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THE CATECHETICAL HERITAGE OF THE SYRO-MALABAR CHURCH

The catechetical heritage of the Syro-Malabar Church is as old as this Church itself. As was the case with all other Churches, among the St. Thomas Christians also there existed a system of catechesis by which faith was handed down from generation to generation. However there is no comprehensive and chronological exposition of the history of catechesis of the Syro-Malabar Church. Hence, many things have to be traced from the historical documents and living traditions of the Church.

The early Church, just after the apostolic period,developed a system of Christian formation or catechesis known as the catechumen~te. In this catechumenate, the newcomers were given proper instruction in Christian faith and suitable formation in Christian life and subsequently initiated into the Christian community through the sacraments of initiation. This catechumenate system of Christian formation took different forms and shapes in accordance with the particular context of each Church. As was the case with all other Churches, there was a catechumenate system for the faith formation among the St. Thomas Christians also. But it was not as formal as the catechumenate systems in other Churches.

In the early times of the Church, faith was handed down from one generation to the next mainly through community and family-centred catechesis by means of liturgical celebrations, catechetical instructions, and customary practices. At that time, the catechesis of the St. Thomas Christians was not formal and systematic; it was mainly informal and liturgical. Liturgy was the principal means, mode, and source of catechesis among the St. Thomas Christians. Catechetical instruction was given to adults along with the liturgical celebrations, while children were given special instruction either before or after the Holy Qurbana on the mysteries of faith, and were asked to recite and memorize the basic prayers of the Church. Another means for catechesis was the customary practices of the St. Thomas Christians both in the family and community level. These are the ways by which faith was handed down, preserved, and propagated for centuries among the St. Thomas Christians.

Among the liturgical celebrations, the celebration of Feasts also involved an important role in the transmission of the faith. The h.,,,i.; w(~re usually celebrated both at the community and family h ,,,.I ~ )I *h,,se, the feasts of our Lord such as the Annunciation, the Nativity, the Danaha, the Great Fast, Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter, the Ascension, Pentecost, the Glorification of the Cross, etc. were given greater importance than any other feasts. Of the feasts of the Saints, those of St. Mary and St. Thomas were given special importance. The faithful prepared themselves for the feast with fasting and prayer. According to tradition, the Syro-Malabar Church had more than 180 days of fasting. During the days of fast, the faithful abstained from meat, fish, egg, milk pro.giucts, the chewing of betels and conjugal relationship. Such abstinence was observed also on all Wednesdays and Fridays of the year.

The commemoration of the dead was also given special impork~nce. When a person died, his body was washed, dressed and anointed with perfumed oil before it was exposed before the community to pay due homage. Usually, the dead body was placed facing the East. Till the purification of the house after the burial, no food was prepared or eaten in the house. After the burial service, the members of the family would gather in the house in the presence of the parish priest and say special prayers for fhe dead and sprinkle holy water to purify the house. There were also special observances for the commemoration of the dead on the 7th, 16th, 28th, and 41st day after the demise. The annual ceremony to commemorate the dead is known as sradham or chattam. Till the commemoration on the 41st day only vegetarian meals were served in the house.

During the Holy Week (Great Week), besides the liturgical celebrations in the church, there were also family liturgical celebrations. On the Fridays of the great fast and during the days of the Holy Week the family members would sit together and read the Pana, lhe passion narrative of the Lord. On Maundy Thursday (Pesaha Vyazham), as a part of the family celebration of the Passover Feast, a special unleavened broad was made in CALL AND RESPONSE the families. After special prayers, the eldest member of the family would share this bread with the other members of the family. This bread represented the bread used by Jesus during the Last Supper. Together with this, a special drink was also prepared with rice flour, coconut milk, and jaggery which represented the wine of the Last Suppen All these things were done with great respect and reverence. It was patterned after the Jewish mode of celebration of the Passover in the family.

Most of the pious customs and practices of the St. Thomas Christians were biblical. Holy Scripture and the Cross were held in high veneration. Practices like whispering the name of Jesus in the ears of the new born, tying palm leaves with biblical verses to the body of the sick, fixing the sign of the cross on the Tall, (the ornament in the form of a petel worn by the bride in the marriage ceremony), drinking of water mixed with the soil taken from the tomb of St. Thomas at Mylapore by the sick and the dying,-lighting of lamps around the foot of the cross in front of the church, etc. are the pious customs among St. Thomas Christians. The customs and ceremonies related to birth and death were also means for the transmission of fait~ from one generation to the next. The Kathanars who had their training fron~ the Malpans were the main catechists among the St. Thomas Christians. The Ashan Kalaries were also centres for the catechetical instruction for children. Here, the children were taught the fundamental prayers and principles of faith, even by non Christian Ashans.

After the coming of the western missionaries, the catechetical system of the St. Thomas Christians began to develop into a formal and systematic one. In this period the catechism~centered catechesis began to gain prominence in the Syro-Malabar Church. Some of the main catechisms used in the Malabar. CALL AND RESPONSE In 1606, Archbishop Ros reformulated the Menezian Catechesis and issued new statutes on catechesis. In 1700, the Carmelite Missionaries published a catechism known as Catechismus Doctrinae Christiana~ in Lingua Nlalaborica. Then, in 1772, they published a new catechism known as Samkshepa Vedartham which is the first printed book in Malayalam. By the beginning of 20th century, in 1917, came the Va!iy~ Vedopadesham which is the ~anslation of the Catechism of Pope Plus X and the Cheriyo Vedopadesharn which is the shortened form of the Valiyc~ Vedopadesham. These catechisms prevailed in the Syro-Malabar Church until the Second Vatican Council.

An important development during the first half of the 20th century is the introduction of catechesis in the regular schools. The Catholic Bishops’took great inferest in fhe catechesis for the regular schools. As a result special catechetical instruction for the Catholic st~tdents in the regular schools was started..In 1940, a text book series named Motha Tathwa Bodhini was published for the school catechism. Later, moral education was introduced for the non Catholic students in the regular schools. At present, the system of catechism fgr the Catholic students and moral education for the non Catholic students is in practice in most dioceses, while in some, instead of catechism, only moral (value) education is given to all the s~dents of the school irrespective of religion.

After the Second Vatican Council, there took place radical developments in the field of catechesis. At the all India level, under the guidance the of CBCI (Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India), the N.B.C.L.C. (National Biblical Catechetical and Liturgical Centre, Bangalore) gave leadership to develop a catechism text book series for allthe dioceses oflndia. Later, the regional episcopal councils also developed catechisms in their CALL AND RESPONSE own vernacular languages, which are more relevant to their particular needs and culture. In Kerala, the I~O.C. (Pastoral Orientation Centre), under the guidance of the K.C.B.C. (Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Cou~cil) in !970 prepared a common text book series for all the three Catholic Churches of Kerala.

The first common text book series published by the KCBC Catechetical Commission is known as Pithavin Pakka~’ecku (Towards the Father). After a period of experiment and experience the~y decided to publish a new series of catechism texts called Kri.sthuvinte Finnale (in the Foot Steps o,~ t.hnst). This was published during the period !980-~-983. These texts, meant for the Sunday catechism classes, are still being used in most of the dioceses of the three Catholic Churches of Kerala. A thoughl this system of common catechism text books for all the three Churches con~’ibuted in some way to foster unity among the Catholic Churches in Kerala~ one serious drawback of this catechetical series was tha~ it could not pay sufficient a~ention to the particular characteristics and traditions of the individual Churches. In between, a catechetica! series named Deivam Namrnodukoode (God With Us) was prepared and published by the [nter-eparchial Catechetical Committee of Changanassery which is being used in some of the dioceses of the Syro-Malabar Church.

From 1968 to 1999, the KCBC was in charge of the Catechism for the Kerala Catholic Church. However, in the meeting held in January 1999, the KCBC, having taken into account the mind of the Universal Church and following the provisions in the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches (CCEO 621 § I, 62i § 3) decided to entrust the responsibility of catechesis to the catechetical commission of each of the Individual Churches. Thereby, the catechetical commission of the Syro-Malabar Church CALL AND RESPONSE became responsible for the co-ordination and animation of the catechetical ministry of the Syro-Malabar Church. Therefore~ it is now the responsibility of the Syro-Malabar Church to draw up the catechetical directory, the catechism, and the catechetical text books for the faith formation of the members of the Church.

A person who is either born in or made a member of a particular Church has to be given formation in fl~e traditions of that particular Church. He/She should see, hear, touch and experience the way of life of that particular faith community. He/She should be introduced to and integrated into the liturgy, spirituality, discipline, and customs of the particular Church. The Syro-Malabar Church being a suijuris Church in the,.,Catholic communion, should have a catechesis of its own in order to integrate the faithful into the particular traditions of this Church.