19th July 2008
The Holy Synod of the
The Syro-Malabar Bishops Synod held from 14-20 November 1999, decided to celebrate the Holy Qurbana on a compromised formula (50/50) of the celebrant facing people until anaphora and there on facing the altar. This decision was a great step in bringing unity and thereby appeasing the latinised group in the already disturbed and baffled
Church. However the rubrics also mentioned that in churches which have restored the once traditional Bema in the midst of the congregation and the authentic Liturgy were not to make any changes at all. The Holy See also prefers the
Church to celebrate the Qurbana completely facing the altar as per the Oriental tradition. This decision of the Synod, to this day, still remains on paper and has not yet been implemented in a good number of Arch/Dioceses.
The Oriental minded Arch/Dioceses have fallen prey to such a compromised formula despite clear instructions from the Holy See not to make any changes at all in those churches which have restored the once traditional Bema in the midst of the congregation and the authentic Liturgy. Prior to the Synodal decision, these Arch/Dioceses were celebrating the liturgy completely facing the altar as per our Oriental tradition. The latinised Arch/Dioceses have stuck to their pre-Synodal celebration of Qurbana completely facing the people but the Oriental minded Arch/Dioceses let loose and went ahead to implement a decision which was never meant for these Arch/Dioceses. The rubrics also mention that churches where the Bema has been restored, it would not be necessary for the celebrant to come to the Bema for the concluding rites of the liturgy, which would be celebrated from the questroma or sanctuary platform, facing the people. The once unfailingly recited repetitions during the Resurrection Hymn and Trisagion (which are onithas needing repetitions) have been done away with in many places with the introduction of 50/50 formula. Hymns are being replaced by any available devotional song in the market, thereby, reducing the congregation to be mere spectators!! Also, knowingly or unknowingly the priests rush to the Bema for the concluding rites! Why? Is it because of lack of experience or knowledge? One can understand those elderly priests/Bishops, who studied in Latin Seminaries and may not be knowing the Oriental Theology but what about the younger generation who studied in our Oriental Seminaries? Majority of our priests, Changanacherry is excluded, do not even know how to wear the liturgical vestments. I fail to understand as to why they wear Urara immediately after wearing Kottina. Orientals wear Zunara immediately after wearing Kottina and then only they should wear Urara. Same is the case with censer. Most of our Bishops and priests use both their hands while incensing. This is the Latin style as their censer is too long in size compared to ours. Orientals use only one hand while incensing. There are also a good number of Bishops and priests who begin the Qurbana by making the sign of the cross. Nowhere in the Taksha has it been mentioned to begin the Qurbana by making the sign of the cross. Why is it that our Bishops and priests can’t follow such simple things?? This is just a pure adoption of the Latin Church. The Taksha prescribes the timings for the faithful to stand, sit and kneel. However in a good number of churches during the Institution Narrative, people are observed kneeling down just like the Latin Church and at the completion a Charismatic Song (Yeshuve Natha...) is recited. Aren’t the priests to be blamed for misguiding the laity this way or for letting the laity dictate terms with the Holy Qurbana?? On feasts and occasions, our priests (especially outside Kerala) also have the tendency of carrying out Offertory processions - something which is totally alien to the
Church. Even the Latin Church has stopped using such a custom. When are we as a Church going to be matured enough to have our own identity instead of aping the Latin Church??
It is in this context that I would like to congratulate the Archdiocese of Changanacherry, for it is the only Arch/Diocese in the
Church today where “authentic” liturgy is being celebrated as per the Oriental tradition. The Oriental way of celebrating the Holy Qurbana needs to be restored in the
Church inorder to uphold our rich heritage. In the worst case, the decision may be left to the discretion of the celebrant whether to celebrate the Qurbana completely facing the altar or in a compromised manner of 50/50, but at least allow those priests who want to celebrate the Qurbana completely facing the altar and let the Bishops also set an example by celebrating authentic Qurbana. There are many priests who want to celebrate the Holy Qurbana completely facing the altar in all our Arch/Dioceses. There are many young priests who would love to celebrate the Qurbana facing the altar and they used to have repetition of prayers until the 50/50 formula was promulgated. But now they too have done away with the repetition of prayers. What a great loss to the Church because of the ignorance of some Bishops/priests who were trained in Latin Seminaries! Please allow those priests who want to celebrate authentic Qurbana wherever they may be.
I would also like to propose a humble suggestion for the Holy Synod’s consideration. At present most of our priests – whether newly ordained or old - do not know how to celebrate the Holy Qurbana, leave alone Raza Qurbana. After 10 to 12 years study in the Seminary to become a priest they lack practical knowledge on how to celebrate the Divine Liturgy! They may be attending the Holy Qurbana daily, like other laymen, but they lack practical knowledge as to how to celebrate the Holy Qurbana. Thus the very purpose of becoming a priest is defeated. One of the Orthodox Church priests from Kerala once told me that for them Holy Qurbana matters. It is compulsory for them to have thorough knowledge on how to celebrate Holy Qurbana properly before they can be ordained priests. Therefore, I would request the Holy Synod to kindly consider giving practical liturgical training to the seminarians so that they learn how to celebrate the Divine Liturgy and other divine services. In addition to practicums, focused presentations by faculty should augment the seminarians’ understanding of their place in the liturgical life of the Church and their broader vocation as a symbol to the faithful of the “diakonia” of Iso’ Misiha. The purpose of this concentrated liturgical training for seminarians is that everything in worship concerns us as the Church of God, makes us the living body of Iso’ Misiha, and concerns everybody, as living members of that body. The seminarians’ prominent role in worship requires that they study and learn the rubrics of the services. The training should aim to provide the seminarians with the skills needed to serve effectively in the Church as an attentive server, deacon, priest or future Bishop. Particular focus should be given to the typical celebration of the Raza Qurbana. Attention should be given to the liturgical patterns of movement that inform the entire rite of the Church. They should also receive guidance and instructions on the so-called “con-celebrations” so that they can effectively prepare for such occasions so as to avoid the dialogue like "through our hands", etc. Instructions on public speaking and vocal technique should also be given. The Divine Liturgy offers a unique witness of the Christian faith. Although there is a fake thinking that today's world has little patience for ancient and elaborate celebrations, our authentic Qurbana remains absolutely necessary. Anything authentic and inspirational has great value today in the minds of the faithful.
The newly built churches should be in line with the Oriental traditions with the focus solely on Mar Thoma Sliba rather than the crucifix. Priests need to be instructed to educate the laity on the symbolism of the Sliba and its importance to Mar Thoma Nazranis. Even the Holy Father during his recent visit to the
US carried the pastoral staff topped with a cross instead of a crucifix!! The celebration of ‘Divine Praises’ (Liturgy of the Hours) also needs to be encouraged across all churches and homes. It is a trend, across all churches and homes, to recite the rosary for any occasion be it evening prayers or prayer meetings. Majority of our people are unaware of the Divine Praises. The rosary devotion, which was introduced in the context of the Latin Church, is by no means an alternative for ‘Divine Praises’. Even the Latin church has restored its ‘Divine Praises’ but our priests and nuns still continue to think in the pre-Vatican II mediaeval era.
Finally, we should also have a proper liturgical centre in all our Arch/Dioceses where we can easily get all those things used in Divine Liturgy like for example Mar Thoma Sliba, Casa, Peelasa, Censer, Lectionaries (Evangalion (Peshita version only), Engarta, Qerjane), Thaksa d-Quddasa, M-Qablana, Sankeenj, Ketana, Kottina, Zunara, Urara, Zande, Paina(Kappa), Soseppa and so on. What we are getting today is just a copy of the latin stuff. We need to improve upon these items especially Casa (In the Archdiocese of Kottayam, we can see our original Casa being used according to Oriental tradition. It has sufficient height. The Orientals use such Casa and not the short one which is presently available in the market and even in our Arch/Diocesan controlled shops and institutions), the Urara (It should have sufficient length and width. The one which is presently in use is not according to our tradition and hence it has to be improved upon), Censer and so on. We should also design the candles to be used during Divine Liturgy. We should not use whatever is available in the market. We should design these according to Oriental traditions. These days, everybody is promoting POC Bible! Why do we promote POC Bible?? Who taught us to use the word Yesu for our Lord Iso’ Misiha? Under what authority are we teaching our children to call Iso’ Misiha as Yesu? The Bishops should instruct those sisters who are still making the Latin Y-Kappas to discontinue the same forthwith. All our sisters should be educated according to our tradition. Today these sisters are the latinising agents in our church. By October they will decorate the altar with a very big Rosary. I have travelled all over
India and I have never seen such decorations even in Latin Churches, but in Kerala our sisters are very fond of decorating the altar with Rosary in October. Given an opportunity to arrange an altar for Holy Qurbana, they will arrange it in such a way that the priest can celebrate the Qurbana facing the people. Our elderly priests have received training in Latin Seminaries but why are these sisters being trained in latin way? This is the problem with our priests also. Is it not because of lack of awareness among our priests and nuns? Thus, given an opportunity, even our priests will arrange the altar in such a way that they can look at the people and celebrate the Holy Qurbana. This situation should be stopped.
The Synodal decision of 1999 is an adjustment. Majority of our Bishops and priests are practicing the theology of adjustments. They get this formation in the seminary itself. They adjust everything including liturgy. We can see this adjustment in the spiritual and moral life also. It is absurd in claiming ourselves to be Oriental when there exists nothing oriental in the
Church today. With the unanimous decision of the Synod to celebrate the Qurbana against the structure and theology of this Church, the hierarchy has declared that they are no more Orientals. The so-called oriental bishops asserted that if the faction led by the Major Archbishop does not implement the decision they would also withdraw from the decision. But they were very zealous to implement it! The Major Archbishop could at least personally celebrate it. But he also did not. Thus, the decision of the Synod was a calculated move to destroy the liturgy of this Church. Now they continue the same trend. The role of the authorities in the Church is primarily to foray, study and hand over the Holy Tradition through liturgical celebrations. At present they are preoccupied with administrative matters. Thus, the priorities are toppled.
The problems of Marthoma Nazranis began with the arrival of foreign colonialists. They are gone. But their by-products (latinised Bishops and Priests) create trouble now. Today’s problems are the creation of past four hundred years. Our forefathers struggled hard to preserve our identity. But today, many try to destroy our faith, our identity, our Indianised Syriac Christian spirituality, our Church itself. Whatever His Eminence, Cardinal Tisserant and Rev Fr Placid Podipara had restored after laborious study and research is being systematically destroyed by the hierarchy of this Church today.
To conclude, our East Syriac liturgy is a treasure which ought not to succumb to compromised and accommodated solutions that have no effect on the overall growth of the Church.
Craving for your Beatitude’s/Graces’/Lordships’ blessings
Yours in Iso’ Misiha,
Team ‘The Nazrani’
His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI,
His Eminence Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Secretary of State,
His Eminence Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Prefect of the Oriental Congregation,
His Excellency Archbishop Pedro Lopez Quintana, Apostolic Nuncio to