Curtains in the Chaldean Church


The Chaldean Church, in authentic continuation in the tradition from apostolic times has always used curtains in its liturgy.  It is true that in churches that are smaller with less means, or for other reasons cannot tenably have the curtains, curtains were absent, but this was to be the exception and one can see in the liturgical books and the writings of the magesterium and the bishops that their usage was never dropped.

In the Chaldean Missal of 1901, printed under the patriarchate of Yousef Emmanuel II Thomas, we see that during the celebration of Holy Communion there are instructions to open the curtains/veil {wela} at the start of the Lakhumara hymn:

ܘܟܲܕ ܡܫܵܪܸܝܢ ܒܠܵܟ̣ܘܼܡܵܪܵܐ ܦܵܬܚܝܼܢ ܠܘܸܐܠܵܐ ܕܡܲܕܒܚܵܐ

This hymn is the Lucernary/Sanctuary hymn of the Church of the East.  We see from our ancient commentaries on the liturgy that it signals the opening of curtains in other liturgical prayers as well as.   This same instruction is seen through other missals of the century. **

So we can see that it is no innovation, reintroduction, nor reinstatement of the curtains that is happening in the Reformed Chaldean Missal.  It is the carrying forth of the liturgical traditions.  The rubrics, as approved by the Holy Synod, and the Vatican, state:

As soon as it is being said, they open the outer veil, and the ministers go in procession to the bema, with the cross, the thurible, the Gospels and the candles, they stand in the bema one by one according to rank, and they set up the cross, place the Gospels on the lectern, and place the thurible and candles in their own places.

Recently in the diocese, the efforts in certain parishes to install curtains at the altar have sparked an unusual amount of turmoil from lay people who are for the most part uninformed about their own church tradition, as well as about the tradition of the Catholic Church itself.  Liturgy is something important.  As our bishop, H.E. Mar Sarhad is fond of stating, “you do not play with God!  You do no play games in front of God.”  Liturgy is not the play thing of people! It is worship!  Those who would like to impose their own version of theology and liturgy on the Church and disregard both the words of the worship and its instructions should beware.  It is their immortal soul that is in danger.

The Code of Canons of the Oriental Churches clearly state the need to preserve and foster the rites of the Eastern Churches…

Canon 39 – The rites of the Eastern Churches, as the patrimony of the entire Church of Christ, in which there is clearly evident the tradition which has come from the Apostles through the Fathers and which affirm the divine unity in diversity of the Catholic faith, are to be religiously preserved and fostered.

And that it is the responsibility of the Eastern Churches’ faithful, not only clergy and but also laity, to faithfully hold to its churches tradition…

Canon 40 – §1. Hierarchs who preside over Churches sui iuris and all other hierarchs are to see most carefully to the faithful protection and accurate observance of their own rite, and not admit changes in it except by reason of its organic progress, keeping in mind, however, mutual goodwill and the unity of Christians.
§2. Other clerics and members of institutes of consecrated life are bound to observe their own rite faithfully and daily to acquire a greater understanding and a more perfect practice of it.
§3. Other Christian faithful are also to foster an understanding and appreciation of their own rite, and are held to observe it everywhere unless something is excused by the law.

Some accuse the chancel veil of being too much like the Assyrian Church of the East, but that is precisely because of our shared patrimonial heritage, and that is exactly what the Code of Canons instructs the Eastern faithful to use to foster unity even among our separated brothers.

Canon 903 – The Eastern Catholic Churches have a special duty of fostering unity among all Eastern Churches, first of all through prayers, by the example of life, by the religious fidelity to the ancient traditions of the Eastern Churches, by mutual and better knowledge of each other, and by collaboration and brotherly respect in practice and spirit.

We can turn to the Congregation for the Eastern Churches in its “Instructions for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches” to learn the function of the veil:

The sanctuary is separated from the nave by a veil, gate or iconostasis, because it is the most sacred place: it contains the altar on which the Divine Liturgy is celebrated and the Oblation is offered. Only those who are entrusted with the sacred ministry can enter the sanctuary to complete the sacred acts.

The Instructions also caution regarding restoring or creating churches:

Therefore, it is important that in restoring old churches or constructing new ones, those responsible should attentively study the symbology expressed in them, while taking into account and foreseeing the possibility of re-establishing the usage in conformity to their proper tradition.

I will step forward in stating again… the liturgy is no man’s play thing.  The traditions of the Church go back to the apostles who were instructed by Christ and the Holy Spirit.  So whether a layman, priest or bishop, one cannot simply decide to theorize his own type of theology/liturgy where the veil is no longer needed… or the entire mass is done versus populum instead of ad orientem… such a man is in sin and grievous danger.  There is a time for the priest to be facing the people, it is marked by a procession around the altar and for a specific function… the liturgy is not for playing games with God!

** Interestingly, Rev. Joseph De Kelaita of the Assyrian Church {first have 20th century} places the opening of the curtains in another place, but this article is not to discuss about when, but rather if… and it makes sense that the Lucernary hymn would be the signal upon which the curtains would be opened.

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2 Responses to “Curtains in the Chaldean Church”

  1. Ian Climacus Says:

    A blessed Happy New Year 2014 to you. And my congratulations also to the Chaldean Church and Mar Bawai Soro on his appointment: how wonderful.

    I am guessing curtains and facing the people are big topics in your part of the world currently [I’m surprised the faithful little old ladies have not struck down the innovators…they seem to do so here 🙂 ]. May God bless and direct all there to right and true worship in accordance with the Faith and Tradition. Thank you for the quotes and explanations.

  2. antgaria Says:

    Dearest Ian! A blessed happy new year to you too. Sorry for the late response. Been going from sick to busy to sick to sick again and again. I think the issue of curtains and facing people is only an issue because people are used to seeig/not seeing them in American churches. The oldest generation of people and the ones from the old countries are fine with it.

    So for the most part this is an educating issue, and several people with honest intentions had asked me to help them with it and so I thought it best to put my response in the blog. I think the only exceptions are people who have self appointed themselves greater than bishops and seek to wreak havoc in the church… But those wolves will not get far… We have the entire church magisterium behind us and a bishop who is just plain awesome! Thanks be to God!

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