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Geo-political factors of liturgical crisis in the Syro Malabar Church

Geo politics of Syro Malabar Church dominated by the power play of the Archdiocese of Cheganassery destroyed the peaceful co-existence of the Catholic faithful in India. The silence of Pope Francis exasperated the crisis. The so-called tyrannical dictatorship of Archbishop Andrews Thazath engendered irreversible damages in the spiritual landscape of India.

The roots of the present contentious issue of the uniform Holy Mass within the Syro-Malabar Church can be traced to the year 1923 when the Vicariate of Ernakulam was established as the seat of the Syro-Malabar Church, and its Archbishop was installed as the head of the Syro-Malabar Church. This step taken by the Holy See was not acceptable to Changanassery. As a consequence, a tug-of-war for power ensued between the Archdiocese of Changanassery and the Archdiocese of Ernakulam. In 1956, the Archdiocese of Changanassery was elevated as an Arch eparchy and consequently, Ernakulum and Changanassery became two seats of power in the Syro-Malabar Church, having equal authority. In short, Changanassery came on par with Ernakulam. Fortunately, Mar Mathew Kavukkat, a saintly prelate, became the first Archbishop of Changanassery. Since he did not crave for power, there was no conflict between the two Archdioceses. But the situation underwent a drastic change after the death of Mar Kavukkat and the installation of Mar Joseph Powathil. Subsequently in 1992, the Syro-Malabar Church was bestowed the status of a Major Arch Episcopal Church, with Ernakulam as its headquarters. Naturally, The archdiocese of Ernakulam gained primacy over Changanassery - a fact that Changanassery could not tolerate. Under these circumstances, desiring to at least gain control over the liturgy, the issue of altar-facing Eucharist was propped up culminating in the current crisis revolving around the 50:50 formula. Realizing that immediate introduction of curtain for the sanctuary, Marthoma cross etc., was not feasible, the Synod dominated by the Changanassery-led faction, drew up the 50:50 formula, by jeopardizing the procedure laid down by the Synod itself. The following are a few examples of the hegemonic tendency exhibited by the Chaldean majority in the Synod:

1. The 50:50 formula allegedly unanimously adopted by the Synod in 1999 was completely violated by Changanassery. In contravention of the Synodal decision, they have been celebrating the whole Eucharist facing the altar. The Synod has no complaint against this blatant violation of its stipulation. Why?

2. The same approach was adopted by Changanassery towards the 50:50 formula revived by the Synod in 2021. An official directive has been issued to all priests in Changanassery Archdiocese by its present Archbishop Joseph Perumthottam saying that the formula need not be implemented in totality in parishes under its jurisdiction. As per the decision of the Synod, the concluding rites of the Holy Eucharist should be conducted at the Bemma (the altar for the liturgy of the Word). But according to Circular No.22 issued on 24th July, 2022, by Mar Perumthottam, the concluding rites of the liturgy must be conducted by the celebrant standing in the sanctuary itself. Moreover, he directed the priest in his Archdiocese to ignore the instruction of the Synod and the Holy See that optional prayers can be used according to the discretion of the celebrant (Circular No.1). The Synod also advised the priests celebrating the Holy Eucharist to consecrate enough hosts so that all the faithful who participate in the Eucharist can receive the Sacred Body and Blood of Christ consecrated in that Eucharist. This instruction given in the text of the liturgy has been altered as: “the Holy Communion distributed during the Eucharist should be consecrated in that Eucharist itself.” (Circular No.2d). They do not distribute the consecrated hosts preserved in the tabernacle possibly because they do not believe that the Lord is present in them. When a direction akin to the above point was issued by Rome, a correction was effected by the Bishops.

3. There is a set of common guidelines concerning the sacraments and other liturgical rites issued by the Syro-Malabar Synod. Since the formula issued by the Synod is not acceptable to Changanassery, Mar Perumthottam issued new guidelines, which decreed that the celebrant is duty bound to face the congregation of worshippers only during the liturgy of the Word and the final blessing. Throughout the rest of the Holy Eucharist the celebrant must face the altar, the Archbishop has directed.

4. Regarding the prayers that change according to the different liturgical seasons, the Archbishop has given another strange instruction which is unheard of anywhere else and not approved either by the Synod of the Syro-Malabar Church or the Holy See. That is as follows: “Special prayers (propriya) are there only for Sundays, Fridays and Feast Days.” In the light of the above, who can rule out the possibility of gradually weeding out the Holy Rosary, the Via Sacra (the Way of the Cross), novena and other pious observances in the near future by the pre-Vatican mindset of the Syro Malabar Synod? There is definitely room for apprehension!

In short, Changanassery Archdiocese has declared in unequivocal terms that even if other 34 dioceses celebrate the liturgy prescribed by the Synod, it will continue to follow what they had been doing earlier. Such action from their part cannot be considered as a matter of disobedience because by their own estimation they are a notch above the rest. Neither Rome nor the Synod has any complaint against such violations of rules! On the other hand, if other dioceses violate the stipulations of the Synod, it will be construed as disobedience because in the Synod’s lexicon obedience is not a virtue but a rod to chastise others.

Published in Vachanadhara and translated by Mr.Johny Chengalan

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