The Chicago Cubs winning the World Series wasn’t the only event this fall that Mundelein Seminary had never before witnessed. On Nov. 9, the seminary community gathered in the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception to celebrate the campus’ first-ever Holy Qurbana, the Eucharistic liturgy of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church.
The Syro-Malabar Church, with more than 4.6 million believers, is the second largest of the 23 Eastern Catholic Churches in full communion with Rome. Originating with the evangelical activity of St. Thomas the Apostle in South India in 52 AD, the church gets its name from the Syriac liturgical and spiritual patrimony that developed on the Malabar Coast, in what is today Kerala, India.
Bringing the Qurbana to Mundelein was the brainchild of Joby Joseph, a second-year pre-theologian studying for the St. Thomas Syro-Malabar Catholic Diocese of Chicago, which ministers to Syro-Malabar Catholics across the United States.
“I had a strong desire to share the beauty and richness of my liturgical tradition with my seminary community,” Joseph said. “The word ‘Qurbana’ literally means ‘offering.’ It is the offering of Christ, but also our offering to Him and each other. I was overwhelmed to experience the community’s offering of love shown through their openness, active participation and reverence during our Holy Qurbana.”
Father Vinod Madathiparambil, the director of the Syro-Malabar diocese’s office for formation and vocations, was the celebrant. He was assisted by Father Thomas A. Baima, Mundelein’s vice rector for academics, and Father José Cadena, a recently ordained S.T.L. student from the Diocese of Laredo, Texas.
“The most important aspect in our liturgy is the aspect of mystery,” Madathiparambil said. “That aspect is really brought out in Eastern liturgies, especially in the Syro-Malabar liturgy. Everything from the arrangement of the church, to the signs and symbols used, is a reflection of that.”
Madathiparambil explained how the area where the congregation sits in the church is symbolic of the earth; the sanctuary is representative of the earthly Jerusalem, and the high altar is the symbol of heaven.
“A beautiful moment in the liturgy is when we bring down the book of Gospels from the high altar to the table of the Word in the sanctuary, called the bema,” Madathiparambil said. “The celebrant covers his face with the Gospel and becomes Christ, because the proclamation of the Gospel is Jesus’ own words. The entire action symbolizes the Incarnation, for the Word is coming down from heaven to the earthly Jerusalem.”
A special choir of seminarians led the community in the liturgy’s music, for the entire Qurbana is sung from start to finish. Though the liturgy was largely in English, several of the hymns were sung in Syriac Aramaic.
Afterward, Madathiparambil reflected on the impact Mundelein’s celebration of the Holy Qurbana would have on both the seminary and the Syro-Malabar diocese, which was founded barely a decade ago.
“Our existence as a diocese is due in large part to the generosity and support of the Latin-Rite archdiocese of Chicago,” he said. “One way we can give back is in the beauty of the liturgy. It’s a privileged moment, as well as a moment of validation, to be here celebrating with our brothers and sisters. Though we are a small group, here we feel like we are equals and are appreciated.”