Instructions for applying the liturgical prescriptions of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches: an appraisal in the context of Syro Malabar Church
Instructions for applying the Liturgical prescriptions of the code of canons of the Eastern Churches is an important document from the Universal Church concerning the Eastern Catholic Churches.
This was published in 1996 where all the Liturgical norms described in Orientalum Ecclesiarum, the decree of II Vatican Council on Eastern Churches published in 1964, the Code of Canons of Eastern Churches published in 1990 and the subsequent magisterial documents were gathered together systematically and completed them with further details to assist the eastern Churches for a full restoration of their liturgico- theological heritage.
These Instructions underline that all the prescripts of liturgical matters in the Liturgical books and other norms of the liturgical matters that are produced by the competent authority of a particular Church, not included in the Liturgical books, are legally binding. The Code of Canons of Oriental Churches insists on the obligation to diligently follow these liturgical norms.
Background of this document.
Communion of Churches that existed in the early period disintegrated due to various reasons. Political strife between empires and disagreement about authority caused schisms and disagreement about matters of faith and theology caused each to accuse heresy over the other. Attempts of restoration not ina spirit of reconciliation but of authority caused divisions among various eastern churches which were persecuted in the Middle East with a section joining the Church of Rome. These churches were forced to become in conformity to the Church of Rome resulting in latinisations and loss of identity resulting in them becoming junior partners in the communion.
Catholic Church: the Universal Church
Catholic Church is a Universal Church. This Universality is not attributed to the universal presence of the Catholic Church but the Universality of all traditions and cultures.
The term Catholic was first used by Saint Ignatius of Antioch who was a disciple of Saint John the Evangelist. Ignatius in AD 110 wrote in his epistles to Smyrneans that Catholic Church is the Universal Church.
Letter of the Church of Smyrna on the occasion of the martyrdom of Saint Polycarp,(69-155 AD) the term ‘catholic’ again appears with a meaning that the catholic church is the aggregation of all local churches and congregations.
Thus, the sub-Apostolic Fathers who were truly fidel to the spirit of the Apostles considered the Catholic Church as an aggregation of different particular Churches and congregations.
Particular Churches and Catholic Church- Universal inclusiveness.
The revealed mysteries were perceived by different people in their language and culture and in their perspectives- thus local individual churches and traditions evolved in the early Church. The fullness of the revealed mysteries constitutes all these traditions. Saint Cyril of Jerusalem of the fourth century wrote ‘the Church is Catholic not just because it spread all over the World, but it teaches all the doctrines completely and without defect. If certain aspects of the mysteries revealed are not represented, it does not constitute the fullness of revelation. The salvific plan was for the whole of humanity. Jesus founded the Church for the whole of humanity. Therefore, the Catholic Church becomes ‘Catholic’ through communion with all the particular Churches and congregations of different traditions. Catholic is not just a Universal presence but Universal inclusiveness of all traditions
Due to political and colonial reasons, many individual churches and traditions disappeared over time. This was not just eastern Churches but western rites also. Many of the eastern Churches became weakened by forceful Latinisations. Many of the traditions and rituals of the eastern churches were lost and they became hybrid due to latinisations. Lost traditions in the west include the Gallican and Celtic families of Liturgies which were the ancient rites of Europe. Mozarabic rite of spain, Ambrosian rite of Milan and Bragan rite of Portugal became existent nominally in certain areas only and liturgis of the Dominican, Carmelite and Carthusian orders are in use only with special permission of the superiors. East Syriac Church of Cyprus was fully converted to the Roman rite and disappeared there. The loss of these traditions and liturgy which forms the undivided revelation or mysteries of salvation makes the Catholic Church less ‘catholic’. The Roman Church has recognised this mistake and now exhorting the forcefully Latinised eastern Churches to recover what is lost.
Conformity to Roman Church was considered orthodoxy and progress. The eastern Churches started becoming carbon copies of the Roman Church and got the nickname Uniate churches. The most pitiful situation is that some of these Eastern Churches started asserting this hybrid state as their ecclesial identity. One of the examples is the Syro Malabar Church itself in the 1970s. William Macomber wrote in 1977:
“The Hierarchy seems to be aiming at a modernised liturgy that will be open to Indianisation and to ultimate unification with the local Latin liturgy once that too will have become Indianised. Their reforms, therefore, taking the Malabarian Mass on a course that emphatically diverges from tradition…”
Syro Malabar Church
The Syro Malabar Church is one of the strongly Latinised Eastern Catholic Churches. Until the arrival of the Portuguese missionaries in the 15 century, the Syro Malabar Church was part of the undivided East Syriac Church of Saint Thomas Christians. With the infamous Synod of Diamper, there was a systematic attempt by the colonial-minded missionaries to conform the church of Saint Thomas Christians to the Roman rite. The missionaries prohibited the arrival of Bishops from East Syriac Church to Malabar using their political power and appointed Latin rite Bishops to the Christians of Saint Thomas. They tried to undermine the Syriac language and spirituality but the faithful and the clergy resisted. The missionaries had to learn the Syriac language to win the people and slowly introduced Latin spirituality by translating the Latin elements in liturgy into Syriac language to make them acceptable to the faithful. The first Latin rite Bishop of Saint Thomas Christians, Archbishop Francis Ros wrote to his Jesuit general in 1619 that the Church of Saint Thomas Christians must be kept in its Chaldean form.
These efforts of Latinisation by the Missionaries became successful only when the Catholic Saint Thomas Christians came under the native prelates in AD 1896. This was achieved by the missionaries by training the native priests and providing strict Latin formation for a generation of clergy and elevating only the strongly Latinised clergy to Episcopacy. The Syro Malabar Church became an offshoot of the Roman Catholic Church with a separate hierarchy and a different liturgy which was appreciated by the clergy and Bishops as an anomaly in the Catholic Church. Fr E R Hambye, Professor at the Pontifical Oriental Institute at Rome wrote in 1987 giving a realistic picture of the Syro Malabar Church as below.
“More than any other Eastern Churches in communion with Rome, the Syro Malabar Church had almost entirely lost its basic character as an Oriental reality. That loss affected not only the Liturgy, but also the spirituality, theology and law. Its own people hardly knew that they were oriental. After having been told during so many centuries, that everything oriental was wrong, backward, unworthy of Catholics, one wonders how some clergy and laity could still hope for a restoration.“
II Vatican Council and Eastern Catholic Churches
The Second Vatican Council was a historic Council of the Universal Catholic Church where Eastern Catholic Churches were recognised properly, and their genuine rights and lawful autonomy and authority were formally acknowledged. Before that, eastern Churches were treated as inferior partners and as aberrations that needed to be corrected and ultimately to conform with the Roman Church. Orientalium Ecclesiarum is an important magisterial document of the second Vatican council promulgated by Saint Pope Paul VI in 1964 recognising the rights of Eastern Catholics to promote the distinct liturgical practices and traditions of Eastern Churches while remaining in full communion with the Petrine See of Rome. This was definitely against the old policy of Latinisation to conform the Eastern Churches to the Latin Church. It recognised that Eastern and Western churches have the same dignity in the Universal Church This document also give stress on the autonomous powers of the Eastern Churches, their Synods, their Patriarchs and Major Archbishops to establish eparchies, nominate Bishops, legislate various norms for minor orders, feasts, liturgy and spirituality and discipline.
Code of canons of the Eastern Churches was published in 1990 by Saint Pope John Paul II and contains the common portions of the canon law for the 23 eastern Catholic churches that existed in the Universal church then.
Instructions for applying the Liturgical prescriptions of the code of canons of the Eastern Churches is a guarantee by the Universal Church of God to the people of God from the Eastern Churches to protect, preserve and promote their rich liturgical and spiritual traditions customs and discipline.
Objectives of these Instructions.
These instructions pose the following objectives.
1 To lead to a more profound understanding of the immense richness of the authentic eastern traditions which are to be scrupulously maintained and communicated to all the faithful.
2 To arrange the liturgical norms valid for all the Catholic Eastern churches in an organic summary and to introduce recovery where necessary of the eastern liturgical authenticity according to the tradition which the eastern church has inherited from the Apostles through the Church Fathers.
3 To exhort a permanent liturgical formation to be organised on a solid basis for both the clergy- beginning with the seminarians and the formation institutes- and the people of God through schools of mystagogical catechesis.
4 To list the principles in common for the elaboration of Liturgical directories for the individual churches sui iuris.
Richness of Eastern traditions
Through this document, the Holy See is affirming the importance of the richness of the Eastern Churches. Saint Pope John Paul II in his Apostolic letter ‘Orientale Lumen’ states that the Christian East are the living interpreters of the treasure of the tradition they preserve, and they have a unique and privileged role as the original setting where the Church was born.
II Vatican Council decree on ecumenism ‘Unitats Reddintegratio’ states ‘everybody should realise that it is of supreme importance to understand, venerate, preserve and foster the rich liturgical and spiritual heritage of the eastern churches in order faithfully to preserve the fullness of Christian tradition and to bring about reconciliation between eastern and western Christians’.
In the document Instructions for applying the Liturgical Prescriptions of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, the Universal Church appreciates the richness of the Liturgy and heritage of eastern Churches in terms of the sacredness, emotions developed from the poetic dimensions of the texts, rituals related to liturgy and administration of sacraments, devotions and so on.
The Holy See instructs all Eastern Catholics to carefully examine the history of the traditions and parts which have been inappropriately taken off over time due to political and other reasons that should be restored. The Holy See also confirms that retaining the original traditions and spirituality is not a sign of stagnancy and backwardness but precious fidelity to the sources of salvation. The Holy see even goes on to exhort that any attempts to distance the members of the Eastern Churches from their genuine spirituality by inducing them to join another or favouring the acquisition of forms of thought, spirituality and devotions that are not coherent with their ecclesial heritage are condemnable.
The Holy See accepts the richness of the Holy traditions of the Eastern Churches through various post-Vatican Council II documents. They use the expressions like ‘inalienable value of the heritage’, ‘the shining traditions that derived from the Apostles through the Fathers which constitutes part of the divinely revealed undivided heritage of the Universal Church’, ‘variety of manifestations of the faith leading to the fullness of the mysteries revealed’ and so on. The Universal Church respectfully observes that the Eastern Churches have jealously retained the symbolic Biblical theology developed in the early Church that is explained by the Church Fathers and thereby maintained a direct continuity with the spiritual experience of the Christian origins.
Lumen Gentium declares that ‘by divine providence, whilst safeguarding the unity of faith and the unique divine structure of the Universal Church, the Eastern Catholic Churches enjoy their unique liturgical traditions, theological heritage, spirituality and discipline.
The Universal Church desires that these treasures should be flourished and contribute more efficiently to the evangelisation of the World. Orientum Ecclesiarum and other post-conciliar documents exhort that the members of the Eastern Churches have the right and duty to preserve, know and live in their traditions. The Holy See also instructs that it is the duty and obligation of the Pastors of the Latin Church to preserve and encourage the traditions and spirituality of the Eastern Catholics in their territories living as immigrant communities to express the multi-coloured richness of the Universal Church.
Call for restoration of genuine traditions
The Universal Church desires that the Eastern Catholic Churches return to their genuine traditions if they had made undue and inopportune modifications in the past due to various reasons. Saint Pope John Paul II in a homily during Armenian Liturgy in 1987 expressed a firm attitude of the Holy See that those Eastern catholic Churches should have the courage to rediscover the authentic traditions of their own identity and to restore them to their original purity. Pope Paul VI exhorted to the members of the commissions who were preparing the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches that any renewal should be coherent and agree with sound traditions blossoming as though spontaneously from the already existing traditions.
Any Liturgical reforms even in the west would be rediscovering the full fidelity to their liturgical traditions, benefitting from their riches and eliminating that which has altered their authenticity from external influences foreign to the traditions. If any new element is to be introduced due to any serious pastoral reasons, it should blend without contrast but with coherence, as it had naturally derived from it. Fidelity to own traditions has ecumenical value as well.
The Eparchial Bishop is the moderator and guardian of the entire liturgical life of the Eparchy. Therefore, the Liturgy should be celebrated in the Cathedral of the Bishop in the most exemplary way. The role of the Holy See is to promote a sense of return to the ancestral traditions of the Eastern Churches.
The Universal Church advises the eastern Churches to translate their liturgy to languages understood by the faithful in the migrant communities. The Holy See even asks some eastern Churches, if they lack their own editions of the liturgical texts, to use the texts used by the corresponding Orthodox churches. The Holy See suggests avoiding unnecessarily differentiation between liturgical books of the eastern catholic churches and those of the corresponding Orthodox churches.
In the Liturgical celebrations and feasts, the Universal Church instructs to conform to the liturgical cycle of the Eastern Churches. The Holy See also instructs to restore the liturgical calendar to its traditional structure eliminating the elements assimilated due to historical reasons that are incompatible with the spirit and features of the Eastern Churches.
If undue changes to the Liturgical vestments were introduced, the traditional rules should be reinstated. For the non-liturgical dress of the clergy, it is appropriate that the eastern Churches should return to their traditional eastern usage.
The Holy See observes that there are devotions developed in Eastern Churches due to extraneous influences which give rise to a parallel form of spirituality. The Eastern Churches should promote authentic mystagogical catechesis to allow the faithful to rediscover the riches of their own spirituality. Such popular devotions from extraneous influence should harmonise with the liturgical seasons in accord with the sacred liturgy. The II Vatican Council prescriptions confirm and approve the ancient discipline related to the sacraments in the Eastern Catholic Churches with the rituals observed with their administration and advise to restore them where there are deviations from their original traditions.
Christian initiation with Baptism, Chrismation with the Holy Myron and the Eucharist was abandoned due to historical and cultural reasons in the Western Church, if the Eastern Churches changed their practice due to the external pressure from the Latin Church, these should be reformed and restored. The Universal Church instructs the same to all the sacraments, divine praises or Liturgy of hours, liturgical space and architectural elements like altar veil, bema or ambo, icons, baptistry, prayer facing the east and so on.
The instructions exhort that any reformation should be only for organic growth of the Church especially addressing recovering what is lost. Any modification should be well prepared and inspired by and conform to genuine traditions. The reformation should be addressed considering the roots and mode of transmission of the spirituality, coherent and agreeing with the traditions, texts, scripture and Church Fathers. Rediscovering the full fidelity by eliminating the undue alterations and recapturing the lost. Special attention should be given to respecting the corresponding non-catholic counterparts.
Instructions in the context of Syro Malabar Church.
Syro Malabar Church has become a hybrid church due to 400 years of latinisations. Most of the clergy identify themselves as Roman Catholic rather than Syriac Catholic. Due to the Latinised hybrid hierarchy, it is very difficult to restore the genuine traditions of Syro Malabar Church as commented by Hambye. Most of the clergy identify the genuine traditions of Syro Malabar Church recovered from the history and manuscripts as heretical and against the Catholic faith. They think it is stagnancy and returning to the past rather than progression when the Universal Church exhorts the opposite.
Due to 400 years of Latin rule, when the Syro Malabar hierarchy was restored by Rome, the first hierarchy could not think of anything other than Latin traditions. This is reflected in their vestments, non-liturgical dress, prayer life, liturgical celebrations etc. They even asked Rome to translate Liturgical texts and texts for the sacraments of the Roman rite into Syriac for use in Syro Malabar Church. But the Universal Church took a very strong initiative to de-Latinise the Syro Malabar Church and to restore the authentic traditions of the Church of the Christians of Saint Thomas to its genuine purity. This has caused two schools of thought among the hierarchy and the clergy of the Modern Syro Malabar Church.
Non Liturgical dress- Mar Gabriel( arrived in 1705AD)- Mar Thomas Kurialacherry(consecrated as a Bishop in 1911 AD-pure Latin im itation) and Mar Joseph Srampikkal.
Latin and Byzentine traditions.
Syro Malabar Church should identify the genuine traditions by studying and analysing the history, manuscripts available locally and archaeology like murals, church architecture etc. Even local folklore gives wonderful evidence about the past. One of the best examples is the folklore about Saint Sebastian of the Major Archiepiscopal Pilgrim Church at Thazkekkadu where the common people and folklore call Saint Sebastian as ‘Kurishu muthappan’ confirming that the ancient Church at Thazhekkadu was a Mar Sliva (Holy Cross) Church which was renamed as Saint Sebastian by the Missionaries.
Alavattam (Kuravilangadu) and Maksaneethsa
The genuine tradition of Liturgical and non-liturgical vestments, blessing crosses etc are easily available from ancient murals still available in the Churches. Vestiges of many of the liturgical objects are still available, for example, maksaneethsa or flabella in the form of ‘alavattam’ is still in use in ancient churches like Kuravilangadu, Kaduthuruthy, Aruvithura, Kudamaloor etc. The ancient processional cross still kept at the Ruha D Khudsha Church at Muttuchira is a reminder of the liturgical processions and the traditions of the use of crosses of a particular type in liturgical celebrations. . The famous ‘Purathu namaskaram’ that is still in practice at Kaduthuruthy could be a memory of the ancient Dravidian worship around the free-standing granite crosses found around the Thomas Christian settlements. There is plenty of manuscriptoral evidence throwing lights over the traditions of sacraments and sacramentals, liturgical celebrations, liturgical processions, use of maksaneethsa, incense, use of leavened bread, etc.
Tradition of blessing cross from murals- Archdeacon Giwargis(Angamaly) and Mar Gabriel(Kottayam)
The scope of these instructions is to assist the Eastern Churches which are in full communion with the Church of Rome to recover a full celebrative coherence in their liturgy, their traditions and spirituality in such a way that the whole Church is enriched by their specific heritages.
This document is a guarantee by the Universal Church of Christ to all easterners to have their unique liturgy, spirituality and discipline preserved and promoted to enrich the Universality of the Catholic Church and to live in the fullness of revelations.
The prophetic words of Rev Dr Xavier Koodapuzha in 1997 seem appropriate in the context of the current history of the modern Syro Malabar Church.
“If the full hierarchical structure was established before restoring the liturgical patrimony and oriental identity, the recovery under the alienated leadership will face serious crises. The Holy See of Rome cannot disown its responsibility in the case of the failure of local hierarchies in extending their cooperation in rediscovering and reestablishing their own venerable liturgical heritage. The Petrine See cannot and should not leave it to the whims and fancies of the alienated hybrid leadership”.
 George Gallaro, Rome’s Liturgical Instruction for the Eastern Catholic Churches, Logos: a Journal of Eastern Christian Studies, Vol 43-45 (2002-2004), p149
 LI No 26
 J H Srawley The Epistles of saint Ignatius, London 1900, online version accessed on 22/7/22 p 97 foot note 1 http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/srawley/index.html
St Igantius argues that the Bishop is the centre of each individual church as Jesus Christ is the centre of the Universal Church.
 H B Swete, The Apostolic creed, its relation to primitive Christianity, 1894 p 75
 J H Srawley The Epistles of saint Ignatius, London 1900, online version accessed on 22/7/22 p 97 foot note 1 http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/srawley/index.html
 David Wilmhurst, The Ecclesiastical organisation of the Church of the East 1318-1913, p 64
Wilmshurst, David. The Ecclesiastical Organisation of the Church of the East, 1318-1913. Belgium: Peeters, 2000. P 64 Metropolitan Timothy of Tarsus
 Xavier Koodapuzha, Congregation for the Eastern Churches Instructions, in Antony G Kollamparampil, Joseph Perumthottam, (Eds) Bride at the feet of the bridegroom, HIRS Publications, 1997, p 17
 William Macomber, A History of Chaldean mass, Worship, vol 51, 1977, pp107-120
 Joseph Thekkedathu, The History of Christianity in India,CHAI, Bangalore, 2001, vol 2 p77 Parts of the Roman ritual dealing with the administration of the sacraments together with the exorcisms and blessings taken from the Roman missal were printed in Syriac in 1606 period citing Fernao Guerreiro , Relacao ao anual II p 339
 Joseph Thekkedathu, The History of Christianity in India,CHAI, Bangalore, 2001, vol 2 p87, Letter dated 21 Nov 1619
 Fr E R Hambye, S J, Professor at the Pontifical Oriental Institute Rome, Eastern Churches in India and the Syrian tradition, Seminarium, No 3, July-Sep 1987, pp 373-374
 Saint Pope John Paul II Orientale Lumen, 1995
 Vatican Council II Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio
 Charithra committee, Ed., Thazhekkadu Palliyile Kurishu Muthappante VCharithram (Mal)History of Thazhekkadu Kurisu Muthappan printed and published by Saint Sebastians Church Thazhekkadu, 2005,
 Rev Dr Xavier Koodapuzha, Congregation for the Eastern Churches, Instructions for applying the liturgical prescriptions of the code of canons of Eastern Churches, in A G Kollamparampil and J Perumthottam, (Eds)Bride at the feet of the Bridegroom, HIRS Publications, 1997, p 22