The Maronite Divine Liturgy

By Dr Margaret Ghosn

 

With the dawn of the Second Vatican Council, the importance of the Divine Liturgy was evidenced.

Nevertheless the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows. For the aim and object of apostolic works is that all who are made sons and daughters of God by faith and baptism should come together to praise God in the midst of the Church, to take part in the sacrifice, and to eat the Lord's supper.[1]

Along with the recognition of a Liturgy where all participated, there emerged a new understanding of the importance of the Lectionary:

 

Sacred scripture is of the greatest importance in the celebration of the liturgy. For it is from scripture that lessons are read and explained in the homily, and psalms are sung; the prayers, collects, and liturgical songs are scriptural in their inspiration and their force, and it is from the scriptures that actions and signs derive their meaning. Thus to achieve the restoration, progress, and adaptation of the sacred liturgy, it is essential to promote that warm and living love for scripture to which the venerable tradition of both eastern and western rites gives testimony.[2]

 

The Maronite Catholic lectionary provides systems of readings for the calendrical structure of the liturgical year as well as a unique celebration of the Divine Liturgy.

 

The unique character of the Divine Liturgy

As Maronite residents in Australia, participating at both a Maronite Catholic Rite of Liturgy and Roman Catholic Mass are both a possibility and a reality. Yet the connection and affinity towards a Maronite Divine Liturgy often sees Maronites returning to their Church particularly on important occasions such as baptisms, weddings and funerals. Christmas, Palm Sunday, Good Friday and Easter attract gatherings of well over 10,000 people. Perhaps it is the nuances apparent between the two lived Liturgies that lead to Maronites showing a fondness for their Divine Liturgy. The following intends to clarify some of the differences in the hope of a better understanding and fuller participation by adherents at a Maronite Divine Liturgy celebration.

In the Maronite Church, the celebration of the Eucharist is known by several names which include Qurbono (Syriac), Quddas (Arabic), Divine Liturgy, and the Service of the Holy Mysteries, which is derived from the Syriac meaning of ministering at the altar. The liturgy is replete with prayers, gestures, music, art, and architecture, which reflect the glory and loving mercy of God. The Eastern Rites particularly focus on the call of the worshippers to forgiveness and rebirth.

The Maronite Liturgy has two main sections involving the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The first part of the celebration which involves prayers of forgiveness, focus on the Church Season. Between the two main parts of the celebration is the Creed and pre-Anaphora which includes the Offertory. The second half of the liturgy is based on one of the eight Anaphoras, which include the Twelve Apostles, Saint Peter, Saint James, Saint John, Saint John Maroun, Saint John Chrysostom, Saint Mark or Saint Sixtus. These Eucharistic prayers are similar in structure but vary in their prayers. However the Narrative of the Eucharistic Institution (Consecration), the Memorial of the Plan of the Son (Anamnesis) and the Invocation of the Holy Spirit (Epiclesis) do not vary.

In the Roman Catholic tradition, often the celebration of the Eucharist revolves around the memory of a saint and serves as a reminder of all who have faithfully gone before us and still now celebrate with us the glory of God. The Maronite Catholic Divine Liturgy instead tends to dedicate its Opening Prayer and the Prayer of Forgiveness (previously known as Hoosoyo) to the recollection of the Season currently celebrated in the Church.

God’s plan of salvation plays an important role in the Maronite Liturgy as does the recollection of the past events, the present time and the future second coming. The Church recalls the past saints, the present people and those who have passed away.

The Holy Spirit is the principal minister in the liturgy. The Spirit is the beginning, the end and the perfection of all things. This is seen particularly in the emphasis on the Epiclesis in the Maronite Liturgy. It is at this moment, when the Holy Spirit is invoked, that the Eucharistic prayer reaches its high point. For the Roman Catholic Liturgy, the words of consecration at the Last Supper, is considered the high point.

The Maronite Divine Liturgy is addressed to God the Father and this is highlighted in the fact that the prayers of intercession are always payed to the Father.

Invocation of the Holy Trinity is also much more common in the Maronite Catholic Liturgy than in the Roman Catholic Liturgy. In fact all prayers end with the invocation, ‘...through you the Father, through your only begotten Son and Living Holy Spirit, now and forever.’ This joyful recollection of the Holy Trinity echoes throughout the entire Maronite Liturgy.

The repeated use of incense in the Maronite Tradition conveys a sense of mystery and awe. The incense is a reminder of the sweet smelling presence of the Lord and the imagery of our prayers being offered up to God, ‘Let my prayer be set forth as incense before you; the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice’ (Psalm 141:2).

The communal aspect of worship is emphasized in the Maronite Liturgy as the people experience themselves as part of a community that is involved in a continuous dialogue with the celebrant. There is a more communicative role for the laity than is to be found in the Roman Liturgy where there are limited responses by the faithful.

The sign of peace occurs just after the offertory, or more precisely, immediately prior to the Eucharistic prayer. It is a reminder that we gather and celebrate as one community, one body of Christ. Eucharist is not a personal matter but a public and community event. This early insert of the sign of peace is a further reminder that before we even think of communion and unity in the Eucharist, we acknowledge the unity of one another. As Scripture states, ‘So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift’ (Mt 5:23-24). Peace is exchanged from the altar without words but by a simple gesture of hands open to receive the hands that are joined to give.

Immediately prior to receiving communion, the gathering pray as one:

Make us worthy, O Lord,

to sanctify our bodies with your holy Body

and purify our souls with your forgiving Blood.

May our communion be for the forgiveness of our sins

and for eternal life.

O Lord our God, to you be glory forever.

 

It is the accepted knowledge that the people have been forgiven by God and the deep awareness of God's mercy. In the Roman Catholic Mass what is prayed is, ‘Lord I am not worthy to receive you. Only say the word and I shall be healed.’ This echoes the centurion’s plea to Jesus to heal his servant as we read, ‘And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, ‘Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed’ (Lk 7:6-7). In contrast the Maronite Divine Liturgy echoes the Eastern theology of becoming divine. As Irenaeus stated, ‘God became human, so that humans might become God.’ This understanding is articulated in the communal hymn during the elevation of the Eucharist:

You have united O Lord,

your divinity with our humanity,

and our humanity with your divinity;

your life with our mortality

and our mortality with your life.

You have assumed what is ours

and you have given us what is yours,

for the life and salvation of our souls.

To you be glory forever.

 

The greatest emphasis placed on the Maronite Divine Liturgy is the maintenance of Aramaic (Syriac). This was the language that Jesus used and is retained and repeated in the Narrative of the Eucharistic Institution. It is also heard in the entrance prayer the priest recites and in the triple invitation to the greatness of God known as Trisagion (Qadishat) which is chanted in Syriac. It is sung three times by all present:

 

Qadishat aloho; qadishat hayeltono; qadishat lomoyouto. itraHam ‘alain

Holy are you, O God; Holy are you, O Strong One;

Holy are you, O Immortal One. Have mercy on us.

 

The use of Greek is seen in the triple invocation by the congregation Kyrie Eleison (Lord have mercy). These triple invocations again highlight the emphasis on the Holy Trinity by the Maronite Church.

            Finally the Maronite Divine Liturgy has its own Maronite hymns and chants. These hymns tend to be more solemn rather than upbeat.

 



[1] Austin Flannery O.P Ed.,‘Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium’in The Documents of Vatican Council II (N.Y: Costello Publishing, 1982), paragraph 10.

[2] Flannery ‘Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium,’ paragraph 24.

 

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