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. 9            New Delhi            September, 2010                         --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Prof. Dr. Varghese Pathikulangara cmi 



Feast Days


The Divine Office for the Feast days were not included in the above said volume.  Blessed Chavara himself compiled a different volume for the Feasts. He translated some prayers form the Breviarium Romanum and added to the Syriac originals. The Feasts were all rearranged according to the Latin calendar as the Syro-Malabarians were then making use of it for the celebration of the Eucharist. Because of such latinization, it was denied permission for publication. With some corrections and with the permission of the vicar Apostolic of Kottayam it was printed and published from Mannanam in 1894. It was being used mostly in the CMI religious houses only.


In the Vernacular


Even before the Vatican II decision to use vernacular for liturgical celebrations, the Syro-Malabar Bishops were asked by Rome to abridge the officially published Breviarium juxta ritum Syrorum Orientalium id est Chaldaeorum (Romae 1938), translate it into Malayalam and publish it for regular use. Still, they only succeeded in bringing out the first volume in Malayalam, which is for the weeks of Great Fast, in 1967. Another volume for the weeks of Resurrection appeared in 1968 and a third one for the weeks of Annunciation and Epiphany in 1971. All these were published by the Syro-Malabar Central Liturgical Committee with the permission of the Syro-Malabar Bishops Conference.


Of these volumes, the first one for the weeks of Great Fast keeps a sensible fidelity to the approved Syriac sources. The volume for the weeks of Annunciation and Epiphany comes in the second ranks. The one for the weeks of Resurrection (Ernakulam 1968) shows clearly the symptoms of misusing the responsible freedom, granted to individual Churches in making use of early liturgical sources in vernacular translations and compilations.


Attempt for Approved Texts


The Syro-Malabar Bishops’ conference convened on August 21-24, 1974, appointed a Commission under the Chairmanship of Mar Joseph Powathil for preparing authentic texts for the “Divine Praises” in Malayalam. It prepared the text for each liturgical season and sent them for study and consideration to all the Bishops, Central Liturgical Committee members and other experts. In 1982-1983, the whole thing was printed in three volumes and was given for experimental use in few institutions, mainly, the St. Thomas Apostolic Seminary at Vadavathoor, Kottayam.


The Central Liturgical committee convened on July 11 – 12, 1985 discussed in detail these texts and submitted them to the Bishops’ Conference with its own suggestions. The Bishops’ Conference on November 6-7,1985 took decision on the matter and asked the Liturgy Commission Chairman to publish it for use, incorporating the agreed upon corrections of the Bishops’ Conference. Thus it was published in three volumes under the copyright of the Syro-Malabar Bishops’ conference in December 1986. When it came to the reprint, it was published as one volume.


The text contains only one week’s Divine Office for each liturgical season (the seasons of Elijah-Sliba’ and Muse’ are joined together). Feast days are not included. The Dawidaja’, the Psalter is in full according to the Syriac sources. Besides being faithful to the approved sources, appropriate passages from other writings of the fathers are also included. Insights of second Vatican Council are incorporated mainly in the Karozuta’, the proclamation prayer in Night Liturgy. Above all, it has brought back almost all the celebrational and ritual details, such as the use of the sanctuary veil, incensing, lighting of the lamps, antiphons and refrains, ritual repetitions, processions, and so on, which were lost during the long period of vernacular experimentation.


Order of Celebration


The vernacular texts are designed to include three times of Office a day: 1. Ramsa’, the Evening Liturgy, 2. Lelja’, the Night Liturgy, and 3. Sapra’, the Morning Liturgy.


Ramsa’, the Evening Liturgy


In continuation with the Jewish tradition, the East Syriac heritage considers the liturgical day as running from evening to evening. Ramsa’ therefore, is the “sacrifice of praise” at the beginning of the liturgical day. It has a structure very similar to the “liturgy of the Catechumens” in this tradition. Lighting of the lamps with incensing, proclamation of the Word and procession are the important and impressive elements of this celebration.


Light and Incense


Lighting of the two lamps or candles in the sanctuary and the incensing connected with that are typical rites of Evening Liturgy. Jesus Christ is the light of the world and life of all. The church is very particular in emphasizing the different modes of our Lord’s presence amidst us. His presence through the Word or Sacred scripture is a prominent one. The Evening Liturgy which is centred around the proclamation of the Word ought to stress this mode of God’s presence in humanity. The two lamps in the sanctuary symbolize the two Testaments, Old and New, in East Syriac tradition. Thus the relevance of the solemn lighting of the lamps and incensing. This rite follows the initial psalm when the sanctuary veil is removed and the resurrection hymn is sung. Usually it is done by deacons. The biblical as well as oriental sense of light as life is also important in this connection.


Incensing of the altar, the sanctuary, the nave and the community proclaims the special presence of the Lord in all those symbols of faith. Moreover, incensing is the sign of purification, pardon of sins and human response to the salvific call of God. The importance our brethren of other religions of India accord to light and incense in their religious worship is also an encouraging factor to lay an added emphasis on this ritual in the Evening Liturgy. Everyday during this celebration we ought to light the lamps in the sanctuary and at least on Sundays and Feasts offer incense.


Proclamation of the Word


The Gospel episode of the Holy Qurbana’ is selected also for the Evening Liturgy. On solemn occasions, it is good to have all the four readings of the day together with the orations, hymns, procession, incensing, homily, and so on, exactly as they are conducted during Qurbana’ celebration. According to the style of East Syriac liturgical spirituality, the Word of god proclaimed in the Liturgy must fill our daily life. All inspirations for our action in life must flow from that Word of God.




‘Onita’ d-Basaliqe, the “Royal Anthem” on Sundays and Feasts or ‘Onita’ d-Ramsa, the “Evening Hymn” on weekdays and the rituals connected with that remind us of the pilgrim procession the early community of Jerusalem was conducting to the sepulcher of our Lord. Though it happened to be related to the welcome accorded to the Emperor in the Byzantine tradition, in the East Syriac heritage it was always conducted in honour of the Risen Lord. In the beginning it was conducted within the church itself or around it, as it was safeguarding the altar, the symbol of our Lord’s sepulcher and the throne of God in heaven. Later, especially among the Thomas Christians of India, it was conducted around the Cross, erected in front of churches. The Cross is also the symbol of the Risen Lord for Thomas Christians. The procession in the Evening Liturgy, thus, is in fact, a proclamation of the pilgrim and eschatological character of the church in this world.


Lelja’, the Night Liturgy


Lelja’ is the Prayer of the Church in East Syriac tradition before retiring to sleep at night.  The faithful who have completely surrendered themselves to Jesus Christ in the Sacraments of Initiation, understanding the real value of rest and sleep given to them by God thought of proclaiming it through an ecclesial act as they were beginning to enjoy it.  When they tried to express it in the background of the Bible and their ecclesial experience the Night Liturgy was formed. Psalms constitute the major part of this celebration. Qanone, orations, hymns, praises, Karozuta’, and so on are all added according to the need and context.


Lelja’ – Sapra’, the Night and morning Liturgy


The Night Liturgy begins as usual in East Syriac tradition with, “Glory to God in the heights”, the angels’ hymn and the Lord’s Prayer; but ends not with the usual sealing (Huttamma’) prayer and priestly blessing. The Morning Liturgy begins not in the usual style, but with the acclamation of the deacon, “Let us pray, peace be with us”, and the priestly oration. It ends, however, with the usual huttamma’ prayer and the priestly blessing. This shows the ancient practice of this tradition of celebrating the Lelja’ – Sapra’, the Night and morning Liturgy together.


Today, as they are celebrated in night before retiring to sleep and at dawn as one gets out of sleep, the bodily rest and sleep come in between the Night and morning Liturgy. The bodily rest and sleep are in fact a sign and symbol in the light of faith. They are the signs of eternal rest that we expect at the end of our pilgrimage on this earth. This vision of the Thomas Christians which has even changed the bodily rest and sleep in night to become part of their liturgical celebration is indeed something unique. It is the rest in the Lord.


Sapra’, the Morning Liturgy


Most of the psalms, prayers, hymns, etc., in the Morning liturgy express sentiments of praise and thanksgiving to the Lord of creation and light. It is also considered to be the best preparation for the celebration of the Holy Qurbana’. It is good sometimes that it be combined with the first part of Qurbana’ and be celebrated most solemnly.


Liturgical Spirit


The European missionaries who came to India in and after the sixteenth century attest to the fact that there was regular and orderly celebration of the Divine Office in all parish churches of the Thomas Christians. Not only the clergy but also the laity in good numbers participated in those celebrations. It was celebrated solemnly at dusk and dawn.


Through the introduction of several activities of piety, such as the monthly devotions, rosary, and so on, from the western world, the salutary liturgical style of the Thomas Christians slowly began to become eroded. But the laxity evident in the present day Syro-Malabar church in restoring the authentic liturgical spirit is more pathetic and lamentable.  The Second Vatican Council has asked all the faithful, belonging to all ecclesial traditions, to return to their own authentic heritage and build upon that (SC 4; OE 6).


The Council encourages even the Latin tradition to celebrate the Divine Office solemnly in parish churches on Sundays and Feasts. Both the clergy and laity are earnestly exhorted to participate in those celebrations (SC 100). The Eastern churches used to do it always in community in churches. Those who have lost the noble practice are to revive it by all means.


The faithful in Eastern traditions used to pray part of the “Divine Praises” at home as their family prayer. Most of the traditions preserve this custom even to the present day.  The custom of the ancient Thomas Christians was not different. Only the Syro-Malabarians lost it in the course of Latin domination after the sixteenth century.