Archbishop Cyril Vasil kneels before congregation in last-ditch effort to end protracted liturgical dispute in Syro-Malabar Church
Some 250 priests of the Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese celebrated Mass on Aug. 15 in St. Mary's Cathedral, which was closed since December 2022. They followed their own liturgy, in which celebrants face the congregation. It is opposed to a liturgy approved by their Church's synod, resulting in a protracted dispute. (Photo: supplied)
A Vatican delegate appointed to help find a solution to the raging liturgy controversy in India's Eastern rite Syro-Malabar Church has told Catholics that those who reject the Vatican-approved Mass effectively reject the Catholic Church.
Archbishop Cyril Vasil from Slovakia, who was appointed Pontifical Delegate to Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese was addressing the laity and priests in the archdiocese during a Mass on Aug. 15 at the Church's headquarters in Kochi, southern India.
At the center of the controversy is the refusal of the archdiocesan priests and laity to accept a liturgy approved by their church's synod, the highest decision-making body of the Syro-Malabar Church, and the Vatican.
“There will never be God's blessing on illegal protest and rebellion,” Vasil said and sought forgiveness for the scandals in the Church on his knees.
“On my knees, and I personally ask forgiveness for anything on the part of anyone who may have given any reason for any real or supposed justification for this rebellion.”
He then kneeled before the people.“Likewise, on my knees, I also ask you to no longer participate in this sin against our Lord and the Catholic Church,” said Vasil, exhorting Catholics to move away from the illegal Mass followed in the archdiocese, where the celebrant faces the people.
'Are you with the Pope?'
“Answer in your heart. Are you with the Holy Father? Do you wish to remain priests and members of the Catholic Church and of your Syro-Malabar Church?” Vasil asked, reading out from a prepared text.Some 400 priests of the archdiocese along with the laity insist to continue to face people while celebrating the liturgy. The Synod-approved Mass demands them to face the altar during the Eucharist prayer of the Mass and face people during its start and concluding portions.
“Are you with the Pope or against him?” he repeated. “Or do you wish to give preference to the voice of troublemakers who lead you towards disobedience to the Holy Father, to the legitimate pastors of your Syro-Malabar Church, and to the Catholic Church?
A forum of priests and laity under the Archdiocesan Movement for Transparency (AMT) spearheads the campaign against the synod-approved Mass.
“Do you want to continue celebrating Holy Qurbana (Mass) in an illegal manner? Or are you willing to celebrate it according to the rules laid down by the church? Do you prefer to listen to your Pope? Or do you prefer to listen in the name of false solidarity or because you have been intimidated by some priests who are leading you toward a de facto separation from the Catholic Church?" asked Vaisl.
“Do you allow yourselves to be intimidated by small groups of violent protesters, who fulfill the plans of some dark forces and come to disturb or even prevent the celebration of Kurbana according to the synodal decision?” he asked.
'Pope is fully aware'
In 2021, the Synod of Bishops prepared an order of the Mass and all its rubrics. The Vatican also approved it for implementation as “the uniform mode of celebration in the entire Syro-Malabar Church,” Vasil said.
“This decision has been made, approved, and is therefore legitimate, and it cannot be further subject to endless discussions,” Vasil said expressing his determination to implement the uniform liturgy approved by the Synod.
He said Pope Francis “was personally and in detail informed” of the objections and arguments against its implementation of that liturgy in the archdiocese. He also studied the request for a dispensation for allowing the archdiocese to continue its order of the Mass as a liturgical variant.
Pope Francis is “fully aware of what was happening here, especially the opposition against the Synodal decisions, and the request of the archdiocese for dispensation to celebrating their people-facing liturgy," Vasil added.
However, Pope Francis in 2021 wrote to the Syro-Malabar Church asking for “a prompt implementation of the uniform mode” of celebrating the Mass.In 2022 he also wrote a letter to the priests, religious and lay faithful “renewing his request for prompt implementation” of the uniform liturgy.
“You have chosen instead to continue to follow your particular liturgical form, albeit after careful reflection, isolating yourselves from the rest of the Syro-Malabar Church,” he said.The Pontifical delegate said he was asking Catholics “to take a difficult and painful step, but I am certain that I will find in you examples of priests and lay faithful who are ready to listen to the voice of the Lord and to trust to Pope's advice and plea.”He said Pope Francis sent him as his delegate with “an explicit mandate to bring back to obedience those priests and bishops who remain dissident, as one can read in the decree of my appointment.”“The Pope has chosen this personal mission in the hope that the living voice and the mutual looking into each other's eyes will finally achieve a result,” the delegate said.
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