Archbishop Andrews Thazhath’s circular insisted on following synod-approved Mass rejected by the majority of priests and laity
Catholics burn the circular of Archbishop Andrews Thazhath, the Apostolic Administrator of Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese, on June 25, 2023 in front of St Mary's Cathedral Basilica in the southern Indian state of Kerala. (Photo: supplied)
In a public protest against the Vatican-appointed apostolic administrator of an Indian archdiocese, a group of lay people burnt his circular that insisted on a controversial form of Mass, which has been the center of a five-decade-old liturgical dispute.
Parishioners of the St.Mary’s Basilica, the Cathedral in Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese, burnt copies of the circular of their Apostolic Administrator Archbishop Andrews Thazhath on June 26 in Kochi city, the commercial capital of southern Kerala state.
The cathedral, the seat of the Major Archbishop of the Eastern-rite Syro-Malabar Church, is closed since December 2022 following physical violence inside it over the liturgy dispute.
The majority of the priests and laity in the archdiocese have rejected an order of the Mass approved by the Church’s synod, which demanded priests turn to the altar during the Eucharistic prayer. The archdiocesan laity and priests want the celebrants to face the people throughout the Mass.
The dispute has led the synod to have a special gathering this month, which agreed to request the Vatican send a delegate to decide on the issue. As the Church waited for the delegate, Archbishop Thazhath issued the circular insisting on the archdiocese following the synod-approved Mass.
“What is the need for the administrator to issue such a circular?” asked Riju Kanjookaran, the spokesperson of Archdiocesan Movement for Transparency, which led the protest in front of the closed cathedral in Kochi.
The group shouted slogans against Archbishop Thazhath, who is also the president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI), the national body of Catholic bishops in the country.
The administrator in his June 22 circular ordered Cathedral Vicar Father Antony Narikulam to celebrate the synod-approved Mass in the Cathedral before July 2 and threatened to transfer him without any prior notice if he fails.
The circular also warned of action against the parish council for opposing the decision of the synod on matters like liturgy where it has no role to play.
The administrator also said these actions have been agreed upon during the special synod of the Syro-Malabar Church held between June 12-16 in Mount St Thomas, the headquarters of the Church in Ernakulam district.
The special synod was held following directions from the Vatican to find a lasting solution to the liturgy dispute in the archdiocese. However, the 56 bishops who attend it could not reach a consensus and recommended to the Vatican to send a papal delegate to settle it.
“When the synod has decided to leave the matter for final adjudication to the Vatican, this circular is only aimed at creating trouble for the faithful and the priests in the archdiocese who are ready to work with the papal delegate for a final settlement,” Kanjookaran told UCA News on June 26.
“We have complained against the administrator to the synod and would soon inform the Vatican about his coercive actions aimed at creating more trouble ahead of the visit of papal delegate,” he said.
Church officials said the Vatican is yet to inform the synod about the details and date of arrival of the delegate.
“At the movement, we only know that the synod has requested the Vatican to send a delegate. Nothing else is clear,” said a bishop who attended the synod.
Kanjookarn said the administrator was continuing “terror acts” against some half a million Catholics and close to 400 priests in the archdiocese.
A senior priest who did not want to be named told UCA News on June 26, “It is better for everyone to maintain peace as the ball is now in the court of the Vatican”.
The liturgy dispute has been simmering in the Church since the 1970s with one group wanting to revive the liturgy in its pristine purity and another group demanding revision on modern lines.
The traditionalist wanted the celebrants to face the altar throughout the Eucharistic celebration, while the modernists want them to face the congregation.
The archdiocese’s 500,000 Catholics form some 10 percent of Catholics of the Eastern Rite Church.
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