Imagine someone left a baby girl on your porch. You don’t know where she came from or what made you deserve to be the one to take care of her, but you know she’s your responsibility now, and you know that you need to do everything you can to keep her safe and healthy. So you wash her, feed her, teach her and watch her grow. But one day someone comes with a knife in his hand, claiming to be her father. She looks nothing like him, and he makes it clear that his intention is to harm her, to cut up her pretty face or to hurt her in some other way, just because he feels like it, or because he hates her, or is envious of you, or for any other reason. What would you do? Would you let this man harm that precious child, or would you defend her with your very life?
The Chaldean liturgy is beautiful. It is something precious, and it was given to us by Christ through the Apostles and the Church. I don’t know what I did to deserve it, but Christ has given me the honor of calling me to the priesthood – to take care of this precious treasure, and to let it grow in the hearts of the faithful I’ve been called to serve. But today this beautiful thing is under attack. In this article I will discuss how the Liturgical Reform that was completed in 2006 is a true, organic improvement of the Chaldean Mass, and how the recent Missal of His Beatitude Patriarch Louis Sako, which ignores this legitimate, Canonical Reform, is attempting to destroy it.
Defending the Truth
Before I begin, I need to make a few clarifications. I am not attacking the Patriarch or the leadership of the Church, whom I respect and honor as true successors of the Apostles. I am only telling what I believe to be the truth, and if there is anywhere in the world Truth should reign, it is in the Catholic Church. I am allowed, as a human being, as a member of this Church, and as a priest of Jesus Christ, to disagree with the decisions of the Patriarch and voice those disagreements. I will do so with respect, but I will not remain silent when I see something false harming something true. If I am wrong, I’m happy to consider other viewpoints. In fact, I very happily welcome debate – anyone who disagrees with anything in this article can feel free to email me at email@example.com, and we will post any reasonable debates or articles on kaldu.org. I’d be very happy even to debate this in person, in California, Michigan, or anywhere else. But anyone claiming that disagreement with the Patriarch is not allowed does not understand the nature of the Church. The Patriarch is a leader, not a tyrant, and we are human beings and members of the Body of Christ, not mindless slaves.
My second clarification: the unity of the Church is a result of our union with Christ, the Truth Incarnate; that is, unity does not come by force – not in the Catholic Church. This is because the members of the Church are human beings, and human beings demand respect. If we are told “this is it, do it and don’t argue,” this is not unity, but tyranny and slavery – certainly, it is the opposite of dialogue. If everyone in the world wants to cut up the baby, that doesn’t make it right, and that doesn’t mean there is unity among them. It means they have all fallen victim to a lie.
The Reform of 2006 is meant to unify the liturgy of the Chaldean Church. For reasons I will describe in detail in a later article, this did not happen. More recently, Patriarch Sako has complained, accurately, that the situation in the liturgy of the Chaldean Church is “chaotic.” But the solution to this chaos is ready for him. The liturgy has already been reformed, in full faithfulness to the decrees of the Catholic Church and the Second Vatican Council. For no reason at all, this Reform was completely ignored by most Chaldean dioceses around the world, and a new committee was formed, producing a Missal that, as I will illustrate here, takes our beautiful Chaldean liturgy and mutilates it beyond recognition. I will give some examples in this essay comparing the two to illustrate this, but I hope I have made it clear why this is so important. We have a tradition stretching back to the Apostles. It deserves to be defended.
I will divide my comments into three types: 1) Dogmatic issues; 2) Liturgical issues; 3) Lost treasures.
1. Dogmatic Issues
A. A Plain Cross
Patriarch Sako has been outspoken, since his election as Patriarch, about his preference for a plain cross in the sanctuary rather than a crucifix. His justification for this is that the plain cross is an “eastern” tradition, implying that iconography is not a part of the heritage of the Church of the East – more, that it contradicts it. This policy became concretized in a rubric in his Missal, which was not in the Missal that Patriarch Sako sent to the Holy See, but was added in his own printed version.
There are two points to make about this. The first, and more important point, is that it is Catholic dogma that images are not only allowed but encouraged in Christian worship. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states it clearly:
2131 Basing itself on the mystery of the incarnate Word, the seventh ecumenical council at Nicaea (787) justified against the iconoclasts the veneration of icons – of Christ, but also of the Mother of God, the angels, and all the saints. By becoming incarnate, the Son of God introduced a new “economy” of images.
In fact, it is a condemned heresy to say that images should not be venerated, and it goes by the name “iconoclasm.” The Catechism continues, in no uncertain words:
2132 The Christian veneration of images is not contrary to the first commandment which proscribes idols.
This is basic Catholic teaching, and not in any way under the discretion of the Chaldean Patriarchate.
But the second point is also important to note. It is in no way against the heritage of the Church of the East to have an icon in our worship. On the contrary, ancient hymns from the Hudhra list the items that must be present during Mass, and an icon is one of them – and it is named a “raza,” a “mystery” or even “sacrament” (what we would today call a “sacramental”):
Your Church, our Savior, carries a heavenly treasure and richness
in the mysteries and symbols
you have handed over to her who holds safety and hope:
the great book of your Gospel, the adorable wood of your Cross,
and the splendid icon of your humanity:
great are the mysteries of her salvation!
Other ancient writers of the Church of the East, such as Gabriel of Qatar, say that an icon of the Lord is a requirement for the validity of the Mass. If many of the images of our Church were burned or destroyed by persecution, and if many parishes were left with little more than a plain cross in the sanctuary, that does not mean the tradition is against icons – on the contrary, our tradition desires icons very much, in full accord with both Catholic and Orthodox understandings. Most relevantly, the positioning of the Chaldean celebrant under the Crucifix, with the chalice placed under the right side of the image of the crucified Lord, attests to this clearly – this is a connection to Christ’s Sacrifice and the Precious Blood that poured forth from his right side. The plain cross in the sanctuary required by Patriarch Sako’s Missal becomes not a connection to Christ’s Sacrifice but a simple decoration – which is why it becomes so easy for the celebrant to turn his back toward it. This is in direct contradiction of the Oriental Congregation’s Instruction “Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches”, paragraph 107.
B. Unconsecrated Bread and Wine confused with the Body and Blood of Christ
Just as plain crosses in the sanctuary were the result of a historical accident, in the same way, a Communion hymn was accidentally assigned to be said, during daily Mass, for the Presentation of the Gifts. It is the eloquently simple hymn “Paghreh da-Mshyha:”
The Body of Christ and his precious Blood are upon the holy altar. Let us all approach him with awe and love, and with the angels let us sing to him: holy, holy, holy is the Lord God.
This is perfect as a hymn to sing before Communion, as it was originally intended, which is obvious by simply reading the text. By a complex rearrangement of hymns that occurred during the time of Patriarch Isho’yahb II, this hymn as well as others originally meant for a Communion Service were made part of the cycle of Presentation Hymns (‘onyatha d-raze). Then, when daily Mass became more common in the Chaldean Church, it was made the Presentation Hymn for those daily Masses, and memorized and therefore said on many Sundays when the proper Presentation Hymn was less known.
None of this changes the fact that the hymn is not in its appropriate place. Historical accidents, of course, happen. But when the time comes for reform, these accidents need to be straightened out. The 2006 Reform put this hymn just where it belonged – right before the Communion of the people. The Missal of 2013 left it where it was, as a second option after the beautiful Ha Mzamnyton.
But the fact is, the Body and Blood of Christ are not on the altar at that point in Mass. What is being brought up is bread and wine, not yet consecrated. There are contorted attempts to justify this using theological and liturgical acrobatics, but they are not even worth mentioning. The fact is that this hymn was where it was by accident, it never belonged there, and it states a dogmatic falsehood. Even worse, it forces the faithful to sing a dogmatic falsehood at a critical point during the Mass. This is bad catechesis and bad liturgy, and it is dogmatically incorrect, and at worst sheer heresy. There is no nicer way to say it than that.
2. Liturgical Issues
A. The Procedure of Liturgical Reform
I said earlier that unity in the Church is the result of truth. This is exactly why the Church has a very specific procedure for the reform of a liturgy. A liturgy must be reformed according to the truth, which means it must, among other things, be studied and debated by scholars. This is what happened in the Reform of 2006, and what did not happen in the 2014 Missal of Patriarch Sako. The Second Vatican Council’s document called Sacrosanctum Concilium, which is about the reform of the liturgy, states (in paragraph 23): “careful investigation is always to be made into each part of the liturgy which is to be revised. This investigation should be theological, historical, and pastoral.” The Reform of 2006 is based on theological, historical and pastoral studies – there are dozens of articles, lectures, and explanations about every single element of the 2006 Reform, and every change that was made, the fullest study being Bishop Sarhad Jammo’s book The Chaldean Liturgy, available on Amazon. There is not one study to justify a single element of the 2014 Missal, nor could there be, since the whole thing is not based on scholarship at all, as I will illustrate here.
Later in the same paragraph, the Vatican II document continues: “there must be no innovations unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them; and care must be taken that any new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already existing.” The Reform of 2006 is truly an example of “organic growth,” a real development of the beautiful Chaldean Mass that has survived centuries of persecution. The 2014 Missal is not an example of organic growth, but of mutilation.
But what should we make of the apparent Vatican approval of the 2014 Missal? The Letter from His Eminence Leonardo Cardinal Sandri, printed at the beginning of the Missal (by the demand of the Cardinal) is very revealing.
First, the Cardinal refers to the 2014 Missal as “alcune modificazioni” – “some modifications” of the Divine Liturgy. It appears that this Missal was presented to His Eminence as a modification of the Reform of 2006, which it certainly is not.
Secondly, the Cardinal states that the explanation of why this new Missal needed approval was explained to him during a personal meeting on October 16, 2014. That is, no written reason was given for any changes to be made to the Missal of 2006.
Thirdly, the Cardinal gives the reason for his “conceding” to give the recognitio to Patriarch Sako’s Missal as the “particular circumstances” of the Chaldean Church, referring to the suffering of the people of Iraq. How does this have anything to do with the reform of the Liturgy?
The most unusual point to notice is that there have been several (at least four) different versions of Patriarch Sako’s Missal published on his website in the last few months. Which of these exactly was given the “emergency” recognitio by Cardinal Sandri?
For reference, there is a document produced by the Holy See specifically about the Eastern Churches and how they are expected to reform their liturgy, titled: “Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches.” It is available online at:
This is a great document, which is well-studied and rich with a Scriptural and Patristic understanding of liturgy. It is quite clear that those who pieced together the 2014 Missal ignored this document or were unaware of it entirely, which is not surprising since the whole procedure seems to have taken a matter of months, rather than the 15 years of studied work that produced the Reform of 2006. It is no surprise that the result is so random, and has so many versions.
B. The Anaphora and the Last Supper
The heart of the Mass is the Anaphora, or the Eucharistic Prayer. It is this section that is properly attributed to the Apostles Addai and Mari – the other parts of the Mass were added later at various times, though the core of this prayer goes back to the first Century. As a side note, the 2014 Missal oddly titles the entire Mass “The Anaphora of the blessed Apostles.”
Over the centuries, there had been layer upon layer of additions to the Anaphora, or Eucharistic Prayer, of Addai and Mari. This is because the Church fathers who added later developments to the prayer did not want to touch the original text. This resulted in a long and somewhat confused prayer that needed some cleaning. The 2006 Reform did this beautifully, and discovered beneath all the layers of history three primordial paragraphs, dating from the First Century, revealing a basic structure:[list="text-align: justify"]
Bishop Sarhad has shown convincingly that this structure is connected not only to the Birkat ha-Mazzon, an ancient Jewish meal blessing, but to the very Last Supper itself, according to its earliest textual versions in the Gospels of Mark and Matthew, and the letters of St. Paul:[list="text-align: justify"]
[*]Jesus took the bread and blessed[/list]
[*]Jesus took the wine, blessed and gave thanks
[*]Jesus said “do this in memory of me”
The structure of our Anaphora is the structure of the Last Supper itself. There are many further details of this, and I suggest reading Chapters 3 and 4 of Bishop Sarhad’s The Chaldean Liturgy to see them.
Yet again, this First Century structure, the explicit connection to the Lord and the Last Supper which had been clarified in the 2006 Reform, is utterly lost in the 2014 Missal. No distinction is made between the sections, no logic is given to justify the organization, no understanding is shown as to which parts belong to the First Century and which are added centuries or millennia later. In fact, the Second Section of the Apostolic Age, of “Thanksgiving,” was totally deleted, and replaced by a prayer attributed to the heretic Nestorius. This cannot be the future of the Chaldean Liturgy. It did not survive the ages to be reduced to this mutilation, based on no scholarship and never given any justification.
3. Lost Treasures
A. Hallowed be Thy Name
The Reform of 2006 continued the clear distinction between different types of celebrations: ordinary days, memorials, Sundays, and Feasts of the Lord. Each of these has a distinct beginning, reflecting the varying solemnity of each type of celebration. Ordinary days begin with a Psalm reflecting on the “mountain of the Lord” and our unworthiness to ascend it. Feasts of the Lord begin with the glorious acclamation: “I will give you thanks in the great assembly, halleluiah!” Most beautifully, Sunday Masses begin with the exclamation of the angels: “Glory to God in the highest!” followed by a centuries-old adaptation of the Lord’s Prayer, which deserves to be discussed in detail.
Jesus said “this is how you are to pray,” when he gave us the Our Father. This is not only a word-for-word prayer he composed, but also a structural description of how all prayer is meant to be. It begins: “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name.” It ends (in the Chaldean version): “for thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory.” The beginning and ending of our prayer, therefore, must follow the Lord’s pattern: we must begin and end by glorifying God. In between, we give thanks, we remember his mighty deeds, we present our petitions. But before any of those things, we glorify him; and at the end of all that we pray, we glorify him again.
This is the pattern Jesus gave us for prayer, and it is the pattern followed by the Chaldean liturgy for centuries, in its adaptation of the Lord’s Prayer used at the beginning and end of Mass, combining it with a quote from the angels in the book if Isaiah:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name. Thy Kingdom come:
Holy, holy, you are holy. Heaven and earth are full of the greatness of your glory; angels and men cry out to you: holy, holy, you are holy!
This is brilliant. Jesus commanded us to hallow God’s Name, and so while we pray the prayer he taught us, we obey it; we make it come true in our lives, at that moment. We say “hallowed be thy Name,” and we then proceed to call God “holy, holy, you are holy.” We ask for his kingdom to come, on earth as in heaven, and we call to both angels (in heaven) and men (on earth) to hallow God, bringing the Church together, heaven and earth, at the start of the liturgy. The Reform of 2006 saw this brilliance, and retained it, editing it gently only so that the total text of the Lord’s Prayer (including “give us this day our daily bread”) is saved for the time before Communion.
This whole beautiful picture of angels and men, of the hallowing of God’s Name, of structuring our prayer according to the pattern of the Lord’s Prayer, was sliced out, without appreciation and without mercy, by the 2014 Missal. There is no hallowing God’s Name at the beginning and end; if the 2014 Missal becomes the Mass of the Chaldean Church, this prayer will be lost forever. This is an affront and an insult to the Chaldean tradition as well as the whole Catholic Church; it is the mutilation of something gorgeous, and it was given zero justification. It was simply removed. No explanation, no reasoning. The razor was wielded, and the baby was cut to pieces. And so many members of the Chaldean Church, with all its priests and shamashe who profess to love their liturgy so much, are standing by watching in silence as it happens.
B. The Offering and the Saints
I will give one more example of this same mutilating attitude in the 2014 Missal, though there are, unfortunately, dozens of examples. One theological point made during the traditional Chaldean Mass is that the whole Church, from Our Lady, to the Apostles, to all the deceased, are part of the Offering at Mass. Christ is not alone, but his mystical Body, the Church, is part of him, and is offered on the altar along with the bread and wine. This is expressed by means of the hymns that follow the prayers of the Presentation of the Gifts:
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. Let there be a remembrance of the Virgin Mary, Mother of God, upon the holy altar.
From age to age, amen, amen. May the Apostles of the Son and friends of the Only-Begotten be remembered in the Church of Christ.
Let all the people say: amen, amen. Let there be a remembrance of St. (Thomas) upon the holy altar, with the just who triumphed and the martyrs who were crowned.
Behold! All of our beloved deceased have fallen asleep in your trust, that you may raise them in glory by your glorious resurrection.
On the altar, in the Church, all the saints are brought together with the Offering of Christ. In the traditional Chaldean Mass, these hymns were followed immediately by the Creed, and when the Creed was finished, the shamashe would chant:
May this Offering be accepted as you grant us unveiled faces; may it be sanctified by the word of God and by the Holy Spirit, that it may therefore be for our help and salvation, and for everlasting life in the kingdom of heaven, in the grace of Christ.
In the 2006 Reform, this hymn was brought before the Creed, to “tie together” the prayers of Preparation of the Gifts with the hymns bringing the saints together upon the altar.
Again with no justification or understanding of the theological meaning of the text, the 2014 Missal moves this chant “May this Offering be accepted…” to before the hymns commemorating Our Lady, the Apostles, the Patron Saint, and all the Deceased. Those who were once part of the Offering have become ornaments. This is not what the hymns state – they state they are remembered on the altar. This move, which might seem small, has serious implications, and it shows a serious misunderstanding of both the meaning of the text of those hymns, as well as the theology of the Church contained in the Chaldean Mass.
These are three issues among many, many more:
– The (implied, as well as applied) non-Eastern orientation of the Mass. The priest is expected to “face the people,” going against Eastern theology, liturgy, history, and the Prescriptions of the Catholic Church applying to Eastern Churches;
– the complete lack of reference to the Sanctuary Veil, despite all its beautiful, Scriptural meaning;
– the four readings (Moses, the Prophets, Paul and the Gospel), that recall the Road to Emmaus, being cut down to three;
– the loss of the clear rubric for the Sign of Peace which is so beautiful in the Chaldean Church, connecting us all to the altar and to Christ’s words that he gives peace “not as the world gives;”
– the almost complete deletion of all the silent priest prayers, where the soul of the celebrant is reminded of the awe and reverence with which he is to stand before the throne of God.
Each of these deserves to be discussed in detail. This is not a small matter; this is the liturgy of the Chaldean Church. If our worship, the highest point of our lives, is not beautiful or reasonable, then what of the rest of our lives? If this is how we treat the altar of God, what respect do we have for the rest of creation? If we allow confusion to be forced upon us here, what is left of our dignity as a Church?
I am not arguing about the validity of the 2014 Missal. It is obviously a valid Mass that will provide the Church with the Eucharist. But validity is not the same as beauty. We don’t do our bare minimum for God. We do our best, and this Missal is not the best we can do. The best we can do is to strive for truth and beauty. The Eucharist is beautiful. Christ is beautiful. The rite presented in the 2014 Missal is chaotic, unreasonable, and ugly. It goes against the Apostles, the Scriptures, and the will of the Church so clearly expressed at Vatican II and in the documents following it. It is unfitting for the Bride of Christ and his Body.
Why not just accept it for the sake of unity? Because unity at the expense of truth is not unity but tyranny. The Reform of 2006 is a true reform, and it is meant to unify our Church in the truth. We cannot mutilate our baby, no matter what the excuse. It is this baby that brings us Christ, around whom we must gather and toward whom we must gaze, like the shepherds and the magi, and Christ sometimes asks us to stand up and fight for the truth.