04/03/2022, 10.27
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Francis to Syro-Malabars: on the liturgy obey the Synod

In a letter, the pope asked the Archieparchy of Ernakulam-Angamaly "to take a step back" in contention that pitts the largest archdiocese of this eastern rite against the others. Easter deadline for the entry into force of the unified rite of the Holy Qurbana confirmed. "We cannot afford to cause scandal".   


Kochi (AsiaNews) - In the onging standoff on the unified liturgy that has long divided the Syro-Malabar Church, Pope Francis has asked the archieparchy of Ernakulam-Angamaly - the largest among the dioceses of this rite of the Christians of India - to obey the decisions with which the Synod of this Church of the East last August had decided the deadline of Easter 2022 for the adoption of the unified version of the Holy Qurbana, the Eucharistic rite of this community.

The position is contained in a letter addressed by the pontiff to the archieparchy, which - even though it hosts in its territory the seat of the major archbishop, Cardinal George Alencherry - is led by the metropolitan vicar Antony Kariyil, who until now has been reluctant to follow the Synod's indication, opposed by a good part of the clergy and faithful. 

The pontiff's letter - written in English and released by the Vatican media - is dated March 25, the Solemnity of the Annunciation. A few days after - that is - the disconcerting spectacle aroused in India by the sensational protest with which a group of lay people in Ernakulam set on fire two mannequins with the faces of Cardinal Alencherry and the Prefect of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri. Last March 11, the Roman Prelate had already expressed the same indications which have now been put in black and white also by the Pope.  

Francis defines it as "aa paternal exhortation to the Archeparchy of Ernakulam-Angamaly, urging adherence to “the synodal decision concerning the form of celebration of the Holy Qurbana by Easter 2022”. He recalls the long journey that began as early as 1999 to arrive at a single mode of Eucharistic celebration. A compromise solution, adopted by the Synod with respect to the three different rites currently in use: it provides, in fact, that in the first part of the celebration and in the liturgy of the Word the priest turns towards the faithful, and then turns towards the altar ("in the direction in which the faithful also look") in the central part, that of the consecration and the Eucharistic rites.

However, those communities of the archieparchy of Ernakulam-Algamany, where - for 50 years now - the Holy Qurbana is celebrated entirely with the priest facing the faithful, do not want to adapt to this solution. And so far the vicar Kariyil has supported them by granting them an exemption from the norms established by the Synod. 

In the letter, however, the pope recalls that with that decision, “fully aware of the different traditions with the diverse contexts of your Church, all were asked to take a step back from their respective styles of celebration in order to offer a sign of communion born of the fact that everyone involved sacrificed something particularly their own, out of love and witness to something greater."

Unfortunately, however, Francis regretted that “as of 28 November 2021, the date chosen for the implementation of the Holy Qurbana, thirty-four Eparchies decided to enact the synodal decision.” However, “regrettably, this was not the case” in the Archeparchy of Ernakulam-Angamaly where it “chose instead to continue following your particular liturgical form, albeit after careful reflection, in isolation from the rest of the Syro-Malabar Church.” Nonetheless, the Pope notes that “it is good for us, as believers in Christ, to ask ourselves about our behaviour, how we express dissent, how we accept even difficulty and humiliation, how we take steps back.”

This "not by a criterion of human victory or defeat, of one group over another, but by looking to the Lord and accepting not only to celebrate his Easter, but to live it together with him, beginning with the upheaval and the Passion." The Pontiff reflects on the fact that Christ himself, choosing the way of the gift of his own life, "takes a step back from a human claim to affirmation, to success." For this reason, "as Church, all together, we need to live with Him and like Him, accepting also the way of humiliation and the Cross. We cannot live divided, we cannot create division, we cannot allow ourselves to give scandal," Francis stressed.

Hence the invitation to adhere to the Synod's decision, contemplating however the possibility "that “some parishes will need more time in order to carry out a more ample catechesis, as was done elsewhere, so that everyone will be prepared to accept the changes." “This is understandable,” the Pope says, “as long as it does not call into question the synodal decision.”

He adds that “as provided for in law, it is possible to ask for the necessary dispensation from the Major Archbishop, who is the Metropolitan of the Archeparchy, or with the approval of the Major Archbishop, from his Vicar” but “the dispensation would only be given for a determined amount of time in accordance with the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches.”

Francis says he is aware that he is asking for "a suffered and painful step," yet he says he finds in the archieparchy of Ernakulam-Angamaly "priests and faithful willing to remain in listening to the voice of the Lord, entrusting themselves to the advice and invitation of the pope." Moreover, he notes, "the Syro-Malabar Church has distinguished itself for this throughout the centuries, for its fidelity that has overcome many historical misunderstandings, and now flourishes in vocations and missionary style. The Lord will not forget the sacrifice you are offering him - assures Francis - but in this way you will open your heart to the abundance of his blessings."

He concludes by quoting Psalm 125 (126) "if we sow in the Lord, we can reap, if we sow wind, we will reap storm: that first of all of the scandal of division and of the counter-testimony offered in a context as delicate as yours".

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