Controversy over liturgy in India’s Syro-Malabar Church worsens

The issue of the proper mode of celebrating Mass has dragged on for more than 20 years already

The controversy over the mode of celebrating Mass in India’s Syro-Malabar Church has deepened with a group of priests in Kerala accusing a Vatican congregation of misleading the pope.

“The Syro-Malabar Synod being a sui iuris (self governing) Church has the final say on matters of its liturgy,” read a November 12 petition to the Synod of Church leaders from priests from at least five dioceses in Kerala.

“We strongly doubt that even the Oriental Congregation conspired with the bishops favoring the Chaldean liturgy to mislead the pope and sent a letter to the Church about the mode of celebration of Holy Mass, which, ironically was not even discussed in the Synod or elsewhere,” it added.

A day later, a group of Catholics in New Delhi told Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli, apostolic nuncio to India, that the non-implementation of the Synod decision on the celebration of Mass would lead to serious repercussions in the Diocese of Faridabad.

The issue of celebrating Mass has dragged on for more than 20 years already, and in July, Pope Francis sent a letter to the Oriental Church to find a solution.

A synod in August decided on a uniform mode with the celebrant facing the faithful during the introductory part, during the Liturgy of the Word, and during the concluding part.

The celebrant would face the altar during the Liturgy of the Eucharist. In other words, the celebrant would face the altar for most of part of the Mass.

The synod set November 28, which is the beginning of a new liturgical calendar in the Church, as the date to implement the decision. The complete transformation of the celebration of the Mass in the new format will take effect on Easter Sunday, April 17, 2022.

Priests from the archdioceses of Ernakulam-Angamaly and Trichur, and the dioceses of Irinjalakuda, Palghat, and Thamarassery, however, urged the synod to reconsider its decision. They want the “Synod Fathers” to “publicly admit that they have misled the people of God by portraying the pope’s letter as a commandment and a decree.”

They pointed out that the synod decision has only brought anxiety, unrest and conflict in parishes that have been functioning smoothly until now.

“We do believe that after November 28, our parishes are going to be hotbeds of unrest and disagreement,” they warned and urged the Synod Fathers to end their “quarrels and animosities and decide to maintain status quo.”

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