Rev. Fr. James Chavarapuzha




The centre of Christian worship is the Eucharistic celebration. The Church uses many titles to denote the Eucharist such as; Sacrifice, Sanctification, Mysteries, Offering and Oblation, Divine Liturgy, Breaking of the Bread and so on. The Syro Malabar[1] Church traditionally uses the name Qurbana[2] to designate the Eucharistic celebration which means an offering, a gift, or an oblation.  In this short study we see different notions about the Holy Qurbana in the Pre-Anaphoral Part[3] of the Syro Malabar Qurbana. These notions help us to enter into the deep theological ocean of the East Syrian Liturgy and thus to understand the faith proclamation of Mar Thoma Nazranees about the Holy Qurbana in the celebration of that liturgy. What is Qurbana for this Church and how does she understand Qurbana? Is there any unique aspect to the faith of this Church with regard to the    Qurbana? Can we find Biblical and Patristic sources to highlight the importance of her traditional beliefs with regard to the Qurbana? All these subjects of discussion are touched on in this section.[4]

1. Qurbana is a Mystery (Raza)

The Eucharistic Liturgy of the Church is often said to be ‘celebration of mysteries’. “In the ordinary usage the term “mystery” means something that is hidden, secret, mysterious, ambiguous etc.”[5] The concept of ‘mystery’ is very common to all the liturgies especially to the Oriental liturgies. The ideas conveyed by this concept are very wide and the theology behind it is very rich. In different liturgies the terminology varies, but the ideas behind it remain more or less the same. “In the Syriac Orient, its term is Raza; in the Greek East it is Mysterion; and in the Latin West it is Sacramentum.”[6] Raza is a technical term very commonly found in the Syriac liturgical traditions, especially in the case of Sacraments and in a particular way in the Eucharistic liturgies. It is also used as a title for the Eucharistic celebration. In the Syro Malabar Church this is all the more true because the solemn form of her Eucharistic celebration is traditionally known as Raza[7]. “The term ‘raza’ which literally means mystery is a derivative of a Persian term ‘raz’.”[8]  In the Semitic languages similar words of ‘raza’ are found.  “Raza is a loan word from old Iranian, that is the language of ancient Iran; it is a Semitic modification of ‘razah’ – (neuter), which means ‘solitude, being alone.’”[9] This word raza is frequently used in the oriental languages to signify the meaning ‘secret’ or ‘hidden’. The term ‘raza’ is more frequent in middle Persian or Pahlavi; and in modern Persian it has the meanings ‘hidden, secret’ etc.[10]

According to K. Luke, the term ‘razah’ has a very close connection with the Sanskrit ‘rahas’ which also meant secret or mystery.[11] Very parallel words are found in other Indian languages also which are closely related to Semitic language and culture. “The Malayalam[12] term ‘rahasyam’ is derived from this Sanskrit ‘rahas’. Therefore the Malayalam term ‘rahasyam[13] has a linguistic affinity with the Persian ‘raz’ and the Syriac ‘raza’. Consequently, ‘raz’, ‘raza’, ‘rahas’ and ‘rahasyam’ are mutually interrelated parallel terms in Persian, Syriac, Sanskrit and Malayalam respectively.”[14]

The term ‘raza’ plays an indispensable role in the East Syrian Liturgical field. It has a wider sense than in scholastic language. In fact, the word ‘raza’ or its root ‘raz’ is used in a variety of senses in the Syriac liturgical texts and the commentaries, reflecting various aspects of the liturgical phenomenon. The Syriac noun ‘raza’ means: a) a secret; b) anything having a secret or mystical meaning; c) a type, figure, sign, symbol, likeness; d) mystery, sacrament, the holy Eucharist etc.[15] Its plural form, ‘raze’, also signifies the same sense.  It designates sacraments, as we find it in expressions such as raze da-m’modita and raze d’-pagra wa-dma (the Mysteries of baptism, the Mysteries of the body and blood).[16] For Payne Smith its root has the implication of mystery. Accordingly,  Etrazz, the passive of the simple form of the verb ‘raz’, has the meaning, ‘to be initiated into Mysteries’ or ‘to be mystically shown forth’. Its intensive form, ‘arz’, means ‘to signify mystically’.[17]  The term ‘raza’ and its root are very much related to the Hebrew language. “The meaning of ‘raz’ is very close to that of Hebrew ‘sod’, which means ‘heavenly assembly’, where decisions and decrees concerning the destiny of man are made. Prophets were admitted to this secret heavenly assembly to hear its decrees. Thus ‘sod’ conveys the notion of intimate friendship.”[18]

In the Old Testament ‘raz’ is used eight times in the Book of Daniel; referring to the future secrets (Dan.2:18,19,27-30,47,4:9).[19] “Here the term refers to the establishment of a Kingdom which cannot be destroyed. Here ‘raz’ is something eschatological and apocalyptical and is closely related to the salvation of God’s chosen people.”[20] Hence the basic meaning of ‘raz’ in the Biblical context is revelation. And by revelation it meant the disclosure of God’s saving plans through God’s own agents which otherwise would remain hidden from his people. “In the Qumran documents ‘raz’ occurs 55 times. Most often ‘raz’ here meant divine mysteries having cosmological emphasis about the creation of the world and the luminaries.”[21] Both in the book of Daniel and in the Qumran texts the ‘raz’ par excellence is something eschatological and apocalyptical and it is inseparably bound up with the end of time and the salvation of the chosen people. It is known only to God and He according to His good pleasure discloses it to His chosen mouthpieces, so that they may make it known to mankind at large.[22]

In the New Testament while dealing with the reasons for speaking to the people in parables, Jesus tells the disciples that the grace has been granted to them l’meddà raza’ d’malkutà dashmayyà ‘to know the mystery of the Kingdom of heaven’ (Mt.13:11); the parallel passages in Mark 4:11 and Luke 8:10 have the ‘Mystery of the Kingdom of God’. Jesus’ preaching regarding the arrival of the eschatological reign of God is itself a mystery, whose knowledge is granted only to those chosen by God.[23] In the Book of Revelation ‘raza’ occurs four times (1:20, 10:7, 17:5,7). There are two texts in which St. Paul speaks about the eschatological consummation. According to him a time will come when Israel as a whole will receive Christ; the salvation of the Jewish nation is for him raza hana (Rom.11:25) “this Mystery”. He craves that the Christian should know the mystery. Here the mystery is the mystery of salvation. The second text describes what is going to happen to those who will be alive at the second coming of Christ (I Cor.15:51). They will not all die but will be transformed. For Paul this event at the moment of the Parousia and the eschatological consummation is a Mystery, ‘raza’, whose nature the believer is now not able to understand.[24]

The Christological nature of the mystery comes very conspicuously to the forefront in the letter to the Colossians. According to 1:26, ‘raza hana’ (this mystery) which has been hidden since ages and generations, has finally been made manifest to the saints. God did this in order to make known how rich is the glory ‘d’raza hana bamme’ (1:27) ‘Of this mystery among the gentiles’. The writer who is a prisoner requests the readers to pray that God may grant him and his co-workers the opportunity to declare ‘raza damshiha’(4:3), ‘the Mystery of Christ’.[25]Raza’ which is a theological term very rich in nuances shows an undeniable process of evolution from Daniel to Colossians. The ‘Raza’ or Mystery is something which God alone knows and which he discloses to his spokesmen who in their turn communicate it to mankind; it is ultimately concerned with the establishment of his reign.

In the Syrian Churches the concept of mystery is very much developed and deepened. “To the Syrians, everything is mystery in the sphere of faith.”[26] The Holy Qurbana is really a sublime mystery. It is called the mystery of mysteries in the East Syrian Tradition. According to Odo Casel, one of the most famous liturgical theologians of 20th century in the Latin Church, Liturgical Mystery is the most central and essential action of the Christian religion. He defines Mystery as “a sacred ritual action in which a saving deed is made present through the rite; the congregation, by performing the rite, takes part in the saving act, and thereby wins salvation.”[27]

Having considered all these aspects of the meaning of ‘raza’ let us now turn into the Qurbana of the Syro Malabar Church. In the first slotha of the Holy Raza of Syro Malabar Church the celebrant seeks help from God to administer the Sacred Mysteries or Propitiatory Mysteries.[28] Here the celebration of Qurbana is considered as the celebration or administration of ‘raze’. The priest when he first places the paten and chalice on the altar prays; “these glorious, holy, life-giving and divine mysteries are set and arranged on the holy altar of Christ.”[29] The rubrics which are given in the Order of Raza for this rite also contain the notion of mystery. Here the offerings are called the mysteries.[30] There are prayers of the celebrant who thanks God for making him worthy to offer the mysteries. The celebrant when he officially approaches the holy altar confesses; “you have made me worthy by your grace to offer before you these holy, glorious, life-giving and divine mysteries of the Body and Blood of your Christ.”[31] It is very clear from these prayers that the Qurbana, the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, is a mystery. There are hymns in this Qurbana called Onitha d’Raze[32] which means ‘hymn of mysteries’. This variable anthem accompanies the transfer of gifts and the washing of hands. With the transferring of gifts the mysterious aspect of Qurbana is very much disclosed. The substance of the anthem of mysteries is nothing other than the concept mystery.

The concept, Qurbana as a mystery is widely discussed in the writings of the fathers of the Church, especially the Syriac and Greek Fathers. For Aprem, first and foremost, the Eucharist is the life-giving mystery of our Lord (razeh maran).[33] The Eucharistic sacrament in Aprem is explicitly called raza.[34] For John Chrysostom the liturgy is a ‘Mystery’. In his view, the entire celebration is so much an anamnesis of the saving work of Christ and a revelation of heavenly reality that its earthly form is wholly irradiated by these aspects.[35] Here mystery is a revelation of heavenly reality. According to him Qurbana is “the frightful mysteries”[36], and “the divine mysteries.”[37] For Bar Salibi the Body and Blood are called ‘Mysteries’.[38] Athanasius also speaks about this reality. He invites the faithful for the celebration of the ‘mysteries’.[39]

For the East Syrian Church their aspects of faith are mysterious, not because of their lack of faith but because of the immensity of their faith. Qurbana is ‘the raza’ for them, because it is an event of the Holy Trinity. They regard Qurbana as a mystery because it, as a whole, is related to the economy of salvation which is raza or mystery or that which is unexplainable in human terms.

2. Qurbana is the Body and Blood of Iso- Misiha


communion-iconTo the word Qurbana the Mar Thoma Nazranees or the Syro Malabar Church traditionally identify two implications. Firstly, it is the celebration of sacred Mystery that is the Eucharistic celebration. Secondly, Qurbana is the Body and Blood of Iso-Misiha. Our point of reflection is on the second of these implications. The Syro Malabar Church uses the terms ‘Qurbana kaikondo or Qurbana sweekaricho which means ‘did you receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ’ to emphasise the belief that Qurbana means the Body and Blood of Iso-Misiha. This is the faith which they received from their father in faith Mar Thoma Sliha. It was to the twelve Apostles, among whom Mar Thoma was included, that Jesus said, taking the bread and wine, “This is my Body” and “This is my Blood” (Lk.11:19-20). It is to them Jesus said that “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (Jn. 6:54).

In and through the celebration of Qurbana this Church firmly believes and proclaims its faith in the so called “Real Presence”. In the Onitha d’Qanke the faithful sing; “and set in it (the Church) your holy altar whereon, O Lord, your Body and Blood are to be sacrificed.”[40]  In the Syro Malabar Qurbana the Eucharistic gifts are prepared during the Karozutha prayers. After incensing the chalice, the wine and water are mixed together in the chalice. Pouring wine in the chalice in the form of the cross the celebrant prays: “The precious Blood is poured into the chalice of Christ, our Lord in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: Amen.”[41] The same is also the case with the prayer recited when the bread is placed on the paten (after incensing) signing it in cross form: “This Paten is signed with the sacred Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”[42]  Certain Syriac words which are used in this Qurbana well bring to light the above said theme. For example the Syriac word Bukra. “In the Syriac sources of the Syro Malabar Qurbana, the bread is always designated with the word Bukra, and it means the «First Born».”[43] Instead of saying, ‘the celebrant takes the bread and places it on the paten’, it is always said, ‘the celebrant takes the ‘First Born’ and places Him on the paten’. The same word Bukra is used always in the Syriac text of the Qurbana.[44] Prayers like these highlight the liturgical theology of this Church.

In the Anthem of Mysteries the celebrating assembly proclaims: “The Body of Christ and His precious Blood are on the holy altar. Let us all approach Him with reverence and love, and let us sing his praises with the angels: Holy, holy, holy, Lord God.”[45] The interesting thing is that these all prayers are before the Anaphora.  Even before the official entrance of the priest to the Madbha the bread and wine are called the mysteries and the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. The celebrant when he approaches the altar prays: “You have made me worthy by your grace to offer before you these holy, glorious, life-giving and divine mysteries of the Body and Blood of your Christ.”[46]

The Fathers of the Church write much about this idea. The scholastic words ‘real presence’ do not occur in their writings, but the reality meant by these words is present. Ignatius the second bishop of Antioch through his letters teaches the Eucharistic faith. For Ignatius of Antioch the Eucharist is the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who suffered for our sin, and whom the Father in His loving-kindness raised from the dead.[47] Athanasius whom the Greek Church calls ‘the Father of Orthodoxy’ also writes about it.  According to him after the great and wonderful prayers have been pronounced the bread becomes the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the wine becomes His Blood.[48]

Cyril of Jerusalem expresses himself more clearly regarding the ‘real presence’ than all the earlier writers. His five Mystegogical catechesis are based on the liturgical ceremonies and they reveal his Eucharistic doctrine. After quoting 1Cor.11,23-25, he commands to partake in the Eucharist as of the Body and Blood of Christ: for in the figure of bread is given to you His Body, and in the figure of wine His Blood, that you by partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ, may become of one body and one blood with Him.[49] He insists that what seems bread is not bread, though bread by taste, but the Body of Christ; and what seems wine is not wine, though the taste will have it so, but the Blood of Christ.

Aprem usually pictures the hidden power in the Bread (Qurbana) in terms of fire and Spirit.[50]  The purifying Fire in the Bread brings divine mercy to mankind as to Isaiah. He quotes Isaiah 6, 6-7 and explains “The Seraph did not touch the coal with his fingers; it only touched the mouth of Isaiah (Is 6.6ff); he neither held it nor ate it. But see, Our Lord has let us do both.”[51] For Aprem the hidden presence of Christ in the Qurbana is expressed through the terms splendour and light. Christ, the Sun, manifests Himself in the Qurbana like the rising sun. Those who eat and drink this splendour of the Sun pick up eternal life from the treasures of life.[52] For Aprem the Eucharistic Body contains the whole person of Jesus. In his hymns we read that power concealed in the cloth of the sanctuary, a power which no mind has ever conceived. His love bent down, descended, and hovered, over the cloth on the altar of reconciliation.[53]

John Chrysostom is an eminent witness to the ‘real presence’ of Christ in the Qurbana. For him the consecrated wine is ‘the cup of holy awe’[54], and the ‘precious blood’.[55] Again he says: “Reflect, o man, what sacrificial flesh you take in your hand, to what table you will approach. Remember that you, though dust and ashes, do receive the Blood and the Body of Christ.”[56]

By analysing the prayers and the teachings of the fathers of the Church we come to the conclusion that Qurbana is the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. The prayers of the Pre-Anaphoral Part affirm it clearly and the fathers of the Church support it strongly. Even before beginning the anaphora the celebrating community beliefs and proclaims that Qurbana is the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ and we are here to celebrate and receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ the Son of God.

3. Qurbana is a gift of Iso Misiha to the Church

icon-of-christ-high-priest-the-holy-eucharistThe celebration of the Qurbana is not an invention of the Church rather it is the gift of Jesus Christ to the Church. In the first slotha of the Qurbana the celebrant firmly proclaims that Qurbana is given by Jesus Christ. He recites: “that we may administer the sacred mysteries given for the renewal and salvation of mankind through the mercy of your beloved son.”[57] It is clear that these sacred mysteries are given by Jesus Christ and it is out of mercy that he has given them for the renewal and salvation of mankind. Really it is a gift both to the Church and to the whole of mankind.

Let us now look at the words of Ignatius of Antioch. Ignatius speaks strongly against the people who do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ. According to him those who reject the gift of God” die amid their disputes.[58] According to Raymond Johanny scholars differ in opinion when interpreting what is meant by this ‘gift of God’. He comes to the conclusion that if the text is taken in its entirety and in its context, the ‘gift of God’ must be understood as a comprehensive whole, but with the accent on the Eucharist the ‘gift of God’ thus refers to the Eucharist insofar as the latter is bound up with the incarnation and is an actualization of the redemptive mystery (Christ’s death and resurrection). These various aspects of the mystery are so closely connected in Ignatius’ thinking as to constitute a single mystery of Christ. Therefore those who reject God’s gift, that is, who do not acknowledge the real flesh of Christ in the Eucharist because they deny the reality of the incarnation and the redemption, will die amid their disputes.[59]

In the Turgama before the epistle the M’samasana proclaims that: “O you, who are summoned by the great power of God to the salutary feast of the royal banquet of the king of heaven and earth.”[60] Here Qurbana is considered as a royal banquet of God the King of heaven and earth. The faithful are those who are graciously summoned by the God. Salvation as a whole is a call and gift of God to mankind. This salvation comes to its final accomplishment when we are satisfied with another great gift by God that is the royal banquet or the Holy Qurbana.

Qurbana is the Eucharist or thanksgiving for the Church. Every individual Church holds this belief and proclaims it through the prayers in the anaphora. But in the East Syrian Eucharistic celebration which the Syro Malabar Church follows this faith aspect is repeated firmly in the Pre-Anaphora itself.

4. We celebrate the Qurbana according to the mandate[61] of Iso Misiha

When Christ instituted the Holy Qurbana at the Last Supper in the Cenacle at Jerusalem, he gave his Apostles the power to reproduce this most sublime sacrifice saying; ‘Do this in remembrance of me’ (Lk. 22:19). The word ‘remembrance’ (Dukrana, anamnesis, memorial) in Holy Scripture meant the liturgical re-enactment of some past significant event in the Old Testament (Ex. 22:14-27; 13:3, 8-10; Dt. 16:3; Num. 10:19).  In the Syro Malabar Church the Qurbana is introduced by the solemn singing of Puqdanakon[62], ‘Your Commandment’, by the celebrant. To this the community replies Puqdaneh da-Msiha[63], ‘The Commandment of Christ’. It is interesting to note that among the East Syrian Churches, it is only in the Syro Malabar Qurbana that we see this kind of the beginning of the Eucharist. Other Churches of this tradition (the Chaldean Catholic Church, the Assyrian Church of the East) lack this solemn introduction. It is the commemoration of the Last Supper in which our Lord commanded the Eucharistic Sacrifice to be repeated[64]. The people by their answer, ‘The Commandment of Christ’, declare that they are aware of the commandment of Christ to celebrate the Memorial Sacrifice whenever they gather together. At this point the celebrating community is reminded of “His commandment to celebrate His memorial when we come together as a Church, ‘This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me’ (Lk.22:19) and ‘for I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you….Do this in remembrance of me’ (ICor.11:23-25).”[65] This short but beautiful prayer underlines the fact that the Church celebrates the Qurbana according to the mandate of Jesus Christ. The very first prayer of the Qurbana highlights this basic faith of the Church.

During the Onitha d’Raze the paten and chalice are brought in procession to the altar and the archdeacon taking the chalice in his right hand and the paten in his left, crosses his hands and raises them and prays: “May Christ who was sacrificed for our salvation, and who commanded us to celebrate the memory of His passion, death and resurrection…..”[66] He proclaims that Christ himself commanded us to celebrate the Qurbana which is the memory of his passion, death and resurrection.  Again he professes that the life giving mysteries are set and arranged on the altar by the command of Jesus Christ. The archdeacon striking the base of the chalice with the paten three times says: “By your command, O Lord our God, these glorious, holy, life-giving and divine mysteries are set and arranged on the holy altar of Christ, until his glorious second coming from heaven.”[67] These two prayers of presentation emphasize the commandment of the Lord to celebrate His memorial until His second coming. This is somehow parallel with the remembrance of the command at the beginning of the Eucharistic celebration: one at the beginning of the Liturgy of the Catechumens and the other at the beginning of the Liturgy of the Faithful.

The fathers of the Church explain this command very well. Justin Martyr sees the Eucharist as originating in the commission given the apostles in the Lord’s words of institution. In his Apology he confesses that the apostles have told us that they were commissioned thus: Jesus took the bread and, having given thanks, said: ‘Do this in memory of me, this is my body’; and in a like manner he took the cup and, having given thanks, said: ‘This is my blood’, and he gave these to them alone.[68] For Justin the bread of the Eucharist is that which our Lord Jesus Christ commanded us to offer in memory of the passion he underwent. Here the Eucharist is presented as something Christ himself ordered his disciples to do.

In this post modern era many are confused with the traditional belief and the traditional way of Church’s celebration. This is true in the case of Qurbana also. There are people who ask why we celebrate Qurbana? Did Jesus tell us to celebrate the Qurbana? The Syro Malabar Church answers such questions through her Qurbana. It is a written as well as a proclaimed truth that ‘we are celebrating Qurbana according to the mandate of Jesus Christ our Lord.’ The Syro Malabar Liturgy interprets the inaugurative command ‘Do this in remembrance of me’ in a widest sense. In this sense the Holy Qurbana is not only a living and precious memorial of Christ’s passion and death, but also the sacrificial and living commemorations of his entire life in Palestine and his glorious heavenly life, both past and present, including his future second advent.

5. Iso Misiha accepts the Qurbana

Normally people think and believe that Jesus Christ is the one who offers the Qurbana to God the Father and also He is the victim. God the Father receives the Qurbana. It is very true. But one of the most important Christological confessions of the Syro Malabar Church is clearly depicted in the Pre-Anaphoral Part. According to this, Jesus Christ is the one who accepts the Qurbana. Jesus Christ not only offers the Qurbana but He also accepts the Qurbana. It is very clear in the following prayer. The archdeacon taking the chalice in his right hand and the paten in his left, crosses his hands and raises them and prays: “May Christ who has sacrificed for our salvation, and who commanded us to celebrate the memory of His passion, death, burial and resurrection accept this sacrifice from our hands, through His grace and mercy, forever, Amen.”[69]

This is one of the most ancient Christological prayers in Christianity and thus the scholars consider it a typical confession of the authentic personality of Jesus Christ. He is one who is able to offer sacrifice in His human nature and one who can accept it in His divine personality. It is a traditional Christological text. The liturgical prayer addressed to the Lord Jesus Christ is a venerable tradition of the Church and it is still kept in the Syro Malabar Church. In the West Syrian Liturgical tradition also we can see the same idea. For example in the Eqbo (Termination) of the first part of the Preparation rites we see, ‘O Christ, who didst accept the sacrifice of the high-priest Melchizedek, accept, O Lord, the prayers of your servant and forgive the sins of your flock.[70] This precious truth is believed and confessed by the entire worshipping community. There are prayers which have the same reflection in the anaphoral and post anaphoral part of the Syro Malabar Qurbana. Here the significant thing is that, in the Syro Malabar Church, only after making this Christological confession in the Pre-Anaphoral Part the main celebrant enters the altar to offer the sacrifice.

6. Holy Spirit descends from above and sanctifies the Body and Blood of Iso Misiha

holyspiritThe redemptive work of the Son Jesus Christ cannot be considered apart from the Holy Spirit’s work of sanctification. According to Baby Varghese, the Athanasian aphorism (‘The Word took flesh that we might receive the Spirit’) very well summarizes the Eastern understanding of salvation, which is true of the Syriac tradition as well.[71] When people consider the work of Holy Spirit in the Eucharistic celebration of the Oriental Churches they usually examine the epiclesis in the anaphoral part. “In the epiclesis, more than anywhere else, the oriental understanding and doctrine of the Holy Spirit come to light.”[72] For example in the Eucharistic epiclesis in chapter 50 of the Acts of Thomas the Holy Spirit is depicted as the revealer of the mysteries, proclaimer of the good news, treasurer of majesty, utterer of hidden things, the one who shows the works of God, giver of life in secret and giver of joy and rest to all.[73]

In the Anaphora of Addai and Mari the epiclesis is as the following: “O My Lord, may your Holy spirit come down, and dwell in this Qurbana of your servants and bless it and sanctify it that it may be to us, O My Lord, unto the pardon of debts, remission of sins and the great hope of resurrection from the dead and new life in the kingdom of heaven with all those who have found favor in your presence.”[74] The Eucharistic epiclesis deals explicitly with the operation of the Holy Spirit, namely the sanctification of the Qurbana so that it become a blessing for the community, through the pardon of debts and remission of sins, and the life of resurrection which will be perfected in the kingdom of heaven. This prayer makes clear that it is through the presence of the Spirit that our Qurbana is blessed and sanctified. Even though it is not our task to analyze the epiclesis which is incorporated in the anaphoral part we refer to it here because of the significance of the matter which we are addressing.

In the Pre-Anaphoral Part of the Syro Malabar Qurbana there is a part called the Rite of Prostration[75] which clearly depicts and agrees with our above mentioned title; ‘Holy Spirit descends from above and sanctifies the Body and Blood of Iso Misiha’. This Rite of Prostration in Qurbana exists only in the Syro Malabar Church.[76] The prostration in the Raza is a characteristic ritual in the Qurbana celebration of the Thomas Christians of India. The ritual is as follows: The celebrant together with the archdeacon goes to the middle of the nave and standing in front of a large veil (in the middle of which there is a Sleeva), spread out on the ground, and recites the concluding prayer of Karozutha and the prayer of the imposition of hands. Then the deacon dismisses the catechumens. At this point the choir intones the hymn: ‘The priest entering into the sanctuary’. During this anthem the celebrant prostrates and kisses the Sleeva (on the veil) on the floor three times and stands erect, and makes a sign of the cross over it while singing: the Body and Blood of Christ. He does so, on the four sides of the veil, moving to the right after every intonation.[77] In the Prostration ceremony the entire worshipping community is reminded of what is going to happen in the anaphoral part in the Holy of Holies. In the anaphoral part the celebrant invokes the Holy Spirit and He comes down and sanctifies the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. One of the anthems of Prostration is as the following: “The priest, when he comes to the holy altar, devoutly stretches his hands to heaven and invokes the Holy Spirit; and the Spirit descends from above and sanctifies the Body and Blood of Christ.”[78] The anthem of prostrations summarizes what is taking place in the Eucharist and reveals the role of the Holy Spirit in the Eucharistic celebration.

According to the Eastern Liturgical Theology in every Eucharistic celebration the celebrant invokes the Holy Spirit and He comes down to sanctify the offerings that is the bread and the wine and makes them the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.  It is while repeating this hymn four times, that the celebrant, with the sublime and awe-inspiring power of God, humbles himself and kneels and kisses the Sleeva (on the veil) on the floor three times. By doing this “he attributes the whole mystery of sanctifying the people’s offering to the work of the Holy Spirit, ignoring his own instrumental participation in it.”[79]

The fathers of the Church frequently speak about the function of Holy Spirit in the Eucharistic celebrations. Cyril of Jerusalem regards the calling down the Holy Spirit upon the oblation as that which effects the change of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. He testifies that we call up on the merciful God to send forth His Holy Spirit upon the gifts laid before Him; He may make the bread the Body of Christ, and the wine the Blood of Christ; for whatsoever the Holy Ghost has touched, is sanctified and changed.[80]

Theodore of Mopsuestia is of the same opinion as Cyril of Jerusalem, regarding the epiclesis as that which effects the consecration. He states that the priest prays to God that the Holy Spirit may descend, and that grace may come there from upon the bread and wine that are laid (on the altar) so that they may be seen to be truly the Body and Blood of our Lord.[81] He confirms that first it is laid up on the altar as a mere bread and wine mixed with water; but by the coming of the Holy Spirit it is transformed into Body and Blood, and thus it is changed into the power of spiritual and immortal nourishment.

In the Syrian Tradition the role and function of the Holy Spirit in the Qurbana, especially with regard to the sanctifying character is very clear. The Syro Malabar Qurbana firmly affirms this fact again and again even in the Pre-Anaphoral Part. By doing so the Church reminds her faithful the traditional faith.


Qurbana is the basic faith of the Church. It is the source of Church’s life. If it is the basic faith and the source of life it should have a prominent place in the life of the faithful. The celebrating community should be aware of this basic fact. They should be catechized well about the Qurbana. To teach her faithful an individual Church need not to use any other stuff than the Qurbana. Christ has given Raza or Qurbana to the Church in order to fulfill His action. To understand and fulfill this action the faithful should have sufficient knowledge about the Qurbana where Church proclaims her fundamental faith. The Syro Malabar Church very clearly affirms and proclaims her concept on Qurbana in the Pre- Anaphoral Part. Qurbana is a mystery or Raza for her. The preference for this term highlights the peculiar mysticism which pervades the whole of Eastern theology, as against the more legalistic and definitive approach of Western theology. It is not just a casual saying but one clearly founded on Biblical teachings and Patristic Traditions. For this Church Qurbana is the real Body and Blood of Christ. The Church celebrates the Qurbana according to the mandate of Jesus. The Qurbana is not a private action of individuals because it is the gift of Jesus Christ to the entire Church. The role of God the Son and Holy Spirit is very much emphasized in the Pre-Anaphoral Part. Jesus Christ not only offers the Qurbana rather He is the receiver of the Qurbana. The Holy Spirit comes down from the heaven and completes the Qurbana. An action of the Holy Spirit which would be perfected in the Anaphora is confessed as a great faith in the Pre-Anaphoral Part itself.  The celebration of Qurbana certainly conforms and perfectly expresses the authentic deposit of these notions of faith. The Church therefore understands herself in depth precisely starting from her nature as celebrating assembly. In this sense it should not be forgotten that a true proclamation and a real catechism of faith happens in the celebration of the Qurbana.

[1] The term Syro Malabar stands for the most ancient Catholic community (St Thomas Christians) in the whole of India. The Syro – Malabarians are not Syrians racially or culturally but only by rite. The particle Syro attached to their name signifies only that they use the East Syrian or Chaldean language for liturgical purposes. Syro – Malabar Liturgy is of East Syrian or Chaldean derivation. (For more details, see: P. PODIPARA, The Syro – Malabarians, Their Life and Their Activities, Prakasam Publications, Kottayam 1956, 241).

[2]  In Syriac tradition the word qurbana indicates the whole of the Eucharistic celebration (not merely the central part). It comes from the root word qareb and it means ‘bringing in’, ‘offering’, ‘gift’, ‘oblation’, and so on. Cf. PAYNE SMITH, A Compendious Syriac Dictionary, 517.

[3] The Pre-Anaphoral part is that part in the Syro Malabar Qurbana from the beginning (Puqdanakon) till the Kussapa before the first G’hanta.

[4] I deal only with the Pre- Anaphoral Part and exclude grammar, music, historical developments of each and every prayers etc. I study only the fixed prayers of the Pre-Anaphoral part rather than the Propria. My primary source of reference will be the Taksa.

[5]J. Poovannikunnel, The Concept of “Mystery “(Raza) in the Syro Malabar Qurbana, OIRSI, Kottayam 1989, 1.

[6] POOVANNIKUNNEL, The Concept of “Mystery“(Raza) in the Syro Malabar Qurbana, 5.

[7] The most solemn form of the Eucharistic celebration in East Syrian tradition is known as raza. This Syriac word means ‘mystery’, ‘a secret’, ‘sacrament’, ‘the Eucharist’ etc. cf. PAYNE SMITH, A Compendious Syriac Dictionary, 524.

[8] POOVANNIKUNNEL, The Concept of “Mystery“(Raza) in the Syro Malabar Qurbana, 6.

[9] K. LUKE, «The Technical Term ‘Raza’», Christian Orient, 4 (1983), 114.

[10] Cf. LUKE, «The Technical Term ‘Raza’», 114.

[11] Cf. LUKE, «The Technical Term ‘Raza’», 114.

[12] Malayalam is the mother tongue of Mar Thoma Nazranees. They mainly use the Syriac, Malayalam, Hindi, Tamil, Kannada and English languages for their liturgical services of which Malayalam is the most common and widely used one.

[13] The Malayalam word ‘rahasyam’ is a very commonly used word in the Syro Malabar Church to convey the idea of ‘raza’ or ‘mystery’. The word ‘rahasyam’ means, ‘that which is hidden’ or ‘that which the human nature cannot understand fully’, or ‘that which is divine’ etc.

[14] POOVANNIKUNNEL, The Concept of “Mystery”(Raza) in the Syro Malabar Qurbana, 6.

[15] Cf. J.PAYNE SMITH, Syriac Dictionary, Clarendon Press, Oxford 1903, 28.

[16] Cf. R.PAYNE SMITH ,Thesaurus Syriacus, 2, Oxford, 3872.

[17] Cf. PAYNE SMITH, Syriac Dictionary, 536.

[18] B.VARGHESE, West Syrian Liturgical Theology,  Ashgate, Burlington 2004, 36.

[19] The Biblical verses are taken from the New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition for India.

[20] POOVANNIKUNNEL, The Concept of Mystery (Raza) in the Syro Malabar Qurbana, 6.

[21] POOVANNIKUNNEL, The Concept of Mystery (Raza) in the Syro Malabar Qurbana, 6.

[22] Cf. LUKE, «The Technical Term ‘Raza’», 119.

[23] Cf. LUKE, «The Technical Term ‘Raza’», 119.

[24] Cf. LUKE, «The Technical Term ‘Raza’», 120.

[25] Cf. LUKE, «The Technical Term ‘Raza’», 121.

[26] G. PANIKER, «The Holy Qurbono in the Syro-Malankara Church»,  in The Eucharistic Liturgy in the Christian East, ed. John Madey, Prakasam Publications, Kottayam 1983, 139.

[27] O. CASEL, The Mystery of Christian Worship and Other Writings,  Newman Press, London 1963, 55.

[28] The Syro Malabar Qurbana: The Order of Raza, Syro Malabar Bishop’s Conference, San Jose Process, Trivandrum 1989, 4. (Here after I use The Order of Raza to designate ‘The Syro Malabar Qurbana: The Order of Raza’).

[29] The Order of Raza, 30.

[30] The text is;“The archdeacon, placing the mysteries on the altar, the paten on his right and the chalice on his left, covers them with the sosappa”.

[31] The Order of Raza, 33.

[32] The Order of Raza, 29.

[33] Cf. EPHREM, Das Heiligen Ephraem des Hymnen Contra Haereses (Hymns against the heresies), Syr text and German tr by E. Beck (CSCO 169/170; Syr 76/77), Secrétariat CSCO, Louvain 1957, 12.

[34] Cf. EPHREM, Des Heiligen Ephrem des Syres Paschahymnen  (Paschal hymns), Syr text and German tr by E. Beck (CSCO 248/249; Syr. 76/77),  Secrétariat CSCO, Louvain 1957, 16.

[35] Cf. H.J. SCHULZ, The Byzantine Liturgy: Symbolic Structure and Faith Expression, Pueblo Publishing Company, New York 1980, 15.

[36] Cf. JOHANNES CHRYSOSTOMUS, In Matthaeum homiliae, ed. J.P. Migne  (PG 57), Migne,  Paris 1862, 359-360.

[37] JOHANNES CHRYSOSTOMUS, Homilia in Sanctum Pascha, ed. J.P. Migne (PG 52), Migne, Paris 1862, 769.

[38] Cf. S. BROCK, La Spiritualità nella Tradizione Siriaca, Lipa, Roma 2006, 115-116.

[39] ATHANASIUS ALEXANDRINUS, Epistula ad Adelphium,  ed. J.P. Migne (PG 26), Migne, Paris 1857, 1072-1080.

[40] The Order of Raza, 10.

[41] The Order of Raza, 23.

[42] The Order of Raza, 34.

[43] PATHIKULANGARA, Qurbana: The Eucharistic Celebration of Chaldeo-Indian Church, 182.

[44] Cf. PATHIKULANGARA, Qurbana: The Eucharistic Celebration of Chaldeo-Indian Church, 182-183.

[45] The Order of Raza, 29.

[46] The Order of Raza, 33.

[47] Cf. IGNATIUS ANTIOCHENUS, Epistola Ad Smyrnaeos, ed. J.P. Migne (PG 5), Migne, Paris 1857, 714.

[48] Cf. ATHANASIUS ALEXANDRINUS, Epistula ad Adelphium, ed. J.P. Migne (PG 26), Migne, Paris 1857, 1072-1080.

[49] Cf. CYRILLUS HIEROSOLYMITANUS, Mystagogiae 1-5, ed. J.P. Migne (PG 33), Migne, Paris 1857, 1098.

[50] J.P. AMAR, «Perspectives on the Eucharist In Ephrem the Syrian», Worship 61 (1987) 451.

[51]  EPHREM,  Das heiligen Ephraem des Hymnende Fide (hymns on Faith), Syr text and German tr by E. Beck, (CSCO 154/155; Syr 73/74), Secrétariat CSCO, Louvain 1955, 12.

[52] Cf. M.PAIKATT, Life Glory and Salvation in the Writings of Mar Aprem of Nisibis, OIRSI, Kottayam 2001, 210.

[53] Cf. EPHREM,  Des heiligen Ephrem des Syres Paschahymnen (Paschal hymns) , 5.

[54] Cf. CYRILLUS HIEROSOLYMITANUS, Ad illuminandos catecheses 1-2, ed. J.P. Migne (PG 33), Migne, Paris 1857, 230.

[55] Cf. CYRILLUS HIEROSOLYMITANUS, De Sacerdotio libri 1-6, ed. J.P. Migne (PG 33),  Migne, Paris 1857, 623-692.

[56] CYRILLUS HIEROSOLYMITANUS, In diem natalem,, ed. J.P. Migne (PG 33),  Migne, Paris 1857, 361.

[57] The Order of Raza, 3.

[58] Cf. IGNATIUS ANTIOCHENUS, Epistola Ad Smyrnaeos,  714.

[59] Cf. R. JOHANNY, «Ignatius of Antioch», in The Eucharist of the Early Christians, ed. W. Rordorf, Pueblo Publishing Company, New York 1978, 57-58.

[60] The Order of Raza, 15.

[61] Lk. 22:19, 1Cor.11:23-25.

[62] Taksa D’quddasa: Syro-Malabar Sabhayude Aghoshapurvamaya Razakramam (Malayalam), Syro Malabar Bishop’s Conference, San Jose Process, Trivandrum 1986, 2.

[63] Taksa D’quddasa: Syro-Malabar Sabhayude Aghoshamaya Razakramam , 3.

[64] PATHIKULANGARA, Qurbana: The Eucharistic Celebration of Chaldeo-Indian Church, 151.

[65] PATHIKULANGARA, Qurbana: The Eucharistic Celebration of Chaldeo-Indian Church, 153.

[66] The Order of Raza, 30.

[67] The Order of Raza, 30.

[68] Cf. IUSTINUS MARTYR, Apologia, ed. J.P. Migne (PG 6), Migne, Paris 1857, 889-972.

[69] The Order of Raza, 30.

[70] Cf. B.VARGHESE, «Prayers Addressed to Christ in the West Syrian Tradition», in The Place of Christ in Liturgical Prayer: Trinity, Christology, and Liturgical Theology, ed. B. D. Spinks, Liturgical Press, Collegeville- Minnesotta 2008, 106.

[71] Cf. VARGHESE, West Syrian Liturgical Theology, 74.

[72] J. CHALASSERY, The Holy Spirit and Christian Initiation in the East Syrian Tradition, Mar Thoma Yogam, Roma 1995, 175.

[73] Cf. CHALASSERY, The Holy Spirit and Christian Initiation in the East Syrian Tradition, 175.

[74] The Order of Raza, 44-45.

[75] The Order of Raza, 27.

[76] Cf. YOUSIF, «The Divine Liturgy According to the Assyro-Chaldean Church», 213.

[77] The Order of Raza, 26-28.

[78] The Order of the Raza, 27.

[79] J.VELLIAN – V. PATHIKULANGARA, «The Eucharistic Liturgy of the Chaldeo-Indian Church», 269.

[80] Cf. CYRILLUS HIEROSOLYMITANUS, Mystagogiae 1-5, 230.

[81] Cf. THEODORUS MOPSUESTENUS, Homiliae Catecheticae, ed. J.P. Migne (PG 66), Migne, Paris 1864, 1562.

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