Catholic Connections: The Syro-Malabar Diocese of Chicago
St. Joseph College Seminary welcomes Catholic men interested in discerning priesthood. Simply by walking through our halls or praying in the chapel during daily evening prayer, you'll find men of different backgrounds, a significant one being the Syro-Malabar diocese. This is just one of the many Catholic connections we foster among our seminarians. These connections promote the unification of various backgrounds under one common goal: the dedication of lives to Christ through priesthood.
What is the Syro-Malabar diocese?
Syro-Malabar is the 2nd-largest Church of all the Eastern Catholic Churches with more than 4.6 million worshippers. It was founded in Kerala, India and although its origins can be traced all the way back to the 1st century, his Holiness Pope John Paul II established the St. Thomas Syro-Malabar Catholic Diocese of Chicago in 2001. The name comes from a combination of Syro, a derivative of Syriac, referring to East Syriac Liturgy, and Malabar, the historical name for Kerala.
Goodwin Francis, one of our 1st-year seminarians from the Syro-Malabar diocese, explains,
"The Syro-Malabar Rite is one of the 23 Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church. It has a diocese that spans the whole nation to serve the Syro-Malabar Catholics in the United States. This is different from the Archdiocese of Chicago, which is Roman Rite and serves the Catholics from the Chicagoland area."
Aby Abraham, another one of our 1st-year, Syro-Malabar seminarians adds,
"The Syro-Malabar diocese was founded by one of Jesus' apostles, Saint Thomas, when we came to the Malabar coast in India. It is an Eastern rite diocese, so we have different liturgical customs, although we are still in full union with the Pope. Our liturgy is called the Holy Qurbana as opposed to the Latin Mass. We only have one actual diocese in the US which is spread across the entire country!"
What are Syro-Malabar traditions like?
Goodwin goes on to describe one of the key differences in Syro-Malabar Mass: "In the Syro-Malabar Church, Mass is referred to as Qurbana and was originally celebrated in Syriac -- a dialect of Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke. Also in our liturgy we have different prayers and actions to emphasize certain parts of salvation history."
Because of the Indian origins of the Church, Christian communities in India became assimilated with local culture, meaning that Syro-Malabar churches take architectural inspiration from Hinduism. There are generally no pews or kneelers, meaning people stand in prayer for the entire Mass. The standing symbolizes the congregation walking with Christ alongside the priest. Mass is used exclusively to celebrate the glory of God, typically lasting about an hour and a half. There are no votive Masses or Masses for "special occasions".
The variety of backgrounds that come together at St. Joseph College Seminary allows for all seminarians to find something unique not only in themselves, but also in their faith. Having a more cohesive and inclusive worldview helps our seminarians to become the men that God wishes them to be. As Goodwin puts it, "my background gives me something unique to offer the rest of the seminarians. The faith that I received through the Syro-Malabar tradition is very special to me and my time at St. Joseph helps me reaffirm my roots in faith and where I come from."