MUMBAI – At the conclusion of an emergency summit of bishops of the Syro-Malabar Church to address a festering liturgical dispute, Cardinal George Alencherry has announced that there will be no compromise on a new uniform mode of celebrating Mass in Catholicism’s second-largest eastern community.
Alencherry, Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church based in southern India, also announced that the bishops have taken the unusual step of requesting a papal delegate be dispatched to the Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly, the largest Syro-Malabar jurisdiction, where clergy and laity have been fiercely resisting the liturgical changes.
For months, St. Mary’s Cathedral Basilica in Ernakulam has effectively been closed due to the dispute, which pivots on whether the priest should face the altar or the congregation at certain points during the celebration of the Mass.
A circular letter sent by Alencherry at the conclusion of the emergency meeting of Syro-Malabar synod said that the uniform mass would be implemented, and that any one diocese objecting to it will not affect that decision.
Alencherry also denied rumors that the Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese might be divided or its boundaries redrawn in an effort to bring it under control. Instead, he said the church’s synod is recommending the appointment of a new archbishop with independent governing powers.
At the moment, the Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly is the See of the Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church and is therefore administered directly by Alencherry.
He also said that Pope Francis has promised to consider the request for appointment of a delegate.
“Representatives of the synod have held discussions at various levels… We have urged the holy father (Pope) to create a situation where more productive discussions can be held,” Alencherry’s letter said.
“Along with discussions, the synod has urged to allow a papal delegate for the Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese for correcting anti-Church stands and for explaining the necessity for synodality. The holy father has given assurances to consider the same,” it said.
Alencherry also acknowledged that the closure of the basilica in Ernakulam amid internal wrangling and public protest has marred the image of the church, saying it will be reopened but only on condition that the Mass be celebrated in the uniform manner decreed by the church’s synod.
Father Paul Thelakat, a former spokesman for the Syro-Malabar Church, told Crux any move to downgrade the Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly as the church’s de facto headquarters will be seen as a “retributory act” by its people.
More basically, Thelakat warned that the tensions within the Syro-Malabar Church will remain as long as its authorities insist on liturgical uniformity.
“The adamant position with regard to uniformity is not at all understandable or even Christian,” he said. “Why impose uniformity?”
“We have been repeatedly asking for a dialogical process to sort out issues of the church,” Thelakat said. “What the synod is said to have done was not a dialogue at all … We need a wise and prudent person to lead the church from its unholy, monological and coercive type of governance and solving crisis situations.”
Thelakat suggested that if a papal delegate is appointed, that person should take a different approach from the current Apostolic Administrator of Ernakulam-Angamaly, Archbishop Andrews Thazhath, who has so far struggled to resolve the dispute over the Mass.
“There is widespread feeling against him because of a lack of mutual trust and respect when dealing with differences,” Thelakat said.