India’s Eastern Church warns of false media campaign

India’s Eastern Church warns of false media campaign

Synod decision is only about uniform Eucharistic celebration and every diocese is free to follow its faith practices

UCA News reporter, Kochi Published: September 09, 2021 09:10 AM GMT
India's Eastern Church warns of false media campaign
A Syro-Malabar church in Kochuthovala in India’s Kerala state. (Photo: AFP)

The Eastern-rite Syro-Malabar Church has cautioned its faithful against falling prey to a false media campaign on implementation of uniform Eucharistic celebration in all its 35 dioceses.

A group including priests, opposed to a bishops’ synod decision announced last month, have launched a campaign saying the move aims to return the church to the pre-Portuguese era.

“This kind of propaganda is a deliberate move by some to dissuade the clergy and faithful from implementing the uniform mode of celebration of the Holy Qurbana,” said Father Alex Onampally, secretary of the Syro-Malabar Church’s media commission, in a press statement on Sept. 8.

Video messages circulating on social media alleged that with the introduction of a uniform mode of Eucharist, the church will abandon practices such as adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, Way of the Cross, the rosary, novenas and veneration of statues, and even alter Holy Week ceremonies to reflect its ancient traditions.

Father Onampally said a misconception was being spread that ancient practices such as a veil on the sanctuary and St. Thomas Cross will be brought back. However, the synod’s decision was only about Eucharistic celebration and every diocese was free to follow its faith practices.

“The current practice in each eparchy, as decided by the bishop of the eparchy, will continue,” the press statement said.

The Syro-Malabar synod, its supreme decision-making body, has approved a uniform Eucharistic celebration to end decades-old factionalism that resulted in the traditionalists introducing a veil to cover the sanctuary of churches following the Eastern tradition. The priests celebrated Mass facing the altar while some even removed the crucifix and replaced it with a simple cross without an image of Jesus.

Some traditionalists also maintained that several faith practices such as kneeling, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, Way of the Cross, the rosary, novenas and veneration of statues were not part of the Eastern tradition, saying they were introduced by Latin-rite Portuguese missioners in the 16th century.

In its effort to end the factionalism, the synod decided in 1999 that all priests would face the congregation from the beginning of the Mass until the Eucharistic prayer when they would face the altar, and then again turn toward the congregation for the concluding part.

The modernists continued to oppose the move, saying priests turning against the congregation went against the theology and teachings of the church. They appealed against it in the Vatican, calling it an attempt to push back the people to age-old customs.

Some 20 years later, in July 2021, Pope Francis wrote to the synod asking it to implement the uniform Eucharistic celebration. The synod unanimously accepted the pope’s call and issued a pastoral letter in August asking all dioceses to implement the decision from November.

The letter was scheduled to be read out in parishes on Sept. 5 but most priests in Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese, the seat of the church’s major archbishop Cardinal George Alencherry, refused and asked the bishop to seek a papal dispensation from the synod’s decision.

Some priests in Trichur Archdiocese and Irinjalakuda Diocese also reportedly opposed the synod decision and wanted to continue celebrating Mass facing the people. They have vowed to take up the issue with the Vatican, saying they want to continue the practices of more than six decades that have the approval of the church’s laws.

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