(Let me start by saying that this question has always baffled and confused me. I have struggled very hard to understand to know why we need this. I have a history that I am not necessarily proud of. I have read novels and books in the church using the order of worship as a shield. So here I am trying to put some light on our liturgy and I will try my best to keep it as interesting and simple as possible. I don’t think anyone will be with me if I elaborately expound it, so I will highlight certain key points of the worship. I Prayerfully hope this will help you in helping you participate in worship meaningfully.)
We have Jacob, popularly called Jack(why ?) who is a 2nd year student at the theological seminary, and along with him are Minjo(how symbolic a name. Mother’s name is Mini and dad’s name is John, so guess who we have. Malayalis I say, they are genius with names) and Dan who are members of the Epiphany Mar Thoma Church, where cool dude Jack is assigned for Sunday assignment. Jack, took these two youths for a coffee at “Kaapi Kada: Coffee is Just an Excuse(why do I feel I have heard that somewhere)”. Now can you imagine he took them out to talk about worship? These two dudes are here so as not to offend him and to be nice(and who doesn’t like free coffee?). They truly believe that the “Worship order is meaningless”. So after the initial talks about cars and of course girls, Matt dares the two to ask questions pertaining to the structure of Worship. Here, let us hear it.
Minjo- Do we have a structure in here?
Jack- Yes is the answer and it is called the a)Preperatory service or the thooyaba b) Ante-Communion or Pre- Communion, c) Communion.
Thuyaba is where the priest prepares himself for the service. This can be both public and private. There is an order that is followed. But I would not as of now elaborate more upon it.
Dan- This Ante-Communion, Communion sounds very funny. I thought the entire service is called Holy Communion. I don’t get it.
J . Frankly even I was unaware of this division. Actually in the ante-communion comes the preparatory service. But I here to make it more pronounced divided it. So the Ante communion is also called the ‘Liturgy of the Word’ as the Epistles and Gospel is read in this section.
‘Shobha Niranja Aleyathil….’ Is the call to the community to participate in this Worship. It affirms the holiness of God and confesses our sinful state and asks God to intervene.
M . Dude whats Mary doing in the opening prayer of the priest? Why do we have John in there too? We don’t worship the saints, do we? ( In reference to “Mariyamil nin Shariram Dharikyugeyum…” O Lord Jesus Christ, born of Mary, Baptised by John, have mercy on us)
J . Ok to answer that I will call upon your attention to the fact that the curtain is drawn open in between “Shobha Niranja”. Now why do we need that curtain? It is a symbol. This symbolizes the full revelation of God in Christ. It is here that we remember Mary and John. This prayer calls us to the attention of the incarnation of Christ. So it is Mary’s willing response to God that made the incarnation of Jesus or to put in easier terms, the possibility GOD becoming human in Jesus became possible. John prepared the way for the ministry of Jesus and baptized him. So this prayer remembers the incarnation and the public ministry of Jesus which is significant for our salvation. So, they are remembered as facilitators in the process. Does that make sense?
D. Yeah. Kind of. Getting the hang of it. I think this would be my last question for the day as I am just gettin started, it would be an overdose. The HOLY ART THOU part is said three times. What is that all about?
J. yeah, that’s a neat question. Let us remember that ‘Holy Art Thou O God’ in our liturgy signifies Jesus. Here we affirm Christ’s Holiness, Immortality and his Crucifixion. The crucifixion was to save us. “O Thou that was crucified for us have mercy on us” means he was crucified on our behalf. For our salvation. It is said three times for affirmation, so it is called Trisagion. Some claim that this is how you affirm as we see in John 21:15-17, Jesus before reinstating Peter asked him thrice ‘Do you love me’. It is an affirmation on our behalf.
M. Ok. Seriously what do you mean by salvation? What is the fuss all about?
A . I will answer you what I learnt from my Principal Rev Dr Abraham Kuruvilla and my friend and guide, Rev Sam Koshy. We have to understand Salvation in the continuation of Creation. God created the world and He saw it was good. God had a purpose in creation. He made man ‘In his Own image’. But man sinned and defeated the purpose of creation. We distorted the ‘Image of God’. As Paul says ‘Image of God’ was completely revealed in Jesus. His crucifixion and resurrection defeated the chaotic forces of death. He showed what God’s image is and showed creation its purpose. Salvation is return of the fallen creation to become the Creation that God saw ‘It was good’. It is also the journey from the distorted image that we have in sin to Grow to the “image of God”, seen in the life, Crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. I guess what Athanasius, the church father said sums it all. “God became man, so that man can become divine.”
D . Honestly I dint wanna hear all this. But it kinda sounds interestin. But not anymore today. How about meetin in the weekend. Guess you should call Arpit. But nothing more than half an hour. I seriously don have patience. Bye.
J. Thanks guys for comin over.
M. Dude anythin for free coffee. (Jacob reminded him that he had seen Dil Chahta hai.)
*Ok guys coming up shortly are answers to questions like “what is the Gospel reading doing in between the service, n so the epistle. Why on earth, the “Kiss of Peace”, “what are the 4 blessings all about”. “Why Bread and wine?” and anything you ask and I can try to answer. Your feedback, no matter what the texture is solicited, as there are 2 more series to come. Also comment on the casual structure adopted, is there anything more to be simplified. I have kept it short as a long article can put us off. Haha. And if you think I am smart since I know all the answers, I would love that you believe so. I am majorly depending on the works of Rev Dr. George Mathew, who is a liturgy specialist.
Rev Merin Mathew
Mar Thoma Syrian Church