1. What is a Sacrament, in the understanding of the Church?

The word ‘sacrament’ is derived from the Latin word sacramentum which usually means an oath or surety (The Malayalam equivalent is koodasa.) Sacrament assures God’s blessings and assumes the faith of the participants. In the Church, each sacrament is administered as a means of God’s grace. Every faithful member of the Church needs God’s grace to experience salvation.

Sacraments have visible expressions. These visible, outward expressions point to spiritual truths. “ An outward visible sign of an inward invisible grace”. They carry meaning only out of the inward spiritual experience of the participants. Each sacrament has five essential elements. They are: 1) Intention, 2) Meaning, 3) Words of Institution, 4) Matter, and 5) Celebrant.

2. What are the principal sacraments?

The Mar Thoma Church recognizes seven sacraments for administration

in the life of her members. They are:

•  Baptism (mamodisa),

•  Confirmation (Mooron),

•  Confession,

•  Holy Qurbana,

•  Marriage,

•  Ordination, and

•  Anointing of the sick (Extreme Unction)

Of these seven, two sacraments (holy baptism and holy Qurbana) are called Dominical Sacraments. These are called so because they are directly commanded by the Lord. (Dominical = having to do with Jesus Christ as Lord.) In the Mar Thoma Church, confirmation follows baptism and confession precedes holy Qurbana. Among the sacraments, only confession and holy Qurbana are repeated.

Marriage, ordination and unction are optional sacraments.

3. What is Qurbana?

The Holy Qurbana is one of the Dominical sacraments. The word Qurbana means ‘offering’. It is also known as Eucharist ( giving thanks)(1 Cor. 11:24). Two phrases used in the New Testament for this are “the breaking of the bread” (Acts 2:42, 46) and the “Lord’s Supper” (1 Cor. 11:20). The word Qurbana as used in the eastern Churches denotes the means by which the believer appropriates the blessing wrought through the atoning death of Christ and his/her offering to God. The holy Qurbana or Eucharist recalls the days of Jesus on earth. It is indeed a remembrance (anamnesis) and is rooted in time and place. Christ is the host at the Church’s Eucharist and he is known in the breaking of the bread (Luke 24:33). Thus, it is an action performed as Christ’s anamnesis.

4. Is this solemn act of remembrance known by any other name?
Yes, in the Anglican tradition of the Church, it is called ‘the Holy Communion’ (1 Cor. 10:16-17), and in the Roman Catholic Church, it is known as ‘the Mass’. It is not an appropriate word for the sacrament of Qurbana. However, it has a connotation, for ‘Mass’ is derived from the Latin word, missa, meaning ‘dismissal’. Many scholars are of the opinion that the word, ‘Mass’, as such, has nothing to do with the holy Qurbana in a real sense. In its original context, it meant a pause in the middle of the service for sending off those who did not want to participate in the holy Communion. it came to be used to indicate the completion of the first part of the service before the holy Qurbana proper.

5. How do we define baptism?
Baptism is the process of incorporating an individual into the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). A new world comes into being in the life of an individual. The believer enters into the life of a new covenant inaugurated through the atoning death of Christ and his resurrection.
It is the Aramaic word mamodisa, which means “immersion or “washing” that best describes the sacrament of baptism. The closest Greek equivalent is baptisma

6. Who is eligible for baptism?
Baptism is administered in the context of the church which confesses faith in Jesus Christ. If ‘confesses’ is the operative word, how is it that infants are baptized? Here we have to ask the question, on whose faith in Christ are the children baptized. There is little doubt that it is being done on the strength of the faith of the parents and of the god-parents. To understand this argument further, we need to understand the true meaning of the word ‘faith’. In the Greek and Hebrew languages, it does not point to an intellectual affair. On the other hand, it suggests trust, surrender and commitment to God in Christ. When one trusts and commits oneself to God, it is God who responds. The trust is put in God on the assumption that God is trustworthy and loyal. Whether child or adult, once committed to God, God in no way will reject the surrender of the faithful.
7. What is the position of the Mar Thoma Church on adult baptism?
The Mar Thoma Church affirms that there is only one baptism. But it recognizes both infant baptism and adult baptism. Adults are baptized and admitted to the fellowship of the Church if they were not Christians previously but had now accepted the Lordship of Jesus Christ. However, adults already baptized in another tradition of the Church universal do not have to go through this sacrament to become a member of the Mar Thoma Church.
8. When does Confirmation take place?
In the Mar Thoma Church, as in other Eastern Churches, the sacrament of confirmation is administered immediately after baptism. This being the second sacrament, there is a separate order of service. In the confirmation service the celebrant anoints the candidate with Mooron (consecrated oil), which symbolizes the Holy Spirit. In this sacramental moment, the Church specifically prays for the gift of the Holy Spirit. Baptismal anointing with mooron is also to signify the candidate’s ordination to the priesthood of believers.
In the Western Churches’ tradition confirmation occurs only when one is in ones early teens. There is some efficacy to that practice for it is at that time classes on the faith and practice of the Church are taken and the candidate becomes aware of the implications of a life in Christ. In order to overcome that gap, the Mar Thoma Church imparts similar classes to young people ready to receive their first Holy Communion.
9. Let us look at the other sacraments.
First, Confession.
Confession precedes Holy Qurbana. In the Mar Thoma Church, as in the Anglican communion, confession is a public affair, while in the Roman Catholic and Jacobite traditions, it is a personal affair between the priest and the believer.
The message of both John the Baptist and Jesus Christ was to repent of ones sins and turn to God. In that process, the Mar Thoma Church acknowledges, three steps:

• Truly repent for the sins of omission and commission.

• Acknowledge the sins by enumerating them — not to the celebrant, but to God, who grants salvation.

• Be assured of the remission of sins.
10.  Marriage
Marriage, which is an optional sacrament, is the sacramental act of God, bringing together man and woman as husband and wife. The prayers and chants find their origin in the Bible.
The order of service is rich in symbolism. Christ is symbolized as the divine bridegroom whose bride is the Church. This is a fitting model of mutual commitment and total faithfulness that is commended to the couple. The order of service consists of two parts: First there is the blessing of the rings. This part of the service is the service of betrothal. Then there is the blessing with the Crown, a service of consecration, wherein the blessing of the Almighty is invoked on the bride and the bridegroom. In most of the Kerala church traditions there is the tying of the minnu (a diminutive cross). This is an adaptation of the Hindu practice of tying the thali. The wedding saree (pudava) which is very special to all Indian brides is also an adaptation of the traditional Indian practice.
11. Ordination
Ordination is an invocation to God that the servant of Christ be given the power of the Holy Spirit to continue the ministry given by God. It represents an action by God and the community by which the ordained are anointed by the Spirit to accomplish the missionary task. Ordination is not by human appointment, but by divine authority. Although the call is not a human affair, it may be mediated through human channels. The Church has to confirm the reality and depth of the call. At ordination, those who recognized the call of God are received into the ministry with prayer and the laying on of hands.
12.    Anointing of the sick (Extreme Unction)
This is administered to a sick person. It consists of anointing with olive oil and prayer. One has to confess before one receives the prayer for healing (anointing) There is a separate prayer for those who have no hope of recovery. This is a prayer of commendation into God’s hands for a peaceful end. (It is called ‘extreme’ because it is the last sacrament in the series which begins with baptism.)