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 Truth will make you free”


Vol. 18, No.2                             New Delhi                           April 2008




Observations on the Revised Text of the Holy Qurbana

(Bishop Mar Abraham Mattam)


Basic Theological and Liturgical Norms Disregarded


There are theological and liturgical principles and norms to be followed in the revision of the liturgical texts.  Based on these, the ordained priest, the deacon and the laity have their distinct roles in the celebration of the Eucharistic liturgy. But some of the changes and options introduced in the 1989 text of the Thaksa for the Solemn and Simple Forms of the Qurbana are found to be not in keeping with these principles.  There was a preoccupation in the revision to shorten the celebration to the minimum, which makes it a skeleton of the real Oriental celebration. Another problem was the lack of a clear understanding of the distinct roles of each sections of the Christian communion, especially with regard to “active” participation of the laity.


Active Participation


In the apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis Pope Benedict XVI deals with this point under the heading, “Actuosa Participatio”, “Active Participation”.  He writes, “The Second Vatican Council rightly emphasized the active, full and fruitful participation of the entire People of God in the Eucharistic celebration…. Yet, we must not overlook the fact that some misunderstanding has occasionally arisen concerning the precise meaning of this participation.  It should be made clear that the word “participation” does not refer to mere external activity during the celebration…” (S> Car.n. 52).


What the Council wanted


 The Holy Father continues:  “In fact the active participation called for by the Council must be understood in more substantive terms, on the basis of a greater awareness of the mystery that is being celebrated and its relationship to daily life.  The Conciliar constgitution Sacrosanctum Concilium(on Liturgy) encouraged the faithful to take part in the Eucharistic liturgy not as “strangers or silent spectators”, but as participants “in the sacred action, conscious of what they are doing, actively and devoutly (SC n. 48).


The function of the priest


Pope Benedict further says in the following number: “The active participation of the laity does not benefit from the confusion arising from an inability to distinguish, within the Church’s communion, the different functions proper to each one.  There is particular need for clarity with regard to the specific functions of the priest.  He alone and no other, as the tradition of the Church attests, presides over the Eucharistic celebration from the initial greeting to the final blessings.  In virtue of his reception of the Holy Orders he represents Jesus Christ, the head of the Church, and, in a specific way, also the Church herself” (Sacr. Cari..n. 53).


The Priest, Minister and Mediator


The Dogmatic constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium) speaks of priests: “The ministerial priest, by the sacred power that he has, forms and rules the priestly people; in the person of Christ he effects the Eucharistic sacrifice and offers it to God in the name of all the people.  The faithful indeed, by virtue of the royal priesthood, participate in the offering of the Eucharist” (LG n. 10).  Lumen Gentium further says:  “…they (priests) are consecrated in order to preach the Gospel and shepherd the faithful as well as to celebrate the divine worship as true priests of the New Testament.  On the level of their own ministry sharing the unique office of Christ the mediator…it is in the Eucharistic cult or the Eucharistic assembly of the faithful that they exercise in a supreme degree their sacred functions…acting in the person of Christ” (LG n.28).


Pope John Paul II, in the encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia elaborates the phrase: “in the name of Christ, in persona Christi”: “The phrase In persona means more than offering ‘in the name of ’or ‘ in the place of ’ Christ.  In persona means in specific sacramental identification with the eternal High Priest who is the author and principal subject of this sacrifice of his, a sacrifice in which, in truth, nobody can take his place. ” (E de E n. 29).


Christ is the only Mediator between the Father and the whole human race.  Likewise in the Eucharistic celebration the priest who shares the mediatory role offers the Sacrifice for all the people and intercedes or mediates on behalf of all.


The above theological teachings find an exdpression in the prayers of the Holy Qurbana  of the  Syro-Malabar Church.  For example, when the priest requests the prayers of the faithful in the Anaphora, the people respond:  “May Christ hear your prayers and accept your Qurbana.  May he…. Be pleased in this acrifice which you offer on your own behalf, on our behalf and on behalf of the whole world that hopefully awaits His grace and mercy for ever.  Amen.”


After the fraction and consignation the priest prays: “Glory to you, O Lord Jesus Christ, for though I am unworthy you have in your mercy appointed me a minister and mediator of your holy, glorious, life-giving and divine mysteries.”


Eucharistic Prayer – only the Priest should recite


Pope John Paul II in the encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia  reminds us of the prescriptions of the Roman Missal in these words: “….the ordained priest who ‘acting in the person of Christ brings about the Eucharistic sacrifice and offers it God in the name of all the people.’ (LG n. 10).  For this reason, the Roman Missal prescribes that only the priest should recite the Eucharistic Prayer, while the people participate in faith and in silence” (E de E n. 28).


The Roman document “Sacrament of Redemption” (Redemptionis Sacramentum) published by the special instruction of Pope John Paul II, points out: “The proclamation of the Eucharistic Prayer which by its very nature is the climax of the whole celebration, is proper to the Priest by virtue of his Ordination.  It is, therefore, an abuse to proffer it in such a way that some parts of the Eucharistic Prayer are recited by a Deacon, a lay minister or an individual member of the faithful, or by all members of the faithful together.  The Eucharistic Prayer, then is to be recited by the Priest alone in full” (RS 2004, n. 52).


The following number lays down: “While the Priest proclaims the Eucharistic Prayer there should be no other prayers or singing, and the organ or other musical instruments should be silent,” except the people’s acclamation that have been duly allowed.” (RS n. 53).


Within this general principle, the Roman Missal makes provision for a few acclamations, responses, signing  of the Sanctus, “and at the end the response, Amen.


The document is published by the Congregation for Divine Worship, but the principle, namely the function of the ordained priest in the Eucharistic celebration, is the same in our Rite as well.


The Syro-Malabar Thaksa follows the same principle, the proclamation of the Anaphora is done by the priest alone.  There is provisions for the faithful to sing the Sanctus, and to make some responses like, “May Christ hear your prayers…and mercy for ever”, etc.  At the end of the prayers they respond “Amen.”


Abuses and Reprobated Practices


The proclamation of the Eucharistic Prayer is proper to the Priest.  “It is, therefore, an abuse to proffer it in such a way that some parts of the Eucharistic Prayer are recited by a Deacon, a lay minister or an individual member of the faithful, or by all members of the faithful together” says the “Sacrament of Redemption (RS n.52).


The same document in another place calls reprobate some practices in the celebration of the Eucharist.  It says: “The reprobated practice by which priests, Deacon or the faithful here and there alter or vary at will the texts of the Sacred Liturgy that they are charged to pronounce must cease.  For in doing thus, they render the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy unstable, not infrequently distort the authentic meaning of the Liturgy. (RS n. 59).


In the Syro-Malabar Church we have come to such a state that in many places the priest and the faithful take the freedom to change and alter the prayers in the Thaksa and add omit them, and to sing any devotional hymn out of place, even without any reference to the Eucharistic celebration according to each one’s liking.


Avoiding Misleading Terms


The Sacrament of Redemption brings to our attention some misunderstanding that has occurred regarding the different roles of the priest and the people in the Eucharistic celebration and consequently inappropriate use of terms.  It says: “Nor is the Eucharistic Sacrifice to be considered a “concelebration”, in the univocal sense, of the Priest along with the people who are present.  On the contrary, the Eucharist  celebrated by the Priests is a gift…There is a pressing need of a concerted will to avoid all ambiguity in this matter and to remedy the difficulties of recent years.  Accordingly, terms such as “celebrating community” or “celebrating assembly”…and similar terms should not be used injudiciously.” (RS n. 42).  In sermons and homilies, it seems, priests often do not have a clear idea about the role of the ministerial priesthood, and are causing confusion in the minds of the people, telling them “we are together celebrating the Qurbana”.


Some changes introduced and options allowed in the Syro-Malabar Qurbana text of 1989, as mentioned at the beginning, are not in keeping with the general principles elaborated above and our own authentic tradition.   It was the end result of absence of thorough study, and compromises, made because of pressure and other circumstances.  Due to the division of opinion, some items are left optional.  These points are raised here as a study; and further scope for improvement is still open.  Some instances are pointed out below:


1) Omission of the Creed


The option to omit the Creed  in the Simple form of Qurbana on ferial days, is not according to the Oriental tradition and spirit of the Liturgy.  The Oriental Congregation gives the correct position in an Instruction to the Bishops in 1981 as follows: “The traditional text and location of the creed are obligatory in all liturgies.  The Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed is a fixed element before the anaphora in all Eastern traditions except the Ethiopian.  Parallels with Roman usage, based on a totally different history, has no relevance here”.  It seems, sometimes the recitation of the Creed in the Rosary is given greater importance than in the celebration of Qurbana.


2) Posture during G’hanta


The traditional posture for the G’hanta is that the celebrant recite the prayer bending himself slightly and hands extended but no raised but not raised and the palms slightly folded upwards. (Ordo Celebrationis quddasa, Paenotanda, n. 10).  


But, the 1989 text of the Qurbana says: “The celebrant bowing and with hands joined recites the G’hanta.  I remember how this change happened. At a meeting of the Bishop’s Conference one or two of the bishops remarked that our Indian custom is to pray with joined hands.  Praying, bowing oneself and extending the hands was to them a Muslim custom.  On the contrary, Muslims must have adapted it from Christian practice.  Other bishops did not object to it and the proposal was accepted without proper study of its significance and without much discussion Praying and meditating with hands folded and joined together is a common custom in India among Christians and non-Christians alike.  The faithful also while participating in the liturgy keeps the hands joined.  So the result is that the priest recites G’hantas without any distinct, appealing posture. Only that he bows a little….


3) Splitting the G’hantas and Kusappas


In the Anaphora, the Priest, sharing the mediatory role by virtue of his ordination, intercedes for the people and prays for various intentions in the G’hantas and intercessory Kusappas.  The Kusappa after the third G’hanta has been split into three and the faithful are to pray “Lord, accept our Qurbana” (optional). As elaborated above, this is not permissible.  The prayer is reserved to the ordained minister and the faithful are not to intervene in the course of the prayer.  The people are not to assume the role of the ordained minister.  Active participation of the laity does not mean splitting single prayers of the Anaphora to give a chance for the faithful to utter a few words every now and then.


We must take note that in the earlier text of the Thaksa this kusappa was to be recited quietly.  As a rule the kusappas are said silently.  Most of the kusappas are made optional and as a result priests omit them.  The silent prayers (kusappas) of the priest leave moments of silence during the celebration, which create an atmosphere of reflection and make an impression on the mind.  It adds to the solemnity and beauty of the divine service.


Pope John Paul II writes in the apostolic Letter Mane Nobiscum Domine: “Care should be taken to show that awareness (of real presence) through tone of voice, gestures, postures and bearing.  In this regard, liturgical law recalls – and I myself have recently reaffirmed – the importance of moments of silence both in the celebration of Mass and in the Eucharistic adoration”.  (MND 2004, n. 18).  The reference is to the Pope’s Apostolic Letter Spiritus et Sponsa on the 40th Anniversary of Constitution on Liturgy SC, where he says:  One aspect that we must foster in our communities with greater commitment is the experience of silence.  We need silence if we are to accept in our hearts the full resonance of the voice of the Holy Spirit and unite our personal prayer more closely to the Word of God and the public voice of the Church… The Liturgy, with its different moments and symbols, cannot ignore silence.” (MND, 2004, n. 18).


Second and Third Anaphoras


Revision of the texts of the Second and Third Anaphoras are under way and some people are proposing to split the G’hantas and Kusappas in them. The purpose is to insert a little prayer for the faithful “to keep them engaged” during the celebration.  As explained earlier, this would not be permissible.  Proclamation of the Eucharistic Prayer is reserved to the Ordained minister.  People are to take part “in faith and in silence”.


4) Verses recited by the priest and faithful alternately


Before the fraction of the Bread the Priest is to recite silently a few verses from Psalm 51, “Have mercy on me O God, in your love; in the depth of your tenderness blot out sins etc.  This is meant as a personal prayer to help the celebrant to proceed with a heart of compunction.  But now it is prescribed that the celebrant and the faithful alternate these verses.  This is a misplaced application of the principle of “active participation of the laity” without taking into account the whole structure and the nature of the Qurbana.  The penitential litany of the faithful comes just before communion.


5) Prayer of the Deacon


During the fraction, there is the prayer which begins, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven…..”  The Latin and Syriac texts assign this prayer to be recited by the  Deacon.  But somehow in later texts the rubrics prescribes that the people recite the prayer or sing.  The Malayalam Thaksa has given the prayer in the form of hymn and prose.  It would have been proper at this point of the celebration that the Deacon loudly rfecite it.  Now what happens in many churches is that any devotional hymn that is made available by lyricists in the market is sung, even songs without any direct reference to the Eucharist !


6) Penitential litany vs Prayer of the Priest


During the penitential karozutha, in preparation for communion, led by the Deacon the people respond “Lord, forgive the sins and offences of your servants”.  This is like a general confession of sins.  At this time the priest is to say a prayer appropriate for his own communion.  The prayer begins, “Blessed are you, O Lord, God of our fathers….”  He recalls God’s mercies and salvation wrought through Christ.  Then the priest acknowledging his unworthiness prays, “make us also worthy…..to receive the gift in all purity and holiness; ….and untied to the Body and Blood of your Christ may together with all the saints, shine brightly at His great and glorious manifestation.”  It is a pity that this beautiful prayer is now usually left out by priests and they prefer to join the penitential litany of the faithful led by the Deacon.  The idea behind it may be that the priest and the people should, as far as possible, say the same prayers.


7) The role of the Deacon


In the celebration of the Qurbana the Deacon has specific functions.  He announces the diptychs, prepares the gifts (bread and wine), leads the people in prayer and assists at the distribution of communion.  An acolyte cannot perform these functions.  The Syro-Malabar Synod has decided to revive the custom of permanent diaconate in the Church.  Now it is to be introduced by the dioceses.  The example of the church in USA should be an incentive for us.  The statistics of the Church in USA in 2004 show that all but 7 dioceses had permanent Deacons.  The total number of permanent Deacons in 170 dioceses was 14,019.  We could start with our bigger parishes where there is greater need for the services of permanent Deacons.


8) Kissing the Altar, bidding adieu


Another example resulting from the confusion of roles – The Thaksa prescribes, that after the final blessing, the celebrant comes to the center of the altar, bows or kisses it saying: (silently): “Remain in peace, altar of forgiveness; remain in peace sepulcher of our Lord….I know not whether I shall come again and offer another sacrifice upon you”.   In some places, the priests say this prayer aloud along with the people.  Active participation ?  Do the people, men and women, ever ascend the altar in the sanctuary and offer the sacrifice ?  If the faithful are to say the prayer with the priest it would give the wrong impression that they are “concelebrants” with the priest.  It is misleading and ludicrous – what the “Sacrament of Redemption” calls “reprobated practices”.


It is very important that the faithful are well instructed in liturgical matters, especially about the mystery of the Holy Eucharist.  They must be able to understand the sense of the prayers, including the Eucharistic Prayers, and the symbolic meaning of the actions and gestures in order that conscious, fruitful and active participation is becomes a reality.


Our sad experience shows that in the Seminaries much more attention should be given to the liturgical training and formation of the students according to the instructions of the Second Vatican Council and the Holy See.


                                                                     (Bishop Mar Abraham D. Mattam)