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Sunday, September 19, 2021

In Kerala’s Syro-Malabar Church, a new tussle over conduct of Mass

The Synod of the Church recently announced that a uniform code be adopted for the conduct of the Mass using a 50-50 formula where the priest faces the congregation in the first half and then the altar in the second.

Written by Vishnu Varma | Kochi |
Updated: September 7, 2021 8:57:22 pm
Several priests stated that their priests have followed for decades the custom of facing the people for the entire duration of the Mass. (Representational)

A fresh tussle has broken out in the Syro-Malabar Church in Kerala between the Church leadership and a section of the priests and laity over how the Mass is conducted.

The Synod of the Church recently decreed that a uniform code be adopted for the conduct of the Mass from November 28 using a 50-50 formula where the celebrant (priest) faces the congregation in the first half and then the altar in the second. However, a section of the laity and priests, especially in the Ernakulam-Angamaly, Thrissur and the Irinjalakuda dioceses have opposed it, stating that their priests have followed for decades the custom of facing the people for the entire duration of the Mass.

On Sunday, at the Holy Family Parish Church near Aluva in Ernakulam district, as the vicar read out a pastoral letter from Cardinal George Alencherry explaining the move to bring in uniformity in the conduct of the Mass, a group of parishioners interrupted him, seized the microphone and later burned copies of the letter. At several churches, where the parishioners and priests are opposed to the new changes, the pastoral letter was never read.

“The liturgical form is an identity of the Church and it needs to be uniform. The Synod proposed it for the first time in 1999 but it couldn’t be implemented then. Some of the dioceses were following a more traditional way of conducting the Holy Mass, so they went to Rome and got an exception under the canon law and continued following the old method,” said Fr Jerry Joseph Onampally, the Synod spokesperson.

“But the thought (of bringing in uniformity) remained. After several studies, the most recent Synod decided to implement it using a 50-50 formula from November 28, the first day of the liturgical calendar. And since some parishioners are used to the old style, there may be problems (in accepting the changes) and more time would be given till Easter next year to completely implement the changes,” he said.

He claimed that 95 per cent of the parishes under the Church have accepted the new changes and that some groups have ‘vested interests to malign the name of the Cardinal.’

But Bobby John, secretary of the Almaya Munnettom, a group of priests and laity demanding transparency within the Church, said the 50-50 formula of conducting the Mass did not come up for discussion at any of the liturgy committees of the dioceses.

“I’m a member of the liturgy committee of the Ernakulam-Angamaly diocese. In our diocese and others like Thrissur, this formula of the Mass being conducted, in turns facing the people and the altar, was not discussed. They (Church leadership) are deliberately pushing this on us. 23 bishops asked for the practice of facing the people to be retained. But their opinions were overruled,” he claimed.

The group has demanded a status quo on the conduct of the Mass until further discussions.

The Syro-Malabar Church has attracted controversy in recent years in connection with allegations of corruption against Cardinal Alencherry in a land deal case as well as rape charges against former Jalandhar Bishop Franco Mulakkal.

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