West Syrian Rite

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Catholic Information

The rite used by the Jacobite sect in Syria and by the Catholic Syrians is in its origin simply the old rite of Antioch in the Syriac language. Into this framework the Jacobites have fitted a great number of other Anaphoras, so that now their Liturgy has more variant forms than any other. The oldest form of the Antiochene Rite that we know is in Greek (see ANTIOCHENE LITURGY). It was apparently composed in that language. The many Greek terms that remain in the Syriac form show that this is derived from Greek. The version must have been made very early, evidently before the Monophysite schism, before the influence of Constantinople and Byzantine infiltrations had begun. No doubt as soon as Christian communities arose in the country parts of Syria the prayers which in the cities (Antioch, Jerusalem, etc.) were said in Greek, were, as a matter of course, translated into the peasants’ language (Syriac) for their use. The “Peregrinatio Silviae” describes the services at Jerusalem as being Greek; but the lessons, first read in Greek, are then translated into Syriac propter populum. As long as all Western Syria was one communion, the country dioceses followed the rite of the patriarch at Antioch, only changing the language. Modifications adopted at Antioch in Greek were copied in Syriac by those who said their prayers in the national tongue. This point is important because the Syriac Liturgy (in its fundamental form) already contains all the changes brought to Antioch from Jerusalem. It is not the older pure Antiochene Rite, but the later Rite of Jerusalem-Antioch. “St. James”, prays first not for the Church of Antioch, but “for the holy Sion, the mother of all churches” (Brightman, pp. 89-90). The fact that the Jacobites as well as the Orthodox have the Jerusalem-Antiochene Liturgy is the chief proof that this had supplanted the older Antiochene use before the schism of the fifth century. Our first Syriac documents come from about the end of the fifth century (“Testamentum Domini,” ed. by Ignatius Rahmani II, Life of Severus of Antioch, sixth century). They give us valuable information about local forms of the Rite of Antioch-Jerusalem. The Jacobite sect kept a version of this rite which is obviously a local variant. Its scheme and most of its prayers correspond to those of the Greek St. James; but it has amplifications and omissions, such as we find in all local forms of early rites. It seems too that the Jacobites after the schism made some modifications. We know this for certain in one point (the Trisagion). The first Jacobite writer on their rite is James of Edessa (d. 708), who wrote a letter to a priest Thomas comparing the Syrian Liturgy with that of Egypt. This letter is an exceedingly valuable and really critical discussion of the rite. A number of later Jacobite writers followed James of Edessa. On the whole this sect produced the first scientific students of liturgy. Benjamin of Edessa (period unknown), Lazarus bar Sabhetha of Bagdad (ninth century), Moses bar Kephas of Mosul (d. 903), Dionysuis bar Salibhi of Amida (d. 1171) wrote valuable commentaries on the Jacobite Rite. In the eighth and ninth centuries a controversy concerning the prayer at the Fraction produced much liturgical literature. The chronicle of their Patriarch Michael the Great (d. 1199) discusses the question and supplies valuable contemporary documents.

The oldest Jacobite Liturgy extant is the one ascribed (as in its Greek form) to St. James. It is in the dialect of Edessa. The pro-anaphoral part of this is the Ordo communis to which the other later Anaphoras are joined. It is printed in Latin by Renaudot (II, 1-44) and in English by Brightman (pp. 69-110). This follows the Greek St. James (see ANTIOCHENE LITURGY) with these differences. All the vesting prayer and preparation of the offering (Proskomide) are considerably expanded, and the prayers differ. This part of the Liturgy is most subject to modification; it began as private prayer only. The Monogenes comes later; the litany before the lessons is missing; the incensing is expanded into a more elaborate rite. The Trisagion comes after the lessons from the Old Testament; it contains the addition: “who wast crucified for us”. This is the most famous characteristic of the Jacobite Rite. The clause was added by Peter the Dyer (Fullo), Monophysite Patriarch of Antioch (d. 488), was believed to imply Monophysism and caused much controversy during these times, eventually becoming a kind of watchword to the Jacobites (see Zacharias Rhetor, “Hist. eccl.”, PG 85, 1165). The litany between the lessons is represented by the word Kurillison said thrice. There is no chant at the Great Entrance (a Byzantine addition in the Greek Rite). The long Offertory prayers of the Greek Rite do not occur. The Epiklesis and Intercession are much the same as in Greek. The Lord’s Prayer follows the Fraction. At the Communion-litany the answer is Halleluiah instead of Kyrie eleison.

In this Syriac Liturgy many Greek forms remain: Stomen kalos, Kurillison, Sophia, Proschomen, etc. Renaudot gives also a second form of the Ordo communis (II, 12-28) with many variants. To the Ordo communis the Jacobites have added a very great number of alternative Anaphoras, many of which have not been published. These Anaphoras are ascribed to all manner of people; they were composed at very different periods. One explanation of their attribution to various saints is that they were originally used on their feasts.

Renaudot translated and published thirty-nine of these. After that, the Liturgy of St. of St. James follows (in his work) a shortened form of the same. This is the one commonly used today. Then:

Xystus, which is placed first in the Maronite books; of St. Peter; another of St. Peter; of St. John; of the Twelve Apostles; of St. Mark; of St. Clement of Rome; of St. Dionysius; of St. Ignatius; of St. Julius of Rome; of St. Eustathius; of St. John Chrysostom; of St. Chrysostom (from Chaldaean sources); of St. Maruta; of St. Cyril; of Dioscor; of Philoxenus of Hierapolis; a second Liturgy also ascribed to him; of Serverus of Antioch; of James Baradæus; of Mathew the Shepherd; of St. James of Botnan and Serug; of James of Edessa, the Interpreter; of Thomas of Heraclea; of Moses bar Kephas; of Philoxenus of Bagdad; of the Doctors, arranged by John the Great, Patriarch; of John of Basora; of Michael of Antioch; of Dionysius Bar-Salibhi; of Gregory Bar-Hebraeus; of St. John the Patriarch, called Acoemetus (Akoimetos); of St. Dioscor of Kardu; John, Patriarch of Antioch; of Ignatius of Antioch (Joseph Ibn Wahib); of St. Basil (another version, by Masius).

Brightman (pp. lviii-lix) mentions sixty-four Liturgies as known, at least by name. Notes of this bewildring number of Anaphoras will be found after each in Renaudot. In most cases all he can say is that he knows nothing of the real author; often the names affixed are otherwise unknown. Many Anaphoras are obviously quite late, inflated with long prayers and rhetorical, expressions, many contain Monophysite ideas, some are insufficient at the consecration so as to be invalid. Baumstark (Die Messe im Morgenland, 44-46) thinks the Anaphora of St. Ignatius most important, as containing parts of the old pure Antiochene Rite. He considers that many attributions to later Jacobite authors may be correct, that the Liturgy of Ignatius of Antioch (Joseph Ibn Wahib; d. 1304) is the latest. Most of these Anaphoras have now fallen into disuse. The Jacobite celebrant generally uses the shortened form of St. James. There is an Armenian version (shortened) of the Syriac St. James. The Liturgy is said in Syriac with (since the fifteenth century) many Arabic substitutions in the lessons and proanaphoral prayers. The Lectionary and Diaconicum have not been published and are badly known. The vestments correspond almost exactly to those of the Orthodox, except that the bishop wears a latinized mitre. The Calendar has few feasts. It follows in its main lines the older of Antioch, observed also by the Nestorians, which is the basis of the Byzantine Calendar. Feasts are divided into three classes of dignity. Wednesday and Friday are fast-days. The Divine Office consists of Vespers, Compline, Nocturns, Lauds, Terce, Sext, and None, or rather of hours that correspond to these among Latins. Vespers always belongs to the following day. The great part of this consists of long poems composed for the purpose, like the Byzantine odes. Baptism is performed by immersion; the priest confirms at once with chrism blessed by the patriarch. Confession is not much used; it has fallen into the same decay as in most Eastern Churches. Communion is administered under both kinds; the sick are anointed with oil blessed by a priest — the ideal is to have seven priests to administer it. The orders are bishop, priest, deacon, subdeacon, lector, and singer. There are many chorepiscopi, not ordained bishop. It will be seen, then, that one little Jacobite Church has followed much the same line of development in its rites as its powerful Orthodox neighbour.

The Syrian Catholics use the same rite as the Jacobites. But (as is the case with most Eastern Rite Catholic Churches) it is better organized with them. There is not much that can be called Romanizing in their books; but they have the advantage of well-arranged, well-edited, and well-printed books. All the great students of the West-Syrian Rite (the Assemani, Renaudot, etc.) have been Catholic. Their knowledge and the higher Western standard of scholarship in general are advantages of which the Syrian Catholics rather than the Jacobites profit. Of the manifold Syrian Anaphoras the Catholics use seven only — those of St. James, St.John, St. Peter, St. Chrysostom, St. Xystus, St. Mathew, and St. Basil. That of St. Xystus is attached to the Ordo communis in their official book; that of St. John is said on the chief feasts. The lessons only are in Arabic. It was inevitable that the Syrian Liturgies, coming from Monophysite sources, should be examined at Rome before they are allowed to Syrian Catholics. But the revisers made very few changes. Out of the mass of Anaphoras they chose the oldest and purest, leaving out the long series of later ones that were unorthodox, or even invalid. In the seven kept for Syrian Catholic use what alterations have been made chiefly the omission of redundant prayers, simplication of confused parts in which the Diaconicum and the Euchologion had become mixed together. The only important correction is the omission of the fatal clause: “Who was crucified for us” in the Trisagion. There is no suspicion of modifying in the direction of the Roman Rite. The other books of the Catholics — the Diaconicum, officebook, and ritual — are edited at Rome, Beirut, and the Patriarchal press Sharfé; they are considerably the most accessible, the best-arranged books in which to study this rite.

The West-Syrian Rite has also been used at intervals by sections of the (schismatical) Malabar Church. Namely, as the Malabar Christians at various times made approaches to the Jacobite Patriarch or received bishops from him, so did they at such times use his Liturgy. Most of Malabar has now returned to the Nestorian communion; but there are still Jacobite communities using this rite among them.

The Maronite Rite is merely a Romanized adaptation of that of the West Syrians.

Publication information Written by Adrian Fortescue. Transcribed by Joseph P. Thomas. In memory of Father Mathew Alakulam The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XIV. Published 1912. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, July 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York

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West Syrian Rite