Church in India: Bitter Liturgical Dispute Brings Street Protest

The decades-long liturgical dispute in India’s Eastern-rite Syro-Malabar Church took a dramatic turn with priests and laypeople taking to the streets to protest the bishops’ synod’s decision to have uniformity in celebrating Mass.


Newsroom (November 15, 2021, 7:25 PM Gaudium Press) on November 12, Catholic priests and lay groups began gathering separately in front of St. Thomas Mount, the church’s headquarters in Ernakulam district of Kerala state, seeking a review of the synod’s decision.

The synod in August had agreed to implement a 1999 decision for uniformity in Mass celebration in all its dioceses as part of an effort to bring in more unity among its members, especially in the liturgy.

The 1999 decision had agreed to the priests facing the congregation during Mass until the Eucharistic prayer, and then again from communion to the end of the Mass. During the Eucharistic prayer, they were required to face the altar against the congregation.

As the November 28 deadline for implementing the decision in all 35 dioceses inched closer, groups of priests and laypeople demanded that the entire Mass be celebrated with the celebrant facing the people, as they have been doing for at least four decades.

Some people see the 1999 decision as a “compromise formula” to satisfy two factions of the church, divided over the liturgical renewal efforts that began after the Second Vatican Council.

One group wanted renewal on modern lines requiring the priests to face people during the Mass, while the other wanted the traditional way where the priest faces the altar.

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Some dioceses already follow the 1999 decision while in others was put on hold due to opposition from a section of priests and laity. To bring unity, the synod set November 28 to start implementing the unified form of Mass in all dioceses. The synod also gave dioceses until April 17, 2022, to implement the decision. The main opposition to the compromise formula has come from the Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly and Trissur, besides Irijnalakuda Diocese.

Police blocked protesters at the gates when they tried to present a memorandum to the church’s major archbishop, Cardinal George Alencherry, who heads the Syro-Malabar Church.

Father Alex Onampally, media commission secretary of the Syro-Malabar synod, said “The bishops had not forced any decision on anyone as being made out but had acted in good faith for unity and uniformity among our people and for our better future as one people of God” he continued “It is the duty of the Church to follow one liturgy as Syro–Malabar being a sui juris Church for its better future and it should not be misinterpreted.”

The synod had followed all the provisions of canon law, and there is no chance of any change in its decision, church officials said. The protesters, however, vowed to continue their protest if the synod refused to revoke its decision.



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