Let us pray, peace be with us:

"The Cross that has been the cause of our good and by which our mortal humanity was set free,
O Lord, be for us a strong fortress. And by this Cross, we shall overcome the wicked one and All his devices."

(Syro-Malabar Qurbana)

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                     THE NAZRANI        “The Truth will make you free”

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------            Vol.19, No. 4                       New Delhi              April 2009                         --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Qyamteh d-Maran alaik : Qyamta u-Hudatha alaik = "Let our Lord's Resurrection be with you: Resurrection, Life and Renewal be with you"!    

The Evangalion of Yohannan Sleeha tells of the encounter of Magdalena Mariam with the Risen Iso' at the empty tomb. Magdalena Mariam weeps, believing that someone has taken the Lord's Body away. Iso’ approaches her and asks her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?" Not recognizing the Lord at first, she asks Him if He knows where the body of her Master has been taken. Iso' replies, "Mariam" and immediately she recognizes Him.


In this passage we witness a profound encounter between the Lord and His servant. Simply by saying her name, Iso' transforms Magdalena Mariam's lamentation into joy. What a difference even one word, spoken at a critical moment, can make in one's life.


Writing on this passage, St. Ambrose of Milan offers an important insight into the nature of faith. He states that by asking Magdalena Mariam, "Whom do you seek?" the Lord was in effect saying: "You are the cause of your own weeping; you are the author of your own lamentation, because you are disbelieving of Iso' M'siha. Believe and you will see Him."


Looking at the world from the perspective of belief makes a profound difference in what we see. The homeless person that we pass on the street, through the eyes of faith, is recognized as a living icon of the living God. The crying child in our arms, through the eyes of faith, is embraced as a sacred trust that God has given us to raise according to His Way. The struggles and toils of daily life, through the eyes of faith, are known to be the Cross which we are called to take up as disciples of our Lord, Iso' M'siha.


"Believe and you will see Him." The reality of the Qyamta, the Resurrection, witnessed through the eyes of faith, changes everything. No longer do we need to be subject to sorrow or fear. Christ is Risen, and nothing can take His victorious gift of everlasting life away from us. The holy confessors and martyrs were well aware of this. This awareness gave them the courage to stay the course of their faith, under the greatest of hardships. Even facing the threat of death, through the eyes of faith, they were acutely aware of the Victor of death strengthening and comforting them.


It is only through our belief that we behold the full splendor and beauty of Qyamta, the Resurrection. With the eyes of faith on Qyamta we become witnesses to the complete and ultimate victory of life over death, of freedom over captivity, of God over the evil one. "Trampling down death by death," our Risen Lord and Saviour     Iso' M'siha grants new life to all who believe in Him as King and as God.


The Nazrani greets all its viewers and well wishers on this radiant feast. May we celebrate the most-holy day of Qyamta, the Resurrection with faith and love. May the triumphant brilliance of our Lord Iso' M'siha's resurrection fill our lives with joy and peace. "Believe and we will see Him." 


Female Altar Servers in the Latin Church and in the Syro-Malabar  Church - A Brief Study


Bishop Mar Abraham D Mattam


A news item was reported in The Hindu and some Malayalam dailies that a decision has been taken to permit girls to serve as Altar Girls in some Latin and Syro-Malabar dioceses. The Deepika on March 28, 2006 reported under the heading “From now on girls also to the Altar”, that Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil and Archbishop SoosaI Pakiam of Trivandrum (Latin) have given permission to girls in the respective Archdioceses to serve as altar girls. The report further says that the permission is based on a document of the Roman Congregation for Sacraments and following discussions at the KCBC (Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council). The Hindu dated March 17, 2006 with the headline “Girls permitted to perform altar duties” report says: “The Syro-Malabar Archbishop of Ernakulam-Angamaly has taken a tentative step towards a break with the past to permit girls to serve at the altar in place of boys…What is important is the acceptability of the practices he (the spokesman) added.  The permission comes in the wake of discussions at the Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council to let the various Catholic dioceses decide whether or not to use the services of girls at the altar”.  This is what prompted me to make a brief study on the matter.


Some very important questions are involved here if the report is correct.  To what extent is a document of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Sacraments applicable to the Oriental Churches?  Is the Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council the forum for discussion or decision on matters related to liturgical discipline of an Oriental Church?  The Congregation for Sacraments deals only with the Latin Church.  The corresponding Roman Dicastery for Orientals is the congregation for the Oriental Churches. The repercussions of the report are bound to be very wide, one may say world-wide. The report in The Hindu and the Malayalam dailies have come to the attention of lakhs of people, Catholics, non-Catholic Christians and Hindus. The Catholic and Orthodox Churches do not permit girls to serve at the altar. At the Hindu yanjya conducted Brahmin priests, women are not usually allowed to take any active role in the ceremonies. In the Indian tradition for greeting, men and women do not usually shake hand, but only say namaste with folded hands.  What was printed is available also on websites, and I believe, many people must have been confused and dismayed.


After the publication of the report I was trying to find out what exactly was the Instruction of the Roman Congregation and I could trace from the Vatican Website the text and a commentary regarding the subject under the title “Female Altar Servers” on Canon 230.2, in Living Tradition, an Organ of the Roman theological Forum published from U.S.A. The commentary is written by Msgr. John Editor of Living Tradition. And this is the story.  Canon 230.2 of the Code of Canon Law of the Latin Church reads: “Lay person (laici) by temporary deputation may fulfill the function of lector during liturgical services; likewise all lay persons (laici) may carry out functions of commentator and cantor and other functions”. A query had been raised to the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative texts, “Whether, among the liturgical functions lay persons, men and women, may exercise according to Canon 230.2 of the code of Canon Law, may also be included service at the altar (servitium ad altare). The answer given by the Pontifical Council on 30th June 1992, was:  


Yes, and in accordance with instructions to be given by the Apostolic See”.


The affirmative answer of the Council was confirmed on 11th July, 1992 by Pope John Paul II.  Consequently in an official letter addressed to Presidents of Episcopal Conferences, Cardinal Antonio M. Javierre, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Sacraments, while conveying this information, presented a four point Instruction. Though the Instruction of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Sacraments concern only the Latin church, in the present circumstances let us (of the Syro-Malabar Church) have a close look at Canon 230 as a whole, and in particular the contents of the present Instruction on the application of Can. 230.2


This Can. 230 (which contains paragraphs, 1,2, & 3) deals with the role of the laity in liturgical services. Can. 230. 1 reads: “Lay men who possess the age and qualifications determined by decree of the conference of bishops can be installed on a stable basis in the ministries of lector and acolyte in accord with the prescribed liturgical rite…”  Thus it provides for lay ministries of lector or reader and acolytes on a stable basis; but it is limited to men.  (In USA, for example, the minimum age fixed is eighteen).


Can. 230. 2 speaks of temporary deputation of laypersons (laici) to certain liturgical functions which we have quoted above.  Now, coming to the four point Instruction, No. 1 says: “Canon 230.2 has a permissive and not a perceptive character…In fact, it is the competence of each bishop, in his diocese, after hearing the opinion of the Episcopal conference, to make a prudential judgment on what to do….”


No. 2 of the Instruction says: “The Holy See respects the decision adopted by certain bishops for specific local reasons on the basis of provision of Can. 230. 2. At the same time, however, the Holy See wishes to recall that it will always be appropriate to follow the noble tradition of having boys serve at the altar….” (Some bishops had deputed female altar servers before the authoritative interpretation of the can. was given).


No. 3: “If in some dioceses on the basis of can. 230.2 the bishop permits that, for particular reason, women may also serve at  the altar, this decision must clearly be explained to the faithful in the light of the above mentioned norm…”


No. 4 : “It must also be clearly understood that the liturgical services that are mentioned above are carried out by lay people “ex temporanea deputatione” (by temporary deputation) according to the judgment of the bishop, without lay people, be they men or women, having any right to exercise them”.


A few Observations:


From what has been quoted above a few observations may be made:


a) The Instruction says “female” does not distinguish between girls and adult female.


b) Can. 230.1 says “in accord with liturgical rite”.  It means a rite of the Latin Church.


c) Instruction 1 of the present communication “competence of each bishop after hearing the opinion of the Episcopal conference of the Latin Church.  Even though the bishop is allowed to take the decision he has to seek the opinion of the Episcopal conference of the country.


d) The Instruction speaks of particular pastoral reasons in a diocese to permit temporary deputation of female altar servers.  It may be that in some dioceses of the West and America the number of practicing Catholics has come down and men or boys may not be coming forward to serve at the altar.


General Instruction of the Roman Missal (1970) nos. 65-68 deals with special ministries in the Mass, that could be entrusted to men, that of the Acolyte, Reader and the Cantor which are more important.  No. 65 on the office of the acolyte reads: “The acolyte is instituted to serve at the altar to assist the priest and the deacon. In particular it is for him to prepare the altar and the vessels and, as a special minister of the eucharist, to give communion to the faithful”. Other ministries in the sanctuary include those who carry the missal, the cross, candles, bread, wine, water and the thurible.


Liturgical Norm of the Syro-Malabar Church


According to the norms prescribed by the Holy See for the Syro-Malabar Church only priests, deacons, clerics and servers are to be allowed in the sanctuary. Other laymen who are not serving at the function are not to be admitted in the sanctuary; and women of whatever condition are not to be permitted in the sanctuary, for whatever reason.


Ordo Celebrationis Quddasa published in Rome, 1950, lays down the norm: “In sanctuario nemo admitatur preater sacredotes, diaconos, clricos et inservientes.  Laicis qui cultui diivino non cooperant, nullus in sanctuario detur locus, eoque minus mulieribus cujuscunque sint con ditionis et qualibet causa  (p. 4, n. 5).


Canon Law on Obligation of Hierarchs


Can. 40.1 of the Oriental Code states on the obligation of the Head of the church (Patriarchs) and other hierarchs: “Hierarchs who preside over Churches sui juris and all other hierarchs are to see most carefully to the faithful protections and accurate observance of their own rite, and not admit changes in it except by reason of its organic growth, keeping in mind, however, mutual will and the unity of Christians.


Regarding Laity


Canon 405 of CCEC lays down as below:


Lay persons should study zealously their liturgical, spiritual, theological and disciplinary patrimony, so that mutual good will, esteem and unity of action between the lay members of different Churches sui juris is fostered, and so that the variety of rites does not harm the common good of the society in which they live, but rather may daily lead more to the same good.


The Pontifical of the Syro-Malabar and Chaldean Churches prescribes two minor orders, that of the Karoya (Lector) and the Hepdyakna (Subdeacon) and the major order of M’samsana (deacon) to serve at the altar and assist the priest in the liturgy, and according to the tradition of these Churches there were married deacons. The Antiochean (Malankara) Church has the Minor Orders of Samrono (Cantor) Karoyo (Lector) and Hepdyakna, and The Syro-Malabar Synod has decided to allow married deacons after the prescribed training and course of studies. Likewise laymen could be ordained lector and sub deacon to serve at the altar. The Synod has been studying the subject for the past few years though a decision has not been taken in this regard. Only men are ordained to these liturgical offices.  The prohibition of women in the sanctuary is to be understood in this background.




In the East Syriac Church, and also in some other Churches, there used to be the office of deaconesses, but it was not considered a sacrament.  At the installation of the deaconess the Holy Spirit was not invoked. Their service was mainly needed in the baptism and confirmation which took place in the baptistery. The person being baptized was anointed not just on the forehead but over the body, and in the case of adult women it was not proper for the bishop or the priest to perform the anointing ceremony; therefore the service of the deaconess was utilized for the purpose.


Fr. Percy Badger in his book Nestorians and their Rituals, gives the Ordination service of bishops, and in the Prayer of the Imposition of hands the ordaining bishop he supplicates explicitly for conferring of power of ordaining deaconesses: “……and that through the power of Thy gift he may make priest and deacons, sub-deacons and deaconesses for the ministry of Thy holy Church” (see Rev. George Percy badger, Nestorians and their Rituals, Vol. II, London, 1852, p. 346).


The Syro-Malabar Pontifical in Syriac printed in Rome in 1957 contains similar words: “Grant that by the power of Your gift he may make priests, deacons (masamsana), sub-deacons (Heupadyakna), Lectors (Karoye) and deaconesses (msamsanyasa) for the ministry of Your Holy Church” (p. 287).


It is important to note that though she is called deaconess, her rank is only after that of the Karoya, which indicates it was not considered a sacramental order as that of the deacon.


The Manuscripts of “Joseph Metropolitan of India’ preserved in Vatican Library give the rite of Ordination of the Deaconesses.  Assemani has given a Latin translation of the text.  (See, Codex Liturgicus, XIII, pp. 219-222).


Regarding the qualities required of a deaconess it is stated: “a sister from the nuns who is fairly advanced in age, who is rich in the task of monastic life” is chosen for the office.


Minor Orders suppressed in the Latin Church


Pope Paul VI, by the Apostolic Letter (Motu Proprio) Ministeria Quaedam dated 15 August 1972 suppressed in the Latin Church tonsure, minor orders and the sub-diaconate. As substitute the same Apostolic Letter authorized Episcopal Conferences (Latin) to install lay men, having the required age and qualities, for the ministries of lector and acolyte, with a liturgical rite. As sub-deaconate was eliminated the acolyte performs the services formerly  assigned to the sub-deacon.  (See, The Code of Canon Law, Text and Commentary, India edition, Theological Publications in India, Bangalore, 1995, pp. 167.ff).


The new regulations in the Latin Church do not affect the practice of the Oriental Churches, which continue the norm of conferring the minor Orders as earlier, according to their Oriental tradition. We have mentioned above, the Pontifical of the Syro-Malabar and Chaldean Churches prescribes the holy Orders of Karoya and Hepdyakna.


Parallel to Can. 230.2 of the Latin Law is Can. 408.2 of Eastern Code which is not exactly the same.  It has an additional clause exempting functions of Holy Orders and is below: “Besides those ecclesiastical functions to which lay persons are by common law admitted they may be also admitted by a competent authority to other functions, excepting those which require holy order or which are expressly forbidden to lay persons by the particular law of their own Churches”.


Commentary on Oriental Churches


The Commentary of Msgr. John McCarthy in Living Tradition regarding Instruction on Canon 230.2, in the course of his article writes about the question of its applicability to the Oriental Churches, which is very pertinent for the Syro-Malabar Church. In his words: “This authentic interpretation does not affect the liturgical discipline of the Eastern Rites of the Catholic church with its prohibition of women altar servers. Can 408.2 of the Code of Canons of Eastern Churches is parallel to Canon 230 of the Latin Code of Canon Law in as much as it states that lay persons “may be admitted for other functions also except for those which require a Holy Order or which by the particular legislation of an individual self-standing church are expressly forbidden to lay persons”. In fact, in all of the Eastern Rites, service of females at the altar is excluded by liturgical law. The authentic interpretation of Can. 230.2 of the Latin-rite Code, since it is not a mere clarification of words but actually a modification of the canon imposed by authority for particular pastoral reasons in the Latin church, cannot be invoked by way of analogy an interpretation of Eastern Canon Law. Furthermore, the authentic interpretation requires Instructions to be given by the Apostolic See. If instructions in this regard were ever to be emitted by the Holy See for a liturgical practice of the Eastern Churches as a whole, these instructions would normally be put out by the Oriental Congregation for the Oriental Churches, which has competence in this areas, and not by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, which is not competent over the Eastern Rites of the Churches” (Living Tradition, St. Louis, January 1995).




A clarification as regards the organization of the church in India will be useful.  There is the Synod (General Body of the Bishops of the Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara), the CCBI (Conference of Catholic Bishops of India – of the Latin Church), the CBCI (Catholic Bishops Conference of India - or the General Body of the Bishops of the three Churches in India), and 12 Inter-Ecclesial Zonal Councils.  One of the 12 is the KCBC (Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council). Some mistakenly call it a Conference instead of Council.


Really there is only one Conference in India, CCBI. The General body of the Latin Bishops in a country or nation is officially known as Conference.  When the Statutes of the CBCI were revised after the formation of three separate Ecclesial Bodies it was suggested that the Inter-Ecclesial Body be called Assembly as in other countries, for example, Assembly of the Catholic Hierarchy in Egypt, Assembly of the Catholic Hierarchy in Syria. (See Annuario Pontificio, section under La Gerarchia Cattolica).  But it was argued by some that the CBCI is an established term in official dealing with the Government and the public and a change of name would cause many difficulties.  So finally the Holy See permitted to retain the old term though it is not strictly a Conference.


In India, for many years the practice was to have common Commissions of the three churches for liturgy and Catechesis.  But realizing that Liturgy and Catechesis (which has to be different as each church has its own ecclesial and liturgical traditions) to abandon the common Commissions for these two topics and leave them to each Individual Church.


Feminist Movement and Ordination of Women to Priesthood


For the past several decades the Feminist Movement advocating equality of men and women in the society has been widespread in the West and denial of priesthood to women is attributed as gender discrimination. It is contended that the reason why women were not raised to priesthood during the early Christian centuries may be the general attitude towards women in the society, and not the will of Christ. Some of the Protestant Churches approved ordination of women and introduced the practice. Certain Protestant sections have ordained women bishops as well. When the question of ordination of women arose in the Anglican Communion, since that would affect the process of ecumenical dialogue Paul VI wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury the position of the Catholic Church on June 30, 1975: “She (Catholic Church) holds that it is not admissible to ordain women to the priesthood for very fundamental reasons”.


Some Catholic writers supported view and said theologically women could be ordained priests. Therefore, in order to put a stop to such speculations, Pope John Paul II in his Apostolic Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis of May 22, 1994, wrote: “Although the teaching that priestly ordination to be reserved to men alone has been preserved by the constant and universal tradition of the Church and firmly taught by the Magisterium in its more recent documents, at the present time in some places it is nonetheless considered still open to debate, or the judgment that women are not to be admitted to ordination is considered to have merely disciplinary force. Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church’s divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren, I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful”.


Pope Benedict XVI has reaffirmed this teaching of the Church


But at the same time the Popes held that women must be given greater share and responsibility in the Church and society as a whole. Catholic Church authorities also were influenced by the feminist movement and started to think, to what extent then could we go. If not to be ordained why not permit them to serve at the altar?  Taking up the cause of women in place and out of place might be considered as forward looking and progressive.


There are ever so many Christian sects taking shape in the Catholic Church and other Christian denominations, which do not accept the Catholic teaching. Suppose I am to ordain a woman for one of these groups perhaps I may be hailed as a hero by the feminists in various countries. But by so doing I would be betraying the Church and my precious vocation as a Bishop.


It is reported that in three Syro-Malabar dioceses girls are allowed to serve at the altar in a few parishes. What would be the gain to be achieved from taking such a novel step? Will it help more active, conscious, and devout participation of the faithful in the Holy Qurbana? Would it be interpreted as a step by the “progressives” towards eventual ordination of women to priesthood ?


Now one might ask what must have been the reasons that prompted at least a few Bishops of the Syro-Malabar Church to permit Altar girls? As Can. 230.1 of the Latin Code provides for installation of lay men for liturgical services of Lector and Acolyte, the Syro-Malabar Pontifical provides for the same office, as seen above, the minor orders of Karoya and Heupdyakna. Laymen with prescribed qualities could be promoted to perform the functions assigned to them. It will only add to the solemnity and serious character of the liturgical celebration. Then why ladies or girls permitted to do the job of the lector and replace the altar boys?  There might perhaps be three reasons. a) The influence of Feminist movement.  It may give the impression of a “forward looking and progressive leader” who stands for the rights of women; b) the lack of knowledge and appreciation of the traditions and practices of the Oriental Churches; and c) the consequent proclivity to imitate whatever the Latin Church is introducing.


At any rate, there should have been a discussion on such matters in the Synod of the Syro-Malabar church. There was some discussion on the role of Karoya and Heupdyakana and appointing laymen specifically for these services. But no decision has been taken. As regards admitting altar girls there was no discussion or decision !




I have tried to make an objective study the question of female altar servers (altar girls) in Latin Church as permitted by a recent Interpretation of Can. 230.2 and Instruction of the Congregation for Divine worship and its applicability to the Syro-Malabar Church. To make changes in the liturgical norm and practice of an Oriental Church invoking an Interpretation of a Canon of the Latin Code (Can. 230.2) looks odd.  As Msgr. McCarthy has observed: “In fact, in all the Eastern Rites service of females at the altar is excluded by liturgical law…..The authentic interpretation requires Instructions to be given by the Apostolic See.  If Instructions in this regard were ever to be emitted for the liturgical practice of the Eastern Churches as a whole these instructions will normally be put out by the Oriental Congregation for the Eastern Churches, which has the competence in this area….”.


The Syro-Malabar Church is facing serious problems, confusion and indiscipline especially in liturgical matters. For any individual authority to make changes seems illogical and unjustifiable. That will only add to the problems we are presently facing.  I am presenting the result of the brief study which speaks in general terms, without intending any discourtesy against any individual.