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The Chaldean Holy Mass: Reform as a Life and Pastoral Necessity

Updated: Jul 30, 2021

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The Chaldean Mass and Reform

His Beatitude Mar Louis Raphael Sako, the Chaldean Patriarch

Translated by His Excellency Bawai Soro, Bishop of Canada

1. Reform as a Life and Pastoral Necessity

The Liturgy is a theological and pastoral project aimed at making the believers aware of the divine presence in the celebrations of prayer, deepening the meanings of words and symbols and their dimensions in their lives, so that the liturgy becomes a fountain of life to the believers, and so their lives become a permanent liturgy, as Father Corbonne says.

The formation of the rites of worship took a long period of time and just settled in the Middle Ages. Concerning the Church of the East, the organization of worshiping rites and the arrangement of sacraments is attributed to Patriarch Esho-Yahb III H’dayyawa (649-659), and to the monks of the ‘Upper Monastery’ (the present-day Al-Tahra Church in Mosul).

The rites of the Chaldean and Assyrian Church of the East are some of the simplest and most ancient Eastern rites. They arose in a Semitic-Jewish environment, away from the Greek influence. Their prayers, melodies, and symbols are characterized by hope, sober glory, reverence, and joy.

In the beginning, there were two services: the first service originated in the “Cathedral-Church” in the cities and the countryside, and the second service was for the monks in the monasteries. But this distinction disappeared gradually, and the two services became one service for all. It became known for its long and intricate monastic character. This is what we see in “Hudra” the three-volume book of the priestly prayers!

And, in order for these rites to meet people’s needs, sensitivity, and their current intellectual, psychological, social, and cultural setting, which is different from what it was in the first centuries, it is necessary to reform so the participation of the believers may become more vital and influential. On the contrary, we will lose our young people who are seeking something different and more interesting.

In the tradition, there are many positive facts, and negative facts too! Authenticity is not a static tradition, but a living one. Authenticity brings us back to important things in our lives, i.e. old things, but with a new reading and a contemporary open mentality we can assess our ecclesiastical tradition and distinguish between what is authentic and what is unfamiliar. This is going to help us develop ourselves and face the present with its appeals and prospects. Therefore, tradition must not become a tool of narrow-mindedness and intolerance. It is wrong to regard the past as being “the only sacred thing,” rather than the present or the future, as well. “Liturgy was made for people, not people for the liturgy,” St. John Chrysostom (347-407) says.

In our church, as in all churches, both traditional trend and a reformative trend, are complicating the process of current interpretation. This is in spite of the Vatican II Council’s call for the reform of the worship rites (Constitution in Sacred Liturgy No. 21). The Holy See also encouraged current interpretation. The Congregation for the Divine Worship issued regulations to be adopted in this process. In an interview with Pope Francis by Father Antonio Spadaro in August 2013, the Pope urged a change of attitude.

In accordance with the above, the reform of rites is an urgent need for people’s lives, so they may reach hope, advancement, and joy without affecting the creed or moral values, and without mixing the divine with the human or the immutable with the mutable. Reform seeks a deeper understanding of the Sacred Scriptures in light of the major transformations witnessed by our societies at home and abroad. In addition, we have modern human sciences, issues, values, and discoveries not known by the early Church Fathers or the theologians of the Middle Ages. In order to achieve these needs, an effective strategy must be developed that responds to the present, future times and challenges and the expectations of believers.

Today, our Church needs a new rites for children and another for the young people, as in the order of baptism, which is for children only. There is no order for adults. The order of marriage is also for young people and not for the elderly. For example, we say, “You, blessed young man, requested to get married to the young woman —” Then we pray in one of the prayers that God may grant you sons and daughters!

We do not deny that there are some “mistakes” in the current interpretations of the order of the Mass and other orders. Therefore, it was put on probation for five years, but it is binding to all. There was a serious review of the order of the Mass in the 2016 Synod in light of suggestions received from those interested in rites and from laymen. We submitted the project to the Holy See for ratification, with the intention of reforming the order of the 2nd and 3rd anaphora.

Here I would like to stress the importance of the liturgical formation of the servants of the altar, namely, the priests, deacons, and choirs, so they may have a liturgical sense and an understanding of the prayers; meaningful movements such as standing, sitting, and kneeling; as well as symbols such as breaking the Bread, dipping the Bread in the Chalice, and elevation of the Bread above the Cup is a symbol of Christ’s death and resurrection. The same applies to incense, the offering, church design, and ornaments, so they do not become routine rites or just a ‘show,’ but rather vivid and delightful signs of the unseen. Sometimes, it is regrettable that we do not feel the presence of Christ in the Mass because of improvisation and lack of reverence.

It is obvious that each language is characterized by its genius and beauty of vocabulary, as is the case with the Arabic language. Therefore, the meaning of words in the translation must be arranged in order to appear in a sound and understandable language, avoiding literal translation. A translator must transform the letter into a spirit.

Here are some examples:

Our rite is influenced by the Jewish prayers. In some prayers we do not mention the name of God as in the final blessing on Sundays and Feasts: “He who blessed us” is not understood by people. We have to translate it like this “God who has blessed us”. Or the blessing of the ordinary days, “He who has forgiven our sins with His body”. Who is “He”? It must be translated, “Christ who…”. Also, the phrase “The Holy is fit for the saints” is understood in Chaldean but ambiguous in Arabic because “Quds” refers to the City of Jerusalem. Therefore, it should be translated, “The Holy Communion is worthy of saints.”

Some statements are unacceptable such as“Mhileh, Hellashe, and Dawayya”, which means “Your desperate, weak, and despicable servants”. This phrase contradicts Christ’s call to us, “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I

have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15). A servant does not have a share in the inheritance! We are the children of God and are not servants. Our God is a God of love, and our liturgy is a liturgy of love. Paul’s letter to Romans (8: 14 – 17) All who are guided by the Spirit of God are sons of God; for what you received was not the spirit of slavery to bring you back into fear; you received the Spirit of adoption, enabling us to cry out, ‘Abba, Father!’ The Spirit himself joins with our spirit to bear witness that we are children of God. And if we are children, then we are heirs, heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ, provided that we share his suffering, so as to share his glory.” Similarly, we cannot translate the word “Dehelthah” with fear, but rather of piety and reverence There are many other examples.

2. The Spirituality and Theology of the Mass

The Mass is the greatest, amazing, and delightful celebration (Raza Raba) with all the stations of the plan of salvation. The Mass is the Liturgy of Salvation, where Christ is in the center through his mysterious presence. It is also called the Sacrament, the Sacrifice, the Eucharist, and the Anaphora. The celebration of the Mass is a reminder of what Christ has done, not only in the past, but also in the present. This presence is embodied every time believers celebrate the Mass, and it helps them understand the Gospel deeply and live it joyfully.

The Mass is not an individual, pious worship, but a celebration of the Church that is gathered around Christ to give thanks, glory, and prostration to God for His wondrous providence. We say in the prayer before the ‘Holy One’ Prayer, “He who created the world with His grace, created people with His mercy, saved them with His compassion, and dealt with the dead with great mercy”. The Mass is a prayer of thanksgiving for the seen love (our Mass is love), the great providence, and the mark of life (روشما دحيي). This constitutes the heart of the celebration. The prayer of the first day of the ‘Bautha,’ (Supplication), attributed to St. Ephrem says, “Be a temple and a priest to Him from the core as He became a sacrifice for you”. It is the liturgy of the family of God (the Church). The face of the praying priest draws people to prayer.

Our Mass is divided into three parts: The Order of celebrating the Word, the Order of celebrating the sacrifice, and the Order of celebrating the Eucharist. Each of these sections should be completed in an expressive and gorgeous manner, not in an improvised or automatic manner. The participants (the celebrant, the deacon, the people, and the choir) must know their role and perform it in reverence and humbleness, avoiding the round trips in the Sanctuary. We should not forget that the Mass is integrated, from the beginning to the end. Therefore, the believers must attend it fully.

3. Mass of the Apostles Addai and Mari

The Anaphora of the Two Apostles is the oldest; it dates back to the third century. It is characterized by simplicity, clarity, brevity, theological depth, and beauty of language. Its prayers are addressed to Christ with his numerous titles of salvation. The effect of Jewish prayers is evident, and there is a similarity between the Eastern Church design and the Holy Temple in Jerusalem or the Jewish Synagogue.

The oldest manuscript of the Anaphora of the Two Apostles is a manuscript of the Church of St. Isaiah (Mosul) dating back to the tenth-eleventh century. When Patriarch Ishaib III Al-Hudaibi reformed the rites, he excluded the Orders of the Mass composed by the Church Fathers, such as Ephrem, Narsai, and Barsuma, and kept the three Anaphoras:

– Anaphora of the Two Apostles: Addai and Mari

– Anaphora of Theodore of Mopsuestia

– Anaphora of Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople

This Anaphora is divided into two parts: The first part is the prayer of thanksgiving for God’s creation and salvation work. The second part focuses on Christ’s suffering, death, burial, and resurrection: “We too, O Lord, your weak and poor servants, gathered in Your name and standing before You now, having accepted what was handed by our fathers what Your Son has done, celebrate in praise and joy this great, holy, divine mystery, the mystery of the suffering of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, His death, burial, and resurrection”.

In the 9th century, Patriarch Timothy I (780-823) introduced the “Our Father’s Prayer” with its Canon in the beginning and the end of the Mass, which contradicts the structure and theology of the Mass. This prayer should only be put after the Order of Forgiveness, Hussaya, namely, before the prayer, “Make us worthy, O our Lord and God, to stand before You without blemish…” Accordingly, it was omitted from the reform conducted by the Chaldean Synod in 2014.

Patriarch Abdisheo I (963-986) also made some ritual reforms. In the course of time, some prayers, supplications, and moves have been added during the successive centuries, which never existed before, such as the supplications of the priest (كوشافا) before the benediction prayer (كهنتا), which are not found in the Mardin Manuscript (1287) and other manuscripts. The words uttered by the Lord Jesus on the night of the Last Supper (The Institution Narrative) were not mentioned in the original text because the Holy Spirit blesses and sanctifies these offerings. These were specifically added when the Chaldeans came into union with the Church of Rome in 1553. Also, the psalms of ( ) and some supplications ( ) were added after the standard statements.

The prayers of the Mass were not recited by the celebrant quietly but were done in a beautiful manner to express their sanctity. Later, the celebrant began to recite most of them quietly, in a faint voice, and this is a liturgical and theological disorder. During this time, a deacon would say, “Let us attain peace together,” or “Remain silent and stand in fear praying”. These are alerts to draw people’s attention to the sacraments. These beautiful rites before the reform were limited to the priest and the deacon, during which the people in general used –surprisingly- to pray the rosary.

4. Performance

Everything in the church and in the rite has meaning, so attention must be paid to meanings and symbols. We hope that our Church would highlight the Chaldean-Babylonian style as in the Armenian, Coptic, and Byzantine churches.

The celebration requires a Bima ‘stand’ because the Mass begins at the Bima ‘stand’ while the priest’s face is toward the altar and to the cross affixed on the sanctuary wall.

At Lakhomara “Lord of All” Prayer, the priest puts the incense and steps aside at the Bima ‘stand’ until the offering is brought. At this point, the priest receives it and takes it up to the altar while his face is toward the people.

At the Bima ‘stand,’ there are two reading platforms (podia) to read the Bible texts. The left platform (podium) is to read the Old Testament, and the right platform is to read the New Testament. In the front of the Bima ‘stand,’ there is a small altar (ههولةا – جلجلة) at which the Gospel is being read. It is desirable to restore this old tradition, at least in the cathedrals. It has been preserved by the Assyrian Church and the Syro-Malabar Church in India.

The decoration of the church should be considered. The altar should be adorned with natural roses (not with artificial flowers), and beautiful candles. The priestly vestments should be considered, together with the attires of deacons and choir members, so that everything may help make the celebration befitting Christ as we celebrate His death, resurrection, and glory. We have to feel His presence.

It is necessary to choose hymns suitable for each section of the Mass, preferably short hymns to be in line with the time of celebration. The same applies to the readings, mastering their pronunciation in a loud voice and sound language. We do not exclude the participation of believers, and their response to the priest and the deacon, so everything would be harmonious, beautiful, and expressive. Our ritual prayer needs preparation rather than improvisation. We propose that a deacon who is familiar with the liturgy may prepare the Mass with deacons and the choir in a process of role playing and training.

Some prayers are recited in a loud and understandable voice, while others are recited in a beautiful melodious voice, whether for the priest or the deacon. In general, Lachomara ‘Lord of All Prayer’ and ‘Holy’ Prayer should be chanted even in ordinary days. On Sundays, the Lord’s Prayer should be chanted either in Chaldean or Arabic.

Each Sunday has a new ritual idea, reading, psalm, and hymn. This rich diversity should be shown, and one psalm or prayer should not be repeated forever.

Readings: There are four readings in our rite: From the Pentateuch, the Prophets, the Epistles, and the Gospel. They are carefully selected. Three readings on Sundays and feasts should be enough, and four readings should be adopted on the major holidays such as Christmas, the Epiphany, and Easter. They should be summarized by an integrated section because they are sometimes lengthy and include more than one event.

Here are some suggestions:

– Introducing a moment of silence after the Gospel reading and the sermon and after the Eucharist. Through silence, the Word reaches our heart and the Eucharist touches our lives.

– Distributing the “sign of peace be with you” by believers, rather than by children! It is the peace of reconciliation. The priest puts his hands on the offering and shares it with others.

– Demonstrating the Holy Spirit prayer and the Forgiveness Prayer ‘Husya’ before the Lord’s Prayer in preparation for the Eucharist.

– The last blessing prayer should be given from the altar, not from the pulpit!

– We hope that the Eucharist is offered to the faithful in the both shapes, through dipping the bread in the chalice. The two symbols are much better representative to Christs sacrifice at Last Supper.


1. The Oriental Fountains, Father Mansour Al-Mukhalisi, Baghdad, 2018

2. W.F. Macomber, The Oldest Known Text of the Anaphora of The Apostles Addai and Mari, OCP 32 (1966) pp.335-37

3. John Moolan, Introduction to Oriental Liturgy and its Theology, Syro-Malabar Church, Kerala 2013

4. Formation of Anapharae in Thomas Christian Heritage, Vol VIII, No. 15, 21 November 2015

5. Formation of East Syriac Anaphorae, Vol. IX, No. 16, 3 July 2016

6. Father Dr. (Bishop) Jack Isaac, The Chaldean Mass, Analytical Study, Baghdad, 1982

7. De Villiard. U, M, Le Chiese della Mesopotamia, Roma, 1940

8. Jammo S.H. La Structure de la Messe Chaldéenne; du début jusau’à l’Anaphore: Etude Historique, Rome 1979

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