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Chaldean Liturgy – Lecture 5

Lecture 5

Theological and Liturgical Dynamics
of the Instructional Section

(Wednesday, October 4, 2006; St. Peter Cathedral, El Cajon, California)

The design of the church building, reflecting, from one side, the scriptural temple and synagogues, and the Mesopotamian architecture, from the other, were carefully Christianized to fit the liturgical performance of the Mystery of Salvation.  The celebration would begin in front of the altar, inside of the veiled sanctuary, with the heavenly and divine words of glorification, i.e. the angelic glorification announcing the coming of the Son of God to our earth, followed by the first words of praise of the Lordly Prayer.  The celebrant then presents to the Trinity, in the name of the people, the opening prayer, followed immediately by the ‘Onytha d-Qankeformulating the seasonal team of celebration.

Now the gate of heavens opens; the Deacon announces with his salutation the beginning of the divine drama of the descent of the Son of God to our earth.  The procession towards the Bema will parade the basic visible signs and means of Christian Salvation and Faith: the Cross and the Book of the Gospel.  The archaic hymn LakhuMara summarizes it eloquently.

The tri-Qaddysha will enhance the theme of glorification, preparing us to be submitted and committed to the plan of God that will guide us in our earthly journey.  At the Bema the clergy will sit, among the people, to listen to the Word of God in the obedient attitude of the disciples.  At the proper time, a procession will take the Gospel to the designated stand to be proclaimed to all nations; another procession will take the gifts to the altar for the Offertory, leading in Spirit the whole congregation to the heavenly sanctuary.

Problematic of the Current Missal and Situation

I.   Accumulation of Elements

Since ‘Ysho’yahb III, in the middle of the 7th century, until recent times, no competent and comprehensive study was ever made of the Chaldean Liturgy.  At the present time, however, as a result of last century’s scholarship, we are made aware that through generations of liturgical life, the original meaning and the correct use of some elements of the Mass may have been lost or misunderstood, resulting today in a ritual that contains some confused or unjustified arrangements of liturgical structure, or entanglement of ceremonial elements. The following are a few instances:

  1. Reciting three times the Lord’s Prayer during the same Mass is obviously redundant.  The proper place of the Our Father is before Communion, as it is in all rites of the church.  Nonetheless, the opening glorification of the Lordly Prayer is very fit for the opening of the liturgy.
  2. The prayer “Strengthen, our Lord and God …” is a prayer for clergy and must be allocated for that function.
  3. The Marmytha, or monastic psalmody, is out of context, and had to be eliminated.
  4. The “Gloria” of the ‘Onytha d-Qanke is often in reference to the Cross, even when the liturgical season has a different theological focus, therefore an adjustment is needed.
  5. The prayer introducing Lakhu Mara was mutilated, thus it has been reconstructed to express the fullness of its meaning.
  6. The Supplication (Ba’utha w-Karozutha), in the practice of last century, was either eliminated or reserved to the Lenten season.  It has to be restored in its place, though in its shorter form.
  7. Several formulas relating to the Readings and to the Incensing are duplicates that need better distribution and arrangement.

II. The Elimination of Bema and Veil:

The Mongolian attacks on Christianity, during the 14th and 15th century, caused a devastating and lasting destruction of church structures all over the territory of the Church of the East, including church buildings and monastery chapels, that effected also the liturgical ceremonials and rituals.   Having very little leftover from that spiritual glory of the ancient Mesopotamian cathedrals, we will miss forever their archaic sanctuaries, altars and Bemas. According to the latest research, the most ancient remnant of the original Mesopotamian altar with its canopy is in the Chapel of Rabban Hormizd Monastery, behind the actual wooden altar. The most ancient Bema to be found today, in clear archaic shape, is within the archeological remains of a church-monastery complex south of Sulaimanya in Northern Iraq.

By the elimination of the Bema in all Chaldean churches, the Entrance ceremony became quite static.  Also, by eliminating the veil in the past decades, by explicit or implicit approval of the Chaldean hierarchy:

a)  The sanctuary has been made an open field for the public;
b) The awakening and dramatic sign that indicated the beginning and termination of the liturgical act disappeared;
c) The atmosphere of holiness to be reserved and preserved for the Sanctuary is diminished;
d) The Chaldean Church has been deprived of her particularity and genuine characteristics that are deeply scriptural.