The Holy Qurbono
(Service of the Holy Mysteries)
“Make us worthy to enter your house in faith, to knock at your door with hope, to worship in your temple with love; accept our petitions, and answer our requests, and we shall give you glory, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and forever.”
What Roman Catholics refer to as ‘Mass’, Maronites call the Qurbono, the Service of the Holy Mysteries. The Maronite Liturgy is one of the oldest in the Catholic Church tracing its roots to Antioch. It was in Antioch where “the disciples were first called Christian” (Acts 11:26). Fleeing to avoid persecution in Jerusalem, St. Peter founded the Church at Antioch and became its first bishop (cf. Eusebius, History of the Church, III, 36). The early Maronites were the direct descendants of the people who received their faith from the Apostle Peter. It was St. Peter and other Apostles who brought the liturgy of the Last Supper to Antioch. This liturgy is the foundation of the Maronite liturgy, called the Service of the Holy Mysteries. The most frequently used expression for the liturgy is the Qurbono, offering.
The entire service of the Maronite liturgy – prayers, gestures, music, art and architecture from beginning to end focuses on:
- Glory to the Trinity; Father, Son and Spirit.
- Gratitude for God’s compassion.
- Personal renewal through forgiveness.
- Participation in the new life of glory.
The Attitude of the Maronite worshipper during the entire service is:
- Unworthiness (due to sin).
- Mindfulness (of God’s compassion).
- Readiness (to greet Christ when He comes again).
The liturgy has two main parts:
- Service of the Word – The Jewish synagogue service serves as the foundation for the Liturgy of the Word – including Scripture readings, chanting of psalms, sermons and prayers.
- The Anaphora – Meaning “offering,” the Anaphora is the second major part of the Qurbono. In an earlier time, the Anaphora began once the curtains concealing the altar were drawn back by the minister. In the Eastern Churches, the Anaphora is a continuous prayer during which, by the loving action of the Trinity, bread and wine are transformed and divinized into the imperishable Food: The Body and Blood of Christ. This Food sustains the believer on the life-journey to the kingdom.
Characteristic of the Church of Antioch and reflected in the Maronite tradition is the transforming, forgiving dimension of the Eucharisitic Mystery. In and through the Eucharist, the recipient receives forgiveness of sins, since it is the Healing Remedy and the Pledge of Glory. Moreover, in the Eucharastic Mysteries God’s people are united as the Body of Christ, receive a pledge of glory, enjoy a foretaste of the life to come, and progress on their pilgrimage to the kingdom. This process of transformation is best described as “divinization” – sanctification in the Roman church and deification in the Byzantine church.
Having expressed praise and adoration, received forgiveness and nourishment, offered petition and prayer, the assembly gives thanks and offers gratitude for the divine work of divinization with its fruit, the Eucharist, and the abiding presence and action of the Spirit. Finally, the assembly receives a blessing before the dismissal to empower them to continue to work of the Church’s divinization of the universe as we make our way home to the heavenly mansions of light and peace.
The whole Maronite liturgy from beginning to end reflects a Semitic, poetic, creation-centered spirit. It serves as a vehicle calling the worshipper to metanoia (forgiveness) and renewal through its prayers, gestures and music.
In addition, the Maronite attitude is one of “readiness,” for the coming of the Lord. We are pilgrim people on a journey to the harbor of safety. We live each day watching attentively and standing ready with lighted lamps to greet the Lord when He comes again in glory. We are citizens of the kingdom traveling on earth. The voyage is meant to spiritually prepare us to enter into full communion with God. For the present we struggle with contrasting moments in our lives: expectation/distraction, remembrance/forgetfulness, familiarity/strangeness, intimacy/loneliness, joy/sorrow, mindfulness/sleep, clothed/naked, already/not-yet. Our prayer then is one that echoes: “Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus!” Slowly we make our pilgrim way from darkness to light, incompletion to completion, mortality to immortality.