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           Jun 08, 2013



Beauty in the Chaldean Liturgy


By: Simon Esshaki


The worship of God is the highest activity any human could do while on earth. Because of that, many groups and churches have composed liturgical texts very carefully to make a proper way of worshipping the Almighty. The Chaldean Catholic Church has its own Liturgy that goes back to the period of the apostles. This liturgical text and ritual is filled with beauty and dignity as it properly allows people on earth to worship God and participate in the Sacrifice of Jesus that is celebrated in the Mass. In this paper, I will demonstrate the beauty inherent in the Chaldean Mass. In doing this, I will use the definition of Thomas Aquinas for beauty, mainly focusing on his three criteria for something to be beautiful.

He says, “For beauty includes three conditions, ‘integrity’ or ‘perfection,’ since those things which are impaired are by the very fact ugly; due ‘proportion’ or ‘harmony’; and lastly, ‘brightness’ or ‘clarity,’ whence things are called beautiful which have a bright color1.” We will examine each of these three criteria and then apply each one to the Chaldean Liturgy.


Integritas in Aquinas

The first criterion that Aquinas gives for beauty is integritas. This condition is mainly about the completeness and integrity or perfection of the thing. If something is to be beautiful, it cannot be missing any of its parts. It has to be a complete thing that is whole. For example, a film that has a great story, but misses one important part that links all the ideas together is not a beautiful movie because it is not complete. So too with a painting; if it is missing an important part like an arm on a person, or head on an animal, it cannot be beautiful because it misses a part that is vital to the completeness and integrity of the whole. Having said that, the thing cannot simply be missing parts for it to not be beautiful; it also cannot have any extra parts. If there is a movie that has a very nice story, but has a scene that is unnecessary and seems like it has nothing to do with the rest of the movie, it is not a beautiful movie. That scene takes away from the story itself and makes it not beautiful, because it added an unnecessary part. So too with natural things; if a human being is missing a part of its body, then it is incomplete because of an unnatural defect. The thing that makes natural objects beautiful is that they are whole and complete. With this condition, it ruins the beauty of the whole if there is an extra part or missing one.

Also, this criterion has to do with the perfection of the object. Umberto Eco says in his book, The Aesthetics of Thomas Aquinas, “Aquinas identifies integrity with perfection, and perfection means the complete realization of whatever it is that the thing is supposed to be2.” All things have a purpose and they ultimately find that purpose in the mind of the creator. Aquinas says, “A house, for instance, is true if it turns out like the plan in the architect’s mind3.” If a thing is to be beautiful and true, it has to turn out exactly as the architect envisioned it to turn out. The thing has to be obedient in all things to the laws that were made for it. Natural things follow the laws of nature perfectly and obey the architect and creator of it. For this reason, a thing is said to be beautiful that has no missing parts or no unnecessary parts added to it.

Integritas in the Chaldean Liturgy

Integritas is shown in the Chaldean Mass because it is completely obedient to Christ in the Scriptures. The structure of the Liturgy is based on the words of Christ and what he did. His Excellency Mar Sarhad Yawsip Jammo, Bishop of the Chaldean Catholic Diocese of St. Peter the Apostle, says in his article titled, Exposition of the Holy Raze of the Chaldean Rite,

“The Eucharist of the Church is an implementation of the command of the Lord in the Last Supper: ‘Do this in memory of me.’ The basic outline of the founding Eucharist of the Lord’s Supper--as narrated in Paul’s Letter (1 Cor, 11:23-26 ), in the Synoptic gospels (Luke 22:14-20, Mt 26:26-29, Mk 14:22-25), as well as in Luke’s description of the acts of Jesus at the banquet in Emmaus-- is summarized by Luke as follows: ‘When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them.’(Lk 24:30). Thus the four sections of the Eucharistic Rite of the Church follow the four actions of the Lord as described in this narrative: He took, blessed, broke and gave.”4

At the Last Supper, Jesus told his apostles to “Do this in memory of me.” The Chaldean Church asks the question, do what? Jesus says do this, and that thing that he did is what he did right before he said those words, took, blessed, broke, and gave. The Chaldean Church is completely faithful to following these words of Christ and imitating him to do it exactly as he said. The structure of the Liturgy is shaped on the words and actions of Christ and it is as faithful to them as possible.

In addition to being totally obedient to Christ and the Scriptures, the essential parts and structure of the Chaldean Liturgy has traditions and texts taken from the apostolic period, from people who actually had contact with Christ himself on earth. Mar Sarhad says,

“Like the other Apostolic Churches, the Mesopotamian Church formulated a liturgical context fitting the celebration, both in its totality as well as in its individual sections, by means of introduction and conclusion, accompaniments and insertions, it being evident that these compositions and formulas are a harmonic and organic developments of the basic Apostolic structure, recognized to be identified with the Apostles of the East Addai and Mari.”5

The Eucharistic prayer (Qudasha) of the Liturgy was written by Addai and Mari, who worked with St. Thomas in evangelizing the area of Mesopotamia which became the Chaldean Church of the East. Addai is known to be either part of the seventy-two disciples or even of the twelve apostles as he is probably the man whom the Gospels call “Thaddeus.” The Chaldean Liturgy takes its form of worship and the most important part of the Mass from people who knew Christ directly. This is the reason why the Chaldean Liturgy is as close to the way the apostles and first Christians worshipped God as we can possibly know. It is obedient to Christ in the scriptures and kept the traditions that were handed on from the people who lived with Jesus and the apostles and handed it down.

When considering the unity and completeness in the structure of the Liturgy as a whole, we turn back to the idea of Thomas Aquinas that beautiful things should be complete and not be missing any parts. The Chaldean Mass is complete and organized in a way that makes it so that there are no extra parts or missing parts.

Mar Sarhad says, “Indeed, the Chaldean Eucharistic celebration, for its Instructional Section, is based on the encounter of the risen Lord with the two disciples in their journey to Emmaus, as described in Luke 24:13-35; as for its Qurbana [Eucharistic] Section, it is based on the four Scriptural accounts: 1 Cor, 11:23-26, Luke 22:14-20, Mt 26:26-29, & Mk 14:22-25.”6 The Chaldean Liturgy begins with the Instructional Section based on what Jesus did on the road to Emmaus. In that story, as the disciples were journeying with Jesus, the Gospel tells us that, “Beginning with Moses and the Prophets, he interpreted to them all the things concerning himself (Luke 24: 27).” For this reason, the Chaldean mass, after the introductory prayers and procession, begins with a reading from Moses (something from the Pentatuach) and a reading from one of the Old Testament prophets. Then, a reading from St. Paul is read (as an “interpretation of the Scriptures concerning Jesus”) and finally, the Gospel is read, which is about Jesus himself. This first part of the mass is preparing the people who are on a journey with Christ for the Eucharistic section, where the bread and wine will be consecrated to become the Body and Blood of Christ. As the disciples approached Emmaus, Jesus went in to stay with them and when he was at table he took, blessed, broke, and gave the bread to the disciples. The whole Eucharistic section of the mass, as was said above, is based on these four verbs.

In doing this, the Chaldean Liturgy is being what it is supposed to be. Jesus, the architect, described the mass by his words and actions. The Chaldean Church takes whatever is applied to the Eucharist in the bible and applies it to the liturgical structure. In both times that Jesus celebrated the Eucharist while on earth (Last Supper and Emmaus) the church looks with great detail at every word and action of Jesus at those crucial moments. The Chaldean Church believes that as he performed those actions, he was teaching the Church how to properly celebrate his liturgical sacrifice after he ascended to heaven. Jesus did not write a manual for how to do the liturgy or a liturgical book of his own. His manual is what he did and said when he performed the Liturgy while on earth and that is where the Chaldean Church takes its structure of the mass in complete obedience to Christ. In so doing, the Chaldean Church expresses Integritas by doing all that the Lord did in its completeness. It fulfills the complete act of the Eucharist and Sacrifice of Christ by doing what he did to perfection.


Proportion in Thomas Aquinas

The next criterion for Thomas Aquinas in his definition of beauty is proportion. He says, “Beauty consists in due proportion; for the senses are delighted in duly proportioned things, as in what is after their own kind; because sense is a sort of reason, and so is every cognitive faculty7.” In nature and art, everything has different parts to it. A thing is beautiful if these different parts act in perfect harmony with each other. This means that all the parts have the right size, the right shape, and are all functioning well and all point to the goal of the thing as a whole, to make it beautiful. A story that has a sub-plot that is too big and takes away from the actual story as a whole is bad for the story and makes it not beautiful because all the parts are not working in due proportion. A musical symphony with an instrument or a note that it too long or loud and distracts the people from the unity of the musical piece is bad for the beauty of the symphony and makes it ugly. In order to have this condition, all the parts of a thing must work in a balanced harmony, since things in nature have parts and have to work to make a beautiful whole with everything working nicely and in perfect harmony.

Proportion in the Chaldean Liturgy

According to this criterion of Thomas Aquinas, the individual parts of something should flow together in a nicely organized manner. In this section it will be shown that the Chaldean Liturgy has all of its parts working in harmony with one another. The Chaldean Mass, as was mentioned above, is split into two sections: The Instructional and Eucharistic. For the Eucharistic section, there are four parts, which are based on the four actions Jesus did at the Last Supper: he took, blessed, broke, and gave. The Chaldean Liturgy gives equal importance and value to each of these four actions of Jesus. There is not one action that is more than what it should be, and not one is neglected or shown as less meaningful. These four parts, which make up the basis of the Eucharistic section in the Liturgy, are all balanced and working in perfect harmony. The unity and organization of these parts make the Liturgy flow into the beautiful structure and harmony of the whole.

Jesus took:

The first part of the Eucharistic section of the Liturgy involves the celebrant receiving the gifts of bread and wine to be set on the altar for consecration. Right after the Instructional section is done (immediately following the homily) the priest, before approaching the altar for the first time, washes his hands to cleanse himself in preparation for the sacrifice. He then approaches the altar in solemn procession. As he turns around the gifts are brought up to the altar in procession by the servers (the bread and wine are already prepared, following the command of Christ when he told Peter and John to, “Go and prepare the Passover for us that we may eat it” in Luke 22: 8). Mar Sarhad says,

“The gifts are brought up in procession from the bema [the area in front of the altar where the veil is] to the upper steps of the altar, the bread on the right (as one faces the altar) and the cup on the left. The priest takes them from the deacon and turns facing the cross behind the altar, and crosses his arms, keeping the positioning of the elements the same, that is, the cup being always underneath the iconographic depiction of Christ’s right side, out of which blood and water spilled.”8

As the priest takes the gifts he keeps the cup on the left side and keeps it there the whole mass so that the blood of Christ can always be on the side where he was pierced. This whole ceremony of bringing up the gifts is all done based on the fact that Jesus took the bread at the Last Supper and told the apostles to.

Jesus blessed

After the taking of the gifts by the priest, he now has to bless them properly. Mar Sarhad says, “After the gifts have been placed on the altar and the reconciliation made among the community [the rite of peace], in faith and love, the gifts of bread and wine are to be sanctified9.” This sanctification of the gifts is the central part of the liturgy because in it, the bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. The prayer of blessing in the Chaldean Liturgy is known as the Anaphora of Addai and Mari. This prayer goes back to apostolic period of the Church and was used in the celebration of the Eucharist since that time, as was mentioned above. It is split up into three sections, the Glorification, the Thanksgiving, and the Memorial. In describing the structure of the prayer, Mar Sarhad says, “The basic structure of the Anaphora in Mesopotamian tradition is as follows: 1) Praise and Glorification of God for the creation of the world and of men; 2) Thanksgiving to God for the redemption through Christ; 3) Memorial of Christ by the Church in response to the Memorial by Christ of his Church.”10 In continuation of the Eucharistic prayer, the consecration comes next, where the celebrant recites the narrative of the Last Supper and then the invocation of the Holy Spirit. As part of this whole act of blessing, the bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of Christ.

Jesus broke

The breaking of the bread being one of the four actions Jesus did at the Last Supper and commanded the apostles to do, the Chaldean Church takes that command very seriously and so instead of doing a simple breaking of the bread in a quick and unnoticeable way, the Chaldean Liturgy has a ceremony just for the breaking of the bread. This is called the Breaking and Signing Rite. Mar Sarhad gives an explanation of this ritual, which happens after the prayer of blessing and the invocation of Holy Spirit,

With the Invocation to the Holy Spirit, the consecration is perfected, thus, the bread is no more mere bread but the body of the Lord, and the wine in the chalice is no more mere wine but the blood of the Lord; the real presence of the Lord in each of them is manifested and declared. Therefore, the Chaldean rite performs, immediately after, what the Lord did in the Paschal Supper when he broke the bread to signify what will happen to his body factually on Friday of the Crucifixion, when all his body was tortured and his blood was profusely shed for the remission of our sins. Then, to liturgically commemorate the resurrection of the Lord, when his humanity was fully restored and was glorified, being united to his divinity, the Chaldean rite signs the consecrated hosts with each other clearly signifying the liturgical readiness of the consecrated Qurbana for the Holy Communion.11

With this ritual, the celebrant makes his way around the altar to break and sign the Body and Blood of Christ. This part of the liturgy is the part in which the sacrifice of Christ and his Resurrection are shown to the people. The Body is broken and then united with the blood as it is signed with it. This part of the mass has a ceremony to show how important it was that Jesus broke the bread at the Last Supper and Emmaus and the Chaldean Church makes it a vital part of the whole sacrifice of the mass, as it should be.

Jesus gave

After the Sanctification of the gifts and the Breaking and Signing of them, it is now time for the climax of the Liturgy, Communion. After the deacon gives an expression of the basic creeds of the faith to prepare the people to receive the sacrament, the priest does his final prayers before and after the Lord’s Prayer before final invocations about the Eucharist that will be received. After this, the celebrant and the other Eucharist ministers go down to the area where the people are and the people come one by one and receive the Body and Blood of Christ. After much preparation of the gifts and of the people’s hearts and minds, the people of the Church are ready to eat the sacrifice that they had been preparing for over the course of the Liturgy. As Jesus gave his Body to the Apostles to eat at the Last Supper, so the priest gives the Body of the Lord to the faithful.


Claritas in Thomas Aquinas

The last criterion for Thomas is Claritas. This condition is based primarily on splendor or a type of brilliance. Leonard Callahan in his work titled, A Theory of Esthetic According to the Principles of St. Thomas Aquinas, says,

In order that a thing be beautiful it is not sufficient merely that it possess the qualities of integrity and of proportion in the sense just explained, but it is required that these factors be present in such a way that the mind perceive them without too great effort and strain. Hence, a third esthetic quality, brilliance, which is simply the natural result of orders so constituted as to fulfill the requirements of the perceptive faculties.12

If things are orderly and complete, they should have a brightness or clarity to them that makes them beautiful. This brightness or clarity makes the thing to be known by the mind in an easy way and is the third requirement for Aquinas to make something beautiful.

With this condition comes the necessity for light and color. Callahan says, “There must be sufficient light to see a picture, for example; its lines and colors must be visible without too much strain.”13 If an object cannot be seen, it cannot be beautiful; and light makes an object known while color gives it clarity.

Although we are speaking of mostly material objects when it comes to beauty on this criterion, it is not just the matter that needs to have brightness or clarity, it is the form. Callahan says, “By the brilliancy of the beautiful, therefore, we mean the shining forth of the form of a thing, either of a work of art or of nature, or whatever it may be, in such a manner that it is presented to the mind with all the fullness and richness of its perfection and order.”14 The form of an object is the main thing that is beautiful. If an object were just matter, it would not be beautiful. We are beautiful creatures because of our form. God is beautiful because he is form; he has no matter. The form which humans and other natural objects possess must give a certain amount of light and color to show its beauty.

“The more lightsome an object, the more harmony of color it possesses, the better proportioned it is to the capacity of the eye, and the more it will contribute to paving the way for esthetic activity.”15

Claritas in the Chaldean Liturgy

The liturgy presents the integrity and proportion in a beautiful manner that makes it easy for the mind to comprehend. The Chaldean Mass is not just proportioned beautifully with good order and no parts missing or added; it is formed in a way to make the event beautiful as experienced by the senses. The claritas in the Chaldean Liturgy is the presentation of the Integritas and Proportion to the people and it involves many aspects.

Being present at a Chaldean Liturgical celebration, one can realize the glorious and magnificent atmosphere of it. One way is through the outward actions done by the priest and servers at the altar and the most prominent of these actions are the processions that are in the Chaldean Liturgy. Mar Sarhad says, “The Chaldean rite uses the dynamic of ceremonial movement to initiate each one of the two sections of the Eucharistic Raze celebration.”16 In the first procession, the priest and deacons process towards the altar and stand with the people. After the priest has invoked the words of the angels, “Glory to God in the highest and peace to his people on earth” (to tell how God is coming to earth just like how the angels gave that message to the shepherds), and said a few introductory prayers, the priests and servers of the mass approach the altar area as the veil is open, symbolizing the people on earth entering heaven (the other side of the veil which separates the two realms). Meanwhile, everyone is singing an ancient Chaldean hymn in glorification and thanksgiving of Jesus Christ as Lord and Life-giver. With this moment the people can see and feel their assent to heaven as in their hearts and minds, they follow the priest and servers to the altar area while chanting a hymn.

Another procession is done when the priest is actually approaching the altar for the first time. From the beginning of the mass until after the Instructional section, the priest is not at the altar but still at the side with the people because he has not used it for sacrifice yet. After the homily completes the Instructional Section of the mass, the priest approaches the altar in a glorious ceremony to lead the people into the Eucharistic section. In this ceremony, before approaching the altar, he has his hands washed. He then approaches the altar in a very solemn and prayerful manner as he bows three times. After he has approached the altar, servers bring up the gifts to be presented there. All this is done while a beautiful hymn is sung inviting the people to share in the Eucharistic Banquet. The people participate in the procession to the altar in their hearts as they sing and watch what takes place. The priest then receives the gifts and continues with the rite of the Eucharistic section of the Mass. In speaking about these two processions that were just explained, Mar Sarhad says, “The first one signifies the coming of the Son of God to our earth for our salvation; all elements: cross and Gospel, incense and candles, with the celebrant and clergy, are in the function of re-presenting the liturgical manifestation of the Lord to his Church; the second one brings forth the offerings initiating the Eucharistic section.”17

Another aspect of the splendor and wonderful nature of the Chaldean Liturgy is its music. The liturgical hymns are beautiful both in word and in melody and are meant to get the people to feel and experience the greatness of what is happening before them. Pope Pius X in his Instruction on Sacred Music, says

“Now, the principal function of sacred music is to clothe with suitable melody the liturgical text proposed for the understanding of the faithful. Therefore, its purpose is to add greater efficacy to the text. This is done so that, through the music, the faithful will be more easily inspired, better disposed to receive the benefits of the grace that comes from the celebration of the holy mysteries.”18

In making the words and meaning of the mass understandable and more pleasant for the people, the Church has musical melodies to help portray the meaning of the events taking place at the liturgy. The Chaldean Liturgy has ancient and marvelous hymn tones that have been used as part of the liturgical celebration for centuries. The music in the Liturgy is not there for its own purpose or to serve as an end in itself; it is there to lead the people to think about God and the mysteries that are taking place while at the same time being beautiful. Pope Pius X also says about the music in the liturgy, “It must be true art. Otherwise, in the minds of those who listen to it, sacred music will not be able to bring about the effect the Church intends, in admitting into her liturgy the art of musical sounds.”19 The music in the Chaldean Liturgy is meant to elevate the person’s mind to God and his mysteries. In listening to the music, the person experiences the greatness and splendor of the event that is taking place.

The splendor of the Chaldean Liturgy comes from having the people participate in the sacrifice. It is not something that is separate from the people; it is their sacrifice as well and the role of the liturgy is to make the people understand that. Music in the liturgy helps people do this. In the Instruction of Sacred Music in Vatican II it says, “One cannot find anything more religious and more joyful in sacred celebrations than a whole congregation expressing its faith and devotion in song.”20 The Chaldean Mass is so beautiful because the people participate in it throughout. They watch the priest as he moves around in procession as the servers and choir sing beautiful hymns.


Ultimately, the liturgy is not something that will ever be understood by human beings. That is why the Chaldean Church calls the Mass, Raze, which means “Mysteries.” The Rite of the Divine Mysteries elevates people to God. After examining the different parts and structure of the Chaldean Rite Mass, it can be said that it is in accord with Thomas Aquinas’ three criteria for beauty. The Chaldean Mass has Integritas because it is faithfully obedient to Christ and because it has no parts missing or any extra parts; it has due Proportion because the parts flow in harmony with one another to produce a beautiful whole and the parts are balanced based on the command of Christ; and it has Claritas because it makes the people know and experience the liturgy in a beautiful way. The Chaldean Church realized that if it is going to offer sacrifice in the presence of God, it must be as perfect as possible in every single action and word said there.

Following the example and command of Christ, the Chaldean Church has done that.



  1.  Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica. I. Q. 39. Art. 8

  2. Umberto Eco, The Aesthetics of Thomas Aquinas (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988)

  3. Summa Theologica I Q. 16 A. I

  4. Mar Sarhad Yawsip Jammo. "Exposition of the Holy Raze of the Chaldean Rite." Chaldean Institute for Mesopotamian Studies.

  5. Jammo, "Exposition of the Holy Raze of the Chaldean Rite."

  6. Jammo, "Exposition of the Holy Raze of the Chaldean Rite."

  7. Summa Theoligica I, q. 5, art. 4

  8. Jammo, "Exposition of the Holy Raze of the Chaldean Rite."

  9. Jammo, "Exposition of the Holy Raze of the Chaldean Rite."

  10. Jammo, "Exposition of the Holy Raze of the Chaldean Rite."

  11. Jammo, "Exposition of the Holy Raze of the Chaldean Rite."

  12. Leonard Callahan, A Theory of Esthetic According to the Principles of St. Thomas Aquinas. (Washington D.C.: The Catholic University Press, 2006), 63.

  13. Callahan, 64.

  14. Callahan, 64.

  15. Callahan, 52.

  16. Jammo, "Exposition of the Holy Raze of the Chaldean Rite."

  17. Jammo, "Exposition of the Holy Raze of the Chaldean Rite."

  18. Pope Pius X. Motu Proprio, "Instruction on Sacred Music." Society for the Renewal of Sacred Liturgy, 1.

  19. Pope Pius X, 2.

  20. Second Vatican Council, Instruction on Music in the Liturgy, 5 March, 196