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. 20, No. 7            New Delhi                       July, 2010                         --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Prof. Dr. Varghese Pathikulangara cmi 


Today liturgy is best understood and explained by the prominent scholars as the celebration of one’s own life in Christ, namely, the celebration of one’s own faith commitment. One who is made an icon of Christ through the Mysteries of Initiation, grows to his/her maturity, fullness and perfection through the repeated celebration of the Holy Qurbana (the Eucharist), the Holy Mysteries (the Sacraments and Sacramentals), the “Divine Praises” (the Liturgy of the Hours), and Feasts and Fasts according to the rhythm of the proper liturgical year.


Qurbana and the Mysteries:


The East Syriac or Chaldean tradition understands and celebrates the Holy Qurbana, the Eucharistic celebration, as a full but summary expression of the whole salvation history, focused on the Christ-event, i.e., the ecclesial celebration of the community’s life in Christ. The Raze, “the Mysteries”, namely, the Sacraments and Sacramentals, are such celebrations during the decisive and important moments of Christian existence.


The “Divine Praises” or the Liturgy of the Hours:


The “Divine Praises” is a celebration of our day-to-day Christian life; it is an extensive celebration of the history of salvation, centered around the Christ-event; in fact, it is the Eucharist spread out to the whole of the liturgical year. We may say that it is the Eucharist extended to the other hours of the day. By extending the Eucharistic reality even to every moment of our daily life, the “Divine Praises” makes our Christian life a continuous experience of salvation, fulfilling the Lord’s command to pray always.


Prayer of the Church:


The “Divine Praises” is generally considered as the “canonical prayers” of priests and religious. But Vatican II made it clear that it is the official prayer of the Church. It was so in the beginning in all traditions and for all Eastern traditions to the present day. Just as in the Eucharistic celebration and in the Holy Mysteries (Sacraments and Sacramentals), in the “Divine Praises” also the faithful proclaim their identity in Christian life according to the proper ecclesial tradition. The Thomas Christians of India kept up this salvific tradition even upto the 17th century.


Role of signs and symbols:


The role of signs and symbols is unique in the case of the “Divine Praises” as well. In comparison with other world religions and even with the people of Israel, the ritual celebration in Christianity is radically different. There we need a quantum leap itself to understand and use them. Even in the relatively superior Old Testament, the ritual was only an attempt to glimpse into the unrealized messianic future. It was only a human attempt to contact the Divine.


In Christianity:


In the New Testament and in Christianity, it is the other way round. It is the worship of the already saved. It is the ecclesial involvement and experience of the already accomplished salvation. The Christians reach God neither to appease him, nor to bring something to his benefit, nor to carry some information to him. He has already bent down to humanity in the person of Jesus Christ.  Reconciliation is sealed for ever through his own initiative. Hence, Christian worship is a celebration of how God has touched humanity, a proclamation of how God has united humans to himself, a confession of how he is ever present with us (Amman-hu-El = God is with us). In short, the liturgy for each Christian is the celebration of his/her own salvation, a celebration of what he/she is.

Historical Event and Liturgical Celebration:


The value and relevance of liturgical symbol almost always consists in its relation to the historic accomplishment of salvation by Jesus Christ, and so in its ability to lead the liturgical assembly to that original experience of the mystery. The first community began using those symbols in their worship because of their closest relation to the Christ-event and their aptitude for reawakening the same experience in themselves. That experience is handed over to generations precisely through such symbols.  The Christ-event, therefore, is as real and active in liturgy as it was in history.  Christian liturgy is a ritual perfected by divine realism.  It is a dukrana, an anamnesis, a memorial, “an enactment in signs, of the history of salvation” (ID) accomplished by Jesus Christ.


Messianic Call:


The eternally present, historicized and once for all Christ-event is an everlasting hymn of praise, glory and thanksgiving before the heavenly throne of the triune God. The messianic call is to enter that heavenly sphere and live it. The Christian living, thus, is a continuous hymn of praise and thanksgiving in Jesus Christ to the triune God.


Second Vatican Council:


The second Vatican Council explains the “Divine Praises’ thus:


            “Jesus Christ, high priest of the new and eternal covenant, taking human nature, introduced into this earthly exile that hymn which is sung throughout all ages in the halls of heaven. He joins the entire community of mankind to Himself, associating it with His own singing of this canticle of divine praise. For He continues His priestly work through the agency of His Church, which is ceaselessly engaged in praising the Lord and interceding for the salvation of the whole world. This she does not only by celebrating the Eucharist, but also in other ways, especially by praying the divine Office…..It is truly the voice of the bride addressing her bridegroom; it is the very prayer which Christ Himself, together with His body, addresses to the Father. Hence all who perform this service are not only fulfilling a duty of the Church, but also are sharing in the greatest honour accorded to Christ’s spouce, for by offering these praises to God they are standing before God’s throne in the name of the Church, their Mother” (SC 83-85).


Apostle and the Early Church:


The Acts of the Apostles gives us sufficient information about the prayer life of the Apostles and the first Christian community. Acts 2, 42 while speaking about the basic nature of the first Christian community, “And they devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the braking of bread and the prayers”, emphasizes the fact of tais proseukais, “the prayers”. Plural noun with a definite article in Greek always points to a set of determined prayers at specific times. Thus we come to the conclusion that the first Christian community used to come together for certain prayers at fixed times. From other instances we understand that those prayer times were mostly of the Jewish tradition.  We have evidences for prayer at the third hour (Acts 2, 1-15), sixth hour (Acts 10, 9f), ninth hour (Acts 3, 1f) and at mid-night (Acts 16,25f). The early Church had recourse to prayer to get Peter and John released from prison (Acts 12,5.12); she also renders thanks to the great gift of God in liberating those Apostles from the prison (Acts 4, 14-31).  St. James exhorts us to pray when suffering, cheerful, sick and sinful (5,13f) and St. Paul asks us to sing in Jesus Christ psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in our hearts to God (Col 3,16).


Example of our Lord:


Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself is the distinguished model, constantly inducing every Christian to pray without ceasing (Mt 14, 23; 26, 36-44; Lk 5,16; 6,12: 9,18; 11,1; Jn 17,9-12; etc)


Seven Times of Prayer:


In continuation with the Jewish tradition, all Christian churches developed their own pattern of community worship in the course of their development. Almost all of them completed the cycle of the “Divine Praises” with seven times of prayer a day. According to the Chaldaic or East Syriac tradition, the following are the seven times of prayer:


1.         Ramsa’, “Evening Prayer’, celebrated at 6.00 p.m.

2.         Lelja', “Night Prayer”, at 9.00 p.m.

3.         Qala d-Sahra’, “Vigil”, at 3.00 a.m.

4.         Sapra’, “Morning Prayer”, at 6.00 a.m.

5.         Quta’a’, “Prayer of Third Hour”, at 9.00 a.m.

6.         Eddana’, “Noon Prayer”, at 12.00 mid-day

7.         D'Batsya Shayin, “Prayer of Ninth Hour”, at 3.00 p.m.


The Bishops and monastics used to celebrate all these seven prayer hours as far as possible in community; the clergy in parishes and ordinary faithful were celebrating only the Ramsa in the evening and the Lelja-Sapra together in the morning. The European missionaries who came to India even as late as in the 17th century attest to the fact that there was a regular celebration of the Divine Office in all Thomas Christian parish churches at dusk and dawn. There was a sufficient number of clerics attached to every parish church in order that the said liturgical celebrations be properly conducted.  As the missionaries attest, a large number of faithful too used to participate in those liturgical celebrations.


                                                                                     (to be concluded)