On December 24, St. Mary’s Cathedral (Basilica) in Kochi witnessed violent clashes between two factions of believers. It is regarding a slight change instructed by the Pope. It is in the methodology of the liturgy. Formerly, priests used to face the believers during the entire liturgy. According to the change introduced by the Pope recently, the priest has to face the altar when he performs trans substantiation. It is the ritual in which the priest holds bread in one hand and wine in the other. After some prayers, he says it is flesh and blood of Jesus. It is an essential part of the liturgy.
On December 23 evening, while some priests were performing the holy communion facing the congregation in Archdiocese Cathedral, that is the St. Mary’s Basilica, Father Anthony Puthuvelil reached the altar and served the revised holy communion by facing away from the congregation on the lines of the new system instructed by the Vatican, read, Pope. It led to an altercation between two ‘groups’. Even women were involved in it. Fifteen people, including two women, intruded into the altar, took the Liturgy book, Bible, Holy Osthi (holy bread made of wheat) and Kasa (vessel of wine) away from the pedestal, and maltreated the priests. Laity alleges that police remained mute spectators.
The hostility started on December 23 and spilt over to the next day, Christmas eve. The pro ‘face-the-congregation’ group alleged that police supported those who came there to perform the revised liturgy. Then both groups performed liturgy in their respective manners. And on December 24 morning, St. Mary’s Basilica witnessed physical clashes between both groups. Even though the police force was there, they made it clear that they could only intervene when law and order issues took place, they could not interfere in religious matters. Therefore, both groups alleged police support to their opponents. Both groups of Layman Association (Almayas) exchanged hot exchange of allegations. Some people went to the extent of shouting abuse. The mob repeated the mischief of December 23, threw away the holy paraphernalia, and demolished the sacrificial pedestal and altar. Now eleven priests are hospitalised after the aforementioned physical skirmishes.
Father Anthony Puthuvelil reached the altar and served the revised holy communion by facing away from the congregation on the lines of the new system instructed by the Vatican, read, Pope. It led to an altercation between two ‘groups’
Even though the police invited both groups for a compromise talk, they were not ready, thanks to their allegation that police needed to interfere correctly. At last, Additional District Magistrate invited them for an interview. During the talk, it was decided to keep the Church locked until a solution arose.
Now, both groups are exchanging allegations concerning the reasons and responsibility for the untoward incidents in Basilica. For the first time in the history of Basilica, midnight liturgy or ‘mass’ did not occur this year. Cardinal Mar George Alencherry has lambasted the above incidents and the people behind them. Here are the primary reasons for this religious enmity within the Syro Malabar Church.
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Syro Malabar Church faces severe internal squabbling. It is in the Ernakulam- Angamaly diocese. Syro Malabar, despite having independence or autonomy in its routine affairs as granted by the Pope, the ultimate superior of all denominations of the Catholic Church, comes under the Vatican, read Pope. For the last about a decade, it has been controlled by not less a priest than a Cardinal. Cardinal belongs to the highest controlling body of the Catholic Church, second only to the Pope. A Cardinal will be elected as a Pope when the incumbent abdicates or dies.
But, now, the command of Cardinal Mar George Alencherry, the Major Archbishop of Syro Malabar Catholic Church, has been challenged by the priests of the same Church. What is the dispute? It is regarding a slight change instructed by the Pope. It is in the methodology of the liturgy. Formerly, priests used to face the believers during the entire liturgy. According to the change introduced by the Pope recently, the priest has to face the altar when he performs trans substantiation. It is the ritual when the priest holds bread in one hand and wine in the other. After some prayers, he says it is flesh and blood of Jesus. It is an essential part of the liturgy.
The change in the ritual is logically correct. Until this reform was introduced, the priest faced the believers and never at the altar. Therefore, several beliefs think that this is a welcome change. Some insiders told this correspondent to let the priests look at the altar at least for some time while performing trans substantiation. But, some priests still need to be ready to accept this change. They consider it as a deviation from the divine path. Trans substantiation is sacrosanct in the liturgy of all Christian denominations.
The priests and some ‘believers’ who challenge the introduction of the reforms in the ritual above conveniently forget that the change was as recommended by the Synod appointed by the Pope. In other words, it has gotten the nod from Christianity’s highest religious seat. Interestingly, the priesthood had accepted the liturgy prayers translated into Malayalam from Latin. It was translated by Father Abel Periyappuram a few decades ago. Until then, every religious prayer sung during liturgy was in Latin. Their translation to Malayalam was a part of the Indianisation process kicked off by Father Joseph Parekattil when he was made Cardinal in 1969. The entire Syro Malabar community embraced it wholeheartedly.
Father Abel was very much fond of music, and he enjoyed the craft of writing payer songs. Therefore, the worshippers found it easy to see divinity in them. They wanted the rhythm in his works. And the believers who were not fortunate enough to learn Latin could follow what was happening in the prayers. It only increased their bhakti, their dedication to the divinity. They got more concentration on the rituals when they could handle them in their mother tongue.
Notably, 35 out of 36 dioceses of Syro Malabar, spread worldwide, have accepted the reforms in the liturgy. Ernakulam- Angamaly Diocese is the only exemption. The priests are up in arms, like when factionalism occurs in a political party.
According to the change introduced by the Pope recently, the priest has to face the altar when he performs trans substantiation. It is the ritual when the priest holds bread in one hand and wine in the other. After some prayers, he says it is flesh and blood of Jesus. It is an essential part of the liturgy
The new reform has been approved by the Eastern Church’s Body appointed by the Pope. In other words, it is the will of the Pope. The Vatican sets a Cardinal. Cardinal appoints the priests in his diocese. Pope appoints the Synod. They all mean that Pope is the ultimate authority of the Catholic Church in any part of the world. So now, by challenging the power of the Cardinal, they are challenging the head of the Pope himself. Lakhs of believers are sorry about this state of affairs in Syro Malabar Church.
Some ardent believers told this correspondent that this is pathetic and should not have happened in the Christian society. They are afraid it will create a severe infight in their community. They cannot tolerate the challenge raised to the Cardinal, let alone Pope. They must avoid envisaging a situation where two factions of believers fight each other. They have been watching what is happening between Orthodox and Yacobite Churches in Kerala. The legal cases going on in the court are more than a century old.
Still lot of churches are locked due to the order of the courts, and even cemeteries are closed, thanks to the claims by both factions to be their natural heirs. A lot of physical clashes also have taken place in this regard. God knows how many police actions were required to quell the physical attacks between the two factions. When their conferences or training camps occasionally occur, the believers shower the choicest abuses of all sorts on the spiritual leaders of the other factions. They were worse than the fights among political outfits in Kerala. Syro Malabar followers are afraid of similar incidents taking place in their denomination. Therefore, they are looking for the quickest solution to this issue.
Some believers think the priests who uttered insulting abuses against the Cardinal would soon be expelled from the Church. The Cardinal appoints them all as the authority on behalf of the Pope. Therefore, the appointing authority reserves all powers to sack whom they designate. If such a happening occurs, the sacked priests will be left with no other option but to leave their positions and go home peacefully because believers will not be in the mood to join hands with the rebelling priests in their fight against the Cardinal and Pope. If the rebels believe they can control the churches against the will and pleasure of the Cardinal and Pope, they are in the fools’ paradise.
A perfervid believer, who prefers anonymity, told this correspondent that the whole issue arises due to the superiority complex of some priests who claim the heredity of so-called upper-class Hindus like Namboothiris and Nairs. He says they are arrogant and look down on the Dalit Christians as they belonged to the so-called low-caste Hindus before they embraced Christianity. There is an interesting story behind this. Some Christians believe that St. Thomas, a direct disciple of Jesus, came to Kerala and converted Namboothiris and Nairs to Christianity. Therefore, some Christians with the aforementioned ‘superiority complex’ beat their drums that they are the descendants of those ‘superior’ ancestors. The fun is that the Vatican later declared that St. Thomas had not visited Kerala at all.
Therefore, when one goes deep into the Church’s rivalries, many “hidden” disputes come to the surface.
In Ernakulam city (Kochi), St. Mary’s Basilica was opened last week with the help of the Police force. It remained closed for the previous 24 days. Newly appointed Administrator Father Antony Puthuvelil tried to perform liturgy, but the Almaya Coordination Council, which has been campaigning against the reformed liturgy, resisted. And Father Puthuvelil had to give up the idea and leave.
Therefore, light has yet to be seen at the end of the tunnel. Some peace-loving believers are worried about a situation when the rebels snap the ties with the Vatican. They fear it will be a rude shock to their religion and faith. They cannot understand if heaven will fall if the new liturgy is implemented.