The 18th Century
By Chorbishop Seely Beggiani
The publication of a second edition of the Maronite Missal in Rome in 1716 had some impact on Maronite liturgical practice. While it contained a number of ancient Anaphoras (Eucharistic prayers), the “words of institution” remained those of the Roman rite. Nor did the Missal restore the epiclesis (invocation of the Holy Spirit) to its original form. An innovation in this Missal was an anaphora from the canon of the Roman Missal. In subsequent editions of the Missal, this Anaphora had the first position.
The Missal also changed the place of the ablutions in the Liturgy [cleaning of the chalice and of the paten] from after the final blessing to before the prayers of thanksgiving, which represents imitation of the western practice. Another feature of this Missal was the inclusion of a Liturgy of the Signing of the Chalice to be celebrated once a year on Good Friday. A Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified had originally been celebrated throughout all of Lent, but had been abandoned for a long time. In fact, the Liturgy of the Signing of the Chalice was not the ancient Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified but an adaption of the ancient Anaphora of Sharrar.
In 1731, an abridged edition of the Divine Office was printed by the press of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith. It is probable that it was at this time that the private recitation of the Office began to predominate.
The National Synod of Mount Lebanon of 1736
Preparations of the Synod
One of the most important events in Maronite history was the convening of the Synod of 1736, which gave the Maronite Church a codification of its particular law. It was subsequently approved by Pope Benedict XIV in 1741 in forma specifica which meant that it also had the force of pontifical law. The Maronite patriarch, bishops and secular and religious clergy had sent letters to the Holy Father expressing the need for reform. Seeking to have pontifical approval for their actions, they requested that an Apostolic Visitator be sent will full powers to convoke a synod. They recommended that the legate know the language of the country and therefore suggested the appointment of Joseph Assemani, a Maronite priest and a scholar who was highly regarded in Rome. In November of 1735, Pope Clement XII agreed to the Maronites’ request
with the arrival of Joseph Assemani in Lebanon in 1736, it was decided that a synod should be held at Qannoubin beginning August 15. However, since Ottoman troops were gathering in Tripoli, it was decided to have the synod at the Monastery of Louaizeh in Kesrawan, an area ruled by Christian chiefs. After some delays, the synod finally assembled on September 30, 1736. Present at the synod, in addition to the Maronite patriarch and bishops, were two Armenian and two Byzantine bishops, heads of the monastic orders, ten western missionaries, diocesan and religious priests, and numerous chiefs of the people. Two sessions a day were held for three days, the synod closing on October 2, 1736
The establishment of dioceses with residential bishops
On the first day of the Synod, it was decided that there would be eight dioceses with definite boundaries, each with its own bishop. These were: Aleppo, Tripoli, Jbail and Batroun, Baalbeck, Cyprus, Beyrouth, Tyre and Sidon. At this time there were sixteen bishops, who for most part, lived with the Patriarch at Qannoubin or at a monastery. They would visit various diocesan areas, but with the exception of Aleppo and one of two other places, had no permanent episcopal residences in the Maronite territories. At times, the bishops were not much more than patriarchal vicars. This agreement, signed by the Patriarch and thirteen bishops, was a first step in securing ordinary jurisdiction for the bishops. Since there were sixteen bishops, it was decided not to assign dioceses until the number of bishops was reduced to seven. The patriarch would also choose a diocese for himself. In addition, the patriarch was able to name a few bishops as his vicars. However, the obligation of residence decreed by the Synod was not put into practice until about a century later under the patriarchate of John Hobaish (1823-1845).
Issues regarding faith
The declarations of the Synod were divided into four main parts, each containing chapters consisting of numerous canons. Part one of the Synod concerned the Catholic faith. The section begins by citing several letters of the Popes exalting the faith and loyalty of the Maronites. The Synod reaffirms the mandates of previous synods regarding the inclusion of the filioque [that is, the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son] in the recitation of the Creed, and the use of the Gregorian calendar.
The Patriarch was advised to translate the catechism of the Council of Trent into Arabic, and to oversee the publishing treatises of canon law, sacred scriptures, theology and church history. In general, the Patriarch was given extensive authority over the publication of books and especially those regarding the liturgy.
Part two of the Synod concerned the Mysteries [sacraments] and is greatly influenced by the Roman ritual and the Synod of Zamosc of 1720 for the Ruthenian church. It seems that the Synod of Mount Lebanon took an accommodating approach to liturgical practice. On the one hand, it formalized many of the Latinization that had been mandated in the last two centuries. On the other hand, it sought to preserve ancient Maronite liturgical tradition. In other words, it sought to incorporate both traditions. It should be noted that in matters of liturgy as well as all aspects of Maronite church life, the Patriarch was granted extensive powers.
The Synod states that infants are to be baptized by immersion, and adults by immersion or infusion [pouring water on the head]. The baptismal formula of either the Roman or the Eastern Church can be used. It is interesting to note that the Synod did not sanction the exclusive use of the Roman ritual in the administration of Baptism. In fact, Baptism by infusion was considered by the Synod only as an exception.
While they were permitted to do so formerly, priests are no longer allowed to bless the oil of catechumens. Holy Communion immediately after Baptism is to be given only to those with the use of reason. In fact, in a later chapter, the Synod forbids priests under penalty of automatic suspension to give Communion to infants. This ancient practice must have been wiped out soon after, since the later synods of 1755, 1756 and 1768 make no mention of it. On the other hand, the traditional practice of the priest blessing the water of baptism immediately before use is restored.
The Synod declares that while the old rituals allowed priests to confirm after baptism, since the Roman pontificate is now followed, only bishops may confirm. The minister of confirmation is left free by the Synod to use the formula of confirmation of either the ancient Maronite rituals or the Roman ritual. Stating that infant confirmation has fallen into disuse, the Synod sets the age of Confirmation as from 7 to 12 years old.
Although the ancient customs and rituals employ the eastern formula for penitential absolution [that is, the servant is absolved], from now on, only the indicative form of the Roman church is to be used. In regard to Extreme Unction [Anointing of the Sick], the minister is free to use the formula of the eastern or Roman church, but the number and place of the anointing are to be according to the Roman ritual.
The synodal chapters on visitation of the sick and on burial are taken literally from the Roman ritual. While recognizing that the practice of Holy Communion under both forms is common in the Eastern church, and even in Lebanon until the 17th century, following the lead of the Roman Church, the Synod forbids Communion under both species to lay people and to clerics below diaconate.
The Fathers of the Synod were not satisfied with the single Latin formula of consecration which was imposed on al the anaphoras of the Missals of 1592 and 1716, and wished to reestablish the various traditional formulas. However, since a new edition of the Missal was not forthcoming until 1816, the Maronites ended by definitively adopting the Roman text in the Synods of 1755 and 1756. A further step in Latinization took place with the canon ordering that the altar furnishings and vestments be adopted according to the use of the Roman church. The Synod also permitted the celebration of more than one Divine Liturgy at an altar each day/ therefore, from this period, we have the introduction of Liturgies that were not solemn [that is, without deacon and other ministers]. Prior to this time, only the solemn Liturgy was known. In fact, rubrics for the Divine Liturgy suppose the presence of a deacon. Joseph Assemani had composed a sample “low Mass” in 1735 by reducing the rites and formulas of the Missal and the Diaconicon [book used by the deacon at Liturgy]. But this text was never formally adopted.
The hierarchy and diocesan clergy
the Synod of 1736 delineated clearly for the first time the powers and privileges of the various prelates ranking below the bishop. There is to be only ane archdeacon in a diocese, and he acts as Vicar-General. The econome[diocesan financial officer] is to concern himself with the ecclesiastical goods of the diocese, even when the See is vacant. Some of the duties and powers of the periodeute are to visit churches, to consecrate baptistries, churches and altars, and with the permission of the bishop, to administer Confirmation. He ought to see to it especially that the decisions of the Synod of 1736 be observed, and to render an account of how curates acquit themselves of their duties. The periodeute has the right to the crozier, and there is to be only one periodeuteto a diocese. According to the Synod, the chorbishop has to right to the miter and crozier. With the authorization of the Patriarch, he can confer Confirmation and Minor Orders. A chorbishop should be appointed in every populous locality. The title of archpriest is given to the chorbishop of the episcopal residence, who ranks over all other dignitaries in the diocese, and occupied the first place in the cathedral when the Bishop is absent.
The Synod reserves to the Patriarch the nomination and consecration of bishops, although the counsel and advice of the bishops is required. The bishops are ordered to reside in the dioceses and carry out their episcopal duties. Bishops or their delegates are to make a visitation of their dioceses, at least every two years, and to hold a diocesan synod every year.
Monasteries and convents
The Synod of Mount Lebanon forbade the establishment of double monasteries, that ism monasteries where men and women religious are separated by a simple cloister. This practice had been an ancient one among the Maronites and there is no indication that it had led to abuses. The Synod also called for the establishment of schools in the cities, principal villages, and in the monasteries, where children are to be taught free of charge. Also, alumni from the Maronite College in Rome were to establish seminaries in the principal cities and important monasteries.
On October 2, the decrees of the Synod were unanimously approved and signed by all the dignitaries who had attended. After some controversy, the decrees of the Synod were approved by Pope Benedict XIV in forma specifica in 1741.
Mention should be made of the Assemani family who had a profound impact on the relations of the Holy See and the Maronites in the field of Oriental studies in the 18th century. Joseph Simon Assemani of Hasroon, Lebanon and an alumnus of the Maronite College in Rome is said to have known thirty languages. Soon after his ordination, he was given a post in the Vatican Library. From 1715 to 1717, he was sent to the Middle East on a manuscript expedition, and the manuscripts he brought back were placed in the Vatican Library where they formed the nucleus of its subsequently famous collection of oriental manuscripts. In his trip to the East from 1735 to 1738, he returned with a still more valuable collection. Many extracts of the about 150 manuscripts he gathered were published in his principal work, Bibliotheca Orientalis Clemento-Vaticana [an analysis of the contents of the Oriental manuscripts in the Vatican Library], by which he contributed more than any other to make known in Europe Syriac literature and the history of the Churches of Syria, Lebanon, Chaldea, and Egypt. As we have seen, Joseph Assemani was sent by Pope Clement XII as Papal legate to the National Synod of Mount Lebanon in 1736. Afterwards, he was appointed Prefect of the Vatican Library and Titular Archbishop of Tyre. Some of his other titles were: Canon of the Basilica of St. Peter, Consultor to the Holy Office, Sigillator of the Apostolic Penitentiary, and member of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith. He devoted the latter part of his life to carrying out an extensive plan for editing and publishing the most valuable Syriac,Arabic, Ethiopic, Armenian, Persian, Hebrew, and Greek manuscripts. Besides his various publications on a wide range of Oriental subjects, he left about 100 works in manuscripts form, the majority of which were destroyed in a fire in 1768, which broke out in his Vatican apartment adjacent to the Library.
Stephen Awad Assemani, nephew of Joseph Assemani, completed his studies at the Maronite College in 1730. Some months later, je joined the Vatican Library, as successor to his uncle in Syriac. As a missionary of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, he spent some time in Egypt, Syria, and Mesopotamia, where he converted the Coptic Patriarch of Alexandria and the Nestorian Patriarch of Babylon. He was consecrated titular Archbishop in 1736. Pope Clement XII sent him to Florence, where he published a catalogue of the manuscripts of the Florentine Library. He later succeed his uncle as Prefect of the Vatican Library, where he published a catalogue of its Persian and Turkish manuscripts and a large part of its Arabic manuscripts.
Other notable members of the Assemani family included Elias Assemani, the uncle of Joseph, who brought to Europe some of the first oriental manuscripts. Pope Clement XI sent him to the monastic libraries of Nitria, and he returned with 40 books. Joseph Louis Assemani, a nephew of Joseph Assemani and cousin of Stephen Assemani, was an expert in liturgy and a member of the Pontifical Academy. His nephew Simon Assemani was professor of oriental languages at the University of Padua.
(Reprinted with permission.)