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Vatican delegate faces rejection in Indian Church

In a pastoral letter, visiting Archbishop Vasil said he is all for the synod-approved Mass against the wishes of rival groups
Archbishop Cyril Vasil, who was appointed Pontifical Delegate for the Archeparchy of Ernakulam-Angamaly by Pope Francis, arrived in Kerala on Aug. 4

Archbishop Cyril Vasil, who was appointed Pontifical Delegate for the Archeparchy of Ernakulam-Angamaly by Pope Francis, arrived in Kerala on Aug. 4. (Photo: supplied by the Syro-Malabar Church’s communication office)

Published: August 10, 2023 12:23 PM GMT
Updated: August 10, 2023 01:20 PM GMT

Catholics, including priests, in an archdiocese in southern India say they will not cooperate with a Pontifical Delegate who arrived to help find a solution to the decades-old liturgy dispute in their eastern rite Syro-Malabar Church.

A five-member delegation of some 400 priests in the Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese on Aug. 8 met Pontifical Delegate Archbishop Cyril Vasil of Slovakia to communicate their decision.

“We have informed our difficulty to engage with him any further,” said Father Jose Edassery, who was among the five-member delegation.

The prelate, a former secretary of the Office for Eastern Churches and head of the Greek Catholic diocese of Kosice in Slovakia, arrived on Aug. 4 at the Church’s base in southern Kerala state.

Vasil in an Aug. 5 pastoral exhortation asked Catholics in the archdiocese to pray for the success of his mission. It said the pope appointed him to implement the “synodal decision on the uniform mode of celebration."

A memorandum the priests handed over to Vasil, a copy of which was made available to UCA News, said they cannot cooperate with him for such a mission.

“We hereby reiterate our loyalty to the Holy Father Pope Francis. But, we have reservations to put into practice the exhortation regarding the uniform mode of celebration of Mass,” the memorandum stated.

The priests and laity in the archdiocese have rejected the order of the Mass approved by the Church’s synod, saying they cannot agree to its archaic demands to turn to the altar during Eucharistic prayer. They want to continue to celebrate Mass facing the people throughout, as they have been doing for the past five decades.

Papal appointment questioned 

The memorandum said the Jesuit archbishop is adamant about implementing synod approved mode of Mass in the archdiocese without having any dialogue with those opposing it.

“You have categorically stated that there is no room for dialogue and that you have no mandate to report our requests and concerns to the Holy Father. It is felt that your language and approach are at times of threatening rather than of dialogue,” the priests said in the memorandum.

“By doing so, we feel that your mission has become ineffective even before it took off.”

“We have decided not to have any discussion or dialogue with Archbishop Vasil” as he is not ready to listen to us, said Riju Kanjookaran, spokesperson of the Archdiocesan Movement for Transparency (ATM), a forum of priests, religious, and the laity in the archdiocese.

The AMT has also raised objections to the appointment letter of Archbishop Vasil. According to AMT, Vasil was appointed without the knowledge of the Holy See.

Father Edassery told UCA News on Aug. 9 that the priests will “have no problem in holding a discussion with Vasil provided he makes public his appointment letter and its terms and conditions.”

Amid allegations of the prelate lacking a papal appointment letter, the Vatican news on Aug. 10 said Pope Francis appointed him as Pontifical Delegate with special faculties “to resolve the situation of the Archeparchy of Ernakulam-Angamaly.”

His task will be to “ensure the implementation of the liturgical reform approved by the Synod of the Syro-Malabar Archiepiscopal Church,” it said quoting a statement of the Vatican’s Dicastery of the Eastern Churches.

Vasil’s appointment was conceded to the Prefect of the Dicastery Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti on 23 June, according to a communiqué issued by the Dicastery on Aug. 10, the Vatican News said.

Language of dialogue sought  

The priest's memorandum also sought the removal of Archbishop Andrews Thazhath, who was appointed as apostolic administrator of the Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese on July 30, 2022.

Since then, the dispute has escalated to unprecedented protests, including street fights and court cases leading to the closure of the Cathedral Basilica in Ernakulam on Dec. 24, 2022.

Archbishop Vasil is speaking the same language as Archbishop Thazhath, alleged Kanjookaran.

Archbishop Vasil could not be contacted for his comments.

The liturgy dispute began in the Church a decade after the Vatican Second Council when attempts began to revive Church’s liturgy. One group wanted to revive the liturgy in line with ancient traditions while another wanted to modernize liturgy.

The traditionalist wanted priests to face the altar throughout the Eucharistic celebration, while the modernist wanted them to face the congregation. The Church’s synod in 1990 devised Mass which asked priests to face the altar during the Eucharistic prayer and face the people at other times, which was seen as a comprise formula.

By November 2022, except Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese, all 35 dioceses of the Church implemented the synod-approved Mass.

The Church has some 5 million Catholics and half a million of them in the archdiocese.

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7 Comments on this Story
CHHOTEBHAI
Let me reiterate what I have said several times before. Who or what are we following? When traditionalists claimed that they were sons of Abraham John the Baptist said to them that God could raise sons of Abraham from stones. JESUS SAT with his disciples AROUND him. In St Peter's Basilica in the Vatican the main altar is in the CENTRE FACING the people. Vatican II made the liturgy more SCRIPTURAL. So we cannot claim to be Catholic if we don't follow the church's teachings.
FR DAN
How I wish we had such a mandate to say mass ad orientum
PAUL
I wish that the authorities in Rome would have more respect for tradition and stop changing the ancient liturgy and making us accept it in the name of obedience to the Pope. This is an abuse of obedience and it is this high handed demand that we do as we are told that causes schisms intn Church.
GEORGE KROMER
You should actually read the article before commenting. You clearly misunderstand the issue.
RANJIT YAWU
Is this an issue?
STEPHEN D’COSTA
We should follow the Mass approved by the Synod. There should be uniformity & I know the Catholic Church has always been known for that.
RANJIT YAWU
Pope Francis has addressed a paternal exhortation to the Archeparchy of Ernakulam-Angamaly, urging adherence to “the synodal decision concerning the form of celebration of the Holy Qurbana by Easter 2022” AS DETERMINED BY THE SYNOD OF BISHOPS OF THE SYRO-MALABAR ARCHIEPISCOPAL CHURCH. Pope Francis is only ratifying the decision of the Bishops NOT his own. He even gives reasons why! https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2022-04/pope-francis-bishops-syro-malabar-ernakulam-angamaly-qurbana.html
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