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)


                     THE NAZRANI        “The Truth will make you free”

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------            Vol.19, No. 8                       New Delhi              August 2009                     --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Bishop Mar Sebastian Vayalil in his autobiography, Ninte Vazhikal Ethra Sundaram, 1987, refers to reform of liturgy (p. 460-75). Corrected Text of our Qurbana (1774-1962) was approved by the Plenary session of the Oriental Congregation on 27.5.1957, and by Pius XII, 27.6.1957. The Nazrani Bishops were united to issue a common pastoral letter with due study. There were some differences in gestures at old prayers and caused some confusions for old priests who dared to say Reformed Qurbana, against the directives given by the Holy See on 20.1.1962. It caused some opposition against it; it's too long! Central Liturgical Commission prepared a new Text in 1968 with substantial changes from the original, and unbecoming additions. It was given to the Holy See for approval. The Holy See approved it for experiment for three years. In spite of different opinions about it, the Bishops celebrated it (Ninte Vazhikal Ethra Sundaram, page 470). Later "short mass" and "Indian Mass" appeared without even the knowledge of the Syro-Malabar Bishops Conference and without the approval of the Holy See and came to usage in some dioceses and institutions. It was against the spirit of SC-22, of Vatican II and of Syro-Malabar liturgy. Therefore, Mar Sebastian Vayalil of Pala opposed them (Ninte Vazhikal Ethra Sundaram, page 471). Cardinal Parecattil of Ernakulam favoured and fostered them in a cunning way: by avoiding discussion of liturgy in the Syro-Malabar Bishops Conference. Bishop Mar Sebastian Vayalil demanded the liturgy to be discussed in Syro-Malabar Bishops Conference of 1974 August, 12 to 14th and insisted on it on 14th of August, 1974.  Archbishop Mar Joseph Powathil of Changanacherry, Bishop Mar Abraham Mattam of Satna and Bishop Mar Perumattam of Ujjain supported it (Ninte Vazhikal Ethra Sundaram, page 472). So they were isolated and stamped as a separatist group, not yielding to Cardinal Parecattil. Subcommittees were formed under a Bishop to draft Texts: Mar Pallickaparampil of Pala for Qurbana; Mar Powathil for Namaskaram; Mar Valloppilly of Thalassery for Pontifical; Mar Kunnassery of Kottayam for Sacraments; Mar Mankuzhikary of Ernakulam for Calendar. The Syro-Malabar Bishops Conference decided that no liturgical Text shall be published for use, even in private, without discussion and approval of Central Liturgical Commission and SMBC, and permission from the Holy See. However, in spite of this, Cardinal Parecattil continued to use them on the pretext that the decision is for future liturgical books. Fr Abel produced a lot of liturgical books with previous imprimatur of Cardinal Parecattil! This situation and mentality of Cardinal Parecattil destroyed mutual trust and love! (The so-called “imprimatur” is foreign to Nazranis.  It is only a Latin practice alien to the Orientals).


A letter of Cardinal Philippe to Cardinal Parecattil dated 22.5.1979 points to the radical mistake in reform. The letter reads ".........Your Eminence is well aware of the abuses and arbitrary usages which, under the specious pretext of Conciliar reform, have lacerated the union of hearts and impoverished Divine worship, to the grave detriment of the unity and sanctity of the Church". It continues: "Under the circumstances, therefore, I would request Your Eminence to further, with united and concerted effort, the work of producing agreed and definitive texts of the Eucharistic Liturgy, the Divine Office and the Rituals, and to forward the texts so prepared to this Sacred Congregation". This observation was the basic issue or reason for the meeting of Syro-Malabar Bishops in Rome in 1980, as Cardinal Rubin inaugurating the meeting said on 26.8.1980 and urged to reactivate the groups of experts and the Commissions which will have to complete the preparation of the new texts on the spot. Cardinal Rubin's concluding speech on 30.8.1980 contained the following points:


In discussing the manner of effecting the "revision, renewal, adaptation" of the Liturgy there emerged a diversity of opinions. The Syro-Malabar Hierarchy intends to maintain its identity as an Eastern-Rite Church in conformity with the Conciliar Decrees on the Eastern Churches, with its own distinctive Eastern liturgy, which goes upto the Apostolic times, without hybridisms, derived from other liturgies and without syncretisms from other religions. No one has contested the fact that the Church of the Thomas Christians is an Indian Church in every respect. "I desire to recall the principle of 'appropriate and organic development'......." In every living organism there must coexist a power of assimilating new elements and a power of conservation, i.e. of remaining oneself, of maintaining the identity. This fidelity must be pre-supposed; otherwise, one simply undergoes a dilution, and not vital assimilation.   This 'appropriate and organic development', therefore, implies the avoidance of both immobilism and instability. "I believe that in reconciling these two exigencies lies the key to the solution of the problem of revision, renewal and adaptation of the liturgy".  Fidelity to the tradition implies the renunciation to every purely individual initiative and the refusal of every liturgical text that has not been approved or authenticated, in experimental or definitive fashion, by the Episcopal Conference and the Holy See of Rome. The dynamic character of the reform must be regulated according to principles enunciated in the Papal Documents, especially the "Evangelii nuntiandi" (n. 63), the "Catechesi tradendae", the "Dominicae cenae", and the "Inestimabile donum".  Because the basic principles of such documents apply also to the Oriental Liturgies.  Central Liturgical Commission was to present the new text before Christmas, 1980.  "In the meantime, in order not to repeat the error of 1962, it will be necessary to prepare the clergy and the laity by means of an appropriate catechesis, to enable them to receive the revised text with favour, with intelligence and with real profit and so eliminate without difficulty the use of the not approved texts". Those Bishops who obeyed the Holy See followed this directive, and accepted the new Text of Raza Qurbana in 1986, as wise virgins welcomed the groom.


Now, let us evaluate the conflict:  Report on the state of liturgical reform in the Syro-Malabar church, given by the Oriental Congregation to Syro-Malabar Bishops, contains fundamental doctrinal principles for an authentic liturgical reform and comments on the so called "Indian Mass" and the "Indianised Mass" of Dharmaram College which were declared unacceptable on 12.8.1980. Pope John Paul II addressed the Syro-Malabar Bishops on 28.8.1980 and gave fundamental principles for the Syro-Malabar liturgical reform. But 15 Syro-Malabar Bishops protested against the Roman meeting of Syro-Malabar Bishops in their memorandum of 3.9.1980! Is there any desire for unity in the Syro-Malabar Church?


Cardinal Parecattil criticised the speech of Cardinal Rubin in his letter dated 2nd December, 1980 to the Oriental Congregation entitled: "Evaluation of the meeting in Rome". Yet, the latinised, anti-orientals cry, Archbishop Powathil causes division! Tug of war continues even today. SMBC in December 1980 gave 4 principles for the preparation of the draft Text, and appointed a sub-committee for preparing the Text of the Qurbana. Cardinal Parecattil writes to the Pope on 15.3.1981 that the "Chaldean" (?) liturgy is unacceptable! Draft Text of Qurbana was submitted to SMBC before 15.3.1981 for their opinion and suggestions, to be sent to Bishop Mar Kunnassery. It was also published in Sathyadeepam and Dukrana for comments of clergy and laity; 7,581 letters came in response. Sub-committee studied them. Cardinal Rubin in his reply explains the long standing policy of Rome (26.5.1981). SMBC, after putting controversial points to vote, finalised the text on 2.6.1981. Malayalam and English versions of Qurbana were submitted to the Holy See on 3.10.1981 for approval. The Holy See set up a special liturgical committee in December 1981 to study the Qurbana text. It submitted the result to the Oriental Congregation in May, 1982. Other experts made further study of it. "Observations on the Order of the Holy Mass of the Syro-Malabar church, 1981" was issued on 1.3.1983.


Grouping of Bishops on “Observations” in 1983:

An Episcopal committee studied the document from Rome (July 1983) and Syro-Malabar Bishops decided to send their evaluation to Rome (13.8.1983). Those who welcomed the document sent “Observations on the Directives from the Holy See on the Qurbana Text” (16.8.1983). Others sent “A response to the Observations of S. Congregation for Oriental Churches”. As Bishop Mar Kundukulam suggested, SMBC (December 1983) asked CLC to prepare the Raza Qurbana Text. CLC appointed a sub-committee for Raza Qurbana (29.3.1984). It prepared a text and it was printed, but serious mistakes came; so it was rejected by CLC in September, 1984. Rumours spread: Fr Chavely and Fr Velliyan prepared text; Fr Aernat and Fr Kunianthodam printed it; Fr Silas cmi and others protested of deception (attimari). Original MS is missing or destroyed! One member said to his opponent: If I (you) were not a priest, I would have killed you (shot you dead)! See the liturgical spirit! Impasse in the reform of Liturgy! Deceived group decided: “There is no compromise on Liturgy”! Distrust and suspicion increased.


Raza Text of Episcopal Committee in 1985:

Yet draft text was printed again in November and on 3-4 December 1984. Syro-Malabar Bishops were asked to come to an agreement on Qurbana Text. Fr Thomas Mannoramparampil prepared a text in January 1985. On 6.2.1985 CLC rejected draft of November and asked the sub-committee to study the text of Fr. Thomas Mannoramparampil. A special Episcopal committee, appointed in March to prepare Qurbana Text, met in April in Ernakulam to find out the differences in making a text and in Kottayam to consult the sub-committee for Qurbana. CLC met on 24.5.1985 to give suggestions to the Episcopal committee on Qurbana Text. SMBC on 4.6.1985 approved 17 points as additional guidelines for preparing the Raza. Episcopal Committee approved the draft Text on 30.7.1985. So Raza Qurbana Text was not made by the Kottayam lobby!


Final judgement of S. Congregation for Oriental Churches concerning the Order of Syro-Malabar Qurbana appeared on 24.7.1985. Raza Text was examined by Episcopal committee in August on the basis of new directives from the Holy See. In September, Raza Text was printed and sent to all Syro-Malabar Bishops for study and suggestions, to be sent before October, 30. Only the Bishops of Pala, Satna and Kothamangalam sent observations on it. Episcopal Committee met on 2.11.1985 and approved the draft text of Qurbana. SMBC forwarded it on 8.11.1985 to the Holy See for approval. Holy See approved the Qurbana Text on 19.12.1985, and the decree of approval was given on 21.12.1985 to Archbishops and Bishops officially. Chairman of the SMBC’s Commission for Liturgy, Archbishop Mar Powathil, wrote on 16.1.1986 to all the Bishops on implementing the newly approved Text of Qurbana, after Pope John Paul II inaugurated it on 8.2.1986. SMBC on 4.6.1986 resolved to use the new Text in all its forms. Syro-Malabar Bishops could send suggestions on the printing of the simple form of Qurbana before 30.9.1986. 


Cardinal Parecatil wanted “the modernization of our liturgy in tune with the rapid industrialization and urbanization that is affecting human society” and “the composition of new anaphoras and other portions of the Qurbana, suiting Indian culture and linguistic patterns”. So he innovated the custom of looking at the people at Qurbana, since he became Cardinal, against general directives No. 5 in 1968-Text, and published liturgical books in Malayalam for experiment or private use, against SC-22. Liturgy was never discussed in SMBC. Distrust and disunion in liturgical matters spread. Might is right; any means can be used for gain. A culprit is found or projected: “A member of your “sanior pars” (vivaramulla metranmar) is mainly responsible for making a split in the ranks of the Syro-Malabar hierarchy” he writes to the Holy See; he may be Bishop Mar Abraham Mattam who published the Hindi-English Text of Qurbana, (1970), that restored the original structure, violated in 1968-Qurbana, with Holy See’s consent. It was a bold step that saved the liturgy of Syro-Malabar Church.


We have to sit first, before stretching our legs! Fr Raes insisted on first-restoration of Syriac Text of liturgical books; then revision, and adaptation. Cardinal was impatient and jumped into liturgical innovations with “pro manuscripto” liturgical books, prepared by Fr Abel & Co., as he liked or wished!


Recent developments:

Now there is liturgical chaos and division in the Syro-Malabar church, distrust and disunion among Syro-Malabar Bishops, accusing and calumniating leaflets among clergy and laity. Vibhuti Monday restored when Mar Manathodath was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Ernakulam, reverted back to “Ash Wednesday” when Mar Varkey was appointed Major Archbishop! Even today, there are priests in the Archdiocese of Ernakulam who wear the latin vestments! And generally most of them use the hymns and prayers of the old 1968 Qurbana! It is to foster the invalid 1968 Qurbana that they have now printed and published a highly mutilated Qurbana Text “for the use of laity”, incorporating the hymns of 1968 Qurbana! At present this mutilated Text "for the use of laity" is available in all personal parishes and Qurbana centres in the Archdioceses of Delhi, Bangalore and other cities. Other liturgical abuses in the present day Syro-Malabar Church include:


  • Priests encouraging the choir to replace hymns in the Taksa with album/cinematic devotional songs in the name of variety
  • Altering/omitting prayers at will by the celebrant
  • Dividing prayers between the celebrant and the faithful which in actual are strictly to be recited by the former only
  • Exchange of fruits, vegetables etc in the name of offertory and that too in the middle of the Qurbana
  • Celebrant compelling faithful to kneel down during the Institution Narrative, and not during the appropriate time as given in the Taksa, and singing Yeshuve natha… at its completion
  •  Deploying girls as altar servers during Holy Qurbana in most of the missions, when in reality there is no dearth for boys. Surch practices are foreign to the Orientals in general and Nazranis in particular.


Ignorance of Syriac and intolerance of diversity and variety in opinions, practices, rites and theologies are the root causes of conflict and division in the Church and among the Nazranis, regarding Qurbana. For example, the “qanona” of Our Father was not distinct in 1962, and in small letters in 1968, but broken in 1986 and 1989! “Holy, holy, holy are you, our Father in heaven; for heaven and earth are full of the grandeur of your glory; angels and men cry out to you: holy, holy, holy are you”.


Ignorance of pastors is the main problem. Very few bishops of the Syro-Malabar Church really know their liturgy. Most of our Bishops cannot celebrate liturgy in Syriac because of their ignorance of the language and this is typical of its hierarchy and pastors. Even liturgical scholars are no exception to this. There is a tendency towards syncretism and paganisation in the name of adaptation and contextualisation.  Christianity must avoid every form of syncretism, which would set Christian rites side by side with rites or customs that are too closely associated with the pagan religions.  Liturgical adaptation is to be a historical and natural evolution associated with evangelization. It cannot be a fabrication in a class room or academic circle. The liturgy of the Thomas Christians is an Indianized version of the East Syriac liturgy. It is not the liturgical texts and prayers that need radical change, but the life style of the people who celebrate liturgy. Sitting on the floor will not make us Indian men of prayer. Wearing saffron clothes will not make us Indian Christian monks. Practising Yoga will not make us Indian Christian mystics. The interior life will naturally flow into external manifestations. But mere externalities, rubrical liberalism, will not make us internally spiritual, Christian and Indian. What is known as the danger of tribal compartmentalization has no place in liturgical adaptation. Often the unity of the faith is at a risk. Liturgy is not an adaptation of any culture, but a divine-human dialogue, between God and his people; God speaks to his people and Christ proclaims his gospel; people respond to God by song and prayer (SC 33). Salvation-history is the ultimate basis of liturgy. God’s Word, spoken and incarnate, is the centre of liturgy: a memorial, an anamnesis of the salvific events; biblical dimension is essential in sacramental-liturgical celebration. 


“Let us retain the original as far as possible, and effect changes or additions in a manner fitting to our rite. New forms should organically and harmoniously follow with the existing ones” wrote Bishop Mar Vayalil on 26-8-70 to Card. Parecattil, Chairman of the Syro-Malabar Liturgical Committee.  He insisted that “the liturgical revision should not go against the source texts of our theological and spiritual heritage”.  SC 23 was often violated by the CLC under Card. Parecattil, eg. in propria of Qurbana in 1968, and Qudasakal (Sacraments), as Bishop Mar Vayalil admits: I don’t say that the way the liturgical revision has been accomplished is completely wrong” ! Oriental Congregation has at times pointed out the “innovations” that are not “Indianisations” but “latinisations” and superficial modern westernisations. The protestant malady of Latin world (that destroyed the very concept of rite, symbol, mystery, sacrament) has crept into the latinised section of the Syro-Malabar Church.  They think in terms of Latin West and still boast of Indian theological perspectives.  The contradictions in the Syro-Malabar liturgical renewal are the consequences of a Church which has lost its identity.

Role of Deacons in Qurbana is different from that in Latin Mass: to read Gospel, to preach homily, to prepare, etc. Latins have no prayer for faithful after communion; so they sing any pious song; Syro-Latins too do so and omit the fine prayers of Qurbana! When Latins left out Maniple, Syro-Latins threw away Zande, due to their similarity!  Stole is more important (convenient) for Latins than Chausible; Syro-Latins too do so!  What symbolism? They ask! No liturgical catechesis!


Un-denied self or uncontrolled ego of selfish leaders is either projected or wounded by any partial, one-sided or narrow-minded, compromising decisions for unity in liturgical matters: 1) Malayalam Qurbana on 20.5.1968, torpedoed in August. 2) Raza-Qurbana on 29.3.1984, torpedoed in September 3) Celebration of Raza on 8.2.1986: “dissenting note” of Parecattil, Liturgy Ente Drishtiyil….p. 220, 246f. 4) Celebration of all three forms of Qurbana on 4.6.1986, torpedoed by Fr Silas cmi in July; Fr A. Narikulam and Bishop Thoomkuzhy, even by the Prefect of Oriental congregation, Cardinal Lourdswamy by decrees of 5.5.1988 and 3.4.1989. 5) Bema in Vadavathoor, placed after Syro-Malabar Bishops Synod in 1996 and removed after Syro-Malabar Bishops Synod in June 1997. And finally, the 50/50 formula of Major Archbishop Varkey Vithayathil torpedoed by himself without practicing it! The Major Archbishop himself could not implement it even in his private chapel! Where is Christian faith and its practice?  What a pity?


The problems of Mar Thoma Nazranis began with the arrival of foreign colonialists.  They are gone. But their by-products create trouble now. Today’s problems are the creation of past four hundred years. We may need another four centuries to reach the real solution. The dreams of Mar Kariyattil and Mar Paremmakal will one day be realised. The prayers and sufferings of Kudakkachira Anthony Kathanar and Mar Thondanatt will not go unnoticed before God’s presence. 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. Let us rise up as one man to resist this challenge. Let us use every means at our disposal to prove the stupidity, ignorance, un-Indian and westernized aberrations of latinized and latinizing pseudo-Syro-Malabarians. Let us be worthy children of our forefathers.  Our enemies have authority; but we have faith. They have money; but we have convictions. They are in high positions; but we are Mar Thoma Nazranis! 


There is no limit to the harm done to our Church by the anti-Indian, anti-Nazrani propagandists. But truth alone will win at the end. We have a clear cut mission, nay a prophetic vision and mission. We have a good fight in our hands. It will be an on going one. It will go on till our prophetic mission is accomplished. Let us keep our true faith with courage, conviction and prayer. Let us keep our identity with all possible means. Remember the long struggle of our forefathers. It took nearly four centuries to convince the Holy See. Then it was all too late. But better late than never.  History is repeating itself in our case. In centuries gone our anti-Oriental, latinizing agents were outside; they were foreigners. But today, they are inside; they are our “false-brethren” in the words of St Paul. But one day we will win them over. One has to be patient, alert and active. One day the Mar Thoma Nazranis of India will all come together to walk along the path of Mar Kariyattil, Mar Paremmakal, Kudakkachira, Thondanatt, Nidhiri, Podipara and so on!