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Episode 4: Ad Limina Visit in 1980 and discord on liturgical issues

Updated: Mar 15, 2022

By. Wimal Mary Das

Photo Credit to Public domain. Mar. Abraham Kattumana, Vatican diplomat, appointed by Pope John Paul II as the Pontifical Delegate of Syro Malabar Church in 1992. Died on 4 April 1995. Archbishop Kattumana must be considered as the martyr and victim of infighting and division of liturgy as he was brutally insulted and defamed by certain pro-Chaldean lobby groups.

Episode 4 of Liturgical conundrum in the Syro-Malabar Church

Ad Limina Visit in 1980 and discord on liturgical issues

August 26 to 30, 1980, witnessed the Ad Limina Visit in Rome; Archbishop Parecattil submitted the renewed Missal formulated by the Central liturgical committee, which was not accepted. It was a blow to the renewal spirit introduced by Archbishop Parecattil and this turned to be the root of the challenges thereafter.

In 1984, Archbishop Parecattil resigned and Archbishop Antony Padiyara was transferred to Ernakulam Archdiocese. Archbishop Joseph Powathil took charge as the Archbishop of Changanassery in 1984. The imposed Chaldean liturgy had emerged again with the adoption of vernacular, and it was introduced in 1986 in Kerala during the time John Paul II visited India. It was officially inaugurated​ on the occasion of the beatification ceremony of Kuriakose Elias Chavara and Alphonsa.

Mar. Abraham Kattumana and Major Archiepiscopal Church

On Dec. 16, 1992, the Syro-Malabar Church was elevated to Major Archiepiscopal Church according to the canonical provisions envisaged by the new Canon law for the oriental churches (CCEC) with reserved restrictions of powers on the episcopal election and liturgical order.

Archbishop Kattumana must be considered as the martyr and victim of infighting and division of liturgy as he was brutally insulted and defamed by certain pro-Chaldean lobby groups. After his sudden demise, the problems on liturgy again exasperated the division and hostility and in the wake of this controversy, another Synod was held in Rome in January 1996.

The Pandora’s box of liturgical crisis unraveled by the concerned authorities many decades ago somehow began to consume the energy and exuberance of the Church due to continuous bickering and infighting.

Now the trend shifted towards seeking consensus rather than ideological infighting. John Paul II called for “greater union and peace towards the sharing of a common journey.” He never mentioned the root of the cause and historical progression of the liturgical project. This conference also did not bring any amicable solutions to liturgical issues.

In 1996, Major Archbishop Antony Padiyara retired, and Dr. Varkey Vithayathil was appointed Apostolic administrator of the Church. The dangling sword of liturgical issues was in front of him as an impending problem, and among the highlights of his reign were the initiatives he took to legitimize three forms of existed Eucharistic celebrations embracing inclusivity and diversity.

However, the heydays were short-lived when he was misinformed and misguided by episcopal colleagues of the time until the decision to implement a uniform mode of celebrating Holy Mass on the occasion of the Jubilee celebration of 2000. It turned to be a failed strategy of concerted efforts by many bishops who were obsessed with Orientalism and hell-bent on Chaldean rituals and prayers.

The legacy of native bishops continues

The decision of the Synod to impose a uniform mode of celebration of the Syro-Malabar Holy Mass did not resonate ​with the wishes and will ​of the people as ​ this process lacked any form of consultation with the clergy and the laity.

Moreover, Synod’s enterprise ​ ​disowned the historical struggles of the native bishops’ legacy of incessant intervention rejecting the Chaldean liturgy upon the Syro-Malabar Church. ​

Since 1996, the selection of leadership was highly affected by social and ideological engineering. ​ ​The majority of bishops elected since 1996 hold ​ ​personal predilections in favour of Chaldean rituals.

This process of social engineering was vehemently employed in the process of deliberations on liturgy. For the sake of a uniform mode of celebration, the majority of bishops disowning the legacy of their own predecessors proved to be the root cause of its failure.

This decision did not reflect the will of the larger number of faithful and they knew that it was a betrayal of trust against the legacy of former native bishops. It was a rebuke towards the spirit of indigenous and authentic aspirations of the Syro-Malabar Church. It was a self-defeating strategy against the legacy of bishops and their progressive contributions. In this sense, it was not a mere failure, but an ontological defeat against the autocracy of certain bishops who tried to impose the Chaldean liturgy.

The decision to impose a uniform mode of celebration of Holy Mass ​in 2000 was met with a huge backlash from the clergy and laypeople. Pressure mounted, and Mar. Varkey Vithayathil — the son of Ret. Judge Joseph Vithayathil — then-Cardinal, and Major Archbishop sensed the irreparable pastoral damages, and he​ stood up to the occasion and immediately ​ postponed its implementation in the Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly, concurring with the canonical provision of CCEO 1538.

Later this decision was followed by the other seven dioceses as per the wish of the overwhelming percentage of the faithful of the Syro-Malabar Church.​ This severely damaged Synod’s credibility and the hidden agenda of chaldeanization. Mar. Varkey Vithayathil, until he died in 2011, never tried to implement the failed strategy of unification of Holy Mass in the Syro-Malabar Church.

Cardinal Vithayathil upheld his father’s legacy, Ret. Judge ​Joseph Vithayathil, who stood for the implementation of the 1968 Missal​​. Though the uniform mode of celebration will ​appeal to many as a consensus and sublime solution, for a serious reader, it is an attempt to imposing ideology in the disguise of hidden selfish motives of certain bishops​.

It is also a flagrant betrayal of the legacy of indomitable spirit and unflinching faith towards the Holy See expressed by ​native bishops ​against any domination. The liturgical fiasco of implementing the Chaldean liturgy took its heinous and vicious cycle as some of the bishops began to implement ​the failed liturgical strategy ​outside the territory ​of Kerala. This was carried out due to the vulnerability and defenselessness of immigrant families.

The first immigrant community to receive an organized structure of eparchy was in the United States. The hell-bent attitude of Mar. Jacob Angadiath to implement the failed​ liturgy ​policies of imposing ​Chaldean liturgy generated backlash from the faithful​.​ Some of the parishes​ in his eparchy ​became the battleground for liturgical fights.

Imposing Chaldean liturgy upon the Syro-Malabar faithful unilaterally and dictatorially in the United States was an offence in the land of freedom and individual rights​. This imposing attitude of unwanted Chaldean liturgy​ ripped apart the inherent unity of immigrants.

Children and young immigrants disdained this scandalous move implementing the Chaldean rituals. This imposing mentality of domination inflicted psychological wounds upon the personality formation on children and youth, which is still ​a problem and an enigmatic pastoral challenge.

Upcoming : Episode 5

Read previous episodes

Episode 1.

Episode 3

Episode 5

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