Vexatious liturgy issue in the Ernakulam-Angamaly (EA) archdiocese could have avoided

Estimated read time 7 min read

By our   special religious correspondent

Kochi, June 29 (IVC)  The melee  in the EA Archdiocese  over  liturgy  could have avoided if the hierarchies of the  Syro-Malabar (SMC)  Church  had shown patience and maturity , senior  bishops who pleaded anonymity  told this correspondent.

                It  was  the  tenacity and  persistence  of the hierarchies of the SMC that  led to the closure  of  Saint  Mary’s Basilica  Cathedral, the principal church of the  EA  archdiocese, in the  heart  of  the city, they  said.

                Basilica  was closed for  about two  years since December 23, 2022, on the  eve of the Christmas, after exchanging obscene words  liberally between the supporters of the Uniform mass  and its opponents laymen  in front  of the Holy  of Holies (Thronos)  to be or not  to  be uniform mass. The  Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese of the Syro-Malabar Church  consisted of  over five lakh faithful and about  400 parish churches  and its tributary  organizations which accounted  for 10  per cent of the  total faithful  of the SMC, under  the  jurisdiction of the  SMC.

                The Ernakulam-Angamaly  Archdiocese had played a very important role  in the history and development  of  the Universal Catholic church under the pope as even before the advent of Saint Thomas, the apostle of India, in 52 AD. The  legend has  it  that among the three Biblical WI semen (Megusans)  who presented  myrrh frankincense and gold  to the  Infant  Jesus at Bethlehem , one WI seman  was   from Kerala’s Piravom, 35  kms East of Kochi.

                The  Wise men were  the  old Melchior from Persia,  the  middle-aged Kasper from India and the young  Balthazar from Arabia, according to the noted church historian  and metropolitan of  the Assyrian Church of the East, Dr Mar Aprem. Balthazar presented myrrh ,Kasper frankincense  and Melchior  gold, according to William Barclay’s Bible commentary.

                The  present  phase of the controversy had its beginning in August 2021 when the Synod  of the Bishops of the SMC decided  to issue  a diktat  to introduce  50:50 formula  in celebrating the Holy  Mass. “That the celebrant (priest) faced the congregation  (the  assembly of faithful participating the mass) during the first part of the ceremonies up to  the  Credo.  During consecration  and the sacramental  part, the priest faced  the altar and in last lap of the mass , after the communion  the priest again  faced the congregation.  It  is briefly called 50:50 formula.

                The  Major Archbishop and head  of the Syro-Malabar Church, Mar Raphael  Thattil  and the EA Archdiocese’s Apostolic Administrator, Mar Bosco  Puthur  jointly  issued  a circular  on June 09  to  the  priests  of the EA archdiocese  mandating  that the Uniform mass  should  be  introduced  on or before July 03, the Martyrdom Day  of Saint Thomas.

                The  joint  circular  stressed  that  if any  priests failed to say  the Uniform, he  would be  defrocked and excommunicated.  The  joint  circular was meant to read during the Sunday mass on June 16. The priests not  only  read the circular during the Sunday  mass, but  it was burnt, thrown  into backwaters  dumped in the dust bin of the  Kochi Corporation, defying the  authorities totally whatever may come. Out  of  a total of 328  priests  to be  read the circular, below nine priests read it  as directed by their superiors.

                Five  bishops- Ephrem Nariculam (Chanda), Jose  Chittoorparambil(Rajkot) Jose Puthenveettil,Auxiliary  Bishop (Faridabad),    Kuriakose Bharanikulangara (Faridabad) and Sebastin Adayanthranth (Mandya)  of  the Syro-Malabar  Charch’ Bishops Synod , had  strongly protested  against  the  issue the  joint circular  before  discussing  the matter  in  the  Synod  as  a Synod   on online  was  scheduled  to  hold  on June  14.  These  bishops  hailed  from  the  Ernakulam-Angamaly  Archdiocese, have joined  the chorus against  a threat to excommunication  of he priests of EA archdiocese who do not heed on Synod  diktat on Unified mass from July 03.

                A dissent note  sent to  the  Major Archbishop, Mar Raphael  Thattil by  the  bishops stated  that  the  recent circular    issued by  Raphael Thattil and Apostolic Administrator, Bosco  Puthur smacked  of “the  Middle  Ages culture  of the Church. Excommunication  is  a term unheard  of   after  the second  Vatican Council (l962-1965).  The  oriental code  of canon law does  not envisage automatic excommunication”.

                Earlier also the church hierarchies  of the SMC  had sent directive to the priests of the EA archdiocese  to  effect the 50:50mass  in all its parishes  if  any  failed  to  do  so, they  would be  excommunicated  ad  defrocked. Though  the  priest  did not  say  the  Uniform mass , the  appropriate  authorities    could  not  excommunicate the   defaulted priests., as  it  was  impracticable    to excommunicate all  the  priests  of the EA archdiocese.

                The  inability of  the  Church hierarchies  to take  action as per the joint circular of  June 9, It  was  described by the Almaya Munnettam spokesman  as a  fee-fau-fum  (boggart). 

                The  dissent  not of  the bishops stated  that they  held  the Uniform mass  in adherence with  the decision of the Synod in August  2021 and the Holy  Father’s (Poe’s)  wishes   close  to their  hearts and respective jurisdiction, “we  follow the  uniform mode  of  celebration”. The  circular  plunged  the archdiocese  into  turmoil, the bishops  said, as  they  reminded  Raphael  Thattil  and Bosco  Puthhur  that the Holy Father (Pope)  insisted on obedience but  stressed  dialogue.  The  priests  in the  archdiocese  follow the  approved Mass text and  the  question revolved around rubrics.

                The  priests  failure to  say  the  unified mass is  not  a  mortal  sin  to accord maximum punishment, the  spokesman for  the Almaya  Munnettam said.

                The  bishops pointed out  in their letter that  the  Pope  wanted the  problem to be  solved  by  the Church  itself   but  the  joint  circular  was  issued  without  consulting  or seeking   opinion of  the  scheduled  online  synod. The  bishops also  said that  there  was  no  justification  in handing  out the  maximum  as ecclesiastical sanctions should  be proportionate to  the  violation. “Where  is the  place for  the  benevolence we  preach”, the  bishops  asked.

                In the  light  of defying the  joint  circular  of June  09, another  circular  was by  the  church hierarchies incorporating the  decision of  the synod of June 19 “ The  priests in ERnakulam-Angamaly  Archdiocese  are  allowed to  continue  with their  traditional  Mass. However, they will also have  to celebrate one Synod-approved uniform Mass  on all Sundays in their  parishes” said  some  prelates  who  attended the  synod of June 19.

                The  hierarchies  of  the  Church  failed to take any  action against  the defaulted priests and the appropriate authorities of the  Church stood like an unimportant character of a Shakespearean tragedy.  But  to  put it briefly, the images of the Major Archbishop and Bosco Puthur as troble-shooters  have  been sullied to  a  great  extent.

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