The Maronite Patriarchal Assembly (2003-2004), made up of over 500 Maronite participants – clergy, religious and laity - from throughout the world, described the identity of the Maronite Church by five distinguishing marks:
Religious life, in all its forms, was and still is an important part of the Maronite Church. Hermetic and communal monastic life accompanied the birth of the Maronite Church from the beginning, thus linking the history of the Church to the monks of the Monastery of Saint Maron.
Toward the end of the seventeenth century, religious life became more organized, new orders were founded and their mission expanded. Monks, nuns and religious priests and brothers serve in schools, universities, hospitals, parishes, missions, orphanages, and nursing homes in Lebanon, the Middle East, and in many places throughout the world.
Today there are several religious orders and congregations for men and women numbering hundreds of religious. Some are of Pontifical right, some Patriarchal and some are Eparchial, which means they are dependent upon the Pope, Patriarch or Eparchial Bishop respectively. Each order and congregation has its own rule of life and focuses on living the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience according to the charisma of their founders.
A monastic spirit permeates Maronite prayer and liturgical life making asceticism and sacrifice an important part of the relationship with God. The effects of this spirituality are seen in the Maronite family, the first school of love where each finds his or her own vocation to love God and serve others.
Since all language about God is limited by finite human nature, poetry is a natural means for the Maronite Church to express the proper awe and humble reverence due to God in worship.
In the Maronite Church, the celebration of the Eucharist is known by several names: Qurbono (Syriac), Quddas (Arabic), Sacrifice of the Mass, Divine Liturgy, and the Service of the Holy Mysteries.
In this celebration, Christ is offered to the Father for our salvation and we also offer ourselves, with Him, as a spiritual sacrifice. By the actions and Words of Institution of the priest and the Invocation of the Holy Spirit, bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ, the sacrifice at the altar is made holy, and so are we.
Before the Holy Mysteries are celebrated, the priest and people prepare themselves. The priest, deacon or subdeacon prepares the bread and wine on a side altar. The Divine Liturgy begins, first with the Service of the Word and then the Service of the Eucharist (Anaphora).
The Service of the Word stems from the ancient Jewish Synagogue service. It is composed of hymns, psalms, the burning of incense, Scripture readings and a homily.
A unique feature of the Service of the Word in the Maronite Church is the Hoosoyo or Prayer of Forgiveness. During this time the priest or deacon incenses the altar, cross and all present, as a prayer is recited or chanted, recalling God’s mercy to sinful man in times past, and asking His mercy again for today. The Trisagion (Qadishat) is then chanted in Syriac, followed by three verses of poetry referring to the feast. Then a passage from the New Testament is read and the Gospel is proclaimed.
The structure of the Service of the Word remains the same for every Divine Liturgy but the prayers themselves change to reflect the feast. These prayers serve as great catechetical texts.
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