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Five Syro-Malabar bishops express disapproval of circular warning priests over Holy Mass dispute

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KOCHI, June 20: Five bishops of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church have expressed disapproval of a recent circular issued by their church head, which warned that priests in the Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese who protest against the changes made to Holy Mass customs would be excommunicated.

The bishops have alleged that the circular “smacks of the middle-age culture of the Church.”

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The circular dated June 9, 2024, jointly by Syro-Malabar Church head Raphael Thattil — who is also the major archbishop of the Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese — and its Apostolic Administrator Bosco Puthur, was issued as a warning to priests who disagree with the synod’s suggested manner of celebrating Holy Mass.

The bishops who raised their voice in protest include Ephrem Nariculam, Jose Chittooparambil CMI, Jose Puthenveettil, Kuriakose Bharanikulangara and Sebastian Adayanthrath. They serve as bishops of various dioceses under the Syro-Malabar Church.

“Excommunication is an unheard-of term after the II Vatican Council. The Oriental Code of Canon Law (CCEO) does not envisage automatic excommunication (‘latae sententiae’),” the five bishops said in a dissent note, copies of which are in the possession of the media and were confirmed by church sources on Thursday.

The dissent note came days after the Syro-Malabar Church issued an ultimatum to the priests who do not comply with its directive to hold uniform Holy Mass in the Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese starting from 3 July this year.

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Protests were held at various Catholic churches under the Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese here on Sunday by a section of the laity against the ultimatum issued by the Syro-Malabar Church.

The bishops said it was a matter of worry that such a serious circular was issued without seeking the opinion of the synod at its scheduled online meeting.

“We, as members of the synod, had the responsibility given by the Holy Father (the Pope) to look at this issue collectively and come up with a viable solution,” they said, asking how such a serious decision that should have been taken by the synod was already prepared in advance of the synod meeting.

“How was the circular planned to be discussed in the synod leaked from our Chancery?,” the bishops asked. “It is rumoured that in the past too such things have happened.”

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The bishops clarified that they were in no way justifying the resistance to celebrating Holy mass in a uniform manner across all the churches of the Syro-Malabar Catholic church, but argued for a benevolent approach on the matter.

The bishops said they feel that in light of the recent circular, the whole archdiocese is going to be in turmoil and that is going to affect each and every one in the archdiocese, including their own family members.

Interestingly, all five dissenting bishops hail from places that fall under the Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese.

“As members of the synod and as bishops knowing well the ground realities in Ernakulam-Angamaly, we earnestly appeal to your high authority to reconsider the matter, and not to create a division in the Church. We respectfully request you to record this dissent note with our names and share this with the members of the synod,” the bishops said in the note.

The Syro-Malabar Church has not officially responded to the recent developments.

In the Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese, some priests and members of the church community disagree with the Syro-Malabar Church’s August 2021 decision on uniform Holy Mass.

This decision mandated a standardised way of conducting Holy Mass, where priests are required to face the congregation only at the beginning and end of the service, turning towards the altar for the rest of the Mass (known as the 50:50 formula).

While most dioceses under the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church have adopted this approach, many priests in the Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese, along with their parishioners, continue to oppose it.

They argue that it breaks from tradition, where the priest traditionally faces the congregation throughout the entire Mass. (PTI)






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