Protesting priests plan to leave Syro-Malabar church

A section of priests from the Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, who have protested the introduction of the Uniform Mass format, say they may consider withdrawing from the church and to practice its own ritual while remaining within the universal Catholic Church.

The move comes after the head of the Syro-Malabar Church, Major Archbishop Cardinal George Alencherry and Metropolitan Vicar, Archbishop Antony Kariyil, sent a joint circular stating that the celebration of the Unified Mass will enter effective Palm Sunday, April 10.

“Forced to sign”

A slew of priests in the Archdiocese, who met with the Metropolitan Vicar on Friday, said he acknowledged being pressured to sign the circular endorsing the unified Mass system. The claim of Bishop Kariyil, who did not favor a unified Mass celebration, practically closed the way to an eventual reconciliation on the issue. There is a large group of laity and priests in the archdiocese who are against the unified system of celebrating Mass.

The crux of the controversy is that the Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly, one of the largest units of the Syro-Malabar Church, followed the practice of the celebrant (priest) facing the congregation throughout the Mass . However, the synod of church bishops issued a diktat in August last year that the celebration of Mass should be uniform as many dioceses celebrated it with the priest facing the congregation for the first half. , then facing the tabernacle (holy of holies) for the second half.

Father Paul Thelekkat, writer and senior priest, said: “The way the Synod of Bishops of the Syro-Malabar Church imposes liturgical decisions without dialogue makes the priests and faithful of the Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly desperate. and sad that a good number of the priests are considering withdrawing from the Syro-Malabar Church and seeking a new ritual option”. He said there was no question of leaving the Catholic fold.

Worldwide examples

Citing examples from other parts of the world, he said the Eritrean Catholic Rite Church started in 2015. The Albanian Greek Catholic Church had only 4,028 faithful. The Archdiocese of Milan had its own Latin liturgical rite known as the Ambrosian Rite. The Syro-Malabar rite historically belonged to the Chaldean ritual family. Even in the Chaldean Rite, they had the option of celebrating Mass completely facing the congregation, he said.

Fr Alex Onampally, secretary of the Syro-Malabar Church’s media commission, said that from now on the decision was that the cardinal would celebrate Mass in unity at St. Mary’s Basilica in Kochi on Sunday. of the Palms. The unified system would come into effect in all dioceses of the Syro-Malabar Church on Easter Sunday, April 17.

Riju Kanjookkaran of Almaya Munnettam, a lay group against the unified system, said the circular sent by the cardinal would not be read in parishes during Palm Sunday mass.

A senior priest, an expert in church liturgy, called it a big controversy over a small issue. Several options had been offered to resolve the differences, but he did not disclose details.

Mathai Varkey Muthirenthy, general organizer of Samyukta Sabha Samrakshan Samithi, which is in favor of the unified system, said the cardinal could not be prevented from celebrating Mass on Palm Sunday in the unified system.

“Priests, laity upset”

Father Kuriakose Mundadan, secretary of the Presbyteral Council, said church authorities had previously given time until December 25 this year to move to the unified system, but the authorities’ sudden change in position had upset the vast majority of priests. and lay people. He said the archdiocese has a population of about five million faithful out of a total of five million Syrian Catholics worldwide. He said only a minority of priests supported the unified system while around 450 of the archdiocese’s 465 priests supported keeping the current system.

Martha J. Finley