Maronite Liturgy

A few people have asked me to describe the Maronite Catholic Mass, and how the Maronite liturgical traditions, traced back to St. Maron, differ from those of Latin Catholics, for example. Like all Catholic Eucharistic Celebrations, be they Latin Catholic, Byzantine Catholic, or any other Catholic rite, the Maronite rite Mass follows the basic structure of the Liturgy of the Word followed by the Liturgy of the Eucharist, in addition to the opening, closing, and other prayers.

The Liturgy of the Word includes readings from Scripture and the homily given by the priest, along with other prayers and blessings, and the Liturgy of the Eucharist revolves around the consecration, which includes the words of Our Lord from the Last Supper, when he first instituted the Eucharist, and includes reception of Holy Communion. 

Other elements that Latin rite Catholics are familiar with in the Mass, such as the rite of repentance, the petitions and the sign of peace, as well as the Gloria, the Creed, the Holy Holy Holy, the Our Father, and the Lamb of God also form part of the Maronite Mass.  This common structure shows the unity and communion within the different Catholic rites which all, with their legitimate liturgical traditions, form part of the Universal Catholic Church.  

Latin (Roman) rite Catholics would clearly be able to identify the Maronite liturgy as a Catholic Mass. While it is most common for Catholics to attend Mass and receive the other Sacraments in their own rite, they can validly participate in and receive all Catholic sacraments from any rite in the Catholic Church to fulfilling their Catholic obligations.

That being said, a Latin rite Catholic attending a celebration in a Maronite Church for the first time would definitely have a new experience, due to the different elements of tradition within the Liturgy, and would probably be confused at a few points during the Mass. In general, the Maronite services include more chants, processions, incense and symbolic gestures.

Communion is received through intinction (the host dipped in the chalice) Although all Catholic rites celebrate essential feasts on the same days, the liturgical calendars are different. In the Maronite rite, the season of Advent, for example, begins two weeks sooner than it does in the Latin rite, and lasts for six weeks.

Some of the main differences one might notice between a Mass celebrated in the Maronite rite include the following:

  • The Maronite rite traditionally celebrates the Mass in Arabic or Aramaic. I believe this is one of the greatest treasures of the Maronite rite, as well as some of the other Eastern Catholic rites. Our Lord himself spoke Aramaic during his life, so hearing the prayers and readings in Aramaic, or in Arabic, which derived from Aramaic and has many similarities, is closer to hearing they way Our Lord himself spoke and prayed.
  • The entrance and first parts of the Mass, prior to the readings, are similar to those used by the Latin rite, although some of the specific prayers, such as the opening prayer, are different. One characteristic often apparent in the Maronite prayers is the repetition of key words in sets of three (such as “Holy, Holy, Holy”). This has been preserved from ancient times, and stemmed from the nature of the Hebraic and Aramaic languages. Neither of these languages had comparatives or superlatives (e.g. more and most), so if someone wanted to emphasize the superior quantity or quality of something, they simply repeated the word. Three repetitions of the same word inferred infinite value or limitless quantity. “Holy, Holy, Holy,” for example, was used to indicate the highest possible degree of holiness.
  • The Maronites still use many traditional chants throughout the Mass for prayers that are simply said in the Latin rite. The Gloria (Qadeeshat Aloho) and the proclamation after the Gospel, for example, are always chanted. Some prayers of the Mass, including the Holy, Holy, Holy, as well as numerous hymns are usually prayed in chant or song.
  • While Latin rite Catholics are accustomed to two readings – one from the Old Testament and a second from the New Testament – prior to the Gospel, the Maronite rite only has one reading, from the Epistles of St. Paul, that precedes the Gospel. The priest, usually followed by the altar servers, carries the Bible in procession from the podium, around the altar, and back to the podium before proclaiming the Gospel. Incense is also used.
  • The Gospel and homily is immediately followed by the Creed, the offerings, incensing of the altar, a prayer of forgiveness (Hoosoyo), a hymn, and the sign of peace. The Eucharistic prayer then begins. Just as the Latin rite has four valid Eucharistic prayers that are used for different occasions, so too, the Maronite rite has several Eucharistic prayers (called anaphoras) that are used depending on the liturgical season or feast. The priest holds a special cross throughout the time of the consecration, which he uses for the blessings during the Anaphora. The motions and words used throughout the Mass, and particularly the Liturgy of the Eucharist are all greatly symbolic, physically representing the theological realities taking place.
  • The intercessions (prayers of the faithful) come after the Eucharistic prayer, and are followed by further prayers in preparation for receiving communion, the Lord’s Prayer, a blessing of the congregation, and Communion.
  • Communion is followed by Thanksgiving, closing prayers, the Final Blessing, and the Dismissal, which concludes the Eucharistic Celebration

The rich symbolism and traditions that characterize the Eucharistic Celebration in the Maronite rite can also be found in their other liturgical celebrations. I experienced this in my own wedding, which took place in a Maronite Church. In addition to the elements of the sacramental celebration common to all Catholic weddings, the Maronite wedding had a few symbolic traditions I greatly appreciated:

  • At one point in the ceremony, the bride and groom wear two crowns while various prayers are being said. This is to represent the sacredness and power of the sacrament of matrimony that is being conferred, and to symbolize the importance of the bride and groom uniting themselves to Mary, Queen of Heaven, and Christ the King, striving to become more and more like them in their daily lives.
  • During the wedding, the bride and groom both place one of their hands on top of a Bible on the altar. The priest covers their hands with the same cloth and blesses them, as a symbol of their new union, which is supported by the Word of God, and the sacraments of the Church.
  • Before closing the ceremony, a final procession takes place around the Church. The priest goes in front, incensing. He is followed by the groom, who holds an image of the Blessed Mother, the bride, and then the rest of the congregation. This tradition is both to honor Our Lady and to request her protection and intercession for the newlyweds. The image carried by the groom is later enshrined in the home of the new couple.