The Maronite Liturgy

When we look at the Maronite liturgy and its history, let us not lose sight of the most important fact of all: it is a supernatural, sacramental, sacrificial, liturgical action. These posts shall be revisited from time to time. But we do not wish to lose sight of the basics.

0.1       Introduction

I shall open by citing from “The Maronite Eucharistic Liturgy”, by Abbati Elias Khalifé-Hachem, published in Syriac Dialogue, 6 (2004), edited Peter Hofrichter and Gerhard Wilflinger, Vienna, 64-79. Abbati states, in the “theologicalsynthesis”:

  1. Celebrating the Eucharist, the church commemorates and actualises the salvific event of Jesus Christ. The Triune God is the agent of this event in history and in the eucharistic celebration.” (p. 72)

Abbati Khalifé-Hachem stresses here the thanksgiving element from which the Eucharist takes its very name. The new Cambrodge Greek Lexicon states that the root verb eukharisteō means “offer thanks,” while the noun eukharistia is “feeling of gratefulness” in the New Testament, and “offering of thanks (to persons or gods)” in two ancient authors: Polybius and Plutarch. Abbati continues:

… the term ‘sacrament’ is insufficient to designate the eucharistic mystery as celebrated in Syriac liturgies where the Trinitarian energies are clearly unfolded in the three distinct parts [of] every anaphora. The whole economy of our salvation is recorded in the Father as its origin, in the Son as its accomplisher by his incarnation, his death and resurrection, and in the Holy Spirit as its achiever by his descent upon the Qurbono [offering] and upon the celebrating community. The Second Coming of Christ is often emphasised in the second part of the anaphora because the Church, living in the eucharistic Kairos [moment] as a real presence of Christ, experiences very deeply the intensive waiting of the eschatological fulfilment through the hovering of the Holy Spirit.” (p. 72)

Abbati is saying that the Divine Liturgy is a sacrament, and in addition it is an actual teaching and perhaps also a demonstration of the working of the Holy Trinity. It sets out and re-enacts the entire plan of human salvation by God – which is why he stresses what we call the epiklesis (“calling by name” hence “invocation” in a liturgical setting). The root is the verb kaleō, “I call,” and it is related to the words ekklēsia (“assembly,” and “church”) and parakletos (one who is called, hence “supporter” and “counsellor” or “advocate”). An entire book could be written on the theology and spirituality of calling – both God’s calling us, and our call to Him.

Now, the epiklesis (also spelt “epiclesis”) is a most significant matter for anyone who purports to speak with any authority of the Maronite Divine Liturgy, its history, and its spirituality. I would go so far as to say that a failure to understand the centrality of the epiklesis and the importance of its prominence in the current Maronite Divine Liturgy is a sign of the amateur. When you read critiques of the liturgy which omit all reference to the epiklesis, you know that the author has missed the most important distinctive aspect of the liturgy, and is obsessing over second- and third-level details. It is a fact, and a sad one, as a senior priest of the SSPX once said to me, that the epiclesis was removed from the Latin liturgy. This is a large topic, and I shall return to it, but for now I shall continue with Abbati Khalifé-Hachem on the characteristics of the Maronite Divine Liturgy”

  1. The universal dimension of the eucharistic celebration is clearly underlined in the varied brief or long commemorations and intercessions proclaimed by the deacon or recited by the priest in different parts of the celebration especially after the epiclesis in the so-called great intercession. This means that the eucharistic celebration, though limited locally and temporally to one ecclesial community, has a universal and cosmic effect. Its benefits are extended to the whole world in the past, present and future like the salvific event of Jesus Christ itself. … Through those commemorations and intercessions the celebrating community shares in the whole humanity from Adam until now, in the living and the dead, in the angels and the saints … (p. 72)


0.2       A Note on the Sources

The single most important source is the texts of the liturgies. Unfortunately, too few of these are available, and – in particular – so far as I know, there is no one single volume or set of volumes where the Maronite liturgical texts have been gathered. This is a major problem. It would be a significant advance if we could even have a collection all the pre-1992 material. But that edition will need to be scholarly and precise: too often, our writers have made what they consider “improvements” in the texts they are introducing to a larger audience, without attributing them. This unfortunate tendency has not ceased: even our critics, speaking in the name of a more traditional and more religious worship, often distort the material which they present as “evidence.” In future weeks, we shall see some sad instances of this.

There has been a great deal of general work on the liturgy of the Christian Church, East and West. I would mention, in chronological order,  the work of Dix, Bradshaw, Maxwell, and McGowan as the more accessible, and as providing an overview of the main controversies, but a full reading list would fill a small book.

However, when we come to the Maronite Liturgy specifically, there are many small detailed studies, but few overviews of the entire topic. I have mentioned “The Maronite Eucharistic Liturgy”, by Abbati Elias Khalifé-Hachem. Another significant study which includes rather than concentrates on the Maronite Liturgy, is Gelston’s The Eucharistic Prayer of Addai and Mari, Oxford, 1992. This Eucharistic Prayer, available in the Maronite Church as the Third Anaphora of St Peter, and also known as Šarar, is witness to the oldest surviving Anaphora in the entire Christian Church. According to Gelston, Šarar is the earliest surviving anaphora to have “a relatively fixed form for regular use in church” (p. 12). There is much to learn from Šarar and its history, but first, we will directly focus on the evidence concerning the Maronite Divine liturgy. There is also a short article by W. Macomber, “A Theory on the Origins of the Syrian, Maronite, and Chaldean Rites,” Orientalia Christiana Periodica 39 (1973) 235–242.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *