Syro-Malabar Qurbana Songs / Malayalam Holy Mass Songs

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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.

Click here for the Official Site of the Commission

KCBC Circular on Mass Stipend (16 December 2012)

Here is the Circular of the KCBC President, His Grace Most Rev. Dr. Mar Andrews Thazhath about the increase of the stipend of the Holy Mass. The KCBC meeting held from 11 to 13 December 2012 at the POC decided to increase the stipend of the Holy Mass from rupees 50 to rupees 75. The decision of the KCBC will come into effect from 1 January 2013 onwards in Syro-Malabar, Latin and Syro-Malankara Catholic Churches in Kerala

KCBC Circular on Mass Stipend

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

Dharmaram College, Bangalore – A Major Seminary of the CMI Congregation

Dharmaram College, a major study house of CMI Congregation, was replanted in Bangalore on 1st June, 1957. The name ‘Dharmaram’ is a combination of two Sanskrit words, dharma (virtue) and aram (garden), which together mean ‘GARDEN OF VIRTUES’. Dharmaram is dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the motto is Isabhakti Paramjnanam (Love of God is the Supreme Wisdom). Dharmaram aims at educating people who are prepared to commit themselves to the service of the Church and the world, which is accomplished through a holistic, spiritual, intellectual and cultural formation.

A Major Seminary of the CMI Congregation

The foundation stone of the Study House was laid by His Grace Thomas Pothacamury, the then Archbishop of Bangalore, on July 16, 1955. Of the many distinguished guests who were present on that auspicious occasion, the late Cardinal Antony Padiyara, the First Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church, needs special mention.

The structure completed first was a small residence and it was blessed on October 7, 1955.  Rev. Fr. Dismas Vadakkethala, who was entrusted with the construction work of the Study House in its initial stages, stayed there and supervised the work till he returned to Kerala on November 16, 1955.

 Rev. Fr. Jonas Thaliath, later Bishop of Rajkot, the visionary behind Dharmaram College, took charge of the house on November 21, 1955.  Dharmaram was his long cherished dream to its minute details, and had it not been for his untiring labour, enduring spirit, and enterprising talent, it would never have acquired the present shape. With Fr. Jonas Thaliath at the helm and assisted by Fr. Kurian Palackal and Bro. Benjamin Muricken, the construction works progressed at a faster pace. Within a period of eighteen months, West Wing III with seventy-five single rooms, Refectory and Kitchen were completed.

Saturday, June 1st 1957 will ever remain memorable in the annals of the CMI Congregation.  It was on this day that the Sacred Heart Study House founded in 1918 at Chethipuzha was shifted to Bangalore and was given the new name, Dharmaram, meaning “the Garden of Virtues and Righteousness.”  Dharmaram College was also raised to the status of a formed house, with the Rector of the seminary as its head on this very day. His Grace Thomas Pothacamury, Archbishop of Bangalore, blessed the new building and offered Mass for the community to solemnise the humble beginning of the central study house of the CMI Congregation.

 Fr. Chrysostom Ponnumpurayidam was appointed its first Rector, and he took charge on June 1, 1957.  Frs. Januarius Palathuruthy, Canisius Thekkekara, Paulinus Jeerakath, Jonas Thaliath, Lukas Vithuvattickal, Mansuetus Andumaly, John Britto Chethimattam, Eustace Thottan and Cosmos Madathil formed the pioneering staff members of Dharmaram College. This auspicious occasion was graced by the presence of Rev. Fr. Maurus Valiaparambil, Prior General, Fr. Athanasius Payappilly, General Councillor, Fr. Clemens Thottungal, Provincial of Devamatha Province and many CMI Fathers and Brothers.

         Dharmaram College was formally inaugurated on February 23, 1958.  The inauguration day was preceded by a day of adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. His Grace Msgr. J. R. Knox, the Papal Internuncio gave the inaugural address.  In his address Msgr. J. R. Knox depicted Dharmaram College as the culmination of a long dream of the Syro-Malabar Carmelite Congregation and closed his address with the wish, “Vivat, Creascat et Floreat,” meaning “May Dharmaram live, grow and flourish!”

 Dharmaram has been blooming for the last forty-five years. It has at present training facilities for about three hundred residential students.  The dream of Fr. Jonas Thaliath to make Dharmaram a centre for the Catholic education has been realized on January 6, 1976, when the Congregation for Catholic Education constituted a Faculty of Theology at Dharmaram.

By its decree of December 8, 1983, Antiquissima Indorum, the Congregation for the Catholic Education created the Faculty of Philosophy at Dharmaram Pontifical Institute on March 25, 1984, and established in perpetuity the existing Faculty of Theology and thus granted the institute the status of an Athenaeum which is known as Dharmaram Vidya Kshetram, meaning the temple (kshetram) of wisdom (vidya) in the garden (aram) of virtues (dharma). In the context of the ever increasing importance of specialization and research in Oriental Canon Law, a new Institute was erected at Dharmaram Vidya Kshetram by the Congregation for Catholic Education, on March 29, 1999.

 Realizing the call for integral development of the youth, Dharmaram extended and expanded its activities into many other fields. To nurture a creative interest in nature among students and as a source of income to meet the day-to-day expenses of Dharmaram College, stretches of farmland were purchased near Kengeri, one in 1962 and the other in 1964 to develop farms. Awakened by the realities of interdisciplinary approach at the intellectual level, Christ College was started on July 15, 1969. With fond hope of enhancing experience in the pastoral apostolate of the students undergoing training at Dharmaram, a parish of the Syro-Malabar faithful has been established at Dharmaram in 1983. To meet the felt needs of the people around us, Dharmaram has taken initiative to open two schools, one with Kannada and the other with English as the medium of instruction in June 1984.

 The development of Dharmaram into a multi-faceted educational institution, later, paved the way for a separate residence for some of the teaching staff.  It was envisaged that this residence would improve the quality of various apostolates at Dharmaram College, especially the religious and intellectual training of the students. The foundation stone for the residence, Chavara Bhavan, was laid by Rev. Fr. Thomas Kadankavil, the then Rector, Dharmaram College on January 22, 1994.  Rev. Fr. Thomas Mampra, the then Prior General blessed the Chavara Bhavan on December8,1994.

 The dream of our bygone generation has found concrete expression in course of time through the establishment, growth, and the significant contributions of Dharmaram to the Church, the nation and the world at large.

Memorable Events and Dates


Dec. 08 The blessing of the foundation stone by His Eminence Card. Tisserant


March 23 Purchase of site for Dharmaram College in Bangalore

July 16 Laying of the foundation stone by His Grace Thomas Pothacamury

Oct 07 Completion of first residential unit and its blessing by Fr. Dismas Vadakkethala


April Completion of construction work of WW III, Refectory and Kitchen

June 01 Blessing of the new building by his Grace Thomas Pothacamury

Fr. Chrysostom Ponnempurayidom appointed Rector of Dharmaram College

Dharmaram College erected as a formed house


Feb. 23 Inauguration of Dharmaram by His Grace Msgr. J. R. Knox, Apostolic Internuncio, Delhi

Sept. 06 Completion of the furnishing of the third living block and its blessing by Fr. Chrysostom Ponnempuryidom, Rector


Jan. 21 Fr. Canisius Thekkekara appointed Rector of Dharmaram College

April Completion of the first phase of Press Block

Sept. 24 Visit of His Eminence Cardinal Agaginian, Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for Propagation of Faith

Dec. 15 The mortal remains of Joseph Kariati, Archbishop of Cranganore who died at Goa on Sept. 9, 1786, was brought to Dharmaram on its way to Kerala


Feb. Purchase of farmland at Kengeri for the proposed estate (Devadan)

May 21 Death of Rev. Fr. Hyacinth Kunnumkal

June 5 Appointment of Fr. Januarius Palathuruthy as Mission Superior of the new Mission Region (Chanda) entrusted to the CMI Congregation


Jan. 06 Re-appointment of Fr. Canisius Thekkekara as Rector of Dharmaram College


Dec. 01 Ordination of 45 of our deacons at Bombay during international Eucharisdc Congress attended by His Holiness Pope Paul VI


Jan. 10. Fr. Canisius Thekkekara, Rector, elected as Prior General, of CMI Congregation

Jan. 24 Fr. Jonas Thaliath appointed as Rector and Fr. Chrysostom Ponnempuryidom as Vice-Rector of Dharmaram College


May 21 Visit of Mr. Nijalingappa, the Chief Minister of Mysore (Kanataka)

May 22 Sudden demise of Fr. Roger Kattarath in a railway accident at Kuppam, on his way to Kerala

Sep. 01 Visit of His Eminence Cardinal Valerain Gracias of Bombay


Sept 24 The foundation stone of Christ College was laid by His Excellency Joseph Caprio, Apostolic Pronuncio to India.

June 9 Commencement of construction of Christ College


Jan 03 Visit of Sri. V. V. Giri, the Vice-President of India

Jan 15 Fr. Theophane Kanjooparambil appointed Rector of Dharmaram College

May 14 Visit of His Eminence Cardinal Joseph Parekattil, Archbishop of Ernakulam

May 15-25 Church in India Seminar at Dharmaram College

June 24 Sudden demise of Fr. Mansuetus Andumaly, former Professor of Philosophy at Chethipuzha

July 15 Blessing of Christ College by Fr. Theophane Kanjooparambil, Rector


Oct 23 Visit of Msgr. Salvatore Corrofalo, Rector of Propaganda College, Rome


Jan 03 Inauguration of CSWR

Feb 02 Visit of His Excellency Sri. Dharmaveera, the Governor of Mysore

Aug 08 Assignment of a separate block for our students studying at Christ College


Jan 17 Fr. John Britto Chethimattam appointed Rector of Dharmaram College

July 03 Foundation stone laid for Dharmaram College Chapel

Visit of Fr. Carriers S.J., Rector, Gregorian University, Rome


June Inauguration of the Publication of an International Philosophical Quarterly, Journal of Dharma

June 3 Fr. Claudius Alappat passed away at II p.m.


March 10 Consecration of Dharmaram Chapel by His Eminence Joseph Cardinal Parekattil

April 22 Fr. Mathias Mundadan took charge as Rector of Dhamaram College


June 2 Blessing of the Parlour and Administrative Block by Fr. Liguori Mundackal, General Councillor

July 3 Inauguration of Dharmaram Pontifical Institute of Theology and Philosophy by His Eminence Joseph Cardinal Parekattil


Jan 2 Fr. Thomas Aykara, staff member, is elected Prior General

March 1 Visit of His Eminence Cardinal Pironio and Internuncio His Grace Sereno


Jan 31 Visit of Mother Theresa


Jan 3 Celebration of the 110th death Anniversary of the Servant of God Kuriakose Elias Chavara

Jan 10 Visit of His Eminence Cardinal W. Rubin, Prefect of the Congregation for Oriental Churches

Jan 25 Bro. Mathew Karikunnel MCBS, a first year theology student expired

March 11 Fr. Justin Koyipuram appointed Rector of Dharmaram College

May 22 General Synaxis of the CMI Congregation to revise the Constitution began at Dharmaram College

July 1 Inauguration of the Silver Jubilee of Dharmaram College by Fr. Thomas Aykara, Prior General

Nov 7 Bp. Jonas Thaliath expired of a heart attack at Rajkot


Jan 2 150th Jubilee celebration of the CMI Congregation

Jan 3 Inauguration of the School of Printing by Fr. Thomas Aykara, Prior General

July 4 Conclusion of the Silver Jubilee celebration of Dharmaram. His Excellency Govind Narayan the Governor of Karnataka was the chief guest and R. Gundu Rao, the Chief Minister was the President. Msgr. F. Marchisano, the Delegate from Rome, gave the Jubilee Address. Representative of the Congregation for Catholic Education and Msgr. Cerutti of the same Congregation graced the occasion

Oct 25 Inauguration of 10 ‘Janatha Houses’ constructed by Dharmaram with Government aid on the Bangalore Mysore road, near Devadan Farm

Nov 7 First Death Anniversary of Bp. Jonas Thaliath observed with solemn Requiem Mass. A portrait of Bp. Jonas Thaliath unveiled in the auditorium

Nov 26 Inauguration of the Housing Colony near St. Mary’s Farm constructed by Dharmaram Association for Social Service (DASS) with aid from the Government


Feb 27 Fr. Prior General constituted a nine-member committee for the evaluation of Dharmaram

March 19 Solemn inauguration of the new Syro-Malabar Parish (St. Thomas Parish) at Dharmaram by Archbishop Arokyaswamy

June 1 Inauguration of Christ Vidyalaya


Mat 26 Fr. Thomas Mampra appointed Rector of Dhamiaram College

June 1 Inauguration of Christ School


Feb 12 Inauguration of Christ College Library Block

May 1 Fr. Thomas Mampra re-appointed Rector of Dharmaram College

Aug 4-7 National Seminar on “Mission in India Today”


April 16 Fr. John Kallikuzhuppil, who met with an accident on the previous day, died


June 15 Blessing of the Theology Faculty Block by Archbishop Alphonsus Mathias in the new DVK. Campus


Jan 30 The newly constructed Administrative block of DVK was inaugurated by Cardinal Arinze, the President of the Papal Commission for NonChristian Religions

Feb 18 The multipurpose hall of St. Thomas Parish was blessed by Bp. Joseph Kundukulam

April 3 Fr. Thomas Mampra, Rector, elected Prior General of the CMI Congregation

April 25 Fr. Mani Giles Pothanamuzhy appointed Rector of Dharmaram College

Aug 6 Bishop Paulinus Jeerakath died in St. John’s Medical College Hospital, Bangalore

Aug 8 Body of the late Bp. Paulinus Jeerakath was brought to the Dharmaram Chapel, His Eminence Cardinal Antony Padiyara led the concelebrated liturgy


July 3 ‘New Block’ of Christ College was inaugurated

July 16 Blessing of the new block of Dhamiaram School of Printing

Jan 20 Blessing of DVK PG Block by His Eminence Cardinal Antony Padiyara

June 15 DVK Cafeteria blessed by Rev. Fr. Thomas Mampra, Prior General


May 16 Fr. Thomas Kadankavil took charge as Rector of Dharmaram College

June 1 Newly constructed Kannada Medium School (Christha Vidyalaya) blessed by Fr. Thomas Kadankavil, Rector

Aug 14 Formal inauguration of Christha Vidyalaya by Sri. Veerappa Moily, Chief Minister of Karnataka

Aug 17-18 International Seminar on ‘The Future of Interreligious Dialogue” inaugurated by the Governor of Karnataka, Sri Kursheed Alam Khan

Sep 9 Christ School Canteen blessed by Fr. Thomas Mampra, Prior General

Nov 7 Newly constructed building of the Faculty of Philosophy was blessed by Msgr. Michael, the resident ofWeltmissio, Archdiocese of Cologne


Jan 22 Laying of the foundation stone of Chavara Bhavan

Sep 22 Blessing of PG Block of Christ College by Rev. Fr. Thomas Kadankavil, Rector

Dec 8 Blessing of Chavara Bhavan by Rev. Fr. Thomas Mampra, Prior General


Jan 5 Sudden demise of Rev. Fr. Liguori Mundackal in a traffic accident at Aluva

Jan 16 Christ College celebrated its Silver Jubilee with the Honourable Chief Minister of Karnataka, Sri. H. D. Deve Gowda, as chief guest


Jan 3 Ordination of 42 deacons at Mannanam on the occasion of 125th death anniversary of Blessed Kuriaskose Elias Chavara

May 26 Fr. Domitian Manickathan took charge as Rector of Dharmaram College

July 14 Blessing of Blessed Kuriakose Elias Chapel at Egipura

Oct 2 Bro. Chacko lrupathinalilchira, doing his third year degree at Christ College, died in a scooter accident

Dec 18 Fr. Mani Giles, former Rector of Dharmaram College, the new Bishop of Mananthavady


Jan 12 Blessing of Blessed Alphonsa Centre, a new chapel in the City Ward


Feb 15 Blessing of Great Jubilee Memorial St. Thomas Parish Church by Mar Varkey Vithayathil, the Apostolic Administrator of the Syro-Malabar Church

May 8 Fr. Avarachan Peenickaparambil died in Manipal Hospital, Bangalore

May 9 Bro. Joshy Kocherry, a second year theology student expired

Aug 12 Second Block of Christ College was blessed by Fr. Domitian Manickathan, Rector, Dharmaram College

Sep 27 Formal Erecdon of Syro-Malabar parishes at Bommanahalli, Egipura, Anapalayam, and Lingarajapuram

Nov 23 The first Apostolic Visitation of Dharmaram College and DVK started under the presidentship of Mar Varkey Vithayathil, Apostolic Administrator of Syro-Malabar Church


Jan 1 Establishment of Dharmaram College, DVK, and Christ College and Schools Administrative Bodies

May 21 Fr. Benjamin Kottooran, who was Spiritual Director in Dharmaram College for 23 years, expired

May 26 Fr. Sebastian Poonolly took charge as Rector of Dharmaram College

June 6 St. Thomas Parish was raised to the status of a Forane Church

Formal erection of Bl. Alphonsa Church, Bangalore City, as an independent Syro-Malabar Parish

June 14 Inauguration of the Institute of Oriental Canon Law in DVK by Mar Varkey Vithayathil, Apostolic Administrator, Syro-Malabar Church

July 20 Fr. Mathew Bassus Manjakunnel expired

Aug 2 Blessing of new Adhyayana (DVK Residence for Sisters) building


March 10 Silver Jubilee of the construction of Dharmaram Chapel was celebrated with a Concelebrated Mass

March 29 Rev. Br. George Mundankavil of Samanvaya expired in an accident at Bhopal

June 26 Archbishop Alan De Lastic of Delhi Visited Dharmaram College

Aug 16 Mar Varkey Vithayathil, Major Archbishop, visited Dharmaram College and inaugurated the national seminar on Canon Law in DVK

Sep 20 National Assembly of Kristu Jayanthi 2000 began in Dharmaram College


Aug 20 Most Rev. Edwin Regan, Bishop of Wrexham U. K. visited Dharmaram College

Nov 4 Foundation Stone of Christ Junior College was laid by Rev. Fr. Sebastian Poonoly, Rector, Dharmaram College

Feb 22 Newly constructed bank building in DVK compound was blessed by Archbishop Ignatius Pinto, Bangalore and an extension counter of the Catholic Syrian Bank was inaugurated

April 6 Rev. Fr. Antony Kariyil was elected Prior General of the CMI Congregation.

May 1 Rev. Fr. James Narithookil appointed Rector of Dharmaram College

July 3 The newly constructed DVK Library was inaugurated by Archbishop Ignatius Pinto


Feb. 16 Blessing of Hongasandra Holy Family Church

The Golden Jubilee of Mar Emmanuel Pothanamuzhy and Rev. Fr. Mathias Mundadan was

celebrated in Dharmaram College

April 6 Bp. Mar Emmanuel Pothanamkuzhy expired with cancer

April 24 National Meeting of the CRI began in Dharmaram Campus

May 14 Inauguration of a branch of the South Indian Bank at Christ College by Fr. Prior General

Aug 7 Visit of His grace Rt. Rev. Dr. Joseph Pittau S. J., and Fr. Albin Graus, the secretary and the officer respectively of the Congregation for Catholic Education


October 28 Inauguration of Golden Jubilee Year of Dharmaram  by His Grace Bernard Moras, Archbishop of Bangalore.


June 12-13 Alumni Gathering at Dharmaram.

June 13-15 National Seminar on Formation Through Integral Education.Inaugurated by His Grace Bernard Moras, Archbishop of Bangalore and Key Note address by Mar Joseph Powathil, Archbishop Emeritus of Changanassery.

Click here for the Official site of Dharmaram College

ഞായറാഴ്ച പ്രസംഗങ്ങള്‍: Sunday Homilies / Sunday Sermons: Malayalam, English

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The Syro-Malabar Liturgical Reform and Pastoral Adaptation

The Syro-Malabar Liturgical Reform and Pastoral Adaptation

Antony Nariculam

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. The Syro-Malabar Liturgical Texts and their Adaptation


The following are the Syro-Malabar liturgical texts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

  1. The Range of Diversity in the Liturgy


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. The Process of Experimentation in the Liturgy


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

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

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

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

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

Step 1: Study by specialists

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

Step 3: Preliminary approval by the Holy See

Step 4: Experimentation for a time and in certain groups

Step 5: Reassessment in the light of the experimentation

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

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

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

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

Step 1: Study by experts and Central Liturgical Committee

Step 2: Preliminary approval by the Synod

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

 Step 4: Experimentation for a time and in certain groups

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


Step 6: Approval by the Synod

Step 7: Recognitio from Rome and full implementation

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

–          The use of Nilavilakku or Kuthuvilakku instead of candles.

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

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

–          Introduction of Christian bhajans and kirthans.


Among the long term plan we find the following:

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

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

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

  1. The Confusion surrounding the Options


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


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

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

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

  1. The Liturgy for the New Catholics

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

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

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

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

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

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



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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[22] Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, no.55

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

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

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

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

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

[28] Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum, No.39

[29] Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, No.54

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

[31] Instruction Sacramentum Redemptionis, No.39

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[42] CCEO 199/1

[43] Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, No.39

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

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

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

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

[48] Gaudium et Spes, No.58

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


ILA MEETING, NBCLC Bangalore, 26-28 October 2007


Liturgical Music in the Syro-Malabar Church [*]

Dr Antony Nariculam

  1. Introduction


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

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

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

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

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

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

2. After 1960

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

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

3.  Sung Mass since 1986


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

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

4. Karnatic Solemn Sung Mass


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

5.  Sacraments


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

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

6.  Holy Week Liturgy


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

7.  Christmas Liturgy


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

8.  Divine Office 


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

9. Funeral Services


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


11.  The Choir and the Musical Instruments

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

12. The Eastern Liturgical Music

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

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


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

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


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

15.  Rethinking about the Syro-Malabar Liturgical Music


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

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

16.  Decisions of the Synod regarding Sacred Music


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

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

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

17. Conclusion


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

                                                                                                      Fr.Antony Nariculam

                                                                                                      Pontifical Seminary

                                                                                                      Alwaye 683 102



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