The Second Vatican Council, in its Declaration on Non-Christian Religions, declared that “the Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions,” and encouraged Catholics to “recognize, preserve and promote the spiritual and moral values as well as the social and cultural values to be found among them”. Following this direction the All-Indian Seminar in 1969, which was attended by the whole of the hierarchy and representatives of the whole Catholic Church in India, spoke of the “Wealth of truth, goodness and beauty in India’s religious tradition” as “God’s gift to our nation from ancient times”. The Seminar showed the need of a liturgy “closely related to the Indian cultural tradition,” and a theology “lived and pondered in the vital context of the Indian spiritual tradition”. In particular, the need was expressed “to establish authentic forms of monastic life in keeping with the best traditions of the Church and the spiritual heritage of India”.
Among the gifts given by God to India, the greatest was seen to be that of interiority the awareness of the presence of God dwelling in the heart of every human person and of every creature, which is fostered by prayer and meditation, by contemplative silence and the practice of yoga and Sannyasa. “These values” it was said, “belong to Christ and are a positive help to an authentic Christian life”. Consequently it was said: “Ashrams where authentic incarnational Christian spirituality is lived, should be established, which should be open to non-Christian so that they may experience genuine Christian fellowship”. The aim of our ashram, therefore, following these directions of the All India Seminar, is to bring into our Christian life the riches of Indian spirituality, to share in that profound experience of God which originated in the Vedas, was developed in the Upanishads and the Bhagavad-Gita, and has come down to us today through a continual succession of sages and holy men and women. From this experience of God lived in the context of an authentic Christian life, it is hoped that we may be able to assist in the growth of a genuine Indian, Christian liturgy and theology.
SYMBOLS USED IN THE LITURGY
In our prayer, we make use of various symbols drawn from Hindu tradition, in order to adapt our Christian prayer and worship to Indian sacred traditions and customs according to the mind of the church today.
In the Morning Prayer, we use “Sandal paste.” Sandal wood is considered the most precious of all woods, and it is therefore seen as a symbol of Divinity. As it is also has a sweet fragrance, it is perceived as a symbol of divine grace. We place it on the forehead or the hands as way for consecrating the body and its parts to God. It is also a symbol of the unconditional love of God as it gives its fragrance even to the axe that cuts it. We, as we put it on our forehead, are reminded that we too need to that give that unconditional love of God to all in our daily living.
At the Midday prayer, we use the purple powder known as for the children below three years of age by providing additional “Kumkumum”. This is placed on the space between the eyebrows and is a symbol of the “Third Eye”. The third eye is the eye of wisdom. Our two eyes are the eyes of duality, which see the outer world and the outer self, whereas the third eye is the inner eye which sees the inner light according to the Gospel, “if thine eye he single, thy whole body shall be full of light.” This single eye is the third eye, which was often marked on Greek icons of Christ, and is thus a universal symbol. In India the red colour is considered to be feminine, the mark of mother goddess. We consider that it symbolises the feminine wisdom which we attribute it Our Lady of Wisdom. It should be observed that Midday prayer is a wisdom prayer consisting of wisdom psalm (118) and a reading from one of the Books of Wisdom.
At the Evening Prayer we use ashes known as “Vibhuti”. The symbolism here is not merely that of Ash Wednesday. “Dust thou art, unto dust thou shalt return”, but has a deeper meaning. Ash is the final product of the matter from which the impurities have been burnt away. Placing the ashes on the forehead signifies that our sins and impurities have been burnt away and we have become the purified self.
At each of the prayers, we offer “Arati” before the Blessed Sacrament. Arati consists in waving of burning flame/incense in a circular motion before any sacred object or person as a sign of honour worship. The root meaning of arati before the central shrine in the temples seems to be this: The inner sanctuary of a temple is always kept dark to signify that God dwells in “the Cave of the Heart.’ The burning flame waved before the shrine, as it were, reveals the hidden God. We wave the burning flame before the Blessed Sacrament to manifest, as it were, the hidden Christ. After that the flame is brought around and we then take the light of Christ to our eyes by placing the hand over the flame.
At the offertory of the Mass, we make an offering of the four elements: Water, Earth, Air and Fire. Every Hindu puja consists in the offering of the elements to God, as a sign of the offering of the creation to God. In the offertory therefore, we offer the four elements as a sign that the whole creation is being offered to God through Christ as a cosmic sacrifice. The celebrant first sprinkles water round the altar to sanctify it. After that he sprinkles water on the people to purify them. Then finally he takes a sip of water to purify his inner self. Then he offers the fruits of the earth and work of human hands viz., the Bread and the Wine, and places eight flowers on the “Tali” the sacred plate on which the sacred gifts are offered. These eight flowers, which are offered with Sanskrit chants, represent the eight directions of space and signify that the Mass is offered in the “Centre” of the universe thus relating it to the whole creation. This is followed by an arati with incense representing the air and then with camphor representing fire. Thus the Mass is seen to be a cosmic sacrifice in which the whole creation together with all humanity is offered through Christ to the Father.
In our daily prayer, we make constant use of the sacred syllable “OM.” This word has no specific meaning. It seems to have been originally a form of affirmation rather like the Hebrew “Amen” used as a form of solemn assertion in the Gospel where Jesus says” “Amen I say to you ….” Thus it came to be conceived as the primordial sound, the original Word, from which the whole creation came. In this it is a kin to the Word of St. John’s Gospel, of which it is said that it was in the beginning with God and without it nothing was made. In the Upanishads, it came to be identified with the highest Brahman, that is with the Supreme reality. Thus it is said: “I will tell you the Word which all the Vedas glorify, all self-sacrifice expresses, all sacred studies and holy life seek. That is OM, that Word is the everlasting Brahman that Word is the highest end. When that sacred Word is known, all longings are fulfilled. It is the supreme means of salvation, It is the help supreme. When that great Word is known one is great in the heaven of Brahman. For us Christians, of course, that Word is Christ.
The Church is built in the style of a South Indian temple. At the entrance is a “Gopuram” or gateway on which is shown an image of the Holy Trinity in the form of “Trimurti”, a three headed figure
05.00 a.m – Angelus
05.30 a.m – Namajapa , Meditation
06.30 a.m – Bharatiya Pooja followed by breakfast
10.00 a.m – coffee
12.00 p.m – Angelus
12.15 p.m – Midday prayer, lunch
03.30 p.m – Tea
06.00 p.m – Angelus, meditation, silence
07.00 p.m – Evening Prayer, Supper
09.00 p.m – Namajapa, Silence