The aim of catechesis or, to put it simply, of all Christian theology is formation in faith. At the centre of our faith, which is a response to God’s full and final revelation in Christ, stand the paschal mysteries of passion-death-resurrection of the Lord. The purpose, therefore, of catechetical formation is none other than formation of a Christian in the mysteries of Christ and in the ensuing mysteries of the church.
Every process of formation begins with information or knowledge of a reality and must necessarily lead as its finality, to the transformation of the person. The distance between formation and transformation is bridged through a process of learning guided by openness, experiential knowledge, training etc. It is here one recognizes the tremendous power and fundamental significance of Christian liturgy or worship (prayer) in faith formation. The liturgy has the inner power to transform us. It of course, does not happen automatically. It is unfortunate that the liturgical celebration of the mysteries of our faith, very often degenerates into ‘cult’ draining the Liturgy of its power to transform as the ‘encounter’ with the Triune God does not happen.
The Church by its very nature and definition is a worshipping or liturgical community. The liturgy of the Church, especially the Holy Qurbana (Eucharist) is the supreme celebration of the passion, death and resurrection of the Lord “for us and for our salvation” (text of the Qurbana) here and now. In and through the celebration of the Divine Liturgy we are not only given a promise of the future things, but a real fore taste of the ‘world to come’.
The Liturgy of the Church definitely has the potential, if we are ready and open to the Spirit of God, to transform us. Because, liturgy is primarily the action of the Risen Lord in the Holy Spirit than being a more human cultic action. As such, it becomes the genuine “school of faith” for growing and maturing in faith. On the same score, the primary context (locus) of Catechesis or of learning in theology is the full and effective celebration of the Liturgy itself where the church, as the mother and teacher, provides her children with an experiential knowledge of the mysteries of the Lord and trains them in faith, hope and charity. In this sense one can say that every faith formation programme, whatever its style and content be, must necessarily be founded on the celebration of the mysteries of Christ and draw its strength from the well spring of “liturgical experience of the church” The Second Vatican Council reiterates this centrality of worship in Christian life and mission (SC 10).
The fathers of the Church did not teach faith “in class room” as we do today, away from the celebration of the mysteries and divorced from the ‘Liturgical experience of the Church’. Their explanation of faith was mystagogical in character, leading the faithful to the inner most meaning of the liturgical rites and their practical implications for Christian life in the context of liturgical celebration.
Oriental churches, faithful to their venerable heritage have never lost sight of the centrality of the celebration of the mysteries of Christ for deepening the faith of their people. For them the rule of prayer (liturgy) is the rule of faith (catechesis and theology) and the rule of life (spirituality): Lex orandi – lex credendi – lex vivendi. Hence we have tried to approach this faith formation programme from the vantage point of the celebration of mysteries of Christ and the Church making use of the Liturgical year in the Syro-Malabar Church. This probably, is a pioneering venture and therefore, not without limitations.
The East Syrian Liturgy of the Syro-Malabar Church owns a very ancient, yet beautifully and comprehensively arranged, liturgical year established by Patriarch Isoyabh III in the 7th century. It presents the liturgical year in nine liturgical seasons such as:
1. Subara, the Annunciation
2. Denha, the Epiphany
3. Saumma Ramba, the Great Fast
4. Qyamta, the Resurrection
5. Slihe, the Apostles
6. Qaita, the Summer
7. Eliya wa-Sliba, The Elias and the Cross
8. Muse, the Moses
9. Quddas Edta, the Dedication of the Church
The liturgical year is arranged systematically focusing attention on the central themes of Denha (epiphany), Resurrection, Pentecost, Tranfiguration, Exaltation of the Cross and Parousia. All aspects of Christian faith and doctrine are taken care of and the celebration of the mysteries of Christ and the church according to the liturgical year provides the people of God a rich and lively experience of faith. Thanks to the Liturgy it offers us such a brilliant “natural milieu” for initiation into the mysteries of Christ and the Church. Why should then one impose a “foreign Schema” on the liturgy of the Syro-Malabar Church for a formation programme like ours aiming at the transformation of the believer into the image and likeness of Christ?