Tuesday, May 24, 2022




(Rome) Pope Francis settled a dispute by decreeing that all dioceses throughout the Church should celebrate the Sacrifice of the Holy Mass ad orientem, versus Deum. According to Francis, priests and people have in common to look to the east, from where, according to apostolic tradition, the return of the Lord is expected. No satire. You read that right. But how can that be?

When Cardinal Robert Sarah, then Prefect of the Roman Congregation for Worship, called on all priests to return to the east direction of celebration, Pope Francis vigorously contradicted him. And now a change of heart?

Let's try to solve the riddle.

In his address to the general audience on September 27, 2006, Benedict XVI said:

    “Finally, we recall that according to an old tradition Thomas first evangelized Syria and Persia (as already reported by Origines, quoted by Eusebius of Caesarea, Hist. eccl. 3,1), then penetrated into western India (cf. Thomas Acts 1-2 and 17 ff.), from where he finally reached South India.”

So the focus is on India. There the so-called Thomas Christians emerged from the work of the Apostle Thomas, which are now referred to as the Syro-Malabar Church. This was created in 1599 and has been united with Rome ever since. According to tradition, the apostle Thomas stayed in India between the years 53 and 60 until he suffered martyrdom there. The current name of the church refers to the Syrian tradition with which it was connected at the transition from antiquity to the Middle Ages. On the other hand, the Thomas Christians had hardly any contact with Rome for many centuries, since their territory was outside the Roman Empire. There the Apostolic Church of the East, to which the Thomas Christians also belonged, developed their own East Syriac rite. From the 8th century at the latest, the Christians of India had their own metropolitans and their own hierarchy, but remained connected to the Church of the East.

With the arrival of the Portuguese in India in the 16th century there were contacts with Rome which led to the establishment of the Union in full unity.

Today the East Syriac rite applies in four Eastern Churches, two of which, the Syro-Malabar Church and the Chaldean Catholic Church, are united with Rome, while this applies to the Assyrian Church of the East and the Ancient Church of the east is not the case.

The Syro-Malabar Church has held fast to the faith bequeathed to it by the Apostle Thomas and is a vigorous, vibrant Eastern Church. This church is "crowned like a bride and filled with every grace and blessing" (Holy Qurbana).

Today around five million believers belong to it, most of whom are concentrated in the southern Indian state of Kerala, the historic territory of this church. The head is the Major Archbishop of Ernakulam-Angamaly. The incumbent Major Archbishop George Alencherry was in 2011 by Benedict XVI. appointed and elevated to the rank of cardinal. The Church has 35 dioceses, 31 in India (of these 13 outside the canonical South Indian Territory) and four in Anglo-Saxon countries (Britain, USA, Canada, Australia), 8,000 priests, diocesan and religious priests, and about 3,300 parishes. Jurisdiction outside of the state of Kerala has only existed since the 1950s.
Conflict about the direction of the celebration

Conflicts arose from the Latinization of the Church, initiated by Pope Pius XI in the 20th century. has been partially reversed. Since then there has been a Latin and a Malayalam faction in the Church.

More recently, the direction of the celebration has become a new point of contention that has escalated in recent months. In the course of a "liturgical renewal" the direction of celebration should, according to a minority, be reversed in the "spirit of the Second Vatican Council". As is customary in the Novus Ordo of the Latin Church, the priest should no longer look east with the people, but turn to the people. This reversal of the direction of celebration goes back to Martin Luther in the 16th century, who wanted to create an unmistakable distinguishing feature from the "papal church".

In the quarrel, which recently came to a head in the Syro-Malabar Church, the Holy See finally intervened shortly before Easter and decided that the traditional direction of celebration should be retained as before.

The harbingers of this dispute, however, go back a long way, precisely to the liturgical reform of 1969/70 in the Roman Catholic Church. In 2003, in his address, Pope John Paul II admonished the bishops of the Syro-Malabar Church during their ad limina visit:

    "An integral part of the rich and diverse Indian culture for centuries, the liturgy of the Syro-Malabar Church is the most vivid expression of the identity of your peoples. The celebration of the Eucharistic Mystery in the Syro-Malabar Rite contributed significantly to the formation of the experience of faith in India (cf. Ecclesia in Asia, n. 27). "The Eucharist is the saving presence of Jesus in the community of believers and its spiritual nourishment, it is the most precious good that the Church can have on her journey through history" (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 9). Therefore, I encourage you to carefully guard and renew this treasure and never allow it to be misused as a source of division. Your gathering around the altar, "filled with him who rules all things" (Eph 1:23), not only marks you out as a Eucharistic people, but is also a source of reconciliation that helps to overcome those obstacles overcome obstacles that can block the path to unity of spirit and purpose. As primary guardians of the liturgy, you are always called to be vigilant and to avoid unjustified experiments by individual priests, which can damage the integrity of the liturgy and also profoundly harm the faithful (cf. Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 10).

    I encourage you in your efforts to renew your "ritual riches" in the light of the Conciliar documents, paying particular attention to Orientalium Ecclesiarum and in the context of the Code of Eastern Canon Law and of my Apostolic Exhortation Orientale lumen.

    With prudence, patience and an appropriate catechesis, this process of renewal will certainly bear rich fruit. The many positive results that have already been achieved make this task less onerous and more a source of future strength. I encourage you to continue this important work so that the liturgy is not only studied but celebrated in all its perfection and beauty.”

But things did not settle down. This spring there was even a loud protest from a group of lay people in Ernakulam, who did not hesitate to publicly burn two dolls with the faces of Cardinal Alencherry, Major Archbishop, and Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches.

Shortly before, on March 11, 2022, Cardinal Sandri had given the same indication of the direction of the celebration as was then decided by Pope Francis in the last instance.
The Synodal Resolution of the Syro-Malabar Church

In 1999 the synod of the Syro-Malabar Church unanimously decided that the direction of celebration, at least in the celebration of the Eucharist, should be ad orientem together with the people. This decision has since been confirmed several times, but not ultimately implemented. In the summer of 2021, the synod finally passed the resolution that from November 28th and by Easter 2022 at the latest, all dioceses and parishes must implement the uniform celebration of the Holy Qurbana, as the holy sacrifice of the Mass is called in the Syro-Malabar Church. This is a compromise between the forms practiced since the 1970s. The traditional form celebrated ad orientem; the new form, which is entirely Protestant and faces the people, and the compromise formula. This was decided in 1999: in the first part of the Mass and in the Liturgy of the Word, the priest turns to the people. However, he celebrates the celebration of the Eucharist at the altar, which faces east, “in the direction in which the people are looking”.

Violent resistance to this, however, came from the parishes, which after the liturgical reform in the Latin Church, in imitation of it, had arbitrarily changed the direction of celebration and have been sticking to it ever since. For more than 20 years they have been doing this in contradiction to the synod resolution.

Above all, the metropolitan church, the Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly, headed by the metropolitan vicar Antony Kariyil, has so far allowed the parishes to stick to the practice they have cultivated. He refused to implement the synod resolution. However, the new synod decree of August 2021 left him little room for manoeuvre. Refusing to do so himself, he turned to Rome to have his course confirmed.
In March, the dolls were burned by two cardinals

However, the Congregation for the Oriental Churches reacted negatively on March 11th. According to Cardinal Prefect Sandri, the synod resolution must be observed. Sandri's doll burned on it.

On July 3, 2021, Pope Francis himself wrote to the Syro-Malabar Church that "the Holy See, with special approval and encouragement, on the unanimous decision taken by the Synod of Bishops of the Syro-Malabar Church in 1999 - and repeatedly confirmed in the following years - Agreement on a unified way of celebrating the holy Qurban liturgy and this as an important step towards the growth of stability and ecclesialof stability and ecclesial communion within the whole body of your beloved Church.” […]

The decree issued by the synod a month later provided:

    “The bishops of some eparchies, who have expressed difficulties in implementing the decision throughout the eparchy, can introduce the unified form of celebration on November 28, 2021, starting with the cathedrals, the shrines, the religious communities, the parishes, where possible, the small seminars and other training centers. Through effective catechesis, the uniform mode can be introduced gradually throughout the eparchy as soon as possible and no later than Easter 2022.”

The decree stipulated that no exceptions are allowed anywhere for Eucharistic celebrations presided over by bishops. In the Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly, however, there was no insight.

Thus, on March 25, 2022, just over three weeks before the expiration of the deadline specified in the synodal decree, Pope Francis wrote again to the bishops of the Syro-Malabar Church. In it, the head of the church decided the dispute about the direction of the celebration. During the celebration of the Eucharist, the celebrant should face the east, ad Deum, with the people. A key message of the papal letter, which Francis himself called a "fatherly exhortation", read:

    “The world needs the witness of communion that when we stir up scandal with liturgical disputes – and sadly there have been some of late – we are playing into the hands of whoever is the master of division.”

Francis regretted that after November 28, 2021, the synodal decision was implemented by all dioceses except Ernakulam-Angamaly, where Metropolitan Vicar Kariyil refused.

After the Pope's admonition, a disturbing protest ensued, in which the dolls of the two cardinals were set on fire. The pope was spared the macabre spectacle.

In his letter he had also stated:

    “The Syro-Malabar Church has distinguished itself through the centuries for its fidelity that has overcome so many historical misunderstandings, and today it is thriving in vocations and missionary style. The Lord will not forget the sacrifice you offer Him, but in doing so you will open your heart to the fullness of His blessings.”

From the events and the intervention of the Holy See, a number of questions arise, also with regard to the direction of celebration in the Roman rite and the related liturgical reform after the Second Vatican Council.

Text: Giuseppe Nardi
Image: AsiaNews/MiL

1 comment:

TJM said...

The National Anti-Catholic Reporter and Pray Sniff are in mourning.

Maybe PF is setting the stage for a change to the Latin Rite.