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. 8            New Delhi                   August, 2010                         --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Prof. Dr. Varghese Pathikulangara cmi 




Psalms form a major part of the “Divine Praises”. All liturgical traditions include all the psalms in one way or other in their liturgy. Besides the 150 psalms, certain other Old Testament hymns such as Exodus 15, 1-21, Isaiah 42,10-13 + 45, 8 and Deuteronomy 32,1-43 are also included in the Psalter of the East Syriac tradition. They call it Dawidaja’, “David’s Book” in Syriac. The Dawidaja’ is divided into 20 Hullale and subdivided into 60 Marmijata’. Two or three psalms (sometimes only one, eg. Ps 78; and Ps 118 is divided into two Marmijata’) form one Marmita’ and two or three Marmijata’ form one Hullala’.


The East Syriac tradition uses selected psalms for Ramsa’, the Evening Liturgy and other times of prayer; but for Lelja’, the Night Prayer they sing part of the Psalter continuously. In the earliest arrangement, one third of the Psalter was sung daily; and in a later set up it was distributed throughout two weeks’ time. According to the vernacular Malayalam text approved by the Syro-Malabar Bishop’s Conference which met on November 6-7, 1985, the Psalter is prayed in 60 days.


Accepted Prayer


The Psalter, being part of the canonical Bible, has as equal a divine attestation as other parts of it. In the salvific context, the other parts of the Bible are the salvific call of God addressed to man, while the psalms are positive human responses to that call.


In fact, psalms are the prayers of the Old Testament people. As they are now included among the inspired books, of the Bible, they are recognized and accepted by God.  The sentiments and requests that we express today through them, therefore, are all acceptable to and pleasing before God. Prayers or hymns composed by individuals or groups in the modern context haven’t such a certainty. Hence all traditions, both /east and West, always lay great importance on psalms in all their liturgical celebrations.




There is a Qanona or antiphon at the beginning and end of every psalms in the Dawidaja’ of the Chaldeo-Indian churches. According to tradition, they are the contribution of Patriarch Mar Abba (+536). Most of them are a kind of summary of each individual psalms and an adaptation of it to the New Testament and ecclesial context. Traditionally they are added in celebration during the Lelja’, the Night Prayer in the weeks of Great Fast. For the other hours of prayer, they have their own proper qanone, mostly adapted to the time of context of celebration.


“Divine Praises” in East Syriac Tradition


The East Syriac tradition has its own specialty in arranging the “Divine Praises”. As for its structure and timings, this tradition is very much indebted to the Jewish heritage and synagogue prayer style. The “Divine Praises” in this tradition appears to have developed in an attempt to extend the life of Qurbana to “non-liturgical” days. In the course of time, it began to be celebrated also as a preparation and continuation of Qurbana on liturgical days as well.


Monastic Influence


The influence of monastic communities in this particular case is decisive. From the earliest centuries there were organized monastic communities in the East Syriac Tradition. “Costly discipleship in following the poor, homeless and celibate Jesus Christ” was their ideal and target. Ktaba d-Masuwata, “the Book of Grades”, is considered to be their rule of life. They were known as “Sons and Daughters of the Covenant”. They have, in fact, contributed decisively to the ordering and content of the seven times of prayers.


Important Personalities


Several Fathers are involved in the formation and ordering of the “Divine Praises” in this tradition. Mar Jacob, the Bishop of Nisibis, who participated in the first ecumenical Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. is said to have been one very much interested in the proper celebration of the “Divine Praises”. Mar Simeon Bar Sabbae (+341) who courted martyrdom during the persecution of the Persian Emperor Sapor II, the then Catholicos of Chaldeo-Indian Churches, is said to have divided the community into two choirs and introduced the choral recitation and singing style in place of the responsorial system. Similarly by arranging the whole prayer in “two weeks”, the first and the other, each choir was directed to intone the prayers alternatively. It remains even to the present day, something typical of the East Syriac tradition.


Mar Aprem (+373) who is the Father of the Syriac Churches and one among the fathers of the Church and widely known to be the “harp of the Holy Spirit” has contributed immensely to the treasury of East Syriac liturgical heritage.  Several of the hymns and prayers in it are composed by him. They are all very simple in language style and at the same time highly poetical and theological. They are also fully biblical and catechetical.


Great personalities like Mar Marutha of Maipharkat (+ca.420), Narsai (+502) and Babai the Great (+609) also contributed considerably to the development of the Divine Office in this tradition.


Mar Iso’ Jahb III, who led the East Syriac Churches form 647 to 657 as the Patriarch ought to be considered the most important reformer of liturgical tradition in this heritage. He first arranged the liturgical year in nine periods according to the flow of the history of salvation, centred around the Christ-event. Then he tried to collect all existent manuscripts of the Divine Office and arrange them according to the liturgical year.  He grouped them in three collections:


  1. Hudra’, Divine Office for all Sundays and movable Feast days.
  2. Gazza’, Divine Office for all immovable Feast days.
  3. Kaskol, Divine Office for all week days.

All the three collections were arranged in the pattern of seven times of prayer a day.  The Bishops and monastics were directed to celebrate them at all seven hours; the priests in parishes and ordinary faithful, however, were to celebrate the Ramsa’ in the evening and the Lelja’ – Sapra’ in the morning.


Mar Abad-Iso’ (+1328) also added a few prayers to the collection of the “Divine Praises”. They are all rather philosophical and complicated in style, while the early compositions are all biblical and very simple in style.


Printing of the Syriac Books


The Patriarchal Synod of the Assyro-Chaldean Church met on June 7-21, 1853 decided to abridge the manuscripts of the Divine Office, correct the theological errors if any and print it for daily use. The Synodal decision was executed by Patriarch Peter Elias XII (+1894). He entrusted the task to Mar Audiso Kayyath, Metropolitan of Amed and Father Paul Bedjan, a known Syriac scholar and writer. They finished the work and published the whole thing in three volumes under the title, Breviarium juxta Ritum Syrorum Orientalium id est Chaldaeorum, from Paris in 1886-87. Preserving intact the variations and specialities of liturgical seasons and feasts, these volumes give common and variable prayers and hymns for each and every day through the liturgical year.


The same volumes with some corrections by J. M. Voste and E. Rassam were reprinted in Rome in 1938 by the Congregation for Oriental Churches. They, with a rather long preface of Eugene Cardinal Tisserant, the then Secretary of it, are published as the official books of the “Divine Praises” of the Assyro-Chaldean and Syro-Malabar Churches.


In the Syro-Malabar Church:


As it is clear form our discussion till now, the official and approved book of the “Divine Praises” of the Syro-Malabar church since 1938 is the Breviarium juxta Ritum Syrorum Orientalium id est Chaldaeorum published by the Congregation in that year. But this Church also had a pre-history of the “Divine Praises”, though not very much different from that of the Chaldean Church.


From several documents we understand that various manuscripts of the same type as were used for compiling the Breviarium existed also among the Thomas Christians of India.  Many of them were burned by the European missionaries after the so called Synod of Diamper in 1599. Still, they were again copied form other sources. Blessed Kuriakose Elias Chavara, the then Vicar General of the Syro-Malabarians, tried to make an abbreviation of those manuscripts for the use of the Syro-Malabar clergy. He abridged them to the shortest possible, but without losing the essential structure and traits of the East Syriac Liturgical heritage. He could not see it printed during his life time. Yet it was printed and published form the seminary press at Puthenpally in 1876, ten years before the first printing of the Breviarium. It contains practically one week’s celebration to be repeated all through the liturgical year, but  emphasizing the specialty of Sundays (day of Resurrection) and Wednesday (honouring Blessed Virgin Mary) in East Syriac Tradition and giving some prayers or short hymns to mark the variation of liturgical seasons and feasts. The Syro-Malabar priests were using this volume till 1967 when the first vernacular volume was published.


                                                                                     (to be concluded)