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Praying in Jesus' Own Language

Interview With Professor of Chaldean Liturgy

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 25, 2006 (Zenit) - The Chaldean Church, whose patriarch resides in Baghdad, Iraq, takes pride in its ancient liturgy which uses the same language Jesus used.

In November, the Chaldean liturgy underwent a reform following a special synod in Rome.

To assess the extent of the reform, we interviewed Monsignor Petrus Yousif, professor of Syro-Chaldean patrology and Chaldean liturgy at the Pontifical Oriental Institute and the Catholic Institute of Paris. He is also the parish priest of France's Chaldean community.

In this interview, Monsignor Yousif, consultor of the Special Liturgy Commission for the Oriental Churches, shares his insight into the Chaldean rite, which uses Aramaic.

Q: Let's start at the beginning. What is the Chaldean rite?

Monsignor Yousif: It is one of the five principal Oriental rites, which are Antiochian, Alexandrian, Byzantine, Armenian and Chaldean. The rites have their own structure and texts.

The Chaldean rite is used by Chaldeans, Assyrians and Malabars.

Q: When did this rite begin and what are its characteristics?

Monsignor Yousif: Some elements date back to the third century, as the anaphora of Addai and Mari. The rite was born in Mesopotamia. We are talking about the beginning of the fourth century. And, in the mid seventh century it was organized by Mar Ishoyab III.

Q: Do they really use Jesus' language?

Monsignor Yousif: Yes, Aramaic, pronounced as Jesus pronounced it. It is a Semitic language.

The Mass has four biblical readings: two from the Old Testament and two from the New. The rite is sober. There is much singing. In general the Lectionary originated in Jerusalem.

The liturgical prayer distinguishes between the so-called cathedral prayer -- morning and afternoon; and the "monastic" -- the remaining hours.

Q: Is there an Orthodox Chaldean rite and a Catholic Chaldean rite?

Monsignor Yousif: The rite is the same for the Catholics and the Assyrians, called improperly "Nestorians."

Q: Where are Chaldeans found in the world?

Monsignor Yousif: The Chaldeans are in the five continents and practice their liturgy with freedom, using their language and translating it to the local languages if necessary. There are 5 million in the world.

Q: In what does the liturgical reform consist, approved by the Chaldean Synod in Rome?

Monsignor Yousif: The reform of the Mass was approved which in turn dates back to the beginnings and makes this venerable liturgy accessible to our time.

The text is clearer and more compact and it has, as a principle, the priest turning to the people when the people are being addressed, and when speaking to God, the cross is again gazed upon because it is Jesus who has the Father's face.

Q: How does the Chaldean rite differ from the Roman Catholic rite?

Monsignor Yousif: There are several differences: some details of the Mass, such as the epiclesis, the invocation to the Holy Spirit which closes the anaphora or Eucharistic prayer, invoking the Spirit that he may sanctify the gifts of the "bread and wine."

Q: And the sign of peace?

Monsignor Yousif: Indeed, the exchange of peace is also different. In this rite, the priest is made to take the chalice in his hand and give it to the deacon, who receives it with both hands and takes it to the faithful, who exchange it in the same way. Peace comes from the altar, which is the altar of reconciliation.

The third difference is that the Our Father is recited at the beginning and at the end of the Mass, inserting in the first part the seraphic hymn of Isaiah: Thy Kingdom come, holy, holy, holy.

Moreover, the liturgical prayer is different from the Latin because the cathedral prayer is different from the monastic, that is, in the Latin rite the hours terce, sext and none are recited, in addition to vespers and lauds. Instead, in the Chaldean, the people take part only in the morning and at vespers.

Q: What is the role of deacons and women in the Chaldean rite?

Monsignor Yousif: The deacon leads the community for proper participation in the Mass.

The role of women is to assist the priest in the baptism of adult women and in the mission of education of families: they are called "deaconesses," but there is no ordination of deaconesses as such, that is, with the "gift of the Holy Spirit," though there is a consecration in which the deaconess commits herself to the service of the Church.

Q: Are there vocations in your Church?

Monsignor Yousif: Despite the difficult situation in Iraq, we have a good number of seminarians and the faithful are very rooted in their faith.

In case of need, well-trained married laymen may be ordained as priests. At present there are a dozen "viri probati."

Q: Therefore, it can be said that the Chaldean rite is very alive?

Monsignor Yousif: According to the Second Vatican Council, it is a good thing that we remain faithful to our rite, and we are called to give testimony of it because of its antiquity, originality and richness, as a treasure that is part of the patrimony of the universal Church and of humanity.


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Jesus, Pray, Chaldean, Liturgy, Yousif

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