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Liturgical Reform : Legacy of the Archdiocese of Ernakulam and Card. Parecattil

By Paulose Variyath

Photo Credit to Public domain


Reform of Syro – Malabar Missal: Legacy of Archdiocese of Ernakulam A Story of Local Discretion and participation


The Syro-Malabar Church is facing its biggest crisis in recent history. The decision by the Synod in August 2021 to adopt a uniform mode of celebration of the Holy Mass has virtually split the Church in the middle with the priests and faithful practicing versus populum Mass publicly protesting against the decision of the Synod to adopt ad orientem Mass. The attempts by certain Bishops to divert the attention by raking up issues like ‘love jihad’ and ‘narcotic jihad’ is threatening the very secular fabric of the wider society. It is in the interest of the Catholic Church and the wider society that these differences are settled at the earliest. One need not look for novel solutions to address this conflict.


The history of the restoration and reform of the Syro-Malabar Missal can offer valuable lessons for the resolution of the differences in the Church today. An impartial observer can learn three major lessons from the recent history of Reform:

1) The stellar role played by the Ernakulam-Angamaly Major Archdiocese in the reform process,

2) The ever responsive attitude of Rome to amicably resolve the differences, and

3) discretion given to the local Bishop to adapt the Missal to suit the local needs.


It may be worthwhile to look back at the recent history of reform and restoration of the Syro-Malabar Missal. Based on the documents issued by Rome in the years 1980, 1983 and 1985 a Text for the Raza Qurbana (The Most Solemn Form) was prepared and was inaugurated by Pope John Paul II during his visit to India in 1986. The other forms of Mass were to be celebrated based on that text. As the text was prepared without adequate consultations, there were lot of opposition to the new Missal. Rome, sensing the seriousness of the objections, immediately intervened. The then Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, Cardinal D. Simon Lourdusamy was very sensitive to the feelings of the faithful. These interventions resulted in the adoption of the revised Missal in 1989. The Missal was approved by Rome for an initial period of five years with the hope that the process of reform would continue. Based on the report of the Archbishop Thomas A White Commission, Syro- Malabar Church was raised to the status of a Major Archiepiscopal Church in 1992. However, the reform process did not progress. It is at this stage that Ernakulam-Angamaly Major Archdiocese stood at the forefront in spearheading reforms and Rome positively reciprocating to these demands. When one looks at these reforms it can be easily said that the entire Syro-Malabar Church has benefitted from these and the faithful had an enriching experience. Before Reform, the faithful were passive onlookers during the celebration but after reforms, the people of God became the active participators in the Holy Mass.


Some of these reforms brought forward by the efforts of Ernakulam – Angamaly Archdiocese are given below.


Versus Populum Mass


Janabhimukha Qurbana (versus populum) was introduced in the Syro-Malabar Church after the Vatican Council II. This led to a renewal in the Church with the faithful having an enriching liturgical experience. However, the Congregation for Oriental Churches was insisting on a return to Altharabhimukha Qurbana (ad orientem). The insistence and continuous representations by Ernakulam – Angamaly Major Archdiocese resulted in Rome granting the freedom to those Dioceses that wanted to continue Janabhimukha Qurbana. It is to be remembered here that the majority of the Dioceses used this exception and continued with Versus Populum Mass.


Photo credit to Public domain

Offertory Procession

It is an Indian tradition for the faithful to offer the fruits of their labour to God. Syro-Malabar Church had a rich tradition of Offertory procession, where the faithful used to offer things along with bread and wine in a procession accompanied by melodious chants. This was against ‘oriental tradition’ and Rome insisted on ending this practice. Here again it was the demand by Ernakulam – Angamaly Major Archdiocese that led Rome to grant the freedom to continue the practice.


Sign of the Cross

Whether to begin the Mass with a Sign of the Cross was another sore point in the Missal. Congregation for Oriental Churches insisted that the Holy Mass should not begin with the Sign of the Cross. This was not acceptable to most of the priests and the faithful in the Syro - Malabar Church. An ordinary layman started his day and any important activity with a sign of the Cross. The diktat to start the Mass without the Sign of the Cross was not palatable to him. He was also confused as Pope Paul VI spoke about the importance of Sign of the Cross and insisted that the Mass in Latin Rite should start with it. The request by Ernakulam – Angamaly Major Archdiocese was finally accepted by Rome and freedom was given to those Dioceses that wanted to begin the Mass with the Sign of the Cross.


Altar Veil

The use of Madbaha Viri (Altar Veil/Curtain) is another irritant for most of the faithful. For the faithful the tearing of the Veil at Jerusalem Temple from top to bottom at the time of the death of Jesus is a significant symbol of redemption. The veil in the altar represents a God who is far removed from the people as opposed to Jesus who promised to be in the midst of the people. Rome responded positively to the request and has made the use of altar veil optional.


There are many other examples from the Missal itself that Rome has responded positively to the demands of Ernakulam – Angamaly Major Archdiocese and that has resulted in the spiritual growth of the faithful.


At this juncture when the Syro-Malabar Church is facing the biggest crisis in its history, it is time for Rome to intervene positively and allow the local Bishop to take a call of the mode of celebration of the Holy Mass.

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