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Pope asks India's Eastern Church to end liturgical division

Some priests continue to ignore a two-decade-old decision to implement a uniform pattern for Mass

UCA News reporter

UCA News reporter

Published: July 08, 2021 09:54 AM GMT

Updated: July 08, 2021 11:43 AM GMT

Pope asks India's Eastern Church to end liturgical division

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

Pope Francis has asked India’s Eastern-rite Syro-Malabar Church to celebrate Mass in a uniform way, ending their decades-long liturgical factionalism.

A uniform celebration of the Holy Qurbana (sacrifice in Syriac) is “an important step towards increasing stability and ecclesial communion within the whole body of your beloved Church,” said a papal letter released on July 6.

The papal letter wanted the Church to implement a standardized form of Eucharistic liturgy, as agreed by its Synod of Bishops.

In 1999, the synod agreed to a Raza Qurban Taksa or solemn order of the Mass, ending a dispute over whether priests should face the congregation during Mass.

According to the new order agreed and sent to Rome in 1999, the priest will face the congregation until the Eucharistic prayer, and then again from Communion to the end of the Mass. During the Eucharistic prayer, he will face the altar against the congregation.

However, some priests continue to face the congregation during the entire duration of the Mass, disregarding the synod's order to implement the new pattern from July 3, 2000.

July 3 is the feast day of St. Thomas the Apostle, to whom the Church traces its faith

In June 2000, a group of priests sought a papal intervention to stop what they said was an "illegal" form of Mass agreed using a "compromise formula."

The appeal meant freedom not to implement the uniform pattern until a papal decision. But Pope Francis has now confirmed the formula accepted by the synod. 

“I willingly take the occasion of the recognition of the new Raza Qurbana Taksa to exhort 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,” stated the papal letter dated July 3. 

July 3 is the feast day of St. Thomas the Apostle, to whom the Church traces its faith.

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Father Abraham Kavilpurayidam, the Syro-Malabar Church’s spokesperson, told UCA News on July 7 that Cardinal George Alencherry, its major archbishop, has written to all 35 dioceses, most of them in Kerala, to finalize a date to implement the Vatican order.

The next meeting of the Synod of Bishops, scheduled for Aug. 16-27, will further evaluate the implementation of the Vatican order, the priest said.

Most dioceses already follow the synod’s accepted pattern of Holy Eucharist, the priest said.

The letter asked the bishops to persevere and confirm their ecclesial “walking together” with God’s people, trusting that “time is greater than space” and that “unity prevails over conflict.”

In 2017, in a historic move, Pope Francis extended the administrative powers of the Syro-Malabar Church across India and beyond

The rift dates back to the 1970s when the Church's leaders began plans to renew and modernize their liturgy in line with the teachings of the Second Vatican Council.

It widened to open factionalism, with one group wanting to restore liturgy to its pristine purity and the other wanting to renew it on modern lines.

Those supporting modernization of the liturgy, among other things, wanted the priests to face people while celebrating Mass, while the other faction wanted them to face the altar.

In 2017, in a historic move, Pope Francis extended the administrative powers of the Syro-Malabar Church across India and beyond.

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