Liturgical Debates in the Chaldean Church

Ok… Let’s try something new here. I want people to be aware of their God-given ability to be objective and maybe channel their inner lawyer to investigate all the actual evidence rather than base everything on gossip and hearsay. Let’s attempt to ask the right questions. Let’s throw all preconceived notions and speculations we have about the situation, about Bishop Sarhad Yawsip Jammo and Patriarch Louis Sako, and about anything or anyone else, out the window. We are here to seek the truth and nothing but that. The truth is out there – it’s our responsibility to find it before we pass any judgment. And just to make it clear, I was not commissioned to write this by anyone or given any aid with material. I want to make that a point to show that anyone can find this information on their own and form their own opinion.

Let’s go ahead and address the most obvious and dated issue of all: The Divine Liturgy (Holy Mass). For over eight years, our Diocese has implemented and performed the Reformed Mass that was approved by the Vatican. This is noted in the Pastoral Letter issued to the whole Chaldean Eparchy of St. Peter the Apostle in 2012 (which can be found HERE):

We declare our collective and personal adherence to the officially and canonically formulated Chaldean Missal, approved by the Holy See and the Holy Chaldean Synod, and promulgated by His Beatitude Mar Emmanuel III Delly, Chaldean Patriarch of Babylon, with a fixed date for implementation (i.e., January 6, 2007) of which we are now celebrating the 5th anniversary.

*I would like to note that I found this letter to be very informative as it provides a lot of insight into why our Diocese adheres to this Liturgical text and most, if not all, pastoral matters that have been put into question.

150809_andrew03There is an undeniable fact here: the Mass that our diocese performs is the approved liturgical text of the Holy See for the Chaldean Rite. In all my conversations and inquiries on this topic (and there have been many), I have not encountered one justified or concrete reason why we are wrong in using this Mass – because, to put it simply, it is not wrong. How could it be? And in fact, it’s more than just “not wrong,” it’s the absolute right thing to do. Again, look at the facts: Approval of the Holy See, approval of the Holy Chaldean Synod, and approval of the Patriarch. How can you blame a Bishop for fulfilling his most important duty in obeying the Church and the supreme authority of the Vatican?

Whenever I bring this point up with someone who opposes our diocese, they tend to deflect; change the subject. Speculation arises again and we get nowhere. I get it. It’s hard for a lot of people to understand why we do things so “different” when we’re the only ones doing it. Even though the truth and the Holy Catholic Church itself support us, it’s still difficult for someone to be completely objective. But are we the only diocese acting “different?” The common argument is that we are against unity; our diocese acts the way it does just for the sake of being defiant or for the sake of “Chaldean nationalism.” Does that seem reasonable? Can the opposition really just roll with an unsubstantiated answer like that? You tell me what’s more “different”: a diocese that universally performs one approved liturgical text and sacramental rites across all its parishes, or the rest of the Chaldean Church that has performed an unapproved text that differs from almost every parish within their respective eparchy and each having different versions of the wedding and baptismal rite? What seems more unified?

I can ask this because I’ve personally attended Mass many times in Michigan at almost every single parish and I’m sorry, but the last thing I see is a common text. Forget the fact that this diocese, along with every other one, has been disobedient for eight years; they didn’t even perform the same translation within their own respective parishes. Prayers are added, subtracted, and moved around like clockwork. Latinization, even Protestantism, is heavily apparent without regard. Bishop Sarhad gets a lot of flack for wanting to preserve our Chaldean identity and spirituality and it’s distastefully interpreted as nationalism over faith. Should he apologize for being obedient to the Holy See all these years?


The general consensus I get is that it shouldn’t matter how we’re worshipping God as long as we are worshipping Him and getting along. Many are tied to this idea of “modern” spirituality where we must not be so “old-fashioned” and be more open to just loving God in a way that makes everyone feel good. This is a big and dangerous delusion. It is the biggest reason why there is a huge rift between the Catholic Church and its members, which has led to record-low Mass attendances and a lack of religious vocations. This bleeding the Church is going through has lasted decades and is very evident in the Latin Rite. No wonder they have gone through their own Liturgical reform recently and are working hard to fix all these issues. It started with liberalism towards the liturgy and it led to an array of abuses and scandals that the Church is still trying to heal from. That’s the importance the Holy See has to put on the liturgy because you can see the damage it can do when it’s left for anyone to interpret. Fortunately for the Chaldean rite, it hasn’t gotten that bad – but it’s definitely worth pointing out.

For decades, most priests outside of our diocese, formerly even some within, have given up the Eastern tradition of facing the cross. That may not seem like a big deal to a lot of people, especially since that’s what most are used to – but has anyone bothered to ask why this is so important? Do people know that it is law for Eastern Churches to face the east (which is the position of the cross)? Why has almost every priest gone against this Eastern tradition and adopted the Western one? Here it is in plain English (taken from Applying The Liturgical Prescriptions Of The Code Of Canons Of The Eastern Churches: Congregation for the Eastern Churches – The Vatican Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1996):

  1. Prayer facing the east

Ever since ancient times, it has been customary in the prayer of the Eastern Churches to prostrate oneself to the ground, turning toward the east; the buildings themselves were constructed such that the altar would face the east. Saint John of Damascus explains the meaning of this tradition: “It is not for simplicity nor by chance that we pray turned toward the regions of the east (…). Since God is intelligible light (1 Jn. 1:5), and in the Scripture, Christ is called the Sun of justice (Mal. 3:20) and the East (Zech. 3:8 of the LXX), it is necessary to dedicate the east to him in order to render him worship. The Scripture says: ‘Then the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and he placed there the man whom he had formed’ (Gen. 2:8). (…) In search of the ancient homeland and tending toward it, we worship God. Even the tent of Moses had its curtain veil and propitiatory facing the east. And the tribe of Judah, in as much as it was the most notable, encamped on the east side (cf. Nm. 2:3). In the temple of Solomon, the Lord’s gate was facing the east (cf. Ez. 44:1). Finally, the Lord placed on the cross looked toward the west, and so we prostrate ourselves in his direction, facing him. When he ascended to heaven, he was raised toward the east, and thus his disciples adored him, and thus he will return, in the same way as they saw him go to heaven (cf. Acts 1:11), as the Lord himself said: ‘For just as lightning comes from the east and is seen as far as the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be’ (Mt. 24:27). Waiting for him, we prostrate ourselves toward the east. It is an unwritten tradition, deriving from the Apostles.”[85]

This rich and fascinating interpretation also explains the reason for which the celebrant who presides in the liturgical celebration prays facing the east, just as the people who participate. It is not a question, as is often claimed, of presiding the celebration with the back turned to the people, but rather of guiding the people in pilgrimage toward the Kingdom, invoked in prayer until the return of the Lord.

Such practice, threatened in numerous Eastern Catholic Churches by a new and recent Latin influence, is thus of profound value and should be safeguarded as truly coherent with the Eastern liturgical spirituality.

150809_andrew04I posted the entire explanation of this canon because I want to put emphasis on the language the Congregation uses. Also, take note of the last sentence – they go so far as to warn the Eastern Churches of Latin influence. That’s how much the Catholic Church cares about this matter. They have seen and are aware of the Latinization problem. And how could you, after reading that whole theological explanation of why our tradition faces the East, not think that it is something so stunning and worth preserving? We “prostrate ourselves in His direction, facing Him.” The beauty in that is undeniable. It’s truly astonishing. How could we lose what makes us so unique and beautiful?

This is not to say the Latin rite’s traditions are wrong or inferior in any way. The Vatican is purely stating that the traditions each rite upholds are extremely vital to the common good of the whole Apostolic Church. To take away from that or allow other traditions to blend in would be to the detriment of that diocese. Each and every culture has something to offer to the Bride of Christ, that is, the Church. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI pointed that out himself when he said, “Everything in the Church rests upon faith: the sacraments, the liturgy, evangelization, charity,” as well as “the law and the Church’s authority. Catholics cannot make things up as they go along. They must follow tradition, the sacred Scriptures and the teaching of the apostles, explained and interpreted by the fathers of the Church and the popes” ( It is interesting to observe that both Pope Emeritus Benedict and Cardinal Sarah of the Congregation for Worship both want a return even in the Latin Church to Mass being said ad orientam, that is, toward the cross.

Authority and Obedience

So, hopefully we’re getting a better idea of the motivations behind the decisions Bishop Sarhad has made and what drives all our Diocesan actions. Obedience to the supreme authority of the Church is something that shouldn’t be taken lightly or be compromised for any reason. That is what our Bishop fights for. It’s worth appealing for the truth – and appealing the decrees the Patriarch has made towards our diocese is well within the laws of the Catholic Church as stated:

Canon 1006 – Even if it is a case of decrees which concern the eparchy of the patriarch or a decree by which the patriarch has decided recourse, recourse against administrative decrees of patriarchs is made to a special group of bishops constituted according to the norm of particular law, unless the question is deferred to the Apostolic See; against the decision of this group one is not given further recourse except by appeal to the Roman Pontiff himself.

These canons are made for a specific reason. One of the greatest gifts of being a Catholic Diocese is having Papal authority – so that decisions on these matters can be handled by the Church, which is divinely inspired by the Holy Spirit. That authority was given to our first pope, St. Peter, by Christ Himself, and has been passed on from pope to pope all the way to this present-day with Pope Francis. Our Diocese, in a collective effort, has appealed to the definitive Seat of Peter. This is whom we are ultimately obedient to:

Canon 43 – The bishop of the Church of Rome, in whom resides the office given in special way by the Lord to Peter, first of the Apostles and to be transmitted to his successors, is head of the college of bishops, the Vicar of Christ and Pastor of the entire Church on earth; therefore, in virtue of his office he enjoys supreme, full, immediate and universal ordinary power in the Church which he can always freely exercise.

When some people think about the Patriarch, they automatically believe that he has supreme authority over the whole rite he represents. That is simply not the case, as stated in this canon:

Canon 78 – §2. The power of the patriarch is exercised validly only inside the territorial boundaries of the patriarchal Church unless the nature of the matter or the common or particular law approved by the Roman Pontiff establishes otherwise.

The Patriarchal territories of the Chaldean Church are made up of Iraq and certain parts of the Middle East. The only authority the Patriarch has outside the territorial boundaries is over liturgical matters approved by the Holy See:

Canon 150 – §2. Laws enacted by the synod of bishops of the patriarchal Church and promulgated by the patriarch, if they are liturgical, have the force of law everywhere in the world; if, however, they are disciplinary laws or concern other decisions of the synod, they have the force of law inside the territorial boundaries of the patriarchal Church.

Proper Procedure and the Right to Appeal

150809_andrew02This brings up the case of the new Mass the Patriarch, along with the Synod held in Iraq from August 25-28, 2014, that got approval from the Holy See on October 20, 2014 (according to the official website of the Patriarch found HERE).

As most people know or have guessed, St. Peter’s diocese has chosen to not perform this Mass and, as mentioned before, has appealed to the Vatican regarding this text. So, again, should we assume that our diocese is doing this strictly because our leaders are disobedient and egotistical? And because Bishop Sarhad and Patriarch Sako don’t get along with each other? This new Mass did get some sort of Vatican approval, so why isn’t our diocese complying? As stated, it’s well within Church law to appeal such a decision and, like during any appeal, final judgment is put on hold until a decision is made. In other words, we are well within our canonical rights to continue performing the Mass we have been performing for the past 8 years until we hear from the Holy See. And, as also stated, this Mass was canonically approved 8 years ago, yet we were the only dio­­­­­cese to be obedient and begin using it. That means for 8 years there was an approved text that no one cared to adopt for one second. Why wasn’t this liturgy ever considered? Why wasn’t anyone obedient in practicing it? Why was there a need to have a speedy reform when we just had one 8 years ago? The rest of the Chaldean Church seems to just ignore the fact that there was an official Reform. The Patriarch himself states that there was never a reform to begin with:

Liturgical reform has never occurred in our church. We celebrate the Mass according to an ancient missal, and each diocese has its own missal. We need to update our liturgy so that it speaks to man today, so that it gives meaning and much hope. (

I find it pretty sad that the Reform approved by the Vatican in 2005 isn’t even acknowledged by our own Patriarch. Putting that aside, let’s go back to why our diocese is appealing this newly approved liturgy. If we take note of the Synod held on August 25 being where the Patriarch’s reformed text was first introduced, observed, and approved – and also noting that it got approval from the Holy See on October 20 – that means it only took less than two months from the time the Synod got to analyze it and the Vatican had to study it, to approve it. I am no liturgical expert, but that doesn’t seem like an appropriate amount of time to evaluate, discern, and approve a newly reformed text of the Mass. Especially considering the reform approved eight years ago was years and years in the making:

The Reformed Chaldean Mass is the work of a Patriarchal Liturgical Committee begun by the last Patriarch, His Beatitude Raphael I Bidawid of blessed memory, interacting with the whole hierarchy of the Chaldean Church and continued under the patronage of our beloved Patriarch Mar Emmanuel III Delly. The Committee, comprised of experts in the Chaldean Liturgy, worked in cooperation with the Chaldean Synod of bishops for fifteen years before the Text of the Reformed Mass was finalized, approved and presented to the Holy See for official recognition. The most significant dates are as follows:

November 12, 2005 – the Chaldean Holy Synod in Rome approves the Reformed Missal.

February 18, 2006 – the Vatican gives the Reformed Missal its official recognition. (Approval of Liturgical Texts –

January 6, 2007 – the date given for the beginning of the New Mass by the Chaldean Holy Synod held in Shaqlawa, Iraq on May 9-11, 2006. (Q&A on the Reformed Chaldean Mass)

As you can see, this reform went through two Patriarchs, 15 years of Synod cooperation, and all the appropriate approvals and recognitions that spanned months and months between them.


So, I hope there can be a much more productive conversation about this. I’m aware that these are the types of issues that turn people away from the church — and that most certainly has happened as a result of this ongoing conflict – but that is no excuse for the truth. Hoping to appease people’s feelings is a big reason why we are in this mess, believe it or not. Since I cannot discover a good enough reason behind the motivations as to why there was no discipline for those who were disobedient to the church’s orders, I can only conclude that it was all not to hurt other people’s feelings. Whatever your opinion is on the matter, let’s not worry about feelings and seek out the facts. And on the contrary, if you’re just looking to offend someone because they have a different opinion, think about the damage you can cause if you let it become personal.