Umezaki Takaichi

(English translation)

Untitled25According to the Indian priests and seminarians Christianity begun in India with the coming of Saint Thomas in the year 52AD. I would like to ask about the historicity of this, but because of my poor English I cannot understand much about it. It can be said also that evangelization as such begun with the trade with Portugal. Therefore in India we find since the 16th century two ways of celebrating the Mass: the liturgy of the Latin Rite and the liturgy of the Siro-Malabar Rite.

At present (January 2007) I am staying in Kerala (India). Here they say the Mass not according to the Latin rite but to the Siro-Malabar rite. Because in Japan we follow the Latin rite, I feel a deep interest in this difference.

I am not an expert in liturgy and I do not understand Malealam, the language of Kerala, so, I can only write about what I see.

First of all there are in the church two altars, one in the front and the other in the back. In some churches these two altars are separated by a curtain. This curtain is opened during the Mass. It gives me the impression that it establishes a clear difference between the liturgy of the Word and the liturgy of the Eucharist.

During the liturgy of the Word the priest and the assembly are facing each other (although, as it also happens in Japan, it does not give the impression that the assembly is gathered around the altar). But when the liturgy of the Eucharist begins, the priest turns his back to the assembly and the Mass continues this way. It seems to me as if one is worshiping the Holy Host as it rises up, like the sun, from over the back of the priest. Also the liturgy has a slightly different structure; here are some of these discrepancies: the sign of peace is given before the Lord’s prayer, which is recited immediately before the communion. In the distribution of the communion the Holy Host passes from the left hand to the right hand and then to the mouth, using the left hand as a patena. But this varies according to each church.

The garments of the priest consist in a white cassock with many buttons, a thin alb, a stole, a belt made out of cloth to fix them, a cloth arm bracelet, and a chasuble to wear on the top that is like a cloak. At first sight the priest looks like a king.

Because the songs are based on melody and rhythm, they seem to me similar to some popular Japanese songs like doyo, minyo or enka being used as liturgical songs. During the Sunday liturgy or in a priesthood ordination men and women sing facing a microphone; they sing many songs. The assembly responds to the priest’s words with a long sung answer. The sound is very loud, and a keyboard is the customary musical instrument. The accompaniment and the rhythm are registered in advance. When there is one person singing with a microphone does it so loudly so that is difficult to hear the rest of the assembly. In the assembly one can see also people who do not sing, giving me the impression that there are people who do not participate in the Mass, but just attend it. Nevertheless, as an observer, I did not have any strange impression.

There were many people who arrived late to the Mass. In many churches they do not use chairs, and the people sit down on the floor in many ways, on the feet, with the legs crossed, etc. There are many ways to participate, but nobody complains. Also there is no unanimity in the time when to stand up, to sit down or to kneel down.

Although I am not sure if I understood it well, I heard that the Siro-Malabar liturgy is “something very good that came from Siria”. I think that it is not something original from India, but something that was brought to the South of India and developed to the present form through a long period of time.

My perception of the Indian liturgy is contrasted to my 6 years’ experience as minister in a Parish in Japan. Most of all, it makes me think about the Workshop on Liturgy we had in Osaka diocese in the year 2005. Because in Japan the Mass is celebrated following the norms of the Latin rite, in the recent years it has become difficult to carry out a renewal of the liturgy according to the liturgical renewal of the Second Vatican Council based on enculturation. Those in charge of the liturgy and the bishops of Japan consider this situation a regrettable one. But during the sharing we had in that workshop when listening to the statements of the priests and bishops about the liturgy, in which they were emphasizing how the liturgy should be celebrated and what the lay people should do, I also felt that the attitude of the clergy towards the lay people was similar to the attitude of the Vatican. Considering this aspect I think that it is good for the Church in India to have a peculiar liturgy that has been shaped not so much from the directives of the priests and bishops but in a long formation process of acculturated interaction. Liturgy becomes, then, a melody that touches the musical chords of the hearts of the people.

During the National Congress about Evangelization that took place in Japan in the year 1998, there was an epoch-making movement to bring out the opinions of the lay people in which many of their longings and desires came out, not only at the diocesan but also at the national level; nevertheless, it is a pity that this movement lost vigor later on.

Recently I received an e-mail from a Japanese girl student, in which she tells me that her grandmother is a very devoted catholic and uses to ask her why her friends are not attending Mass. She always argues with her grandmother that because her friends are not Catholic they are not obliged to the Sunday precept. For them to come to spend time with her is enough. And she continues writing that trying to evangelize them by imposing on them something that they do not desire, hinders, more than helps, their encounter with God.

The core of evangelization, more than to teach, is to share the joys and sorrows of the people. This way of evangelizing is attained not by the teachings of the missionaries, bishops and priests but through sharing from the simple lay people faith experience and walking together with them.

This is what I felt here in India participating in the Siro-Malabar liturgy. I pray that some day also the Latin liturgy that was brought into Japan may become through a long process a liturgy that like a melody can touch the cords of the shamisen in the hearts of the Japanese people.