Tag: Pope John Paul II



The Little Flower Congregation (CST Fathers) is a Congregation of religious priests that traces its beginning on 19th March, 1931 in the Archdiocese of Ernakulam, Kerala. It was started as a society of Brothers under the name Little Flower Brotherhood by Very Rev. Fr. Thomas Panat later known as Father Basilius. It was re-organized into a religious institute (thereafter called Little Flower Congregation) with an approved constitution. The Canonical approval was given by the Archbishop of Ernakulam, Mar Augustine Kandathil for starting and reorganisingonDecember 27, 1945

The congregation was bifurcated to form a Congregation of Priests (CST Fathers) and a Congregation of Brothers (CST Brothers). His Holiness Pope John Paul II raised this Congregation of the Priests to the status of a Religious Institute of Pontifical Right on December 21, 1995. Little Flower who was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in Rome on October 19, 1997 by His Holiness Pope John Paul II, is the Patroness of this Congregation.


The Little Flower Congregation, under the Patronage of St.Therese of Lisieux, has its origin on 19th March 1931 at Mookannur, a village 7 kilometers north east of Angamaly, Kerala, India. Father Thomas Panat started the Congregation out of his God-experience in Christ enhanced by his very personal devotion to St.Therese of Child Jesus. Simplicity and child-like surrender of the Little Flower to the will of God the Father had struck deep roots in his heart when he translated the four chapters of her autobiography entitled Navamalika. Fr. Basilius in his memoirs says: “With that (translation) I became enamoured of the life and the spirit of the Little Flower that erupted within and overflowed from the interior of my heart”. He intensely desired to share this experience with a few dedicated young men whom he eventually formed as the Little Flower Brotherhood (Cherupushpa Sahodara Sangham).

 On December 27, 1945 Archbishop Mar Agustine Kandathil accepted the formal petition of Fr. Thomas Panat seeking permission to admit candidates for priesthood into the ‘Cherupushpa Sahodara Sangham’ which then became a clerical religious institute known as Little Flower Congregation

Pope’s Statement Of Resignation (Benedict XVI) February 11, 2013

Full text of Pope’s February 11th Declaration to the College of Cardinals

Dear Brothers,

I have convoked you to this Consistory, not only for the three canonizations, but also to communicate to you a decision of great importance for the life of the Church. After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry. I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me. For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.

Dear Brothers, I thank you most sincerely for all the love and work with which you have supported me in my ministry and I ask pardon for all my defects. And now, let us entrust the Holy Church to the care of Our Supreme Pastor, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and implore his holy Mother Mary, so that she may assist the Cardinal Fathers with her maternal solicitude, in electing a new Supreme Pontiff. With regard to myself, I wish to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer.

From the Vatican, 10 February 2013

Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI announces resignation

I have lacked this strength these past months and I have been obliged to admit my incapacity to properly govern the ministry confided to me, the Pope said.

Pope Benedict XVI, in a historic speech pronounced at the Vatican on Monday said he had decided to resign. This is the first time a Pope has decided to step down in 600 years. He said he was resigning in “full freedom” and would devote the rest of his life to prayer. The Pope said he no longer had “the strength of body or mind” to “fully serve the Petrine Ministry.

 Pope Benedict XVI, formerly known as Cardinal Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger before he assumed Pontifical office on 19 April 2005, made the declaration in Latin, during a consistory in the Vatican.

 The Holy See’s spokesperson, Father Federico Lombardi said the resignation would go into effect at the end of the month. “The Pope has announced he will give up his ministry at 8 pm on the 28th of February. That is when the period known as “sede vacante” or the Empty Chair will commence”. The next Pope will be elected before Easter which this year falls on March 31. The voting could well begin during Holy Week which begins on March 24.

 In his speech, later relayed by Vatican Radio, the 85-year-old Pontiff explained that he had decided to step down “after having examined my conscience before God several times. I am convinced that my strength, given my advanced age, no longer allows me to fully exercise my ministry. In the present world, prey to constant change, the vigour of mind and body are also necessary to navigate Saint Peter’s boat and advance the Faith. I have lacked this strength these past months and I have been obliged to admit my incapacity to properly govern the ministry confided to me.”

 Shock waves rippled across the world at this completely surprising, unexpected and unprecedented announcement. Believers flocked to the Vatican and to churches and cathedrals in most major cities in Europe. At the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris many faithful Catholics openly wept.

 The Pope has been a figure of controversy for his extremely orthodox views and for the cover up of several sex abuse scandals by priests of the Catholic faith. One of his harshest critics, the Swiss Cardinal Hans Kung, said he hoped the outgoing Pope will not attempt to influence the choice of his successor. “During his time in office he has ordained so many conservative cardinals, that amongst them is hardly a single person to be found who could lead the church out of its multifaceted crisis,” Cardinal Kung said.

 Pope Benedict XVI is the first German to be elected Pope since the eleventh century. On 16 April he will turn 86. Born to a modest and deeply Catholic Bavarian family, he entered the seminary in 1939, the year he joined Hitler’s youth movement – obligatory at the time. Known to be an eminent theologian, he was Archbishop of Munich and Freising in Germany’s most wealthy and eminently Catholic Bavaria from 1977 to 1981. Pope John Paul II called him to Rome to head the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. His conservative views had earned him the nickname of “Pope John Paul II’s Rotweiler”.

World Day of Consecrated Life (Religious Day) – Eucharistic Celebration

2nd February

World Day of Consecrated Life (Religious Day)

Click here for World Day of Consecrated Life – Eucharistic Celebration

On 6 Jan,1997, The late Holy Father John Paul II decided that the nd World day for Consecrated Life will be celebrated on the 2 Feb, on the feast which commemorates the Presentation which Mary & Joseph made of Jesus in the temple to present Jesus to the Lord.(Lk.2:22).The presentation of Jesus in the temple is an eloquent icon of the total offering of one’s life for all those who are called to show forth in the church & in the world, by means of the evangelical counsels “ the characteristic features of Jesus- the chaste, poor & obedient one” (VC1).

The reason for the world Day for Consecrated Life:

The purpose of such a day is threefold. In the FIRST PLACE, It answers the intimate need to praise the Lord more solemnly & to thank him for the great gift of consecrated life which enriches & gladdens the Christian community by the multiplicity of its charisms & by the edifying fruits of so many lives totally given to the cause of the kingdom. In the SECOND PLACE, this day is intended to promote knowledge of & esteem for the consecrated life by the entire people of God. The THIRD REASON regards consecrated persons directly. They are invited to celebrate together solemnly the marvels which the Lord has accomplished in them, to discover by a more illuminated faith the rays of divine beauty spread by the spirit in their way of life, & to acquire a more vivid consciousness of their irreplaceable mission in the church.

Following the instruction of late Pope it is a challenge for every religious person to re-read, re-discover & re-state her/his vocation & find new meaning in her/his life as a prophet. They have to be Just as prophets have always arisen in times of crisis to proclaim the will of God to the people of Israel, so in the history of the church religious Orders have always had a prophetic vocation. They have offered a response, in the church and in society, to the longings of the people. They have put their finger on the wound when the church has been too turned in on itself. The first monk responded in this way to the worldwide spread of the church. Benedict, at a time of migration, set up places of community which brought stability to their surroundings. Confronted by the feudal structure of the church and of society, Francis reawakened sensitivity to poverty. Dominic made his own the desire of the Cathars for a pure and clear faith. Ignatius wanted to responded to the Reformation and direct life again only towards the figure of Christ. And many religious Orders in th the 19 century responded to the needs of their times. It is always a question of a prophetic response, a response which comes from God, an attempt to put the will of God into practice in a particular time.

The task of the prophet is not to predict the future but to proclaim the will of God for the present and the situation of today. The prophet claims the “today of God” for people. This” today of God” is often in contrast with the world. Honesty is necessary in announcing the word of God.

Consecrate life has always had a prophetic dimension in the history of the church. How can we live this prophetic dimension today?

– Placing God at the centre

– Making a critical reflection of the society and the church

– Offering a realistic hope and making the people aware that everything is transitory.

– Becoming a blessing for people and leave a legacy.

– Prophetic mission is always a mission for people.

Jesus has shown how to recognize our prophetic mission. Heinvites us to enter by the narrow gate and to journey by the hard road (Mth713-14).The narrow gate is hard and unique which God has planned for us. A certain effort is necessary to find that gate. The wide road is not bad road, but the road which everyone takes. Jesus believes that each one of us is capable of finding the unique way in which our life can become a blessing for people. Animated by the Spirit of God, may every consecrated live up to her/his commitment.

The First Tabernacle Ministry

The First Tabernacle Ministry

A Pro-Life Movement of MCBS

Director: Fr Joy Thottamkara MCBS

First Tabernacle

First Tabernacle Ministry

Any one would ask what is ‘first tabernacle’?. But Question should be changed from WHAT to WHO. Who is first tabernacle? Mother Mary the woman of the Eucharist (Ecclesia De Eucharistia, Pope John Paul 2, no:53) is the First Tabernacle (Ecclesia De Eucharistia, Pope John Paul 2, no:55) . She experienced the Eucharist, the Great Miracle of Love(Mane Nobiscum Domine, Pope John Paul 2, no:30) in the following manner as seen in the , Gospel of St.Luke (St.Luke 1:26-45) and thus became the First Tabernacle and the Mother of Life.

Pro-Life Movement

“Human rights are not a privilege conferred by government; they are every human being’s entitlement by virtue of his humanity. Theright to life does not depend, and must not be contingent, on the pleasure of anyone else, not even a parent or sovereign. How canthere be too many children? That is like saying there are too many flowers.” – Mother Theresa.

“The unborn child is entitled to its right to life independently of its acceptance by its mother; this is an elementary and inalienable right which emanates from the dignity of the human being.” The Constitutional Court of the Federal Republic of Germany.

Without knowing this great mystery of life, men promote abortion, promote Euthanasia( “It is I who bring both death and life” (Dt 32:39): the tragedy of euthanasia, Ioannes Paulus PP. II Evangelium vitae, no: 64 ) and they forget the Gospel of Old Age. (“Special attention must be given to the elderly. While in some cultures older people remain a part of the family with an important and active role, in others the elderly are regarded as a useless burden and are left to themselves. Here the temptation to resort to euthanasia can more easily arise.

Neglect of the elderly or their outright rejection are intolerable. Their presence in the family, or at least their closeness to the family in cases where limited living space or other reasons make this impossible, is of fundamental importance in creating a climate of mutual interaction and enriching communication between the different age-groups. It is therefore important to preserve, or to re-establish where it has been lost, a sort of “covenant” between generations. In this way parents, in their later years, can receive from their children the acceptance and solidarity which they themselves gave to their children when they brought them into the world.

This is required by obedience to the divine commandment to honour one’s father and mother (cf. Ex 20:12; Lev 19:3). But there is more. The elderly are not only to be considered the object of our concern, closeness and service. They themselves have a valuable contribution to make to the Gospel of life. Thanks to the rich treasury of experiences they have acquired through the years, the elderly can and must be sources of wisdom and witnesses of hope and love.” Ioannes Paulus PP. II Evangelium vitae, no:94)

Anything against life happens because mankind is under the sin of spiritual abortion, the God of love is aborted from their hearts. They are rarely aware of this great sin. Many suffer from poverty, because they experience the poverty of love, being away from theGreat Miracle of Love . Early Christian Community is an example for this love (Acts 1:14, 2:42, 4:32,34 etc.) The patron St.Joseph would intercede for purity of heart with which we are able to see the Love of God.

“ The Gospel of life is at the heart of Jesus’ message. Lovingly received day after day by the Church, it is to be preached with dauntless fidelity as “good news” to the people of every age and culture.At the dawn of salvation, it is the Birth of a Child which is proclaimed as joyful news: “I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord” (Lk 2:10-11).

The source of this “great joy” is the Birth of the Saviour; but Christmas also reveals the full meaning of every human birth, and the joy which accompanies the Birth of the Messiah is thus seen to be the foundation and fulfilment of joy at every child born into the world (cf. Jn 16:21).When he presents the heart of his redemptive mission, Jesus says: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (Jn 10:10). In truth, he is referring to that “new” and “eternal” life which consists in communion with the Father, to which every person is freely called in the Son by the power of the Sanctifying Spirit. It is precisely in this “life” that all the aspects and stages of human life achieve their full significance.”( Ioannes Paulus PP. II Evangelium vitae, no:2)

“What stronger aspiration is there than that of life?” he asked. “And yet on this universal human aspiration threatening shadows are gathering — the shadow of a culture that denies the respect of life at all its stages, the shadow of an indifference that sends countless people to a destiny of hunger and underdevelopment.”(Monday October 18, 4:26 am, VATICAN CITY (AFP) – Pope John Paul II thanked well-wishers who celebrated the 26th anniversary of his election as pontiff but warned of “threatening shadows” hanging over humanity.)

“To be truly a people at the service of life we must propose these truths constantly and courageously from the very first proclamation of the Gospel, and thereafter in catechesis, in the various forms of preaching, in personal dialogue and in all educational activity. Teachers, catechists and theologians have the task of emphasizing the anthropological reasons upon which respect for every human life is based.
In this way, by making the newness of the Gospel of life shine forth, we can also help everyone discover in the light of reason and of personal experience how the Christian message fully reveals what man is and the meaning of his being and existence. We shall find important points of contact and dialogue also with nonbelievers, in our common commitment to the establishment of a new culture of life.

Faced with so many opposing points of view, and a widespread rejection of sound doctrine concerning human life, we can feel that Paul’s entreaty to Timothy is also addressed to us: ‘Preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing impatience and in teaching’ (2 Tim 4:2). This exhortation should resound with special force in the hearts of those members of the Church who directly share, in different ways, in her mission as ‘teacher’ of the truth.

May it resound above all for us who are bishops: we the first ones called to be untiring preachers of the Gospel of life. We are also entrusted with the task of ensuring that the doctrine which is once again being set forth in this encyclical is faithfully handed on in its integrity. We must use appropriate means to defend the faithful from all teaching which is contrary to it.

We need to make sure that in theological faculties, seminaries and Catholic institutions sound doctrine is taught, explained and more fully investigated.[Veritatis Splendor, August 6, 1993] May Paul’ s exhortation strike a chord in all theologians, pastors, teachers and in all those responsible for catechesis and the formation of consciences. Aware of their specific role, may they never be so grievously irresponsible as to betray the truth and their own mission by proposing personal ideas contrary to the Gospel of life as faithfully presented and interpreted by the Magisterium.

In the proclamation of this Gospel, we must not fear hostility or unpopularity, and we must refuse any compromise or ambiguity which might conform us to the world’s way of thinking (cf. Rom 12:2). We must be in the world but not of the world (cf.Jn 15:19; 17:16), drawing our strength from Christ, who by his death and resurrection has overcome the world (cf. Jn 16:33).” – Pope John Paul II

For this world to experience love they should be drawn close to the Blessed Sacrament, Eucharist, the Great Miracle of Love. A human life from the first moment of conception to the last moment of death in body, and from the beginning to the endless time in soul should experience this Great Miracle of Love. For this it is a must they should be in the First Tabernacle where the Great Miracle of Love, the Blessed Sacrament has been continuously taking place.

At the first moments of conception Mother Mary visited St. Elizabeth and she called Mary, Mother of God ( St.Luke 1:43) .

Click here for the Spiritual Style of First Tabernacle Ministry

From Directors’ Chair

“I thank the Lord for the Graces showered on The First Tabernacle Ministry. How much i wish that the following wish of Church through the following is continued in perfection through the ministry

Filled with this certainty, and moved by profound concern for the destiny of every man and woman, I repeat what I said to those families who carry out their challenging mission amid so many difficulties: 135 a great prayer for life is urgently needed, a prayer which will rise up throughout the world. Through special initiatives and in daily prayer, may an impassioned plea rise to God, the Creator and lover of life, from every Christian community, from every group and association, from every family and from the heart of every believer. Jesus himself has shown us by his own example that prayer and fasting are the first and most effective weapons against the forces of evil (cf. Mt 4:1-11). As he taught his disciples, some demons cannot be driven out except in this way (cf. Mk 9:29). Let us therefore discover anew the humility and the courage to pray and fast so that power from on high will break down the walls of lies and deceit: the walls which conceal from the sight of so many of our brothers and sisters the evil of practices and laws which are hostile to life. May this same power turn their hearts to resolutions and goals inspired by the civilization of life and love ( Bl. JOANNES PAULUS PP. II EVANGELIUM VITAE No. 100).

Requesting your continued blessing-filled prayer Yours in Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament through the First Tabernacle.”


Fr Joy Thottamkara MCBS

First Tabernacle



U.C.College P.O,

Kerala, India-683102

Other Contacts:-

Click here for Official Website

Email: joykarunya@gmail.com


0091 484 2608620

0091 484 6455943


Fishers of Men: Priestly Life and Vocations Summit

Fishers of Men: Priestly Life and Vocations Summit


Letter from Bishop Blase J. Cupich

Priests: Men of Word, Sacrament and Initiation”

“Fishers of Men” Trailer
RealPlayer | Windows Media Player

Table of Contents
.pdf | .doc

Introduction and Overview
.pdf | .doc



Appendix A: PowerPoint I for Presbyteral Council
.pdf | .ppt

Appendix B: Timeline for Priestly Life and Vocations Summit
.pdf | .doc

Appendix C: Sample Letter I: From Bishop to Priests
.pdf | .doc

Appendix D: Sample Letter II: To Priests to be Interviewed
.pdf | .doc

Appendix E: Interview Questions
.pdf | .doc

Appendix F: PowerPoint II: Sample of Preist Responses
.pdf | .ppt

Appendix G: PowerPoint III: Priestly Life and Vocations Summit Presentation
.pdf | .ppt

Appendix H: PowerPoint IV: Diocesan Sample
.pdf | .ppt

Appendix I: Schedule
.pdf | .doc

Appendix J: Schedule & Notes
.pdf | .doc

Appendix K: Qualities and Characteristics of a Prospective Priesthood Candidate
.pdf | .doc

Appendix L: Follow-up Responses & Sign-up Sheet
.pdf | .doc

Appendix M: Evaluation Form
.pdf | .doc



Resource A: Articles Regarding Priestly Vocation Efforts
.pdf | .doc

Resource B: Words of Pope John Paul II Inviting Young Men
.pdf | .doc

Resource C: Letter of Invitation to High School Students
.pdf | .doc

Resource D: Discernment Information
.pdf | .doc

Church Documents on Priestly Formation

Church Documents on Priestly Formation

  1. Second Vatican Council Documents: 
  2. Papal Documents: 
  3. Other Documents of the Holy See: 

The Means of Evangelization and of the Formation of Evangelizers – A Youth Response

The Means of Evangelization and of the Formation of Evangelizers –

A Youth Response

Puthiyidathu Mathew MCBS



The influence of different Christian movements and organizations has made several youngsters come forward with great enthusiasm and commitment to the Church and her mission in the modern world. The increasing number of youngsters gathered at the World Youth Day affirms this fact.  Each WYD produces new enthusiasm in the hearts of millions of youth, the present and the future of the Church.  After the WYD 2005 of Cologne Pope Benedict XVI spoke to the German Bishops on behalf of the youth, “Yes we came to worship him, we met him. Now help us to become his disciples and witnesses”.[1]

            The challenge is to help the young to live their ‘present’ here and now in the Church.  Youngsters are always searching for challenges; they like to move differently. The great Pope, the admirer of youth, John Paul II asked them to become a joyful contradiction in the modern world. 

            At the same time there is a large mass of people who are still far away from the Church, especially in the Asian continent.  The Universal Church is well aware of this situation and says, “It is indeed a mystery why the Saviour of the world, born in Asia, has until now remained largely unknown to the people of the continent”.[2] It must be remembered that “Evangelization and church – planting are a slow and painstaking work.  To reach the desired goal the evangelizer needs to use effective methods.  Thus not paying attention to effectiveness simply means that we are in fact using wrong methods.”[3]

The Importance of New Ways and Means

            Change is fundamental to the human person and to society.  As a social being man tries to adapt himself to his changing circumstances. The Church also is travelling the same way.  She searches and finds new possibilities to continue her mission in the modern world.  There is a wide horizon of possibilities open to us. “Missionary methods reflect the social relationships in the society where the church lives; new situations spawn new methods.  The church acquires a new self awareness, both cause and effect of a new way of existence, new ideas, new ministries, new apostolic movements etc”.[4]


Our duty is to benefit from it according to the needs of the time.  The Magisterium of the Church is very much open to new means in evangelization.  “How do we bring the message of Christ to non-Christian young people who represent the future of entire continents? Clearly, the ordinary means of pastoral work are not sufficient: what are needed are associations, institutions, special centers and groups, and cultural and social initiatives for young people.”[5]

            The traditional means of evangelization are not enough to cope with the modern technological world. “Missionary activity, which is carried out in a wide variety of ways, is the task of all the Christian faithful,”[6] The complex life situations invite us to find out more effective and attractive methods which give an impetus to the zeal of youngsters. Church also acknowledges it through her teachings, “This question of ‘how to evangelize’ is permanently relevant, because the methods of evangelizing vary according to the different circumstances of time, place and culture, and because they thereby present a certain challenge to our capacity for discovery and adaptation.”[7]

            One of the positive aspects of the missionary enthusiasm of the new generation is their sharing mentality.  They are ready to share their time, energy, talents, resources, prayer, etc, for the Kingdom of God.  At the same time they are very strict about the concrete results of their sharing.

            It is the duty and privilege of each and every one to find and open new vistas of attractive and effective means of evangelization.  It doesn’t mean that traditional ways are totally outdated.  Perhaps they are the foundation of our new endeavors and we are modifying them according to the needs of the time.  Each and every Christian has the obligation to proclaim the Good News. But each one is different and unique and so the ways and means of participation is also different.  One cannot be higher than the other, but only in the level of commitment of the individual.  At the same time we have to fan the flame in the hearts of many so that they may be more and more committed to their missionary vocation. 

            In this paper I intend to present some possible ways and means which would enable us to bring the Good News to the hearts of many.  This can help us to bring the mission nearer to the people, especially the youth, who are searching for their role in the Church’s missionary mandate. The formation of Laity is a special concern of the Church too. “The shortage of priests makes it imperative for us to givegreater attention to the formation of the laity and their effective participation in the apostolate.”[8] To achieve this goal, suitable ways and means must be evolved by answering to the needs of the situation.

  1. 1.      School of Evangelization

            “And how can they believe in him if they have never heard of him?  And how will they hear of him unless there is a preacher for them?  And how will there be preachers if they are not sent?” (Rom 10:14-15)

            The proclamation of the Good news is the duty of each and every Christian. It cannot be completed by a few priests and religious alone.  So the active participation of the lay people is very important. There are many churches which have been planted and nourished by lay missionaries.  The Church in Antioch in the first century is a decisive example for this.  “It is the task of the Pastors to ensure that the laity are formed as evangelizers to be able to face the challenges of the contemporary world, not just with worldly wisdom and efficiency, but with hearts renewed and strengthened by the truth of Christ.”[9]

            It is a matter of great encouragement and hope that “in many Asian countries, lay people are already serving as true missionaries, reaching out to fellow Asians who might never have contact with clergy and religious.”[10]

            Meanwhile ignorance of the Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Church creates serious problems among lay missionaries.  Although well-motivated, their ignorance of essentials often causes more confusion in the mission field.  Systematic and continuous training is necessary for these missionaries.

A serious preparation is needed for all workers for evangelization. Such preparation is all the more necessary for those who devote themselves to the ministry of the Word. Being animated by the conviction, ceaselessly deepened, of the greatness and riches of the Word of God, those who have the mission of transmitting it must give the maximum attention to the dignity, precision and adaptation of their language. Everyone knows that the art of speaking takes on today a very great importance. How would preachers and catechists be able to neglect this?[11]

This training should help to build up a group of good missionaries.  A missionary must be a leader and he/she should train others as leaders.


An effective evangelizer needs prayer, leadership qualities and openness to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.  One of the effective methods of evangelization is the formation good leaders.  An effective evangelizer must win over a good number of followers.  Jesus spent more time with his disciples than with the crowd.  He conquered the world through his disciples.  We know that St. Paul also did the same. St. Paul instructs Timothy, “Pass on to reliable people what you have heard from me through many witnesses so that they in turn will be able to teach others.” (2Tim 2:2)


We have to find leaders from the community itself in order to preach the Gospel.  Yahweh said to Moses, “Collects me seventy of the elders of Israel, men you know to be the people’s elders and scribes.” (Num 11:16)


Training Programme


Proper training is an important aspect of the formation of the laity.

While we are spending great sums of money to educate and form our clergy in large houses of formation and with well-organized programs, we cannot allow the formation of laity, as particular groups or as lay ministries, to be neglected. …..  the local churches must be encouraged to appreciate and support lay formation programs. Remuneration of lay persons for their stable services must respect the demands of justice and charity.  Much could be improved in their programs of formation by an exchange of personnel and resources.[12]

            Sometimes the prolonged intellectual formation and training reduces the commitment and effectiveness of the mission.  Scriptural studies and teachings of the Church are the most important things to be learned by an evangelizer.  Long term training with all kinds of intellectual development may not be an effective way of training lay missionaries.  For instance, in a battle each person has his own position and weapon in which he has been trained well.  When somebody tries to master in all kinds of weapons simultaneously he/she becomes the master of none.  So also for an evangelizer the Word of God is the weapon given to him/her and he/she should have been trained well to use that weapon.        


Two kinds of training can be arranged: Formal and Informal.


a)                  Formal training: This training is focused on the individuals who are ready to spend their life in mission areas as full time missionaries or at least for three years in a particular area.


  • The training period can last up to three years.
  • The first session is for 6 months and after that they will be sent to the fields for six months.
  • The second session will last for 3/6 months and going back to the fields for 12/15 months.
  • The third session lasts 3/6 months and final commitment.


Main Thrusts in the course:


v  The Word of God                                                      

v  Prayer                                     

v  Openness to The Holy Spirit  

v  The providence of God

v  Special training for the ‘Kerygma’ (the explicit proclamation of the saving act of Christ).


b)     Informal Training:          Informal training is meant for young students as the future leaders and also for the women in the family who are able to become a leaven in the neighborhood.


            The Women flockare powerful evangelizers. It is evident especially in the North Eastern region of India. Their tender love and care for the neighborhood and society bring many conversions in the villages.  But I think we do not have an organized programme to tap this powerful resource.  With a little training we can make big differences.  In his General audience on 13th July 1994, Pope John Paul II appreciated the efficacy of women in spreading the Good news. “Woman has a quite special aptitude in passing on the faith, so much so that Jesus himself appealed to it in the work of evangelization. That is what happened to the Samaritan woman whom Jesus met at Jacob’s well: he chose her for the first expansion of the new faith in non-Jewish territory”.[13] Their role in evangelization particularly in person-to person cannot be ignored.  Church has given special attention to this mode of Gospel sharing.

For this reason, side by side with the collective proclamation of the Gospel, the other form of transmission, the person-to-person one, remains valid and important……. It must not happen that the pressing need to proclaim the Good News to the multitudes should cause us to forget this form of proclamation whereby an individual’s personal conscience is reached and touched by an entirely unique world that he receives from someone else.[14]

The involvement of women in evangelization activities is to be specially nourished through informal trainings like seminar on evangelization, prayer groups, bible study groups, etc.

  1. 2.      Mission Volunteers

            In this programme youngsters are encouraged to stay with missionaries for at least six months after their graduation. They will be trained as missionaries of Christ in different ways. They should have ample opportunities to explore their talents in mission and ministry according to their aptitude and creativity. This programme helps the youngsters to discover their aptitude in mission. It will be a period of experience that enables the youth to commit their whole life for the Kingdom of God where ever they may be. We can also hope for their support to the missions in different ways.       

The enthusiasm of youth to accept challenges is an important factor in this regard.  Our duty is to tap it properly and direct it positively.  We can see a renewed vigor in the hearts of youth all over the world.  The number of youth who are willing to live and share the gospel is increasing steadily. 

The Church asserts her hope about the youth whose participation in evangelization brings new enthusiasm in mission fields. “Circumstances invite us to make special mention of the young…….. young people who are well trained in faith and prayer must become more and more the apostles of youth. The Church counts greatly on their contribution, and we ourselves have often manifested our full confidence in them.”[15] The Church has great hope in their conviction, “To them the Church offers the truth of the Gospel as a joyful and liberating mystery to be known, lived and shared, with conviction and courage.”[16]


  • Inviting the youngsters through dioceses, retreat centres, youth movements and other religious organizations
  • Training for 10 to 40 days
  • Priority for village ministry
  • Food and accommodation provided / contribution is highly recommended
  • Preference for  smaller groups


  1. 3.      Mission Hostels and Teachers

            The Catholic Church is considered as one of the largest ‘NGOs’ in the country having a wide range of network and numerous institutions.  The government and politicians have accepted this fact openly or secretly.  Nobody will ever question the excellence of our social undertakings. But unfortunately, if we look at all of our activities from a Christian perspective, we cannot but admit that we are very poor in carrying out the Church’s missionary mandate, which is the core of all our activities.  When we realize that only a handful of institutions and activities are earnestly proclaiming the kerigma through their services, we ought to admit that a  large chunk is running out of track.

The Goal of the Programme

            The important goal of this programme is to train a group of youngsters who, enlightened by Christian values, become responsible for their life and community. They should become the light and salt of the community, especially in their schools and colleges. It is our duty help them in this regard.    

The system of Catholic education must become still more clearly directed towards human promotion, providing an environment where students receive not only the formal elements of schooling but, more broadly, an integral human formation based upon the teachings of Christ.Catholic schools should continue to be places where the faith can be freely proposed and received (EA-37). [17]

We achieve our goal in and through Jesus.  Students should have the opportunity to hear and experience the love of God. In short our ultimate aim is to give Jesus to the young hearts so that they may become blessings for the community.  Jesus will colour their lives.  This is the hope and vision.

            Adolescence is an important and crucial period of time where the young search for identity.  If we are able to inculcate Christian values in them and directing them to find their identity in Jesus, it will bear much fruits. 

            Since school is a large arena, giving personal care is very difficult.  So we think of hostels. A hostel with 40 to 100 catholic students both boys and girls where each one will be cared for and nourished properly, is our vision.

             Apostolic schools run by different dioceses are a possibility in this regard.

Working Strategy

  • Identify a group of 40 to 100 catholic students of class 7 and above
  • They will be selected according to different criterion
  • Different types of training programmes for their spiritual, intellectual and social developments
  • Full scholarship is given, though contribution from them is appreciated


            Genuinelymotivated and committed teachers can do wonders through their students.  Proper training will help them to live their life more profoundly.

For education in schools to become more effective as a vehicle of transformation in society, a true and proper vision and spirituality among teachers are needed.  This vision requires that the task of teaching be viewed as a call from God to share in the teaching ministry of Jesus who announced and taught about the Kingdom and that teaching is not simply the communication of knowledge but even more importantly the formation in values.  From such a vision flows a spirituality involving sacrifice, other-directedness, concern, love, justice and other Gospel values.  As in catechesis, the more effective is not the one who simply teaches but the one who also witnesses.[18]

ü  Committed mission teachers will take care of the children

ü  Only devout Catholics having mission motivation will be selected as teachers

ü  Teachers will have Good salary package

ü  They should undergo a mission training programme for at least 30 days.

ü  Day time teachers will be entrusted with prayer and village ministry which includes informal schooling and women empowerment programmes

ü  They would assist the children in the evening

ü  A teacher has the responsibility of 15 to 20 students

ü  Life of the teacher should be a witness for the children

Mission teachers working in some of our catholic schools are doing great services to the Church.

  1. 4.       Mission Clinics

            A mission clinic enables aspiring nurses and doctors to serve God’s kingdom by liberating the sick and the needy from their bondage.  This experience of mission will produce much fruit in the long run.

            Motivated by divine love, youngsters voluntarily spend certain months of their important span of life to share this love.  It may be a few months or one to two years.  It may help them to be more generous to the poor in their future life.  Their support even after their period of commitment is expected.  The village youth can possibly be motivated by the service of these volunteers.

Mode of Action

  • Arranging village clinics according to the availability of the doctors and nurses
  •  Possibility of getting medicine free of cost
  • Finding the aspiring nurses and doctors is done through retreat centres and other youth movements
  • Assistance of religious sisters are also recommended
  • Medical camps can be conducted in the villages where the sick and needy receive the message about the divine healer
  • Explicit proclamation also is possible through this group


  1. 5.                  Tourism for mission

            We are familiar with terms like eco-tourism, health tourism, etc.  Mission Tourism   aims at giving some idea about mission fields to the people who are really interested in mission but have not been able to be directly engaged in the process of evangelization. We help them to have a foretaste of the mission. The possibility of using tourism as an activity of mission is a concern of The Church too.

International tourism has now become a mass phenomenon. This is a positive development if tourists maintain an attitude of respect and a desire for mutual cultural enrichment, avoiding ostentation and waste, and seeking contact with other people. But Christians are expected above all to be aware of their obligation to bear witness always to their faith and love of Christ. Firsthand knowledge of the missionary life and of new Christian communities also can be an enriching experience and can strengthen one’s faith. Visiting the missions is commendable, especially on the part of young people who go there to serve and to gain an intense experience of the Christian life.[19]               

            Our target groups are the professionals and employees working in and outside the country.

Mode of Action

            Interested people are invited to visit some of the mission centres. They will get opportunities to understand the village life and people.  Those interested can stay in the village for two or three days.  If they wish we will direct them to other tourist places in the region.  All expenses must be met by them.

Expected Results

v  Heard knowledge turns to touch knowledge.

v  They can find out their own possible way to support the community with their professional experiences in different walks of life. For eg: an engineer sees the things and recognizes the possibilities from his perspective.  So as in the case of doctors, business men, educators, social workers etc

v  Can be motivated by the selfless work of the missionaries

v  Can be motivated by the role of the church

v  May help us through their prayer and resources

v  May encourage others

v  Possibility of vocation from the group or from their offspring

v  Moreover, it may help to increase the esteem of missionaries in the hearts of ordinary people

It is true that everything needs a large amount of home work and preparations.

  1. 6.      Business as Mission

Through this programme we try to lead business people to an encounter with Jesus and there by a personal God experience.  There are good number of positive business people also. We motivate them to start some enterprises attune to the specialty of particular area and culture.  The conversion of such people, when it is supported with their time and resources will make great difference in the mission fields. 

 In this context the laity belonging to the world of business hear the call of God to live out their faith according to Gospel values and the needs of the others.  This involves a number of options in their business- from the simple exercise of the values of truth, justice and love to their active participation in transforming the social structure of the whole process towards greater worker participation, more discerning consumer guidance, more responsible interventions by Governments and a more equitable society.[20]

Highly populated modern cities are formed due to the establishment of big industries and multinational companies. They have created a culture which mostly degrades and diminishes the human values and leads to greed, self centeredness and all kinds of luxuries etc.

Business as mission calls the catholic business people who are ready to do something for the poor.  When we support them for such endeavors they are expected to do something for the people according to their growth in the business.  They can support missionary activities in different ways, such as primary school, clinics, training centers, student scholarships etc. In order to support the entrepreneurs practicing and enthusiastic catholic persons should be employed.

  1. 7.            Church in Asia Forum

“The heart of the Church in Asia will be restless until the whole of Asia finds its rest in the peace of Christ, the Risen Lord.” (EA-10)


The goal of this forum is to enrich and keep up the missionary zeal in the hearts of seminarians/religious/lay people in order to make them equipped for the Evangelization, with an emphasis on Asia, tuned with the call of the Church especially through the Vatican II, encyclicals and other documents of the Magisterium on mission.  Universal Church hopes a real spring time in Asia.”Just as in the first millennium the Cross was planted on the soil of Europe, and in the second on that of the Americas and Africa, we can pray that in the Third Christian Millennium a great harvest of faith will be reaped in this vast and vital continent.” (EA-1)

Since our main focus is seminarians, we are not planning to do some mission works during this formation period but we are trying to be equipped for our future mission through different means.

Some of the aims

  • To make the seminarians say ‘yes’ to mission.
  • A common plat form for deepening the mission interest
  • To help the brothers know more about mission activities.
  • A forum that thinks dreams and prays for mission.
  • Helps to prepare for future mission.

Some of the Means

  • Adoption and Intercession for different countries and Indian states.
  • Short term training programmes.
  • Sharing sessions of active missionaries from different parts of the country.
  • Reading of magazines, leaflets and palm lets which give motivation.
  • Watching of some encouraging movies and documentaries about mission.
  • Study of the official teachings of the Church which speak about mission mandate (Apostolic letters, encyclicals etc..).
  • Modern medias and communication technologies especially Internet.


  1. 8.      Cultural Exchange Programme

The youth from younger Christian communities are motivated to visit the places where they can be enriched through the faith life of the people. In order to experience the life of the people they can be put up in different houses.  A better understanding the country and cultures would broaden the mind as well as the spiritual encounter through different programmes would strengthen the faith of the youth. 

  1. 9.      Specific Ministries

There are different organizations and Associations where likeminded people from different profession and carrier coming together for their common cause.  Trade unions, Employment organizations, etc are familiar to us.  In such institutions people come together and think together and move together. 

Evangelization also can be done in such a way that one student invites another students, one teacher preaches to another, one doctor motivates to another..etc. When a person really motivated by the love of God he/she spontaneously shares and invites others to experience that joy.  It is easy for him/her to share it with whom he/she meets every day life.  As a result of such individual initiatives there can be different ministries like campus, teachers, doctors, engineers, nurses, policemen etc.  Conducting retreats, arranging prayer groups…etc are some of the means to achieve this goal.

  1. 10.  Village Outreach

In this programme a group of youngsters after having a short orientation programme reach out to villages where they spent few days according to the need of the village.  They stay in different houses according to the number of the team and involve in different activities.  They visit houses as a group of 3 to 5 members.

Usually in the remote villages people go for their work during the day. So they spend time in prayer and gather the children who are out of the school.  Visiting and praying over the sick and elderly people is another activity during the day. Children may be animated through stories, catechism, songs etc.  In the evening they meet the family members, conduct prayer groups, share the gospel and if possible they show some devotional movies also.  Through such direct interventions they are able to touch the hearts personally.

Visiting Houses: during the visitation one of them hears the parent/family member and shares gospel through his/her personal experiences.  Mean while others pray in heart unceasingly.  If necessary they also interact with children in order to avoid distractions in the conversation. Inviting the family members for the evening prayer meeting also should be done.

Results:  personal interaction will help convincing the people easily.  Hearing the worries and grievances of the people will be a great comfort for them.  In many instances people have come back to the church and the sacraments.  Since the fruit of the programme is very evident for the participants deepens their faith.


  1. 11.  Special Thrust on Activities Among Politicians and Celebrities

“Missionary cooperation can also involve leaders in politics, economics, culture and journalism, as well as experts of the various international bodies” (RM-82).

Gospel should be proclaimed in every walk of life. Christian missionaries having the idea of option for the poor, have moved towards rural villages.  But at the same time we fail to evangelize the elite and rich people whose conversion could have resulted a dramatic change in the missionary activities.  The rapid growth of the protestant churches are in a way indebted to such conversions.

Influence of politicians and other people like film actors, sports persons, musicians etc, in the hearts of hundreds of thousands of people cannot be ignored.  A single sentence of such persons influence the people like a 10 second advertisement in the Television.  Thousand preachers’ influence can be achieved with a split of second. We witnessed such an incident when the Brazilian player showed the words on his dress which proclaimed ‘we belong to Jesus’ after their victory in the 2002 World Cup foot ball. It was seen by more than one billion people!

In the same way the involvement of laity in the politics is very important. It will help us to influence the policies of the government.

The need of the hour in Asia is for competent and principled lay persons to enter into the realm of party politics and from within, influence the philosophies, programs and activities of political parties and personalities for the common good in the light of the gospel.  We commend the lay persons who already have contributed much to this area of public life.[21]

The assassination of Shabhaz Bhatti, Pakistani minister for Minorities who spoke against blasphemy law made a great impact in the life of the faithful in Pakistan.  His words are really strengthening the persecuted Christians in Pakistan.


We are taken you through these methods which are of course not exhaustive.  Looking into what we have presented, we are aware of their incompleteness and limits.  Each of these methods though effective in their own way besides their limits, has the power to change the lives of people.  We need to place these methods in their cultural contexts to reap maximum fruits.  Or we need to adapt these methods into the culture where it will be planted this could only muster the result we expect.  At this point let me also remind that the church has never been stagnant.  Church will encounter new ways in the future. There is no method that is called the best.  Suitable methods evolve from answering to the needs of the situation.   Still we should not forget that no method is effective unless we follow the biblical method which is seen in Acts 2:43-47. Believers came together for prayer, breaking of the bread, sharing, etc.  The life based on Christian charity and communion attracted many. There by the number of believers were also increased steadily. Sharing the Good News is not a propaganda it should be a life witness motivated by one’s own personal God experience.  This is the challenge which is responded by an evangelizer throughout the life.

[1]Benedict XVI,

[2] John Paul II, Ecclesia In Asia, Post Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, no. 2.

[3] Paul Vadadkkumpadan, Mission in North East India, Shillong: Vendrame Institute Publications, 2007, p 141.

[4]Felipe Gomes S.J, “Method in Mission: Lessons from the History of the Church,” in Indian Missiological Review, January-1989, Vol.11, No.1, pp 15-53


[5] John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio, Encyclical, no. 37.

[6] John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio, no. 71.

[7] Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, Apostolic Exhortation, no. 40.

[8] Indian Missiological Review, January-1989, Vol.11, No.1, pp 54-60, Emerging Priorities and New Perspectives of Evangelization in Asia, ( A summary of the discussions:  All Asian Conference on Evangelization, Suwon, South Korea- 24-31 August 1988)

[9] Propostio no. 29, as sited in John Paul II, Ecclesia In Asia, no. 45.

[10] Propostio no. 29, as sited in John Paul II, Ecclesia In Asia, no. 45.

[11] Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi,no. 73.

[12] FABC, Final Statement of Fourth Plenary Assembly, September 16-25, 1986, Tokyo, Japan, in FABC Papers No.47,  p 43.


[13] L’Osarvatore Romano, No.29, July- 20, 1994, p 7.

[14] Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi,no.46.

[15] John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio, no. 72.

[16] John Paul II, Ecclesia In Asia, no. 47.

[17] John Paul II, Ecclesia In Asia, no. 37.

[18] FABC, Final Statement of Fourth Plenary Assembly, September 16-25, 1986, Tokyo, Japan, in FABC Papers No.47,            p 33

[19] John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio, no. 82.

[20] FABC, Final Statement of Fourth Plenary Assembly, September 16-25, 1986, Tokyo, Japan, in FABC Papers No.47, p 36


[21] FABC, Final Statement of Fourth Plenary Assembly, September 16-25, 1986, Tokyo, Japan, in FABC Papers No.47, p 26.

Life History of Pope John Paul II


Pope John Paul II in Kerala

Pope John Paul II in Kerala



“The priest is a man of the word of God, a man sacrament, a man of the mystery of faith”. Pope John Paul II has defined priesthood in terms of above statement. The inspiring words of his encyclicals, above all his life itself inspires us to priesthood. Pope John Paul II, who born in 1920 and answered the call of Jesus has done miraculous deeds in the history of Catholic Church. He was interested to be titled really as the servant of the servants of god. In this chapter we may try to have a short journey though his life, his works, and the personality of the pope which may help to know the inspirational words in the next chapters.

1. Life History of Pope John Paul II

Wadowice with its 15000 inhabitants and surrounded by fields of Rye, in the city where Karol Wojtyla was born on May 18, 1920. The city is located in southern Poland on the River Skawa at the foot of the Beschidi Mountains, some 40 kilometers west of Krakow and 30 kilometers from Auschwitz. When Karol was born, Poland had only recently regained its independence after 123 years of domination by a foreign power and it was struggling to regain territory on its eastern border.1.1. Early Years


Karol’s parents were people of modest means. His father also named Karol was a junior officer in the polish army. Karol’s mother Emila Kaczorowska a Lithuanian and a former school teacher, used to eke out her pay by sewing. The infant was baptized on June 20, and given two names, along with Karol he received the name Jozef. The family immediately began calling the boy by the affectionate nickname “Lolek”. Lolek had an elder brother Edmund who was born on August 27 1906. A handsome young man, he became a fine student and active athlete, remembered for his exceptional charm. From 1924 through 1929, Edmund Wojtyla studied at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, where on May 28, 1930 he was awarded the degree doctor of medical science.


On September 15, 1926, Karol Wojtyla began the first grade at the local elementary school. The curriculum included polish, religion, arithmetic drawing, singing and according to his report cards, games and exercises and handicrafts. On April 13, 1929 while Lolek was completing the third grade his mother, who had often seen ill, died of kidney failure and congenital heart disease. Much has been written about the long term impact of his mother’s early death on Karol Wojtyla. It is frequently suggested that Wojtyla’s Marian piety is displaced maternal affection.

1.1.1. Studious student

 At the age of eleven Lolek moved on to the public high school, the Wadowice boys’ gymnasium. That same year Karol also becomes an altar boy. Karol also developed a close relationship with the religion teacher; father Kazimierz Figlewicz, who saw in the boy’s behavior ‘the shadow of an early sorrow’ as well as almost limitless talent and cleverness. The single source of great and ongoing joy in Karol’s life was his brother, Edmund, whom Karol idolized. In 1930 Karol was taken by his father for the ceremony conferring a medical degree on him brother Edmund began his career as a doctor at the children’s clinic of Krakow, and then worked as a resident in a hospital in Bielsko. Lolek’s outgoing confidence and optimism seemed to return when he spend his happiest childhood hours alone with his brother. So there could have been no cruder blow than the one that struck without warming a December 5, 1932 Karol was told that his brother had died at the hospital of scarlet fever contracted from a patient he had desperately tried to save. Later as Pope he remembers his brother; “my brother’s death probably affected me more deeply than my mother’s, because of the peculiars circumstances which were certainly tragic and because I was more gown up”. 1.1.2. Jagiellonian University

When Karol, father and son left Wadowice for good in 1938, to settle in Kracow, they came to a city that was Poland’s jewel, at treasure house of art and architecture, a cultural centre. Karol got admission to the Jagiellonian University founded by King Casimir and Queen Jadwiga in 1374. Karol’s choice of subjects for him university degree was polish language, literature and philosophy. At the University was an experimental theatre group, studio Dramatycyne and Karol joined the group and became immensely successful as an actor. Besides the theatre, he develops a love for poetry.

Happy days for Karol were then here again as they had been in his childhood in Wadowice before they were shattered by the deaths of his mother and brother. However they were not to last for long. His University studies were to be rudely interrupted by the approach of the Nazi Jackboots that were overrunning Central Europe. On Sept. 1st 1939 he attached Poland and two days later the Second World War began. On September 6th Cracow fell to Germans and in the afternoon of Sept. 8th they reached Warsaw. The Jagiellonian University was closed and 200 members of its staff packed off to concentration camps where 17 of them died. To be a student was to be marked out for death on deportation to an unknown place or forced labour in Germany.

It is good to know from Pope itself what the situation during the period “But let them go back to 1sept. 1939. The outbreak of the war radically changed the course of my life. True, the professors of the Jagiellonian University tried to start the new academic year in the usual way, but lectures lasted only until 6 November 1939. On that day the German authorities assembled all the teachers in a meeting which ended with the deportation of those distinguished scholars to the Sachsehausesn concentration camp. The period of my life devoted to the study of polish languages and letters then came to an end, and the period of the German occupation, I began, in the autumn of 1940 to work as a labour in a stone quarry attached to the Solvay chemical plant. This was at Zakrzowek, about half an hour from my home in Debniki”

“The mangers of the quarry, who were poles tried to spare in student from the heaviest work. in my case they made me the assistant to the rock blaster him because he would occasionally say things like; Karol you should be a priest you have a good voice and will sing well then you will be all set …”

Karol Wojtyla’s stint as a quarry to worker gave rise in caster years to some of him most emotive and memorable poetry. These sentiments he was to express in more prosaic from in his encyclical “Laborem Exercise” he said “The proper subject of work continues to be man; it is the quality of the human effort that matters”. In one way or another University’s pre-war faculties continued to maintain an active life. Karol enrolled as a second year student of polish philosophy.

Death was an ever present reality in occupied Krakow. Before his twenty first birthdays Karol Wojtyla had seen a lot of it. February 18, 1941 began like any other day during his period. After working at the quarry Karol stopped and picked up dinner and some medicine for his father. But as he entered the hours found that his beloved father has gone to father’s house. “At twenty I had already lost all the people I loved. I was not old enough to make my first communion when I lost my mother. My brother Edmand died from scarlet fever where in a virulent epidemic at the hospital where he was starting as a doctor after my February 1941, I gradually become aware to my true path” Pope remembers later.1.1.3. Answering to the call

He was twenty one and had come to a turning point of him life. All around him was wretchedness and misery, and the face that in the middle of the night there would be a knock on the door. Karol had played his part in the resistance. Karol has never fully explained his decision to become a priest for his interest with theater. But finally the conflict in Karol’s mind between a stage carrier and the priestly calling was ultimately resolved in favour of the latter. One day he took his friend Fr. Malinsky to the Wavel, where he said he wanted to see Fr. Figlewicz whose maser he had served in Wadowice soon Fr. Figlewicz introduced to Cracow. The Archbishop of Cracow. The archbishop agreed to admit him as a candidate for the priest food.

1.2. Influences on His Priesthood

It is good to have a quick reading on the influence on Karol’s vocation as it shaped the future pope.

1.2.1. Family

“My preparation for the priesthood in the seminary was in a certain sense preceded by the preparation I received in my family. Above all I am grateful to my father, who becomes a widower at an early age. Sometimes I would wake up during the night and find my father on his knees just as I would always see him kneeling in the parish church. His example was, in a way my first seminary, a kind of domestic seminary”.

1.2.2. The Solvay Plant

“Later after my early years, the stone quarry and water purification facilities in the bi-carbonate plant at Brock Falecki become my seminary; this was not a mere pre-seminary as at Wadowice. For me at that point in my life, the plant was a true seminary. I began to work in the stone quarry in September 1940, a year later I passed to the plant’s water purification facility. Those were the years when my final decision matured”.

1.2.3. Parish

Thinking on the role of Debinky parish and the Salesians who worked there, pope speaks spontaneously: “I believe that the presence of the Salesians played an important role in the formation of my vocation, I learned the basic methods of self- formation which would later be confined and developed in the seminary programme. This increased my interest in Carmelite spirituality”.

1.2.4. The Marian Thread

“Naturally in speaking of the origins of my priestly vocation I cannot over look its Marian thread…. Mary does bring in closed to Christ; she does lead us to him, provided that we live her mystery in Christ”.1.2.5. Brother Saint Albert

Brother Albert has a special place in the history of polish spirituality. For me he was particularly important, because I found in him a real spiritual support and example in leaving behind the world of art, literature and the theatre, and in making the radical choice of a vocation to the priesthood”.

1.2.6 The Experience of the War

 “My priestly vocation took definitive shape at the time of the second world war. The tragedy of the war had its effect on my gradual choice of a vocation. It helped me to understand in a new way the value and importance of my vocation. In the face of this spread of evil and the atrocities of the war, the meaning of the priesthood and its mission in the world became much clearer to me”.

1.3. We Have a Priest

On November 1, 1946, Karol was ordained to the priesthood in Sapieha’s private chapel. Ordination ceremony was a very private affair. The following day, the Feast of all Souls, Karol celebrated his first Mass in the crypt of the cathedral at the after of St. Leonard. He offered the Mass for his mother, father and brother who joined him from heaven. Priesthood marked the end of one decisive chapter in Karol Wojtyla’s life and the beginning of another.

Soon after his ordination, Fr. Karol Wojtyla departed for Rome for higher studies. He enrolled at the Angelicum and after residing for a brief period with the Pallottines, he moved to the Belgian college. Karol spent two years in Rome. In June 1948, he successfully defended his thesis on “the Doctrine of faith according to St. John of the cross”. Karol Wojtyla could not receive his doctoral degree until he submitted the required number of copies for the lack of money. When he returned to Poland, he delivered his thesis before the theology faculty of Jagiellonian University. He received the degree of doctor of theology in December 1948.

1.3.1. As a Good Pastor

Fr. Wojtyla’s first assignment was to serve as associated pastor in the village of Niegowic. Let us listen him for a few words; “it was harvest time, I walked through the fields of grain with the crops partly already reaped and partly still waving in the wind. When I finally reached the territory of Niegowic parish, I knelt down and kissed the ground. It was a gesture I had learned from St. John Vianney”. Young father Wojtyla stayed less than a year in Niegowic. In August 1949 he was called back to Krakow and assigned to St. Florian’s church in the university quarter. Stalin’s death in 1953 affected many lived in Poland. The theology department at Jagiellonian University in Krakow where Wojtyla had only recently become professor of social ethics was closed. He was promptly offered the chain of theology at the catholic university of Lublin.

1.3.2. Bishop Wojtyla and Vatican II

On July 4, 1958 Pope Pius XII named Karol Wojtyla auxiliary bishop of Krakow. Wojtyla was 38 years old. A year later, discussion began discussion began to arose on the topics to be covered in the upcoming Second Vatican Council. He made some responses to the preparatory commission for the council and they show, he had a keen perception of what was necessary for renewal in the church. Bp.Wojtyla left for Rome to attend the council on October 5, 1962. He intervened eight times during the council, submitted 13 written texts and three more in conjunction with other council fathers. John Paul recalls his days at Second Vatican Council; “At the beginning of my participation in the council, I was a young bishop. I remember that at first my seat was right next to the entrance of St. Peter’s Basilica. From the third session on- after I was appointed Archbishop of Krakow (January 18, 1964) – I was moved closer to the altar”. At the end of the council, Archbishop Wojtyla returned to Krakow with the realization that he had participated in an event without precedent.

In 1967 Wojtyla became a cardinal and immediately caught the attention of the Communist Secret Service. As a cardinal, Wojtyla did not change his manner of life. He became well known toward the end of Second Vatican Council. He became secretary to the synod of bishops and had personal touch with Pope Paul VI. During his eleven years as a cardinal Karol Wojtyla was becoming more widely known. He performed a variety of impatient functional, such as his participation in the synods of Bishops held in Rome, his election to the secretariat of the synods, his role relater at the Extra ordinary Synod of the Bishops of Europe and at the Eucharistic Congress in Philadelphia, his preached retreat for the Vatican curia; and his frequent visits to groups of polish emigrants as well as the meeting in Germany in 1978. These were the principal occasions through which the name and face of Cardinal Karol Wojtyla became known throughout the world and to the members of the College of Cardinals. Later, when the second conclave of 1978 took place, these acquaintances would remember him during the election process for a new Pope.

1.3.3. We have a Pope.

In Rome cardinal Wojtyla participated at the funeral rites of John Paul I and he stayed for the conclave, which lasted only two days. The Collage of cardinal elected cardinal Wojtyla as the new Pope. He was the first Polish Pope in history and it had been 455 years since the last non-Italian ascended to the throne of St. Peter. Moreover Wojtyla was the first Pope to come from a communist country.

During his first year as pontiff he said “no” to abortion, divorce, contraception, women priests, homo-sexual unions, married priests and pre-martial sex, attracting the wealth of all those groups who were fighting for those various freedoms.

The leaders of the various Communist countries realized that the Pope’s popularity was detrimental for them and so they decided to oppose it by spreading false information. On May 13, 1981, Ali Agca, tried to kill the Pope as he entered audience as he did every Wednesday. He was shot down and taken immediately to Gemelli hospital. He was safe in the hands of God and survived without much delay. After this shocking event his pontificate took a new course. Pope became a more perceive, charismatic figure.

His mission was an all consuming act of love for the world; Protestants, Orthodox, Jews, Muslims, atheists etc, came under his influence. In 1986 he visited the synagogue in Rome. This was an act which no pontiff had ever done before. In 1993 he established the first official diplomatic relation between Israel and the Holy See. Historic hallmarks were his apostolic journeys to the Eastern European Countries, to Cuba, Sarajevo, Beirut, the World Youth days, the great Jubilee of the year 2000. He presided over 147 beatification ceremonies, in which he beatified 1338 people and canonized 482 saints. He presided over 9 consistories, in which he created 231 cardinals and presided over 6 plenary meetings of the College of Cardinals.

What especially characterized John Paul’s Pontificate, however was his journey’s. This “pilgrim Pope” made 146 pastoral visits in Italy alone and as Bishop of Rome visited 317 of the current 333 parishes of that city. He made 104 Apostolic Journey’s around the world. He visited 130 different countries, 615 different localities and pronounced 2400 speeches. This pilgrim activity was continued right to this end.

1.3.4. We May Meet in Heaven

In 2003 he marked his 25th year as Pope making him the longest serving pontiff of the 20th century. By then John Paul was struggling with increasing poor health. Visibly suffering from the slurred speech and trembling hands of Parkinsons disease. In February 2005, he had a tracheotomy after being taken to Gemelli hospital with breathing problems. He received the last rites on March 31, after suffering septic shock and a cardio circulatory collapse brought on by urinary tract infection. He died in his apartments at the Vatican on April 2. Pope John Paul II passed away with his heart filled with serenity and deep trust in God, even amid the pains that racked his mortal body. Then it was the end of ever showing sun in the Catholic Church.

1.3.5 Beatification Process

Inspired by calls of “Santo Subito” (Make him a saint now) from the crowds gathered during the funeral, Pope Benedict XVI, John Paul’s successor began the beatification process, by passing the normal restriction that five years must beatification process can begin. In an audience with Pope Benedict XVI, Camillo Ruini, Vicar, General of the Diocese of Rome and the one responsible for the cause of canonization cited, “exceptional circumstances” which suggested that the waiting period could be waived on 28May 2006. Pope Benedict XVI said Mass before an estimated 900,000 people in John Paul II’s native Poland and started that he hoped canonization would happen “in the near future”. In January 2007, Stainslaw cardinal Dziwisz of Krakow announced that the key interviewing phase of the beatification process was nearing completion. On 8 March 2007, the Vicariate of Rome announced that the diocesan phase of John Paul’s cause for beatification was at an end. The cause then proceeded to the scrutiny of the committee of the Vatican’s congregation for the causes of saints, who will conduct an investigation of their own.

2. Major Works of Pope John Paul II


As pope, one of John Paul II’s most important roles was to teach people about Christianity. The documents of Pope John Paul II reiterate the time tested catholic teaching on various important aspects of church’s faith and life. He published 14 Encyclicals, 14 Apostolic Exhortations, 7 Apostolic constitution, 28 Apostolic letter and even 5 books without mentioning the thousands of speeches

2.1. Encyclicals

Many of his encyclicals are profound with meaning and all influenced the way of catholic faith. In “The splendor of the Truth” (Veritatis Splendor), he emphasized the dependence of freedom on the truth. He warned that man giving himself over to relativism and skepticism. In “Fides et Ratio” Pope promoted a renewed interest in philosophy and an autonomous pursuit for truth in theological matters. John Paul II also wrote extensively about workers and the social doctrine of the church, which he discussed in three encyclicals. Other encyclicals include “Evangelium Vitae” and “Ut Unum Sint” is promoting the brotherhood of having same faith. Redemptoris Missio, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis are other encyclicals which show his social missionary thirst and social concerns.

2.2. Apostolic Exhortations

Pope John Paul has written 14 Apostolic exhortations each having a preferential theme for study. Ecclesia in Asia, Ecclesia in America, Ecclesia in Africa, Ecclesia in Europe, etc shows his concern for the churches in different continents. He also wrote on bishops, consecrated life, role of laity, role of catechism and especially on the role of Christian family. Pastores Dabo Vobis which we may discuss later shows his desire for mature formation of priests.

 2.3. Apostolic Constitutions

The servant of the servants of God wrote 7 Apostolic constitutions which had a great impact. It consists of “Sapientia Christiana” “Pastor Bonus” “Fidei Depositum” etc. He gave new visions on the catechism of the Catholic Church for the promulgation of the new code of Canon law etc.

2.4. Apostolic Letters

Apostolic letters by Pope John Paul II had a remarkable value in the modern world. It consists of “Mane Nobiscum Domine”, “Misericordia Dei”, “Novo Millennio ineunte”, Ordinatio sacerdotalis” “Teritio Millennio Adveniente” “Orientale Lumen” “Mulieris Dignitatem” etc.

3. Major Contributions of Pope John Paul II

Pope John Paul II is universally considered one of the great leaders of the 20th century. The personality and the contribution he made to the world stands unique. In this section we may try to evaluate a few of his traits and contributions.

3.1. Apologies

The importance or uniqueness of Pope John Paul II must be traced back to his apologies. He apologized to Jews, Galileo, Women, Victims of the inquisitions, Muslims slaughtered by the crusades and almost everyone who had suffered at the hands of the Catholic Church through the years. As Pope he officially made public apologies for over 100 of wrong doings including;

The legal process on the Italian scientists and Philosopher Galileo Galilee on 31 October 1992.

Catholics’ involvement with the African slave trade on 9 August 1993.

The church hierarchy’s role in burning at the stake and religious wars that followed the Protestant Reformation on May 1995.

The injustices committed against women on 10 July 1995.

The inactivity and silence during the Holocaust on 16 March 1998.

3.2 Role in the fall of Communism

 John Paul II has been credited with being instrumental in bringing down communism in Eastern Europe by being the spiritual inspiration behind its downfall and a catalyst for a peaceful revolution in Poland. The Pope started the chain of events that led to the end of communism. Mikhail Gorbachev once said “The collapse of the Iron curtain would have been impossible without John Paul II. In February 2004 Pope John Paul II was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize honouring his life’s work in opposing communist oppression and helping to reshape the world.

3.3. World Youth Day

World Youth Day is a popular catholic faith themed international youth event initiated by Pope John Paul II, had a special relationship with catholic youth and is known as “The Pope for Youth”. He established world youth day in 1984 with the intention of bringing young Catholics from all parts of the world together to celebrate the faith. These week-long meetings of youth occurs every two or three years, attracting hundreds of thousands of young people who go there to sing, party, have a good time and deepen their faith.

3.4. On Liberation Theology

John Paul II officially condemned the liberation theology which had many followers on South America through the teachings of congregation for the Doctrine of Faith in 1984 and in 1986. In his travel to Managua, Nicaragua in 1983 John Paul II harshly condemned what he dubbed the “popular Church”

3.5. On Evolution

On 22 October 1996, in a speech to the pontifical academy of sciences plenary session at the Vatican, Pope John Paul II declared the evolutionary theories of Charles Darwin as factors and wholly compatible with the teachings of Roman Catholic Church. Pope said; “If taken literally, the Biblical view of the beginning of life and Darwin’s scientific view would seem irreconcilable. In Genesis the creation of the world and Adam, took six days. Evolution’s process of genetic mutation and natural selection has taken billions of years according to scientists”. Although accepting the theory of evolution, John Paul II made one major exception –the human soul, “If the human body has its origin in living material which pre-exists it, the spiritual soul”

3.6. On Homosexuality

While taking a traditional position on sexuality, defending in church’s moral opposition to marriage to for same-sex couples, the pope asserted that persons with homosexual inclinations possesses the same inherent dignity and rights as everybody else. The pope also reaffirmed the church’s existing teaching on gender in relation to transsexuals, made clear that transsexual could not serve in church positions.

3.7. Relationships with denominations and other Religions

 Pope John Paul II travelled extensively and came into contact with believers from many divergent faiths. He constantly attempted to find common ground, both doctrinal and dogmatic. At the world Day of Prayer for peace held in Assisi on 27 October 1986, more than 120 representatives of different religion and Christian denomination spent a day together with fasting and praying.

3.7.1. Anglicanism

Pope John Paul II had good relation with the Church of England. He preached in Canterbury with friendship and courtesy. John Paul II’s historic ecumenical effort with the Anglican Communion was realized with the establishment of our Lady of the Atonement Catholic Church in co-operation with Archbishop Patrick Flores San Antonio.

3.7.2. Eastern Orthodox Church

In May 1999, John Paul II visited Romania on the invitation from patriarch Teoctist Arapasu of the Romanian Orthodox Church. This was the first time a Pope had visited a predominantly Eastern Orthodox country since the Great Schism in 1054. Pope visited another heavily Orthodox area Ukraine on 23-27 June 2001 at the invitation of the President of Ukraine and bishops of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and the Roman Catholic Church in Ukraine. The Pope spoke to leaders of the All-Ukrainian council of churches and religions organizations, pleading for “Open, tolerant and honest dialogue”. For a number of years John Paul II actively sought to facilitate dialogue and unity stating as early as 1988 in “Euntes in Mundum” that church has two lungs, it will never breathe easily until it uses both of them.

3.7.3. Judaism

Relations between Catholicism and Judaism improved during the pontificate of John Paul II. He spoke frequently about the church’s relationship with Jews. In 1979, he became the first Pope to visit the Nazi Auschwitz concentration camp on Poland, where many of his countrymen, mostly Polish Jews had perished during the German Nazi occupation. He also became the first pope known to have made an official papal visit to a Synagogue of Rome on 13 April 1986. In January 2005, John Paul II became the first Pope in history known to receive a priestly blessing from a Rabbi. Immediately after the death of the Pope, the Anti-defamation league issued a statement that Pope John Paul II had revolutionized Catholic – Jewish relations saying that “more change for the better took place in his 27 year papacy than in the nearly 2000 years before”.

3.7.4. Buddhism

Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama and the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, visited Pope John Paul II eight times more than any other single dignitary. The pope and the Dalilama often shared similar views and understood similar plights both coming from people affected by communism.

3.7.5. Islam

On 6th May 2001, Pope John Paul II became the first catholic Pope to entered and prayed in an Islamic mosque. Respectfully removing his shoes, he entered the Umayyad Mosque, a former Byzantine era Christian church dedicated to John the Baptist. He kissed the Quran in Syria, an act which made him popular amongst Muslims and more unpopular amongst traditionalist Catholics. John Paul II over saw the publication of the “Catechism of the Catholic Church” which makes a special provision for Muslims therein, it is written, “the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims, these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful god, mankind’s Judge on the last day”.


“He was one of the most eminent figures of our epoch. His words and actions had an enormous influence on the situation in the Republic of Poland, On Europe and on the whole world. Since he was a tireless upholder of peace dialogue and reconciliation, he helped to pull down many of the barriers that divided people and religions. The content of his magisterium reached everyone, brought serenity to hearts and moved consciences. For millions of people, the Pope was a true authority and an authentic spiritual guide”.

This is the message send to Rome of the occasion of hearing the death of Pope John Paul II on 2rd April 2005, by the president of Poland, Alekasander Kwasniewaki. Such high was the influence of the Pope John Paul II. This “light of the world” has small beginning in the small village and had it suffering to the path of highness. 27 year of his pontificate was remarkable for the given a lovely, acceptable face for the church of Jesus Christ. Thus his life inspires much to be in communion with Catholic Church and above all to triune god, who has shown. His unending love and care for human beings.

 Fr Kochumundanmalayil Sijo


St Alphonsa – Canonization Address

Address at the Public Meeting at the Canonization of Sr Alphonsa at Bharanaganam, Kottayam

Kottayam, Nov 8 2008

St Alphonsa of India

St Alphonsa of India

In giving, receive happiness “Oh humanity, I have glad tidings for you” I am delighted to participate in the Public Meeting celebrating the canonization of Sr Alphonsa, which is a unique event for India particularly for Kerala. I greet all the participants in this noble event which will enable each one of us to think about this great memorable event in the life of Sister Alphonsa. I was asking myself, what spiritual life inspired Sister Alphonsa. Here I would like to remember a great biblical event, where Jesus Christ was crucified, on the day of resurrection Jesus says, “Oh humanity, I have glad tidings for you”. This is a great message of forgiveness and love. In Sister Alphonsa we see such a spiritual awakening. Teacher’s message I am very happy to be at Bharananganam where Sr Alphonsa spent major part of her life and has now been transformed as Saint Alphonsa. Yesterday, I contacted my teacher Rev Father Chinnathurai who is staying in BESKI ILLAM at Dindigul, Tamilnadu, I asked Father Chinnathurai, “Please tell me something unique about Saint Alphonsa”. My teacher gladly said Saint Alphonsa is the first Women Saint in India. Sister Alphonsa became a Saint because she accepted “all the sufferings as God?s Gift”. The value of suffering as reparation for sin and for the change of heart is emphatically reasserted in the life of Blessed Alphonsa. While declaring Sister Alphonsa as a Saint, Pope Benedict XVI said “she suffered herself to heal the suffering of others”. What a great tribute to this loving soul.

Torch bearers of Saint Alphonsa . She was clothed in the religious habit on the 19th of May 1930, during the first pastoral visit made to Bharananganam by the Bishop, Msgr. James Kalacherry. We are proud to be in Bhara-nan-ga-nam, and celebrate the Canonization of Sister Alphonsa into Saint Alphonsa today. The people of this great village have now become the torch bearers of the great soul Saint Alphonsa. One of her thoughts which Saint Alphonsa wrote in her spiritual diary, greatly impressed me which I would like to share with you. “I do not wish to act or speak according to my inclinations. Every time I fail, I will do penance… I want to be careful never to reject anyone. I will only speak sweet words to others. I want to control my eyes with rigour. I will ask pardon of the Lord for every little failure and I will atone for it through penance. No matter what my sufferings may be, I will never complain and if I have to undergo any humiliation, I will seek refuge in the Sacred Heart of Jesus“. What a powerful message Saint Alphonsa has given to humanity. If only all of us can follow this trait, the world will be a very happy place to live for everyone. Suffering is a gift of God When we study deeper into the life of Saint Alphonsa, we find that she renounced the world. She renounced the desires, she renounced her own preferences. When the others belittled her and taunted her, she accepted all those sufferings with a smile. Never reacting, but always pro-acting, she kept her cool, won the hearts of many, then and even now and forever in future. The married people wear a ring. The nuns wear no ring. But this nun wore a ring, as she said is suffeRING. She suffered and silently she suffered. She knew, silence is the best ornament to wear during the celebrations of suffering

When I am in the land of Saint Alphonsa, where I walk, where I see all around, I hear the song of Saint Alphonsa?s, where she accepted all the sufferings with a smile. Yes the song, song is “What can I give?” in giving “I see Christ”. Here I am reminded

Message of giving When I am in the land of Saint Alphonsa, where I walk, where I see all around, I hear the song of Saint Alphonsa?s, where she accepted all the sufferings with a smile. Yes the song, song is “What can I give?” in giving “I see Christ”. Here I am reminded of a poem on giving: “Radiating message on Giving” “O my fellow citizens, In giving, you receive happiness, In Body and Soul. You have everything to give. If you have knowledge, share it. If you have resources, share it with the needy. Use your mind and heart, to remove the pain of the suffering, and, cheer the sad hearts. In giving, you receive happiness. Almighty will bless all your actions.” We are happy that Pope Benedict XVI accepted Sister Alphonsa’s name for canonization on June 1, 2007, a process that was started 55 years ago. She was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1986 in Kottayam, 40 years after her death, in recognition of the numerous miracles associated with her. On 12 Oct 2008, Sister Alphonsa was canonized as a Saint Alphonsa by the Pope. Today we are celebrating the canonization of Sister Alphonsa at Bharanan-ganam, Kottayam. Scaling great height through silent suffering God loves children, because they do not consider themselves as great. Pride does not rule them. They are humble. Sr. Alphonsa was humble like a child, accepting all that happened as the will of God. And so God loved her immensely. So He blessed her immensely. “I will bless you and you will become a blessing for all”. St. Alphonsa has become a blessing for all.

She is a blessing for all, because of the fragrance of her holiness. Miracles will not happen, just because you have money to spend. People will not get mental and spiritual solace, just because there is somebody with money and power. People knew of the fragrance of her holiness on those days when she was living. Immediately after her death there had been a flow of people seeking her blessing. This continued till today and will continue till the end of times. Here I am reminded of a famous verses of Al-Quran: O Lord grant to me the love of you. Grant that I love those that love you. Grant that I may do the deeds that win your love. Make your love dearer to me than self, family or wealth. Conclusion Let us all take pledge to emulate Saint Alphonsa?s qualities such as being a noble human being, working towards harmony in the home, order in the nation and peace in the world. I am reminded of a hymn which I would like to share with you. “Righteousness” Where there is righteousness in the heart There is beauty in the character. When there is beauty in the character, There is harmony in the home. When there is harmony in the home. There is an order in the nation. When there is order in the nation, There is peace in the world. Dear friends, let the spiritual light of Saint Alphonsa radiate from this great land of Kerala to our nation and many many nations. Let us pray all of us, on the day of remembrance of Saint Alphonsa that prosperity, happiness and peace engulfs the people of the world. My greetings and best wishes to all of you. May God Bless you.

Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam


Ecclesia in Asia: An Evaluation

Ecclesia in Asia


Ecclesia in Asia is a document issued by Pope to serve as a blueprint for the expansion of the Roman Catholic faith in Asia. It summarizes ideas and conclusions of the Special Asian Synod held in Rome from April 18 to May 14, 1998. It was officially promulgated by Pope John Paul II in New Delhi, India on November 6, 1999.

The document stated that “just as in the first millennium the Cross was planted on the soil of Europe, and in the second on that of the Americas and Africa, we can pray that in the Third Christian Millennium a great harvest of faith will be reaped in this vast and vital continent of Asia.”

We Asian peoples like to think in symbols and images, and do not indulge so much on analytic reasoning or speculations; we prefer evocation to demonstration, intuition to argumentation, wisdom to science. There several cultures here, different kind and coloured people here, numerous languages exist here and the philosophy and theology and the very mind set of the people are different from that of the west. Having in mind all these context of cultural and linguistic veracity of the people of Asia Pope John Paul II inspired by the Holy spirit write this document as it was clear from the very title itself Post-synodal apostolic exhortation Ecclesia in Asia of the Holy Father John Paul II to the bishops, priests and deacons, men and women in the consecrated life and all the lay faithful on Jesus Christ the saviour and his mission of love and service in Asia: “…that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (Jn 10:10)

1.  The Structure of the Document

The Exhortation is composed of seven parts dealing with the following themes: the Asian context, Jesus as Savior, the Holy Spirit as Lord and Giver of life, proclamation of Jesus in Asia (with a focus on inculturation), communion and dialogue for mission (with a focus on ecumenical and interreligious dialogue), the service of human promotion, and Christians as witnesses to the Gospel.

The long document concludes as “The peoples of Asia need Jesus Christ and his Gospel. Asia is thirsting for the Living water that Jesus alone can give (Jn 4:10-15). The disciples of Christ in Asia must therefore be unstinting in their efforts to fulfill the mission they have received from the Lord, who has promised to be with them to the end of the age (Mt 28:20). Trusting in the Lord who will not fail those whom he has called, the Church in Asia joyfully makes her pilgrim way into the Third Millennium.”

The content of the document is the following:


The Marvel of God’s Plan in Asia (1)

Background to the Special Assembly (2)

The Celebration of the Special Assembly (3)

Sharing the Fruits of the Special Assembly (4)

 Chapter I – The Asian Context

Asia, the Birthplace of Jesus and of the Church (5)

Religious and Cultural Realities (6)

Economic and Social Realities (7)

Political Realities (8)

The Church in Asia: Past and Present (9)

 Chapter II – Jesus the Saviour: A Gift to Asia

The Gift of Faith (10)

Jesus Christ, the God-Man Who Saves (11)

The Person and Mission of the Son of God (12)

Jesus Christ: the Truth of Humanity (13)

The Uniqueness and Universality of Salvation in Jesus (14)

 Chapter III – The Holy Spirit: Lord and Giver of Life

The Spirit of God in Creation and History (15)

The Holy Spirit and the Incarnation of the Word (16)

The Holy Spirit and the Body of Christ (17)

The Holy Spirit and the Church’s Mission in Asia (18)

 Chapter IV – Jesus the Saviour: Proclaiming the Gift

The Primacy of Proclamation (19)

Proclaiming Jesus Christ in Asia (20)

The Challenge of Inculturation (21)

Key Areas of Inculturation (22)

Christian Life as Proclamation (23)

 Chapter V – Communion and Dialogue for Mission

Communion and Mission Go Hand in and (24)

Communion within the Church (25)

Solidarity among the Churches (26)

The Catholic Eastern Churches (27)

Sharing Hopes and Sufferings (28)

A Mission of Dialogue (29)

Ecumenical Dialogue (30)

Inter-religious Dialogue (31)

 Chapter VI – The Service of Human Promotion

The Social Doctrine of the Church (32)

The Dignity of the Human Person (33)

Preferential Love of the Poor (34)

The Gospel of Life (35)

Health Care (36)

Education (37)

Peacemaking (38)

Globalization (39)

Foreign Debt (40)

The Environment (41)

 Chapter VII – Witnesses To the Gospel

A Witnessing Church (42)

Pastors (43)

The Consecrated Life and Missionary Societies (44)

The Laity (45)

The Family (46)

Young People (47)

Social Communications (48)

The Martyrs (49)


Gratitude and Encouragement (50)

Prayer to the Mother of Christ (51)

2. An Evaluation of the Document

2.1 Truly Asian, Authentically Christian

While the Pope sees the crux of the matter as doctrinal (Christo-centrism), the bishops’ interventions saw their problem as not with Jesus the Christ – who is widely accepted and loved by Asians – but the presence of a foreign Church burdened by a colonial past. Ecclesia in Asia finds it strange that Jesus the Asian, has become a foreigner in Asia (EA 20). Apart from the indigenous Churches in the Near East and Kerala, most remaining Churches are the result of colonial expansion and missionary outreach working hand-in-hand. Whatever the nuances, however great the social contribution of the mission Churches in the past, however heroic the sacrifices of cross-cultural missioners over the centuries, the fact remains in stark clarity: the Latin Churches of Asia are a foreign presence. They are alien in the official dress of its leaders; alien in its rituals; alien in its formation of cultic and community leaders in foreign thought patterns in seminaries whose professors are foreign-educated; alien in its large, often rich, institutions among people who are generally poor; above all alien in that Christians have had to uproot themselves from their own cultural identity in order to claim a “hybrid” Christian one. This is a major issue for most Asian bishops. However, Ecclesia in Asia mentions it in passing in a single sentence as though the problem was over:”… the Church in many places was still considered as foreign to Asia, and indeed was often associated in people’s minds with the colonial powers” (EA, 9).

Ecclesia in Asia is surely right in placing Christ at the center rather than the Church, whether Latin or Oriental. This is not to separate Christ from his body, the Church, but rather to accept the Church as sign, sacrament and instrument of Christ’s saving presence. The eternal, incarnate, redemptive, cosmic presence of Christ can neither be confined to, nor controlled by the Church. The central problem is neither Christ nor his acceptance/rejection by his fellow Asians. The key missiological problem is rather the Western Church’s alien tone and idiom inherited from colonial times. As for the how of mission we need time, patience and perseverance in order to move away from insulated, devotional practices and re-invent ourselves as dynamic diaspora living out a dialogue of life and action.

2.2 A New Way of Being Church

Another way of making the point for the Asian Synod to have a lasting impact, the Asian Churches must, with courage and creativity, find new ways of being Church, and hence construct an alternative ecclesiology. This ecclesiology, in a sort of Copernican revolution, de-centers the Church in the sense that it makes the center of the Christian life not the Church but the reign of God. Their mission is not to expand the Church and its structures in order to enlarge the sphere of influence for the Church but to be a transparent sign and effective instrument of the saving presence of the reign of God, the reign of justice, peace, and love, of which the Church is a seed. As the Exhortation puts it well: “Empowered by the Spirit to accomplish Christ‘s salvation on earth, the Church is the seed of the kingdom of God, and she looks eagerly for its final coming. Her identity and mission are inseparable from the kingdom of God he Spirit reminds the Church that she is not an end unto herself: In all that she is and all that she does, she exists to serve Christ and the salvation of the world” (EA, 17).

2.2.1 Church as a Communion

The Church, both at the local and universal levels, is seen primarily as “a communion of communities, where laity, religious and clergy recognize and accept each other as sisters and brothers.” At the heart of the mystery of the Church is the bond of communion uniting God with humanity and humans with one another, of which the Eucharist is the sign and instrument par excellence. In this ecclesiology there is an explicit and effective recognition of the fundamental equality among all the members of the local Church as disciples of Jesus and among all the local Churches in so far as they are communities of Jesus’ disciples and whose communion constitutes the universal Church. The communion (koinonia) which constitutes the Church, both at the local and universal levels, and from which flows the fundamental equality of all Christians, is rooted at its deepest level in the life of the Trinity in whom there is a perfect communion of equals.18 Unless this fundamental equality of all Christians is acknowledged and lived through concrete policies and actions, the Church will not become a communion of communities in Asia. Living out this fundamental equality is particularly difficult in Asia, not only because the insistence on the hierarchical structure of the Church tends to obscure and minimize it but also because it goes against the class consciousness of many Asian societies.

2.2.2 Discipleship of Equals

 The understanding of pastoral “discipleship of equals” leads to the second characteristic of the new way of being Church in Asia, that is, the participatory and collaborative nature of all the ministries in the Church: “It is a participatory Church where the gifts that the Holy Spirit gives to all the faithful – lay, religious, and cleric alike -are recognized and activated, so that the Church may be built up and its mission realized. This participatory nature of the Church must be lived out not only in the local Church but also among all the local Churches, including the Church of Rome, of course, with due recognition of the papal primacy. In this context it is encouraging to read in the Exhortation the following affirmation: It is in fact within the perspective of ecclesial communion that the universal authority of the successor of Peter shines forth more clearly, not primarily as juridical power over the local churches, but above all as a pastoral primacy at the service of the unity of faith and life of the whole people of God” (EA, 25). A “pastoral primacy” must do everything possible to foster co-responsibility and participation of all the local Churches in the triple ministry of teaching, sanctification, and service in the Church and must be held accountable to this task so that these words do not remain at the level of pious rhetoric but are productive of concrete structures and actions. Only in this way can the Church’s teaching office and the pope’s ministry of promoting unity be effectively exercised, learning from the varied and rich experiences of being Church from all corners of the globe and welcoming respectful but frank warning and correction when errors of intellectual narrowness, moral arrogance, and  spiritual blindness have been committed.

2.2.3 A Dialogical Spirit

The third characteristic of a new way of being Church in Asia is the dialogical spirit: Built in the hearts of people, it is a Church that faithfully and lovingly witnesses to the Risen Lord and reaches out to people of other faiths and persuasions in a dialogue of life towards the integral liberation of all. The universal church must have in mind the necessity of this triple dialogue. In the dialogue with the Asian cultures (inculturation), the Exhortation highlights the areas of theology, liturgy, and the Bible (EA, 22). In the dialogue with other religious traditions, the document emphasizes ecumenical and interreligious dialogue. It quotes approvingly proposition 41 of the Synod: “Interreligious relations are best developed in a context of openness to other believers, a willingness to listen and the desire to respect and understand others in their differences. For all this, love of others is indispensable. This should result in collaboration, harmony and mutual enrichment” (EA, 31). In the dialogue with the poor, the Exhortation affirms the necessity of the preferential love of the poor (in particular, the migrants, indigenous and tribal people, women and children), defense of human life, health care, education, peacemaking, cancellation of foreign debts, and protection of the environment (EA, 32-41). There is no doubt that if the Christian Church is to become truly of Asia, Asian Christians must be engaged, relentlessly and wholeheartedly, in this triple “dialogue of life and heart” and in this way fulfill their inalienable right and duty of proclaiming Jesus to their fellow Asians.

2.2.4 Being a Prophetic Sign

The fourth and last feature of the new way of being Church in Asia is prophecy: The Church is “a leaven of transformation in this world and serves as a prophetic sign daring to point beyond this world to the ineffable Kingdom that is yet fully to come” As far as Asia is concerned, in being “a leaven of transformation in this world,“ Christianity must give up its ambition, so enthusiastically endorsed in many missionary quarters at the beginning of the twentieth century, to convert the majority of Asians to Christ. The report of the demise of Asian religions was premature and vastly exaggerated. In Asia, where Christians still form but a minuscule part of the population after four hundred years of mission, and where non-Christian religions have recently staged a vigorous revival, the prospect of a massive conversion of Asians to the Christian faith is utterly unlikely. Christians in Asia must come to terms with the fact that they are destined to remain for the foreseeable future a “small remnant” who must journey with adherents of other religions toward the eschatological kingdom of God.

The objective of the Church‘s mission of “making disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19) in Asia cannot therefore be adding as many members to the Church as possible, even though baptism in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 28:19) remains the desirable outcome of the Church‘s mission. Rather, the primary task of the Church is to become a credible prophetic sign” of the coming reign of God. This new focus of the Church‘s mission must be the light guiding the ordering of its priorities and the choice of its policies which must not aim at serving the internal interests of the Church but the proclamation of the Gospel through the triple dialogue.

The significance of the Asian Synod and Ecclesia in Asia lies,  not so much in what they say as in the recognition that the Churches of Asia have come of age and must continue to pursue the task of becoming Asian, relentlessly, courageously, creatively. Only in this way can the Christian Church fulfill its missionary vocation which is the task of the entire Church.33 It is only by living out a new way of being Church that Asian Christians will make true what the Exhortation states as a fact: “Contemplating Jesus in his human nature, the peoples of Asia find their deepest questions answered, their hopes fulfilled, their dignity uplifted and their despair conquered” (EA, 14).

2.3 Ecclesia in Asia and the Biblical Pastoral Ministry

In EA, the explicit reflection on our ministry comes in chapter IV “Jesus the Saviour: Proclaiming the Gift”, in the section, “The Challenge of Inculturation” (nos. 21-22). Among the key areas of inculturation, priority is given to theological inculturation: “The Synod expressed encouragement to theologians in their delicate work of developing an inculturated theology, especially in the area of Christology.” (EA 22) This is to be undertaken “with courage and faithfulness“. The thrust of the document in this section is on the inculturation of the Good News. The word inculturation, culture and related words appear one hundred and one times in the document.

3.0 Conclusion

The significance of the Asian Synod and Ecclesia in Asia lies not so much in what they say as in the recognition that the Churches of Asia have come of age and must continue to pursue the task of becoming Asian, courageously and creatively. Only in this way can the Christian Church fulfill its missionary vocation which is the task of the entire Church. It is only by living out a new way of being Church that Asian Christians will make true what the Exhortation states as a fact: “Contemplating Jesus in his human nature, the peoples of Asia find their deepest questions answered, their hopes fulfilled, their dignity uplifted and their despair conquered” (EA, 14). What the Pontifical Biblical Commission says about the actualization of the Bible is valid for a dialogic approach to biblical pastoral ministry. “In any case, the risk of error does not constitute a valid objection against performing what is a necessary task that of bringing the message of the Bible to the ears and hearts of the people of our time” (Interpretation of the Bible in Church, p.117). A dialogic proclamation of the word is not a clearly defined task. It is a venture of hope. It will become an adventure of the Church in Asia. Today we are here to plant the seeds of a future visioning. Our task is to greet from distance that future and to keep sowing the seeds and nurture their growth. May this Apostolic Document strengthen us for such a mission.


  1. Pope john Paul II, Ecclesia in Asia, 1999.
  2. Losservatore Romano, november, 1999.

The Reception of the Conciliar Reform in the Liturgy of the Syro-Malabar Church

The Reception of the Conciliar Reform in the Liturgy

of the Syro-Malabar Church


Fr Antony Nariculam



Among the 16 documents of Vatican II, the first one discussed and passed in the Council was the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. Liturgy is said to be the ‘heart’ of the Church. So much so, the ‘quality’ of an Individual Church can be determined, to a great extent, by observing the liturgical celebration of her members because the Church is basically a worshipping community.

After the Council, the Church in India took a leap forward with the “Church in India Today” seminar held at NBCLC, Bangalore in 1969 to find out the ways and means to implement the Council documents. One of the documents which drew pointed attention of the participants of the seminar was the constitution on liturgy. Among all the 22 Catholic Individual Churches, the Syro-Malabar Church is perhaps the only one which took bold steps to renew the liturgy. This renewal movement was spearheaded by Cardinal Joseph Parecattil who believed that the Syro-Malabar Church should be ‘Indian’ in worship. Among the then Syro-Malabar Bishops, Archbishop Jacob Thoomkuzhy was one who whole-heartedly supported the Cardinal to go forward with the reform process ‘indianizing’ the liturgy. Though the Cardinal’s initiatives were helpful to create a new awareness about the need of liturgical reform in the Syro-Malabar Church in the light of the conciliar document on the sacred liturgy, there was also opposition to his move from various quarters. Therefore, the reform process gradually slowed down, heading towards a standstill.

Vatican II and  Liturgical Reform

The thrust of Vatican II regarding the liturgical reform can be concisely summarized as “restoration, revision and adaptation”. The Council declared that the Church wishes to preserve all lawfully recognized rites and foster them in every way, and also that the rites be revised in the light of sound tradition in order to meet the needs of the modern age (SC 4). The Council gave some directives also to achieve this aim.

In the liturgy, the Council observes, there are unchangeable and changeable elements. Not that the latter may be changed, but ought to be changed if they have become less suitable for today. In this process, one of the principles to be followed is that liturgy is understood by the faithful with ease and that they can take part in it fully, actively and as a community (SC 21). SC 34 which says that the rites should be simple, short, clear and free from useless repetitions, is one of the golden principles of Vatican II. Another basic principle is regarding the need of inculturation.  The Church is open to admit into the liturgy what is not superstitious or erroneous in the way of life of the people and their culture (SC 37).

Conciliar Reform and Reception in the Syro-Malabar Church


One of the stumbling blocks in the reception of the conciliar constitution on the liturgy in the Syro-Malabar Church is the (mis)understanding about the very process of restoration, revision and adaptation. According to some, revision and adaptation should take place only after completing the restoration of all liturgical texts. It would mean that the Syro-Malabar Church should fully restore and use the ancient Syriac texts, may be translated into modern languages, without much change. On the other hand, the vast majority in the Church preferred to give greater emphasis to revision, adaptation and inculturation . Of course, no Church can revise its liturgy without restoring it first. But this should be, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger observes, only for “recovering the lost values”.[1] In other words, our primary concern should not be ‘What was the liturgy like then?”, but “What ought to be done today?” to make it meaningful and relevant to the people of today.[2]

‘Pastoral realism’ is important in any reform. This has been always a crucial concern of the Syro-Malabar Church. This idea was endorsed also by the Roman Congregation for the Oriental Churches. “The good of the faithful ( ‘bonum fidelium’)”, the Congregation noted, “is the pastoral norm governing all liturgical legislation”.[3] The right and duty to resolve concrete pastoral issues in the liturgy belong to the diocesan Bishop, said an eminent Oriental liturgiologist, Prof. Robert Taft, addressing the Syro-Malabar Bishops in the Synod held in the Vatican in 1996.[4] The steps taken by Archbishop Thoomkuzhy in the realm of liturgy were influenced by this pastoral attitude. Therefore, he told the Syro-Malabar Bishops: “Liturgiology is a very comprehensive discipline like linguistics. We have, however, to be extremely wary of liturgical reforms, conceived by scholars who perhaps do not have direct contact with the pastoral realities”.[5] Further he said: “There is no divergence of opinion among the (Syro-Malabar) Bishops or others with regard to essential matters of faith or morals. Often it is concerned with certain rubrics, clarity, simplicity etc. They are more of a pastoral nature. It should be noted that these pastoral exigencies do not have a uniform pattern all over the Syro-Malabar eparchies”.[6]

Another issue which continues to be discussed in the realm of Syro-Malabar liturgical reform is the meaning of “organic growth”, and consequently, the understanding of ‘tradition’ and ‘traditions’. According to Vatican II, in the process of liturgical renewal new forms adopted should in some way grow ‘organically’ from forms already existing (SC 23). In the words of Pope John Paul II, tradition is not an unchanging repetition of formulas, but a heritage which preserves the original core.[7] The Instruction of the Oriental Congregation observes that “No Church, Eastern or Western, has ever been able to survive without adapting itself continuously to the changing conditions of life”.[8] This is so because history is not simply the past, rather it is the contemporary understanding of life in terms of its origin and evolution as seen through the prism of our present concern. Therefore, Pope John Paul II told the Syro-Malabar Bishops in 1980 that the liturgical reform  must be based on “fidelity to genuine ecclesial traditions and open to the needs of the faithful, to the culture and to possible changes by way of organic progress”.[9]

About ‘tradition’ and ‘organic growth’ Archbishop Thoomkuzhy has this to say: “First of all, there is no agreement as to what the genuine traditions are and what are not. Secondly, there is the difference as to which traditions we have to return and which traditions are to be reformed”.[10] Further he observes that in the process of organic growth in the liturgy, there can be influences not too consonant with its original structure. Unless they are too essential for the salvation of souls it does not seem to be worth going back to the original state.[11]

In this context, it is good to note an observation made by Robert Taft. “It has been my constant observation”, writes he, “that liturgies do not grow evenly, like living organisms. Rather, their individual structures possess a life of their own. More like cancer than native cells, they can appear like aggressors, showing riotous growth at a time when all else lies dormant”.[12]

The above observations are relevant when we consider the reception of the conciliar reforms in the liturgy of the Syro-Malabar Church. The restored texts of the Syro-Malabar liturgy – Divine Office (1938), Holy Qurbana (1957), Pontifical (1958), Propria (1960), Calendar (1960)etc. – belong to a period prior to Vatican II. Of these only the holy Qurbana underwent slight modifications in 1962, 1968, 1985 and 1989. The revised text of the Sacraments was published in 2005. The other texts are to be published in the coming years.

Despite the earnest efforts of the Bishops, there still persists a complaint that the revised texts are not sufficiently adapted and inculturated. Liturgy is always subject to reform. The most consoling aspect of the ‘liturgical crisis’ in the Syro-Malabar Church is that there is no difference of opinion about the fundamental and essential aspects of the liturgy. As Archbishop Thoomkuzhy rightly observes, the divergence of opinion is only about certain rubrics, clarity, pastoral concerns etc. Vatican II, the Popes, the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, the Oriental Congregation and the Syro-Malabar Synod of Bishops have on various occasions laid down principles and guidelines in order to restore, revise and adapt liturgy for the ‘Church of today’. Adaptation to local needs is all the more urgent today since the Syro-Malabar Church is fast spreading to various countries, especially to Europe, America and the Gulf. An unprejudiced openness towards new pastoral realities based on fundamental principles of liturgical reform will help us to be relevant and useful for the people living in diverse circumstances. The steps taken by Archbishop Thoomkuzhy throughout his episcopal ministry have indeed this mark of pastoral realism.



[1]  The Ratzinger Report, p.38

[2]  The Ratzinger Report, p.132.

[3] Directives of 1988, No.2

[4] Acts of the Synod, p.133

[5] Acts of the Synod, p.98

[6] Acts of the Synod, p.109

[7] Orientale Lumen, No.8

[8] Instruction  of 1996, No.11

[9] Roman Documents, Kottayam  1999, p.65

[10] Acts of the Synod, p.94

[11] Acts of the Synod, p.95

[12] How liturgies Grow? p.360



Dr Antony Nariculam

             Antony Nariculam


Vatican II describes the ministerial priesthood as a participation in Jesus’ mission. “Priests are consecrated in the image of Christ, the eternal High Priest, to preach the Gospel, shepherd the faithful and celebrate the divine worship as true priests of the New Testament” (LG 28). It is said that a Christian community is judged by the liturgy it celebrates. For, the liturgy of a Church is an index of that particular Church’s inner dynamism.


To have an effective liturgical celebration, according to Vatican II, people have to participate in it ‘consciously, devoutly and fruitfully’ (SC 48). Every word and gesture in the liturgy has a meaning. Unless this meaning is understood, liturgy becomes a hollow ritual, and consequently, it is felt to be a boring experience.


When we examine the history of liturgical celebrations, we come across three ‘deviations’, so to say, from the focal point of celebration. The first is making the word of God a concatenation of human words by unnecessarily long homilies or shared view points on the biblical passages. The second is the clericalization making the liturgy a ‘performance’ of those who are in the sanctuary. And thirdly, the anachronistic imperial paraphernalia which obfuscated the simplicity of the original celebration.[1]


In the patristic golden age the Fathers like Ambrose, Gregory Nazianzen, Augustine and Gregory the Great have written treatises on clerical life. But, most of them are on the ethical and pastoral aspects. A book of the patristic age specifically on the priesthood is that of St.John Chrysostom and it deals above all with the celebration of the Liturgy.[2] According to him, the ministerial priesthood is something unearthly since the priest makes Christ present to us in the Eucharistic sacrifice. In Christian liturgy the ordained persons are considered to be an access to the divine. Though many symbolic roles of the priests are influenced by the Old Testament priesthood, the origin of Christian priesthood is Jesus himself. The early Christian commentators of liturgy are unanimous in considering the priest acting in persona Christi in the liturgy.[3]


This article is an attempt to identify the various roles of the priest in the liturgical celebration and his ministry in personal Christi.


  1. Priest as ‘Liturgist


A ‘liturgist’ is one who celebrates liturgy. Hence every priest is a liturgist. (The one who ‘teaches’ the ‘science of liturgy’ is a ‘liturgiologist’). Any liturgical celebration becomes effective, to great extent, depending upon the ‘liturgist’. Therefore, the pastors of souls must realize that when the liturgy is celebrated, something more is required than the laws governing valid and lawful celebration. It is their duty also to ensure that the faithful take part fully aware of what they are doing and actively engage in the celebration so as to be enriched by it (SC 11). Pastors should carefully apply requisite pedagogy so that the faithful actively participate in the liturgy (SC 14). Unless the priests themselves become fully imbued with the spirit and power of the liturgy and become capable of teaching people about the meaning and value of it, Vatican II observes that “it would be futile to entertain any hope of realizing the goal of conscious, active and fruitful participation of the people in the liturgy” (SC 14). In fact, a priest is ordained, among other things, to celebrate “devoutly and fruitfully the mysteries of Christ for the praise of God and the sanctification of the Christian people”.[4]


The Cultic Ministry of the Priests


The cultic dimension of priesthood began to be emphasized already from the second century. By the end of that century, we observe a connection between episcopos and presbyter with hierus, sacerdos and pontifex. Eventually liturgy, especially the Eucharistic celebration, began to be stressed as the characteristic mark of priesthood. The cultic understanding the priesthood was further emphasized by the Council of Trent. The later theology, especially after Vatican II, which gave due emphasis to the prophetic and leadership roles of the priest has not caught the attention of the faithful in general, and to a certain extent, even that of the priests themselves. The ordination rites also give the impression that the priest is mainly ordained for cultic service. The actual pastoral situation also attaches greater importance to priests’ sacramental role than other functions. This paradigm shift began sometime in the 4th century when Christianity became the official religion of the Roma Empire. Soon the liturgical interpreters of both East and West began to give allegorical interpretations to the cultic acts, comparing the celebrants to the heavenly hierarchy of the angels and making then ‘channels’ of grace.


According to the uninterrupted teaching of the Church a priest has three functions: Prophet, Priest and Servant. This is reiterated in Vatican II (LG 28; PO 4-6). But, which function constitutes the ‘essence’ of priesthood? In the history we find theologians giving primacy to one or other function of the priest. Pope John Paul II was one who advocated primacy of cultic and sacramental ministry. “If the Eucharist is the centre and summit of the Church’s life, it is likewise the centre and summit of priestly ministry. For this reason, with a heart filled with gratitude to our Lord Jesus Christ, I repeat that the Eucharist ‘is the principal and central raison d’etre of the  sacrament of priesthood, which effectively came into being at the moment of the institution of the Eucharist”.[5]


Thus, whether one likes it or not, the fact is that the cultic ministry of the priests continues to be of primary importance. Hence it is imperative that this role is effectively carried out by the liturgical celebrants.


Liturgy as Ritual Action


Liturgy is not simply a prayer, but a ‘rite’. It has a ritual language which goes beyond the language of words and texts. In order to implement this language of rituals, a proper church building is necessary because liturgical acts take place in space set up for the same. The celebrant should know how to make use of this space. The liturgical space does not depend basically upon the ‘tastes’ of the celebrant or the people. Instead, it is arranged according to the needs of the celebration such as procession, incensing etc. The sanctuary, altar, ambo (bema), choir, place for preparing the gifts (beth-gazza), baptismal font and the nave (hykla) are some of the elements of this space. Only when the celebrating assembly is obedient to the specification of space, can the symbolic communication through the ritual act take place. The communication scholars inform us that more than half of our communications is non-verbal. At times the non-verbal communication in the liturgy is more powerful than the verbal. A careless celebrant who has scant attention for the rite is, in fact, symbolically calling into question the content of the celebration.


A liturgical rite is a human action in which man apprehends himself as religious being. It is an action in which he feels that he is sharing in the divine activity, that is, “an action which God performs through and in man, as much as man himself performs it in and through God”.[6] At the same time, a ritual action without appeal to the mind, or words which have no contact with reality is often the predicament of modern man. The words which convey nothing more than a reasoning process and actions which no longer make sense cannot be considered an effective ritual.


St.Cyprian in his Letter 63 insists that true worship depends on performing the ritual with the same intent as that of Christ. “The priest truly serves in Christ’s place who imitates what Christ did and offers up a true and complete sacrifice to God the Father in the Church when he proceeds to offer it just as he sees Christ himself to have offered it”.[7]


Liturgy is not for one who does not understand and appreciate the role of signs since the liturgy is an expression of human religious ethos through outward symbolic means. Unfortunately for many moderns it has a bad ring. They consider the ‘rites’ to be rigid and restrictive of human freedom, especially when they are prescribed from above. According to a second century Roman jurist Pomponius Festus, a non-Christian, ‘rite’ is an “approved practice in the administration of sacrifice”.[8] This definition seems to be still a valid one. The signs and symbols in the liturgy, says Vatican II, derive their meaning from the Bible (SC 24). For Christians, the ‘rite’ means “the practical arrangements made by the community in time and space, for the basic type of worship received from God in faith”.[9] Of course, no sign or rite has any absolute value. At the same time, not every celebrant is free to change the ‘rites’ to his taste since it belongs to the community.


Besides, to celebrate the rituals meaningfully and effectively, one needs to know one’s own liturgical tradition sufficiently well because each tradition will have its own ‘vocabulary’ and ‘grammar’. All traditions will have something in common as the languages may have common words and grammar. However, each language will have its own grammatical construction. Writing English according to Hindi grammar would be comic. So is the case with a liturgical tradition. Each tradition will have its own way of expressing the worship formulae. A priest has to respect them.


Ars Celebrandi and the Priest


The ars celebrandi is not simply a gift, but a product of constant and disciplined practice. To a great extent, the way a priest celebrates the liturgy is a litmus text. To celebrate well, first of all, he needs to have the sensus Ecclesiae. Today people are on a fast-moving thread mill. Priests are no exception to this reality. The impression many celebrants give is that the ars celebrandi is a fait accompli with the seminary formation.


The attitude of the priest’s mind, heart and body towards God in the celebration affects the assembly. The tone of priest’s voice, his bodily movements and gestures invite people to a joyous and fruitful celebration. As the Charter of Priestly Formation for India remarks, “as a minister of the sacraments the priest renders the believing community and sharing community acceptable to God and transforms it into a living community of worship and service”.[10]


Familiarity with the liturgical texts repeated everyday can cause the celebrant to fail to convey their full meaning. So also, a shift of emphasis in reciting prayers can give wrong signals to the community. For example, the dramatization of the Institution Narrative during the holy Mass can obfuscate the role of the Holy Spirit in the epiclesis and attribute the transformative power to the words uttered by the minister. Still worse, the attention of the participants can be drawn to the minister rather than to God!


The ‘art’ of reciting the prayers is an aspect every liturgist should attend to. Take, for example, the anaphoral prayers. They have multiple layers of meaning and hence key words and phrases deserve to be emphasized . To rush through these prayers obfuscate the sense of the sacred and obstruct active participation. Note the following key words given in italics from the anaphora of Mar Addai and Mar Mari and see how important it is to emphasize them as the priest recites the prayer.


Lord, as you have commanded us, we your humble, weak and distressed

Servants are gathered together in your presence. You have showered upon

us such great things for which we can never thank you enough. To make

us share in your divine life, you assumed human nature, restored us from

our fallen state, and brought us from death to life eternal. Forgiving our

debts you sanctified us sinners, enlightened our minds, defeated our

enemies and glorified our frail nature by your immense grace.


  1. Priest as President of the Assembly


The priest-celebrant acts in his role as an ordained minister who is delegated to be the president of the assembly. Hence his interventions take place according to a determined manner and they constitute a particular mode of action within the framework of a liturgical action. In the liturgy he is an ‘ecclesial man’ (Vir Ecclesiasticus) united with the bishop and the presbyterium and thus a symbol of unity of the faithful. That is why Sacrosanctum Concilium No.42 recommends the Sunday Mass in the parish with the parish priest as the most sublime expression of the community of the faithful of the parish.


The primary duty of the president of the assembly is to create a congenial atmosphere so as to enable the Christian faithful to participate fruitfully in the mysteries of Christ being celebrated. In order to make the celebration active and fruitful, the president should have an understanding of the life-situations of the people with whom he celebrates because the liturgical celebrations are not only commemorations of the mysteries of Christ, but also are ‘celebrations’ of the life of the people in relation to the mysteries. Hence the breakings of the Word and the Bread as well as the celebration of other sacraments have to be contextualized for the benefit of the people. “The joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the men of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted in any way, are the joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well” (GS 1). This statement of the Council is relevant also for the liturgical assemblies. Precisely for this reason the discrimination against the poor in the Eucharistic assembly was considered by St.Paul as an offence against the Lord himself (1 Cor 11:17 ff.).


In the New Testament we find the word ‘president’ (referring to the role of a minister (cf. Rom 12:8; 1 Thes 5:12: 1 Tim 5:17; Tit 3:8). In these instances the term ‘president’ is equal to someone who is ‘responsible to’ or ‘having care of’. Therefore, the priest-president should be aware of the fact that he is called upon and deputed to serve the assembly, besides being part of it. He does not preside over the assembly’ but is within it; he does not lead it, but serves it. Every liturgical celebration being an ecclesial act nobody – not even the priest – shall monopolize it.


The priest-president of the liturgical assembly is, in a way, a guarantor of the faith of the Church. Hence his actions should correspond to the noble role he plays. This role is effectively fulfilled only when he is aware of the fact that the Church is a communion. Consequently, the freedom of the president is very limited. His personal impulses and charism are not of primary importance. He has to take into consideration also the ‘catholicity’ (universality) of the liturgical action which does not in any way diminish the importance of adaptation and inculturation.


  1. Creativity and Liturgical Celebration


‘Creativity’ is a necessary quality of a good celebrant. But it does not mean that one acts according to his tastes or fancies. It presupposes sound doctrinal formation because orthopraxis is always based on orthodoxy. Creativity in the liturgy does not necessarily and always mean ‘creating’ new prayers substituting the fixed ones. A well-trained celebrant can be creative in manifold ways. Choosing appropriate readings and hymns, using the options provided by the text itself, preparing relevant prayers of the faithful (karozutha prayers), contextualizing the celebration with an introduction and preaching a suitable homily are occasions to be creative. In fact, untimely and unnecessary improvisations are uncalled for since they can only distract people. Creativity is not meant to give ‘surprises’ to the community. The priest should know more than anyone else that every celebration, especially that of the Eucharist, has a content of its own and a style. Ordinarily the community too is well aware of it. In the name of creativity a good celebrant will not tamper with it unless there is a genuine need. Therefore the Congregation for the Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments remarked that the post-Vatican II reform has caused a number of abuses due to misguided sense of creativity and adaptation.[11]


Generally speaking, the liturgical texts belong to the assembly. To change well-known to them runs not only the risk of distracting them, but also it becomes an airing of minister’s personal views. Liturgical worship is not the forum to express such views.


‘Minimalism’ and ‘Pontificalism’ are two unacceptable extremes in the liturgical celebrations. Minimalism sins by symbolic and ceremonial ‘defect’ and Pontificalism by their ‘excess’. Pontificalism lays unnecessary emphasis on secondary elements as to obscure the primary. Minimalism ignores almost everything and makes the celebration a poor one without any solemnity.


A temptation for many today is to look at the liturgical action in terms of, as Joseph Ratzinger observes, “creativity, freedom, celebration and community” wherein things like rite, obligation, interiority and Church laws are ‘negative factors’.[12] For them the Missal is only a ‘guidebook’. The celebration is determined by the community and the concrete circumstance. They measure the ‘success’ on the celebration on the basis of the ‘activities’ that take place during the act of worship. Of course, there is some truth in this approach. But to tarnish the content of the celebration for the sake of creativity, spontaneity and participation can cause damage to the celebration as an action of God. In the attempt to make liturgy ‘simple’ and ‘intelligible’, the praise and honour to be rendered to God in an sacred atmosphere should not be made a mere secular action. In fact, liturgy is concerned not only with the conscious mind and with what can be immediately understood at a superficial level. Reducing the ecclesial community to a horizontal and humanistic group of persons will make religion and worship an affair about us rather than about God.


Trying to change prayers and rites in order to improve or contextualize them is, at times, something like trying to improve a finely turned musical instrument. One may know ‘something’ about the instrument, but he/she may not know the intricacies involved. In such cases, the best solution would be to leave it as it is and try to enjoy it. Very often the liturgical rites are carefully planned and based on principles and hence any capricious change will only impoverish its content.


The act of worship should help people to find strength in their spiritual life. Unfortunately many people find these celebrations dry, mechanical and unprofitable. This happens often due to the defective manner of the celebration. As Bishop Thomas Dabre observes, “We can no longer take their participation for granted. The celebration of the sacraments should be a joyful, inspiring and enlightening experience, for the sacraments unite us with the mysteries of salvation. Routine and the pressure of work can make our celebrations perfunctory, mechanical and dry. Priests and faithful need to collaborate and make the liturgy become an experience. Within the discipline of the Church’s worship, there is much scope for creativity, spontaneity and renewal. A greater commitment is called for to make the worship meaningful and profitable”.[13]


  1. Priest as Homilist

Among the functions of the priest, Vatican II places the preaching of the Gospel as the first one (PO4; cf. 2 Cor 11:7). In this way they carry out the command of Christ: “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature” (MT 16:15). In fact, “Faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard from the preaching of Christ” (Rom 10:17). As far as liturgy is concerned, this primary duty of the priest is realized in the Liturgy of the Word which essentially contains also the homily. Vatican II which recommended the need of a more ample, varied and suitable readings from the Sacred Scripture in the liturgy, suggested to give homily its rightful place in it and asked the priests to fulfil that duty most faithfully and carefully (SC 35/1-2). The Council also suggested the nature of the homily: “It must expound the Word of God not merely in a general and abstract way, but by an application of the elements of truths of the Gospel to concrete circumstances of life” (PO 4).


The homily besides being kerygmatic, doctrinal and moral, is also didactic and mystagogical. Hence the role of the president as a  homilist is of utmost importance. In a way, homily is sharing of the ‘known to the knowing’. It is a time of ‘liturgical catechesis’. The source of this catechesis is ordinarily the Sacred Scripture and the liturgy. As the homily is usually addressed to the baptized, it is a time to help them to deepen their faith and to direct them to a morally upright life. For many members of the Church, the Sunday homily is the only spiritual food they receive in a week and hence the homily should be informative and stimulating about religious matters and capable of steering them towards God.


Homily in the liturgical celebration is an “act of worship”, that is, homily is not simply defined by its content – an explanation of the mysteries of salvation -, and rather it is an integral part of the celebration itself. Precisely for this theological reason, the lesser clerics or lay persons are not permitted to preach homily within the liturgical service. The homilist acts sacramentally in the place of Jesus the PRIEST b y rendering through his words an act of worship, as PROPHET proclaiming and explaining the Word of God, as KING he addresses the Body of Christ authoritatively as head and pastor”.[14] As the priest exposes the word of God to the congregation, he is not only teaching the facts about salvation, but also carrying out the work of salvation. Presenting the truth of God the homilist awakes a response from the people, helping them to deepen their faith that leads to salvation.


In the homily, the role of the priest is not to teach ‘his own wisdom’, but the word of God and to issue an invitation to conversion and holiness.[15] Preaching “cannot be reduced to the presentation of one’s own thought, to the manifestation of personal experience, to simple explanations of a psychological, sociological or humanitarian nature; nor can it excessively concentrate on rhetoric, so often found in mass-communication. It concerns proclaiming a Word which cannot be altered, because it has been entrusted to the Church in order to protect, penetrate and faithfully transmit it”.[16]Therefore, homily not properly preached is a disservice done to the Church. As far as priests are concerned, homily should not be a ‘problem’, but an opportunity.


  1. Priest as Promoter of Active Participation

One of the major contributions of Vatican II liturgical Constitution is the impetus it gave to the active participation of the people in the liturgy. The priest plays an important role in making people participate actively in the celebration. But it is a matter of concern that many have not understood the real meaning of active participation. For them it is merely some external activities like responses to the prayers, singing by the choir and the like.


The central ‘action’ in the liturgy, in fact, is not the participating community. “The real liturgical action, the true liturgical act, is the oratio, the great prayer that forms the core of the Eucharistic celebration, the whole of which was, therefore called oratio by the Fathers… In this oratio the priest speaks with the I of the Lord – ‘This is my Body’, ‘This is my Blood’… This action of God, which takes place through human speech, is the real ‘action’ for which all of creation is in expectation… This is what is new and distinctive about Christian liturgy”.[17] This dimension of the interior dynamism of the liturgical action – the divine action – needs to be safeguarded. Therefore, for the sake of contextualization and being ‘creative’, the worshipping community should not be made a mere ‘social gathering’. The Eastern, and hence Indian, approach of apophatism can be of great help to pay attention to this divine dimension. The words and actions of the priest as well as the place and atmosphere of the celebration should be such that they evoke a sense of the sacred.


Vatican II has given a number of suggestions to promote the active participation of the people (SC 11, 14, 17, 18, 19, 28, 29, 30 etc). The roles[18] of each minister and that of the community need to be properly understood and respected for an effective participation. It is not right that the priest cedes to others those things that are proper to his office.


Vatican II which recommended responses, acclamations, hymns as well as gestures and bodily attitudes on the part of the faithful for active participation, added also that at proper times a ‘reverent silence’ should be observed (SC 30). Today people need to realize the effectiveness of silence in the liturgy, especially in the context of Indian religious ethos.


Silence in the liturgy is not a pause or an interruption, but a time of recollection , giving us an inward peace.[19]Silence helps ‘to feel the divine presence’. But, as Ratzinger observes, it is ‘manifestly not being met in our present form of the liturgy’.[20] Besides the silent moments for reflection after the homily and holy communion, Ratzinger suggests the time of the deposition of the gifts at the offertory as a time of silence placing ourselves before the Lord, asking him to make us ready for ‘transformation’ as the bred and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ.[21] A good celebrant will help people to experience this interior silence and take maximum fruit out of the celebration.




Alluding to some church-services, the Russian writer, Vladmir Rozanov once remarked that many Christians actually do not worship; instead, they have a lecture followed by a concert.[22] The author was sarcastically referring to the long biblical discourses and the music.


As we have already explained, the liturgy is more a ‘ritual prayer’. While the priests of pre-Vatican II erred in rubrics by excess, the post-Vatican generation errs by reductionism. Proper ritual actions – a slow entrance procession, a respectful carrying of the cross, Gospel book and candles, a reverent sign of the cross, a devotional recital of the prayers etc. – are important from a didactic point of view because they impress upon the congregation who participate in the worship.


In short, a totally necessary aspect of the formation of every Christian, and in particular of every priest, is liturgical formation in the full sense of becoming inserted in a living way in the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ who died and rose again and is present and active in the Church’s sacraments’.[23]







[1] A.PIERIS, A Liturgical Anticipation of a Domination-Free Church: The Story of an Asian Eucharist, EAPR, 3/2006, 215.

[2] G.NEVILLE, St.John Chrysostom: Six Books on the Priesthood, New York 1984.

[3] P.MANIATTU, Heaven on Earth. The Theology of Liturgical Spacetime in the East Syrian Qurbana, Rome 1995, 196.

[4] Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum (2004), No.31.

[5] Encyclical Letter Ecclesia de Eucharistia (2003), No.3; cf. PO 14.

[6] L.BOUYER, Rite and Man. Natural Sacredness and Christian Liturgy, Notre Dame 1963, 57.

[7] Letter 63:14.4. Quoted in Homiletic and Pastoral Review, July 2005, 51.

[8] J.RATZINGER, The Spirit of the Liturgy, San Francisco 200, 159.

[9] J.RATZINGER, The Spirit of the Liturgy, 160.

[10] Conference of Catholic Bishops of India, Charter of Priestly Formation for India (2004), No.1.2.3

[11] Redemptionis Sacramentum, No.30

[12] J.RATZINGER, The Feast of Faith, San Francisco 1986, 61.

[13] The Ministry of Diocesan Priests in India today, Vidyajyoti, April 2005, 249.

[14] J.FOX, The Homily and the Authentic Interpretation of Canon 767/1, Rome 1989. Quoted in Homiletic and Pastoral Review, November 1999, 18.

[15] JOHN PAUL II, Apostolic Exhortation Pastores dabo Vobis (1992), No.26.

[16] Congregation for the Clergy, Directory on the Ministry and Life of Priests, Rome 1994, No.45.

[17] J.RATZINGER, The Spirit of the Liturgy, 172-173.

[18] Redemptionis Sacramentum, No.32.

[19] J.RATZINGER, The Spirit of the Liturgy, 209.

[20] The Spirit of the Liturgy, 209.

[21] The Spirit of the Liturgy, 211.

[22] A.PIERIS, A Liturgical Anticipation of a Domination-Free Church, 216

[23] Pastores dabo Vobis, No.48.

The Syro-Malabar Liturgical Reform and Pastoral Adaptation

The Syro-Malabar Liturgical Reform and Pastoral Adaptation

Antony Nariculam

The Syro-Malabar Bishops’ Synod, in its attempts to arrive at a consensus regarding the  liturgical issues, has been studying their various aspects with the help of  liturgists, historians, pastors and scholars  in different fields. One of the areas of their study is “Liturgical Reform and Pastoral Adaptation”. This article deals with this particular topic under its various dimensions.

In 1988 the Congregation for the Oriental Churches made the following statement: “The good of the faithful (‘bonum fidelium’) is the pastoral norm governing all liturgical legislation”.[1]Other Roman documents, addressed to the Syro-Malabar Church, too have similar references.

The present articl focuses on eight areas in order to highlight the topic of pastoral adaptation in the  Syro-Malabar liturgy.

  1. The Guidelines for Liturgical Reform, especially those emerging from the Canonical Prescriptions


Vatican II Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium) was a turning point in the liturgical history of the Church at a universal level. Some norms laid down by the Constitution, as the document itself states, “can and should be applied both to the Roman rite and also all other rites” (SC 3). Since then, especially from 1980 onwards, the Syro-Malabar Church has received many guidelines in view of restoring and reforming the liturgy. Of these some are of a general nature and others with specific indications.[2]

According to an Instruction of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, the first requirement of every liturgical renewal is that of rediscovering full fidelity to one’s own liturgical tradition, benefitting from its riches and eliminating that which has altered its authenticity. Such heedfulness is not subordinate to but precedes the so-called updating.[3] Quoting John Paul II, the Instruction reminds us that there needs ‘to trim extraneous forms and developments, deriving from various influences that come from liturgical and paraliturgical traditions foreign to one’s own tradition’.[4]

The modern mentality of the people tends to excessive activism and wants to attain results with minimum effort. This attitude, warns the Instruction, can negatively influence the approach towards liturgy too.[5] However, this consideration should not deter us from meeting the exigencies of the contemporary world.[6] According to the Instruction, a basic principle in the liturgical reform is the one laid down by Sacrosanctum Concilium No.23: ‘In order that sound tradition be retained , and yet the way remains open to legitimate progress, the revision of any part of the liturgy should occur only after careful investigation – the theological, historical and pastoral’.[7]

In the light of the necessary studies, the Instruction suggests the criteria for liturgical renewal in the following words: “In modifying ancient liturgical practice, it must be determined if the element to be introduced is coherent with the contextual meaning in which it is placed. Such a context should be understood beginning with eventual references to Sacred Scripture, interpretations of the Holy Fathers, liturgical reforms previously made, and mystagogical catechesis. Here it must be verified that the new change is homogenous with the symbolic language, with the images and the style specific to the liturgy of the particular Church. The new element will have its place if, required for serious pastoral reasons, it blends within the celebration without contrast but with coherence, almost as if it had naturally derived from it. In addition, it should be ensured that it is not already present, perhaps in another form, in a different moment of the celebration or in another part of the liturgical corpus of that Church. Every renewal initiative should be careful not to be conditioned by other systems which may appear to be more efficient”.[8]

With regard to cultural adaptations, the Instruction refers to an address by Pope John Paul II to the Copts: “Do not adhere with excessive improvisation to the imitation of cultures and traditions which are not your own, thus betraying the sensibility of your people (…). This means it is necessary that every eventual adaptation of your liturgy be founded on an attentive study of the sources, objective knowledge of the specific features of your culture, and maintenance of the traditions common to all Coptic Christianity”.[9]

In this context, it may be useful what the Oriental Congregation had to say to the Syro-Malabar Church in the Report of 1980. It observes that the Syro-Malabar Church needs to integrate itself with the cultures and the traditions of India. This is in view of the necessary inculturation by which is meant the assumption of more solid and sounder realities which these traditions contain, and which so unmistakably characterize the authentic physiognomy of the Indian people.[10] Opening up the doors for liturgical renewal in the Syro-Malabar Church, it further says that “the liturgy – as the Church itself – is perennially to be reformed. It is a living reality, and it cannot be an immobile reality, but must live with the people of God to which it belongs. Remaining itself, it must grow everyday and conform itself to the reality of the ever-new gifts that the Lord grants His people. This continual reforming itself and hence of changing itself is a basic condition of its truth. It is true, therefore, that  liturgy is received as something given nevertheless, no text is to be considered intangible for centuries or marked  by the perennial prohibition ‘ne varietur’”.[11] Hence the measures to be taken by the Syro-Malabar Church should be that of a ‘double-direction’, namely an ‘Eastern-Christian’ direction through a deep contact with the Syriac liturgical, theological and spiritual tradition, and an ‘Indian-direction’ by favouring serious study of Hinduism in order to contribute towards a more  authentic insertion in the life of the Indian people.[12]

The ‘Final Judgement’ of 1985 too had some indications concerning the cultural adaptations in the Syro-Malabar Church. It declares that ‘Rome in no way opposes recommendations for legitimate Indianization’ and that ‘texts of refrains and chants more suitable to Indian culture’ could be proposed for use.[13]

However, in the process of liturgical reform, warns the Instruction, the Catholics need to bear in mind its ecumenical dimension, that is, they have to be sensitive to the Orthodox brethren. Any distancing from the common heritage can cause the existing separation to deepen. Still the document does not rule out the possibility of Catholics proceeding with their own renewal programme, though with necessary precautions. Hence it says: “In every effort of liturgical renewal, therefore, the practice of the Orthodox brethren should be taken into account, knowing it, respecting it and distancing from it as little as possible so as not to increase the existing separation, but rather intensifying efforts in view of eventual adaptations, maturing and working together”.[14]

  1. The Syro-Malabar Liturgical Texts and their Adaptation


The following are the Syro-Malabar liturgical texts:

Thaksa of Holy Qurbana (with propers), Thaksa of Sacraments(Infant Baptism, Adult Baptism, Chrismation,  Penance, Anointing of the Sick and Marriage), Pontifical (Ordination to Karoya, Hevpadyakna, Msamsana, Priesthood, Episcopal Ordination, Installation of the Major Archbishop, Metropolitan and Bishop, Blessing of Oil, Dedication of the church, Rededication of the church and Blessing of Deppa), Divine Praises, Calendar, Lectionary, Holy Week liturgy (Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Passion Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter), Christmas liturgy, Thaksa of Sacramentals (Profession of the Religious, Dedication of the Members of the Secular Institutes and Apostolic Life, Funeral and various rites for the dead, Rite of Reconcilation, Blessing of persons, objects, places etc.).

Of these, not all texts have been formally approved and promulgated. The texts formally promulgated are the Thaksa of Holy Qurbana, Thaksa of Sacraments and the Pontifical. The Divine Praises, Calendar, the propers of holy Qurbana etc are now used ad experimentum. Some other texts are awaiting final approval and promulgation. The Lectionary and the texts of various blessings are yet to be prepared though some of them are available as temporary experimental texts.

Almost all these texts are based on the East Syrian sources. However, many omissions and additions are made in the original Syriac texts in order to adapt them to the needs of today. Some minor attempts were also made to introduce some of the elements from the Indian culture. Touching the altar/gospel book with the forehead or placing the hands first on them and then bringing the hands to the forehead instead of kissing them, exchanging the peace by turning face to face with folded hands and inclining the head slightly in the holy Qurbana, the bride and the groom garlanding each other in the rite of matrimony, etc are examples of such elements.

 Though all the texts are not yet promulgated, there remains also further revision of the text of the holy Qurbana as foreseen in the Decree of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches approving the text of the holy Qurbana in the Simple and Solemn forms (Prot.No.955/65, 3 April 1989). The Decree states that the text may not be changed for the next five years. After this period of experimentation, the Bishops’ Conference could propose further revision and adaptation in the text to the Oriental Congregation. Due to various reasons, the Bishops could not take up its revision after five years. However, after the erection of the Syro-Malabar Church to the status of a Major Archiepiscopal Church, there was an attempt to revise the text of the holy Qurbana at the initiative of the Pontifical Delegate Archbishop Abraham Kattumana. Later, the Synod of the Syro-Malabar Bishops held at Varanasi in March 1997 appointed an ad hoc committee to take up the revision of the holy Qurbana. The committee gave its Report to the Synod in October 1998 proposing their suggestions for the revision of the text. Though the Report was to be discussed in the Synod of November 1998 “some of the members of the synod were of opinion that the Commission had no mandate to present such suggestions and its act was ultra vires”.[15] And that was the end of it.

When we think about liturgical renewal and adaptation to local culture, it is useful to have some clarity regarding the process of inculturation and its methodology. Anscar Chupungco, an authority on the principles of inculturation, proposes a methodology which consists of Dynamic Equivalence, Creative Assimilation and Organic Progression.[16]

a) Dynamic Equivalence: It is practically an adaptation of the editio typica. Though some creativity is involved in this process (e.g. the use of local language) it is dependent upon the typical edition of the liturgical books.

 When we examine the vernacular version of the Syro-Malabar liturgical books, especially the present text of the Qurbana, we can see that the principle of ‘dynamic equivalence’ has been one of its concerns. An example from the Qurbana is the interpretative initial hymn in Malayalm ‘Annappesahathirunalil’ from ‘Puqdankon’ which in Syriac simply means “your commandment”.[17]

b) Creative Assimilation: This is a methodology used in the Patristic era. The giving of a cup of milk and honey in the baptismal Mass, renouncing Satan, looking towards the West and making the profession of faith, turning towards the East, the celebration of Epiphany on 6th January and Christmas on 25th December are examples. Some of the ancient Syro-Malabar practices in connection with baptism, marriage, funeral etc[18]can be included in this category.

c) Organic Progression: Here the question is of ‘new forms’ in worship. It is something like the ‘particular laws’ of an Individual Church on the basis of the ‘general law’. But, of course, these new forms have to respect the principle of ‘organic growth’.

An example for ‘organic progression’ from the Syro-Malabar liturgical calendar is the addition of Syro-Malabar ‘Fathers’ along with ‘Greek and Syriac Fathers’ in the period of Denha.[19] The composition of prayers for the feasts of the Blessed Chavara, Alphonsa, Mariam Thresia, Euphrasia and Kunjachan are other examples. The permission given by Rome to compose new prayers (slothas) after the initial Lord’s Prayer, the thanksgiving prayers of the celebrant after the holy communion, the final blessing (huttamma) etc in the Qurbana too may be considered as ‘organic progression’.

Besides the above three methodological approaches, we may speak also of ‘Creative Liturgies’. These are creativities needed for special groups in special circumstances. The anaphora of the Latin Rite for Children’s Mass is an example thereof. The text of the Mass has provision to break the long sentences with responses of children.[20] This is in view of catching the attention of children who are easily distracted and of making the prayers more comprehensible to them.

  1. Growth in the Liturgy: A Necessary Organic and Dynamic Process


‘Liturgy is for man and not man for the liturgy’. This memorable statement was made by Cardinal Baptist Montini (late Pope Paul VI) in the Second Vatican Council.[21] Therefore, changes in the liturgy are to be introduced by way of adaptation according to the needs of the people and of the locality. However, necessary precautions are to be taken so that the changes respect the norms of the liturgy and the spiritual growth of the people.

Liturgy, though it is actio Dei, is meant for human beings. The actio Dei becomes fruitful in human beings proportionate to their cooperation with it. One of the conditions necessary for this, according to Pope Benedict XVI, is “the spirit of constant conversion which must mark the lives of all the faithful”. Besides, the faithful need to be reminded that there is no active participation in the sacred mysteries “without an accompanying effort to participate actively in the life of the Church as a whole, including a missionary commitment to bring Christ’s love into the life of the society”.[22] ‘Growth’ without keeping ‘Tradition’ might lead to the danger of gathering only “changing opinions”.[23] Therefore a proper balancing act is necessary. Precisely for this reason, Vatican II, while exhorting us to preserve the tradition of every Individual Church, desires also to give them “new vigour to meet present-day circumstances and needs” (SC 4). The same desire is expressed by the Decree on the Catholic Eastern Churches. The Church which wishes that the traditions of each Individual Church remain whole and entire, wishes also “to adapt its own way of life to the needs of different times and places” (OE 2).

            4. Simplicity and Clarity in the Liturgy and the Repetitive Prayers


A general norm suggested by Vatican II for the liturgical revision is the following: “The rites should be distinguished by a noble simplicity. They should be short, clear, and free from useless repetitions. They should be within the people’s power of comprehension, and normally should not require much explanation” (SC 34).

‘Simplicity’ of the rites, however, should be understood in the right perspective. Vernacularisation of the liturgy was in view of simplifying it. Avoidance of clumsiness in the rites, omission of certain repetitions etc., too were part of simplification. However, simplification should not be understood as making liturgy a banal celebration. In this context an observation of Cardinal Ratzinger seems to be pertinent. “One thing is clear”, writes Ratzinger, “however much the liturgy is simplified and rendered comprehensible, the mystery of God’s action operating through the Church’s acts must remain untouched. This applies also to the heart of the liturgy: as far as both priests and people are concerned, it is something given, that cannot be manipulated. It partakes of the reality of the whole Church”. “It follows”, Ratzinger continues, “that we must be far more resolute than heretofore in opposing rationalistic relativism, confusing claptrap and pastoral infantilism. These things degrade the liturgy to the level of a parish tea party and the intelligibility of a popular newspaper”.[24]

Repetition of prayers and hymns in themselves is neither good nor bad. SC 34 only says that ‘useless’ repetitions should be avoided. The Asian religious mind tends to repetitious prayers. The Namajapa or Bhajan of Indian tradition is an example thereof. The Eastern Churches which have their basis in the Asian context naturally imbibed this religious tradition. Therefore, repetition in itself is not to be eschewed. At the same time, the options provided in the text give opportunity to avoid repetitive prayers and hymns as and when needed.

Here it is good to remember that the ritual which consists of words, gestures, symbols etc. is a fundamental form of religious manifestation. Depending upon the cultural contexts, the expressions of singing, dancing etc bring worshippers into contact with the Sacred. They are not merely emotionalism; they have a cognitive dimension too. Therefore, the liturgy should not be stripped of its ritual character. That is why certain liturgical celebrations touch the hearts and minds of the people more than an eloquent lecture on the same. Hence, writing about Asian Christian theology, a document of the Office of Theological Concerns of the FABC noted: “Perhaps, we should learn from the liturgy of the Eastern Churches. Although their liturgy is elaborate and long, it is appreciated because it mediates a strong presence of the Sacred. Furthermore, theology has always spoken of God as the Fascinating and the Awesome, who evokes in us both an attraction and yet a deep respect for the Mystery. Even non-believers feel the awesomeness and the presence of God when they enter churches of  the mediaeval period which are rich in the arts”.[25]

  1. The Range of Diversity in the Liturgy


Vatican II, after emphasizing an important pastoral norm (There must be no innovations in the liturgy unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them) and underscoring a basic principle of liturgical reform (Care must be taken that any new form adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already existing) observes that “as far as possible, notable differences between the rites used in adjacent regions should be avoided” (SC 23).

Since, as noted above, the good of the faithful (“bonum fidelium”) is the pastoral norm governing all liturgical legislation[26] diversity and not uniformity is the rule today. This is all the more true in the mission context of the Syro-Malabar Church. To a certain extent, diversity has become ‘normal’ in the celebration of the Syro-Malabar liturgy, due to the options provided in the text. However, as SC suggests, ‘notable differences’ in ‘adjacent regions’ should, as far as possible, be avoided.

Two conspicuous differences now found in the celebration of the holy Qurbana are the Mass versus altare/populum and the use of the sanctuary veil which are ‘dispensations’ granted. Other diversities like certain gestures, prayers, repetitions etc. can be explained easily through a proper catechesis on the meaning and the application of the options.

The non-use of bema, bethgazzas and the celebration without processions, which are not sanctioned  in the Thaksa, also now appear as ‘notable differences’.

The Oriental Congregation had given, already in 1985, the principle governing the options. It says: One must carefully distinguish substantive ritual form and the inevitable  and legitimate adaptations that take place in a particular celebration, depending on the arrangement of the church building, the size of the congregation, the solemnity of the celebration, local customs, the rhythm and style of the well-trained and practised celebrant, etc. For this, the document says, the clear, irreducible distinction between the ‘rite’ and the ‘celebration’ is to be rightly understood. By ‘rite’ is meant that ‘form of celebration’ which is found in the official liturgical books, namely editio typica. By ‘celebration’ is meant that ‘form of celebration’ which is carried out by the concrete assembly. The ‘liturgical adaptations’ are made on the editio typica. The possibility of these adaptations is already foreseen by the rubrics themselves or is called for by the concrete situations.[27]

One of the thrusts of Vatican II liturgical reform was active participation of the people. Among various norms and practical steps to foster it, the Constitution exhorts the pastors ‘to promote liturgical instruction of the faithful and also their active participation, taking into account their age, condition, way of life and standard of religious culture’ (SC 19).

As for the Roman Rite we find the following norm in this regard. “Provided that the substantial unity of the Roman Rite is preserved, provision shall be made, when revising the liturgical books, for legitimate variations and adaptations to different groups, regions and peoples, especially in mission countries” (SC 38). Therefore, the Congregation for the Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments remarked that for promoting active participation ‘ample flexibility is given for appropriate creativity aimed at allowing each celebration to be adapted to the needs of the participants, to their comprehension, their interior preparation and their gifts, according to the established liturgical norms’.[28]

In order to foster active participation, Pope Benedict XVI suggests to have provision for adaptations appropriate to different contexts and cultures since the Church celebrates the one Mystery of Christ in a variety of cultural situations.[29] This is nothing new as far as the Eastern Churches are concerned. “From the beginning”, notes Pope John Paul II, “the Christian East has proved to contain a wealth of forms capable of assuming the characteristic features of each Individual culture, with supreme respect for each particular community”.[30] However, a warning of the Congregation for the Divine Worship too is worthy of mention here. It notes that the power of the liturgical celebrations ‘does not consist in frequently altering the rites, but in probing more deeply the Word of God and the mystery being celebrated’[31]

As far as the Syro-Malabar Church is concerned, unity must be fostered with a correct understanding of the dispensations and options, and their application. Unity does not mean uniformity. The Motu Proprio “Summorum Pontificum” of Pope Benedict XVI published on 7 July 2007[32]has allowed the ‘Tridentine Mass’ to be used by particular ‘stable groups’ in the Latin Church. The Syro-Malabar Church has a lot of lessons to learn from this document.

According to the Pope, there are no contradictions between the Vatican II Mass (New Rite Mass) and the Tridentine Mass (Old Rite Mass). The New Rite Mass may be considered as the ‘ordinary form’ and the old as ‘extraordinary form’. Since there are ‘groupisms’ in the Latin Church due to the controversies on the celebration of the Mass, the Pope feels that for an ‘internal reconciliation’ within the Church, permission to celebrate both forms appears to be the need of the hour. With this Motu Proprio, the Pope sent also a letter to the Bishops in which he writes as follows: “I now come to the positive reason which motivated my decision to issue this Motu Proprio updating that of 1998. It is a matter of coming to an interior reconciliation in the heart of the Church. Looking back over the past, to the divisions which in the course of centuries have rent the Body of Christ, one continually has the impression that, at critical moments when divisions were coming about, not enough was done by the Church’s leaders to maintain or regain reconciliation and unity. One has the impression that omissions on the part of the Church have had their share of blame for the fact that these divisions were able to harden. This glance at the past imposes an obligation on us today: to make every effort to enable for all those who truly desire unity to remain in that unity or to attain it anew”.[33]

The situation in the Syro-Malabar Church is much less complicated than in the Latin Church. The Syro-Malabar Church is using the same text of the holy Qurbana all over the Church with dispensations and options. These are approved by Rome on being requested by the Syro-Malabar Bishops. Once these diverse possibilities are respected and properly made use of, there can be an adapted rite of the same editio typica of the holy Qurbana according to the local needs of the various eparchies of the Syro-Malabar Church.

  1. The Process of Experimentation in the Liturgy


Vatican II Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy has laid down some norms for experimentation which directly concern the Roman Rite. These norms are given in the context of ‘radical adaptations of the liturgy’ which entails ‘great difficulties’ (SC 40). Here the document is referring to the liturgical inculturation. It proposes the following methodology:

(i)                 The competent territorial ecclesiastical authority must carefully and prudently consider which elements from the traditions and cultures might appropriately be admitted into the divine worship. Adaptations which are considered useful or necessary should be submitted to the Holy See, by whose consent they may be introduced.

(ii)               To ensure that adaptations may be made with all the circumspection necessary, the Apostolic See will grant power to permit and direct, as the case requires, the necessary preliminary experiments over a determined period of time among certain groups suitable for the purpose. (Emphasis added)

(iii)             Because liturgical laws usually involve special difficulties with respect to adaptation, especially in mission lands, men who are experts in the matter in question must be employed to formulate them (SC 40/1,2,3).

In the light of article 40 of SC, the process of experimentation in the Roman Rite is as follows:

Step 1: Study by specialists

Step 2: Approval of the study by the Bishops’ Conference

Step 3: Preliminary approval by the Holy See

Step 4: Experimentation for a time and in certain groups

Step 5: Reassessment in the light of the experimentation

Step 6: Final approval by the Holy See and full implementation [34]

The Instruction of the Oriental Congregation for applying the liturgical prescriptions of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches does not speak about ‘experimentation’ as such, though it does refer to the need of revising and adapting the liturgical texts for the contemporary man and woman.[35] However, it clearly states that the general principles and the practical norms laid down in it “do not pretend to exhaust the totality of the indications regulating the liturgical celebrations for every single Church sui iuris. Such prescriptions belong, in fact, to the particular laws of each Church”.[36] Therefore, it is up to the Synod to devise a methodology for experimenting the liturgical texts.

When the Bishops of the Synod were asked to express their opinion regarding the guidelines for preparing, finalizing and implementing the liturgical texts, some suggested the use of the texts as ad experimentum in small groups or in some centres for a limited period of time. This time could be from one year to three years. It was also suggested that after the experimentation period the text be revised in the light of the observations from the experimentation centres and the evaluation by the Central Liturgical Committee.[37] It is important to note that this suggestion of the Bishops was about all the liturgical texts and not simply about the inculturated texts as mentioned in SC 40.

The following steps may be taken by the Syro-Malabar Church in order to restore, revise and adapt the liturgical texts. These steps foresee the collaboration of the experts and the representatives of all those who are in some way connected with the liturgical celebrations, such as the pastors, the religious and the laity. The Syro-Malabar Church which was called a “Christian Republic” by the foreign missionaries will do well to involve all sections of the faithful in such a vital realm of the Church. In fact, this process has been already introduced by the Bishops to a certain extent. Here are the proposed steps:

Step 1: Study by experts and Central Liturgical Committee

Step 2: Preliminary approval by the Synod

Step 3: Texts are sent to the eparchies for comments by the competent bodies

 Step 4: Experimentation for a time and in certain groups

Step 5: Evaluation of the experimentation by experts, the Central Liturgical Committee and the


Step 6: Approval by the Synod

Step 7: Recognitio from Rome and full implementation

  1. The Short Term and Long Term Plans for the Revision and Adaptation of the Syro-Malabar Liturgy


    The erstwhile Syro-Malabar Bishops’ Conference (SMBC) held in December 1986 appointed a sub-committee to study the process of inculturation and to propose a short term and a long term plan for its implementation. Accordingly, the sub-committee presented its report to the SMBC with a short term and a long term plans.[38]

Some elements of the short term programme proposed are the following:

–          The removal of the footwear in the church, especially in the sanctuary.

–          The use of the Indian bowl for incensing in the place of the thurible.

–          A ‘purificatory action’ before entering the church by making provision outside the church for the people to cleanse themselves.

–          The use of oil lamp as the ‘sanctuary lamp’ instead of the widely used electric lamp.

–          The use of Nilavilakku or Kuthuvilakku instead of candles.

–          The use of natural flowers in the place of worship instead of artificial flowers.

–          The use of a fixed stand in the sanctuary to keep the dhoopam (incense) during the liturgy.

–          Introduction of Christian bhajans and kirthans.


Among the long term plan we find the following:

–          A symposium for an in-depth understanding of inculturation with the participation of bishops, members of the Central Liturgical Committee, Syro-Malabar graduates in liturgy and the representatives of the religious and the laity.

–          A research seminar in the light of the findings of the symposium.[39]

This programme was presented to the Bishops’ Conference held on 2-3 June 1987. But due to the misunderstandings and suspicions that prevailed in the Church, particularly among the Bishops, that report could not be taken up for discussion in the conference. Its discussion was blocked on the ‘technical ground’ since, according to some bishops, it had to be submitted to the SMBC through the Episcopal Commission for Liturgy and not directly by the sub-committee.[40] And it never came up for discussion in any of the subsequent SMBC meetings.

  1. The Confusion surrounding the Options


In order to satisfy the local needs, Rome had given a few options in the celebration of the holy Qurbana. Soon a new controversy emerged as to the right of options. Are they the prerogative of the eparchial bishop or that of the celebrating priest? This was the root cause of the controversy.


The text of the holy Qurbana in the solemn and simple forms approved in 1989 and the accompanying directives of Rome make a distinction between dispensations and options. ‘To dispense’ is the prerogative of the eparchial bishop. Mass versus populum, offertory procession, sign of the cross at the beginning of the Qurbana and making the sign of the cross from left to right are ‘dispensations’. Besides, the bishop is authorized to decide upon the use of the sanctuary veil and the position of the deacons during the announcements .[41] On the other hand, the options are meant for adapting the celebration to the context. Normally, the context cannot be predetermined. Therefore, it is the duty of the celebrating priest to choose the options provided in the text as and when required.

The eparchial bishop is the moderator and guardian of the entire liturgical life in the eparchy. Therefore, he has to be vigilant that it be fostered as much as possible and ordered according to the prescriptions and legitimate customs of his own Church sui iuris. [42] It is his responsibility “to ensure unity and harmony in the celebrations taking place in his territory”.[43] However, in exercising his mandate as moderator of the liturgical life of the eparchy, the bishop should “neither act arbitrarily nor give way to the behaviour of groups or factions, but, together with his clergy, let him be an attentive guardian of the liturgical awareness present and operating in the living memory of the people entrusted to him. Just as the sensus fidelium is determinant of the comprehension of the faith believed, so is it in the safeguarding of the faith celebrated”.[44]

The issue of options was taken up for discussion in the  Synod held in November 1999 since there was some confusion with regard to the right of the individual celebrants to use options provided in the liturgical texts. In the  report of the Synod we read the following in this regard. “As for the options given in the Thaksa it was clarified that they cannot be restricted because they have been legitimately authorized by the Holy See”. Further we understand that after the draft of the directives concerning the uniform mode of celebration of the holy Qurbana was read out, “a clause was requested to be added concerning the options making it clear that they are within the competence of the celebrant”.[45] Finally, among the decisions of the same Synod, the following clause was included as No.10 of the Statement of the Commission for Liturgy: The options mentioned in the Thaksa of the Qurbana belong to the celebrants.[46]

  1. The Liturgy for the New Catholics

The Fathers of Vatican II had special concern for the mission lands and the new Catholics and their liturgy. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Nos.37-40, especially No.40, had mainly the mission territories in focus when it says that in some places and circumstances a ‘radical adaptation’ of the liturgy is needed which involves ‘special difficulties’ (SC 40). In such places, since there are people who have their own musical tradition, the hymns in the worship may have to be adapted to the native genius of the people (SC 119). As for the sacred art, it says that the Church has not adopted any particular style of art as her own. Rather, she admits styles from every period in history, in keeping with the genius of the peoples (SC 123). The Decree on the Church’s Missionary Activity says that the new faithful must daily become more conscious of themselves as living communities of faith, liturgy and charity. And the faith should be imparted by means of a well adapted catechesis and the celebration of the liturgy that is in harmony with the character of the people.[47] The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World too points to the link between the message of salvation and culture and its expressions in the liturgy.[48]

This brief survey of Vatican II documents shows how important it is to adapt the liturgy to the new Catholics who are living in a cultural context different from that of the preacher. It is up to every sui iuris Church to devise ways and means to adapt her liturgy to the newly evangelized faithful. In fact, the Syro-Malabar Bishops’ Conference as well as the Synod have on various occasions permitted local adaptations in the Syro-Malabar mission territories. Thus in 1973 SMBC stated: “The Syro-Malabar Bishops’ Conference feels it necessary to work out a scheme for liturgical developments, allowing possible variations for the Syro-Malabar Church, which is a particular Church, faced as it is with the need to accommodate to various situations and cultural demands of the country especially of the new mission areas in North India”.[49] In the same report we also read that “the Exarchs present at the meeting expressed their desire of making some adaptations ad experimentum in the liturgy to which the Conference did not object”.[50] In 1985 the Bishops resolved “to request the Holy see to consider favourably the unanimous wish of the Hierarchs of the Mission to allow them to make necessary adaptations on the text of the Raza for their Mission with due approval of the Holy See”. [51]

The Syro-Malabar Mission Assembly held under the auspices of the Synod in November 1999 made a reference to this issue  in the following words: ‘ When the Eastern and Indian identity of the Syro-Malabar Church which grew up in Kerala through centuries, is expressed in  the mission territories, it should assimilate and ennoble the cultural patterns of those places. The Syro-Malabar Church which developed in Kerala and which bears the apostolic tradition, should not ‘transplant itself’ to the mission territories as to obstruct its growth there’.[52]

Today the Syro-Malabar faithful find themselves in a number of life-sitautions due to their history, evangelization and emigration. One may identify the following:[53]

  • Traditional parishes and agricultural background (Kerala)
  • Rapidly growing urban situations (Central Kerala)
  • ‘Oriental regions’ without much contact with the Latin Church (Southern Kerala)
  • Inter-ritual situations where Syro-Malabar communities live intermingled with the Latin faithful (Central Kerala)
  • Developing areas of the mission territories (North India)
  • Migrants in the industrialized cities and towns (Central and North India)
  • Migrants abroad (Europe, America and the Gulf countries)

       The pastoral adaptation envisaged by the Syro-Malabar Church should be able to cope with these concrete realities.



The present article has chosen only some selected themes that are being considered by the Syro-Malabar Church at her various discussion forums. There are definitely other important areas that need to be addressed to have a comprehensive approach towards the process of pastoral adaptations. These include the understanding of ‘Tradition’ and ‘traditions’, the meaning of ‘organic growth’, inculturation etc. It is hoped that the various steps taken by the Syro-Malabar Bishops’ Synodal Commission for Liturgy, the Syro-Malabar Liturgical Research Centre and the Syro-Malabar Central Liturgical Committee in the recent past would help to arrive at the desired goal, and eventually bring about peace and harmony in the Church resulting in the spiritual growth of the people.



[1] Directives on the Order of Syro-Malabar Qurbana in Solemn and Simple Forms, in Roman Documents on the Syro-Malabar Liturgy (Hereafter ‘Roman Documents’), Kottayam 1999, p.143

[2] Congregation for the Oriental Churches, Report on the State of Liturgical Reform in the Syro-Malabar Church, Rome 1980; Observations on the Order of the Holy Mass, Rome 1983; Final Judgement Concerning the Order of the Syro-Malabar Qurbana, Rome 1985; Directives on the Order of Syro-Malabar Qurbana, Rome 1988; Instruction for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, Rome 1996; Besides, in addition to CCEO, there are also speeches of the Pope addressed to the Syro-Malabar Bishops, Communications from Cardinal Prefect of the Oriental Congregation etc.

[3] Instruction for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions, No.18.

[4] Instruction for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions, No.18. cf. John Paul II, Discourse to the participants of the Synod of the Catholic Armenian Patriarchate, L’Osservatore Romano, 27 August 1989, p.7.

[5] Instruction for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions, No.18

[6] Instruction for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions, No.14

[7] Instruction for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions, No.19

[8] Instruction for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions, No.20

[9] Instruction for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions, No.20. cf. John Paul II, Homily in the Prayer of Incense in the Alexandrian Coptic Rite, L’Osservatore Romano, 16-17 August 1988, p.5.

[10] cf. Roman Documents on the Syro-Malabar Liturgy, Kottayam 1999, p.48.

[11] Roman Documents on the Syro-Malabar Liturgy, p.52

[12] Roman Documents on the Syro-Malabar Liturgy, p.54.

[13] Roman Documents on the Syro-Malabar Liturgy, p.132

[14] Instruction for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions, No.21. Emphasis added.

[15] Cf. Synodal News, December 1998, p.35. The ad hoc committee had unanimously proposed 68 amendments and there was divergence of opinion on 33 points.

[16] A.Chupungco, Liturgical Inculturation: Sacramentality, Religiosity and Catechesis, Minnesota 1992. cf. also A.Nariculam. The Holy See, The Syro-Malabar Bishops’ Conference and the Syro-Malabar Bishops’ Synod on the Inculturation, in B.Puthur (ed.), Inculturation and the Syro-Malabar Church, Kochi 2005, pp.66-69.

[17] Cf. Raza Text (1989), p.1-2

[18] cf. P.Pallath, “St.Thomas Chroistian Church before the Sixteenth Century: A Model for Inculturation” in Ephrem’s Theological Journal, March 2002, pp.18-31; J.Moolan, “Birth Rite Customs and Baptism among St. Thomas Christians in Malabar”, in Studia Liturgica, 32/1 (2202), pp.111-118.

[19] Cf. Syro-Malabar Panchangam 2006-2007, p.21.

[20] cf. Nine Eucharistic Prayers with the Order of the Mass, NBCLC, Bangalore, pp.37-51

[21] Cf. J.Manathodath, Culture, Dialogue and the Church, New Delhi 1990, p.139

[22] Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, no.55

[23]  John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Orientale Lumen, No.8

[24] J.Ratzinger – V. Messori, The Ratzinger Report, San Francisco 1985, p.120-121

[25] FABC Papers No.96,  October 2000, p.95

[26] cf. Congregation for the Oriental Churches, Directives on the Order of Syro-Malabar Qurbana, Rome 1988, No.2

[27] Final Judgement of the S.Congregation for the Oriental Churches Concerning the Order of the Syro-Malabar Qurbana, Rome 1985, No.16

[28] Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum, No.39

[29] Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, No.54

[30] Apostolic Letter, Orientale Lumen, No.5

[31] Instruction Sacramentum Redemptionis, No.39

[32] L’Osservatore Romano, English weekly edition, 11July 2007, p.8-9

[33] L’Osservatore Romano, 11 July 2007, p.9

[34] cf. P.Puthanangady, Initiation to Christian Worship, Bangalore 1977, p.127

[35] Instruction for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions, Nos. 18-20

[36] Instruction for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions, No.4

[37] cf. Guidelines for Restoration, Revision and Adaptation of the Liturgical Texts of the Syro-Malabar Church, p.7)

[38] cf. Report of the SMBC sub-committee for Inculturation, 10 May 1987

[39] cf. A.Nariculam, The Holy See, the Syro-Malabar Bishops’ Conference and the Syro-Malabar Bishops’ Synod on the Inculturation of the Syro-Malabar Liturgy, pp.85-87.

[40] Cf. SMBC Report of 2-3 June 1987 Meeting, No.VI, p.4.

[41] cf. General Instructions, Raza Text (1989), No.6 and No.12

[42] CCEO 199/1

[43] Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, No.39

[44] Instruction for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions, No.23

[45] cf. Synodal News, December 1999, p.61

[46] cf. Synodal News, December 1999, p.73. The original text is in Malayalam. The translation is ours.

[47] Ad Gentes, No.19. Emphasis added.

[48] Gaudium et Spes, No.58

[49] cf SMBC Report of 19 June 1973, No.4, p.1-2

[50] cf SMBC Report of 19 June 1973, no.5, p.2

[51] cf. SMBC Report of 6-7 November 1985, p.3

[52] cf. Synodal News, December 1999, p.38. Our translation from Malayalam.

[53] A.Nariculam, Syro-Malabar Liturgy, in the Souvenir of the Syro-Malabar Emigrants’ Global Meet 2006 published by the Synodal Commission for Evangelization and Pastoral Care of the Migrants, Kochi 2006, p.25

Restoration, Revision, Adaptation and Organic Growth of the Liturgy and the Syro-Malabar Church

 Restoration, Revision, Adaptation and Organic Growth of the Liturgy and the Syro-Malabar Church

Dr Antony Nariculam 

Fr Antony Nariculam



The Syro-Malabar Church has been in a process of soul-searching from some years to find out ways and means of restoring and revising her liturgy in the light of Vatican II and the later documents. One of the stumbling blocks in this process has been the (mis)understanding about the principles of restoration, revision, adaptation and organic growth. This article is an attempt to study this subject in the light of magisterial documents and the interpretation of some renowned and reliable theologians. It is, in fact, a compilation of the relevant portions from the various documents and the writings of the authors concerned. We thought of presenting them without much comment as they are self-explanatory. This article seeks to facilitate the process of restoration and revision of the Syro-Malabar liturgy already being undertaken by the Syro-Malabar Synod of Bishops. The last part of this article presents some concrete suggestions of Prof. Robert Taft who was closely associated with the Syro-Malabar liturgical renewal and consequent ‘controversies’ in his official capacity as a member of the Pontifical Commission appointed to look into the matter.


In the introduction to the book Tradition and Traditions, Y.Congar writes: “The reader must not expect to find here a series of consecutive essays, presenting a methodological and exhaustive study of the notion of tradition according to all the various authors – something beyond the capabilities of anyone man’s life-time and work”.[1] The same is true about this article. This is not an exhaustive presentation of the theme. As we try to elucidate the meaning of tradition, history, restoration, revision, adaptation, organic growth, inculturation etc. we fail to give a clear-cut definition as to what “Tradition” really means. We can make only some approximations. As Congar remarks: “ ‘Tradition’ designates a reality which is too large, a concept too dense, to be formulated in a concise definition”.[2] Even the definition of Bousset – ‘the ever manifest succession of doctrine left to and carried by the Church’ – conveys, according to Congar, only one aspect of the whole.[3]

According to another definition, tradition serves to indicate some one or other of the following realities: the apostolic practices and teachings not contained in the Scripture; the unwritten source of the whole Christian life; the rule of faith; the transmission of revealed truth; the teachings of the Church’s magisterium etc.[4]

In fact, as Pope John Paul II has remarked, the Churches of the East are “living interpreters of the treasure of tradition they preserve”.[5] However, a liturgical historian of today should be able to critique historical data in the light of the principles of Vatican II. These principles include the following: the central position of the paschal mystery (SC 5-7), the role of the Word of God in the liturgy (SC 24), active participation of the people (SC 14), congregational singing (114,121), community dimension of the liturgical celebration (SC 26,27), inculturation (SC 37– 40), pastoral needs (SC 21,34) etc.

1. Vatican II and the Understanding of Liturgical Renewal


The sacred liturgy, being the summit and the source of Christian life, Vatican II thought it fitting to revise it to impart “an ever-increasing vigour to the Christian life of the Faithful by adapting more closely to the needs of modern age those things that are subject to change” (SC 1). Therefore the Council decided “to revise the rites carefully in the light of sound tradition, and to give them new vigour to meet present-day circumstances and needs” (SC 4). According to the Council, in order to retain sound tradition a certain investigation – theological, historical and pastoral – should always be made into each part of the liturgy which is to be revised. At the same time, the way should remain open to legitimate progress (SC 23).

The identity of an Individual Church depends to a great extent on her liturgy. Therefore, the Council exhorts the members of the Eastern Churches “to preserve their own liturgical rites and ways of life” (OE 6). They are “ to aim always at a more perfect knowledge and practice of their rites, and if they have fallen away due to circumstances of times or persons, they are to strive to return to their ancestral ways” (OE 6) because the Church wishes “the tradition of each particular Church or rite to remain whole and entire, and it likewise wishes to adapt its own way of life to the needs of different times and places” (OE 2).

One of the primary aims of restoration and renewal of the sacred liturgy is the full and active participation of all the people since liturgy is an indispensable source from which the faithful derive the true Christian spirit (SC 14). In order to realize this aim, the Church “desires to undertake with great care a general restoration of the liturgy itself. For the liturgy is made up of unchangeable elements divinely instituted, and of elements subject to change. These latter not only may be changed but ought to be changed with the passage of time, if they have suffered from the intrusion of anything out of harmony with the inner nature of the liturgy or have become less suitable. In this restoration both texts and rites should be drawn up so as to express more clearly the holy things which they signify. The Christian people, as far as possible, should be able to understand them with ease and take part in them fully, actively, and as a community” (SC 21). From this statement, it may be assumed that restoration is not separate from revision and adaptation.

2. What is Tradition?

In the words of Pope John Paul II, Tradition “is the heritage of Christ’s Church. This is the living memory of the Risen One and witnessed to by the Apostles who passed on his living memory to their successors in an uninterrupted line, guaranteed by the apostolic succession through the laying on of hands, down to the Bishops of today. This is articulated in the historical and cultural patrimony of each Church”. Tradition is not, continues the Pope, “an unchanging repetition of formulas, but a heritage which preserves its original, living kerygmatic core. It is Tradition that preserves the Church from the danger of gathering only changing opinions, and guarantees her certitude and continuity”.

“When uses and customs belonging to each Church are considered as absolutely unchangeable, there is a sure risk of tradition losing that feature of a living reality which grows and develops and which the Spirit guarantees precisely because it has something to say to the people of every age. As Scripture is increasingly understood by those who read it; every other element of the Church’s living heritage is increasingly understood by believers and is enriched by new contributions, in fidelity and in continuity. Only a religious assimilation, in obedience of faith, of what the Church calls ‘Tradition’ will enable Tradition to be embodied in different cultural and historical situations and conditions. Tradition is never pure nostalgia for things or forms past, nor regret for lost privileges, but the living memory of the Bride, kept eternally youthful by the Love that dwells within her”.[6]

Appreciating the traditions of the Oriental Churches, the Pope writes: “The venerable and ancient tradition of the Eastern Churches is an integral part of the heritage of Christ’s Church” and hence “the first need for Catholics is to be familiar with that tradition, so as to be nourished by it”.[7] Precisely for this reason, the Prefect of the Oriental Congregation, Cardinal Simon Lourdusamy, asked the Syro-Malabar Bishops to make studies of the Syrian liturgical heritage and the patristic sources of tradition in order to fully understand the ecclesial meaning of Tradition in view also of meeting the challenges of present-day pastoral exigencies.[8]

Tradition involves three elements: a deposit of faith, a living teaching authority and a transmission of succession.[9] In a way, faith of the Church is in the faith of the Churches. Therefore, from an Eastern perspective, theology is grounded not only on  Scripture, but also on tradition, liturgy, fathers, monasticism, mysticism, spiritual writers, martyrology, practices of fasting, penance, abstinence, prayer etc.[10] To these we may add also the Ecumenical Councils, Creeds, magisterium and disciplinary norms.

When the early Christian writers speak of tradition, notes Congar, they mean primarily a Christological explanation of the Old Testament and the ecclesial understanding of the central mystery of Christ and the Church as witnessed to by the Scriptures. When they speak of apostolic traditions transmitted orally they have in mind liturgical and disciplinary practices held universally and with an origin which, even if it is not attested by Scripture, seems to be bound up with that of the Church.[11]

St.Paul says that he himself “received” from the Lord what he “transmits” (1 Cor 11:23). In St.Paul the content of “tradition” is composed of two groups of objects. Firstly, the basic message of the faith (deposit of faith) which must be received as a word from God. It is essentially centred on the death and resurrection of Christ. And secondly, this central message is handed over to the communities following their internal discipline or Christian behaviour. In other words, tradition is also “the explanation which is made of this deposit of faith, as a result of its being lived and defended, generation after generation, by the people of God”.[12] In this context, we need to make a distinction between “actively transmitted” tradition and a tradition having an “objective existence” (e.g. the Word of God) independently of the living subject which transmits them.[13] It is necessary to guard against unconsciously identifying the distinction between a ‘statement of faith’ and ‘rules of conduct’.[14] However, when dealing with St. Paul, one should not separate too sharply the tradition of the paschal faith from the tradition of apostolic rules of conduct since both build up the community. What is noteworthy here is that the two categories of tradition are not entirely of equal standing.[15]

St.Paul requests fidelity to the deposit of faith: “Follow the pattern of the sound words which you have heard from me,…. Guard the truth that has been entrusted to you by the Holy Spirit” (2 Tim 1:13-14). Here the “pattern”, writes Congar, signifies “outline, sketch, a summary presentation, a general definition; their model, example”.[16] In other words, it is ‘a brief note or a figure intended, not to be reproduced as a model, but to serve as an outline, as a suggested basis which must be completed and filled out by a detailed treatment’.[17]

The past, as Robert Taft notes, is only instructive and not normative. History does not teach us “what we should do today, and we study the past not to imitate it, but simply to understand. What the Church adheres to is not history but tradition, and tradition is not the past but the Church’s self-consciousness now of the present living reality that has been handed on to it out of its past. In judging what is tradition the Church, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, looks not to the past but within, to itself”.[18] “History is not the past. Rather it is the contemporary understanding of life in terms of its origin and evolution as seen through the prism of our present concern”.[19]

Preserving the tradition does not exclude progress and new development. According to the Instruction of the Oriental Congregation, “No Church, Eastern or Western has ever been able to survive without adapting itself continuously to the changing conditions of life. Rather, the Church guards against every undue and inopportune precipitation, requiring that any eventual modification be not only well prepared but also inspired and conforming to the genuine tradition”.[20]

Tradition is not a second source. It is, along with Scripture, “another and complementary way of handing on (these) truths. Furthermore, it acts as a vehicle for traditions, by which we mean customs, practices and rites, and which derive ultimately from the apostles. But this is no more than saying that their liturgical and disciplinary character has doctrinal implications and significance, especially if it concerns the sacraments in the strict sense”.[21]

3. Reception of Tradition

Writing about the ‘transmission of faith’, Congar notes that the tradition is not only transmitted, it is also to be actively received. ‘Actively’, that is, there exists a subject who is ‘active’ in receiving it. Thus “tradition will not be merely a transmission followed by a passive, mechanical reception; it entails the making present in a human consciousness of a saving faith”.[22] Therefore, there needs to be a “living fidelity of a mind reflecting upon the meaning of what is heard, drawing conclusions, trying to determine the boundaries between what is true and what is not”.[23]

The reception is possible only when the ecclesial dimension of tradition is properly understood. For this the sensus Ecclesiae is of utmost importance. Whom does the sensus Ecclesiae belong to? Should it belong to all members of the Church or only to some of them? Congar excludes the second hypothesis because all members of the Body of Christ are alive and living, active and responsible. At the same time, though all are responsible, some may have greater responsibility in virtue of a commission or an office in the Church. Such was the apostles’ situation at the Church’s origin, and then the situation of those ministers commissioned by them to preside over and tend the Christian communities; and lastly, it is the position of the hierarchical ministers in the Church today.[24]

“Tradition is more than just continuity; it is a dynamic, living continuity. It is not reducible to its external aspects…It is not attainable except from within, by living in the communion of the Church”.[25] Hence it is imperative that the faithful are educated to imbibe the meaning of sensus Ecclesiae. In fact, the heritage of faith “is received through tradition which guarantees its continuity and authenticity throughout time, ever since antiquity and especially since the testimony of the Apostles. It is received with open heart, maintained, transmitted, taught, confirmed, and clarified by the Holy Spirit”.[26]


4. Tradition in Relation to Liturgy


Tradition has a special application to liturgical restoration, revision and adaptation. According to Congar, there are three main ‘monuments’ in which Tradition’s character is particularly evident: Liturgy, Fathers and Ordinary expressions of Christian life. Among them liturgy has a place without parallel as an instrument of tradition because of its content.[27] Liturgy is, so to say, “a privileged custodian and dispenser of Tradition”.[28] It is the principal instrument of Church’s Tradition.[29] For the Church, “liturgy is not a dead monument, a kind of Pantheon to be visited as one visits a museum, but a home which is always lived in, the conditioning envelope or atmosphere of its whole life”.[30]

According to one of the pioneers of liturgical renewal, Dom P.Gueranger, “it is in the liturgy that the Spirit who inspired the Scriptures still speaks to us; the liturgy is tradition itself, as its highest degree of power and solemnity”.[31] In the words of Pope Pius XII, liturgy is “the faithful mirror of teaching handed on by our forefathers”.[32]

A large part of Church’s belief has become known to us through prayer which helps to enter into communion with God. Thus liturgy is a privileged locus of Tradition, not only from the point of view of conservation and preservation, but also from that of progress and development. The part it plays in the progressive development of our dogmatic understanding of revelation is considerable (Lex orandi lex credendi). Moreover, it is clear that such growth and development must be controlled by a magisterium which makes constant reference to the objective standards of the apostolic kerygma and especially, for verification, to the scriptural witness.[33] Therefore the first requirement of every Eastern liturgical renewal, as is also the case for the liturgical reform in the West, notes Roman Instruction, “is that re-discovering full fidelity to their own liturgical traditions, benefiting from their riches and eliminating that which has altered their authenticity. Such heedfulness is not subordinate to but precedes so-called updating. Although delicate task that must be executed with care so as not to disturb souls, it must be coherently and constantly pursued if the Eastern Catholic Churches want to remain faithful to the mandate received”. However, our attempts to preserve traditions “do not take away from the rightful exigency to express, as much as possible, the Gospel in a plain and clear way for the contemporary man and woman. Every formula necessitates, therefore, unceasing vigilance to remain alive under the breath of the Spirit”.[34]

In addition, every Individual Church should be faithful to her own traditions regarding the sacred buildings and the arrangements of the interior space and sacred images. For this the clergy should have an in-depth knowledge of their own tradition and a constant, well established and systematic formation of the faithful so that they may be able to fully perceive the richness of the signs entrusted to them. In order to achieve this aim, it is imperative that our Church comes to an acceptable understanding about the liturgical traditions of our Church. However, “fidelity does not imply anachronistic fixation, as the evolution of sacred art – even in the East – demonstrates, but rather, development that is fully coherent within the profound and, immutable meaning of how it is celebrated in the liturgy”.[35]

The ‘rites’ play an important role in the liturgy. Cardinal Ratzinger defines ‘rite’ as “the expression that has become form, of ecclesiality and of Church’s identity as a historically transcendent communion of liturgical prayer and action”.[36] According to him, the rite contains “an essential exposition of the biblical legacy that goes beyond the limits of the individual rites, and thus it shares in the authority of the Church’s faith in its fundamental form”.[37] For this reason, the rituals are to a great extent conservative. Besides, liturgy being a complex act in which many people participate in many different ways, it is by nature ‘conservative and restive to change’.[38] Very often the rituals are transmitted to generations in a fixed manner. Of course, in this transmission, there is the risk of empty formalism, a tradition in the sense of mechanical or routine gesture. On the other hand, we should also admit that the rituals preserve certain truths while everything else undergoes changes. In the eventful celebrations of Christmas, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter etc. the rituals have preserved for us a heritage offering us a powerful communion in the same reality between peoples separated by centuries.[39]


5. Restoration as Reformation

What is restoration? According to Ratzinger “if by ‘restoration’ is meant a turning back, no restoration of such kind is possible. The Church moves forward toward the consummation of history, she looks ahead to the Lord who is coming. No, there is no ‘restoration’ whatsoever in this sense. But, if by restoration we understand the search for a new balance after all the exaggerations of an indiscriminate opening to the world, after the overly positive interpretations of an agnostic and atheistic world, well then a restoration understood in this sense (a newly found balance of orientations and values within the Catholic totality) is altogether desirable and, for that matter, is already in operation in the Church”.[40] In the light of negative press comments on Cardinal’s opinion about restoration, he made a written statement on it. He wrote: “Above all I should simply like to recall what I really said: there is no return to the past. A restoration understood thus is not only impossible but also not even desirable. The Church moves forward to the consummation of history, she looks ahead to the Lord who is coming. If, however, the term ‘restoration’ is understood according to its semantic content, that is to say, as a recovery of lost values, within a new totality, then I would like to say that this precisely is the task that imposes itself today in the second phase  post-conciliar period. Yet the word ‘restoration’ is linguistically laden in such a way for us moderns that it is difficult to attribute this meaning to it. In reality it literally means the same as the word ‘reform’, a term that has a wholly different sound to us today”.[41]

Ratzinger objects to the ‘romantic archaeologism’ of certain liturgists ‘who would throw out everything done after Gregory the Great as being an excrescence  and a sign of decadence. For them, the criterion of liturgical renewal was not ‘What ought to be done today?’ but ‘What was it like then’? They forget that the Church is living and that her liturgy cannot be frozen at the stage reached in the city of Rome prior to the onset of the Middle Ages”.[42] In his words, ‘pure archaism is fruitless, as is pure modernism’.[43] However, he observes also that the medieval Church developed a liturgical depth which must be carefully examined before it is abandoned.

The Fathers, and the Councils themselves, thought of Councils as continuing, in new forms and in response to the demands of their time, the disclosure of God’s mystery made by the prophets, the Lord and the apostles. Thus in tradition a growth occurs, in the sense that what was involved in the deposit inherited from the apostles is developed and unfolded.[44] Thus tradition is not only ‘transmission’ but also ‘development’. While history is a science of humankind’s past, tradition is ‘God’s continuous inspiration of the Church’.[45]

According to Ratzinger, there are two fundamentally different views on the structure of liturgical celebrations: one view sees liturgy as creativity, freedom, celebration and community. The other view, consequently, considers things like rite, obligation, interiority and Church order as negative factors which belong to the “old” liturgy which is to be superseded. For those who hold this view, liturgy is not something officially prescribed ritual but a concrete celebration, fashioned as an authentic expression of the celebrating community, with the minimum of external control. For them the Missal is only a guidebook.[46] Obviously, this negative attitude will be detrimental to liturgical restoration and reformation.

6. Liturgy and Organic Development


According to the Decree on the Catholic Eastern Churches, changes in the liturgy are to be introduced only to forward its “organic growth” (OE 6). The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy says that in the process of liturgical renewal new forms adopted should in some way grow “organically” from forms already existing (SC 23).

The Congregation for the Eastern Churches explains the “organic growth” in the following words: “The organic progress in every Church sui iuris, implies taking into account first of all the roots from which the heritage of these Churches was initially developed, mainly in Jerusalem, Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople, Armenia, and in the ancient empire of Persia; and secondly, the manner in which such traditions were transmitted, adapting to the various circumstances and places but maintained in a coherent organic continuity”.[47] Then the Instruction quotes a discourse of Pope Paul VI delivered to the members of the Commission for the Revision of the Oriental Code which reads: “In presenting new things it is necessary to pay attention to take sufficiently into account the system of the transmitted message. Any renewal, in fact, should be coherent and agree with sound tradition, in such a way that the new norms do not appear as an extraneous body forced into an ecclesiastical composite, but blossoming as though spontaneously from already existing norms”.[48] Further, while modifying ancient liturgical practice, “it must be determined if the element to be introduced is coherent with contextual meaning in which it is placed. Such a context should be understood beginning with eventual references to Sacred Scripture, interpretations of the Holy Fathers, liturgical reforms previously made and mystagogical catechesis. Here it must be verified that the new change is homogenous with the symbolic language, with the images and the style specific to the liturgy of the particular Church”. [49]

Cardinal Ratzinger says that the liturgy cannot be compared to a piece of technical instrument or something manufactured, but to a plant, something organic that grows and whose laws of growth determine the possibilities of further development.[50]

Addressing the Syro-Malabar Bishops during their ad limina visit in 1980, Pope John Paul II said that the Syro-Malabar liturgical renewal must be based on ‘fidelity to genuine ecclesial traditions and open to the needs of the faithful, to the culture and to possible changes by way of organic progress’.[51]

Cardinal Rubin, Prefect of the Oriental congregation, made the following remarks on the Syro-Malabar liturgical renewal while addressing the Syro-Malabar Bishops in 1980: “In every living organism there must co-exist a power of assimilating new elements and a power of conservation, that is, of remaining oneself, of maintaining the identity. This fidelity must be presupposed; otherwise, one simply undergoes, and then is dilution and not vital assimilation. This ‘appropriate and organic development’, therefore, implies the avoidance of immobilism, on the one hand, but also of instability, on the other”. He continued: “I believe that in reconciling these two exigencies lies the key to the solution of the problem of revision, renewal and adaptation of the liturgy”.[52]

The “Fundamental Orientations concerning the Syro-Malabar Liturgy” given by Rome in 1998 has this to say about organic growth: “The just and praiseworthy concern to adapt liturgical celebrations to present-day living conditions and local culture, whether in the eparchies in the Church’s own territory or in mission eparchies, must not lead us to forget the basic principle of the secular life of liturgical worship, that of organic progress”.[53] Therefore, these adaptations have to respect “those principles fundamental to all Christian  liturgies and in particular, the Syro-Oriental liturgy”.[54]

In this context, it is worthy of note an observation made by Robert Taft: “It has been my constant observation”, writes he, “that liturgies do not grow evenly, like living organisms. Rather, their individual structures possess a life of their own. More like cancer than native cells, they can appear like aggressors, showing riotous growth at a time when all else lies dormant”.[55]

7. Liturgy and Inculturation


According to Vatican II, “even in the liturgy the Church does not wish to impose a rigid uniformity in matters which do not involve the faith or the good of the whole community. Rather does she respect and foster the qualities and talents of the various races and nations”. Among these qualities what is not bound up with superstition and error, the Church is prepared to admit into the liturgy, provided “they harmonize with its true and authentic spirit” (SC 37).

In 1980 the Oriental Congregation wrote to the Syro-Malabar Bishops about the need of “cultural integration”. The Syro-Malabar Church needs “an integration of the Eastern Rite with authentically Eastern spirituality and theology… This cannot be achieved without serious study and without acceptance in depth of the liturgical and patristic heritage, of which the Eastern rite is a privileged expression”.[56] Besides, it needs “the integration with the culture and the tradition (better: into the cultures and the traditions) of India. This is in view of the necessary ‘inculturation’, by which is meant the assumption of the more solid and sounder realities which these traditions contain, and which so unmistakeably characterize the authentic physiognomy of the Indian people”.[57] And “the ‘assumption’ of the realities that characterize Indian culture implies necessarily study and understanding of Hinduism, especially through a mature contact with its manifold sources”.[58]

Other directives from the Oriental Congregation too have references to the topic of inculturation. Thus, the Final Judgement of 1985 makes a reference to the ‘Indian patrimony’ of the Syro-Malabar Church. It reads: “It is therefore devoutly to be hoped that the church of the St.Thomas Christians may once again find its roots, at once evangelical and truly original, Oriental and Indian…”.[59] It also said that Rome in no way opposes recommendation for legitimate Indianization.[60] Regarding music in the liturgy, the document notes that the texts of refrains and chants more suitable to Indian culture could be proposed.[61]

The Directives of 1988 expressed the readiness of Rome to consider “adaptations to local culture and sensibilities” and to open the way ‘to renewal and adaptations to historico-cultural context’.[62]

The whole issue of inculturation is a complex one. Having this reality in mind Cardinal Rubin told the Syro-Malabar Bishops in 1980: “… it seems to me that the problem of inculturation  facing the Church, say, in Africa – where a true philosophy does not exist – is different from that of inculturation in India, where the Church is confronted by the various forms of Hinduism, philosophical thought so weighty that it has influenced our Western Idealists (from Schopenauer to Hegel) and – in ancient times – perhaps Plato himself”.[63]

According to Vatican II, the liturgy is “made up of unchangeable elements divinely instituted and of elements subject to change. These latter not only may be changed but ought to be changed with the passage of time, if they have suffered from the intrusion of anything out of harmony with the inner nature of the liturgy or have become less suitable” (SC 21). To a question on the changeable and unchangeable elements in the liturgy and the issue of inculturation in the mission lands, Cardinal Ratzinger replied as follows: “It must be said that both the Constitution on the Liturgy and the Decree on the Church’s Missionary activity explicitly allow for the possibility of far-reaching adaptations to the customs and cultic traditions of peoples. To that extent the new Missal is only providing a framework for mission lands. It is a feature of the new Missal that its very many ad libitum provisions give a great deal of scope for local variations”.[64] At the same time, Ratzinger has a word of caution too. These things should not be taken too naively and simplistically, he says. Therefore he writes that it would be “very dangerous to suggest that missionary liturgies could be created overnight, so to speak, by decision of Bishops’ conferences, which would themselves be dependent on memoranda drawn up by academics. Liturgy does not come about through regulation”.[65] Further he observes that the liturgical ‘rites’ are not simply products of inculturation, though they have incorporated many elements from the local culture. In his opinion, “the Christian faith can never be separated from the soil of sacred events”.[66]

8. Active Participation and Pastoral Implications


One of the contributions of Vatican II was the impetus it gave to the active participation of the faithful. “Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that full, conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebration which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy”. So much so, “the full and active participation of all the people” should be the aim to be considered before all else in the restoration and renewal of the liturgy (SC 14).In order to promote active participation, both internal and external, the pastors need to take into account the ‘age, condition, way of life and standard of religious culture of the people’ (SC 19).

But, the word ‘participation’ is sometimes misunderstood to mean “something external, entailing a need for general activity, as if as many people, as often as possible, should be visibly engaged in action”.[67] There is an impression that the active participation is speaking, singing, preaching, reading etc. But, Vatican II also included silence as part of active participation. For “silence facilitates a really deep, personal participation, allowing us to listen inwardly to the Lord’s Word. Many liturgies now lack of all trace of this silence”.[68] The real ‘actio’ in the liturgy, in which we are supposed to participate, notes Cardinal Ratzinger, “is the action of God himself. This is what is new and distinctive about the Christian liturgy: God himself acts and does what is essential”.[69]

The term ‘pastoral’ also needs to be understood in a correct perspective. In the name of ‘pastoral’, liturgy “cannot be an expression of what is current and transitory, for it expresses the mystery of the Holy. Many people have felt and said that liturgy must be ‘made’ by the whole community if it is really to belong to them. Such an attitude has led to the ‘success’ of the liturgy being measured by its effect at the level of spectacle and entertainment. It is to lose sight of what is distinctive to the liturgy, which does not come from what we do but from the fact that something is taking place here that all of us together cannot ‘make’”.[70]

From a pastoral point of view, simplification of liturgy is good and useful. But, “however much the liturgy is simplified and rendered comprehensible, the mystery of God’s action operating through the Church’s acts must remain untouched. This applies also to the heart of the liturgy: as far as both priest and people are concerned, it is something given, that cannot be manipulated. It partakes of the reality of the whole Church”.[71] Therefore, Ratzinger urges to oppose ‘rationalistic relativism and pastoral infantilism’ because they ‘degrade the liturgy’.[72] We also need to be led ‘from form to the content’. In other words, “we need an education which will help us to grow into an inner appropriation of the Church’s common liturgy”.[73]

However, in the pastoral context, the local customs play an important role in the celebration of the liturgy. Therefore, referring to CCEO 1507 – 1509, the Roman Instruction considers custom as the fruit of the continuous and uncontested practice of the local community and precious because it is rooted in the life of the people. However, concerning this subject “a wise discernment will be necessary to preserve that which is most valid and stimulating for a true Christian flourishing and to intervene in that which is superfluous or less suitable to the particular genuine traditions”.[74] Further, the concluding paragraph of the Instruction refers to the nature of the Instruction in the following words: “The indications contained here can be completed by the reflection and contribution of the individual Churches sui iuris, dedicating the necessary attention to them by studying how they should be applied in the various individual traditions and conditions”.[75] The reasoning behind this position seems to be what the “Directives” of 1988 referred to: ‘The good of the faithful is the pastoral norm governing all liturgical legislation’.[76] According to Robert Taft, the pastoral choices are “not ineluctable conclusions from history or theology”.[77]

9. Lessons from Latin Liturgical Renewal


In the first century (ca. AD 64) when the Church of Rome was established  the prevalent language in Rome was a popular type of Greek. The Latinization of the Western liturgy began in North Africa from the third century, thanks to Tertullian, Cyprian, Augustine and others. It was Pope Victor I (+203), an African by birth, who made the first attempt to introduce Latin into the liturgy of the Roman Church. The shift from Greek to Latin and the transitional period of bilingualism speak highly of the Roman Church’s pastoral sensitivity. Despite the Roman proverbial veneration for the traditions, they decided in favour of Latin language which people understood. It teaches us that “fidelity to tradition means adapting to the needs of the people in every age and of every cultural tradition”.[78] The transition from Greek to Latin was not merely a change of liturgical language. It was accompanied also by creativity composing new prayers in Latin itself.


The normal historical process of liturgical renewal had traditionally been the work of generations. The liturgical movement in the West began in 19th century France. Step One was restoration, a process whereby rites were slowly purged of less suitable later accretions and returned to a purer and more authentic state. This restoration phase, a slow, step-by-step renewal, was based on and accompanied by a lengthy process of study, lively debates and the propagation of ideas through journals and Liturgical Weeks; the founding of new liturgical periodicals, centres and societies… – all leading over a period of several generations, to the reforms of Vatican II. And underlying this official restoration, providing its firm foundation, was a massive effort of scholarship in the gathering, collating, editing, and studying of manuscripts and other liturgical and theological sources. In short, a whole century of intensive scholarship and maturation ultimately paved the way for the liturgical reforms of the Roman Rite in Vatican II.[79]

The Roman Instruction, referring to SC 23 which speaks about the need of making investigation into the theological, historical and pastoral aspects in the process of restoration, revision and adaptation, notes: “Indeed, the liturgical reform desired by the Second Vatican Council was able to be carried out precisely because it was preceded, and successfully followed , by lengthy experimentation, intense historical studies, critical textual analyses, theological studies, biblical studies and pastoral studies, culminating in the work of individual and committee research, both at the local and international level. Without all this, the references, frameworks, and precise contents necessary for a valid endeavour would not have been obtained”.[80]

  1. 10.  Liturgical Language


The liturgical texts are meant to nourish the faith of the people and to lift their hearts and minds to God. This is possible only when the texts are effective to communicate the message intended by the texts. Hence a good translation is necessary. The non-verbal parts of the liturgy (symbols, gestures etc.) communicate through visual senses whereas the verbal parts (prayers, hymns etc.) are communicated through aural contact. While some gestures, symbols, words etc. are transculturally understood (Amen, Halleluia, Cross etc.), some others are culturally bound as far as an assembly is concerned. This problem can be solved in two ways: either by translating texts into local idioms or by composing new prayers.

The “Fifth Instruction” on the use of vernacular in the liturgy given to the Latin Church by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments[81] has, among others, the following principles to be followed in the translation of the liturgical texts:

  • The words used in the liturgy (as well as in the Bible) are not intended primarily to express the interior disposition of the faithful; rather, they express truths which transcend time and space (No.19).
  • While it is permissible to use the style of the vernacular, the translation must be integral without tarnishing the content, and without paraphrasing (No.20).
  • Translation should be ‘beautiful’, ‘dignified’ and with ‘doctrinal precision’ (No.25).
  • It is the task of the homily or catechesis to explain certain texts which may not be easily understood (No.29).

Anyway, the liturgical language is different from colloquial language or even literary language of the people. It has a genre of its own. It has to be created by use by every Church. The liturgical language is inspired by Bible, devotion, spirituality etc. It is essentially a symbolic language and is ordered to express the divine.[82]

CCEO 657/2 specifies that the right to approve the translation of the liturgical books is up to the competent authority for the approval of the liturgical books themselves, after having sent a report to the Apostolic see in the case of patriarchal, major archiepiscopal and metropolitan Churches sui iuris.


  1. 11.   A Practical Model for Syro-Malabar Approach towards Restoration and Revision


“In the Syro-malabar tradition the process of renewal had barely begun”, notes Robert Taft, “when Malayalm was introduced into the liturgy with the publication at Alwaye of the bilingual Missal of July 3, 1962. That changed everything. At once the Syro-Malabar liturgy was no longer the arcane preserve of small coterie of clerical professionals who knew Syriac, but the property of the whole people of God”.[83] History tells us that the Syro-Malabar Church tried to do in a generation what the Roman Church, with infinitely greater resources, took a century to accomplish.[84] Therefore the study of the Syro-Malabar liturgical reform is a very complex issue which needs to be dealt with a proper historical understanding of the liturgical renewal and the experience of the last 50 years or so. A remark of Taft is relevant in this context: “All argumentation the polemicists have engaged in to prove from history or theology that the Creed should or should not be in the Eucharistic Liturgy, that there should not be an Offertory Procession of the people, that proleptic language must be jettisoned, that Eucharist should be celebrated facing the people or facing East, ultimately proves nothing. All that the study of the past can show us is what has been customary, what has changed, and the reasons why”.[85]  What history shows us is not one ideal form, but variety even within the various stages of one and the same tradition.[86] The only ‘bad liturgy’, says Taft, is that which does not contribute to the sanctification of God’s people.[87]

Speaking about the principles to guide liturgical renewal, Taft writes: “God expects those in pastoral charge of their flocks to see to it that the liturgy carries out its salvific purpose as perfectly as possible. Sometimes, this will mean liturgical reform and change. How should that be done? Vatican II and the Roman Pontiffs have already provided the fundamental principles and guidelines. A dose of realism and common sense provides the rest”.[88]

Then Taft points out 9 principles that may be followed in this process. Though these principles were proposed in the Syro-Malabar Synod held in the Vatican in 1996, they were not taken up for discussion by the Syro-Malabar bishops at any stage. It may be useful to ponder over them in the present context. The principles are:

  1. Recovery of the authentic tradition where it has eroded


The process of recovering tradition is a dialectic of “traditio et progressio” mandated by Vatican II. Authentic tradition cannot be considered in a vacuum outside of history. One problem with every liturgy is the question of “hybridisms”. “Like it or not”, observes Taft, “the truth of the matter is that liturgies have ALWAYS influenced one another and shall continue to do so”.[89] The Coptic and West Syrian Rites influenced the Ethiopian Rite; the West Syrian and Chaldean Rites influenced Maronite Rite; the Rite of Jerusalem influenced the Byzantines, the West Syrians and the Armenians; and the Byzantines influenced just about everybody. Even the Armenian Orthodox Church (besides the Armenian Catholic Church) borrowed elements from Mesopotamia, Cappodocia, Jesrusalem, and even Latin usages including the bishop’s mitre and ring, ordination rites etc.[90] Therefore Taft says: “In my view, then, to consider the Syro-Malabar tradition as simply the East Syrian Rite without taking any account of its evolution during more than a millennium of its existence in Southwest India, flies in the face of history. That would be like ignoring 50% of the vocabulary of English because it entered the English language from Norman French after the Battle of Hastings in 1066”.[91]

Again, “No tradition can realistically pretend to ignore 497 years of its history. That is not to say that what happened in those years was always positive, nor is to say that some of it should not be cast into the rubbish. It does mean that it cannot be ignored, for it is a huge part of (your) history, and must be dealt with realistically”.[92]

Taft also notes that fidelity to tradition needs to be a certain extent selective. Otherwise, the Syro-Malabar Church will have to stop daily Eucharistic celebration; may have to consider removing the Institution Narrative from the Anaphora of Mar Addai and Mar Mari. Catholicos Mar Aba introduced some Greek anaphoras in 6th century. In 7th century Catholicos Iso Yahb III reduced the number of anaphoras to three. Many similar changes occurred in the Liturgy of the Hours. So what is the “authentic” East Syrian/Chaldean tradition?, asks Taft. He concludes: “A living Rite is not some abstract ‘authentic tradition’, but a concrete and ever-changing historical reality that has existed in several forms, some of them good, some of them less so. The ‘authentic tradition’ for today is not some self-evident absolute, but a matter of selective choice within the framework of the tradition, and within the legitimate limits set by the Church”.[93]

  1. Renewal where needed


While keeping fidelity to tradition, liturgical adaptation and renewal, via organic development, in accord with the nature and genius of the tradition, too is needed. This means that even tradition with small “t” must be respected within its own limits. At the same time, the renewed liturgy must be adapted to the needs and cultures of God’s people today.[94]

  1. Fidelity to the substantial unity of the Rite


The rule of “substantial unity” does not outlaw varying legitimate local customs. Nor can it take away from the local Ordinary his right and duty to resolve concrete pastoral issues in the light of the overriding law of the good of the faithful. Such issues are resolved by the common norms of Canon Law, which makes provision for customs, even customs “contra legem”.[95]

4. Seriousness of purpose and preparation


The rule of substantial unity demands that change in the liturgy be carried out only with the utmost care and seriousness, after much study and preparation.[96]

5. Ecumenism

Every Catholic tradition must be attentive, in any change, not to distance itself unnecessarily from other traditions, especially from the tradition of Sister Churches.[97]

6. Inculturation and 7. Implementation and ongoing Formation

Inculturation and implementation should[98] be accompanied by liturgical formation.

8. Pastoral realism


When there are divided opinions on matters not affecting any doctrine, then common sense dictates a compromise solution, and where that is not attainable, then freedom in non-essentials must be left to the local hierarchs. Of course compromise solutions are never the ideal. But to ignore the will of an overwhelming majority in an issue of pastoral practice not touching faith or morals would fly in the face of the Catholic practice and teaching.[99]

9. Concentration on the essentials

Liturgy is not some abstraction. It exists to contribute to the glory of God. Our glorification of God is his gift to us, not our gift to him. And this is our sanctification, which results from that “communio sanctorum” that is the Church. Therefore, concentrate on the essentials.[100]

To these we may add also an observation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. “There must be no innovation unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them”. And, “as far as possible, notable differences between the rites used in adjacent regions should be avoided” (SC 23). (Here ‘rites’ means ritual actions within the same Individual Church).



Tradition is not simply history. Instead, it is the memory of the past kept alive for the people of the present. Restoration is always accompanied by revision. They are the two sides of the same reality. Any revision, especially in the realm of liturgy, cannot ignore the need for inculturation. Since culture is dynamic and not static, adaptation and inculturation of the liturgy is a continuous process which every generation needs to address.

The Syro-Malabar Church which carries a long history of 2000 years and influences of the East Syrian and Western traditions coupled with Indian elements, should face the present challenge of restoration and revision adhering to the basic principles of liturgy and the pastoral demands of the present circumstances. Sacrosanctum Concilium and Orientalium Ecclesiarum of Vatican II, the specific magisterial documents given to the Syro-Malabar Church during the last thirty years or so, and the decisions of the Syro-Malabar Bishops’ Synod are sufficient guidelines to set off the process of restoration, revision and adaptation of the Syro-Malabar liturgy.


[1]Y.Congar, Tradition and Traditions. An Historical and Theological Essay, London 1966, p.xix
[2] Congar , Tradition, p.234
[3] Congar, Tradition, p.234
[4] Congar, Tradition, p.234
[5] Apostolic Letter Orientale Lumen (1995), No.5
[6] Orientale Lumen, No.8
[7] Orientale Lumen, No.1
[8] Roman Documents on the Syro-Malabar Liturgy, Kottayam 1999, p.141-142
[9] Congar, Tradition, p.24.
[10] J.Kallrangatt, Dimensions and Perspectives of Oriental Theology, in X.Koodapuzha (Ed.), Eastern Theological Reflections in India, Kottayam 1999, p.88-89
[11] Congar, Tradition, p.63
[12] Congar, Tradition,p.267
[13] Congar, Tradition, p.297
[14] Congar, p.10. Rules concerning the wearing of the veil or the silence of women in 1 Cor 11:5 ff; 14:34 are examples of ‘Rules of conduct’.
[15] Congar, Tradition, p.10-11
[16] Congar, Tradition, p.22
[17] Congar, Tradition, p.22
[18]  J.Porunnedom (ed.),Acts of the Synod of Bishops of the Syro-Malabar Church held in the Vatican from 8 to 16 January 1996, Kochi 1996, p.129
[19] Robert Taft, The Liturgical Year: Studies, Prospects, Reflections, in Worship 55(1981) 2-3
[20] Congregation for the Eastern Churches, Instruction for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions of the Code of Canons of the eastern Churches, Rome 1996, No.11
[21] Congar, Tradition, p.64
[22] Congar, Tradition, p.253
[23] Congar, Tradition,  p.254
[24] Congar, Tradition, p.321
[25] Congar, Tradition,  p.105
[26] Instruction 1996, No.17
[27] Congar, Tradition,  p.427
[28] Congar, Tradition,  p.354
[29] Congar, Tradition,  p.434
[30] Congar, Tradition,  p.428
[31] Quoted  in Congar, Tradition,  p.434
[32] Encyclical Ad Coeli Reginam (1954), AAS 46 (1954) 631
[33] Congar, Tradition, p.429-430
[34] Instruction 1996, No.18
[35] Instruction 1996, No. 109
[36] The Spirit of the Liturgy, San Francisco 2000,  p.166
[37] The Spirit of the Liturgy, p.167
[38] A.Kavanagh, Elements of Rite, Monnesota 1990, Reprint, Bangalore 1996, p.35
[39] Congar, Tradition, p.428-429
[40] J.Ratzinger – V.Messori, The Ratzinger Report, San Francisco 1985, p.37-38
[41] The Ratzinger Report,p.38, Footnote No.5
[42] The Ratzinger Report, p.132
[43] The Ratzinger Report, p.132
[44] Congar, Tradition, p.267
[45] Congar, Tradition, p.452
[46] J.Ratzinger, Feast of Faith, San Francisco 1986, p.61
[47] Instruction 1996, No.12
[48] Instruction 1996, No.12
[49] Instruction 1996, No.20
[50] The Spirit of the Liturgy, p.165
[51] Roman Documents on the Syro-Malabar Liturgy, Kottayam 1999, p.65
[52] Roman Documents, p.71
[53] Roman Documents, p.287
[54] Roman Documents, p.287
[55] How Liturgies Grow: The Evolution of the Byzantine Divine Liturgy, OCP 43 (1977) 360. (These growths, according to Taft, occurred mainly in three places: Enarxis, Transfer of Gifts and Communion and Dismissal Service)
[56] Roman Documents, p.48
[57] Roman Documents, p.48
[58] Roman Documents, p.48
[59] Roman Documents, p.114
[60] Roman Documents, p.132
[61] Roman Documents, p.132
[62] Roman Documents, p.141
[63] Roman Documents, p.57
[64] Feast of Faith, p.80
[65] Feast of Faith, p.81
[66] The Spirit of the Liturgy, p.164
[67]  The Spirit of the Liturgy, p.171
[68] The Ratzinger Report, p. 127
[69] The Spirit of the Liturgy, p.173
[70] The Ratzinger Report, p.126
[71] The Ratzinger Report, p.120
[72] The Ratzinger report, p.121
[73] Feast of Faith,p.71
[74] Instruction 1996, No.28
[75] Instruction 1996, No.112
[76] Roman documents, p.143
[77] Acts of the Synod, p.130
[78] A. Chupungco, History of the Liturgy Until the Fourth Century, in Handbook for Liturgical Studies I,Collegeville 1997, p.106
[79] Acts of the Synod, p.125
[80] Instruction 1996, No.19
[81] Liturgiam Authenticam (2001)
[82] Anscar Chupungco, The Translation of Liturgical Texts, in Handbook for Liturgical Studies I, p.395 – 396
[83] Acts of the Synod, p.126
[84] Acts of  the Synod, p.127
[85] Acts of the Synod, p.129
[86] Acts of the Synod, p.130
[87] Acts of the Synod, p.130
[88] Acts of the Synod, p.130
[89] Acts of the Synod, p.131
[90] Acts of the Synod, p.131
[91] Acts of the Synod, p.132
[92] Acts of the Synod, p.132
[93] Acts of the Synod, p.132
[94] Acts of the Synod , p.133
[95] Acts of the Synod, p.133
[96] Acts of the Synod, p.133
[97] Acts of the Synod, p.134
[98] Acts of the Synod, p.135
[99] Acts of the Synod, p.136
[100] Acts of the Synod, p.136



Dr Antony Nariculam

 Antony Nariculam


The universality of the Church makes it imperative that the Church and her liturgy are inculturated. God became man to save humankind. This saving mystery in Christ must be presented to the whole world in a manner that is understood by the people of a given place.

There was a period in history when some Christian theologians considered the ‘Christian culture’ as a universal monoculture. For them this Christian culture was ‘normative’. But in course of time, the empirical approach in philosophy and sociology began to affirm pluralism in culture. Slowly these theologians had to admit a multicultural world which led to the realization that universality does not necessarily mean uniformity.

One of the greatest achievements of Vatican II and the subsequent magisterial teachings is the openness the Church has towards the wider world with its religions and cultures. This ‘cultural opening’ was initially received with great enthusiasm. But later, due to a variety of reasons, it came to be looked upon with suspicion and diffidence.

Vatican II, which allowed vernacularisation in the liturgy, was aware of the variety of cultures. Hence it suggested that provision be made in the revision of the liturgical books “for legitimate variations and adaptations to different groups, regions and peoples, especially in the mission countries”.[1] This view is theologically supported by another statement of the same document: “The liturgy is made up of unchangeable elements divinely instituted, and of elements subject to change. These latter not only may be changed, with the passage of time, if they have suffered from the intrusion of anything out of harmony with the inner nature of the liturgy or have become less suitable” (SC 21).

Pope John Paul II, establishing the Pontifical Council for Culture on 20 May 1982, said that the synthesis between culture and faith is not just a demand of culture, but is also of faith. A faith which does not become culture is a faith which has not been fully received, not thoroughly thought through, not fully lived out.[2] In fact, there is never a cultureless Christianity and never yet a fully Christian culture.

On 19 November 1969, during the course of a General Audience, Pope Paul VI said: ‘The rite and the relative rubric are not in themselves dogmatic definitions. Their theological qualification may vary in differing degrees according to the liturgical context to which they refer. They are gestures and terms relating to a religious action – experienced and living – of an indescribable mystery of divine presence, not always expressed in a univocal way’.[3] This vision he already had as Cardinal John Baptist Montini when he stated on the floor of Vatican II that ‘Liturgy is for man and not man for liturgy’.[4]

This article is an attempt to point out how important is culture to express the Christian faith through liturgical celebrations.

  1. What is Liturgy?

 The rule of prayer is the rule of faith. Liturgy is the celebration of our faith. It is a response of man (the ‘ascending’ man) to the ‘descending’ God who comes to save humankind. Being a response of man, it has to be a fully ‘human’ act. No human act can be dissociated from his/her culture and life situations. Here we should remember that the liturgical celebrations are not only celebrations of our faith in God and our relationship with Him. It is also a celebration of our lives and the relation among human beings, not excluding the realities of the created world. Thus the ‘verticality’ with God cannot be separated from the ‘horizontality’ with our fellow-beings.

One of the most important acts by which the Holy Spirit reminds the Church about the message of Christ is the liturgical celebration because it is the memorial (anamnesis) of the Lord. It is an expression of faith. So much so, history tells us that there was no recitation of the Creed during the celebration of the liturgy since the whole liturgy is an expression of faith. The Creed was reserved to baptism as an immediate preparation for it.

Liturgy, though an expression of faith, is not simply an act of worship. The New Testament worship, as we understand from the Letter to the Hebrews, is not merely a ritual act. In fact, Christ abolished all rituals and replaced them with symbols (Heb 10:5-10). The rituals are very often conventional, and they can be performed even ‘impersonally’, whereas the symbols are used between living persons as a means of communication. The language of the new worship inaugurated by Christ is a symbolic one in which the body is very much involved.[5] Human beings normally require bodily expressions to actively participate in the celebration of the mysteries of Christ through worship. The signs and symbols are the ordinary means to have this participatory experience.

Speaking about active participation in the liturgy, Vatican II states that it should be “conscious, active and fruitful’ (SC 14). In order to achieve this goal, choice of appropriate symbols that emerge from the cultural context of the people is a must. The transformation of the sacramental celebrations, as a “means of grace” rather than as an act of faith by means of signs and symbols, has led to a distortion of the understanding of the liturgy itself. Therefore, we need to rediscover their meaning and value for the man of today.

  1. What is Inculturation?

 From a Christian point of view, inculturation means a dialogue between the gospel message and a culture. This message is not fully independent of a culture. In fact, the gospel message is not simply an idea or a dogma. It is the message about a person – the person of Jesus Christ himself. It is Christ who is coming into dialogue with cultures. Thus inculturation is a response to the call of Christ. It is a gradual transformation that has to take place in the community through individuals. No individual can impose it upon the community. The individuals can only act as agents of this transformation.

Thomas Groome describes inculturation as “a dialectical encounter between Christian faith and a particular culture in which the culture is affirmed, challenged, and transformed towards God’s reign, and in which Christian faith is likewise affirmed, challenged, and enriched by this unique instance of its realization”.[6] This description is based on the thesis that the Christian inculturation is a dialectical encounter between an already cultured version of Christian faith and another culture that is either new to Christianity or has aspects not yet explicitly permeated by it.

He further observes that for a meaningful application of the principles of inculturation one should be convinced of the following facts:

(i)                 There is never a cultureless Christianity or a faithless culture. That is, wherever the Christian faith is implanted, it has always taken elements from the local culture to grow, and that God’s saving presence is already planted in every culture.

(ii)               The ‘story’ and ‘vision’ of Christian faith continues to unfold throughout history. The Christian faith is a living tradition, and its vitality demands that it incarnates in every cultural and historical context.

(iii)             Each cultural expression of Christian faith should be profoundly unique, while remaining bonded in essential unity with all other expressions. ‘Unity in diversity’ should be the motto of the process of inculturation. No cultural expression should be detrimental to the essential unity of faith.

(iv)             The values of God’s reign should be reflected in the very process of inculturation. Inculturation should not be at the expense of the values of God’s kingdom in this world – that of love, peace , justice, freedom, integrity of God’s creation etc.[7]1

One of the greatest insights of Vatican II on inculturation is found in Ad Gentes 22: ‘In imitation of the plan of Incarnation, the young Churches, rooted in Christ and built upon the foundation of the apostles, take to themselves, in a wonderful exchange, all the riches of the nations which were given to Christ as an inheritance’. In the past the Christians in general thought that they had a ‘finished product’ by way of ecclesiastical structures, including the liturgy. But, Ad Gentes 21 notes that the lay people must give expression to the ‘meaning of life’ given to them in baptism ‘in the social and cultural framework of their own homeland according to their own national traditions… They must develop it in accordance with modern conditions, and finally perfect in Christ’. Therefore, openness towards cultures, traditions, customs etc. is a sine qua non if we really wish to make the Church and her worship relevant for the modern era. That is why the Vatican II decree on the Catholic Eastern Churches, while insisting on the need of returning to the sources and ancient practices, wishes that they are adapted to the needs of different times and places (OE 2).

Incarnation is one of the most important theological bases of inculturation. It is a redemptive incarnation. Christ became similar to us in all things but sin. Through his death and resurrection he redeemed the humankind. This leads to the conclusion that inculturation “recognizes the presence of evil in the world, the reality of sin and its imprints, forces and consequences in all realities of the world and human life”.[8] Any element taken from the cultures should be made to pass through the redemptive death and resurrection of Christ. In other words, the yardstick to judge the appropriateness of inculturation is the mystery of Christ. Consequently, inculturation has a double task: of liberating the cultures from sin, evil and error, and of giving them a true Christian meaning, orientation and fulfilment. Thus inculturation calls for a prophetical critique and a Christian interpretation. It calls for “dying and rising” on the part of the Church for new flowers and new fruits.

In this process of inculturation, it is not sufficient that we make the Christian formulae intelligible to the peoples of various cultures. Rather, it implies a genuine experience of Christ in every culture through authentic signs and symbols taken from the culture concerned.

  1. What is Liturgical Inculturation?

 To speak about the need of inculturation in liturgy is to repeat the obvious. Nobody seems to have any objection to its relevance and the need though there are apprehensions with regard to how to go about it and how far we can go with it. The renewal and updating of liturgy practically means inculturation in the same.

The Pan-Asian Consultation on Inculturation and Liturgy made the following statement after their meeting in 1995. “All Asian countries struggle with the issue of inculturation. Our sharing revealed that liturgical developments in Asia have consisted mainly

in the translation of the typical editions of the Roman liturgical books in the wake of Vatican II. This has, by and large, marked the first phase of inculturation. The translation of liturgical texts composed in another time and culture is an extremely difficult task. The transplantation of signs and symbols is even more difficult. Even supposedly universal signs and symbols, when transplanted into another culture, often hide or even distort the very mysteries they are meant to convey. No universal model can speak with equal clarity and force throughout the world. Moreover, no Christian community can become creative in language and symbol system that is basically alien to it. Unless the Word of God becomes flesh in our cultures, the soul of Asia will remain untouched”.[9]

What is liturgical inculturation? A. Shorter defines inculturation as “the on-going dialogue between faith and culture or cultures. More fully, it is the creative and dynamic relationship between the Christian message and a culture or cultures”.[10] And then he makes three observations about inculturation. First, it is an on-going process, and hence even the so-called ‘Christian’ nations need to undergo inculturation. In other words, it should not be confined to the newly evangelized missions. Second, the Christian faith transcends all cultures. At the same time, it cannot exist except in a cultural form. Third, there is need of a reciprocal and critical interaction between the Christian faith and culture.[11]These observations are of prime importance when we deal with the whole question of liturgical inculturation.

The issue of liturgical inculturartion is primarily an ecclesiological one. It cannot be understood and practised separate from the life of the Church in all its aspects. One reason for the relative failure of liturgical inculturation is the inadequate understanding of the liturgy as a vertical celebration in a numinous sphere unrelated to the real life situations of the celebrating community. There is a close relationship between a ritual and the community that enacts it. Ritual, in fact, is a symbolic expression of the structure of the society.

What are the areas of inculturation in the Church? There is no area of the Church that does not need inculturation. The liturgical inculturation should not be reduced to the exclusive sphere of worship. But, of course, one needs to fix priorities.

To worship God is a fundamental need of a religious minded person. It affects the core of his/her religiosity. It is a personal, deep experience of the human soul. Being persons with senses, they require visible signs and symbols to express this experience. This visible expression becomes meaningful and communicative only when it is understood by the generality of the people. Hence it is imperative that it is expressed through the symbols of the people of the place.

The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy underlines this dimension of the culture in relation to the liturgy in the following words: “Even in the liturgy the Church does not wish to impose a rigid uniformity in matters which do not involve the faith or the good of the whole community. Rather she does respect and foster the qualities and talents of the various races and nations… She sometimes even admits such things into the liturgy itself, provided they harmonize with its true and authentic spirit” (SC 37). The Council is also in favour of allowing ‘legitimate variations and adaptations to different groups, regions and peoples, especially in mission countries’ (SC 38). Conscious of its absolute need, the Council also notes that ‘in some places and circumstances however an even more radical adaptation of the liturgy is needed’ though it entails ‘greater difficulties’ (SC 39).

Liturgy is the expression of the experience of the risen Lord manifested in various cultural forms. One and the same experience is expressed by different peoples in different historical and geographical contexts. In this manifestation there are universal and unchangeable, as well as particular and changeable, elements. The universal elements are celebrated by a particular community in a particular place. The unchangeable truths are celebrated with changeable elements. And, the Divine is celebrated by human beings.  This is something marvellous in the universal Church. A successful liturgical inculturation depends upon striking a balance between these elements.

Jesus did not hand over to us a ‘prototype’ of liturgy, but an experience. Since this experience is linked with cultural manifestations, its expressions vary. This variety, however, is not to be determined by laws and regulations, but from the cultural experiences of a living community of a given place. Therefore, liturgical inculturation is defined as “a process of inserting texts and rites of the liturgy into the framework of the local culture”.[12]

In order to attain this goal, it is not enough that we merely adapt some cultural elements into the institutionalized form of Christianity. Rather, “we need to undergo a process of symbiosis by which our faith becomes an experience in the context and expresses itself in a symbol system that is capable of communicating this experience to others”.[13] Hence the liturgical inculturation is not simply a matter of discovering adequate cultural symbols to express the content of faith and worship, but is a question of ecclesiology and a pastoral methodology.

Regarding a practical methodology of liturgical inculturation  A.Chupungco suggests a three-step process. It consists of Dynamic Equivalence, Creative Assimilation and Organic Progression.[14]

Dynamic Equivalence is practically an adaptation of the editio typica. Though some creativity is involved in this process, it is dependent on the typical editions of the liturgical books. Creative Assimilation is a methodology used in the Patristic era. The giving of a cup of milk and honey in the baptismal Mass, renouncing Satan looking towards the West and making the profession of faith turning towards the East, the celebration of Epiphany on 6th January and Christmas on 25th December are examples. In Organic Progression comes the question of ‘new forms’ in worship which are unknown till then. Though they are ‘new’, they have to respect the principle of “organic growth”.[15]

Vatican II has identified certain areas of the liturgy where this process needs to be undertaken. Besides SC 37-40, which we have referred to above, the document mentions also the Christian initiation rites (SC 65), the rite of Marriage (SC 77), the liturgical music (SC119) and the liturgical art (SC 123).

In this process, the sacramentals, especially the blessings, have a special place as most of them are closely related to the day to day life of the people. Though there are sacramentals that have some sort of a universal character, mostly they are attached to the culture and the customs of the people. Therefore SC 39 names them among the liturgical books wherein the Conferences of Bishops have a free hand to make adaptations.

  1. Local Church: The Venue of Inculturation

 The Church being the sacrament of Christ is the visible manifestation of Christ. The institutional Church which is localized must have a visible expression congenial to the community of the people. The Church becomes authentically local in so far as she bears the imprint of the place and the people where she lives. “The Church becomes Church when it is incarnated in a place and this localization is called the local Church”.[16]

We know from history that liturgy developed in the local Churches resulting in liturgical diversities. Only later they began to be unified, a phenomenon more prevalent in the Western liturgy. In the East, maintaining the unity of faith, liturgies continued to flourish in diversity. As the decree on the Catholic Eastern Churches notes, the universal Church is made up of the faithful who are organically united in the Holy Spirit by the same faith, the same sacraments and the same government. But they combine into different groups which are held together by their hierarchy and so form individual Churches keeping their own particular liturgy, spirituality and discipline (OE 2-3). From this it is clear that the liturgical celebration is not a ‘universal act’. It is always an action of the community of faithful ‘here and now’. That is why the Eastern Churches are very particular about insisting on the universal Church as a ‘Communion of Individual Churches’. As Pope Paul VI notes, the universal Church is in practice incarnate in the individual Churches that are heirs of a cultural patrimony, of a vision of the Word of God, of an historical part of a particular historical substratum.[17] It responds to the deep aspiration of peoples and human communities to find their own identity ever more clearly.[18] One of the important characteristics of an individual Church is the manner in which it expresses its faith in worship form.

A local Christian community is not a ‘fraction’ of the universal Church. Every worshipping community manifests the full mystery of the Church. This manifestation is based on its social, cultural and religious milieu, and hence appropriate signs and symbols congenial to the people are to be employed. History of the Churches – both in the West and in the East – gives evidence to this fact. The existence of the liturgies according to the Roman Rite, the Ambrosian Rite, the Spanish Rite, and later the Indian Rite, the Philippino Rite, the Congolese Rite etc. are examples. The five liturgical families – Alexandrian, Antiochian, Byzantine, East Syrian and Armenian – with 22 individual Churches bear ample witness to it in the East. Even within an individual Church there can be diverse liturgical expressions according to the culture, place and the context of the people as we see in the Western and Eastern ecclesiastical traditions.

  1. Liturgical Inculturation: An Historical Review

 Inculturation is essentially an historical phenomenon, and the history of the Church is practically a history of inculturation.

When we examine the history of the Roman liturgy, we find that the so-called “classical period” (5th – 8th centuries) was a time of ‘classical’ inculturation too. It was a period of liturgical creativity with original composition of liturgical texts for the people of the time. The Popes like Gelasius, Leo the Great and Gregory the Great have contributed their insights for its growth. In the 8th century, as the Church spread to Franco-Germanic world, it underwent another type of liturgical inculturation.  Liturgy was transformed from its Roman simplicity and sobriety to a charming, dramatic and colourful one to suit the temperament of the Franco-Germanic people.

The first half of the first millennium was a period of intense inculturation in liturgy. Some examples will clarify this point.[19]

  • Though Christianity was in close relationship with the Jewish religious tradition, when it required the liturgical vestments the West adopted the festive attire of the Greco-Roman world and the East that of the Byzantine Empire.
  • From the Jews she inherited the Bema – a platform for reading from the Torah – for the proclamation from the Bible.
  • The morning and evening holocaust of the Jews appears in the form of morning and evening prayers in the Christian tradition.
  • The language used in the liturgy was the language of the people.
  • The apophatic (negative –  Neti, neti of the Indian tradition) approach towards God’s name (YHWH: I am who am) without a positive affirmation is adopted from the Jewish understanding of God as IN-visible, IN-comprehensible, IN-expressible, UN-fathomable etc.
  • The Christian litanic prayers are an imitation of the Roman manner of prayers.
  • The liturgical gestures like kissing the altar, the prostrations, the use of incense and the candles, etc are taken from the non-Christian practice.
  • The prayer turning to the East has its roots in the Sun-cult of the pagans.
  • The Christian tradition of fasting on Wednesday and Friday was influenced by the Tuesday and Thursday fasts of the Jews.
  • The pre-Christian mystery cults have influenced the Christian practice of exorcism, the imposition of hands and the anointing.
  • The architecture of the ancient churches followed that of the Roman basilicas’.
  • The “May they rest in peace” (R.I.P) in the funeral rites has its origin in the pre-Christian Roman funeral acclamation.
  • The feast of Transfiguration on 6th August is related to the Jewish commemoration of Moses’ transfiguration on Mount Sinai.
  • The feast of Epiphany on 6th January recalls another ‘epiphany’ (manifestation) of a ruler to a province of his kingdom.
  • The feast of Christmas on 25th December is inspired by the birth of the Invincible Sun-god.
  • The feast of the “Cathedra” of St. Peter is in imitation of the anniversary of the Roman emperor’s assumption of office.
  • The feast of martyrs, saints, etc originated from the pre-Christian practice of venerating the tombs of the dead.

In the later period of the Church too we have luminous examples of inculturation. The history of the St. Thomas Christians of India before the 16th century is a classical example of how the Christians could find themselves completely at home in the Indian culture. In their social and religious practices, and worshipping customs they were very much like their non-Christian neighbours.[20]

The Chinese experimentation of Matteo Ricci (1552-1610) with the cult of the familial dead that was administered with prostrations, the burning of incense and the offering of food at their tombs was condemned as superstitious practices. Roberto Nobili’s (1577-1656) attempts with Indian culture were frowned upon by his confreres, and later they had to be abandoned. Even during this period, we come across some silver lining by way of official sanction in favour of liturgical inculturation. Thus in 1615 Pope Paul V allowed the Chinese to use the Chinese language in the liturgy though this permission was withdrawn in 1661 due to the objections of the missionaries themselves. In 1659 Propaganda Fide wrote a letter asking the missionaries not to make attempts to persuade the people of the mission lands to change their rites, customs and ways, provided they are not very manifestly contrary to religion and morals.[21]

  1. Challenges of Inculturation

 One of the notable limitations of liturgical inculturation is the non-permanent nature of culture. Given culture’s susceptibility to change, the product of any attempt at inculturation is bound to be an unstable mixture. Therefore at no time can we have a complete and perfectly inculturated liturgy. It is a continuous search and a constant struggle. Only a genuine local Church can cope with the ever new demands of the changing culture.

All religions carry with them some cultural expression. Christianity, for example, has many semitic elements. For some people these cultural expressions are part and parcel of their religion, and any change in them is considered a threat to their religious experience. In other words, the cultural expressions are equated with religion itself. This is nothing short of religious fundamentalism.

In the process of liturgical inculturation a crucial factor should be borne in mind. Faith transcends all cultures. Faith in Christ can even purify and transform cultures. Therefore some hold that the duty of the Christian faith is to purify the cultures and make them ‘Christian’. As a matter of fact, culture is not good or bad, holy or sinful. Human choices make them bad or sinful. In this perspective, the Christian inculturation can also mean a purification of the sinful culture through the intervention of the Christian faith. At the same time, we should also remember that the mysteries we celebrate in the liturgy transcend all cultures though the expressions of the mysteries and the people’s response to it in the liturgy are culturally conditioned. Here the role of culture in relation to worship needs to be properly understood. “Christian worship should not end up being a mere ingredient of the local culture, nor should culture be reduced to an ancillary role. The process of interaction and mutual assimilation brings progress to both; it does not cause mutual extinction”.[22]


Pope Paul VI once warned that evangelization would lose much of its force and effectiveness “if it does not take into consideration the actual people to whom it is addressed, if it does not use their language, their signs and symbols, if it does not answer the questions they ask, and if it does not have an impact on their concrete life”.[23] Among them the signs and symbols employed in the liturgy are of great relevance because “the religious symbols have the power to render the real more real. They induce faith, conviction, commitment because they act upon the creative power of the human intellect and galvanize the will towards action… No religion can exercise this power if its symbols are not inseparable from those of culture”.[24]

However, we need to make a distinction between inculturation and ‘culturalism’. A religion, when it assumes various external forms by way of inculturation, should not lose its essential identity. If it loses its identity, it is no more inculturation, but ‘culturalism’, that is, absolutization of culture. Besides, the Christian religion cannot take cultural symbols of a place if they are inseparably associated with the religious faith of another religion.

There is the need to evolve a liturgy which speaks for itself, and which requires not much commentary. Therefore, clerically inspired and clerically managed inculturation is likely to fail. Inculturation is a way of life. It is an on-going search. Failures are possible. But they should not deter us from continuing our search. As Pope Benedict XVI rightly remarks, the abuses that have occurred in the process of inculturation  should not “detract from this clear principle , which must be upheld in accordance with the real needs of the Church as she lives and celebrates the one mystery of Christ in a variety of cultural situations”.[25]


[1] Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, SC 38

[2] L’Osservatore Romano, 28 June 1982, p.1-8

[3] Jacob Manathodath, Culture, Dialogue and the Church, Intercultural Publication, New Delhi 1990, p.141.

[4] J.Manathodath, Culture, Dialogue and the Church, p.139

[5] Paul Puthanangady, Challenges of Cultures and Religions in Asia to Christian Liturgy, in Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conference – Office of Education and Student Chaplaincy, Asian Worship in Spirit and Truth, Madras 1995, p.11

[6] “Inculturation: How to Proceed in a Pastoral Context”, Concilium 2(1994) 120-133. Here p.122

[7] “Inculturation: How to Proceed in a Pastoral Context”, p.122-129

[8] D.S.Amalorpavadass, Inculturation is not Hinduisation but Christianization, NBCLC Bangalore 1981, p.7

[9] FABC-OESC, Asian Worship in Spirit and Truth, p.201-202

[10] Aylward Shorter, Toward a Theology of Inculturation, Geoffrey Chapman  London 1988, p.11

[11] Toward a Theology of Inculturation, p.11-13

[12] Abscar Chupungco, Liturgical Inculturation: Sacramentals, Religiosity and Catechesis, The Liturgical Press Collegeville:MN 1992, p.30

[13] P.Puthanangady, Challenges of Cultures and Religions in Asia to Christian Liturgy, p.4

[14] A.Chupungco, Liturgical Inculturaion: Sacramentality, Religiosity and Catechesis, p.37-51

[15] SC 23, OE 2. Antony Nariculam, The Holy See, The Syro-Malabar Bishops’ Conference and the Syro-Malabar Bishops’ Synod on the Inculturation of the Syro-Malabar Liturgy: A Study, in Bosco Puthur (ed.), Inculturation and the Syro-Malabar Church, LRC Publications Kochi 2005, p.66-68

[16] D.S. Amalorpavadass, Gospel and Culture, NBCLC Bangalore 1978, p.22

[17] Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi (1975) 62

[18] Evangelii Nuntiandi, 63

[19] Julian Saldanha, Inculturation, St.Paul Publication Bombay 1985, p.25-28

[20] For details see Antony Nariculam, “Evagelization and Inculturation Eastern Church’s Perspective”, Ishvani Documentation and Mission Digest, January-April 2000, p.95-108

[21] Referred to in Cyprian Illickamuri, Inculturation and Liturgy, in Antony Nariculam (ed.), Inculturation and Liturgy, Star Publications  Alwaye 1992, p.85

[22] A.Chupungco, Liturgical Inculturation: Sacramentals, Religiosity and Catechesis, p.29

[23] Evangelii Nuntiandi, 63

[24] A.Shorter, Toward a Theology of Inculturation, p.41

[25] Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis (2007) 54

Deepening Inculturation

 Deepening Inculturation

 Dr Vincent Kundukulam

Dr Vincent Kundukulam

 Dr Vincent Kundukulam



            Since the Second Vatican Council the theologians spoke much about the necessity of transmitting the gospel values in the indigenous cultures. Various local Churches in Africa Asia and Latin America took initiatives to develop Christian practices proper to their cultures. This interaction of the Christian message with the local cultures gave birth not only to adapted liturgies but also to diverged forms of theologies like liberation theology, theology of dialogue, etc. which sowed certain confusion in the Church. There was a feeling that individual Churches are moving away from the old traditions of the catholic Church. As a result certain precautions are taken by the Church to make sure that the efforts of inculturation do not risk the faith and unity of the universal Church. Unfortunately, today many individual Churches left aside the efforts to reinterpret the gospel message in their religious cultures and are content with adopting a few local external customs in the liturgy. The objective of this article is to show that inculturation is to be done not merely at superficial realms of indigenous cultures but also at religious aspects. The meaning of inculturation, its relation with the mystery of incarnation, the process of inculturation and the intrinsic connection that exists between the culture and religion proves the pertinence of such an argument.


1. Meaning of Inculturation

Origin: We don’t know the exact date of the first apparition of the term inculturation[1].  It seems that it was Fr. Pedro Arrupe, the Superior General of Jesuits, who first used this term during the thirty-second general assembly of their Congregation, which took place in Rome from 1st December 1974 to 7th April 1975[2]. The first Assembly of Federation of Asian Bishops Conference (F.A.B.C) organised at Taipei between 22nd to 27th April 1976 had also spoken about an indigenous and inculturated church[3]. This word first appeared in the official text of the Catholic Church during the Synod of Bishops in 1977. John Paul II officially pronounced this word during his allocation addressed to the members of Pontifical Biblical Commission on 26th April 1979. In his speech, he placed inculturation at the centre of the Mystery of incarnation[4]. Since then during his various visits in different countries and in his official documents Pope speaks about inculturation as a constitutive element of evangelisation. We can better understand the significance of inculturation if we compare it with other notions like adaptation, accommodation, localisation, indigenisation, contextualisation, acculturation and enculturation which are often employed in missiology to explain the new rapport established between the Church and different cultures.

Adaptation, accommodation and localisation: The initiative for adaptation was existing in the Church from the very beginning of her mission. It was more prevalent from 16th century when the European missionaries began to go in the Far East countries. It denotes the efforts taken by the missionaries on the one hand to adapt to the local customs in dress, lodging and food and on the other hand to present the Bible in an intelligible and understandable way for the non-Christians. In this sense the accommodation and localisation signify the same reality of adaptation. But inculturation is distinct from them in two aspects: a) Adaptation is essentially the work of missionary while inculturation is the result of the efforts taken by the members of the local Church to receive the Christian message in their culture. b) Adaptation limits itself to external aspects of the culture while inculturation is a process in which the Church makes of gospel new expressions and interpretations in a given culture[5].

Indigenisation and contextualisation The missiologists do not prefer to use the term Indigenisation to designate the transmission of the gospel in a particular culture because the term Indigenous designate those people who lived in ancient colonised countries. It revives the memory of colonial culture. As regards the term contextualisation, in its original usage, refers to the theological formation in the non-accidental countries. Later, it was utilised for explaining the various aspects of life and the mission of the church[6]. The benefit of this term is that it evokes the sum total of cultural political social and religious situations in which the Bible must be inculturated and by the same fact it represents well the object of inculturation. But the disadvantage of this term is that it does not represent well the theological dimension i.e., the encounter of gospel with human situations.

Acculturation:  This term is employed in sociology to evoke what one designated by inculturation in theology. Since thirty years, the missiologists use it to explain the relation between the Church and various cultures. Acculturation stands for that process by which one person moves from one culture to another with the consequence of changing the modes of his original culture. It is a historical process in the sense that the individuals and the groups do not stop modifying their cultural traditions by the contact of other people and other cultures[7]. But since this term is of sociology, the theologians prefer to use the word inculturation, which belongs properly to the theology.

Enculturation: This term also has its origin in sociology to indicate the process by which an individual is initiated and grown up in his culture, the first act of socialisation[8]. What distinguishes enculturation from inculturation is that the former is concerned about the insertion of an individual in a particular culture while the latter points to the process by which Church becomes a part of the culture of the people. Again, in the case of former, the child does not have a-prioi the culture while in the case of latter, the Church is already deep-rooted in a particular culture[9]. The above explanations helped us to see the differences between inculturation and other concepts, which describes the relationship between the Church and the culture in missiology. Now we have to study the significance of the term inculturation in a positive way.

            Fr. Arrupe used the term inculturation for the first time in his letter to the Jesuits written on 14th May 1978 defining it as follows: “Inculturation is the incarnation of Christian life and of the Christian message in a particular cultural context, in such a way that this experience not only finds expression through elements proper to the culture in question (this alone would be no more than a superficial adaptation), but becomes a principle that animates, directs and unifies the culture, transforming and remaking it so to bring about a new creation”. Then Arrupe gives the following explanation: “In every case, this Christian experience is that of the People of God, that lives in a definite cultural space and has assimilated the traditional values of its own culture, but is open to other cultures. In other words, it is the experience of a local Church which, accepting the past with discernment, constructs the future with its present resources”[10]. The FABC at Taipei in 1976 used the term inculturation when it defined the local Church: “The local Church is Church incarnate in a people, a Church indigenous and inculturated[11]. Pope John Paul II in his first utilisation of this term, he connects it with the mystery of incarnation: ‘the term inculturation is perhaps a neologism, but it expresses very well one of the components of the great mystery of incarnation’[12].

            The above explanations make clear that inculturation is more than adaptation. The gospel must be inculturated in the cultural political social and religious situations of the indigenous communities. Let us now contemplate on the inseparable link that exists between inculturation and mystery of incarnation, which will convince us of the need of giving flesh to the Word even at religious level.

2. Inculturation – Incarnation

            The heart of mystery of incarnation is the fact that the ‘word is made flesh’. (Jn.1:14)  God has taken the contingent form of humanity. The ultimate divinity has been incarnated in a man called Jesus. The connection between incarnation and inculturation consists in the fact that the latter follows the same logic of the former. In the process of inculturation, Gospel becomes a concrete word for the people. It takes a new expression and at the same time it enriches the culture. The advantage of comparing inculturation to the incarnation, as Claude Geffre says, is that there will be evangelisation only if the gospel is presented in a particular culture as the fullness of revelation of God in a man can take place only if he is incarnated in a particular and concrete man called Jesus of Nazareth.  Another advantage is that we can show the incorruptible nature of the word of God. Gospel does not lose its identity even though it is realised in different cultures, as the transcendence of God is not compromised in the incarnation[13].

            St. Paul presents the mystery of incarnation as a real denouncement  (kenosis) of God (Phil.2:6,7), a mystery according to which God accepted to incarnate as one of the member of a particular group (Jews) in order to open the way of universal salvation. The process of inculturation contains also this aspect of kenosis. The four gospels, even though they are inseparably linked with the cultures of their times, in order that they become a ferment in a particular context of today, they must be detached of the cultural contingencies of their time. The Indian theologians are really convinced that inculturation will take place only when there is kenosis of the word of God: “ To become a Christian is to become incarnated: to become a seed, to die, to be reborn in the cultural roots. There must be a fundamental transformation in our attitudes. We are born here and we must be harmonised to the vibrations, to the rhythms and to the music of Indian culture.”[14]

            R. Jaouen gives the example of a seed to speak about inculturation. As soon as the seed is fallen on the earth, it begins to work slowly and invisibly. The sower does not know how the seed sprouts and grows. The same way, the missionary sows the Word but the result is produced without him. Everything happens as a mysterious action that takes place between gospel and culture where the missionary remains as a useless servant. This reference to the symbol of seed helps us to understand the gist of inculturation: The principal actor of inculturation, as in incarnation, is not man but Jesus Christ himself who germinate his church in each man where he is preached. In other words inculturation is not the product of a human project. It is not the result of an encounter between two human cultures. But it is a divine project realised due to the encounter of Gospel with a particular culture. Jesus Christ is the Word proclaimed by the predicator and the Word received by a culture[15].

            As incarnation, inculturation is also an evangelising act. Amalorpavadass mention the missionary connection that exists between the process of incarnation and that of inculturation. According to him by incarnation, Christ has assumed in his humanity the whole creation and by the death and resurrection, he has recapitulated it in him. The church is called to continue the mission of recapitulation of everything in Christ of which inculturation is the accessible means for the church. If the church does not follow the same channel of incarnation done by Christ, she cannot fulfil her mission[16]. We listen to the same idea in the mouth of a bishop working in a missionary region of Kerala: “The incarnation of Christ is mission to be lived continually and everything that is good in different cultures must be assumed in his humanity[17]. Puthanangady affirms this dimension of inculturation saying that it does not mean simply the encounter of gospel with a culture in view of making a pertinent and adequate formulation of Gospel but it is the way in which God encounters the humanity in need of salvation[18]. In short, inculturation is a fundamental exigency for the church which is missionary among the diverse cultures of the world.

            Even though there are common elements between these two concepts, we cannot for the same reason exchange them mutually since the mystery of incarnation is absolutely unique. The incarnation has taken place only once for all while inculturation has to be realised many times everywhere in the world. Another important element which distinguishes inculturation from incarnation is that the latter evoke the relation between one person, Jesus Christ and a Jewish Aramanic culture while the former suppose a relation between a religion, Christianity which has already assimilated the elements of particular cultures and an another culture[19].

            This study on the relationship between the mystery of incarnation and inculturation shows the necessity of realising the process of inculturation even in religious level. We have seen that by incarnation, God has not taken shape only in the superficial aspects of humanity but in all the dimensions of man’s life. If the inculturation has to follow the same logic of incarnation, we cannot be content with an adaptation of the Church in Indian culture. We have also seen that incarnation was an act of evangelisation. Jesus has recapitulated the whole humanity in God. In order that the inculturation becomes an act of evangelisation, the gospel must assimilate and transform the profound aspects of human person including his religious culture. The study on the double movement of inculturation will clarify such a necessity in a better way.

3. The double movement of inculturation

            Inculturation is an encounter of the gospel with the culture. In this encounter, the two partners transform by the grace of their dialogical rapport. As the local culture is transformed by the gospel, the gospel is renewed by the culture. John Paul II in his encyclical Slavorum Apostolii published in 1985 during the 11th Centenary of the evangelising works done by Saints Cyril and Methode mentions this double face of inculturation: In the work of evangelisation that they undertake in the territories of Slav, one finds  a model which we call today inculturation: The incarnation of gospel in the native cultures and at the same time the presentation of the cultures in the life of the Church.[20]

3.1 The inculturation of the Gospel

            It designates today the process by which the gospel takes shape in the local culture of our time as the four gospels were formed in the early Christianity. The four gospels witness the possible cultural variants of the translation of the word of God. For e.g. in the discourse on love of enemies, when Matthew speaks to Jews, he uses the term- gentiles. (Do not even the gentiles do the same? Mt 5: 47) On the other hand, Luke uses another expression, sinners, while addressing to the Gentiles:  (For even sinners do the same; Lk 6:33) Thus the evangelists do not reproduce the exact words of Jesus, but translates the thoughts of Jesus in the cultural patterns of his addressee.[21] The objective of inculturation is, as says Peelman, to write a fifth gospel.[22]

   What does this expression mean? Should we try to write a gospel for India another for Brazil and a third one for Cameroon? I would never say that the gospel must be radically transformed. Anyway, by inculturation we would not be able to produce texts equivalent to the four gospels, which are part of the Canon of the church. The four gospels due to their proximity with Christ and the apostles are unique and they cannot be reproduced in any place. But at the same time, the process of inculturation of the Gospels implies that if the gospel takes root deeply in a culture of a particular people today, the latter will receive gospel in a quite different manner than the first Christian communities. The fact that the words of Christ are read and re-interpreted in a pertinent way for a particular people will bring a certain novelty in the very understanding of gospel. These new elements cannot be reduced to simple adaptations or applications of the word of God because they modify the very understanding of Christ, Church and her mission in the world. Inculturation is the renewal or the updating of the good news without losing its unique message. In realising such a task, the Spirit of Christ incorporates into the Church the new fruits of the kenosis of the word of God.

   In the process of inculturation, even though the principle agent is the Spirit of Christ, it is the missionary who acts in his name. When the Word of God is sown on the earth, it is the missionary who represents the presence of the church in that place. What is the role of missionary in the inculturation of gospel? First of all, let us remember that like gospel, the missionary is never culturally pure. Take the case of a Indian missionary in Africa. He is profoundly conditioned on the one hand by the Hindu culture and on the other hand by a Indian catholic culture. The gospel, which he announces, is in determined by the specific cultural paradigms of India that he lived during the course of centuries.  As says Jaouen, the cultural and religious affinity of a missionary compels him to create certain apriori cultural ethnocentrism. In order that his personal cultural roots do not become an obstacle in the encounter between the gospel and the local community, he has to put in dialectical contact his original culture and the new culture in which he is sent. In any way he has to avoid the risk of imposing the ecclesiastical culture proper to him upon the local Church. The missionary must act in such a way that the indigenous Christian community respond in an authentic manner to the gospel. On the contrary, if the missionary tries to implant his own Church, he imposes there a response, which is already made by his Church a few centuries ago. It has nothing to do with the local culture of Africa. The missionary must wait patiently so that the encounter between the gospel and the indigenous culture give shape to a new Church, which is the improvisible creation of Holy Spirit.[23]

   But in this process, the preacher should not also forget the risk of reducing the Christian message to the local culture because it will make Christ and his gospel to merely a human wisdom. St. Paul had averted the Christian communities of his time about such a danger. “For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin” (Gal.1, 11) “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ“”(Col. 2, 8) It is therefore Evangelii Nuntiandi after having indicated the necessity of inculturation of the gospel says: “But on the other hand evangelisation risk losing its power and disappearing altogether if one empties or adulterates its content under the pretext of translating it; if, in other words, one sacrifices this reality and destroys the unity without which there is no universality, out of a wish to adapt a universal reality to a local situation. Now, only a Church which preserves the awareness of her universality and shows that she is in fact universal is capable of having a message which can be heard by all, regardless of regional frontiers”. (EN 63) Bishop Poupard has reason to say that any effort to make cultural assimilation in a totalitarian manner, will end up in the very refusal of Christianity. In her concern to reach man in his modern culture, the Church cannot at the same time allow to be perished. She has to bring leaven to the local culture.[24]  Such an observation leads us to speak about the evangelisation of cultures, the other face of inculturation.

3.2 Evangelisation of cultures

   It means to criticise those elements in the local culture, which contradict the spirit of the gospels and to transform it by creating a new culture, which is in harmony with the gospel. The document Gaudium et Spes stresses this aspect of transformation of the culture when it speaks of the evangelisation. “Good news of Christ continually renews the life and culture of fallen man; it combats and removes the error and the evil which flow from the ever present attraction of sin. It never ceases to purify and elevate the morality of people. It takes the spiritual qualities and endowments of every age and nation, and with supernatural riches, it causes them to blossom as it were, from within; it fortifies, completes and restores them in Christ” (G.S. 58, 4) The Evangelii Nuntiandi explain like this: “For the Church, evangelising means bringing the Good News into all the strata of humanity, and through its influence transforming humanity from within and making it new  … the Church evangelises when she seeks to convert, solely through the divine power of the message she proclaims, both the personal and collective consciences of people, the activities in which they engage, and the lives and concrete milieu which are theirs.” (EN 18) The question that we have to ask here is this: why and how the gospel is capable of transforming the cultures?

   We can find the answer in the creative power of the Word of God. As we have said earlier, it is Christ himself, who is the word preached and the missionary. The good news that Christ is made man, died and resurrected is too strange that it provokes in the mind of the listener a rupture with his original culture. It results in the change of the person and the reception of the gospel.[25] According to Puthanangady, the word of God is a critical word and so it is liberating. If Church allows the gospel to play its critical role, it will bring in the conversion of oppressors and the liberation of the oppressed.[26] Those who receive the gospel message like Saccheus (Lk.1:19), says Amaladoss, change their representations of God, of the world and  of the other, of  the material things, etc. Thus a new culture is born in the society.[27]

   Those who are actively participating in the activities of the Church are aware of the transforming aspect of inculturation: “The inculturation includes also the process of questioning the Hindu cultural practices which are not in harmony with the gospel message. We have to accept what is coherent with the spirit of gospel and refuse which do not[28]. “The church must assimilate the concepts of Hindu culture but at the same time, she has to re-interpret them in order that they become capable of carrying evangelical sense. The Christians must purify and evangelise the cultures and if nessary, they have to formulate a new one.[29]” The process of evangelisation of cultures finishes only when the gospel exercises its critical function and contributes to the creation of new evangelical cultures. It is not sufficient that the anti-gospel and the anti human values are denounced. We must detect the spiritual aspirations hidden deep inside the minds of the people, which may enlighten in a better way the gospel message and thus create a new gospel culture.

   But this evangelisation of the culture must be lead without destroying the prestigious indigenous culture, which may appear to the missionaries eyes as non evangelical due to his estrangement to the local culture. The directives given by the Congregation for the Propagation of Faith to the first missionaries of Asia in 17th century had already evoked the necessity of being prudent vis-à-vis the local cultures: “Don’t make any tentative to persuade the people to change their customs, way of life and daily practices, when they are not contrary to the morals and religious life. It is absurd to transport to China what is lived in France, Spain and Italy or in other parts of Europe. Don’t bring them at all, but only faith which does neither reject nor offend the way of life and the usage of the people when they are not bad. On the contrary, the faith may conserve and protect those morals and ideas.”[30] Even then, these instructions do not come from the urge for the inculturation of the gospel, as we understand it today. Rather it shows the desire to be successful in the conversion of gentiles.

   But in our time, Pope John Paul II in his address to the Australian aborigines on 29th November said: “Your culture, which witness the permanent genius and the dignity of your race, should not be disappeared. Don’t believe that your talents are not of great value that you need not preserve them no more. Share them among you and transmit them to your children; your songs, your stories, your paintings, your dances, your language…They should never be lost.”[31]  The objective of all these official declarations of the church is the same: We should not confuse the values, the cultures and the way of life in Europe or in Mediterranean world with the substantial and essential message of the gospel. The missionary Church is neither Christ nor the Kingdom of God Her mission is to witness Christ and to dispose herself at the service of the Kingdom as the sign and sacrament of God. Such a conviction will allow the preachers to make gospel a leaven in the inside of each culture.[32] Finish this treatise with the description of inculturation proposed by Crollius who resumed the double movement in inculturation as follows: “Inculturation of the Church is the integration of the Christian experience of a local Church into the culture of its people, in such a way that this experience not only expresses itself in elements of this culture, but becomes a force that animates, orients and innovates this culture so as to create a new unity and communion, not only within the culture in question but also as an enrichment of the Church universal”.[33]

            The above study shows that if the inculturation is made only in the exterior aspects and if we remain foreign to the profound dimensions of Christian life that is not the spirit of the theology of inculturation. A serious approach to inculturation demands that the Gospel penetrate even in the religious cultures of a locality in order to transform them and recapitulate them in Christ. In this mission, Church cannot leave aside the non-Christian religious traditions, which guide the half of human population. As says Claude Geffre, all the existing values and ideas must undergo a metamorphosis and a new synthesis of which the Christian message is the catalysing factor. Thus re-actualising the fundamental Christian experience in new historical forms, the Church will become really universal.[34] To achieve this objective, as bishop Zoa of Cameroon says, ‘It will not be sufficient to put together the rituals of some religions or cultures. The word of God must take flesh in the economic, political and social situations of the local people. One must be able to say as the Samarians told to the Samaritan woman converted by Jesus. “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe. For we have heard for ourselves and we know that this is truly the saviour of the World” (Jn 4:42)’[35].

   Evangelii Nuntiandi reminds that the gospel message must be be inculturated not merely in a decorative way as it were by applying a thin veneer, but in a vital way, in depth and right to their roots. (EN 20) During the encounter with the Pontifical Council for the Culture, on 13 January 1986, Pope John Paul II referred to the work done by the Synod of Bishops and affirmed it clearly: ‘Inculturation is another thing than mere simple exterior adaptation. It signifies a deep transformation of the authentic cultural values by the integration into Christianity and the deepening of Christianity in the different human cultures’[36]. If this is the very objective of inculturation, we cannot be satisfied with adaptations in the superficial level.

4. Culture and religion

   The concept of culture can be studied from different angles. There is the classical understanding of the culture according to which it is the sum total of refined habits that are practised by the dominant classes. The modern anthropologists prefer a more open definition of the culture. Among many definitions, I would like that of Edward Tylor and Clifford Geertz: “Culture is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, customs and any other capabilities or habits acquired by man as a member of society[37]. “Culture is a system of inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic forms by means of which human beings communicate perpetuate and develop their knowledge about and their attitudes towards life”[38].

   The description of the culture given by Gaudium et Spes is in coherence with the modern anthropological vision: “The word culture in the general sense refers to all those things which go to the refining and developing of man’s diverse mental and physical endowments. He strives to subdue the earth by his knowledge and his labor: he humanises social life both in the family and in the whole civic community through the improvement of customs and institutions; he expresses through his works the great spiritual experiences and aspirations of man through out the ages; he communicates and preserves them to be an inspiration for the progress of many even of all mankind.” (G.S. 53:2) These definitions show that the term culture is to be understood in its largest sense: the integral vision of the life which is developed from not only social but also religious heritage of people through the history in a determined context.

   The relation between the culture and the gospel brings into our focus the inevitable place of religious factor in the processes of inculturation. With regard to the message of salvation, gospel is distinct from diverse cultures and still there cannot be total separation between gospel and culture. Gaudium et Spes says that God revealed himself to his people until the coming of his son through different cultures of the time.(G.S. 58) For the same reason in every culture we can find some sort of preparation to receive the gospel message. (G.S.57) Evangelii Nuntiandi affirms also the connection between culture and gospel: The Gospel, and therefore evangelisation, is certainly not identical with culture, and they are independent in regard to all cultures. Nevertheless, the Kingdom, which the Gospel proclaims, is lived by men who are profoundly linked to a culture, and the building up of the kingdom can not avoid borrowing the elements of human culture or cultures. (E.N. 20) As Cardinal Poupard says if Bible had been completely separated from the culture, it could not have the capacity to transform, to purify, to elevate, to strengthen, to perfect and to renovate the cultures as it does since 2000 years[39].

            There exists a reciprocal interaction between culture and religion in almost every countries. Religion is often the secret motor of every culture. So any attempt to get involved in a culture will necessarily lead to the involvement in their religious sphere. Perhaps what keeps away the missionaries from the religious inculturation is the fear of losing the Christian identity. Some think that by adopting some Hindu symbols, the Christians will be ‘Hindusised’. This fear is understandable because the co-habitation of the symbols belonging to different religious languages may cause syncretism. But the universal character of symbolic language shows that such a fear is baseless. As Michel Meslin says, ‘The symbol reveals a logic of correspondence: Above the immediate signification, there will be a second meaning which surpasses the material reality and make possible a mediation between man and his world. The efficient symbol speaks to man at a cosmic and social level. The symbols exist in and through the signification given by human individuals.’[40] If it is the human interpretation that gives sense to a symbol and if the symbols have the capacity to represent the ideas in a universal realm, I think that the Christianity can re-interpret the Hindu religious symbols without committing the mistake of syncretism.


            The inculturation is an inter-religious encounter. The particular culture that the gospel meets is not devoid of religious elements. The culture is transporting the human aspirations about transcendental realities and it is very difficult to separate the religious elements from the culture even in those countries which are very much secular. Much more difficult in countries like India where the daily life is some way or other related with a event in Scriptures which are numerous. So Indian Church has to take a renewed interest in reading and interpreting the word of God in the diverse religious cultures of this land. This is part and parcel of her mission to transform the Indian society from within. Only when the she fulfils this task she will be really Indian and Catholic.

                                                                                                Vincent Kundukulam

                                                                        Mangalapuzha, Aluva, January 2000

[1] For the details see A.A.R.Crollius, ‘What is so new about Inculturation? A concept and its implications’ , Gregorianum, Vol 59 n.3. 1978, pp. 721-738 : M. Sales, ‘Le christianisme, la culture et les cultures, Axes XIII – 1-2, 1980, pp.3-40: J. Masson, L’ Eglise, Ouverte sur le monde,  Nouvelle Revue Theologique, Vol 84, 1962, p.1038.

[2] Cf. P. Arupe, Fr.P Arupe’s letter on Inculturation to the whole society of Jesus,  Indian Missiological Review, January 1979, p.87.

3 Cf. G.B. Rossalez and C.G. Arevalo (eds), For All The Peoples Of Asia : Federation Of Asian Bishops Conference Documents From 1970-1991 , Clarition Publication, Quenzon City, 1992, p. 14

[4] John Paul II, Allocution a la Commission  biblique Pontificale: L’insertion culturelle de la Revelation, Documentation catholique, no: 776, 1979, p. 455

[5] Cf. N. Standaert, L’histoire d’un neologisme, Nouvelle revue theologique, no: 111, 1988, pp. 556-557.

[6] Cf. A.A.R. Crollius, What is so new about Inculturation? op.cit., p.723.

[7] Cf. A. Shorter, Toward a Theology of Inculturation, Orbis, New York, 1994, p.7.

[8] Ibid., p.5.

[9] Cf. A.A.R. Crollius, What is so new about Inculturation? op.cit., pp. 726-727

[10] P. Arupe, Fr.P Arupe’s letter on Inculturation to the whole society of Jesus,  op.cit., pp.87-88

[11] G.B. Rossalez and C.G. Arevalo (eds), For All The Peoples Of Asia, op.cit., p. 14

[12] John Paul II, Allocution a la Commission  biblique, op.cit., p. 455

[13] Cf. C. Geffre, Mission et inculturation, Spiritus, vol. 28, no: 109, 1987, p. 412

[14] Interview with Albert Nambiaparambil at Delhi.

[15] Cf. R. Jaouen, Les conditions d’une inculturation fiable, Observations d’un missionnaire au Cameroun, Lumiere et Vie, vol. 33, no: 168, 1984, pp. 29. 35-38.

[16] Cf. D.S. Amalorpavadass, Theological Reflections on Inculturation, Indian Theological Studies, vol. 27, no: ¾, 1990, pp. 234-240.

[17] Interview with Bp. Zoosai Pakiam at Trivandrum, Kerala.

[18] Cf. P. Puthanangady, Which Culture for Inculturation: The Dominant or the Popular, East Asian Pastoral Review, vol. 30, no: ¾, 1993, p.301.

[19] Cf. N. Standaret, L’histoire d’un neologism, op.cit., pp. 561-562.

[20] Jean Paul II, Homelie pour le jubile des saints Cyrille et Methode, le 14 fevrier 1985, La Documentation catholique, no: 1893, 1985, p. 308.

[21] Cf. S. Anand, The Local Church and Inculturation, Ishvani Kendra, Pune, 1985, pp. 34-36.

[22] Cf. A. Peelman, L’inculturation: L’Eglise et les cultures, Desclee, Paris, 1989, pp. 91-92.

[23] Cf. R. Jaouen, Les conditions d’une inculturation fiable, op.cit., pp. 34-37

[24] Cf. P. Poupard, L’Eglise au defi des cultures: Inculturation et Evangelisation, Desclee, Paris, 1989, p.44.

[25] Cf. N. Standaret, L’histoire d’un neologism, op.cit., p. 563.

[26] Cf. P. Puthanangady. Which culture for Inculturation: The dominant or the popular ?, East Asian Patoral Review, vol. 30, no: ¾, 1993, p. 302

[27] Cf. A. Amaladoss, Inculturation and Intentionality, East Asian Pastoral Review, vol. 29, no:3,1992,p.240

[28] Interview with Paul Thelakkatt, editor of Satyadeepam weekly at Ernakulam, Kerala.

[29] Interview with Francis Kodenkandath, Diocesian Pastoral Council member of Thrissur, Kerala.

[30] Alexandre VII, Instructions a l’usage des Vicaires Apostoliques en partenance pour les Royaumes chinois de Tonkin et de Cochinchine, Collectanea SC Propaganda Fide, 1, p. 42, no: 35

[31] Jean Paul II, Voici pour vous l’heure d’une novelle naissance: Discours aux aborigenes a Alice Springs, La Documentation Catholique, no: 1932, 18 janvier 1987, p. 61

[32] Cf. A. Peelman, L’inculturation: L’Eglise at les cultures, op.cit., pp. 78-85

[33] [33] Cf. A.A.R. Crollius, What is so new about Inculturation? op.cit., p.735.

[34] Cf. C. Geffre, Mission et inculturation, Spiritus, vol. 28, no: 109, 1987, pp. 418.420.

[35] From the homily which was made at Notre Dame de Lorette in Paris on 10 December 1995.

[36] Jean Paul II, Un temps nouveau de la culture humaine, La Documentation Catholique, no: 1912, 16 fevrier 1986, p. 191.

[37] E.B. Tylor, Primitive culture: Researches in to the development of Mythology, Philosophy, Religion, Art, Custom, vol.1, Peter Smith, Gloucester, 1871, p.1.

[38] C. Geertz The Interpretation of Cultures, New York, 1975, p. 89.

[39] Cf. P. Poupard, L’Eglise au defi des cultures, op.cit, p. 27.

[40] Cf. M.Meslin, L’experience humaine du divin, Cerf, Paris, 1988, pp. 197-201.