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Plea to Pope Francis from an Ordinary layman of Syro Malabar Church in India.

Updated: Jul 30, 2021

Uniform mode of celebrating the Holy Mass and certain doubts of an ordinary layman of Syro Malabar Church in India

Your Holiness Pope Francis,

May this letter finds you in good health and cheer!

Thank you for having given yourself as our great leader and spiritual father.

By this letter, I want to raise a grave concern to you Pope Francis.

It is reported that the Syro Malabar Major Archiepiscopal Synod is going to decide on a date from which the Holy Mass is to be celebrated in a uniform mode in all the dioceses. In the Uniform Mode that is going to be enforced, the priest is going to face the faithful in the first half and the alter in the next half. As a layman who has grown up participating in the Holy Mass where the priest faces the faithful, I have certain doubts regarding the decision to bring uniformity without unity.

I was taught that one major change brought about by the Vatican Council II, especially in Liturgy, was that the Church turned from being “Theo Centric” to “Christo Centric”. The reforms that have taken place in the Church from the times of Vatican Council has been the result of this change in the theological thrust. If that be the case, or even otherwise, let me raise the following six doubts that plague my mind.

1. The Holy Eucharist was instituted by Jesus Christ at the Last Supper. He instituted the Eucharist facing the disciples and in their midst. If the Holy Mass is a commemoration of the Last Supper, should we follow His mode of celebration, i.e. facing the faithful? Even after Resurrection, when Jesus broke the bread with His disciples, and after His resurrection when the disciples offered Mass, all of them were facing the faithful and not facing the direction of Heaven or East. If that be the case, what is the rationale behind alter facing Mass?

2. “This is My Body” and “This is My blood”, that was what Jesus said while instituting the Eucharist. If the bread and wine trun into His Body and Blood through transubstantiation, should the faithful get a chance to witness it? Every priest who celebrates the Holy Mass and every faithful who receives Holy Communion is supposed to be broken like Jesus for his/her neighbour. If that is the paramount message of the Holy Mass for me, should the faithful draw energy from witnessing transubstantiation? What one sees and hears leaves a huge imprint on one’s life. Why should the faithful be kept away from that heavenly enriching experience?

3. Holy Mass is highly symbolic. The many symbols in the Mass re-enact the life of Jesus Christ. When the priest breaks the Holy Bread, one remembers the death of Jesus, when the priest dips a portion of the Holy Bread in the Holy Wine as per Latin Rite and in the Syro Malabar rite when the priest folds the dipped portion of the Holy Bread, it symbolizes His funeral, the joining of the two pieces of the Holy Bread, His resurrection etc. If the faithful are kept away from it, and if these happen behind the curtain, or hide it from the faithful, does it take away the very essence of the Holy Mass from the faithful? Or does the Synod want the faithful to have only a limited experience, like watching a play? I am discouraged by this attitude.

4. If unity means unification, should all the Eastern Catholic Churches follow the Latin Church? It is undisputed that 98% of Catholics belong to the Latin Rite and all other rites taken together constitute only 2%. If that be the case, for the sake of uniformity in the Catholic Church, should all of us follow the Latin Church and celebrate Holy Mass facing the faithful?

5. Today, Syro Malabar Church may the most vibrant Church in the world. Our churches are overflowing, and the faithful are actively participating in the Holy Mass. Holy Mass is an enriching experience for the faithful at least in my Diocese where the Holy Mass is celebrated facing the people from beginning to end . In the name of unification, when faithful like me are kept away from the alter, are we going to destroy the vibrancy of our Church? What message are you giving us? Vatican Council II taught us that we, the faithful, are part of the royal priesthood by baptism. Are we even unworthy of witnessing the Holy Eucharist?

6. My experience shows that those non-Catholic Churches that follow Eastern Liturgy, the participation of the faithful in Liturgy is not 100% and a vast majority are passive spectators. In the name of unification, your holiness, are you going to turn our Church into a passive plastic community that has lost its energy and fragrance?

Please help me to understand the true meaning of unification. At least for now, I believe that the move at unification is to exert authority by one section of the Church over the other. Going by the recent scandals of Cardinal Alencherry in the Church, one may even see this as an effort to divert the attention of the faithful. It may be worthwhile to remember that divide and rule did not help the British in the long run!

Your Holiness, I earnestly hope and pray that these words will reach to you for your further perusal.

You are always in our prayers and thoughts

An ordinary layman of Syro Malabar Church from the land of Thomas, the Apostle, and God’s own country on earth!

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