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India's Syro-Malabar Church remains divided over Mass

Many priests and laypeople are opposed to changing the mode of celebration, with some even threatening to defy bishops

UCA News reporter

UCA News reporter

Published: August 17, 2021 08:51 AM GMT

Updated: August 17, 2021 10:28 AM GMT

India's Syro-Malabar Church remains divided over Mass

A Catholic church in Kochuthovala, Idukki, Kerala, India. (Photo: AFP)

India’s Eastern-rite Syro-Malabar Catholic Church continues to face division and conflict over the mode of celebrating Mass more than 20 years after the Synod of Bishops agreed unanimously to standardize Eucharistic liturgy, called the Holy Qurbana.  

Many priests and laypeople have cautioned the bishops against changing the mode of Mass celebration ahead of their nine-day virtual synod that started on Aug. 16, with some even threatening to defy the bishops.

A papal letter on July 3 had exhorted “all the clergy, religious and lay faithful to proceed to prompt implementation of the uniform mode of celebrating the Holy Qurbana, for the greater good and unity of your church.”

The letter authorized the bishops to take a final call on the date of implementation of the decision of the 1999 Synod of Bishops following differences with the priests and laity in many dioceses of the Oriental Church.

The priest, as per the agreement reached in 1999, “will face the congregation until the Eucharistic prayer, and then again from Communion to the end of the Mass. From the Eucharistic prayers until Communion, the priest will face the altar.”

But even after the recent green light from Pope Francis, priests in the Church’s 35 dioceses, including four abroad in the UK, US, Canada and Australia, remain opposed to any change to their Mass position.

These arrangements have been working out very well without any disturbance and people are happy with them

The Syro-Malabar Church follows three modes of Eucharistic celebration. Some priests celebrate half the Mass facing the people and the other half facing the altar, while others face the people or face the altar.

Any change could be disastrous for the Church, which is already facing innumerable problems after the Covid-19 outbreak, the priests said.

In an unusual show of unity, 466 priests from Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese, the second-largest diocese in India, urged the Vatican to stop the bishops from imposing their decision.

The priests in their Aug. 1 letter addressed to Cardinal George Alencherry, the head of the Church, appealed to him not to disturb the current mode of celebrating Mass in different dioceses and churches.

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“These arrangements have been working out very well without any disturbance and people are happy with them,” said Father Kuriakose Mundadan, presbyteral council secretary of the archdiocese and one of the signatories of the letter.

“We have conveyed our concerns to the Office of the Oriental Churches in the Vatican, apostolic nuncio to India and the bishops of the Syro-Malabar Church,” he told UCA News on Aug. 16.

The priest maintained that “people are also not happy to accept the new mode of Mass proposed by the Synod of Bishops.”

“What is more important is unity among us, not uniformity in celebrating Mass,” Father Mundadan added.

The Catholic Laymen’s Association has expressed opposition to any changes to the more than 60-year-old practice of conducting Mass.

“It is true people are not often ready for change,” Father Alex Onampally, secretary of the Church's media commission, told UCA News. 

“The Church always aspires to make progress together and bringing in uniformity in Mass celebration is also part of that effort.” 

A small group of Catholic men staged a protest in front of the main gate of the headquarters of the Syro-Malabar Church in Ernakulam on Aug. 16 demanding the removal of the Cardinal Alencherry as the president of the Synod.

The protesters held placards that asked Cardinal Alencherry to step down, the Vatican to remove him from the post of major archbishop.

The protest was held after Kerala high court, the top court in the state, ordered the cardinal to face trial in seven criminal cases linked with the alleged illegal sale of Church land.

The high court in its Aug. 12 order dismissed Cardinal’s appeal to discharge him from the criminal offenses registered against him.


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