Papal delegate leaves while liturgy row worsens in India

Liturgy row

A liturgy row is threatening to split India’s Syro-Malabar Church.

The Eastern-rite Church in the southern Indian Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese is refusing to say the synod-approved Mass. The refusal is in open defiance of a pontifical delegate’s directives.

The liturgy row

The archdiocese’s priests and the laity want celebrants to face the congregation throughout the Mass. This has been their tradition since 1970.

They refuse to accept a liturgy which the Church’s Synod of Bishops approved. In this, the priests must face the altar during the Eucharistic prayer.

After hearing Vasil’s directive, only six of the 328 parishes in the archdiocese celebrated Mass in the synod-approved uniform mode.

In seven parishes, people stopped the priests from complying with the delegate’s order.

An overwhelming majority of priests and parishes stuck to their traditional Mass, in which celebrants faced the congregation.

The delegate

Archbishop Cyril Vasil – the delegate appointed to settle the decades-old liturgy row amicably – has now returned to Rome.

Dissidents say he didn’t follow his original mandate and his disciplinary actions have reportedly worsened the situation.

He threatened priests with excommunication if they failed to comply with his ultimatum – where he ordered all the archdiocese’s priests to offer the Synod-approved Mass from August 20.

He also sought to close parish churches if they faced protests against his order.

On August 22, Archbishop Andrews Thazhath – the archdiocese’s apostolic administrator – removed four junior priests in the archdiocesan seminary for not offering the Synod-approved Mass.

What now?

“I think now we are on a path of never going back. The feeling is to become an independent Catholic Church … independent of an oppressive system,” a senior priest says.

“Now it is clear that the people and the priests in the archdiocese do not want the uniform mode of Mass which the Syro-Malabar Synod wants to force upon us” says Riju Kanjookaran.

He’s a spokesperson for the Archdiocesan Movement for Transparency, a forum of priests, religious and laity spearheading the protest.

Vasil arbitrarily issued the ultimatum to the priests without even discussing the basic issues that stop them from adopting the uniform mode of Mass, Kanjookaran says.

The dissident group has called for the priests who celebrated the uniform mode for Mass in place of the traditional Mass to vacate their churches immediately.

They say Thazhath is the “main villain” who aggravated the crisis in the archdiocese since his appointment as apostolic administrator on July 30, 2022. They had sought his removal in the past and even boycotted him.

Meanwhile, back in Rome

Vasil “will apprise the pope and the prefect of the oriental congregations of his assessments about the difficulties in implementing the Syro-Malabar Synod-approved uniform mode of Mass in the archdiocese,” an official statement from the Syro-Malabar Church says.

He will continue “as pontifical delegate” and will come again as part of his mission.

“Appropriate mechanisms have been put in place in the archdiocese to carry out further action,” the statement added.


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