdom… Do you prefer to be a breaker of idols or a seller of idols? Is it appropriate to be influenced by the propaganda of the infidels?’[9]. September 11th attack on the World Trade Centre in 2001 reiterated the religious grounds of terrorism on universal level.

In the light of the above-mentioned inglorious stories allied to religions some opine that violence is native to religions. As evidence, they point out the martial metaphors in the Scriptures. The Hebrew Bible contains military exploits of great kings. The great epics Ramayana and the Mahabharata are tales of unending conflict and military intrigue. The ideas of Salvation Army in Christianity, Dal Khalsa in Sikhism, notion of Jihad in Islam, etc. denote images of warfare. According to them, religion is an order restoring institution and therefore it would allow struggle for the order to be restored.  Whenever the religious activists feel commissioned to protect the good from the satanic forces they may draw on violent means. In the Sri Lankan conflict the militant bhikkhus state that the people there live in dukkha, in an immoral world. The conflict is between dhamma and adhamma: order and disorder, religion and irreligion. That means, religions may give moral sanction to violence for the cause of bringing order in the world[10].

From childhood onwards we are taught that religions are effective instruments to establish peace and harmony among people. If this is true how can they employ violence even for a just cause? In this regard it is worth to mention the distinction made by the sociologists and anthropologists about religion. The social scientists make a difference between religion as faith and religion as an identity. Religion as faith has largely a spiritual function and religion as identity acquires political overtones[11]. As social institution religion is mot merely a set of revelations. It includes also dogmas and laws, which are the results of the interpretations made on the revealed texts in view of adapting them to the particular context of the believers. Consequently, due to the influence of believers having extremist tendencies, some scriptural interpretations may have extremist slant. In brief, religion as faith is not pro-violent whereas religion as identity, which includes the doctrines and the practices of the believers, is vulnerable to violence.

If religions, as social institutions, are exposed to the danger of extremism, building up a peaceful society will ever remain utopist unless creative measures are taken to curb the excessive interpretations of Scriptures. How to protect the revealed texts from disruptive interpretations? The best remedy is religions themselves. Religions as faith possess by nature anti-extremist elements. The inner dynamism of religions consists in generating universal and pluralistic values, which will create solidarity and equality in the society. This is possible because religions, by their origin, are liberative. All the major religions extol the value of self-sacrificing love, non-violence, solidarity of mankind, justice, reverence for life, truthfulness, etc. In order that religions become creative forces in building up the world their social engagements must be subdued to these ethical values. The social involvement of religions has to be modeled in accordance with the principle of unitive pluralism, the crux religions stands for.

To maintain religions as catalyst forces in nurturing diversity and justice in the human culture is not a over ambitious project because religions, as M. Juergensmeyer has rightly observed, provide images capable of conquering violence. In rituals, violence is symbolically transformed. Christ’s crucified image induces Christians to sabotage violence. In the Sikh tradition the two edged sword is an example of domestication of violence. Islamic mystics have come out to speak of the true jihad as the one to take place within each person[12]. The following reflections on unitive pluralism will show how extremism can be checked by the faith content in the religions.

3. Unitive Pluralism

Pluralism follows the logic that one is manifested in the many. The universe of meaning has no center. Truth is relative and mutable according to the different human experiences. Pluralism refers to a situation in which a variety of thought patterns, world-views or explanations of reality coexist with out any one of these having gained hegemony over others[13]. It invites us to believe that I do not exhaust the truth nor am I its center but only one of its poles. There are others. Reality is essentially pluriform. Without others we cannot exist and function in the world.

Religious pluralism is the view that different, or even contradictory, forms of religious beliefs and behavior could or even should co-exist[14]. Surprisingly we observe that our friends following a totally different path from our own, and sometimes apparently contradictory one, lead a happy and virtuous life. The fact of religious pluralism pushes us toward the profound insight that there is no one and only way to salvation. But does it mean that the diverse religions have to put off their specificities? Never. Religious pluralism is empowered with a potential for greater unity.

The world religions can move towards a more pervasive unity through better relationships with each other. They can become one precisely by remaining the many. This movement towards interconnectedness of religions is called unitive pluralism[15]. It does not aim at absolute or monistic oneness. It is not to be confused with the old rationalistic idea of “one world religion”. It is not also syncretism, which boils away all the historical differences; nor is it imperialism where one religion absorbs all others. Nor is it a lazy tolerance that let religions go in their own self-satisfied ways. Rather unitive pluralism is a unity in which each religion although loosing some of its individualism will intensify its personality. Each religion will retain its own distinctiveness but this will develop and take on new depths by relating to other religions in mutual dependence. To have a better grasp of unitive pluralism we will see its theoretical underpinnings, which are developed by Ernst Troeltsch (1865-1923), Arnold Toynbee (1889-1975), and Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961).

4. Pioneers of unitive pluralism[16]

4.1 Ernst Troeltsch, professor of philosophy and theology at the Universities of Bonn, Heidelberg and Berlin, was among the first to recognize the reality of religious and historical pluralism. Troeltsch was dissatisfied with the concept of revelation according to which God had been swooping down from heaven and intervening into history at particular spots. Such a vision gave God the image of a father who dispenses more parental love to some children than to others. In place of such an intervening God Troeltsch argued for metaphysics of immanent transcendence. God is coterminous with history. History is the march of God through the world.

The human spirit gives imposing testimony to the immanence of God within our very being. The religions of the world are the concrete manifestations of the universal revelation at work within all humankind. Although the Absolute is manifest in all of history, no historical manifestation of the Absolute can be absolute. That would contradict the nature of the Absolute and nature of the historical. That means all religions, as bearers of the divine are relative and limited. There can be no absolute religion. No religion can claim to be the full and final realization of the Divine.

4.2 Arnold Toynbee began his analysis of the nature of religion by urging a distinction between the essential counsels and nonessential propositions. From the study of seven major religions he evinced the following common characteristics. a) The universe is ultimately mysterious. b) The meaning of the universe is to be found in an Absolute Reality, which is not to be identified with it. c) Humanity seeks to experience and be in harmony with this truth. d) The way to live this harmony is to get rid of innate self-centeredness.

According to Toynbee, Since God wills to draw all people to salvation, naturally God has to realize this project according to the different contexts, time and cultures and this accounts for differences among religions. Since the same God of love is behind all religions, deep down they are same. Differences are accidental, cultural and time-conditioned. They are different paths leading to the same goal. Behind these accidentals there is common essence. A religion has constantly to be on guard against identifying the nonessentials with the essentials. He compares it with peeling an onion. You might go on peeling an onion till you find that you had peeled away the heart as well as the skin. If however because of this risk you refrain from trying to peel your onion you will never have an onion to eat.

4.3 Carl Gustav Jung came to see the image of God as an ingredient necessary for psychological health. According to Jung we humans are animated by something more than what we are expressly aware of. Below and in vital connection with our consciousness there is what has come to be called the unconscious and subconscious. This unknown part contains our true selves. According to Jung the reality of the unconscious represents the mysterious, the supernatural element in us. One of the most reliable pathways into the supra-rational darkness of the unconscious is the archetype. The archetypes could be decoded by symbols and myths. The archetypes are common to all religions but symbols and myths will be different, dependent on the varying cultural historical contexts.

From the discoveries of the unconscious and the presence of God within it Jung drew conclusions concerning the nature of the established religions, their differences and similarities. For Jung revelation is an unveiling of the depths of the individual and collective unconscious. It is the experience of God speaking from within, essentially the same within for all human beings. The differing dogmas and doctrines are attempts to give symbolic expression to this essentially ineffable experience. For him it is altogether inconceivable that there could be any definite figure capable of expressing archetypal indefiniteness.

The above discussion on pluralism from historical, phenomenological and psychological angles leads us to the following conclusions: a) in all religions there is an experience of a reality that transcends human conception b) that reality is conceived in a plurality of ways both within and outside the religion c) due to our limitations and our need to commit ourselves to a particular experience of transcendence, our concrete experience will function as in an absolute way d) unless we penetrate ever further into our own particular experience of transcendence through self-critical dialogue we may fall into the danger of extremism.

5. Scriptural basis for the unitive pluralism

A careful analysis of the scriptures from the perspective of pluralism and universalism reveal to us the interconnectedness of religions, the thrust for unitive pluralism.

5.1 Hinduism: Hinduism, as understood through Brahmanic tradition and Upanishads, focuses on knowledge of the inner spirit and its realization. This inward search has brought Hindus to the belief that there is one divine reality and that it can manifest in different forms. In the Rig Veda there is evidence of conflict between many groups – Aryan, Dravidian and Aboriginal – but there is also a resolution that absorbs the good aspects of each. This resolution is “ekam Sat vipra bhahudha vadanti : The real is one, the learned call it by various names, Agni, Yama, Matarisvan. (Rig Veda 1, 164, 46) The Upanishads gave further development to the same view stating that Brahman is one and that the different deities are His manifestations. Consequently the Hindu sees the different sects within and outside Hinduism as manifestations of the same divine reality. Denominations like Vaishnavism and Saivism, and various darsanas including conceptions from atheistic to pantheistic, to deistic, to monistic, and to mystical are incorporated in it.

Hindu concept of God is like looking at a piece of sculpture from different angles. The whole form can be grasped only when the sculpture has been looked at from different perspectives: front, the back, and the sides. Although each of these views is different from the others and although some aspects of what is seen and described from different angles may seem incompatible, these reports can together give us a reliable overall view of the sculpture. More aspects of the divine we can perceive the more complete our understanding of God will be[17]. The expressions in Hindu prayers and hymns like Vasudaiva kudumbakam, Atmavat Sarva Bhoodhani, Sarve Bhavandu Sukina, Loka Samasta Sukino Bhavandhu, also point to the spirit of universalism inherent in Hindu religion.

5. 2 Islam: The Muslim attitude towards other religions is derived from Muhammad’s teachings, from the Quran, and from its approved commentaries. Though the Quran is the complete and full revelation of the one divine Book for Muslims, they recognize a foundational unity underlying all religions. The earlier part of Quran mentions different prophets speaking to different people. “Say: We believe in God and that which is revealed to us; in what was revealed to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and the tribes; to Moses and Jesus and the other prophets by their Lord. We make no distinction among any of them, and to God we have surrendered ourselves” (2, 136). The messages spoken to them come from a single source called as the “Mother of the Book” (43, 4; 13, 39) and the “Hidden Book” (56, 78). There is no nation wherein a messenger has not come (35, 24). Therefore a Muslim has to respect the sacred works of all religions.

The inclusive Islamic attitude towards others is seen in their concept of creation too. According to Koran all are God’s creatures and all are children of the same parents: “Men, We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you might get to know one another. The noblest of you in God’s sight is he who is most righteous” (49,13). Islam is often criticized of making conversions by force. But the Koran teachings are against compelling people to embrace the faith. “Say: This is the truth from your Lord. Let him who will, believe in it, and him who will, deny it (18, 29). “Your duty is only to give warning: you are not their keeper” (88, 21-22). The Muhammad’s concept of Jihad has often been misunderstood. The primary definition of Jihad is struggling or striving. Islamic scholars identify four kinds of jihad a) jihad of heart: spiritual striving b) jihad of the hand: work c) jihad of the tongue: preaching d) jihad of the sword. The recourse to holy war developed as a response to idolatry[18].

It seems that Muhammad advocated the love of other religions not only in words but also in deeds. Once, a few Christians from Najran came to meet him in Medina. During the conversation there arrived the time for Christians to recite prayers. Then prophet arranged the space for the Christians to pray in the same mosque. The respect for other religions is also seen in the counsel of Babar to Humayun: ‘India is a land of different religions. You must be grateful for that. If Allah gives you power you should not show any favoritism. Don’t kill the cows, which may hurt the feelings of the Hindus. Don’t destroy the temples and places of worship’[19]

5. 3 Christianity: The Jewish self-consciousness of being the chosen people of God (Deut 7, 6) and Jesus’ statements about his relationship to God (Jn 17, 22) certainly seem to have influenced Christians to assert a unique status for the Christianity.  But the Bible contains elements that encourage an open attitude towards the other religions. The book of Genesis tells that God created man in His own image and likeness (Gen 1, 26-27). According to this vision, not only Jews Christians and Muslims but also the whole humanity possess God’s image. Whoever lives according to the voice of his conscience is doing the will of the Creator.

Jesus turned against the exclusive attitudes of Jews. He transgressed the purity laws with quite astonishing freedom. He broke the Sabbath (Mk 2, 23-28) touched lepers (Mk 1, 41) and dined with religious outcasts (Mk 2, 15-17). He said that nothing outside a man could defile him but the things, which come out of men, are what defile him (Mk 7, 15). Jesus not only fought against the exclusivism in Jewish religion but also he inculcated inclusive outlook among his disciples.  He invited men to love God by loving neighbors and even the enemies (Lk 6, 35-36). His experience of God as Abbha allowed him to see all human beings as brothers and sisters. Thus Jesus gave us common platform of love where all religions can meet and work together for the growth of God’s reign in this world.

Jesus expressed his openness towards other religions by respecting believers of other religions. Seeing the faith of the Roman centurion Jesus said: “Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 8, 10-11). Jesus praised the Canaanite woman’s faith (Mt 15, 28) and projected a Samaritan as model to practice the love of neighbor (Lk 10, 25-37). He did not hesitate to drink water from the Samarian woman, which was forbidden at that time (Jn 4, 7). He encouraged an exorcist who casts out demons in his name even though he did not join his company (Mk 9, 38-40). He said that all those who help the needy would be saved at the final day without enquiring into their religious affiliations (Mt, 25, 31-46)[20]

Our search into the pluralistic trends in great religious traditions has exposed the ant-extremist potential in religions. Now in the next and the concluding part of this paper we will propose certain measures to counteract the immoderate radicalism and to strengthen the culture of pluralism and unity among the believers.

6. Some concrete steps to strengthen the unitive pluralism

Learn about the noble values of all religions: Ignorance about other religions is a great hurdle in the path of communal harmony. The UNESCO Constitution begins by saying. “As wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that defense for peace must be constructed.” If this remains true the culture of unity and diversity must be instilled in the people educating in them the noble values of all religions. Monolithic religious education becomes a divisive factor in the already divided world. We have to pursue a methodology of education, which helps the people so to understand their own religious traditions as to affirm and celebrate the significance of other religions. Religions, in and through all their academic and cultural institutions, can cultivate human and religious values in the minds of pupils. Initiation to inter-religious prayer gatherings and readings from different Scriptures is to be multiplied all over the country.

Promotion of Inter-religious fellowships: Some movements in India have taken up inter-religious friendship as their special task. The Dharma Bharati National Institute, began on 16th July 1993 at Indore, is such a NGO. The goal of Dharma Bharati is to educate the youth in values of love, fraternity, justice, peace, sharing, tolerance and respect against the ethnic quarrels and communal tensions. For the personal transformation of the individuals are given the five paths. a) Say a prayer a day for peace according to one’s own religious tradition b) Skip a meal a week to express solidarity with the hungry and contribute the savings to the needy c) Do a good deed a day without any selfish motive to develop loving concern for the nation d) Honour parents, teachers and all human beings 5) Respect earth and save its resources[21]. Collaborating with such organizations the believers could be trained to work at the grass-root level for the cause of unitive pluralism.

Readiness to relativize the possessed truth: Every religion has something unique to contribute for the welfare of the world. But at the same time we must accept with all humility that each religion has only a limited and partial understanding of the Truth. Those who believe that their religion possesses the full truth are like the blinds that went to see an elephant. Hereby we do not question the specificity of any religion. We simply acknowledge the historical contingence of revealed truths. Hence no religion can make exclusive claim over the grace of God. All are like beggars standing with their begging bowls in front of God.

Avoid the false universalism: The efforts to strengthen unitive pluralism run the risk of a false universalism, which would obliterate the identities of different faiths. Any contact begins in the appreciation of difference. Ignoring differences invariably leads to the domination of the weak by the stronger. It is not leveling out of differences that we will achieve the new wholeness. We need an existential encounter among different traditions and the mutual transformation that occurs as a result. Pluralistic spirituality presupposes the attitude of letting the opposites co-exist. Thus the particular experience of truth may be enlarged and deepened so as to open new experiences of religious truth. Therefore let us not keep silence over the disjunctions, disunities, distances and dissonances that pervade human society at the religio-socio-economic-political levels in the name of interfaith bonhomie.

Virtue of interdependence: The virtues of interdependence transcend the barrier of caste, creed, race, colour, language and nationality. It can be built up through mutual trust. An atmosphere of understanding one another, not in religious or caste terms but as human beings with same needs, aspirations and obligations is to be created. Ways of worship and objects of worship may be differed, style of life may be varied, language may be different, but these are only the outward manifestations, which need not erode the basic trust in one another as human beings. Peace which is result of trust among the people can prosper only when social interdependence becomes a way of life of the people.[22]

Counter-cultural and political formation: Compared to the activities of communal forces, the resistance put up by the religions is very less now. Today the religious and cultural leaders don’t come forward exposing the failure of police and the bureaucracy during communal violence. Using art forms – painting, music, street plays – have been a method successfully experimented in this sphere.  The cultural forums at the village levers can employ these methods to disaffiliate society from the logic of communalism. The counter cultural formation has to be done also through mass media. Disseminating teachings, stories, legends and myths from different religious traditions would instill in the people universal love and respect for the other. Mere cultural response will not be sufficient if not followed up with more substantive moves on the political front to check the wave of communalism.  Solution would be an extensive campaign sponsored by all those sections of civil society, who believe in non-communal politics.

Conclusion

Mankind is today in the midst of one of the greatest cries in history. Despite the fact that the great scientific inventions liberated us from servitude to nature, we seem to suffer from a type of religious neurosis. We need a moral and spiritual therapy, which would heal the human mind.

From the genes of our animal ancestors, we humans have inherited aggression toward outsiders and loyalties toward our own kin. This was essential for the survival and development of the most viable genotypes. Today however as biological evolution has given rise to cultural evolution and as cultural evolution has advanced from kinship to interdependence of nations, the conditions for survival have changed. Now cultures and nations will survive not by aggression and dominance but by cooperation. Therefore if we wish to survive as a human species on this planet the best way is to understand ourselves first as world citizens and then only in terms of our religious, ethnic and linguistic identities. Humanity desperately requires that the world religions work to realize this objective[23].

The best medicine that the religions can apply in this situation is to develop a spirituality of religions that are cured of provincialism and advocating values of unitive pluralism. The religious leaders must turn their energies to fashioning new ways of understanding their own religions. There should be cultural forums in every village to isolate those who mix religion with political and economic interests. Common defense of human rights, joint endeavors for development, sharing of spiritual exercises, etc., will increase mutual confidence and cooperation among the followers of various religions.

Let us conclude recalling a small anecdote. Once a group of pilgrims went to ascend the mountain. They could not see its summit because they were making their way up through clouds, but after a long time they climbed to heights above the clouds and stood on the upper reaches of their mountain under a clear sky. Then they could see to their surprise that there were other mountains and that there were pilgrims on them concealed beneath the clouds. Then the pilgrims tried to communicate saying halloo! halloo!


[1] P. Lathuiliere, Le fondamentalisme catholique, Cerf, Paris, 1995, pp. 15-19.

[2] H.R. Niebuhr, Encyclopedia of Social Sciences, vol. 6, p. 526.

[3] GPD, Economic Political Weekly, September 29, 2001, p. 3668.

[4] M. C. Otto, Fanaticism, Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, vol. 5, pp. 90-91.

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

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

[7] B. Chandra, Communalism in Modern India, New Delhi, Vani Educational Books, 1984, pp. 1-4.

[8] P. Regine, The Crusades, London, 1962, pp. 23-24.

[9] R. Hensman, Economic and Political Weekly, June 9 2001, p. 2031.

[10] M. Juergensmeyer, Religious Nationalism Confronts the Secular State, Delhi, 1993, pp. 157-164.

[11] A. A. Engineer, Economic and Political Weekly, October 20, 2001.

[12] M. Juergensmeyer, Religious Nationalism Confronts the Secular State, p. 159.

[13] H. W. Pluralism, Theological Dictionary of Fundamental Theology, Latourelle R and Fisichella R., New York: Cross Roads, 1994, p. 783.

[14] K. Koyama, A Theological Reflection on Religious Pluralism, The Ecumenical Review 51, 1999, p. 165.

[15] P. F. Knitter, No Other Name? New York: Orbis Books, 1995, p. 9.

[16]  P. F. Knitter, No Other Name?,  pp. 23-26; 37-40; 55-61.

[17] H. Coward, Pluralism: Challenge to World Religions, New York, Orbis Books, pp. 64-65.

[18] H. Coward, Pluralism: Challenge to World Religions, p. 46.

[19] T. V. Muhammadali, Bahumatha Sauhredam Islamil, Matyhavum Chintayum, vol. 82, no. 2, 2002, pp. 41-43.

[20] Soares-Prabhu, Biblical Themes for a Contextual Theology Today, pp. 178-179.

[21] V. Alengaden (ed.), Education for the Third Millennium, 2000, pp. 210-213.

[22] S. K. Parmar, Inter-religious Co-operation for Peace and Value Education: Response to Consumerism and Communalism, Peace and Values Education, K. P. Joseph [ed.], 30-33.

[23] P. Gyger, The religions and the birth of a new humanity, Pluralism and the Religions, J. D’Arcy May (ed.), Cassell, 1988, pp. 90- 93.

Notes

[1] P. Lathuiliere, Le fondamentalisme catholique, Cerf, Paris, 1995, pp. 15-19.

[2] H.R. Niebuhr, Encyclopedia of Social Sciences, vol. 6, p. 526.

[3] GPD, Economic Political Weekly, September 29, 2001, p. 3668.

[4] M. C. Otto, Fanaticism, Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, vol. 5, pp. 90-91.

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

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

[7] B. Chandra, Communalism in Modern India, New Delhi, Vani Educational Books, 1984, pp. 1-4.

[8] P. Regine, The Crusades, London, 1962, pp. 23-24.

[9] R. Hensman, Economic and Political Weekly, June 9 2001, p. 2031.

[10] M. Juergensmeyer, Religious Nationalism Confronts the Secular State, Delhi, 1993, pp. 157-164.

[11] A. A. Engineer, Economic and Political Weekly, October 20, 2001.

[12] M. Juergensmeyer, Religious Nationalism Confronts the Secular State, p. 159.

[13] H. W. Pluralism, Theological Dictionary of Fundamental Theology, Latourelle R and Fisichella R., New York: Cross Roads, 1994, p. 783.

[14] K. Koyama, A Theological Reflection on Religious Pluralism, The Ecumenical Review 51, 1999, p. 165.

[15] P. F. Knitter, No Other Name? New York: Orbis Books, 1995, p. 9.

[16]  P. F. Knitter, No Other Name?,  pp. 23-26; 37-40; 55-61.

[17] H. Coward, Pluralism: Challenge to World Religions, New York, Orbis Books, pp. 64-65.

[18] H. Coward, Pluralism: Challenge to World Religions, p. 46.

[19] T. V. Muhammadali, Bahumatha Sauhredam Islamil, Matyhavum Chintayum, vol. 82, no. 2, 2002, pp. 41-43.

[20] Soares-Prabhu, Biblical Themes for a Contextual Theology Today, pp. 178-179.

[21] V. Alengaden (ed.), Education for the Third Millennium, 2000, pp. 210-213.

[22] S. K. Parmar, Inter-religious Co-operation for Peace and Value Education: Response to Consumerism and Communalism, Peace and Values Education, K. P. Joseph [ed.], 30-33.

[23] P. Gyger, The religions and the birth of a new humanity, Pluralism and the Religions, J. D’Arcy May (ed.), Cassell, 1988, pp. 90- 93.

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

Social Involvement of Syro-Malabar Church

(A Historical-Critical Analysis)

Kundukulam Vincent

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part 3 Critical Appraisal of Social Involvement of the Syrians

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

Mangalapuzha Seminary

P.B. No:1, Alwaye 683102

23/01/07


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

[2] Ibid.,

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

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

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

[6] Ibid.,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[28] Economic Times, May 19, 2003.

[29] Organizer, September 26, 2004

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

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