Chaldean Patriarch Sako: Liturgy is Not a Show

‘The Strongest Expression of the Living Faith of the Church’

Chaldean Patriarch Sako
© Fides

The liturgy is not “the representation of a show”, but is “the strongest expression of the living faith of the Church”, the work of Christ himself who through it “calls us to become part of his paschal mystery”.

This was reiterated by Iraqi Cardinal Luis Raphael Sako, Patriarch of the Chaldean Church, in a speech disseminated by the official communication channels of the Patriarchate as a contribution to the process of liturgical updating underway in that ecclesial structure, reported Fides News Agency.

In the first part of his speech, Patriarch Sako outlines the nature of the liturgical action and its centrality in the life of the church. “The liturgy – points out the Iraqi cardinal – is the celebration of the presence of Christ in his paschal mystery, in an attractive, enthusiastic, and joyful way. This is what we must perceive in each liturgical celebration. It is regrettable to see that in some liturgical practices, including Mass, we feel as if we were in mourning, or on the scene of a show, and not in the joy of celebrating the presence of the glorified Christ, pledge of our eternal life. Precisely the importance of the liturgy in the life of the Church – continues the Patriarch – entails “the need to prepare the celebration well”, following the liturgical times defined by the ecclesiastical calendar providing for “adequate prayers, with songs and readings, for each season”.

This daily life marked by the times and moments of the liturgy – the Patriarch recalls – “is what our saints and our martyrs lived, and it is what we must strive for ardently”. It is precisely the intimate nature of liturgical action – Cardinal Sako points out, continuing his reflection – is what suggests the elementary criteria for an authentic renewal of liturgical practices. A “renewal” that can only be achieved by remaining within the framework of Tradition, which is never “nostalgia for the past”, but rather “carries forward” the Church in its journey through history. The Second Vatican Council, in the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium on the Sacred Liturgy – cited by Patriarch Sako – defined in a paradigmatic way the distinctive features of an authentic process of liturgical reform, which must be initiated so that “the Christian people obtain with greater security the abundant graces contained in the sacred liturgy”. For this reason – as the last Ecumenical Council taught – in authentic liturgical reforms “the organization of texts and rites must be carried out in such a way that the holy realities that they signify are expressed more clearly and the Christian people can understand their meaning more easily and may participate in it with a full, active and community celebration”.

These guidelines – the Iraqi Cardinal suggests – can also nourish and guide the necessary liturgical renewal in the Chaldean Church. Putting concrete circumstances and cases on the table, Patriarch Sako points out that in the final blessing of the Sunday and festive Mass of the Chaldeans, “the celebrant prays: ‘God who has blessed us with all the spiritual blessings in Jesus Christ our Lord … bless our assembly, bring us together and sanctify our people who have come and enjoyed the power of these glorious mysteries … ‘. But if the faithful do not understand these formulas, how can they enjoy them?”.

Following the same criterion, it is appropriate to establish “an adequate time for the celebration, taking into account the needs of students and workers, and not those of the celebrant, whether bishop or priest”. In the Chaldean Church – adds the Iraqi Cardinal – the liturgical expression has matured within “a particular culture and in a language that is rarely spoken today. Our current rites date back to more than 1,400 years ago, and sometimes their content, their language and style are not linked to the culture and sensitivity of our time”.

In the last half of the last century, the baptized Chaldeans “left the countryside for the big cities” and in recent decades, due to the deterioration of security conditions, “most of the Chaldean population has emigrated to countries where culture is different, the system is different, the customs are different, the language is different”. As a result of these historical processes, “most of our parishes today have lost the practice of ritual prayer due to language, duration, repetition, and lack of updating”. For this reason, Patriarch Sako sees the renewal of the Chaldean liturgy as “an opportunity”, despite “criticism from conservatives and extremists”. As the great theologian Jean Corbon, passionate about Eastern Christianity and the Arab Churches, suggested, in any authentic liturgical renewal carried out following Tradition, “the mystery of the source is found and repeated: it is always the same, but the living water that it springs from him is always new”.