Commission for Evangelization and Pastoral Care of the Migrants

Commission for Migrants

The Major Archiepiscopal Commission for

Evangelization the Pastoral Care of the Migrants

The Major Archiepiscopal Commission for Evangelization and Pastoral Care of the Migrants is constituted to assist the Major Archbishop of the Church in carrying out his responsibilities towards the Syro-Malabar migrant faithful out side the proper territory of the Syro Malabar Church (in India and aboard) and to animate and co-ordinate the evangelizing mission of the Church.


The Catholic Church is a communion of twenty three sui iuris Churches with different liturgy, theology, spirituality and administrative system. The Syro- Malabar Church is the second largest in number among twenty two Eastern Churches with a total population of 3.8 million faithful. It is a Major Archiepiscopal sui iuris Church with a Synodal structure. The Synod is the supreme legislative and judicial authority in the Church. The Major Archbishop is the father and head of this Church (CCEO, 55). As the father and head of the Church, the Major Archbishop must be solicitous not only for the faithful of his Church in the proper territory, but also for the migrants scattered all over the world. He enjoys certain rights and duties towards the faithful who belong to his Church no matter wherever they stay (CCEO.148§ 2). He exercises his pastoral authority in the Church with the help of various Commissions because canon 124 of the CCEO prescribes that there should be various Commissions to take care of the different fields of activities in the sui iuris Church. The Commissions are erected by the Major Archbishop, constituted of persons chosen by him and are governed by norms established by him (Synodal News, No. 1, August 1993, p. 47).

In the very first meeting of the Synod of Bishops of the Syro-Malabar Church, held from 20 to 25 May 1993 at the residence of Mar Antony Padiyara, the then Major Archbishop, at Ernakulam under the chairmanship of Archbishop Abraham Kattumana, the Pontifical Delegate to the Syro-Malabar Church, decision was taken to constitute the Major Archiepiscopal Commission for the Evangelization and Pastoral Care of the Migrants. This Commission was constituted to assist the Major Archbishop of the Church in carrying out his responsibilities towards the Syro-Malabar migrant faithful outside the proper territory of the Syro Malabar Church in India and aboard and to animate and co-ordinate the evangelizing mission of the Church. The same Synod elected Bishop Mar Gregory Karotemprel CMI as the Chairman and Bishops Mar Joseph Pallikaparampil (Pala) and Mar Paul Chittilapilly (Kalyan) as members of the Commission. (Synodal News, No. 1, August 1993, pp 6-7, Synodal News, No. 6, May 1995, p. 41).

While the VI Synod of Bishops of the Syro-Malabar Church was in session from 12th to 24th January 1998, Mar Varkey Vithayathil C.Ss.R., the Apostolic Administrator of the Syro-Malabar Church reconstituted the Commission for the Evangelization and Pastoral Care of the Migrants with Bishop Mar Gregory Karotemprel CMI as the Chairman and Bishops Mar Joseph Pallikaparampil and Mar Gratian Mundadan CMI as members. The Commission members took charge on 21 May 1998 (Synodal News, No. 11, March 1998, p.15).

The VII Synod of Bishops, held at Mount St Thomas from 14 to 20 November 1999, took the decision to establish a Mission Secretariat under the auspices of the Major Archiepiscopal Commission for Evangelization and Pastoral Care of the Migrants at the Major Archiepiscopal Curia, Mount St Thomas. Mar Varkey Vithayathil, the then Apostolic Administrator, canonically erected the Mission Secretariat at Mount St Thomas vide Decree No. 1871/99 on 17th December 1999. (Synodal News, Vol. 7, Nos. 1& 2, December 1999, pp 56, 70, 124)

In the course of the XI Synod of Bishops held at Mount St. Thomas from 3 to15 November 2003, Mar Varkey Cardinal Vithayathil, the Major Archbishop reconstituted the Commission for the Evangelization and Pastoral Care of the Migrants with Bishop Gregory Karotemprel CMI again as the Chairman and Bishops Mar Vijay Anand Nedumpuram CMI and Mar Mathew Vaniakizhakkel VC as members (Synodal News, Vol.11, No.2, December 2003, p. 30).

During the XVI synod, on 27th August 2008, Mar Varkey Cardinal Vithayathil, the Major Archbishop reconstituted the Commission for the Evangelization and Pastoral Care of the Migrants with Bishop Sebastian Vadakel MST as the Chairman and Bishops Simon Stock Palathara CMI and Mar Antony Chirayath as members (Synodal News, Vol.12, Nos.1&2, Novembers 2008, p. 47).


The love of Christ towards migrants urges us (cf. 2Cor. 5:14) to look afresh at their problems and to respond more efficiently to the pastoral needs of the Syro-Malabar faithful living outside the territorium proprium of the church in India and abroad and the zeal for Christ obliges us to be His witnesses in the whole world sharing the light of Faith lit by St Thomas the Apostle. Mission


Pastoral care of the emigrants of the Syro-Malabar Church has always been the priority of the Commission. Some of the members of the Commission in the past were appointed Apostolic Visitors of the USA and Canada as well as the European countries. They presented reports of their visitations to the Synod as well as to Rome. The Commission arranged several meetings and deliberations with the Latin prelates of the migrant areas and sent various memoranda to Rome as well as to other ecclesiastical authorities. As a result of these efforts, St Thomas Syro-Malabar Diocese of Chicago was erected for the Syro-Malabar migrants in USA and Canada, chaplains were appointed for the pastoral care of the Syro-Malabar migrants by the Latin prelates in many places and several Syro-Malabar parishes were established in Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai and Kolkata. Commission ensures regular correspondence with the emigrant communities

The Commission was entrusted with the task of arranging the conduct of the first Syro Malabar Mission Assembly. Accordingly a preliminary meeting was held in November 1998 at Poornodaya in Bhopal with delegates from all dioceses, especially from mission dioceses for drafting the first Working Paper (Lineamenta). The Mission Assembly was held from November 12 14, 1999 at Mount St Thomas. As per the direction of the Synod, held from November 14 20, 1999, the Commission convened a Meeting of the Bishops of the Dioceses of the Syro Malabar Church outside the Territorium Proprium and the major Superiors of the Syro Malabar Religious Congregations and Institutes of Apostolic Life, working in the above Dioceses at Poornodaya in Bhopal from 13 to 15 October, 2000.

An all-inclusive Syro-Malabar Catholic Directory was published by the Commission for the first time in November 2004. The Commission joyfully undertook the preparation of a Mission Policy of the Syro-Malabar Church in the challenging circumstances of the Mission of the Church in the third millennium. After several years of study, consultation, discussion and preparation it was finally promulgated on March 19, 2006. It was simultaneously translated into Malayalam as well. The Commission conducted the first ever Global Meet of the Syro-Malabar emigrants at Mount St Thomas, the Major Archiepiscopal Curia from 18 to 21 of August 2006 after a year long preparation. Almost 380 participants from all over the world participated in the Meet and of them some 100 were from outside India and others from various cities and Syro-Malabar dioceses in India. The Commission brought out a Directory of the Syro-Malabar Migrants, with a brief history, general statistics, contact details and other relevant pieces of information of every sizeable Syro-Malabar migrant community in India and outside. The Commission also published two issues of the Mission India. Around the time of Christmas in 2006 Syro-Malabar Global Mission was published for the emigrants of the Syro-Malabar Church as per the suggestions of the Global Meet 2006. Together with Sathyadeepam the Commission (CEPCM) brought out a Mission Supplement as a special issue in order to introduce the Syro-Malabar Mission Dioceses to the Mother Church in Kerala. The Supplement contained articles and pictures on all the Mission dioceses of the Syro-Malabar Church and it was a landmark achievement for the Commission. A study seminar on the Mission Policy of the Syro-Malabar Church under the title Mission Congress 2007 is being planned out by the Commission. The Commission intends to publish a shorter version of the Directory of the Syro-Malabar Church in 2008.

Church Teachings on Pastoral Care of the Migrants

            The history of humankind is a history of migration. Migrations are on the increase day by day for reasons of better livelihood, or for other demands of life like jobs, strenuous conditions in one’s own country, religious persecution and so on. It is a matter of serious concern for all nations and people. There are many advantages along with it, like good job opportunities, peaceful life, higher salaries, wide range of living standards and so on. But it is a fact that migrants who have had to give up their homeland, their possessions and relations inevitably carry with them the characteristics and memories of their own people as an indelible identity which cannot be renounced or denied. Experience has shown that the inability of expression in other than the mother language and loss of cultural and spiritual patrimonies not only damage the conscience but also cancel religious convictions and practices. As far as the Church is concerned, migration has a great missionary dimension. Pope Paul VI in Evangelii Nuntiandi notes: “It is the result of their living presence and witness in the midst of new people that forms new Churches. So they are the real seeds and the evangelizers” (n.21).

Migration always involves uprooting, detachment from one’s people, culture and place. At the same time it is for insertion and integration into a new society and place. In the Old Testament God brought the Israelites to the promised land to make them a chosen race and wanted them to keep up their identity in the new land. God did not want the Israelites to be scattered but united as the people of God. As Yahweh cared for the Israelites, the migrants need special pastoral care from the part of the Church lest they be disoriented in the new situation. St. Paul says: “Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Rom.15:7).

Proper pastoral care of the migrants is a great mission entrusted to the Church. Erga migrantes caritas Christi, an instruction issued in 2004 by the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People notes: “Welcoming the stranger is intrinsic to the nature of the Church itself and bears witness to its fidelity to the Gospel” (n. 22).The mission of the Church towards migrants calls for an integrated approach of the proclamation of the gospel, clear policy and programs of pastoral works, catechetical and liturgical formation, fostering dialogue with them, working for their human rights, dignity, etc.

There is no dearth of Magisterial material safeguarding the right of pastoral care of the migrants. Popes, Councils and Encyclicals recommend the retention and promotion of the rights of the migrants. None of the Vatican documents encourage absorption or integration of the immigrants into the Church of arrival. The teachings of the Church with regard to the pastoral care of the migrant faithful of any sui juris Church, anywhere in the world, are crystal clear from the following Church documents.

Teachings of the Councils

Lateran Council IV 

“Since in many places people of different languages live within the same city or diocese, having one faith but different rites and customs, we therefore strictly order bishops of such cities and dioceses to provide suitable men who will do the following in the various rites and languages: celebrate the divine services for them, administer the Church’s sacraments, and instruct them by word and examples” Lateran Council IV (1215), can. 9, Counciliarurn Eccumenicourum … Rome.1962, p. 215.

Second Vatican Council

ccFor the Catholic Church wishes the traditions 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).

ccTherefore these churches are of equal rank, so that none of them is superior to the others because of its rite. They have the same rights and obligations, even with regard to the preaching of the Gospel in the whole world (cf. Mk16:15), under the direction of the Roman Pontiff” (OE. 3)

ccProvision must be made therefore everywhere in the world to protect and advance all these individual Churches. For this purpose, each should organize its own parishes and hierarchy, where the spiritual good of the faithful requires it…each and every Catholic, as also the baptized members of any non-Catholic church or community who come to the fullness of the Catholic communion, must retain each his own rite wherever he is, and follow it to the best of his ability” (OE. 4)

ccIt likewise pertains to Episcopal conferences to found and promote agencies which will fraternally receive those who immigrate from missionary territories for of work or study, and which will aid them by suitable pastoral attention” (AG.38).

ccThis Synod solemnly declares that the Churches of the East, while keeping in mind the necessary unity of the whole Church, have the power to govern themselves according to their own disciplines, since these are better suited to the character of their faithful and better adapted to foster the good of souls. The perfect observance of this traditional principle-which indeed has not always been observed-is a prerequisite for any restoration of union” (UR. 16).

ccWhere there are faithful of a different rite, the diocesan bishop should provide for their spiritual needs either through priests or parishes of that rite or through an Episcopal Vicar endowed with the necessary faculties. Wherever it is fitting, the last named should also have an Episcopal rank” CD. 23) Teachings of Popes “Pope Pius XII says that “for Oriental Churches there should not be any compulsion to substitute their customs with those of the Latin Church and every Rite must have equal estimation and dignity before the common Mother Church” (AAS. 1944. P. 137)

ccRegarding the pastoral care of the faithful of the Eastern Rites who are living in Latin Rite dioceses, in accordance with the spirit and letter of the Conciliar Decree Christus Dominus 23 and OrientaliumEcclesiarum4the Latin Ordinaries (bishops) of such dioceses are to provide as soon as possible for an adequate pastoral care of the faithful of these Eastern Rites, through the ministry of the priests or through parishes of the Rites, where this would be indicated, or through an Episcopal Vicar endowed with the necessary faculties where circumstances would so indicate” (Letter of Pope John Paul II to the bishops of India on May 28, 1987).

ccThe migrant has the right to pastoral care from the local Church. It should be emphasized that he or she has the right not to the generic pastoral care common to the whole body of the believers but to a specific ministry adopted to their language and especially their culture” (Message of John Paul II on World migration day 1990, L’Osservatore Romano, August 6, n.32, Vol.23 (1990), p.11.

ccI particularly urge the Latin ordinaries in these countries to study attentively, grasp thoroughly and apply faithfully the principles issued by the Holy See concerning ecumenical cooperation and the pastoral care of the Eastern Catholic Church especially when they lack their own hierarchy.” (John Paul II, Orientale Lumen (1995), n.9.

 “There is an urgent need to overcome the fears and misunderstandings which appear at times between the Catholic Eastern Churches and the Latin Church… especially with regard to the pastoral care of their people, also outside their own territories.” (John Paul II, Ecclesia in Asia, 1999, n.27.

Canonical Dispositions

ccThe Christian faithful have the right to worshipping God according to the prescriptions of their own Rite approved by the 2 legitimate pastors or the Church and to follow their own form of spiritual life consonant with the teaching of the Church” (CIC.214).

ccIf the local Ordinary has faithful of a different rite within his diocese, he is to provide for their spiritual needs either by means of the priests or parishes of that rite or by means of an Episcopal Vicar” (CIC. 383§2).

ccThe Christian faithful have the right to worship God according to the prescriptions of their own Church sui iuris, and to follow their own form of spiritual life consonant with the teaching of the Church” (CCEO. 17).

ccNo one can presume in any way to induce the Christian faithful to transfer to another Church sui iuris” (CCEO.31).

ccThe Christian faithful of the Eastern Churches even if committed to the care of a hierarch or pastor of another Church sui iuris, nevertheless remain enrolled in their own Church” (CCEO.38).

ccNo one can validly transfer to another Church sui iuris without the consent of the Holy See” (CCEO. 32§1).

ccThe Christian faithful of the Eastern Churches even if committed to the care of a hierarch or pastor of another Church sui iuris, nevertheless remain enrolled in their own Church” (CCEO.38).

ccThe eparchial bishop to whom the care of the Christian faithful of any other sui juris Church is committed is bound by the serious obligation of providing all the things in order that these Christian faithful retain the rite of their own Church, cultivate and observe it as much as they can; he should foster relations with the higher authority of that Church” (CCEO 193§1).

ccThe eparchial bishop is to provide for the spiritual needs of those Christian faithful, if it is possible, through the presbyters or pastors of the same Church sui iuris as the Christian faithful or even through a syncellus constituted for the care of these Christian faithful” (CCEO 193§2).

ccIn places where not even an exarchv has been erected for the Christian faithful of a certain Church sui iuris, the local hierarch of another Church sui iuris, even the Latin Church of the place is to be considered the proper hierarch of these faithful, with due regard for the prescription of can. 101; if, however, there are several local hierarchs, that one is to be considered their proper hierarch who has been appointed by the Apostolic See or, if it is a question of the Christian faithful of a patriarchal Church, by the Patriarch with the assent of the Apostolic See” (CCEO. 916§5).

Era migrantes Caritas Christi 

Erga migrantes caritas Christi is an instruction issued in 2004 by the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People.

ccWelcoming the stranger is intrinsic to the nature of the Church itself and bears witness to its fidelity to the Gospel” (n. 22).

ccWith regard to Catholic migrants the Church makes provision for a specific kind of pastoral care because of the diversity of language, origin, culture, ethnicity and tradition, or of belonging to a particular Church sui iuris with its own rite… The uprooting that moving abroad inevitably involves (from country of origin, family, language etc.) should not be made worse by uprooting the migrant from his religious rite or identity too” (n. 49).

ccWhen groups of immigrants are particularly numerous and homogeneous therefore, they are encouraged to keep up their specific Catholic traditions. In particular, efforts must be made to provide organised religious assistance by priests of the language, culture and rite of the migrants selecting the most suitable juridical option from among those foreseen by the CIC and the CCEO.” (n. 50)

ccEastern Rite Catholic migrants, whose numbers are steadily increasing, deserve particular pastoral attention. In their regard we should first of all remember the juridical obligation of the faithful to observe their own rite everywhere insofar as possible, rite being understood as their liturgical, theological, spiritual and disciplinary heritage (cf. CCEO Can. 28, §1 and PaG 72) (n.51).

All the above official teachings of the Church attest to the solicitude of the Church for the migrants and defend their pastoral rights. The official ecclesiastical position on the emigrants from the time of Lateran IV (1215) favoured providing ministers of the rite and language of the emigrants because migration is no reason to dissolve one’s birth- rite. The inability of the Syro-Malabar Church to cater to the spiritual and liturgical needs of the migrants can lead to their alienation and ultimate separation from the Mother Church. The only solution to solve the above issue is to extend jurisdiction everywhere in the world as territorial or personal. Any further delay in doing so will result in irreparable damage to the entire Catholic Church. Besides, it is also a question of keeping up the credibility of the Catholic claim that the Church stands for justice, peace and harmony. It is all the more right and just for the Church to allow the faithful to protect as well as foster their own faith traditions everywhere in India through the establishment of appropriate juridical structures proper to the sui iuris Church.

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Convocation address by His Beatitude Mar George Alenchery at Sanathana

Divyakarunya Vidyapeetham, Thamarassery

Monday 28th November 2011 – The Convocation Day

Convocation address by His Beatitude Mar George Alenchery,

The Major Arch-Bishop of Syro-Malabar Church


Dear and Very Rev Fr George Kizhakkemury, the Superior General of the congregation and the Chancellor of the Divyakarunya Vidhyapeetham, Very Rev Fr Provincials, Rev Fr Rector, Rev Fr President of the  Vidhyapeetham and Rev Fr dean of Studies,  My dear Rev Fathers and Dear Brothers,

I just start todays talk to you recalling as Fr General said, my friendship with the MCBS – Missionary Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament.  You know it was a natural affection that came into my person that I continued from the seminary days until today; and hope also in future. This is not simply a human friendship but also a Spiritual affinity; because the Charism that your congregation has in the holy bible and the Holy Eucharist and that goes to the heart of the Church and that’s only I think everybody in the Church will have – an appreciation and a gratitude to the MCBS. Secondly I congratulate all the candidates who have received the decrees in theology and also diplomas in theology. You have received the fruits of your toil and voile in this Vidhyapeetham and also your formation in the seminary. So my hearty congratulations, best wishes and Prayers for your academic work in the Church. Thirdly I would like to recall to you and to me the memory of my dear young friend Fr Roy Mulakupadom. Right from the choice of his vocation I was and as you were sad in his demise I also was very much taken up by pain because of his sudden departure from this world. We do not know the God’s design for each one of us. We have to accept it when God reveals it to us. So present his soul for God’s mercy and eternal repose

Let me begin today my reflections with you recalling the mission command of the Lord. The Lord says, “go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to observe that all that I have taught you” this is the fundamental Mission command that we receive from the gospel of St Mathew. I start this reflection today with this verse from the gospel because you are a missionary congregation; secondly we are in the Mission Year. For this double reason I thought the convocation address today is well suited to be started with these verse of the Gospel. We know that this is a triple command. The first command is to make disciples of all nations. It is a very sharp command and also very extensive. Sharp in the sense to make a human being a disciple of Christ is not an easy job; it is a mission that goes to the heart of a person who is evangelizing, who is missionary, and also to the heart of one who seeks the message of the gospel. So it is a heart to heart exchange of faith that happens in individuals; a heart to heart exchange or participation in faith. I don’t know whether we have understood the depth of the mission command of the Lord when he says, “make disciples of all nations.” Because in mark it is “to preach the gospel to all the creatures”; that may be a general command; and we all are taken up by that general command. Preaching the gospel of Christ directly and indirectly and also by the apostolic words of peace. This is the common way of wishing in the Church and also in Syro-Malabar Church. And now this is the time that we have to focus more and more of making disciples. Before making disciples we have to be disciples of the Lord. So becoming disciple is the first step of making disciples. And in the seminary and by the academic formation what we gain in the institute like this is nothing but discipleship both in life and action.     The Lord Jesus prayed for his 12 men for this discipleship and there were also a group of 72 men who were also prayed by the Lord for this discipleship.  So Discipleship is a fundamental condition to become really a good missionary. And I don’t know whether all those who are in the formation houses and all in our faculties are really taken up by this bound duty of becoming real Disciples of Christ. We learn many things in the seminary regarding discipleship and the cost of discipleship and so on; but I do not know whether we become really like the master. The Lord has said that we have to become like the master. A disciple is to become like the master. It is said of St Francis of Assisi, that he was called at his time as another Christ – altar Christus. Sometimes it is translated in Malayalam as randam christhu, which is wrong translation. There is no second, third, fourth Christ like that. Altar Christus! Another Christ! Who lived like Christ. Who really gave Christ to others, whose appearance and action gave the presence and action of Jesus Christ in the world. So it is up to every priest whether he is religious or not to become altar Christus in life and action and become really a disciple like and through the master.  This must be really the actual job of every seminarian or the religious candidate one who wants to become a consecrated person. Consecrated set apart sanctified for the Lord to do his mission in this world. And such a kind of discipleship is the real challenge for every seminarian, for every candidate of the religious priesthood of today.

The world has changed much and much of the world has come into the Church. And the Church has to really sanctifying all those elements that have come into the Church. It is good that there is an exchange of the Church with the world because there is no real dichotomy between the secular and the Spirit. The Spiritual embraces the secular, the secular enters in to the Spiritual; and this is what we have to aim at. And such a kind of exchange and assimilation of the secular in to the Spiritual and the Spiritual embracing the secular every   seminarian or religious candidate has to become really conscious of it and really transformed by it and really becoming Christ’s mission in this world. Christ’s mission in this world.

One year back the Holy Father ordained four candidates to Episcopacy.  These were people who were working in the Castries of Rome. And after ordaining them, the Holy Father addressed them and said, dear brother bishops “you are your mission” and secondly he said, “we are our mission”. We the bishops are our mission that means there is no real distinction between the person and the mission. The person becomes the mission. Jesus was like that. He was God in man and as God-man he really gave to the world God and that is why the Spiritual in him entered into the secular and the secular was really sanctified and it is said of Jesus in this prayer. “O Lord, so that they may be in us I sanctify myself”. Whatever there was to be sanctified simply filling the world, filling the world in him with the Spirit of God. That is sanctification. So he did that the whole world become Spirit filled by the action of Christ; and such a work has to be continued in the world we have been so much Spiritually filled embraced by the Spirit of Christ so that we may give Spirit in to the world. This kind of sanctification has to continue. So making disciples is the deep sense of Christ and of the Church – this deep conviction of Christ and the Church in ours. Secondly we know that baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son… the whole sacramental mystery is involved there. Church is the sacrament of Christ in the world and this sacrament is realized through the persons in the Church. The sacraments are really fulfilled in the recipients. The recipients become the reality of the sacraments. The Baptized becomes the really immersed person in Jesus Christ. The anointed person becomes really the person who is filled with the gifts and charisms of the Holy Spirit, like in a sacrament. So it is the sacrament of reality means to be imbibed by the whole reality of our Lord Jesus Christ. Then there is a third command of Lord “teaching them all that I have taught.” The real catechesis that pervades the whole realm of activity of the Church; that is pervading the whole realm catechesis is not only simply for the children.  Even we are all catechized. Even theology is giving meaning to the doctrinal truths in the life situations of the world. Explaining the mystery of Christ and the mystery of the Church and the mystery of the whole world. The mystery of Christ and the Church enters in to the cosmic mystery of God’s creation. The whole creation is really sanctified by the theologizing. In the past, in the 60’s and even before many of the theologians taught that theology is a science it is enough that i teach it, is not up to me whether they live it or not. I am a professor of theology.  Look here in the west countries people taught like that and I have heard professors teaching or telling me like that. I explain to you what the doctrines of the Church are basing on the word of God, it is not up to you to look up to my life; I am a professor. Really a contradictory term! If you become a theologian first of all you have to become a disciple of Christ; we are all mission; we have to be converted. Theology is not like any other science – theology is the science of the mystery of Christ. The mystery of Christ is realized in each one of us. So a theologian has to become really a person who follows Christ and who practices the values of the gospel according to the teachings of the Church. Third, as I said earlier, the first responsibility the disciple and the candidates of priesthood and to the consecrated life to be fully filled with the reality of Christ and the reality of the Church there is no difference actually between the reality of Christ and the reality of the Church of course one is the incarnated reality that continues in the world and other reality of Christ is incarnated reality also in this world in its glorified form today. So Jesus is a being priest and being administered and being also lived as the life of love in the Church. He is present in each one of us with the charisms and gifts that he has given to each one of us in this ways. So that kind of mystery of the reality of Christ being realized in the lives of each one of us is an important reflection for the people in the Church. You know that, in the recent times, from 1970’s onwards even today that continues, and there is trend in the Church that has becomes earlier challenge for the followers of Christ. And the western countries are really struggling to come out of it, struggling to come out of that challenge. After the council Vatican II many people thought that the Church was really estranged from the world. It was to some extent true and in order to get the world in to the reality of the Church; I think many went too far, they went too far that means they tried the Spirit of the world much more than giving the Spirit of Christ in the world. Thus the contrary happened, both in theology and also in moral. And we know the level of the morals in the present world and especially in the west, of course we may think that the West is going bad and we are really in the high time. I give you matter to reflect more to make such a judgment. The world reality is now moving onward as a whole as one whole it is moving before because of the globalization. So it is up to us Christians especially theologians and philosophers in the Church to really evaluate the situation and give a correct orientation in to the student in the campuses and theologates of our Church. Recently, I mean in the coming days, we will have a meeting in the Curia at Kakkanad, of all the rectors and presidents of all of the seminary the first time that we think of calling all the responsible person in the formation institutes to come and reflect together. Formerly we were doing under the offices of Church to appoint commissions of bishops to address the administration of each major seminary conducted directly by the Synod.  But we cannot close up like that; the Synod of Bishops thought that we should cross up to the Church as a whole whether in case the seminarians directly under the synod or by the dioceses or by the Religious congregations, we are all working for the Church and the world. So let us have to address these problems on one level that is the intention of coming together of the responsible persons of the   Seminaries and institutes. So what I am trying to say is that much of the philosophies and much of the ideologies of the world has coming to the Church is good, If it is really taken up according to the personal values and according to the doctrines of the Church.  The gospel values and the traditions that have developed in the Church is the criteria for us get in to the world and also to take the world in to us. We have to do it. The dialogue of the Church and the world is a must. And this dialogue has to be both in word and deed, according to the mind of Christ and according to the Spirit of the doctrines of the Church. This is the great challenge both for you students and also for the professors and the responsible persons in the formation.  The Bishops can only supervise this realities. You are really in the mission. So what the Lord wanted of making disciples has to go to all the institutes and seminaries of formation so that we become really imbibed by the Spirit of Christ as persons and one reality in the Church. And as far as we are an individual oriental Church and that traces its origin to the apostolic times, it is not a matter to be taken as a point of glory for us. Very often we may think like that, our forefathers were preached by St. Thomas, the apostle. I would be very happy if I were baptized only yesterday, because the one who is baptized yesterday has the same dignity before the Lord, by the persons who are coming in the great tradition; or you should imbibe the values of the tradition and give your dignity in the best way possible for the generation for there is something like that in the Church. We had really taken the Spirit of St. Thomas, the apostle and the apostolic times and there is a faith traditions and the moral life pattern in the Syro Malabar Church; let us be thankful to the Lord for that. But instead of simply glorifying ourselves on that level we have to be really taking the responsibility of becoming more and more that Spirit and then give that Spirit to others.

Our mission is an apostolic mission. Apostolic mission means, which comes from the responsibility of an apostle. An apostle is a disciple who is sent to preach and to act. Sent to preach and to act, there is a difference. Any disciple can be in the Church but he need not to be sent. But the priest is sent and the Bishop is sent. He cannot be remaining restless, remaining in an inactive mood. He has to be restless. He has to be really taken up by the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of mission and he has to prove he is worth. He is a person like Jesus who said that we have a baptism to be baptized with and also a chalice to drink, and Jesus was always preoccupied with this mission which he has to fulfill, the mystery of Christ. This is the mystery of Christ, both in word and in deed. Work by preaching and by action and the action that culminated in the death on the cross and was glorified in the resurrection. This total reality of the mystery of Christ is that really calls you in your charism. It is great mystery that you celebrate in your Holy Qurbana. You have taken on the charism of the whole Church, the charism of your particular Church; and you are thus becoming an ecclesial reality, your religious congregation. You are thus becoming an ecclesial mission for the Syro Malabar Church and for the Universal Church. So what a noble charism that your fathers have been working! Taking the very same reality of the Church into your persons in your reality as a congregation and implanting it wherever you go and share it with others and thus becoming the mystery of Christ spread all over the world. You make disciples, you administer sacraments, you also preach the people to observe what the Lord has taught. Such a kind of central charism has gone up into your own religious vocation or vocation to the consecrated life. I just mentioned that there are philosophies and ideologies that come into the Church. And each philosophies and ideologies are very much attracting the youth of today; the younger generation of the people who are called to the ministry in the Church. It is a natural process of globalization.

Many things come to us as ideologies through all the media – print media, electronic media, internet media – then you become really absorbed in them. When we were studying as seminarians before 1960s this was not at all a temptation. You see it was our time that this transistors and radios came and then people were controlled as you are controlled now in your internet machine or internet use, we were controlled in the use of the radio. Now nobody wants radio. But that was a big attraction. There were seminarians who used to hide these transistors and radios, small radios under their bed and hear it; and they were caught and punished. As you are now doing some mischiefs     regarding the internet and you are punished sometimes I don’t know. This was the situation. But after the print media, this radio, television… I was sent for studies in 1981, then there was no television in Kerala or in India.

When I came back in 1986 all most all the home had a television; I was taken up by that. Even in France where I studied people were not so much taken up by this new mode of media.  But we, in India were all taken up by that everybody wants to see the television was then the model. Now people don’t like even television; all have gone to internet, mobile phones, chatting; all those things you know. So this is how the world changes. So the world is coming every ideology is coming into our mind and I tell you that, this is one of the temptations of us today or attractions of men today or seminarians today. We have to take the ideas of the world and then to propagate them with the use of the gospel and the doctrines of the Church. Making just the contrary is our mission. We are the people who have to preach the gospel values and the mission of the Church by the help of the internet or the other media. We just take the other way, and each one of us try to take really an image of ourselves rather than the image of Christ.

You know about the ‘men Gods’, I don’t know if they are Gods; they are not God men, men Gods – Aal Deivangal.   Aal deivangal in other religions! And in a way we do have also the attraction to become aal deivangal  instead of becoming confirmed to Christ  we are making Christ to confirm to ourselves.  It is a very dangerous trend that comes in to the world. This is what the Holy Father called the tyranny of relativism. The objective reality of Christ and the Church is forgone and instead of that our reality is projected with the help of Christian doctrines and also gospel values. We do not do it consciously; unconsciously this trend is coming to us. So my dear friends, I call you like that, because you have to be closely related to the interests of the Church and then take this reflection seriously; and really following Christ and his mystery which is your charism and also the mystery of the Church as the mystery of the cosmos and relate ourselves in that Spirit of Christ to  the world. Whether it be regarding the doctrines or in the morals. How much the morals have come down even in the lives of the religious and the priests and the bishops, I would say. How it happened? Relativism of truth! Relativism of Morals! For everything I or you become the criterion rather than Christ and his gospel and the Church. This is the danger. Let us reflect on it. In all the faculties you have to reflect on it. And I tell you if you do not have a philosophy to live with, we will philosophize what we do. And I repeat, if you do not have a philosophy to live with, we will philosophize what we do. When something goes wrong in the Church, the person who is responsible is called and taken for a dialogue, and the person will philosophize whatever he does. He will find a reason for everything as if it is good. Even if it is a moral failure, he will say it happened because it is like that and so on. He will find a way. Actually he will have to find the way of the Lord. “I am the way, the truth and the life”. And it is in Jesus who is the way that we find the truth and we attain the life. Instead of that we break Christ into our own way, into our own life pattern and then we explain everything; it is the very dangerous, danger in our present day times. I only present this thought for your reflection for this convocation address and let us have a real reflection in these days of your studies and many of you have completed your studies; but study never completes. Because you will learn even at the death bed.

There was a father when I was studying in Paris who had always this imitation of Christ at his side. He was 93 years old.  And he used to read every day. And once I asked the father. The name of the father was Oben, Father Oben why should you read even now this Imitation of Christ? You are already a Christ imitator. To make him happy also I said like that because he was Holy man.   And then he said, “My dear brother George, my dear George, Is this the theology that you studied? Then I am very unhappy about it”.  And he corrected me telling that every day you have to be confirmed it to Jesus Christ. How much difficult the world is my dear brother. I took it as a lesson. I will tell you another small incident in my seminary days, minor seminary days. I had a minor seminary professor, Vice Rector. One day he took me for an outing. Outing means not walking; He took me for outing by bus. So we were waiting for bus.  The bus is not coming. It is in 1960s. The buses were very few and we were waiting. And I was becoming restless and I was going just ahead and looking whether the bus is coming. I was doing it every 5 mnts and like that. And then the father called me, and he used to call me by house name. “Alanchery what are we doing?” then I said, “We are wasting time, father.”  Then he said, No, we are practicing patience. We are practicing patience.  That struck in to my heart.  So there are many things every day that we have to learn every day according to the mind of Christ and of the Church. 

The Holy Father is struggling to explain the mystery of Christ to the world that is secularized. We have no struggle at all. We are not at all worried about that. We are happy with the Lord that is given to us and we don’t work and we never struggle at all. My dear brothers our work is very serious, our mission is the mission of Jesus, our mission is the mission of the Church. The more you are imbibed by the Spirit of Christ, the more you are imbibed by the Church, the more or the better will be your service. Let us become really meaningful servants in the Church, of his gospel and also his life of love.

I conclude; may God bless you. And all your activities be for the glory of the Church universal, and in particular the Church Syro- Malabar

Thank you

Lay Catechists in the Syro-Malabar Church

Lay Catechists in the Syro-Malabar Church

Dr Antony Nariculam

The Church or the ecclesial community is the basic agent of catechesis. Besides the Church as a whole, all the members of the Christian community are called to share in this ministry by being witnesses to the faith in a special way. Together with priests, religious and parents, a good number of lay catechists are also rendering valuable whole hearted service in the field of catechesis in the Syro-Malabar Church. The Church considers their service with great respect and recognizes them as special ministers of the community. The vocation of the laity to catechetical ministry springs from the sacrament of baptism, and they are strengthened and sent for the same by the sacrament of confirmation (GDC 231). Through these sacraments, they participate in the prophetic, priestly, and kingly ministries of Christ. According to St. Paul, the Lord has established different ministries in the Church. All the ministries in the Church are for the building up the body of Christ (Eph. 4:11-13). Therefore, by their valuable service lay catechists are actually participating in the building up of the Church. In the early times of the Church, faith was handed down from one generation to the next mainly through community and family centred catechesis and by means of liturgical celebrations, catechetical instructions, and customary practices. Catechetical instruction was given to adults along with the liturgical celebrations, while children were given special instructions either before or after Holy Mass and this was done by the parish priest himself. They were asked to recite and memorize the basic prayers of the Church. Among the liturgical celebrations, the celebration of feasts also played an important role in the transmission of faith. Feasts were celebrated at community and family level. The instruction on the importance of the celebration of the feasts was given by the parents. Therefore the term catechist or lay catechist was not familiar among the St. Thomas Christians at this period. After the arrival of the Western missionaries, the catechetical system of the St. Thomas Christians began to develop into a formal and systematic one. The informal way of handing down the faith was changed to a formal and systematic one, and the liturgy centred catechesis was changed to an instruction oriented one. From then onwards the demands for catechists rose in the Syro-Malabar Church.

Actually it was St. Francis Xavier who introduced the term lay catechist in India for the first time. One of the greatest catechetical contributions of Francis Xavier to the Church in India was the institution of the lay catechist, as a helper of the missionaries. In fact, it was about this time that the qualification “lay” was applied to the “catechist”. The training of the local catechists was one of his main concerns wherever he went. The absence of expected missionary reinforcements, led Francis Xavier to organize an institution of catechists to care for the small, scattered Christian communities. These catechists were an invaluable help. He was very conscious about their training and gave them all the necessary religious instructions. With a view to uniformity in catechetical method, Francis Xavier published the “Instructio pro Catechesis” (1545), in which he described his method of teaching the catechism and gave it as a rule to his helpers. Thus the role of lay catechists was officially inaugurated in the ministry of catechesis in India. We have already seen that St. Francis Xavier had a close contact with the St. Thomas Christians and his missionary activities had an influence on them. Therefore there may also have been lay catechists among the St. Thomas Christians. But unfortunately there is no historical evidence available pointing to the service of the lay catechists adopted in the ministry of catechesis in the Syro-Malabar Church till the beginning of the 20th century. This was a new adaptation in the ministry of catechesis in Syro-Malabar Church. Therefore this may not have had much influence among the St. Thomas Christians. “Syro-Malabar Church can boast of having one of the best catechetical systems in the entire Catholic world. Organized efforts for the catechesis of children are made in all the parishes of the Church.” As we have seen earlier, attached to every parish there is a school to give catechetical formation to the students. This school functions on Sundays.  “Among the St. Thomas Christians the term “Catechist” is understood in its narrow sense-the religion teachers of Sunday school. Therefore they are usually called Sunday School Teachers”. The role of the catechist in the Syro-Malabar Church is to give formation to the students in this school. They are a group of unpaid teachers, with or without formal systematic training. In the KCBC meeting of January 11, 1968 there was a discussion regarding the lay catechists. The main suggestions raised in the discussion were regarding the salary of the catechists and their basic training. This was the first Church level discussion conducted in Kerala regarding the catechists. The suggestion regarding the salary was never materialized, and now catechists render their services voluntarily to the community. From this discussion onwards the Kerala Church began to think about the formation of her catechists.

Formation of Lay Catechists in the Syro-Malabar Church

Catechists in the Syro-Malabar Church are usually selected by the parish priests. They are to be from practicing Catholic families, and must have a good reputation in the parish community. For their selection the common criterion followed is whether they are practicing their faith than their theological studies. Most of the catechists come from good families. So they are people who experience the life of faith in their families. This does not mean that they do not need any formation for their catechetical ministry. In former days they were given sufficient training by the parish priests themselves or experts were arranged to come to the parish church to give the necessary guidance to the selected candidates for the ministry. Later it becomes the shared duty of the diocesan catechetical director and the parish priests. The parish priests would ask the diocesan director to send persons to train the catechists. Later catechetical formation centres and animation teams came into existence in almost all the dioceses. After the establishment of the POC, the training of the catechists has taken on a new shape. Courses are offered to make the catechists competent for their catechetical ministry. Appreciating the progress in Kerala, Fr. D. S. Amalorpavadass, the pioneer of the Indian Catechetical movement, said: “It is no flattery to say that a miracle is happening in Kerala. The Church has started moving resolutely towards a radical renewal of Christian life in the region”. One of the decisions of the All Kerala Catechetical Meeting of 1968 was that “the best scholars available in the dioceses and religious congregations should be secured to staff the POC”. Thus POC offers a one year course in scripture, theology, philosophy, liturgy, catechetics, sociology…etc. Media education programmes and various psychological training programmes are also conducted here. As we have seen earlier the Kerala Church is somewhat unique. Here there are three particular individual Churches. Hence there was criticism that in the training programme of the POC, there was no stress on the heritage, liturgy and spirituality of any of the particular Churches of Kerala. Though the idea of the pioneers was to have a common training institute for all the three Churches in Kerala, some bishops later did not show interest in sending their students to the POC. Gradually the formation of catechists became more of a diocesan affair. At present all the dioceses have well equipped catechetical centres with trained resource teams, under the guidance of a diocesan director. These centres organize two types of training programmes for catechists, basic training programmes and ongoing formation programmes. The ‘Basic Catechetical Teachers Course’ (BCTC) or ‘Catechist Training Programme’ (CTP) is mainly intended for beginners. Ongoing formation is given with the intention of helping the catechists to meet the day to day needs in their catechetical ministry.

It is true that to a certain extent the above said BCTC and CTP programmes help the catechists to get formation in the ministry of catechesis at the diocesan level. But there is no organized system or programme for their formation for the whole Church. The result is that some of these catechists are not so much capable of explaining the catechism and also the faith formation of the growing generation. The recently published catechetical directory of the Syro-Malabar Church, ‘Call and Response’, also points to the importance of the basic formation of catechists in the Church. Though the structure of the synodal commission for catechesis is formed, its functioning is not yet started.

Issues and Challenges Regarding the Formation of Lay Catechists in the Syro-Malabar Church Today

Everybody agrees that it is important to give at least a basic formation to the catechists either before one is appointed as a catechist or in the first year of service. But it is not an easy task to give sufficient training to them. Here, I will try to mention some issues and challenges regarding the formation of the lay catechists in the Syro-Malabar Church in Kerala. I have had an opportunity to work as a forane/regional catechetical director for two years. During this period I tried to conduct some kind of training programmes for the catechists. On the basis of that experience and also the contact with various diocesan directors we are drafting the existing challenges in the formation of lay catechists.

1. Economic problems:

It is not an easy task to raise funds for the training of the catechists. Catechists may not have interest to paying for their training programmesbecause after this training they are to give voluntary service for the community.

2. Non-availability of time:

In the Syro-Malabar Church there are no full-time catechists. They are occupied with their own job and other duties. Therefore it is not an easy task to find time for their formation.

3. Disinterest on the part of some trainees:

In the Syro-Malabar Church in Kerala all the catechists are giving voluntary service. Therefore they may not have any interest to participate the training programmes. Moreover, they are not so much conscious of the importance of this formation in their ministry.

4. Disinterest on the part of some Parish priests:

Though not all, there are a few Parish priests consider these training programmes useless. They think that the catechists are teaching the children and they have more knowledge than the children; therefore a special training programme is not so important. Hence, to a certain extent disinterest on the part of the parish priests is also a problem for this training programme.

5. Disinterest of the parish community:

To a certain extent it is true that the parish community is also not fully serious about the catechetical ministry and the training of their Catechists.

6. Diversity within the group of the catechists itself:

Sometimes there is much diversity among the catechists themselves in the same parish, regarding the intellectual abilities, education standards, age level, social status, etc. Because of this diversity some of them are not so interested to participating with others in the training programmes. It is not an easy task to conduct training programmes for the catechists as in the case of secular teachers.

7. Non availability of resource persons:

It is not an easy task to find well educated resource persons to conduct training programmes in every region.

8. Motivation:

All the catechists are not really motivated for this ministry. Some are coming with some prior ambitions.

9. Lack of a systematic approach:

It is true that to a certain extent there are different kinds of training programmes for the lay catechists in almost all the dioceses. But most of them are not well organized. So, after attending these training programmes the participants may not be happy. Therefore the parish priests may not show any interest in sending others to attend these training programmes.

St Thomas Apostolic Seminary, Vadavathoor

Vadavathoor Seminary
Vadavathoor Seminary

The St. Thomas Apostolic Seminary was formally established by the Congregation for the Oriental Churches through its letter dated April 26, l962 and it was formally inaugurated and began functioning on July 3, l962. It is primarily intended for the education and formation of the seminarians of the Syro-Malabar dioceses. It is also open to the students of Syro-Malankara and Latin dioceses and of religious congregations. The Seminary is subject to the authority and control of the Syro-Malabar Bishops’ Synod, which exercises its authority through a Synodal Commission of Bishops.


The seminary aims at training priests primarily of the Syro-Malabar Church in the patrimony of Mar Thoma, the Apostle and Founder of the Church keeping up with the spirit of the time.  It fosters the human, spiritual, academic and pastoral formation of its seminarians.

Seminary Chapel, Vadavathoor

Spiritual Life

Celebration of the Divine Praises, the Holy Qurbana and the recitation of the Rosary forms part of the daily time table.  Special attention is given to the daily meditation of the Word of God and the the lectio divina in common. Students draw adequate spiritual benefit from regular reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and from the earnest participation in recollections and retreats, observance of fast and abstinence. Spiritual instructions and conferences, particularly individual conferences and guidance are help in their spiritual journey during the formative years. Seminary has four resident spiritual directors. Seminarians are encouraged to find time for personal prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament at the Adoration Chapel.  The monthly recollections and the Annual retreats provide for their spiritual growth.

Paurastya Vidyapitham

Paurastya Vidyapitham is the local name given to the Pontifical Oriental Institute of Religious Studies which is an autonomous faculty of Theology  erected at St. Thomas Apostolic Seminary, Vadavathoor, Kottayam. This  Seminary has been established by the Congregation for the Oriental Churches through the letter No. 260 / 59, dated April 26, 1962. It is primarily intended for the education and formation of the seminarians of  all the Syro – Malabar Eparchies and also of the Syro- Malankara Eparchies. It is also open to all the Eparchies of the other Churches and in particular of the Latin Church of Kerala for sending their seminarians. The Seminary is subject to the authority and control of the Syro – Malabar Bishop’s Synod, which exercises its authority through a specially elected Synodal Commission.

By a decree of the Congregation for the Catholic Education Prot. No. 674/72/13, the Theological Department of the Seminary was affiliated to the Faculty of Oriental Ecclesiastical Sciences at the Pontifical Oriental Institute Rome on the 21st of February 1973. After an experimental period of 4 years, the affiliation was renewed and extended by the letter of the Congregation for the Catholic Education, dated April 10, 1977. Then realizing the important role of this seminary in the life of the Oriental Churches of India and taking into account its steady growth in the past years the Congregation for Catholic Education erected its academic section into an independent Theological Faculty with right to confer the degrees of B. Th. (Bachelor of Theology), M. Th. (Master of Theology) and D. Th. (Doctor of Theology) through the decree “Perinisigne Fidei Christianae Testimonium” on July 3, 1982 on the Feast of St. Thomas, the Apostle of India.

On August 15, 1985 the Department of Philosophy at this Faculty was given the power to confer the degree of B. Ph. (B.A. in Philosophy). The Institute was authorized officially to commence the Doctoral Course by the letter of the Congregation for the Catholic Education dated November 28, 1986.

General Orientation of the Institute

The programme of formation at this Institute aims at the development of fully integrated priestly personality, and therefore takes into account the human, spiritual, intellectual, pastoral and missionary dimensions of priestly formation. With this end in view the programme of studies co-ordinates the fields of Humanities, Philosophy, Theology, Bible and Eastern Christian Studies in such a way as to present the Mystery of Christ harmoniously to the students.

The specific aims of the Institute are the following:

  •  To cultivate and promote through scientific research the patrimony of Christian wisdom of both East and West with special emphasis on Biblical, Patristic, Oriental, Syrian and Indian traditions.
  •  To enunciate systematically the truths contained in the Biblical, Patristic, Liturgical and Spiritual traditions of Eastern Ecclesiastical heritage and to present them to the people of the present day in a manner adapted to the local cultural context.
  •  To impart a Theological and Pastoral formation to the candidates for priesthood.
  • To train its students to a level of high qualification in the Sacred Sciences and allied subjects according to Catholic doctrine, to prepare them properly to face their tasks in the various fields of apostolate and to promote the continuing permanent education of the Ministers of the Church as well as other sections of the people of God.
  •  To Promote the study and investigation of the writings of the Oriental Fathers and writers and of the Theological, Spiritual, Liturgical and Disciplinary heritage of the Oriental Churches of India.
  •  To promote ecumenical studies and investigate traditions of the various Christian Churches with special reference to the actual situation of India.

Click here for the Official Site of the Seminary

Good Shepherd Major Seminary, Kunnoth

Good Shepherd Major Seminary is the third major seminary of the Syro-Malabar Church. It was canonically erected at Kunnoth, Iritty, North Kerala, India, by the Synod of the Church on 1st September 2000 (Synodal Decree no. 2336/2000). The seminary was inaugurated on 16th June 2001. Even though India, particularly Kerala, had been the land of the Syro-Malabar Church, the Muslim invasion of the 18th century and certain actions of the Portuguese missionaries had reduced the area of the church to the southern part of Kerala.
In the 1940s, however, many Christians migrated from the Christian south of the state to the northern part of Kerala in search of a better life. This was followed by the erection of the Diocese of Tellicherry in 1953 for the immigrants of the region; many churches and church-schools were eventually established, and Christian institutions began to play an important role in the social life of the region. The presence of a live and active church immediately led the region to a phenomenal growth in all aspects of its life. Several dioceses were also eventually erected.
By this time several young people of the region, both men and women, were called by God to lead a consecrated life. It is noteworthy that in the last few decades, in the dioceses in Malabar, the Catholic Church could find more young people looking for consecrated life than any other part of the country or even in any other part of the world. The erection of the new major seminary in this region is in fact an ecclesiastical recognition to the region for the role it has been playing in the life of the universal church.

When the seminary was erected in 2000, the synod of the church had a plan that visualized a steady growth of the seminary that would complete its full structure in eight years. As the seminary accordingly began in June 2001, there were 21 students from eight dioceses admitted to the course of philosophy, and four resident members on the staff: the first rector was Rev. Dr. Joseph Kuzhinjalil, D.C.L. (Diocese of Palai); Frs. Simon Valloppilly (Diocese of Thamarassery), Thomas Neendoor (Archdiocese of Tellicherry), and Jose Vettickal (Archdiocese of Tellicherry) were the other resident staff. Including the non resident professors, in the teaching staff there were then 12 members.

Since the newly erected seminary had no house of its own, it began its life in a nearby house belonging to Nazareth Sisters. The foundation stone for the new seminary building was laid on 3rd August 2002; subsequently, the completed philosophy block was blessed on 18th June 2003 by His Beatitude Mar Varkey Cardinal Vithayathil. The foundation stone for the theology block was blessed by His Beatitude Ignace Cardinal Moussa I Daoud, Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches Rome, on 10th January 2004, on the occasion of his visit to the seminary.

In the subsequent years after the inauguration, new batches of students were admitted, and more priests were added to the resident staff. At the same time some of the members in the staff returned to their dioceses. Frs. George Pulickal (Archdiocese of Tellicherry), Jose Pulavelil (Diocese of Palai), and Thomas Poovathanikunnel (Diocese of Kanjrappally) thus joined the resident staff in the academic year 2003-04. After completing a term as the rector and after finishing the construction work of the philosophy block, Very Rev. Fr. Kuzhinjalil, Finance Officer Fr. Vettickal, and Fr. Jose Pulavelil returned to their home dioceses.

Since May 31st 2004, Very Rev. Fr. George Pulickal had been serving as the acting rector and since 11th November 2004 he had been serving as the rector of the seminary.  In the same year Fr George Myladoor (Diocese of Mananthavady) was appointed as the finance officer of the seminary. Frs Paul Mudathotty (Missionary Society of St Thomas), Jose Muthanattu (diocese of Palai), and Thomas Kuzhuppil (Archdiocese of Changanassery) joined the resident staff in the academic year 2005-06; Frs. Jacob Chanikuzhy (Archeparchy of Ernakulam–Angamaly) and Thomas Padiyath (Archdiocese of Changanassery) joined the resident staff in the year 2006-07; Frs. George Mangalathil (Archdiocese of Changanassery) and Antony Tharekadavil (Archdiocese of Tellicherry) joined the resident staff in 2007-2008.

The construction of the beautiful chapel of the seminary was completed, and was consecrated on 26th July 2007. For the consecration ceremony, His Beatitude Mar Varkey Cardinal Vithayathil and several other bishops were present. On 29 January 2008, the first batch of the students, fourteen in all, received the holy order of M’samsanusa (diaconate) in the new chapel. The ordination ceremony was officiated by the convener of the ad hoc committee, His Grace Mar George Valiamattam together with His Grace Mar Joseph Powathil. On this occasion, twenty-three of the second batch also received their ordination as Heupadiyaknusa. In May 2008, Fr. Paul Mudathotty was elected as the Assistant General of the MST. He eventually left the seminary to enter upon the new office, while Fr Thomas Anikuzhikattil (Diocese of Idukki) joined the resident staff, who was subsequently appointed as the prefect of studies on 22 February 2009.

In the year 2008-2009, the first batch of 14 students got ordained priests for different eparchies, which was a landmark in the history of Good Shepherd Major Seminary. In the second batch, 22 students were ordained (2009-2010) and in the third batch 16 students (2010-2011). The list of these priest are available in the Alumni page.

In the beginning of the academic year 2009-2010 a new administrative body was appointed: Fr Joseph Muthanattu was appointed as the Finance Officer on 13 May 2009, Fr Thomas Anikuzhikattil as the Rector on 21 May 2009, and Fr George Mangalathil as the Prefect of Studies on 08 June 2009 in lieu of Frs George  Myladoor, George Pulickal, and Thomas Anikuzhikkattil respectively. After completing a term and another two years Fr George Pulickal left the seminary to take pastoral work in his own diocese, and Fr George Myladoor, after completing his term of office (Since 15t June 2004 till 15 May 2009), returned to his home diocese in May 2009. Fr Jose Koodapuzha from Diocese of Kanjirappally joined the resident staff in the academic year 2009-2010. In May 2010 Fr Sebastian Palakuzhy (Archdiocese of Tellicherry) was appointed Finance officer in lieu of Fr Jose Muthanattu, who was then relieved. Frs Joseph Mulanjanany (Diocese of Kothamangalam), Joseph Karukaparambil (Archdiocese of Kottayam)n and Mathew Pattamana (Archdiocese of Tellicherry) joined the resident staff in the beginning of the academic year 2010-2011.

On 3 May 2011, Fr Joseph Puthumana (Diocese of Palai) was added to the resident staff as professor of English and on 31 of the same month he was appointed vice-rector substituting Fr Thomas Kuzhuppil who was relieved. In the current academic year there are 16 members on the resident staff, 33 visiting professors, and 176 students.

Goal of the Seminary

The seminary wishes to train its students in such a way that they will become good pastors and ministers of the word of God. The Good Shepherd and Preacher Jesus Christ is the model after whom the candidate in the institute has to fashion himself (Ps 23:1; Jn 10:11). He should become a good and self-sacrificing leader of the Catholic Church. The people of God should feel safe under the protection of this shepherd of Jesus.

Giving personal attention to all the students is one of the main concerns of this institute.
The seminary therefore tries to create a home atmosphere in which all the students feel that their formation is safe under the guidance of the institute. Together with the intellectual training, they are given formation for spiritual and emotional growth: they are given three years of philosophy training which will be followed by an year of practical training and period of personal reflection (regency); then they will receive the clerical dress which will be followed by four years of biblical, theological, and pastoral studies.

Throughout the period of training, the students will get enough opportunities to form a personal prayer life, and to develop their personal talents.
The professors and the students together with their Good Shepherd are always in search of pastures which are the products of the ever changing periods of history. The candidates have to apply effectively their energies in order to form themselves for the church so that they can competently guide the people of God of the Catholic Chruch in India and abroad..

Click here for the Official Site of the Seminary

RUHALAYA Seminary, Ujjain

RUHALAYA is the major seminary of the Missionary Society of Saint Thomas the Apostle (MST). It is situated at the outskirts of Ujjain, a city of historical and religious importance in Madhya Pradesh. It is the holy city of the Hindus. In ancient days the city was one of the foremost seats of learning of art, science and mathematics. Sanskrit literary genius Kalidas was a member of the court of Vikramaditya who ruled India from Ujjaini (Avantika) as capital. Once in 12 years the Kumbh Mela is celebrated in a very large scale.

1. Nature and Purpose of Ruhalaya

Ruhalaya imparts formation to priesthood with special emphasis on the human, spiritual, intellectual and missionary training, firmly rooted in the ecclesial traditions of the Syro-Malabar Church and fully adapted to the missionary context of India.

Name: The name Ruhalaya is the combination of the Syriac word Ruha (Holy Spirit) and the Sanskrit word alaya (house, abode) meaning abode of the Holy Spirit.

Specific Characteristics: Ruhalaya has mission ad gentes as its most prized priority. Missionary formation is truly rooted in the Catholic, Oriental and Indian traditions is the specific characteristic of Ruhalaya. Being a Catholic, Oriental seminary in the mission, Ruhalaya remains faithful to the traditions of the Thomas Christians and foster the distinctive spirituality, liturgy, church discipline and theology of the oriental tradition and promote dialogue and collaboration with other Catholic and non-Catholic Churches in the mission.

As a mission seminary in North India, Ruhalaya is conversant with the socio- cultural and religious traditions and heritage of India in general and that of North India in particular, through study, dialogue and common endeavours. Inter-religious dialogue and inculturation assume great importance in the curricular and co-curricular activities.

Specific Objectives: The specific objectives of Ruhalaya follow closely from its distinguishing characteristics.

– Train missionary priests committed to mission ad gentes through (a) spiritual formation centred around the oriental and Indian spiritual traditions and practices and (b) strict academic training in philosophy and religion and in the sacred sciences and related subjects in accordance with the Catholic doctrine in the mission context.

– Promote missiological studies through research, training and exposure.

– Enunciate systematically the Christian wisdom contained in the Biblical, Patristic, liturgical and spiritual traditions of the Oriental heritage to the people of the present day.

– Study the religious, philosophical and cultural heritage of India along with the Christian tradition.

– Promote ecumenism.

– Situated in a city of great religious and cultural importance, dialogue with religions and cultures.

– Bring about change in the society through systematic involvement in the various strata of social, cultural and religious life by means of diverse programmes.

– Give theological-ideological support to the missionaries, developing a missiological vision, planning and programme.

2. History of Ruhalaya Seminary

Ruhalaya Major Seminary is the realization of the long cherished desire of MST to give formation to its members in the mission field itself. The history of the origin of Ruhalaya Philosophate begins with MST placing a request before the Congregation for the Oriental Churches to grant the starting of an institute of philosophy in the mission area where most of its members worked. After serious consideration the Congregation granted the permission in 1985 by the Decree Prot. No. 173/84 dated January 28, 1985.

Ruhalaya Philosophate was inaugurated on 3rd July 1986 at Kamed 5 kms away from Ujjain city centre. The inaugural function was presided over by His Grace Eugene D’Souza, the Archbishop of Bhopal, in the presence of Most Rev. George Anathil, Bishop of Indore, Mar John Perumattam, Bishop of Ujjain and Very Rev. Fr Kurian Valiamangalam, the Director Gneral of MST. Rev. Dr Thomas Parayady MST was appointed the first Rector. Under his able and expert leadership Ruhalaya flourished and grew into a full fledged Institute of Philosophy.

Ruhalaya was aimed to give philosophical training and formation to the students of MST. But from the second year onwards, taking into consideration the pressing demands from the neighbouring mission dioceses, and Vincentian Congregation, admissions were granted to their seminarians too. Since then Ruhalaya admits around 30 students to the first year Philosophy.

Effective mission work can be done only when the missionaries are properly trained and oriented for evangelization in less Christian regions. In order to provide such a formation MST has started its own Theologate in 1997 in another compound about 600 metres away from the Philosophate. In the Theology section also there are students from Mission Dioceses and Congregations. We admit about 20 students in the first year Theology.

Ruhalaya Philosophate has been providing solid human, spiritual, intellectual and missionary formation to its students. At present there are students from mission dioceses like Chanda, Satna, Ujjain, Jagdalpur, Rajkot, Goraphpur, Kalyan, and Sagar. There are also students belonging to V.C. and CST congregations. We have also admitted students from Pala, Kanjirappally, Changanassery, Thalassery, and Bathery to our seminary.

Ruhalaya Philosophy Faculty was affiliated to Pontifical Urban University Rome with the Decree No. 1020 of the Congregation for Catholic Education, Rome on 22nd October 1998. The affiliation was renewed after five years on 28th October 2003.

Ruhalaya Theology Faculty was affiliated to Paurastya Vidya Peetam, Vadavathoor with the Decree No. 1068 of the Congregation for Catholic Education, Rome on 15th September 2006.

Click here for the Official Website of Ruhalaya Seminary

History of MCBS

The Birth of Our Congregation:

….In the beginning of the twentieth century itself the Eucharistic-centered re-awakening in the life of the Church, initiated by the Holy Pope Pius X (1902-1914), had its impact on the Syro-Malabar Church . There was also a new missionary awareness and enthusiasm in this Apostolic Church . It was in this historical setting that the Missionary Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament (MCBS) was born.
….God has been preparing two great men (mahatmas) in the persons of Father Mathew Alakalam and Father Joseph Paredom to take up this new charism in the Church, who in fulfilment of their life-long religious and missionary aspirations outlined a new way of religious life in the Church: the Missionary Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament.
….In 1933, the jubilee year of the redemptive sacrifice of our Lord, on Sunday 7th May, the feast of St. Joseph ‘s patronage, in the mission church at Mallappally, Mar James Kalacherry, bishop of Changanacherry, established the Missionary Congregation of the Blessed

MCBS at a Glance







Brothers Co-operators


Major Seminarians




Minor Seminarians


Houses of Formation




Mission Centers


Mission Stations


Ayurveda Hospital


Centre for caring the poor and aged


Training Centre for Physically Handicapped


Children’s Homes






Centre for Caring for mentally handicapped


School for the mentally retarded


HIV- AIDS Hospital






Printing Press




Nursery Schools


Retreat Centers




Self Help Groups


T. B. Sanitorium


Tailoring Schools


Training Centre for Deaf and Dump


Adult Education Cetres




….In 1978 , the district of Shimoga in Karnataka, under the jurisdiction of Mananthavady diocese, was entrusted to MCBS for pastoral care and evangelization.
….In 1989 the missionary activities of the congregation were extended to Rajasthan. The district of Sirohi is entrusted to the congregation for evangelization.
….The ‘Rule of Life’ of the congregation, revised and renewed after a careful study of the charism, nature, spirit, tradition and founders, and according to the directives given by the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, was promulgated on 25th May 1989. The Holy See approved the Rule of Life for an experimental period of seven years and raised the congregation to pontifical Status on 2nd December 1989.
….In 1992 the districts of Satara and Solapur in Maharashtra , under the jurisdiction of the diocese of Kalyan, were entrusted to the congregation for pastoral care and evangelization.
….On 4th May 1995 the congregation was divided into two regions, namely MCBS Emmaus Region and MCBS Zion Region.
….Jeevalaya, MCBS’ Major Seminary, was inaugurated on 3rd July 1996.
….Shencottai Mission in South Tamil Nadu under the jurisdiction of the diocese of Tukala was started in the year 1996 for the pastoral care of the poor and afflicted.
….On 2nd December 1996 the two regions were raised to the status of provinces, namely, MCBS Emmaus Province and MCBS Zion Province .

On 18th December 1996 Thomas Elavanal, then Superior General, was nominated the first bishop from the Congregation. Mar Thomas Elavanal was consecrated Bishop of Kalyan on 8th February 1997.

On 21st May 1997 the first Provincial synaxis of both provinces was held to elect the Provincial Superiors and their teams.

On 28th October 1998 the Holy See gave definite approbation to the Constitution and Directory of the MCBS.

‘SANATHANA’ MCBS Theologate, Thamarassery was inaugurated on June 07, 2004.

On 7th May 2007 , the Platinum Jubilee of the Congregation was inaugurated at Mother House, Kolladu, Kottayam.

On 28th July 2007 , Adilabad Mission , the first missionary field in Andrapradesh was started in the feast of Blessed Alphonsa

On 29th August, Fr. Joseph Arumachadath, the then Vice Rector of Sanathana MCBS Theologate, Thamarassery was nominated as the first bishop of the Bhadravati Diocese, Karnataka.

2007 September 08 – Missionaries to Switzerland .

On 25th October 2007 – Consecration of Mar Joseph Arumachadath and the inauguration of the Bhadravati Diocese, Karnataka

On 07th May 2008 – Platinum Jubilee celebrations of the Congregation came to its end at MCBS Generalate, Aluva.

Our Bishops
On 18th December 1996 Thomas Elavanal, then Superior General, was nominated the first bishop from the Congregation. Mar Thomas Elavanal was consecrated Bishop of Kalyan on 8th February 1997.
Mar Thomas Elavanal

His Excellency Mar Thomas Elavanal, Bishop of Kalyan

On 29th August, Fr. Joseph Arumachadath, the then Vice Rector of Sanathana MCBS Theologate, Thamarassery was nominated as the first bishop of the Bhadravati Diocese,Karnataka. On 25th October 2007 – Consecration of Mar Joseph Arumachadath and the inauguration of the Bhadravati Diocese, Karnataka

Mar Joseph Arumachadath

His Excellency Mar Joseph Arumachadath, Bishop of Bhadravathy

About Mangalapuzha Seminary

Mangalapuzha Seminary

St. Joseph’s Pontifical Seminary, Mangalapuzha (സെന്റ്‌ ജോസഫ് പൊന്റിഫിക്കല്‍ സെമിനാരി,  മംഗലപ്പുഴ) is a Major Seminary of the Syro-Malabar Church of the St. Thomas Christians.  It is the continuation of several Seminaries and the outcome of the centralization of the priestly formation in Kerala.   It has a long history of untiring service and selfless sacrifice of several missionaries, native clergy and laity.

 In 1964 the seminary was raised to Pontifical status by the Holy See.  His Excellency Most Rev. Dr. James Robert Knox read the Papal Brief at a public meeting in the seminary on 14 June 1964.The Kerala Catholic Bishops Conference (K.C.B.C.) was entrusted with the direction and administration of the Seminary On 12 June 1976.  On 27 October 1973, a formal request was made by the Superior General of the Carmelite Order for the transfer of the direction and administration from the Superior General of the Order to the Catholic Hierarchy of Kerala.  On 12 June 1976 the Congregation for the Oriental Churches communicated to the Kerala Catholic Bishop’s Conference the decision of the Congregation for the Oriental churches and the Congregation for the Evangelization of the Peoples to transfer the direction of the seminary to the K.C.B.C.  The letters of the Congregations recall the concern of the two Congregations for the well-being and progress of the Pontifical Seminary and its continuance as a model of inter-ritual cooperation.  The statutes of the Seminary approved by the two Congregations state ‘St. Joseph’s Pontifical is a pluriritual institution, common to the three Rites, namely the Syro-Malabar, the Latin and the Syro-Malankara.  The seminary belongs to the Holy See and its direction and administration is entrusted to the Conference of Bishops of the three Rites of Kerala, subject to the high authority of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches and the Congregation for the Evangelization of the Peoples’.

 The request of the KCBC to reorganize  the seminary on the basis of the Rites was approved by the Holy See in 1996.  Concrete steps for the implementation of the project were taken at the end of the academic year 1996-1997.  With academic year 1997-1998 Mangalapuzha section started to function as the Major Seminary of the Syro-Malabar Church.  Now the seminary is subject to the Holy See under the Congregation for the Oriental Churches and its direction and administration are entrusted to the Syro-Malabar Major Archiepiscopal Synod.

The objective of the seminary is to provide priestly formation to the seminarians of the Syro-Malabar Eparchies.  Members of Religious Institutes and Societies of Apostolic life who are preparing themselves for priestly ministry as well as seminarians of other Eastern Churches may also be admitted according to the availability of accommodation.

 The programme of formation given here aims at the development of a fully integrated priestly personality taking into account the human, spiritual, intellectual, pastoral and missionary dimensions of priestly formation.  While giving this formation the seminary also gives particular emphasis to the study of traditions and heritages of the Church of St. Thomas Christians and of other Eastern Churches taking into consideration the religious and cultural context of India.  The seminary also gives importance to inter religious dialogue particularly with the religions of India.  There are also con-curricular activities as part of the seminary formation such as cultural academies to train the students in the art of public speaking, social work in order to create in them concern for the poor, the pastoral work for the Theology students to give them pastoral experience.

Mangalapuzha seminary (മംഗലപ്പുഴ സെമിനാരി) has been blessed with the presence of about 22 resident members of the staff and almost an equal number of visiting staff.  Regular staff meetings, prayer sessions and an exclusive annual retreat help to motivate and mobilize them in the desired direction of seminary life and formation.

Aeterni Sacerdotii
Pasce oves meas


Aeterni Sacerdotii

On February 24, 1972, the congregation for Catholic Education issued a decree erecting a Theological Faculty in the Pontifical Seminary, Alwaye. The first step towards the realization of the plan for a Faculty had been taken on October 1959, when the Congregation issued a decree affiliating the theology department of the Seminary with the Lateran University. With this, the theology department of the Seminary became “Studium Theologicum” which was governed by norms given by the University and a convention between the Rector of the Lateran University and the Rector of the seminary. In April 1971, the Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council sent a petition to the Congregation for the erection of an autonomous Faculty. On February 24, 1972, the Congregation for Catholic education issued the decree erecting the Theological Faculty in the Pontifical seminary. The decree granted the new Faculty all the rights and privileges which were enjoyed by Theological Faculties. It also empowered the Faculty to confer suitable degrees to students who are successful in their studies and research. The power of conferring the degrees of Bachelor and Master (Licentiate) in theology was explicitly granted. On 15th February 1973, the Pontifical Institute of Theology and Philosophy, Alwaye, was officially inaugurated by His Excellecy, the Most Rev.Dr.John Gordon, the then Apostolic Pro-Nuncio to India. On 25th April 1997, through a decree the congregation for Catholic Education separated the Pontifical Institute from the Pontifical Seminary. At present the Pontifical Institute functions at two separate campuses – Mangalapuzha and Carmelgiri, and offers simultaneously courses of theology and philosophy in both campuses.

At present the Institute is empowered to confer the following degrees. Bachelor of Philosophy; Bachelor of Theology; Master of theology; Doctor of theology. For the degree of Master of theology Spiritual theology, dogmatic theology, Pastoral theology and Counseling and Biblical theology are offered by the Institute as branches of specialization.

Though the St. Joseph’s Pontifical Seminary has been reorganized on the basis of rites(the Mangalapuzha section for the Syro Malabar Church and the Carmeligiri section for the Latins), the Pontifical Institute remains common and is autonomous It is governed by the Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council.(K.C.B.C.).

The academic community of the seminary is composed of two categories, namely the resident students and the day scholars. The latter have their religious study houses around the seminary and come to the seminary only for class. The resident students are mainly from the Syro-Malabar dioceses in Kerala and outside. There are also a few students belonging to the Syro-Malankara dioceses and a handful from religious communities having no houses nearby. The number of resident students is 280 and of the day scholars is 144 in the academic year 2006-2007.

Mangalapuzha seminary (മംഗലപ്പുഴ സെമിനാരി) has been maintaining a close collaboration with other seminaries. A common “Programme for Formators” for the staff of the Syro-Malabar seminaries was organized under the auspices of the Syro-Malabar synod of bishops. Informal meetings of the staff of the seminaries were also held with sharing sessions. Such gatherings help the staff to know each other, to share the problems of formation in each seminary and eventually to arrive at solutions. As far as the students of various seminaries are concerned there are inter-seminary matches in Volleyball and Basketball, inter-seminary Quiz Competition, debate Competition, Homily Competition etc.

Mangalapuzha seminary has a cemetery chapel, which is a place of pilgrimage. The bodies of Venerable Aurelian OCD and the Servant of God Zacharias OCD of blessed memory rested there for decades. Their mortal remains were solemnly transferred to the special tombs in the Carmelite Monastery Church at Manjummel.

As regards the finance of the seminary the various papal agencies, namely CNEWA, Opus Sancti Petri and MISSIO have been rendering wonderful service to the seminary. The Congregation for Oriental Churches, the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and the Congregation for the Catholic Education render special care and support to the seminary and its activities.

The undivided St. Joseph’s Pontifical Seminary, Mangalapuzha, (സെന്റ്‌ ജോസഫ് പൊന്റിഫിക്കല്‍ സെമിനാരി,  മംഗലപ്പുഴ) celebrated the Golden Jubilee of its transfer from Puthenpally to Mangalapuzha on 9th and 10th of March 1983. This year 2007 the seminary celebrates the Platinum Jubilee of its transfer to Mangalapuzha. On this occasion the seminary remembers with gratitude all benefactors and the zealous discalzed Carmelite missionaries for their outstanding contribution to the Church in Kerala especially in the field of priestly formation. The statement of Msgr. Martin Lucas SVD, the then Apostolic Internuncio, on the occasion of the inauguration of Carmelgiri seminary on 24 November 1955, is the best compliment for them. “If the Carmelite Fathers had done nothing else for the Church in Kerala,but build these two splendid and magnificent seminaries, India would never forget them”.

The Liturgy of the Blessings in the Syro-Malabar Church

LRC Seminar

13 – 15 June 2006

The Liturgy of the Blessings in the Syro-Malabar Church


Fr.Antony Nariculam

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

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

Part One

1. Vatican II and Sacramentals

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

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

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

2. Catechism of the Catholic Church and Sacramentals

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

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

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

CCC identifies the following categories of sacramentals:

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

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

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


3. Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches and Sacramentals

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

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

4. Syro-Malabar Particular Law and Sacramentals

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

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

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

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

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

I think that three observations are in order here.

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

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

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

6. Blessings: A Short Historical Survey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. Blessings and Inculturation

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

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

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

8. Nestorian Rituals

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

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

9. Latin Rite and the Book of Blessings

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

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

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

 The Latin Rite divides the Blessings into five categories:

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                            Part Two


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

1. Blessings in the Syro-Malabar Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Syro-Malabar Rituals of Blessings

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part 5: Blessing of ‘Animals’.

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

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

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

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

The book has three parts and an appendix.

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

Part 2: Blessing of the sick and the dying.

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

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

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

The book has 7 parts divided as follows:

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

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

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

Part 4: Vehicles

Part 5: Animals

Part 6: Food Offerings

Part 7: Holy Water

(4)  A Collection  of Various Booklets of Blessings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(5)  Prayer for the Dead

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

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

(ii)   Prayer Service for the Dead, Ernakulam 1980

(iii)  Commemoration of the Dead, Ernakulam 1984

(iv)   Anuthaparchana, Changanacherry 1992

(v)   From the Valley of Death, Kottayam 1996

(vi)  Prayer for the Dead, Irinjalakuda 1997

            (vii) Prayer for the Dead, Thamarassery 2003

            (viii) Prayer Service for the Dead, Ernakulam 2006

            (6) Home Liturgy

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

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

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

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

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

3. Some Remarks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(vi)             Animals

(vii)           Various Occasions: (Home Liturgies)


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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

[7] Cf. Ibid, p. 476

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

[9] Cf. Ibid, p. 399

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

[11] Cf. Ibid, p. 384

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

[13]  Ibid, General Instructions No. 39

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

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

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

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

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

[19] Ibid., No.13

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

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

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

[23] See above, Footnote No.9.

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

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

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

Syro-Malabar Liturgy

Syro-Malabar Liturgy

Dr Antony Nariculam


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]


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


[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