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. 20, No. 2             New Delhi              February, 2010                         --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

EDITORIAL

 

April 27, 2010 marks the 25 years memorial of the repose of Rev Fr. Placid J. Podipara, who fell asleep in the Lord on April 27, 1985. Placidachan is acclaimed and revered by all as the greatest ecclesiastical luminary of the Marthoma Nazrani Church ( Syro-Malabar Church). He belongs to that galaxy of stalwarts like Mar Joseph Kariyattil, Paremackal Thoma Kathanar and Chavara Kuriakose Eliasachan.  Born on October 3, 1899 as the fifth and last child of Chacko and Rosamma Podipara in the village of Arpukkara, in the Archdiocese of Changanacherry, Placidachan, after completing his school education at Mannanam, joined the CMI Congregation and was ordained priest in December 1927. He successfully completed his Doctorates in Philosophy, Theology and Canon Law from the Gregorian University, Rome. Placidachan was appointed professor of Sacred Heart Scholasticate, Chethipuzha in the year 1930. It was in September of the same year that the reunion movement under Mar Ivanios had started. It found in Placidachan a vigorous champion and an ardent supporter. The next 24 years of Placidachan's life were years of intense spiritual pastoral and intellectual activity, journeying from place to place, preaching the word of God and confronting the opponents of the reunion movement. At the same time he most faithfully and conscientiously devoted himself to his teaching assignments in Chethipuzha. It is a marvel of scholarship and industry that during this period Placidachan found time to write as many as 18 of his learned books besides numerous articles published in India and abroad.  

 

Personal memories, naturally, will vary, depending on an endless array of circumstances. What is universal, however, is the image of Placidachan, standing as Saint Ignatius of Antioch describes in the midst of the People of God during the Eucharistic worship and the fellowship that flows therefrom, as the very icon of a shepherd who loved his flock. Not being one to "cover up" his feelings and even emotions, he openly shared the challenges he faced with his critics. He offered encouragement and hope in the assurance that, even in the most painful circumstances, love for the Church must prevail. He was clear in his conviction that, whatever one does, it can only bear fruit if it is done in love, as an expression of love, in the quest to perfect love - and ultimately, out of a desire to enter into a deeper relationship with the One Who is Love Itself, the One Who stands in the midst of His People for all eternity.

 

We will be placing few articles about Placidachan by eminent ecclesiastical luminaries of present day Syro-Malabar Church.  In this issue, we place an article written by Bishop Mar Abraham Mattam. May the memory of Placidachan be eternal. May the love he so freely expressed and shared in our midst be at the very heart of all we face in our own "spiritual warfare." May the Kingdom of God, in which he now delights, comfort and consume us.

 

 

FR. PLACID AND  INCULTURATION OF THE LITURGY

                                                                              Bishop Mar Abraham Mattam

 

Liturgy is an expression and practice of the faith in a communitarian form. There is bound to be an interaction between the public expression of the faith and the actual life of the believers. But the community of believers live in a given place and in a given time, in varying circumstances, under different socio-religio-cultural conditions. This calls for some kind of adaptation of the liturgy to the background of the worshipping community.  As a result, from the early centuries we see local Churches adapting the worship of the church to the existing socio-cultural milieu, being faithful at the same time, to the essential and unchangeable elements of the liturgy, of the Eucharistic sacrifice and the sacraments. It means a long process of giving and taking, of adjusting. This process has been called in recent times by terms like Adaptation, Indigenization, Indianization and Inculturation which convey varying shades of meaning.

 

In earlier Roman documents the term “adaptation” was commonly used. But subsequently “inculturation” is being used instead. A recent instruction of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments says: “The change of vocabulary is understandable, even in the liturgical sphere. The expression ‘adaptation’, taken from missionary  terminology, could lead one to think of modification of a somewhat transitory and external nature. The term ‘inculturation’ is a better expression to designate a double movement: by inculturation, the Church makes the Gospel incarnate in different cultures, and at the same time introduces peoples, together with their cultures, into her own community”.

 

The last few decades have witnessed much interest and discussion on this important subject of inculturation. Living in this particular period of time, Fr. Placid, had to necessarily address himself to this complex and delicate question. He has clearly expressed his views on the subject in several articles and books. To mention some of them, his article, “This Social and Socio-ecclesial Customs of the Syrian Christians of India” was published in Eastern churches Review as early as 1947. In 1959 he wrote on the subject in Ostkirchliche Studien with the title “Hindu in Culture, Christian in Religion and Oriental in Worship”. “One rite for India” which also touches upon the question of inculturation was published in Eastern churches Review in 1968. His article, “The Thomas Christians and Adaptation” appeared in the same Review in 1970. Four Essays…., a booklet on the Pre-Seventeenth Century Church of Thomas Christians published in 1977 also has some references to liturgical Adaptation. His reflections on Liturgy was published in 1983.

 

For Fr. Placid, Liturgy was not an isolated subject. It was part of a wider vision of the traditions of the Church, teaching of the Fathers of the Church and of the nature of the Church as a Communion of Churches. He had formed his views from the study of the Fathers and the history of the Church. What he held much before the Second Vatican Council found approval in the Decree on the Oriental Catholic churches and in the Constitution on Sacred Liturgy.

 

The Constitution of the Council on the Sacred Liturgy was of special importance. This document was not the result of a sudden light dawned on the Fathers. The writings of the eminent theologians and liturgists and a vigorous liturgical movement going on for decades in Europe had prepared the ground for the reform of the liturgy of the Latin Church. And the reform, we find, is to a great extent a restoration of authentic liturgical traditions.

 

Basics of the Liturgy:

A right approach to inculturation of the liturgy requires a correct understanding of the nature of the liturgy. Fr. Placid had a clear vision of the liturgy as is evident from his writings. Firstly, Christian liturgy is based on faith. Hence the saying “lex orandi lex credendi” “the rule of prayer is the rule of faith”.

 

Fr. Placid writes; “Liturgy holding them (Holy Qurbana and Sacraments) as the centre is the Public and Official worship of the Church or the Rule of Prayer (Lex orandi).  Since the Rule of prayer is the Rule of faith (Lex Credendi) under the Magisterium of the church, liturgy is the Rule of the faith under the Magisterium of the Church, and hence its importance.  In fact in the context of the liturgy the Christian confession of faith acquires its full meaning and gets its official explanation”.

 

He quotes in this connection Dom Bernard Botte O.S.B.: “Liturgy is the expression of the faith of the Church, and a means of safeguarding tradition. It must not be subject to individual opinions and personal devotions. It does not express the religious sentiments of some social or national group. It is a rule from which one cannot depart without running the risk of departing at the same time from the rule of faith”. Fr Placid goes on, “Yes, the liturgies are not something social or national, as Dom Botte says, though they might exhibit in their accidentals certain social or national traits. They are primarily the traditional expressions of the faith of the Church”.

 

Based on the Bible and Tradition of the Church:

Faith, the revealed truth, is received from the Church through the bible and Tradition. Fr. Placid explains how each liturgy could be considered a Patristic Synthesis based on the Bible and Tradition. He writes: “……through a gradual growth liturgies took definite shapes under the Magisterium of the Church. Those who contributed towards this growth were chiefly the Fathers of the Church and the other Christian writers. The Fathers and the other Christian writers depended on Revelation which they learnt from the Bible and Tradition under the Magisterium of the church. Liturgies under their definite shapes are, therefore, each, so to say, a Patristic synthesis based on the Bible and Tradition”.

 

Liturgy:  What it is?

Fr Placid further explains what the liturgy is: “In the Christian sense, liturgy means the “Public worship of the church”. It is “the worship of God through actions, words and gestures that are instituted by Christ, or by the Church, performed in the name of the Church, by ministers legitimately constituted for the purpose, in the manner legitimately prescribed. Its aim is the public and official exercising of the virtue of Religion. And the procuring of the sanctification and salvation of souls by a lively expression of the faith of the Church with everything that is included in the faith…The items of public worship instituted by Christ are the Eucharistic Sacrifice and the Sacraments those instituted by the Church are Sacramentals under which come the Divine Office….

 

Fr Britto CMI has written a book Review of Fr Placid CMI’s reflections on liturgy in Jeevadhara. He writes; “Fr Placid defines liturgy as ‘the public worship of the church, the worship of God through actions, words and gestures that are instituted by Christ, or by the Church, performed in the name of the Church by ministers legitimately constituted for the purpose, in the manner legitimately prescribed….’.  But the whole emphasis is on the accurate performance of the prescribed ritual in the name of the Church. 

 

On the following page he quotes from the constitution: “We take part in the terrestrial Liturgy with a foretaste of the celestial one that is celebrated in the holy city of Jerusalem to which as pilgrims we are moving on”.

 

Further, “The liturgy, again, impels the faithful ‘that they may become united in piety’ being fed ‘with the paschal sacraments’ prays that ‘by their life they may hold fast to what they perceive by faith…”.

 

So what Fr Placid says is that the celebration of the liturgy should be a “lively expression of the faith” and that the faithful are to take part in the liturgy “with a foretaste of the celestial liturgy and that they” be united in piety”.

 

Popular Devotions and the Liturgy:

 

The Constitution on Sacred Liturgy teaches:

“Popular devotions of the Christian people are warmly recommended, provided they accord with the laws and norms of the Church.  Such is especially the case with devotions called for by the Apostolic See.

 

“Devotions proper to individual Churches also have a special dignity if they are conducted by mandate of the Bishops in accord with customs or books lawfully approved.

 

“Nevertheless, these devotions should be so drawn up that they harmonize with the liturgical seasons, accord with sacred liturgy, are in some fashion derived from it, and lead the people to it, since the liturgy by its very nature far surpasses any of them”.

 

Keeping in mind this teaching of the council Fr. Placid makes a distinction between the liturgy and devotional practices. He writes, “Pious practices of the faithful, such as devotions like the Rosary, Way of the Cross, etc., even though they have ecclesiastical approbation and are sometimes performed publicly and with solemnity, are not “liturgical”, since they are not instituted as such by the Church.

 

Fr Britto finds fault with this statement.  In the Book review he comments, : “The sharp distinction between liturgical prayers and merely “private” devotions is one introduced by Latin Jurists; Orientals have never heard of such a distinction.  How can the prayers of the faithful inspired by the Spirit of God and led by Christ be called purely “private” or judged simply “not liturgical?”

 

Fr Britto seems to entertain the idea that when people pray publicly they are inspired by the Holy Spirit and that makes their prayer “liturgical”. To say that Orientals do not distinguish between liturgical and devotional prayers and that it is a distinction made by Latin Jurists manifests a deep misunderstanding of the nature of the liturgy.

 

In the same issue of Jeevadhara Fr. Britto had reviewed Fr Hambye S.J.’s book, Dimensions of Eastern Christianity and the Roman Documents, The Order of the Holy Mass (Qurbana) of the Syro-Malabar Church 1981, dated March 1, 1983 true to the same style. When this writer met Fr Placid at Chethipuzha sometime after the Book reviews appeared, he jokingly remarked about the reviews: “Fr Britto was able to make so many blunders in so few words”.  Fr. Placid had to bear with similar criticism and opposition from many people in his illustrious service of the Church.

 

Three Aspects of Inculturation:

In a lengthy article on “The Thomas Christians and Adaptation” published in Eastern Churches Review in 1970 Fr. Placid considers three aspects or elements of adaptation.

 

1)      An Indian theology which expresses, explains, co-ordinates, illustrates, and defends Christian dogmas by means of Indian Philosophical categories;

 

2)      An Indian way of life, permeated with Christian ideas, in food, dress, customs, etc.;

 

3)      A mode of worship (liturgy) which is both Indian and Christian.

 

As regards the first, he says, “the Thomas Christians have not contributed anything towards the formulation of an Indian Christian theology”.

 

With regard to the way of life, he says, they have contributed very much; adaptation or Christianization of mode of life was complete while adaptation of worship was only partial.  Concerning the Way of Life he writes: “The Thomas Christians had no need to adapt their way of life to the Hindu way; they had only to Christianize their way of life, since they were converts from Hinduism. This Christianization they have achieved to an admirable degree. Their daily life closely resembled that of their Hindu brethren”.

 

He enumerates several social customs they followed as their Hindu brethren. They dressed like the Hindus, used the same kinds of ornaments, only a metal cross on their tufts of hair distinguished the menfolk as Christians. The marriage ceremonies were the same, the songs, ceremonial baths, giving of sweets, the system of dowry, etc. At the death of a family member several Hindu customs were retained.

 

“Their Christianity”, he writes, “did not in any way make them appear foreigners or enemies of their country, nor were they suspected as a ‘denationalizing’ force…In a word, in their way of life the Thomas Christians could not be distinguished from their Hindu brethren except in a few respects which were specifically Christian. They were an integral part of the body politic of the country”.

 

On marriage celebration: “Not only in the arrangement or marriage but also in the songs, the visit of the barber, the ceremonial baths, the giving of sweets, etc., in connection with  marriage, the Thomas Christians followed the high caste Hindu customs, only Christianizing them whenever it was necessary to do so”. At wedding there was a small ornament called thali which the boy tied to the girl’s neck. The wife has to wear it always during the life time of her husband. The Christian thali is distinguished from the Brahmin one by cross”.

 

Services for the dead: “In services for the dead, all the ritual or liturgical prayers were East Syriac; all other elements were Indo-Malabarese. No food was cooked or eaten in the house of the deceased until the burial was over. The relatives of the deceased observed the period of pula (defilement) like the Hindus, which was followed by a ceremonial bath, services in the church and a vegetarian feast, after which cumin was again distributed to the participants. There followed feasts known as the Seventeenth, the Twenty-eighth, the fortieth, and the Sradha (chatham) or anniversary”.

 

Regarding Mode of Worship (Liturgy):

For the official worship they followed the East Syriac Liturgy. He writes: “The prayers and formulas for all these acts of worship (liturgy) were those of the East Syriac Church of Mesopotamia and Persia and they were in Syriac, the north eastern dialect of Aramaic, the language spoken by our Lord. The prayers and formulas were kept intact in their original Syriac”.

 

Fr. Placid gives the background in which the Indian Christians of Kerala did not develop a liturgy of their own, but accepted the East Syriac Liturgy: “The churches that had no Fathers nor important ecclesiastical writers did not develop their own liturgies, but received them from other Churches that had developed them….The Thomas Christians, who had not developed a liturgy of their own, received the East Syriac Liturgy, which was known to them and nearer to them than all the others….The cultural, commercial and ecclesiastical relations of the Thomas Christians with those who used liturgy and the language in question seem to have induced the Indian converts to learn the language of that liturgy rather than put it into their own vernacular”.

 

Elements of Adaptation:

The contexts in which the liturgy was celebrated, he says, were all Indian, with new Indo-Malabar Christianized rites added to them as sacramentals.

 

“The churches”, he adds, “in which the most important acts of worship were performed looked externally like Hindu temples except for the crosses on the roof and in the open air. The paraphernalia used in the Churches, such as the umbrellas, musical instruments, etc. were the same as those used in the Hindu temples.  Like the latter, the churches had flagstaff…”.

 

“Church procession, festal solemnities, pilgrimages, agape, all looked like their counterparts among the Hindus. Fasts were observed with extreme care”.

 

Christian names given at baptism were moulded to suit the vernacular, Tamil or Malayalam, such as Chacko for james, Ulahannan for John, Varkey for
George, Aaeley for Elizabeth, Thresia for Teresa, etc.

 

Why no Radical inculturation?

Fr Placid gives several reasons why the adaptation was only partial.

 

Sacredness of the liturgy and of the original language:

The Hindus esteem their original language of prayer and sacrifice. Similarly, the Christians considered as sacred the liturgy and the original language in which they received it, namely Syriac, especially as it was the language spoken by our Lord and the Apostles. “…the sacredness of the liturgy as coming down from Christ and the Apostles in the language of Christ must have excluded, a priori, all kinds of vernacularization. The Hindu lays great stress on the words of the prayers which his priest utters in the temple. He never thinks of rendering them into the common vernacular. Adaptation, therefore, or rather Christianization, is seen mostly in the externals of worship, especially in such aspects of the sacraments and ‘sacramentals’ as they had a social or popular aspect”.

 

Hindu worship not Congregational:

The worship of the Hindus in the temples was performed by the Hindu priest. It is not a congregational celebration, in which the people respond to the prayers said by the priest. “The Thomas Christians could not easily form the idea of indianizing the services of the Syriac liturgy, especially those that were performed in the Chruch, as most of them were. The acts of worship performed inside Hindu temples by Hindu priests are not congregational, as are the acts of worship performed inside the Christian Chruches. The prayers and actions of the Hindu priest are not seen or responded by the congregation”.

 

Hindu Scriptures not open to Non-Hindus:

Only high caste perople were allowed to enter the temples. And the Hindu scriptures were not open to the non-Hindus, until recently. So the Thomas Christians could not conceive the idea of radical Indianization of the liturgy along the Hindu lines: “The sacred books and ancient philosophical works of the high castes, in which their culture is embodied, have been kept away from others, who have only recently had access to them”.

 

Mixed communities:

The first Christian communities in south India were of a mixed character. The Jewish settlers were the first, according to tradition, to receive the message of Christ. To them were added natives, followers of Indian religions. The Jewish converts could not think of Hinduising their liturgy: “According to tradition there were Jewish converts among the first Thomas Christians. There were Jewish influence in the seven places where, Malabar tradition says, the Apostle St Thomas (himself a Jewish Christian) established Christian churches or communities”.

 

“The Thomas Christians, we may note, are predominantly of Dravidian stock, and Malabar is their home and habitat.”

 

Signs and actions drawn from the Sacred Scriptures:

Fr. Placid writes on the influence and importance of the Old Testament and the New in shaping the Christian liturgy, not only with regard to the content, but also the external form, actions and gestures: “since the Christian liturgy is the reality of the Jewish cult which pre-shadowed it, the above mentioned prayers, actions and gestures must have heavily drawn on the Old Testament. Then the New Testament writings had their part in this, not to say that the Tradition of the Church also had its share in the shaping of the liturgies.”

 

Sacred Scripture not to be Replaced:

The Instruction enjoins not to replace the inspired Sacred Scripture with non-Christian scriptures: “The church is nourished on the word of God written in the Old and new Testaments…the word of God is so important in the celebration of the liturgy that the holy Scripture must not be replaced by any other text, no matter how venerable it may be.”

 

A serious pitfall of several attempts of inculturation in India is that they fail to acknowledge the uniqueness of revelation in the historical Christ-event and the importance of Sacred scriptures as sources of the liturgy. Some start from the premise of a Christ of fiction, saying: “What would have been the situation if Christ were to be born in India, as a Hindu ?; What would have been the liturgy like, if the Hindu Scriptures were inspired as the Christian Scriptures are ?.  Some even ask: Are they not quasi inspired some ask?

 

On the occasion of the Plenary Section of the International Council for Catechetics, which was held in September 1994, the Holy Father sent a message wherein His Holiness speaks on inculturation and its relation to the concrete history of incarnation:  He says: “Therefore an authentic theology of Incarnation must indicate the co-ordinates of inculturation, marking the limits beyond which the illusion of “translating” would be ‘betrayal’

 

“The proclamation of the incarnation as a unique and unrepeatable historical fact is the cornerstone of every process of inculturating the faith. The Son of God became incarnate once and for all in a specific place at a specific time. Every culture open to Christ must establish a permanent link with the concrete history of the Incarnation, with the biblical words that reveal it, with the ecclesial tradition that has handed it down to us, with the sacramental signs in which it continues to be at work.”

 

Endorses changes and updating:

Fr Placid endorses changes in the liturgy and its updating.  But this, he says, must not be left to individual tastes. It must be done after thorough study and under the authority of the Church. He writes: “This does not mean that, since all these are accidentals, what are outmoded and have no real value now, are not to be given up or substituted with others if necessary. The judgement is not to be left to the taste of individuals, nor to those who have not made a deep study of the question in all its details in relation to the past and with the actualities of which latter are often ephemeral. But above all there must come in the magisterium of the church, since the question concerns in some way the Rule of prayer which is the Rule of faith – the faith entrusted to the Church.

 

India, Multi-cultural and Multi-religious:

Fr Placid points out the fact that India is a multi-cultural and multi-religious subcontinent, with the Tribals, Dravidians, Aryans, the Hindus and Muslims having their own cultures. Even among Hindus there are caste and cultural differences. This reality, he says, is often overlooked.  In an article on “One Rite for India”, he wrote in 1968: “The One-Rite Movement lays great stress on a new liturgy to be formed on the basis of Indian culture. But what is this culture, Muslim or Hindu or a synthesis of both? Many of those who speak of an Indian rite seem to have in mind only Hindu culture, but the Muslims of India are Indians. Hindu culture is not homogenous. If in the north it is predominantly Aryans, in the south it is Dravidian. Hindu society is divided into an infinite number of castes and sub-castes, each of which is an enclosed community with a culture of its own.”

 

Moreover, liturgical inculturation should avoid every manner of religious syncretism: “The liturgy is the expression of faith and Christian life, and so it is necessary to ensure that liturgical inculturation is not marked, even in appearance, by religious syncretism. This would be the case if the places of worship, the liturgical objects and vestments, gestures and postures let it appear as if rites had the same significance in Christian celebrations as they did before evangelization. The syncretism will be still worse if biblical readings and chants or the prayers were replaced by texts from other religions, even if these contain an undeniable religious and moral values.”

 

This is in agreement with the views Fr. Placid has held all along. He did not favour borrowing Hindu symbols and expressions that would cause confusion among the faithful. For example he writes about the use of “OM” in Christian worship: “The expression “ OM” may literally or through interpretation signify something related to God. But in itself as far as its use is concerned it is purely a Hindu symbol…. The expression “ OM” is now used by the Hindus to denote their belief as we use the sign of the cross. If we use it now as Christians here the Hindus will be against it or they will think that we have become (like) Hindus.”

 

Fr Placid relied on three sources for his enlightenment, on the Bible, Fathers of the church and the Magisterium of the church. He had unflinching fidelity to the Magisterium. He was aware of the great value of the writings of the Fathers in understanding the heritage and various traditions of the Church. Even today the importance of what the Fathers have bequeathed to us had not diminished in any way.  He visualized a great role for the Oriental churches in the communion of churches.  Many of the views Fr Placid held, even before the Second Vatican Council, with his insight into the nature of the Church, basics of the sacred Liturgy and principles of liturgical reform and inculturation find confirmation in the Decree on Eastern Catholic churches and the latest Roman Document on The Roman Liturgy and Inculturation.