Friday, November 19, 2010

Syro-Malabar Mass

In order to have a greater sense of participation in our Eucharistic celebration, it would be immensely beneficial if we come to know a little bit about the history , the development and the structure of our Eucharistic prayer. Every Rite grows around its liturgy and the Liturgy of the Eucharist is the shaping force of the religious values and traditions of the people belonging to that rite. As one of the Fathers of the Church has put it, liturgy is the melody of theology.

It has to be pointed out at the outset that the faithful following the Syro-Malabar rite have lost that intimate link with the Liturgy that people belonging to other rites experience. Many historical reasons are responsible for such a disconnection.

The Christians of Kerala were following the East Syrian Liturgy from the 4th C. But with the Synod of Diamper in 1599 A.D., there took place a great upheaval in the liturgical traditions of St.Thomas Christians. From that time onwards the faithful began to follow the traditions of the Latin rite, although the liturgical language remained Aramaic. When the liturgical reform took place with the introduction of Malayalam as the liturgical language in 1962, the faithful began to understand the meaning of their liturgical celebrations more clearly, but it caused again another disconnection. Also the revisions of the text of the Mass done in 1968 and in 1985 have made people more unfamiliar with the liturgy. It would take decades for the people to become accustomed to their liturgy and to establish a very strong and vital intimacy with it.

Once we grasp the nature and structure of the mass and begin to fall in love with that, we will develop the same attachment to our liturgy as other Eastern Rite Catholics have towards theirs.

One may ask why we should go back to the old instead of sticking with the one that we were accustomed to. The response is that it is in the nature of things that we keep to the original. We cannot use a truncated liturgical tradition. Either we use what we had before or create something new. It is not in the history of liturgical traditions that one creates a new liturgy. Moreover, the present liturgy is our patrimony , what our forefathers kept from the 4th C to the 16th. This was the liturgy of the St. Thomas Christians of Kerala, before the community got divided into several denominations.

The Eucharistic prayer that we are using now developed in Edessa, a city of northeastern Syria, near the frontier between the Roman Empire and Persia. After the Council of Ephesus (A.D.431), Edessa became Nestorian and was later occupied by the Arabs.

It would be interesting to find out why Edessa was prominent in the historical development of different rites. We have to know first the political division of the world of that time. When Emperor Constantine moved the capital of the Roman empire from Rome to the site of the ancient city of Byzantium in 330 A.D., Constantinople (Byzantium) assumed great political prominence. The see of Constantinople began to get prominence after the See of Rome. Other centers of prominence were Antioch and Alexandria. The Liturgical celebrations in these centers achieved great prominence and they began to be considered as different rites later. Of these, Edessa was the only Christian center outside the Roman Empire and this came under the Persian Empire. Edessa, thus, became a great center of Syriac-speaking Christians.

When the Portuguese came to Kerala, they found the Eucharistic prayer of Addai and Mari being used among the Christians of Kerala.

According to Louis Bouyer, the Eucharistic Prayer of the Syro-Malabar rite is one of the most ancient Eucharistic prayers in the Christian world. “Everything leads to believe that this prayer is the most ancient Christian Eucharistic composition to which we can we have access today. It is modeled after the pattern of the Jewish prayers over the last cup of the meal.”(Eucharist, p.147). According Lucien Deiss, another scholar on the Eucharist, this prayer is “very close to Jewish blessings and has a prodigious history”

Louis Bouyer points out the Semitic character of this Eucharistic prayer by showing that this follows very closely the prayers that Our Lord used at the Last Supper. What we find is that the words used in the Eucharist come from the Jewish prayer over meals. Like other people of his country, Our Lord has also used the Jewish prayer over meals. They are either known as Beraka( short prayers of blessings) or Berakoth( which are long ones).According to him, “The Eucharist of Addai and Mari remains based on the Jewish meal Berakoth, to the point that like them it is still composed not of one but three prayers.”(p.158).

The Development of the Eucharist in the Church:

It has been almost established that the prayer used by Jesus at the time of Last Supper was the common grace-Brikath ha-Mazon-the prayer of thanksgiving at the end of the meals. The three main topics in the Jewish prayer were the following: creation, revelation (giving of the Law), and redemption. “Prayer is based on thanking God for these things or blessing him for them. In the Birkath ha Mazon, God is blessed in the first paragraph for creating the world; in the second for giving his people food ; and in the third , prayer is made for the restoration of Jerusalem.”( Prayers of the Eucharist,Jasper and Cuming,p.7)

“These prayers that Jesus uttered at the supper are the origin and model of the Church’s Eucharistic prayer, or Anaphora. It was called a eucharistia , a Greek word that means thanksgiving and designates both the prayer and thanksgiving recited in imitation of the prayer of Jesus.

“At the supper of Jesus there were two separate and distinct prayers of thanksgiving, one for the bread and one for the cup, whereas in the mass there is only one, the Eucharistic prayer or anaphora which embraces both the bread and the cup.” (The Celebration of the Eucharist,Mazza,p.21)

“The ritual of Jewish meal was traced back to the divine command given in Deuteronomy 8:10. “ You shall eat your fill and bless the Lord your God for the good land that he has given you.”

“The purpose of the prayer is not to change the meal into a sacred meal, but to acknowledge the gift of God…Whenever there is a meal, provided it consists in something more than a medium-sized olive, the Birkat ha –Mazon is said.(Mazza,15)

There is no fixed model for these prayers as it was not customary to have the prayer written down. But some have made a tentative reconstruction of those prayers. Here is a model:

“Blessed are you ,Lord our God, King of the universe, who feed the whole world in goodness, kindness, and mercy. Blessed are you, Lord, who feed the universe.

“We thank you Lord ,Our God, who have given us as an inheritance a desirable land, that we might eat of its fruits and nourish ourselves on its goodness. Blessed are you ,Lord, our God, for the land and the food.

Have mercy ,Lord our God, on Israel you people and on Jerusalem your city and on Zion the dwelling place of your glory and on your altar and sanctuary. Blessed are Lord, who build Jerusalem”(Mazza,p.16)

The First Eucharistic Liturgies:

The Didache and the Apostolic Constitutions (Hippolytus) are the earliest records which show the beginnings of the eucharistic liturgy. In these early prayers, one finds the adaptation of Jewish meal prayers by the Christians for the Eucharistic worship.

The Didache whose full title is the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles was discovered in 1875.It is now generally accepted that it was most probably written in the first C. Syria. The work is the earliest known example of a Church Order. Chs.9 and 14 deal with Eucharistic celebrations(J&C,p.20).

Didache was incorporated into Bk. VII of the Apostolic Constitutions in a re-written form. The following is the ritual of the earliest Eucharistic worship:

“Concerning the Eucharist give thanks in this way:

First over the cup:

We give thanks to Thee, Our Father, for the holy vine of David, thy servant,which thou madest known to Thy servant,Jesus.

And for the broken bread:

We give thanks to Thee Our Father, for the life and knowledge, which thou madest known to us through thy servant ,Jesus.

As this broken bread was scattered upon the hills…so let thy Church be gathered together into Thy Kingdom.

The Apostolic Constitutions(Hippolytus) appears to have been written around 215 A.D. and hence gives another account of the earliest version of the Eucharistic prayer. It reflects the Roman tradition that was practiced some fifty years earlier. This is extant in Latin, Coptic, Arabic and Ethiopian versions.

Special Features of the Eastern Rite Liturgies:

The following are some of he special features of the Eastern liturgies and the Syro-Malabar Eucharistic liturgy too exhibits the same features.

1. The presence of an Icon Screen: this screen separates the sanctuary and altar from the nave where people gather. It may be viewed either as a link or a point of separation. From the former perspective, icon screen is the meeting place between heaven and earth. As point of separation, it emphasizes the transcendence of God. In the Syro-Malabar rite , a veil is used instead of the icon screen.

2. Offertory rite:

In the Oriental liturgies, the preparation of bread and wine occurs at a side altar before the public part of the Eucharist begins.


Oriental liturgies have always attributed the actual real presence of Christ on the altar to the particular action of the Holy Spirit.

The Structure of The Eucharistic Prayer of the Syro-Malabar Rite:

In our Eucharistic prayer we have four long prayers which the celebrant says with an inclined head .They are known as Gahanta and there are other prayers said by the priest in a low voice which are known as Kusappa. The celebrant recites these prayers (kusappa)silently in order to express his unworthiness before the Lord and the people. The long prayers or Gahanta are the prayers used by the Jews in their prayer over meals.

Syro-Malabar Mass—Parts and Organization

(Bp.A.D. Mattom)

The mass can divided into three sections

1. Introduction---also called Enarxis ----up to “Saklathiinteyum Natha…”

2.Mass of the Catechumens---until the washing of the hands.

3.Mass of the Faithful---From the washing of the hands until the end of the mass.

The Mass of the Faithful can be divided into three parts.

A. Preparation for the Anaphora. From the washing until the prayer: Njangalude Daivamaya karthave.

B. AnaphoraFrom the first Gahantha to the end of the Epiclesis

C. Post-anaphora---up to the end of the mass.



Begins with the song of praise sung by the angels at the birth of our Lord. Was in practice before 11thC. The Our Father at the beginning of the mass was added by Catholicos Timotheos 1(821)

After the psalms, the blessing of the incense. Incensing indicates the prayers rising to heaven. Also refers to the sacrifice of the Old Testament.

Then the Prayer, Njangalude Karthave

Before this prayer, the veil is drawn aside.

The veil: a symbol indicating respect for the sacrifice

Reminds us of the veil of the Jewish Temple, separating the Holy of Holies.

Only the Mass of the Faithful was done in the Madbhaha. The rest on the Bema—During that time, the offerings were arranged on the altar by the deacon---hence the separation.

Mass of the Catechumens:

The Jews used to read the Scriptures (the Law and the Prophets) on the Sabbath in the synagogues. The priests/elders would then interpret them…..The Mass of the Catechumens was the occasion to teach those who were preparing to receive the baptism.

The following are the parts of this Synogogal section:

1. Parisundhanaya Daivame

2. The Epistle

3. Sumara—the Song before the Gospel

4. The Gospel

5. Karosoosa

6. Preparation of the hosts and the wine

7. Kaiveppu prayer(Blessing)

8. Dismissal of the catechumens.

Parisudhana Deivame:…This is known as Trisagion. Thrice Holy.Used in all the Oriental rites.Became part of the mass around 5th c. The Holy Trinity is being referred to. In the Antiochian,Armenian and Coptic rites—this refers to the Son.

In ordinary masses, in the place of Sumara(partsof psalms), Halleluiah is being sung.

In the solemn mass called the Raza, two readings from the OT and a reading from the Epistles are taken.

After the Gospel(The Gospel is always carried in a procession), Karosouza---

Bread and wine are prepared at tables known as Bez Gaza placed on either side of the


Before the dismissal of the Catechumens, there is a blessing by the celebrant. In earlier days, the doors of the church were closed after this blessing as the next part of the mass is reserved only for the faithful.

Mass of the Faithful:

Preparation for the Anaphora:

Washing of the hands

Procession of the gifts

Oniza de Raza(Song sung at the time of the procession of the gifts)

Offerings placed on the altar



Procession to the altar

Silent Prayer(Kusappa)

Washing of the hands indicates the purity of mind that is required of the celebrant.

Oniza De Raza is the song sung at the time of the procession of gifts to the altar…..Karthavil Njan drudmayai saranappettu)

Then the offertory.

The song after this is the continuation of the Oniza de Raze(the Bl. Virgin Mary , the Apostles, etc are remembered.

The creed is recited after this.

From the 6th C. onwards the custom of reciting the creed came into being as there were a lot of schismatic tendencies existing in the church. In the Latin rite, it was officially introduced by Benedict V111(1012-1024).

In the Karosouza by the server, prayers are offered for all.

Now the procession to the Madbahaha—the Bishop and the priests together…


1.First Gahantha

2.The offer of peace


4.DoxologyNammude Karthavisomishihayude

5Ninglaude Bodhangal

6.Second Gahantha and Doxology

7.Sanctus---karthavum Balavanumaya Deivam Parisudhan

8.Third Gahantha

9.Words of Consecration


11.Intercessory prayer

12.Fourth Gahantha


Each Gahantha is accompanied by prayers before and after and hence is seen to be a cycle of prayers.

In the first Gahantha, the priest praises God for the graces received from Him and acknowledges the mercy of God in enabling him to offer the sacrifice.

The offering of peace is a symbol of the unity that should exist among the faithful.

The Sursum Corda dialogue---It was in existence in the Roman rite from the 3rd c but was introduced in the Chaldean rite from the 6th c.

The Second Gahantha ---praises the Trinity along with the multitudes of angels.

The response is Sanctus—Parisudhan , parisudhan…existing in all the rites. The first part is from Isaiah third chapter. Another part is from St.Matthew’s Gospel21,9.

Third Gahantha—the most beautiful prayer—the whole history of salvation is summarized in this prayer.

The words of Consecration:


Intercessory prayer---

Fourth Gahantha:

The Bl.Virgin Mary is commemorated.Prayers for peace and tranquility are made.

Epiclesis_--an important aspect of the Oriental Rite.

In many Oriental rites, prayers are offered to the Holy Spirit to change the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ.

It was the Council of Florence(1439) that proclaimed that the change into the body and blood would happen when the priest as the representative of Christ recited the words of Consecration.


Prayers of repentance


Breaking of the bread



Prayers of Repentance---Psalm 51.

The Structure of the Latin Mass

The Liturgy of the Word (the Synagogue service)

Preface (Father, you are holy indeed)—gratitude—(doing the function of a Gahanta)

Consecratory Epiclesis

Institutional Narrative-On the night he was betrayed---

Proclamation of faith

Memorial—anamnesis—Calling to mind the death..

Communion Invocation—epiclesis


Doxology—Through him , with him…

The structure of the Syro-Malabar Mass

Eight Parts

Introductory Part—(up to the Uthana geetham)

Liturgy of the Word(from the Trisagion upto the readings)

Offertory(up to the grand entrance)

Anaphora-4 cycles of Gahanta—each one with 4 prayers

Reconciliation—preparation for communion

Breaking of the Host—(Death and Resurrection)

The Lord’s Prayer--Unity

Concluding prayers

Meaning of terms and symbols used in the mass:

Madbhaha: Sanctuary---the place of the altar—heaven kept hidden by a veil—dbhah= to sacrifice

Altar: The sepulcher of Christ---also the place of Resurrection

Hykala: the place of the faithful—symbol of the whole earth.

Bema: Jerusalem---the place of salvation ---the center of the world.

Procession from the Sanctuary to the Bema: a movement from heaven to the world---the mystery of the incarnation---the incarnation and manifestation of the Lord.

Approach to the Altar: QurbanaQreb—to come near

(Preparation for the approach

Dismissal of the unworthy

Prostrations on the Bema

Washing of the hands

Procession-entrance creed

Three times bowing)

= Entry to heaven

Liturgy of the Word: The procession of the Gospel—a preparation for the passion---solemn entry into Jerusalem

Also the advent of the Lord from heaven to Jerusalem.

The descent of the Gospel and its placing on the altar---symbolizes crucifixion.

The Gospel procession between the sanctuary and the Bema---the incarnation, the earthly ministry, the teaching of the Lord,the passion,death , resurrection and ascension.

Karosusa: Proclamation—all the readings and the homily are parts of this proclamation…


The Eucharistic celebration is in the East Syriac tradition is known also Raza=mystery of Christ.

The whole Eucharistic celebration may be seen as a series of repeated commemorations of the paschal mystery of Christ. According to commentators, the preparation of the mysteries on the beth gezzas and their transfer to the altar ,placing on the altar and covering with veil symbolize the passion , death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Another title for the Eucharist is Quaddasa---It means sanctification, consecration or hallowing. The term Quaddasa has both the anabatic(ascending) and katabatic(descending) dimensions.In the anabatic dimension, this term is much similar to the term eucharistia—sanctification of God.

The anaphora of A&M contains the eucharistia which reflects the same basic structure of Birkat Ha Mason.

The term Quddasa in the Katabatic dimention means sanctification or consecration of the mysteries and of the assembly.

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