Rift over unified Mass: Nine bishops write to Cardinal Alencherry

Unified Mass Conflict | Screengrab: Manorama News
The issue started when devotees opposing the unified mass locked the gate of the St Mary’s Basilica, Ernakulam from the inside. Photo: Screengrab/MMTV

Kochi: Amid the rift in the Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese under the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church over the unified Mass, nine bishops have written to Major Archbishop Cardinal Mar George Alencherry seeking measures to restore peace.

They also wanted the Cardinal to take suitable steps to reopen the St Mary’s Cathedral Basilica at Ernakulam, which is the headquarters of the archdiocese, after the police ordered its closure over last Sunday's tense situation.

Two groups of devotees, one favouring a new form of unified Mass proposed by the Synod and the other opposing the new procedure, had clashed at the basilica on November 27, leading to its closure.

The archbishops who signed the petition are Mar Antony Kariyil and Mar Kuriakose Bharanikulangara, while the bishops are Mar Thomas Chakiath, Mar Gratian Mundadan, Mar Dominic Kokkat, Mar Jose Chittooparambil, Mar Sebastian Adayanthrath, Mar Ephrem Nariculam and Mar Jose Puthenveettil.

The signatories said in their letter that they welcomed the setting up of a panel of bishops to discuss the dispute. However, the attempt of Archdiocese Administrator Mar Andrews Thazhathu to offer the Synod-prescribed Mass at St Mary’s Basilica precipitated the crisis.

“Even though there is disagreement with the decision of the Synod, we welcome the decision taken collectively by the religious body. However, around five lakh devotees and 470 priests under the archdiocese oppose the new Mass. The bishops cannot ignore their protests,” the letter said.

Church unhappy with leak

The Syro-Malabar Church expressed displeasure over the leak of the letter written by the bishops to the Cardinal. “Publicizing internal matters isn’t the normal practice in the church,” it said.

The authorities also termed baseless, reports suggesting a major rift among the clergy and a crisis in Syro-Malabar Church.

“A section of people are resorting to irreligious methods to oppose the move to implement a decision of the synod. As Administrator, Mar Andrews Thazhathu was only following the instructions of the Pope to offer the unified Mass at St Mary’s Basilica,” it said.

Moreover, an official communication was issued to the vicar and rector to perform the unified Mass at St Mary’s Basilica and minor seminary on November 27. But, those opposing the unified Mass had locked the gate of the basilica before Mar Thazhathu arrived, said the Syro-Malabar Church authorities.

What is the dispute all about

Tension has been brewing for a year over the standardised form of worship that has upset a section of the laity and the clergy. As per the new practice ordered by the Vatican "the priest will face the congregation until the Eucharistic prayer, and then again from Communion to the end of the Mass. During the Eucharistic prayer, he will face the altar against the congregation."

The Synod of bishops of the Syro-Malabar Church announced that the unified Mass would be conducted in all churches from November 28, 2021. However, a section in the Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese opposed the new practice.

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