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An appeal to Holy Father Pope Francis and the Syro Malabar Synod In India.

picture/credit to public domain

Paulose Variyath

Syro Malabar Church and its Synod of Bishops are in the news media once again. Social media is abuzz with discussions of even a formal split in the Church. The letter signed by the Pope approving the revised Raza Qurbana Taksa and his exhortation for a uniform mode of celebrating the Holy Mass has raised certain doubts among the faithful. As some groups in the social media portray the priests and the faithful who demand the continuation of versus populum (priest facing the faithful) Mass (as opposed to ad orientem (priest facing the east) Mass) as disobeying the Church and the Pope, it is important to reiterate that they are neither against the Church or the Pope or the Faithful.

Nature of the Letter

The letter signed by the Pope is one that gives permission for the Qurbana Taksa approved by the Synod of the Syro Malabar Church. The letter is not in the nature of a command from the Holy Father. To give an example from our parishes, it is like a permission letter that the Diocesan Curia gives for a proposal by the Parish Council for the construction of a new church, chapel, parish hall etc. In this process, the decision is taken by the Parish Council and the General Body of the Parish, and the role of the Curia is to consider that proposal and subsequently give permission. It will be interesting to see the content of the covering letter submitted along with the revised Taksa that elicited such a response from the Vatican.

Contents of the Letter

The Papal Letter which is available on the Vatican Website under the category ‘Letters’ (Here again it is interesting to note that this is the only letter which is titled as “Letter signed by the Holy Father”. All other letters in the year 2021 is titled as “Letter of the Holy Father”) does not say anything about whether to face the faithful or the altar while celebrating the Mass. Again, the letter does not ban versus populum Mass. Moreover, the letter reminds the Bishops to persevere to ‘walk together’ with God’s people and that ‘time is greater than space’. Thus, going by the true spirit of the letter, the Bishops should take time to discuss and discern whether it is the appropriate time to implement a decision that is surely going to divide the faithful and the clergy. (The letter is available here:

Unity versus Uniformity

From the letter it is clear that the Pope does not want unity enforced from above without considering a large section of the faithful. It is the unity of hearts that he wants. It will be worthwhile for the Bishops to think for a moment whether the enforced uniformity is going to bring about unity in the Church. Again, in the light of the Pope rightly emphasizing that time is greater than space, it is pertinent to consider whether it is the right time to discuss this issue when the faithful and most of the world is undergoing tremendous grief due to the pandemic. It is the time for the entire world to come together to deal with the pandemic, time for actual unity and not enforced uniformity from above.

Why versus populum?

Holy Mass is celebrated facing the faithful in several dioceses for more than fifty years and majority of the faithful in these dioceses have no experience of the altar facing Mass. Janaabhimukha Qurbana (versus populum) was introduced with a noble purpose of the faithful experiencing the warmth and presence of God. It has encouraged the active participation of the faithful in the Holy Mass. It may be noted here that of the 130 million Catholics in the World, 128 million Catholics including the Pope is taking part in versus populum Mass. In such a scenario, is it preposterous or even outrageous to suggest that altar facing Mass is the only way of experiencing God?

Concerns about other Church Traditions

Anyone who observes the recent events in the Syro Malabar Church knows very well that the decisions of the Synod of Syro Malabar Church are taken not in the interests of the Church, but to impose the likes and dislikes of certain people in certain places. This leads one to worry that the uniform mode of celebrating Mass is only the beginning. There is a legitimate concern that old age traditions of the Church like Rosary, Adoration, Way of the Cross, Veneration of the Crucifix etc may be outlawed very soon. Many people fear that St. Sebastian’s feast celebrated in almost all Syro Malabar parishes may soon face the axe of destruction.

What the Bishop’s Synod Should Do?

If it is unity that the Syro Malabar Synod wants, it should take the following decisions immediately.

1. Postpone indefinitely the discussions on the uniform mode of celebrating the Mass. The Church must be inclusive, embracing the two forms of celebration of Holy Mass. They have been accepted forms of celebrating Holy Mass for more than 60 years and inseparable part of the tradition and heritage of Eucharistic celebration in the Syro Malabar Church.

2. Approach the Holy See with a formal proposal to allow the continuation of versus populum Mass in the Syro Malabar Church. Thus, allowing the diverse form of celebration of Mass in the Church.

One earnestly hopes and prays that even if the Synod does not consider Indian culture worthy enough for inculturation to be possible, at least they learn that the credo “unity in diversity” has kept this country strong and unified for more than seven decades.

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