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India's Eastern Church fails to settle liturgy dispute

A post-synodal circular said all rebelling priests would have to follow a synod-approved Mass after a certain period
Some members of the Synod of Bishops of the India-based Syro-Malabar Church when they met Pope Francis in May to discuss the vexed issues related to an ongoing liturgy dispute.

Some members of the Synod of Bishops of the India-based Syro-Malabar Church when they met Pope Francis in May to discuss the vexed issues related to an ongoing liturgy dispute. (Photo:syromalabarchurch)

Published: June 24, 2024 11:00 AM GMT
Updated: June 24, 2024 12:53 PM GMT

Pacts achieved to settle the vexed liturgy dispute in India’s Eastern rite Syro-Malabar Church collapsed again when the Church’s synod allegedly altered the agreements and refused to withdraw its earlier circular that threatened to excommunicate priests who failed to follow the Church’s official liturgical rubrics.

Most priests and laity in the Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese of the Syro-Malabar Church have rejected the synod formula for resolving the crisis, saying it unilaterally modified resolutions agreed by both sides during the two sessions of the Synod.

However, a Church official who participated in the discussions said the allegations were fabricated as the synod has not altered any agreements.

The Synod of Bishops, the supreme decision-making body of the Church based in southern India’s Kerala state, met on June 14 and 19 to resolve the protracted liturgy dispute.

The post-Synodal circular “has betrayed us,” said a June 22 statement from the Archdiocesan Protection Committee, a body of archdiocese priests, a day after the Synod issued its latest circular.

The dispute is based on the persistent refusal of priests and laity in the archdiocese to follow a Synod-approved liturgy that requires celebrants to face the altar mid-Mass.

They want their priests to face the people throughout the mass, as had been their practice for more than 50 years.

The post-synodal circular, signed by the Church’s head, Major Archbishop Raphael Thattil, and Bishop Bosco Puthur, archdiocesan apostolic administrator, required the priests to celebrate at least one Synod Mass in all the parishes on Sundays and all major feast days from July 3. They were also allowed to continue with their traditional Mass.

However, the rebels say they had agreed to this as a final solution, but the circular made it a temporary agreement. 

The post-synodal circular said synod-approved Mass should be said in all parishes to introduce the unified liturgy for catechetical purposes.

The circular said that at the end of this introductory period, “only the unified liturgy would be allowed, and its time would be informed after deciding on it in the upcoming synod” of bishops, causing widespread opposition.

Those who negotiated with the archdiocese also “assured our delegates that the traditional Mass, for which they were fighting, would be declared as the official Mass of the archdiocese,” said Father Jose Vailikodath, the public relations officer of the priests’ body.

'Fabricated allegations'

He said, "We were also assured that the synod would withdraw the controversial June 9 circular," which threatened to excommunicate priests who do not follow the unified liturgy.

Instead of solving the issue, the Syond has intensified it by “throwing away all the agreements reached painfully to settle the dispute,” added Vailkodath.

He said the priests would not accept the post-synodal circular and would continue to offer their traditional Mass, resetting the liturgy dispute to square one.

The Church official, who did not want to be named, told UCA News on June 24 that "all these allegations against the synod are a tactic" to continue the dispute and avoid the synod-approved Mass.

The official, who was part of negotiations with the dissenting priests and laity leaders, said, "Neither the Synod nor the Bishops have retreated from the agreements reached with them."

The rebelling priests and laity "were told it was their last chance, and they agreed to follow them. They were also told that the June 9 circular would not be withdrawn. But still, they are making false allegations and misleading the people," he said.

Meanwhile, following a canonical norm, some 450 priests in the archdiocese have individually filed petitions to Thatill and Puthur to review their circular that threatened to excommunicate those rejecting the synod-approved Mass.

Simultaneously, 400 priests jointly petitioned the Dicastery for Legislative Text in the Vatican to revoke the excommunication threat.

“Until the settlement of these petitions, the circular threatening with automatic ex-communication of priests would remain ineffective,” said a Church official familiar with canon law.

“In the individual petitions, the authorities will have to hear each priest individually, unlike the joint petition,” the official told UCA News on June 22.

He said that when the first petition is decided, the priests have "further avenues to appeal the case. All these will take a lot of time, and until then, the priests can continue with their traditional Mass.”

The simmering liturgy dispute continued for more than five decades. It was revived in August 2021 when the Synod ordered all its 35 dioceses to adopt a uniform mode of Mass in which they celebrate facing the altar during Eucharistic prayer.

Barring Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese, others complied with the Synod order from November 2021.

The archdiocese, the seat of power of the Major Archbishop, is also home to more than half a million Catholics of this Eastern Church, which has five million followers worldwide.

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A resolution is being discussed? https://english.katholisch.de/artikel/53772-grand-archbishop-wants-to-settle-liturgy-dispute-with-special-synod
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