Unruly scenes inside Ernakulam-Angamaly diocese basilica over unified mass row

Fr Antony Poothavelil (right), administrator of church, stands before priests offering congregation-facing mass inside the St Mary's Cathedral Basilica in Kochi. File Photo: Facebook/ @EkmAngMajorArchEparchy

Ernakulam: Unruly scenes were witnessed inside the St Mary's Cathedral Basilica here on Friday over the festering row over unified Mass. 

Members of the laity which favour the congregation-facing Mass and those opposed to it were engaged in a war of words inside the church during the Mass.

From photographs and videos available online, two factions of priests stood at either ends of the altar offering contrasting styles of Mass at the same time. Priests in favour of congregation-facing Mass are conducting a relay-Mass and have said they will go on till Saturday morning.

Shortly after the first group of priests who favour the congregation-facing Mass had started their prayers, freshly appointed administrator, Fr Antony Poothavelil, wearing the vestment used to celebrate Mass, allegedly stood opposite them on the altar.

A member of the laity, who claims to be in favour of the unified mass, grabs candles from the altar of the St Mary's Cathedral Basilica in Kochi during a mass on Friday. Screengrab: Manorama News

Earlier this week, a group of priests and parish council members had allegedly blocked Fr Poothavelil from offering unified Mass inside the Basilica that had remained closed for nearly a month following a clash between the two factions of the laity.

Manorama News reported that members of the laity, including women, who are pro-unified Mass, obstructed the priests offering the congregation-facing Mass by taking away missal (liturgical books) and candles from the altar. Expletives were hurled inside the church, reported Manorama News.

The power inside the Basilica had been disconnected for a while, following which the Mass was held in candlelight. A team of police entered the Basilica during the Mass to control the situation and continue to camp there.

In October, Mar Andrews Thazhath, apostolic administrator of Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese, had issued a circular urging the parishes to implement the unified Mass. A large section of the laity and even a number of priests are opposed to it. The dissident priests and faithful supporting the popular congregation-facing Mass had organised a large gathering in Kochi earlier this year against the Syro-Malabar church administration's decision to implement the unified Mass.
The dispute

Tension has been brewing for a year over the standardised or uniform mode 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 had announced that the unified Mass would be conducted in all churches from November 28, 2021. However, a section in the Angamaly Archdiocese opposed the new practice.

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