Vatican backs Eastern Church decision on Indian liturgical dispute
The Vatican says it understands difficulties in following synodal decisions but wants to avoid activism and protests
Catholics kneel in prayer during a Good Friday procession at a beach in Chowara, a fishing village in Kerala state, on April 2, 2021. (Photo: Laurence Thomann/AFP)
The Vatican has endorsed the decision of India's Syro-Malabar Church to follow uniformity in liturgical celebration in its latest attempt to put an end to the five-decade-long dispute in the Eastern-rite church.
Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Vatican's Congregation for the Oriental Churches, backed last August's decision by the church's synod of bishops to adopt uniformity in liturgy and end all differences over the issue.
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It is basically a directive to go along with the decisions of the synod, Cardinal George Alencherry, the major archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church, said in a March 11 letter releasing Cardinal Sandri's communiqué to bishops, priests and laity.
Cardinal Sandri in his Feb. 28 letter disagreed with the decision of Archbishop Antony Kariyil, the metropolitan vicar of Ernakulam-Angamaly, to grant dispensation to the entire diocese from complying with the synod decision after the majority of archdiocesan priests and laity opposed to it.
The Vatican also ordered Archbishop Kariyil to revoke the dispensation given to the archdiocese asserting the authority of the synod over any individual bishop when it comes to a policy decision.
The synod last August wanted all its 35 dioceses in India and abroad to follow uniformity in liturgical celebration, ending the situation of some priests celebrating Mass facing the congregation and most others facing the altar.
Priests and laity from Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese, however, refused to follow the synod decision and intensified their protests by launching hunger strikes, street protests and other campaigns
The synod in 1999 had ruled that all priests will face the congregation until the Eucharistic prayer, and then again from communion to the end of the Mass. From Eucharistic prayers until communion, the priest will face the altar.
However, following opposition, the 1999 synod decision could not be implemented in all dioceses, but in August 2021 it decided to implement the uniform Mass. All dioceses except Ernakulam-Angamaly accepted the decision.
The synod had also set Nov. 28, 2021, as the deadline to adopt the new mode of Mass. However, dioceses were given until April 17, 2022, to complete the implementation of the decision by pastorally creating awareness among those opposed to it.
Priests and laity from Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese, however, refused to follow the synod decision and intensified their protests by launching hunger strikes, street protests and other campaigns.
Archbishop Kariyil then granted dispensation to the entire diocese from following the synodal decision.
The synod in its last meeting in January asked Archbishop Kariyil to revoke his decision, but he could not do so as protesting priests stepped up their campaign.
The archdiocese is also the seat of Cardinal Alencherry, the head of the Syro-Malabar Church.
Cardinal Alencherry said the liturgical laws enacted by the synod have the force of law everywhere in the world (CCEO c. 150 para 2).
Dispensations from these laws could be given only for special cases, for a determined period of time, in view of proper catechesis for the implementation of the synodal decision, he said.
Cardinal Sandri in his communiqué opposed all forms of protest against the synod decision and urged bishops and priests to accept it
Cardinal Sandri's letter underlines the obedience required of priests and it disapproves all kinds of protests and activism which are non-ecclesial and non-Christian, Cardinal Alencherry said.
As the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, with the approval of the Holy Father, has given a final directive regarding the implementation of the synodal formula of Holy Qurbana (Mass) in the entire Syro-Malabar Church, let us wholeheartedly accept it and foster unity and communion in our church, he added.
Cardinal Sandri in his communiqué opposed all forms of protest against the synod decision and urged bishops and priests to accept it.
Quoting Pope Francis, the Vatican cardinal said, where the form of celebration is concerned, it is necessary that unity be experienced in accordance with what has been laid down by the synods and approved by the Apostolic See, avoiding liturgical particularisms that in reality manifest divisions of another kind within the respective churches … if we give scandal by liturgical disputes, and unfortunately there have been some recently, we play the game of the master of division.
The Apostolic See understands some have difficulty in following synodal decisions but exhorts all to avoid activism and protests using non-ecclesiastical and non-Christian methods such as hunger strikes, he said.
Father Alex Onampally, the spokesperson of the Syro-Malabar synod, told UCA News on March 11 that the Vatican has clarified its position over the dispute.
Now it is time for everyone to join hands together for the welfare and betterment of all, he said.
Representatives of the priests and laity who opposed the synod decision have not yet responded to the Vatican's move.