An Indian archbishop was given a police escort when he left a meeting with clergy Thursday, after the Vatican instructed him to introduce a new mode of celebrating the liturgy “without further delays.”
Archbishop Andrews Thazath was accompanied by police as he left a presbyteral council meeting in the Syro-Malabar Archeparchy of Ernakulam-Angamaly on Sept. 29, according to Indian media.
The bishop was appointed apostolic administrator of the archeparchy on July 30, after the resignation of Archbishop Antony Kariyil, who had dispensed clergy from adopting the uniform mode of celebrating the Syro-Malabar Church’s Eucharistic liturgy, known as the Holy Qurbana.
The uniform mode requires Syro-Malabar priests to face the congregation during the Liturgy of the Word and then turn east for the Liturgy of the Eucharist. It was introduced in 1999 as a compromise between those who favored Mass celebrated ad orientem and those who preferred it celebrated versus populum.
The decision to implement a uniform liturgy was made by the Synod of Bishops of the Syro-Malabar Church — the second-largest of the 23 self-governing Eastern Catholic Churches after the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church — and endorsed by Pope Francis.
But the push for a uniform liturgy has met fierce resistance in the Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese, with protesters burning cardinals’ effigies, holding a hunger strike, and brawling in the streets.
The majority of clergy in the archdiocese say they want to continue facing the people throughout the Eucharistic liturgy, a practice they have followed for the past 50 years.
Priests have inundated the local Church authorities and the Vatican with requests for the celebration of the Holy Qurbana facing the people to be recognized as a “liturgical variant.”
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But in a letter dated Sept. 20, Vatican Cardinal Leonardo Sandri told Archbishop Thazath that dispensations could only be issued under strict conditions “with the intention of imparting effective catechesis for the implementation of the Synodal form.”
“While leaving any additional pastoral practicalities to the prudential judgment of Your Grace, it seems necessary immediately to end confusion about the principles and to make clear beyond any doubt that all the bishops, priests, religious and laity are obliged to comply with the Synodal decision on the Sacred Liturgy,” the prefect of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches wrote.
“A liturgical variant for the Archeparchy of Ernakulam-Angamaly is therefore excluded.”
Cardinal Sandri added: “Your Grace should implement with pastoral and paternal prudence the Synodal decision on the uniform mode without further delays, following the previous directives of the Apostolic See.”
Archbishop Thazath, who has served as Archbishop of Trichur since 2007, formed a new presbyteral council for the Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese on Sept. 27. The 60 members will serve until 2027.
The archbishop called a meeting of the presbyteral council on Sept. 29 at the Major Archbishop’s House in Ernakulam, which he left accompanied by police.
A reported 50,000 people attended a protest on Aug. 7 following the resignation of Archbishop Kariyil as archiepiscopal vicar of Ernakulam-Angamaly and the appointment of Archbishop Thazhath as apostolic administrator.
Archbishop Kariyil, who was later hospitalized after suffering an “episode of seizure,” published a six-page open letter in August, in which he said that Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli, the apostolic nuncio to India, had told him to submit his resignation within 24 hours.
“The nuncio informed that in the eventuality of non-resignation, the process of dismissal would commence immediately,” he wrote.
Archbishop Girelli has not commented publicly on the open letter.
Learn more about the Church's Church's Syro-Malabar liturgy war