Introduction to the
                 Syro-Malabar Rite

The existence of different Rites in the Church reveals the richness and variety of forms in
which the christian message can manifest itself.  They represent the different melodies
of that sweet canticle, perfectly harmonised and sung by the Church in the course of the
centuries, in order to give expression to the ineffable experience of the Risen Lord who has
been present  and active in her life from the first day of her encounter with Him.  We can
be happy and proud that we, too, in India have contributed a share to this song.
The Syro-Malabar rite, certainly has played and is playing an important role in the singing
of this canticle of love.

Historical Sketch

The Syro-Malalabar rite belongs to the liturgical family of Syro-Oriental type. 
This is the only liturgical group of the first centuries which remained outside the Roman Empire.
The Apostolic activities of St. Thomas took him to the far off Malabar cost in India.  We
do not have any evidence of the manner in which St. Thomas celebrated the Eucharist
in Kerala.  But we may take it for granted that he certainly accepted many elements
frorn the local culture into the acts of worship as was the usual apostolic practice.
The organised liturgy of the Malabar Church in the first centuries of christianity was that
of Mesopotamia, doubtless with some peculiarities of their own (1).  This was due to the
connection that existed between the Malabar Church and the Churches of Edessa,
Babylon and Persia.  Unfortunately we do not possess much evidence of the state of
the liturgy of Malabar before the comlng,- of the Portuguese.  Many ancient books were
destroyed after the Svnod of Goa (1585) and Diarnper(1599) because they were wrongly
suspect of Nestorianism by the Portuguese missionaries.  Being a rite that belonged to
Syro-Oriental farrilly, it was quite possible that there were some elements in that liturgy
in common with the Nestorian Church ; but this by no means meant that the Malabar
Church was Nestorian.

With the Synod of Diamper, the Syro-Malabar rite undergoes a process of Latinization
which is without precedent in the liturgical history of the church. It is true that almost all
the Christians in the East that returned to Rome in the 16th century had to subject
themselves to some type of Latinization of their liturgy ; but none was transformed so
radically and we might even say, meaninglessly as the SyroMalabar rite- The vestments,
the church furnishing, the place of certain prayer formulas in the Mass, the administration
of the sacraments, all these were thoroughly latinized without however forcing the use
of Latin language.  The liturgy still continued to be in Syriac.

Things begin to change in the second half of the 20th century.  The liturgical language
together with the whole rite of the Mass and Sacraments undergo a thorough revision.
The new Malayalam Syro-Malabar rite Mass was celebrated for the first time on 3rd July,
the feast of St. Thomas, 1962.  Since then the work of revision has continued until we
have the new Missal of 1968.  We cannot consider the work to be over and definite.
There is a trend towards a greater simplification of the Mass by eliminating certain
sections which seem to be repetitions.

2.Some characteristics of the reformed Syro-Malabar liturgy of the Mass.-

a)There are three types of Masses.  The first one is the simple form.  This is
celebrated by one priest with the assistance of servers and the active participation of
the people through songs and responses.  There are many more responses for the
people than in the Latin Mass.

The second type is the solemn form.  The priest is assisted by at least two deacons. 
It may be compared to the old Latin Mass with deacon and sub-deacon.

The third type is the very solemn form, also called Rasa.  In this Mass besides the
two deacons, there should be an arch-deacon who should be a priest.

b)The main parts of the Mass are the following,

i)Introductory rites.

                                    The Mass begins with the acclamation
Glory to God in the highest ', a reminder of the Incarnation.  The Eucharist is the celebration
of the gathering of the people in the person of Christ which began with the Incarnation.

- The recitation of the 'Our Father' and the psalm that follows it serve as a penitential rite
before the celebration and as an initiation into the theme of the celebration.  In fact the
psalm changes according to the liturgical season and feasts.

ii)The liturgy of the Word:

In the ordinary Mass there are two readings. one from the Apostle and the other from the Gospel.
This is followed by the homily and the prayer of the faithful, which also changes according to
the different seasons and feasts.  The creed that is recited after this is a fitting beginning
for the Eucharistic Liturgy, because the Eucharistic celebration is the ritual expression of
the faith of the christian community in the risen Lord and the death and the resurrection is
the centre of the profession of faith.  Besides, we know that in the early Church, the very
celebration of the Eucharist was considered as the profession of faith of the christian,
community (I).

iii)The Liturgy of the Eucharist:

The Eucharistic Liturgy has the following parts The preparation of the sacrificial gifts which

a)The preparation of the priest and the bread and wine.

b)The presence of the faithful at the sacrifice together with the sacrificial gifts.

c)The presence of the glorified Church is also commemorated at this point.

We may say that the whole people of God becomes present with the sacrificial gifts at
the altar in order to make present the obedient death and resurrection of Christ.  It Is very
noteworthy that the Oriental Liturgies give great importance to the participation of the glorified
members in the celebration of the earthly liturgy.  The earthly liturgy is not merely an
anticipation of the heavenly liturgy, but it is to be more exact, a participarion or an image
(in the platonic sense) of the heavenly liturgy.

              The Anaphora or the Eucharistic Prayer
We may distinguish the following elements in this prayer'.
a)A preparation of the priest and the faithful before the official beginning of the prayer.

b)The exchange of peace.

c)The introductory dialogue.

d)A prayer of thanksgiving for the first act of salvation namely creation, followed by
the hymn 'Holy, Holy Holy'.

e)Thanksgiving for the second act of salvation, namely redemption in Christ.

f)The word of the Institution which makes present the climax of the redemptive                           intervention of God in our history, namely, the death and resurrection.

g)The anamnesis or the recalling of the death and resurrtction of Christ by the Church.

h)Intercessions and commemorations.

i)Epiclesis, or the prayer which calls down the Holy Spirit on the Eucharistic celebration.
In the Roman and Antiochian and Alexandrian rites this prayer is reminiscent of the Pentecost,
while in the East Syrian liturgy it has an eschatolosaical flavour.  In reality there is no great
difference in these two presentations, because Pentecostal event is a present reality and
the Parousia is going to be the perfect realisation of what took place at the First Pentecost.

J)Final Doxology.

Communion : which has the following elements in it

a)Preparation for Communion by asking for forgiveness of sins.

b)Presentation of the sanctified gifts to the people for Communion.  Originally this was
the only elevation at Mass.  Since Mass is the celebration of the Supper of the Lord and
not primarily meant for the adoration of the Body of the Lord, the host was presented to
the people only just before Communion and not as we have today immediately after the
words of the Institution, for adoration.

c)The rite of the breaking the host ' in preparation for Communion.

d)Blessing of the people, Probably this was given when all those who were present for the           Eucharistic celebration did not receive the Holy Communion.  The prayer of forgiveness 
that follows is the immediate preparation for the sacramental participation in the  Eucharist,

e)The recitation of the Lord's prayer and the reception of The Holy Communion by
the priest and the faithful.

f)Thanksgiving after Communion.

iv)The dismissal rite : It Is very simple and meaningful.  It is performed in the forrn
of prayer of blessing which communicates to the people a sense of mission.

   There are 3  Catholic Rites in India
    Syro-Malabar  Rite -       3,000,000
    Syro-Malankara Rite  -      500,000
    Latin Rite   -                   1,700,000
His Grace Varkey Vithayathil, CSsR 
Apostolic Administrator 
Archiepiscopal Curia,
This page was last updated: November 15, 2004