Personal Reflections on the 2006 Reform of the Chaldean Mass

I was honored to be asked to assist in the finalization and printing of the Reform of the Chaldean Mass that was completed in 2006, and I think it’s a good time to share some of my memories from that time. It was one of the most illuminating experiences of my life to watch that Patriarchal Committee complete its work of over 15 years. Leading the Committee after the retirement of Bishop Andrawis Sana was Bishop Sarhad Jammo, and Bishop Jaques Ishaq and Msgr. Putrus Yousif had flown to San Diego from Iraq and France, respectively, to take part in this final meeting of the Committee. After nearly 15 years of careful work, they had received some final comments from the Holy See and were editing their final version. I served as secretary and helped edit the digital text of the Mass, which had been typed out by Msgr. Felix Shabi and Fr. Rayan Atto before me. I also worked to translate it into English.

Watching that committee of experts – all three of them having doctorates in Eastern Liturgy from prominent European universities – was fascinating. Every word of every prayer was debated, sometimes intensely, by these men. Their reverence for the tradition that had been handed on to them from the earliest ages of the Church was impressive. They did not let a single prayer be lost, whether it was from the Apostolic Age, such as the Eucharistic Prayer of Addai and Mari, or from the time of Patriarch Isho’yahb in the 7th Century, such as the beginning and ending “Abun d-Bashmayya.”

The Liturgy was already great – the baby was already beautiful. It only needed to be washed, and some things set in order. I was there listening when the Committee debated what to do with one of the silent priest prayers. Some members said it was long and the priest should be attending to the same prayer as the people at that moment. The other members agreed, but felt it their duty to find a place for the prayer that had been prayed silently all these centuries. I remember that Bishop Sarhad returned the next morning and had gently adjusted 3 or 4 words of this prayer, making it appropriate to be said by all the people after Mass. This is now the “Prayer of Thanksgiving” we pray after some of the Masses here in St. Peter Diocese, and it is one of my favorite prayers.

I share this story as one example of dozens that I personally remember from those days when the Patriarchal Liturgical Committee was finalizing the text of the Chaldean Reformed Mass. Perhaps the most important thing that was happening at that meeting was that the Committee had received a response from the Holy See to the draft that had been approved by the Chaldean Synod and sent to the Oriental Congregation. The response of the Holy See was overwhelmingly positive, but it had 11 remarks, or adjustments to be made to the text. One was that the Eucharistic Prayer is to take only one form, namely the one that was finally printed in the 2006 Missal. The other remarks are all interesting as well, but my purpose in writing this is not simply to recollect a fond memory of mine. It is to point out that this Committee handled the Liturgy with the reverence and gentleness it deserved. This was a precious baby that the Church had entrusted to them, and it was clear that they loved it more than anything in this world.

That Mass was voted on by the Chaldean Synod in November of 2005 in Rome. I was asked to go to Rome to be ready in case any final adjustments were made by the Fathers of the Synod, and there were a handful, which Fr. Rayan and I spent late nights fixing, one by one, on our computers. The final morning of the Synod, Patriarch Delly brought a hard printed copy of the new Chaldean Missal to the Oriental Congregation (Fr. Rayan had spent hours going to get it printed in color). The vote of the bishops, after days of studying and debating the text, was unanimous: they all, without any exception, signed to approve this Mass as the new Mass of the entire Chaldean Church around the world. This is, like all officialities in the Catholic Church, a matter of public record, and the signatures are there, name by name, in the records of the Vatican. Patriarch Delly brought the hard copy to the Congregation personally – I remember seeing him in the car as he left with the printed Missal in his hand. The next day the Holy Father Pope Benedict met with the Chaldean bishops and congratulated them on the finalized Reform of the Chaldean Mass. After the final approval (technically called a “recognitio”) of the Holy See of this Reformed Missal in 2006, Patriarch Delly sent copies to every Diocese around the world, printed with a letter on the first page stating that they are to begin celebrating this Mass in all their Churches on the Feast of Epiphany, January 6, 2007. (English translation)

Disobedience & Lies

Those were remarkable days in my life, and I will never forget them. But what happened afterward was remarkable in a different way. We in St. Peter Diocese began celebrating this Mass, in full obedience to the command of His Beatitude. No one else did. I can’t really say why, though I have my guesses. But it doesn’t matter why, and it never did. The Mass was approved. It had followed the full Canonical procedure; it had been worked on by a team of experts formed originally by His Beatitude Patriarch Raphael Bidawid of blessed memory; it had been studied by the bishops, sent to priests for comments, discussed again and again in the committee and in the Chaldean Synod; sent to the Vatican; sent back with comments; finalized by the Synod; voted on unanimously; sealed and finalized and approved by the Holy See and promulgated by the Patriarch with a letter stating the date when it was to begin. Moreover, it is beautiful. It is the most beautiful thing many of us have ever seen, and it has changed people’s lives because of its beauty. If you don’t believe that, ask them. And if it surprises you, then you don’t understand the power of Christ and his Church.

Then why didn’t other Dioceses do it? I’ll give the same answer I’ve given for the last 8 years: go ask them. It is not my place to judge any soul, and the inner intentions of the hearts of others are not my business. But no matter what the intention of any bishop who refused to celebrate this Mass, it harmed the Chaldean Church. Perhaps there were valid excuses – the situation in Iraq maybe made it difficult to gather the shamashe together to learn how to serve this new Mass, and so the Patriarch had difficulty beginning it himself; because the Patriarch had this difficulty, other bishops outside Iraq were less motivated to do it themselves. This is a pretty picture of what may have happened, but there is a much darker side I won’t go into.

Unfortunately, it gets even darker after that. Lie upon lie was told about this Reform – that it was only meant for “experimental use for three years” and then it would go away; that it was “Bishop Sarhad’s Mass” or “St. Peter Diocese’s Mass.” These are all dark, absolute lies. The Mass was meant to be in experimental use for three years, meaning that it was adjustable for that time. After those three years, it was no longer adjustable. That is what ad experimentum means in the Catholic Church, but lies were told and, unfortunately, believed. This is not “Bishop Sarhad’s Mass;” it is the Mass worked on by the Patriarchal Liturgical Committee established by Patriarch Bidawid; it is the Mass voted on by the Chaldean Synod of 2005, the Mass promulgated by Patriarch Delly. Bishop Sarhad was the head of the committee at the end, and, in my opinion, its most brilliant contributor, but it is not “his.” Most importantly, this is not “St. Peter Diocese’s Mass.” It is the Mass of the whole Chaldean Church.

The Beginning

It happened by Providence that I moved to California a few weeks before the 2006 Reform was to be put into use, and so I was involved in its application here in San Diego. I helped train the shamashe, especially those of the English Mass. I helped print the people’s books for them to follow along. I helped give the lectures that explained the changes. Many of the faithful of San Diego will tell you that those were exciting days. I also got the chance to face some of the negativity that comes with any change. People aren’t fond of new things, especially when they are used to what they grew up with. So this Reform was jarring for many, and because I had just moved to San Diego, some people associated me with this Reform, and took their aggression out on me. It was very interesting to watch as the weeks went by. I remember one man arguing with me about the “new Mass” aggressively at the cemetery after a funeral service. I calmly and simply asked him to give this new Mass a chance, and come back to me in one month, after going to Sunday Mass four times, and tell me what he thought after the shock of something different wore off. It took him only two weeks before he found me in the sacristy after Sunday Mass and apologized to me, not only for his aggression, but because he now understood how wrong he was. This “new Mass” was beautiful, and he only had to give it a chance to see that.

Others weren’t so quick or open-minded as this young man, and so the transition took a little longer for them. Courses were given every year to shamashe and faithful to explain, word for word, this Reform, and why things happened the way they did. I remember attending and teaching some of those courses, and the overwhelming impression among the shamashe was: not only did they understand the Reformed Mass now; they understood the Chaldean Mass itself for the first time in their lives. Until now they had only memorized. Now they understood for real. I remember answering questions during some lectures – some questions phrased in jagged, sharp words, and coming from angry voices – and answering them to the best of my knowledge. The one asking the question was always reduced to silence – not because I’m so smart, but because this Reform makes so much sense. The answers are always there, because so much thought was put into it.

“Liturgical Chaos in the Chaldean Church”

I’ve been silent about this for years because it wasn’t my business what others did or said, and I’ve always expected to be attacked for being faithful to Christ and his Church. But now it’s no longer about what others are doing or saying. Now someone is knocking at our door and demanding that we participating in mutilating the Chaldean Liturgy. I could go into much greater detail with how thorough the process was that culminated in the Reform of 2006, even though I was only involved in an ancillary way, and only during the final year. His Beatitude Patriarch Louis Sako is right when he describes the current situation of liturgy in the Chaldean Church “chaotic,” but the solution to this chaos has been in front of us all along: the Reform of 2006.


The Letter of Patriarch Emmanuel III Delly Promulgating the Reformed Chaldean Mass


Translation of The Letter of Patriarch Emmanuel III Delly Promulgating the Reformed Chaldean Mass


Comments of the Holy See on the 2006 Reform