The Four Known Classes of Ancient Maronite Liturgies

This post continues from the first in this series,

0.3       The Four Known Classes of Ancient Maronite Liturgies

We shall refer to all liturgies older than the year 1736 as being “ancient Maronite liturgies.” We have very few of them, and we must bear in mind that if we had more, the picture could look different.

Abbati Elias Khalifé-Hachem investigated 30 manuscripts of Maronite liturgy which predated the Roman printed edition of 1592-94 (p.65). This is the first thing to note: there are very few manuscripts from before the Roman edition, as many Maronite documents were destroyed by the Latin Catholic missionaries to Lebanon. There was a thorough-going process of Latinisation which tried to erase the pre-Latinised history of the Maronites. Whether that Latinisation was a good or a bad thing, in whole or in part, is a matter for personal judgment. But I cannot see that the destruction of the books was anything but a tragedy: it is better to leave the evidence for posterity to read and decide for themselves.

The oldest of these manuscripts is Par. Syr. 71, from 1454 (p. 65). Once more, this is catastrophic: nothing has survived of the one thousand years of Maronite from before that date. Abbati Khalifé-Hachem notes that the later printed edition of this manuscript (numbers 74 and 79 in the Florence National Library, written in 1566) changed the original Syriac (p. 65).

Abbati’s study of the 30 manuscripts found that they disagreed in many details. However, he was able to divide them into four distinct groups. Other than indicating that the 1454 text of Paris Syr. 71 is in group 1, I leave out the details of which manuscripts fall within which category:

  1. Paris Syr. 71 (1454). These are the oldest. In them, the fore-mass and the preparation of the offerings are shorter and simpler than in other manuscripts. Some of them use the third anaphora of St Peter (Šarar).
  2. Manuscripts where the fore-mass and anaphora contain a Syrian Orthodox liturgy adapted to Maronite usage. During this period, (mid 15th century to mid 16th century) many Maronites became Syrian Orthodox.
  3. A third set where the fore-mass is expanded by “many prayers and hymns borrowed from the Syrian orthodox liturgy …”.
  4. Later manuscripts which are similar to category 3, but with Latin influence.

From his overview of all these texts, Abbati concluded that:

… the Maronite eucharistic liturgy, in its old structure and content, reflects some important elements of the old Syro-Antiochean liturgy which were common to all the liturgies of the Syriac churches in the East and the West. During the 15th and 16th centuries it came under the influence of the Syrian Orthodox liturgy … (p. 65)

Therefore, so far as we can see, the authentic Maronite liturgy was definitely Eastern and not at all Latin. However, neither was it the same as the Orthodox liturgies: had it been so, then there would not have been any scope for it being further influenced by the Syriac Orthodox liturgy in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

Another significant matter which emerges from this is that there cannot have been one central authority for the Maronite liturgy, but neither was there chaos. The fact that there is difference between the missals is not so surprising. The Maronites were using handwritten manuscripts, and to travel from one village to another, let alone around Lebanon, was quite difficult. In those circumstances, a gradual accumulation of small changes was to be expected. But for there to be any influence from the Syrian Orthodox liturgies in some texts but not in others, then there must have been local initiatives. I can find no evidence for a Patriarch in a central location approving texts for use in the various Maronite churches. But the reality may not have been so very different: it seems to me to be consistent with the idea that one could adapt the text provided you did not stray too far, and that you did not impose it on others.

Another very weighty matter is that, so far as I can see, these Missals are concerned with the anaphoras: the Liturgies of the Eucharist, and not that Liturgies of the Word. It may well be that there was more liberty in the organisation of the readings and the sermon which interpreted them for the faithful. Again, certainty is impossible, but this is how it appears: the Maronite liturgy was possibly flexible within certain limits. Those limits were narrower for the Eucharistic Liturgy, where it was critical that the words reflect the true doctrine at so many points: eschatology, Christology, Pneumatology, the Trinity, the sacraments, grace, forgiveness, and so on. More leeway could be allowed for the Liturgy of the Word. Within this picture, local differences were probably respected, and the local clergy respected the unity of the Maronite Church. There was a “gentlemen’s understanding” rather than a legally binding structure.

How, then, did the Maronite Church come to be given a new Missal in 1592? The answer is that, in 1584, the Maronite College was founded in Rome. Those of its students who worked on the 1592-4 missal included John Hasronita (became a Dominican in 1591 and a Maronite bishop in 1603), George 3Amira Ehdenensis (Patriarch 1633) and Moussa El-3Anāissi (later bishop of 3Akoura). The fact that the Missal was produced within ten years of the very establishment of the Maronite College shows that it must have been given a high priority. It also suggests that there was a hurry. Even if all that they had intended was to put the manuscripts into print, to complete it within ten years would have been a huge demand, because it would involve comparing many manuscripts and analysing them for accuracy in doctrine and fidelity in spirit.

But this is not what happened: they used only the 1566 manuscript of Michael ar-Rizzi, a hermit of St Anthony, Qozhaia (Patriarch 1567-81), which means that in one stroke they were looking at changing what were probably the bulk of texts in use in Lebanon. Further, the Roman censor, Fr Thomas di Terracina, a Dominican, without any consultation, changed the prayer of consecration at the epiclesis. This is, of course, quite a significant matter. It would be mandating the use of a text which was new to all Maronites, and new in what was probably the most sensitive element of the Eucharistic Liturgy.

Now the brother of Michael ar-Rizzi, was Sarkis, also a hermit of Qozhaia. He succeeded his brother as Patriarch between 1581-96. Sarkis excommunicated the Missale Chaldaïcum juxta Ritum Ecclesiae Nationis Maronitarum because of Terracini’s changes. Four years later, under the pressure of Jerome Dandini, the Roman delegate, he relented. But the missal had no great impact because limited numbers had reached Lebanon, and there was opposition to it. It seems to me that it is quite possible that the Patriarch also objected to the philosophy behind it: that there should be just one Missal forced on all Maronites. In other words, it is not beyond the bounds of probability that the Patriarch refused the rigidity of the mandate. Incidentally, to the best of my knowledge, this is the first time a Patriarch is known to have given a direction concerning the usability of a Missal. This is worth pondering: if my conjecture is near the mark, the very attempt to force the Patriarch to authorise a new Missal may have had, primarily, the effect of forcing him to assert an authority in place of a more or less informal system based on mutual respect and forbearance.


  1. Bare5mōr Abouna Yuhanna.
    I hope you are well. I was just wondering where I could find the manuscript Paris Syr. 71 (1454) as mentioned in the article above. I know obtaining a physical copy would be impossible, and I have searched the entire internet for this manuscript and failed to find anything. Is there any way this manuscript could be read (online or physically?). Thank you and God bless.

    Wahid El Nur.

    1. Sure. It is in the National Library in Paris, the Bibliothèque nationale de France. The website is
      You find this information is by consulting volume 1/1 of Anaphorae Syriace, in this case, p. xxix.

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