A Maronite altar ad orientem—something rarely seen. It is often assumed by Roman Catholics that the Eastern Catholic rites have been “preserved intact” and that the destructive aspects of the liturgical reform took place only in the sphere of the Latin-rite Church. It is sometimes even suggested that Roman Catholics may find a “refuge” in the East if things in the West continue to go in the downward direction that Pope Francis and his new officers are proposing to enforce. As both Joseph Shaw and I have argued (see here, here, and here), there is no good reason to think that Traditionis Custodes will lead to substantive improvements in the Novus Ordo; on the contrary, it is more likely to lead to the suppression of elements that look anything like the Tridentine rite, in the effort to enforce a progressive liturgical vision.
While it is true that the most wanton destruction did, in fact, take place in the Roman Rite (with similar depradations in the Ambrosian Rite), Western-educated liturgists within Eastern Catholicism have too often shown themselves eager to follow the path of false antiquarianism and modernization, usually in the form of dramatic abbreviations and simplifications, as well as the abolition of traditional features.
The Maronites are perhaps the most notorious example of this Western-influenced self-destruction: their liturgy has evolved into the Novus Ordo of the East. For example, in “The Transfer of Gifts” (which corresponds to the “Great Entrance” in the Byzantine Liturgy), traditionally a deacon or subdeacon transferred the gifts from the side altar to the main altar. In the parishes now, lay people are employed to make the transfer, in imitation of the Novus Ordo offertory procession—a thing that was introduced on antiquarian grounds as a revival of ancient practice, although better scholarship has shown that it is no such thing: the modern offertory has little to do with the ancient one (see here and here).
A knowledgeable correspondent once gave me an outline of the bigger picture, so that I could understand how one kind of Latinization, which had had its positive aspects, had simply given way to another kind, which occasioned severe damage.
“The Maronite Church has gone through several periods of Latinization since the 16th century, most especially at the Synod of Mt Lebanon in 1736 where a papal legate was instructed to ‘correct’ our practices. Adoption of these Latinizations were not uniform or universal, and often were manifested in externals (e.g., vestments); yet we retained our sacral language and the vast corpus of our distinctive liturgy and prayers. In the 1940s, Patriarch Arida wished to restore our tradition and a liturgist by the name of Chorbishop Michel Raji began thorough research to restore our tradition. His sacramentary was the major fruit of his work; it preserved ancient liturgies such as a ca. fifth-century baptismal liturgy.
“The intimate and longstanding connection between France and Lebanon/Syria meant, however, that the liturgists who studied in France began to internalize and imitate the Western Liturgical Movement; Maronites began to hold reformatory ideas, which culminated in a book in 1965 called Avant-messe maronite by Pierre-Edmond Gemayel, who would later become archbishop and chair of the liturgical commission. Gemayel’s approach was essentially that everything he didn’t like was or must have been a fifteenth-century accretion, ‘Jacobite’ or authentic but not pastoral. It is difficult to respond to such baseless and subjective claims charitably; an example of this is Gemayel’s claim that the prothesis (which all Eastern liturgies and some Western liturgies have in common, equivalent to the offertory) is a 15th–16th century accretion; to this, all Baby Varghese (a present-day West Syriac liturgical scholar) can say is that ‘Gemayel’s analysis of the contents of various manuscripts was not always accurate’ (give that man an award for understatement).
“Regarding ‘Jacobite’ elements, Gemayel attacked anything that made us West Syriac, such as the antiphonal doxology that previously began all liturgies—‘P: Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit from our beginning and until our concluding; R: and may mercy and compassion be poured forth upon us weak sinners in this world and the next. Amen.’ As for supposedly ‘non-pastoral’ elements, an example is the recitation of Psalm 50 at the beginning of the liturgy, which was undeniably the practice of the Maronite Liturgy for a millennium and a half; but they say it is redundant to ask for forgiveness multiple times. Prayers that are ‘self-deprecative’ were also removed—e.g., for the imposition of incense, the priest now says ‘To the glory and honor of the glorious Trinity,’ whereas previously it was ‘My weak sinful hands impose incense for the glory and honor of the holy and glorious Trinity. Let us all ask for mercy and compassion from the Lord’; prayers from the various anaphorae were similarly redacted.
“Given the Lebanese Civil War that lasted from the seventies into the early 90s, a new missal was never promulgated to replace the 1596. In 1992, however, Gemayel finally enacted his Bugninian vision, removing all but three lines of the prothesis and any ideas of sacrifice, cutting the fore-liturgy in half, greatly truncating or entirely removing rubrics, infantilizing language, removing anything that refers to the liturgy as sacrifice, and introducing various Novus Ordo ideas (e.g., whereas previously the lections were all read from the center, two podiums are now mandatory, the southern one for the epistle and the northern one for the Gospel). Laypeople often serve as deacons. The sacerdotal office has no particular significance; prayers from the fraction in which the priest offers the Eucharist back to God were made to be recited by all. A previous trope in Syriac prayer is that priest prays on behalf of all: ‘Lord God, make us worthy to do X…’; before communion and, with the new book of rubrics, before the reading of Scripture, everyone recites these prayers in common. The anamnesis must be recited by all the concelebrants. I have personally asked for sources or evidence of any of these practices, but my requests never meet with a response; rubrics at this point are simply arbitrary. Individuals who have neither studied theology nor gained familiarity with the history of the faith continue to contribute to liturgical reform! An example is Guilnard Moufarrej, who wrote on the reform of our funerary rites. She purports that we removed verses that are exact citations of Ephesians 2:2 because they do not ‘agree with Roman dogmas’ (conveniently not citing which ‘Roman dogmas’ they disagree with).
“Reform continues arbitrarily, and to the denigration of our tradition. There is now a steady stream of proposed rites, which all replace the first half of the Eucharistic liturgy and have an Anaphora tacked on the end because Mass has come to be seen as the only real form of prayer (whereas a sixteenth-century Jesuit commented on how surprised he was at the ubiquitous lay attendance at the divine offices in the Maronite Church). The byword of the liturgical reform continues to be ‘progress,’ though without any definition. Ultimately, the catchall term ‘pastoral’ is given as justification for all changes.
“At least the Novus Ordo is based upon the Latin tradition, however denigrated. The current Maronite Missal from 2005 does things incredible and incomprehensible to the ordo for any Eastern. As mentioned, the Prothesis/Preparatory Rite (equivalent of the offertory) has been completely excised. One of the two canonical hours has been removed. Psalm 50 , whose inclusion in the Syriac liturgy is attested to from at least the 6th century, has been removed. The first canonical hour of the Eucharistic liturgy has been replaced with propers ‘inspired’ by offices. The propers for the Season of Pentecost are made up almost wholesale.
“There’s been extreme rubrical simplification; no secret prayers remain. Versus populum is essentially mandated (at this point, I’ve seen more ad orientem Novus Ordos than Maronite ones!). It was introduced to the Maronite Church in the US in the 1960s, around the same time as it entered the mainstream of the Latin Church. It is purely innovative. Many of our traditional prayers refer to facing the rising sun—alluding to both the physical East and the expectation of the eschaton—and these have been excised to accommodate the new (dis)orientation. A dubium on this topic was submitted to the Congregation for Oriental Churches. Archbishop Cyril, the Secretary, responded that Oriental bishops do not even have the competence to permit, let alone mandate, versus populum. This, however, makes no difference, because official internal literature makes it clear that ‘reform’ will be pursued at all costs.
“As in the old Roman rite, in the Maronite liturgy there were many more signs of the cross—one could write a treatise on the sign of the cross in Syriac theology; it is of such utter importance that the East Syriacs include it in the list of sacraments!—and not just during the Institution Narrative. The West Syriac tradition has many special doxologies accompanied by signs of the cross: at the beginning of the Anaphora, the paten, the chalice, then both were signed, each time saying a doxology that professed the indivisibility of the Holy Trinity. There were signs of the cross during the post-Sanctus. There were more signs of the cross during the fraction. They are of such antiquity that St. Jacob of Sarug (5th century) gives us the number of signs of the cross to be made throughout the liturgy. They were all eliminated in virtue of Bugnini’s fixation on eliminating ‘duplication’ and ‘accretion’; this has become a driving force in eliminating lots of different things unique to our Syriac tradition.
“In my view, what underlies this idea of the redundancy of the sign of the cross is simple: the liturgists do not believe the ancient words ‘By Your cross, Your mysteries are accomplished’ which peppers all our prayers. Everything is simply reduced to a pedagogical sign or communal engagement—very Calvinist. However, in Lebanon these things are not seen as Protestant simply because they are done by Maronites, as absurd as that sounds. I have personally expressed my frustrations with their Protestantism to them but it’s completely incomprehensible to them because being ‘Maronite’ is a sociopolitical/ethnic identity as much as (if not more than) it is religious. Perhaps you have seen how the cedar even supersedes the cross at times.
“Polyester vestments are effectively required. Sanctuary veils and ripidia have been prohibited for a long time. The Anaphora has been needlessly changed (e.g., you must sit for the rite of peace); two prayers of peace are moved to after the sign of peace; there is a significant truncation of prayers, removal of diaconal litanies, removal of a fifth-century portion of the fraction rite, removal of rubrics, removal of traditional “major elevation” with accompanying hymn, removal of graded communion (i.e., communion of clergy, faithful, dead). We have even become the freaks of the Apostolic Churches: we removed all hand washings from our liturgy, so we’re the only liturgy of an Apostolic Church without a ritual ablution.
“In all this, the Maronite liturgy was changed to resemble the Latin liturgy. A new offertory was created. The liturgy was split into the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist (not coherent with the traditional Syriac paradigm). Two podiums have been introduced, to mimic the way the Novus Ordo handled readings in the 70s, etc.
“A professor in Lebanon insisted to me (reciting almost verbatim P. Gemayel’s Avant-messe maronite) that there was no manuscript proof before the sixteenth century of a preparation rite beyond just plating a piece of bread and pouring wine into a cup—which is patently false. A few days later I had the opportunity to mention this claim to Sebastian Brock, the foremost Syriac scholar in the world. He responded that it is not only erroneous, it is off by about a millennium (i.e., we have evidence of a larger preparation rite in the sixth century!). But the liturgists will continue to lie and make things up because hardly any of them can actually read Syriac, so they can make any claims they’d like—in fact, they often claim our liturgical language is no longer Syriac, so it’s a moot point.
“The Liturgical Commission is not comprised of educated men. Not one of the persons who contributed to the English missal has any formal training or even understanding of the liturgy. It shows mostly in the hymns they produced, which are often incoherent. Even very basic things like why we used the exact same wording of the Latin Church’s creed (when the Arabic follows the Syriac, such as Christ shall come in great glory, and the Holy Spirit has spoken through the prophets and apostles), the response I received was that uniformity is unity.When I asked why we retained ‘we believe’ in the Creed, the individual just scoffed at me and told me I don’t know what I’m talking about. Likewise, I asked why, in the Lord’s Prayer, we move from hieratic to contemporary English as we go from the main prayer to the doxology, and the individual didn’t understand why that would be an issue. There are a multitude of holes one can poke simply in its language—like the use of sentence fragments as complete sentences in hymns. Our liturgy has been in shambles since we decided the Novus Ordo was the proto-liturgy of all traditions, and its getting exponentially worse. The problem is compounded by the fact that the patriarchal university in Lebanon purposefully doesn’t allow open access to manuscripts, and because Syriac is not as widely studied or translated as Latin. As a result, teachers, scholars, liturgists, bishops, can say whatever they like and there are too few people who can challenge their ignorance and errors. An example would be the uncritical, superficial, revisionist arguments one finds at a blog like ‘livingmaronite.com,’ which today seems to be on the cutting edge—of the 1960s. They are blissfully unaware of any scholarship from the past half-century that challenges their narrative.”
To all of which I, as a Roman Catholic, could only respond: “Sounds awfully familiar.” I was shocked to hear about all of this corruption. It made me realize that authentic Christian liturgy is endangered throughout the entire Christian world to the extent that it is allowed to fall under the influence of the liturgical progressivism of Western educational institutions and, crucially, to be treated as the plaything of any powerful individual, be he a pope or patriarch.
What follows is a comparative chart between the 1908 Maronite missal (which is a reprint of the 1596) nd and the current 2005 missal. There is a lot that can be said about the details, but for our purposes it is enough simply to look at the enormous difference, which is arguably even greater than that between the Tridentine Roman rite and the modern rite of Paul VI.
A downloadable PDF of these four pages may be accessed at this Google drive link.
So, before anyone thinks that “going East” will be a solution, he will need to do some homework in order to find out which Eastern rites have been corrupted by the Novus Ordo influence, and which ones have retained their integral tradition in spite of pressure and temptation from the West.