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Indian Church's bitter liturgical dispute deepens

Vatican-appointed administrator has to be escorted out of a meeting by police as angry laypeople protest outside
A priest of India's Eastern-rite Syro-Malabar Church addresses a gathering in front of the church's headquarters in Kochi on Nov. 12, 2021, protesting a synod decision to have a uniform liturgical celebration

A priest of India's Eastern-rite Syro-Malabar Church addresses a gathering in front of the church's headquarters in Kochi on Nov. 12, 2021, protesting a synod decision to have a uniform liturgical celebration. (Photo supplied)

Published: October 04, 2022 03:19 AM GMT
Updated: October 04, 2022 06:54 AM GMT

The Vatican-appointed administrator of an archdiocese in India’s Eastern-rite Syro-Malabar Church faced stiff opposition from priests and laypeople when he tried to introduce uniformity in celebrating Mass.

The Kerala-based Church's decades-old liturgical dispute took a dramatic turn as Archbishop Andrews Thazhath, the apostolic administrator of Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese, revoked the dispensation which so far allowed the priests to say Mass facing the people.

The prelate on Sept. 30 attended a priests’ council meeting and directed them to start offering Mass in keeping with the liturgical pattern approved by the 1999 bishops’ synod requiring priests to face the altar against the congregation during the Eucharistic prayer to Communion.

Priests, however, refused to follow the directive saying it was taken without consultation with the clergy and laypeople of the archdiocese, a priest who attended the meeting told UCA News.

Lay people gathered on the premises of the archbishop's house as the prelate met the priests and explained the circular revoking the dispensation. 

Archbishop Thazhath later attended a meeting of archdiocesan curia and police were summoned, reportedly by Church officials who feared that the archbishop could be attacked by a group of laypeople, who gathered outside the meeting venue.

“It just happened that the police came in only when the curia meeting was happening. And when it ended they escorted out the archbishop,” the priest added dispelling fears of an attack.

"Priests and believers in the archdiocese alike vowed to continue with the traditional Mass"

A team of 20 police personnel escorted Archbishop Thazhath to a waiting taxi and he proceeded to his archdiocese in Trichur, some 75 kilometers away.

The police reportedly advised him to take a taxi rather than travel in his official vehicle as a security precaution.

The small group of laypeople gathered at the meeting shouted slogans asking the prelate to “resign and go back” apparently angered by his ultimatum to either fall in line or be prepared for disciplinary action.

Priests and believers in the archdiocese alike vowed to continue with the traditional Mass in which the celebrant faces the congregation throughout.

They burnt copies of the revocation circular issued by Archbishop Thazhath in front of the Archbishop’s House on Oct. 1 as a mark of protest while reminding that they will not allow the synod Mass in any of the churches in their archdiocese.

They also accused the administrator of betraying them and misleading the Vatican and threatened to block his entry into the Archbishop’s House in the future.

“It is better that the Vatican grant a liturgy variant status to our traditional mass for which the people of the archdiocese and the priests are demanding. The imposition of synod Mass in the name of uniformity is undermining the unity”, says Father Kuriakose Mundadan, the presbytery council secretary.

He said Pope Francis had asserted “not to impose uniformity at the cost of unity.”

Father Mundadan appealed to the Vatican and the synod to understand the feeling of the people and the priests in the archdiocese and allow them to continue with their traditional mass.

"The liturgical dispute had become an emotional issue"

The liturgical dispute in the Syro-Malabar Church is nearly five decades old. It was revived in August 2021 when the synod decided to implement its 1999 decision for uniformity in Mass celebration across all the dioceses as part of an effort to bring in more unity among its members.

The synod ordered all 35 dioceses to comply with it from November 2021 and barring the Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese all the others fell in line after initial opposition from a few dioceses including the Archdiocese of Trichur headed by Archbishop Thazhath.

Archbishop Thazhath, an expert in the Oriental Code of Canon Law, was appointed by the Vatican on July 30 to replace Archbishop Antony Kariyil, the metropolitan vicar of Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese.

Archbishop Kariyil was asked to resign by the Vatican for defying the Syro-Malabar Church Church’s supreme synod in the liturgical dispute.

Archbishop Thazhath was tasked to win over the defiant priests and laity, which Church officials familiar with the developments said will be a huge task as the liturgical dispute had become an emotional issue.

The archbishop explained his position in a circular saying he was merely complying with the order of the Vatican.

Riju Kanjookkaran, the spokesperson of the Archdiocesan Movement for Transparency (AMT) told UCA News on Oct. 3 that “no priests in the archdiocese will celebrate synod Mass.”

He said around 99 percent of the priests and the faithful in the archdiocese had submitted in writing to Archbishop Thazhath that they wanted to continue with the traditional Mass.

“But he misled the Vatican and tried to push for imposing the synod Mass, which will not be implemented at any cost,” he added.

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2 Comments on this Story
LADISLAUS LOUIS D'SOUZA
What the heck! Why not bring the dispute to a logical conclusion by simply allowing the status quo to continue whereby those parishes/dioceses wanting a particular form be allowed the benefit? Will the imposition of a particular form make a difference to the faith of the people, really? Moreover, the Latin rite already has the order of the Celebrant facing the congregation throughout the celebration of Mass.
HUMBERTO FERNANDES
This is disgraceful. Jesus must be weeping in heaven. No wonder the church will never grow in India . It is beset with petty politics.
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