October 3, 2007
Exposition of the Holy Raze of the Chaldean Rite
by Mar Sarhad Yawsip Jammo
Exposition of the Holy Raze of the Chaldean Rite
General Outline of the Eucharistic Celebration
The Chaldean rite is very close to the Scriptures in all that regards the Eucharist: building architecture, ceremonial arrangement, formulation of texts and theological content. Indeed, the Chaldean Eucharistic celebration, for its Instructional Section, is based on the encounter of the risen Lord with the two disciples in their journey to Emmaus, as described in Luke 24:13-35; as for its Qurbana Section, it is based on the four Scriptural accounts: 1 Cor, 11:23-26, Luke 22:14-20, Mt 26:26-29, & Mk 14:22-25. The Mesopotamian Church, as an authentic historic expression of Christian faith and worship, has developed its central act of liturgy by harmonizing all the related Scriptural and apostolic elements, including architecture, ceremonial and text, in one celebration of the divine drama of salvation.
Basic Design: 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 with a procession leading to the sanctuary, where the celebrant proclaimed the heavenly and divine words of glorification, i.e. the angelic hymn announcing the coming of the Son of God to our earth, followed by the first words of praise of the Lord’s 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 theme of celebration.
Now the gate of heaven 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,the seating place of the clergy, will parade the basic visible signs and means of Christian salvation and faith: the cross and the book of the Gospel, the incense and the candles. The archaic hymnLakhu Mara 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; later, another procession will take the gifts to the altar for the Presentation, leading in Spirit the whole congregation to the heavenly sanctuary to offer the divine Qurbana.
Explanation of the Festive Design
a) The Chaldean rite uses the dynamic of ceremonial movement to initiate each one of the two sections of the Eucharistic Raze The first one signifies the coming of the Son of God to our earth for our salvation; all elements: cross and Gospel, incense and candles, with the celebrant and clergy, are in the function of re-presenting the liturgical manifestation of the Lord to his Church; the second one brings forth the offerings initiating the Eucharistic section. Evidently, the cross signifies the eternal sacrifice of the Son of God-Son of Man, the Gospel his life-giving teaching, the incense the aromatic perfume of his love, and the two candles the two Testaments.
b) The angelic acclamation “Glory to God in the highest” is adopted by the Mesopotamian liturgy as the opening of the celebration, implying that the Word of God is coming to our midst, wait then for him and search for him; immediately after, as a development of the glorification, the initial section of the Lordly Prayer will be amplified and fulfilled with the three Qaddysh sung to the heavenly Father and to the Holy Trinity; the celebrant’s first prayer is in the name of the whole congregation willing to join the heavenly chorus in a full act of worship.
c) The ‘Onytha d-Qanke shall present the theme of the specific liturgical time or solemnity, and the following priestly prayer shall express the main meaning of the liturgy: “we give you thanks and praise you unceasingly in your crowned Church” for the gift of salvation. Right away, the veil is opened, Lakhu Mara is sung, and celebrant and clergy sit in the bema.
The Ferial Design: In contrast with the solemn and triumphant festive text and apparatus, the ferial prelude is simple in ceremonial and penitential in character, inviting the worshipers to the purification of the heart, fitting for the beginning of this holy Service.
The Relevance of the Bema: The Mongolian attacks on Christianity during the 14th and 15thCenturies 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, and affected 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. The remnant of an original Mesopotamian altar with its canopy is found today in the chapel of Rabban Hormizd Monastery; 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, and the divine drama of the historic coming of the Son of God to our world lost its liturgical, dynamic and expressive choreography.
The Liturgical Relevance of the Veil: With the elimination of the veil in the past decades, by the explicit or implicit approval of the Chaldean hierarchy, the results are:
- a) The awakening and dramatic sign that indicated the beginning and termination of the liturgical act, that is, the opening and closing of the veil, disappeared;
- b) The sanctuary has been made an open field for the public;
- c) The atmosphere of holiness to be reserved for the sanctuary is diminished;
- d) The Chaldean Church has been deprived of her particularity and her genuine characteristics that are deeply Scriptural.
Prayer with the Back to the Cross: Furthermore, a most drastic change has happened, again during these last decades, in many Chaldean dioceses and churches, wherein the Chaldean celebrant, imitating the Latin Rite celebrant, reversed the direction of prayer and, without concern, mingled both sections of the Mass.
In fact, in the historic design of the Chaldean Mass there is a clear distinction between the first Instructional Section, perceived as a journey of the Church – like the disciples of Emmaus – and the Eucharistic section, which begins with the Presentation. The first part proceeds in a movement toward the bema and has for its focal point the stands of the readings; the second section occurs in the sanctuary and has for its focal point the altar, which is directed toward the cross. As the Prefect of the Congregation for Doctrine of Faith, Cardinal Ratzinger (now Holy Father Benedict XVI) said in his book The Spirit of the Liturgy: “For the Liturgy of the Word is about speaking and responding, and so a face-to-face exchange between proclaimer and hearer does make sense…On the other hand, a common turning to the East during the Eucharistic Prayer remains essential. This is not a case of something accidental, but of what is essential. Looking at the priest has no importance. What matters is looking together at the Lord.” (p. 81)
As far as the direction of prayer is concerned, sadly enough, this is what happens in many Chaldean churches today: the celebrant goes, immediately after the prayer preceding Lakhu Mara, to stand behind the altar, with his back to the cross; he leaves that location for the reading of the Gospel and the sermon; then he returns to the same position to perform the Presentation; he then descends toward the people for the Creed, and returns again with his back to the cross to recite the Eucharistic Prayer, the Our Father and what follows until Communion, and doing the same for the final prayers after Communion.
This unjustified recent use–or abuse to be more accurate–contradicts the whole tradition of the Chaldean Church in celebrating the Eucharist, as well as the historic comprehensive design of the Chaldean Mass and the harmony of its texts, and disregards gravely the Instruction of the Holy See for the Application of the Liturgical Prescriptions of the Code of Canons for the Eastern Churches: “This practice (i.e. praying towards the east), threatened in many Eastern Catholic Churches because of a new and recent Latin influence, has thus a profound value and must be safeguarded, it being strongly coherent with the Eastern spirituality.” (Vatican: 1996, No. 107). The Liturgy therefore becomes disoriented in the manner described by the same above-quoted eminent author in the same book:
Now the priest – the “presider”, as they now prefer to call him – becomes the real point of reference for the whole liturgy. Everything depends on him. We have to see him, to respond to him, to be involved in what he is doing. His creativity sustains the whole thing…Less and less is God in the picture. More and more important is what is done by the human beings who meet here and do not like to subject themselves to a “pre-determined pattern”. The turning of the priest toward the people has turned the community into a self-enclosed circle. In its outward form, it no longer opens out on what lies ahead and above, but is closed in on itself. The common turning toward the east was not a “celebration toward the wall;” it did not mean that the priest “had his back to the people:” the priest himself was not regarded as so important. For, just as the congregation in the synagogue looked together toward Jerusalem, so in the Christian liturgy, the congregation looked together “toward the Lord.” (p. 80)
What a sad and embarrassing consequence of this perplexing attitude, strange to the whole history of Christian worship! In fact, the position of the cross, in relation to the altar and to the celebrant and congregation, became problematic and unsettled; where to put a cross: behind the celebrant, in front of the celebrant, hanging from the ceiling, diagonal on the altar? Where, in order not to defy even common sense? Moreover, in what side the icon of the crucifix is to be positioned? Or maybe two crosses are needed: one facing the celebrant and one for the congregation? Tell me: is that theology, or rather a confusion and distortion of it? Thus, the celebrant’s attitude of standing in front of the cross at the moment of the Divine Offering, as alike at Golgotha did Mary the Blessed Mother, John the Beloved Disciple, and the holy women (John 19: 25), is not an accidental or optional position but a theological requirement of the act of offering.
The Readings: In a solemn celebration (for Sundays or Feasts), two readings are provided “from Moses and the Prophets,” respectively, followed by two readings from the New Testament: one of these being the exposition and interpretation of God’s word as found in the writings of the Apostles, especially Paul, then the other one the exposition of Christ’s words and actions as reported in the Gospels. An interval between the two groups proclaims the liturgical solemnity of the day. Moreover, the reading of the Gospel is given a contour that shows its eminence among the readings: a procession with candles and incense, invitation of the deacon to the congregation to stand up, the chant of halleluiah, and the chant of zummara which pinpoints the core teaching of the selected Gospel.
After the homily on Sundays and Feasts, the Petitions (Ba’utha) are presented, in accordance with the request of Paul in the First Letter to Timothy: “First of all, then, I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings, be offered for everyone, for kings and for all in authority, that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity. This is good and pleasing to God our Savior.” (1 Tim 2:1-3). The Ba’utha, not being reported in the Scriptural accounts, should not be considered a constitutive part of the Eucharistic celebration; indeed, the Chaldean practice of the later age was to include it only during the season of Lent.
Historic Explanation of Organic Development: Around the basic and Scripturally-guided original structure, pertaining liturgical elements were developed through the centuries, including glorifications and selected psalmody, hymns and processional ‘Onyatha, deaconal salutations and priestly prayers. Historically, the passage from the informal ambiance of a house celebration to a church building required the composition and arrangement of these fixed and organized elements.
The above-mentioned passage occurred in two major historic periods: the first one happened in the early centuries of Christianity, i.e. before the era of major persecutions (A.D. 340-380), the second one occurred with the official recognition of Christianity and of Church status before 410 by the Persian King of Kings Yezdegerd. The first period, in its early stage, could hardly suffice to compose and organize prayers and hymns, lectionaries and psalmodies, and provide the means to diffuse them uniformly throughout the dioceses east of the Euphrates; but, with the growing of Ecclesiastic organization since the beginning of the 5th century, the needed compositions were gradually provided for in a fairly systematic way.
Openness to the Church Universal: Two elements of the Instructional section show a clear will of the Church of the East to be open to “western” practices, namely those being expressive of her own spirituality and liturgical sense. The first is the Tri-Qaddysha before the readings, introduced to the Chaldean Raze by Mar Abba around 530 AD, understood according to the Byzantine legend for its introduction; the second is some of the invocations of the Ba’utha which have their corresponding verses in the Byzantine liturgy. Therefore, it is important to observe that despite all the wall of isolation surrounding the Church of the East, this apostolic church wanted to be an integral member of the Church Universal, interacting with it in a harmonic and healthy manner of liturgical communion.