Chaldean Liturgy – Lecture 4

Lecture 4




(Wednesday, September 27, 2006; St. Peter Cathedral, El Cajon, California)



I. Historic Review of the Instructional Section       

The Chaldean rite is very close to the Scriptures.  The Eucharistic celebration, in particular, is based, for its Instructional segment, on the encounter of the Risen Lord with the two disciples in their journey to Emmaus, as described in Luke 24:13-35.  Therefore, in the solemn celebration, two readings are provided “from Moses and the Prophets,” respectively, followed by two readings from the New Testament: one of these being the exposition and interpretation of God’s word as found in the writings of the Apostles, especially Paul, then the other one the exposition of Christ’s words and actions as reported in the Gospels.  For the ferial celebration, the two readings of the New Testament only are presented to the faithful.


After the homily on solemnities, the Supplication (Ba’utha) is presented, in accordance with the request of Paul  in the First Letter to Timothy: “First of all, then, I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings, be offered for everyone, for kings and for all in authority, that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity.  This is good and pleasing to God our savior.” (1 Tim 2:1-3).


Around this scripturally guided structure, pertaining liturgical elements have been developed through the centuries, including glorifications and psalmody, hymns and ‘Onyatha, diaconal salutations and priestly prayers.  The passage from the informal ambiance of a house celebration to a church building ceremonial required the composition and arrangement of many of the processional elements.  The above-mentioned passage occurred in two major historic periods: the first one happened in the early centuries of Christianity, i.e. before the era of major persecutions (A.D. 340-380), the second one occurred with the official recognition of Christianity and of Church status by the Persian King of Kings.  The first period, in its early stage, could hardly suffice to compose and organize prayers and hymns, lectionaries and psalmodies, and provide the means to diffuse them uniformly throughout the dioceses east of the Euphrates.  But, with the growing of Ecclesiastic organization, the needed compositions were gradually provided for in a fairly systematic way.  Accordingly, we can table the different phases of development of the Instructional Section of the Mass as follows:


1st & 2nd century (in-house Eucharist or in a primitive church building)

– Peace be with us.  Be seated and silent.

– Readings O.T.: Moses & Prophets

–  N.T.: (early) Apostolic Sermon, (later) Epistle & Gospel.

3rd & 4th century (in-church celebration)

– Deacon: Peace be with us.

– People: Lakhu Mara (processional hymn with incense and candles)

– Deacon: Be seated and silent.

– Readings O.T.: Moses & Prophets

– Readings N.T.: Epistle & Gospel & Sermon

Between the 5th and 7th century

The Synod of Mar Isaac (A.D. 410) was an opportunity for the hierarchy of the Church of the East to commonly adopt and approve liturgical structures and texts, as it is explicitly mentioned in its 13th Canon: “Concerning the ordinances and canons which are appropriate to the liturgy, and to the Holy Mysteries, and to the glorious feasts of the Savior, (it has been ordered): Also, the western liturgy which Isaac and Marutha the bishops taught us, and all of us saw them celebrating here in the church of Seleucia, henceforth we shall celebrate ourselves in like manner.  The deacons in every city shall proclaim the proclamation like this, and the Scriptures shall be read thus, and the pure and holy oblation shall be offered upon one altar in all churches, and the argument of that ancient memory shall no longer exist among us.  The oblation shall no longer be offered from house to house.”

This is how the Instructional Section would have looked at the time of Mar Isaac in the Cathedral of Seleucia:

Entrance ceremony:  – Priestly Prayer – ‘Onytha d-Qanke

Procession:- Deacon: Peace be with us.

– People: Lakhu Mara (processional hymn with incense and candles)

At the Bema:

– Deacon: Be seated and silent..- 2 Readings of the O.T.: Moses & Prophets

– Interval: Psalmody – Epistle

– Halleluya with Psalmody – Gospel & the Sermon

– Supplication


With Mar Abba the Great (a.540-552), the Trisagion (Qaddysha) found its place before the Readings. Before 600 A.D., the monastic psalmody gradually established itself as a practical way to fill the waiting time immediately before the beginning of the ceremony, making its two last verses (Aqqapta) as the official Invitational Acclamation to start the Mass (Awde lakh b’edta rabtha…). With Isho’yahb III (650-659) a standard structure and texts were organized and adopted, not only for the common or fixed elements of the Mass but also for the variable or proper pieces.  With Timothy (780-823) the Lord’s Prayer with its responsorial Qaddysh was introduced at the beginning and at the end of all services, and soon after it found its place at the very opening of the Eucharistic celebration, preceded by the Angelic chant Gloria in Excelsis.


However, the structure and ceremonial of the Eucharistic celebrations were not uniform, especially in regard to the opening ceremony of the Instructional Section:  Feasts of the Lord would open with the Acclamation: I thank you in your Great Church; Sundays would begin with Glory to God in the highest; Lenten Eucharist would continue the Vespers with the prayer preceding Lakhumara.  Some priestly prayers, as well, were assigned to different solemnities.


Fully Developed Structure (10th century) Nevertheless, by the end of the first Christian millennium, a general structure could be outlined for the instructional section of the Eucharistic celebration as follows:


Entrance ceremony:

The Clergy standing in front of the altar:– Glory in the Highest –  Lord’s Prayer with refrain

– 1st priestly prayer Pro clero followed by the Psalmody

– 2nd Priestly Prayer Pro populo followed by the ‘Onytha d-Qanke

– Deacon: “Peace be with us” (with the opening of the curtain)

Lakhu Mara (processional hymn with the Cross, the Book of the Gospels, incense and candles) followed by its prayer


At the Bema: Qaddysha with its prayer

– Deacon: “Be seated and silent.”- 2 Readings from Moses & the Prophets

– Interval: Psalmody followed by a priestly prayer- The Epistle

– Halleluia with Psalmody for the procession of the Gospel- The Gospel & the Sermon

– Supplication