Words Insulting Human Dignity Must be
Excluded from liturgy
Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako
Faith is an inner feeling. The foundation of human personal growth socially and spiritually, is to feel the warmth of God’s presence in the heart, to feel His love and mercy for humankind, as reflected by Jesus in the Gospel. Therefore, it is not necessary to prove God’s presence by relying on philosophical arguments, but rather to express it with daily behavior that leads to Him.
In a conversation between Philip and Nathanael (John 1/ 45 – 46) about Jesus, Philip replied, ‘We have found Him…Come and see”, I mean come and test by yourself, then led him to Jesus (the only way to connect mankind with God). This verse confirms that religion is based on faith, which is an experience and practice more than theories, proofs and speeches.
The Old Testament uses multiple images and titles of God, some of which are intolerable, so Jesus changed these images and concepts, by teaching that God is a merciful Father, very close and very friendly. Isn’t it clear that Christmas is the story of God who came to human, and set up his tent among theirs (John 1/ 14).
In His preaching, Jesus called the disciples and faithful to establish strong filial and spiritual relationship with Him and to love each other. The only prayer He taught them is: “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name…” (Matthew 9/ 6-13 and Luke 11/ 2-4).
From this standpoint of Christian faith, those who believed in Jesus Christ and accepted His teaching cannot be called “slaves or herds”, and cannot accept that their sisters be called” odalisque – a slave woman”, but realized that they became through Jesus Christ sons and daughters of God, brothers and sisters through the firstborn son. Hence, Jesus eliminates all categorical separation between humankind on the basis of gender: “You are brothers” (Matthew 8/ 23). I hope that these expressions become more familiar to be used and heard.
The novelty of Christianity confirms that: God is the Father, God is love and mercy. He created human being “they begot rational and free people”. God recognizes human dignity and creative capabilities, and thus the Church should do. Prayer is an expression of this faith in God the Father. In prayers faithful joyfully breathe His presence in the liturgical participation and through their relationship with others as brothers and sisters. We are not slaves, or “numbers” in the “feudal lord’s” list, who owns people just as he owns fields and herds!
If people fall into sin, and this happens because of their weaknesses and being under pressures, God helps them to stand up and accepts them again. He brings them back to their filiation, as stated in the story of prodigal son, who felt sad and depressed upon separation from his father (Luke 15). When he decided to return, his father welcomed him with open arms, and gave him the opportunity to acquire a new heart, a new soul, and a new everything. This parable refers to God, the merciful father.
It is unfortunate that Eastern liturgies uses sometimes inadequate vocabulary. Words that are considered as insult for human dignity, for example: Have mercy on your slaves and take care of the sheep of your flock. It can be replaced by “your people”, instead. …
In another example, “We are your weak, miserable, imperfect and wretched servants and… ܚܢܢ ܥܒܕܝܟ ܡܚܝܠܐ ܘܚܠܫܐ ܘܕܘܝܐ ܘܕܘܝܐ. which are conflicting with the fact that God created human being and granted him freedom, not slavery.
On the same subject, there are some inappropriate psalms, such as the so-called “curse” psalm 137: “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept at the memory of Zion. …a blessing on anyone who seizes your babies and shatters them against a rock”! (I remember when I was studying in France, I used to live and pray with French nuns. I rose up one day before reciting this psalm and said: I am a Christian. I cannot pray such a “revenge” psalm. We should ignore it! and this is exactly what happened.
Other examples: Psalm 22/6: “But I am a worm, less than human, scorn of mankind, contempt of the people”. Psalm 144/ 1: “Blessed be Yahweh, my rock, who trains my hands for war and my fingers for battle”. Is God ISIS? Psalm 133/ 2-3: Usually recited during the consecration of oils, even though it has nothing to do with oils other than the inclusion of the word “oil” in it: “It is like a fine oil on the head, running down the beard, running down Aaron’s beard, onto the collar of his robes … It is like the dew of Hermon falling on the heights of Zion; for their Yahweh bestows His blessing, everlasting life”.
It is understandable that these psalms are part of the Bible. However, its’ historical context has been changed today. So, Psalms should be chosen to suit the prayer and the occasion, but not to be recited sequentially. There are wonderful and appropriate Psalms to choose!
Regarding women, who represent half of human population, currently equipped with educational, artistic, and administrative skills. Women have ascended to leadership and even presidential positions. So, they cannot be called an odalisque or a slave, nor to be described as in the “popular Islamic tradition”: deficient in reason and religion, or to be looked at as a shame or disgrace. such despising, miserable ancient heritage, and racial discrimination, intersects with Christian faith and human dignity.
Knowing that these harsh statements provoke misconceptions that do not fit with the concept of God’s love and mercy, it is a “MUST” to be removed from liturgy or replaced with more theologically and pastorally acceptable words. The current intellectual and social environment does not tolerate these expressions anymore.
Over all, it is a fact that woman is an unblemished human being, with an absolute right to exist, be dignified and enjoy freedom of expression, same as man.
Let us return to how Jesus dealt with women, … Magdalene and the Samaritan…etc. For woman is the daughter of God just as man is the son of God. God is present in her as in him. Both pray together “Our Father, who art in Heaven….etc.”. Glad that God is “our Father”. He granted humanity with everything that helps them to grow, develop and mature by having this faith, this spirit, and the joy of love.
On this occasion, I would like to thank Pope Francis, who opened the door for women to participate in the life of the Church, even in Roman curia.
Finally, it is important to note that Chaldeans are proud of working on the reform of liturgy and removing / replacing many of these non-Christian expressions!!