Syro-Malabar Church divided over ‘uniform’ liturgy
by Nirmala Carvalho

Some priests and believers are against a uniform mode of celebrating. Pope refers to the issue in a letter. Fr Paul Thelakat attacks the “dictatorship of uniform thought” and notes that Catholicism - as Francis says - favours “unity in diversity”.


Delhi (AsiaNews) – The Syro-Malabar Church just ended its nine-day synod, which began on 16 August. Held remotely because of COVID-19 pandemic, it was the scene of a new major clash over the liturgy.

The divisive issue has been dragging on for over 20 years and has involved, despite himself, Pope Francis, who had sent a letter to the Syro-Malabar Church in July.

Although the pontiff called for "a uniform mode of celebrating the Holy Qurbana,” for Fr Paul Thelakat, former synod spokesman and editor of the influential Light of Truth magazine, the pontiff is also “bitterly against uniformity”.

The Syro-Malabar Church appears unable to leave behind divisions and conflicts over how to celebrate the Mass. Many priests, supported by the faithful, have asked the bishops not to introduce changes and force their hand with respect to decisions that require greater collegiality.

Some priests prefer to celebrate the service directly addressing the faithful, others prefer to look at the altar, while some alternate.

According to several members of the community, at a time of pastoral challenges, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, any changes risk having disastrous effects.

In an unusual display of unity, 466 priest in the Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly, the second in importance in India, turned to the Vatican urging them to stop the bishops who want to impose a uniform vision of the liturgy, even ging so far as directly criticise the leader of the Syro-Malabar church, Card George Alencherry.

For Fr Paul Thelakat, the last century has clearly shown that "the dictatorship of uniform thought ended up killing many, many people”. Catholicism is very different from uniformity because - as pope Francis said - it favours “unity in diversity”.

He notes that the pontiff "did not write a letter” in order to directly intervene in the controversy” but signed a letter that was produced to him. The Sino-Malabar synod "did not ask the pope for such a letter”, nor did it ask “for the imposition of uniformity”.

Furthermore, he adds, the apostolic nuncio himself has launched an appeal “for unity and not to cause divisions”.

At present, “there are no problems with the way Mass is celebrated. Variety adds colour and beauty to the celebration” which is done “in various ways without any issue of disunity.”

“Synodality is not just listening to the members of the Synod, but talking and listening, which is a continuous process. In this [situation] I find a failure of synodality itself.”

For Fr Thelakat, “The Eucharistic celebration is a dialogical language that must take into account different needs. When you talk, you don't show your back to people. Face to face is communication and language. It is an ethical perspective. Ethics and hospitality are, to put it simply, a matter of being face to face.”