Tension continues to rise among the faithful of the Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly in Kerala, India. On October 1, 2022, several members of the Archdiocesan Movement for Transparency (AMT) expressed their dissatisfaction by publicly burning a circular by the apostolic administrator in front of his domicile.
Since the end of September, Archbishop Andrews Thazhath has benefited from heavy police protection for his travels and the meetings he attends because the situation is tense.
The pill is not going down well with the AMT, an association which brings together lay people and priests opposed to the restoration of the Syro-Malabar liturgy begun in the diocese. But in this fight, the “trads” are not necessarily those one would think.
To grasp the full complexity of the situation, it must be remembered that in the first half of the 20th century in India, two currents formed within the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church.
Two currents consist of those opposing those who wish a restoration of the rite according to the Syrian-Eastern tradition and those who call for an inculturation in the Indian fashion in order to draw closer to the supposed liturgical origins of a church founded by the Apostle St. Thomas.
It is in the name of this liturgical archaism that is resulting in such chaos that the unity of the local church was called into question.
In 1999, seeking a compromise, a Syro-Malabar synod unanimously decided, with the approval of the Holy See, that the priest would celebrate the liturgy facing the people until the offertory, then ad orientem until Communion. It is a provision against which some priests are resisting in the name of keeping “their traditions,” which go back half-a-century.
The members of the AMT, opposed to the attempt at the restoration approved by Rome, claim to represent the majority of the clergy of the archdiocese, and do not intend to give in to those who would like them to stop celebrating the liturgy facing the people throughout the service. And so they have inundated the Vatican with petitions asking for recognition of the celebration facing the people as a “liturgical variant.”
But Rome does not see it that way. In a letter dated September 20, 2022, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Dicastery for the Eastern Churches, signified a categorical “no” to the demands of opponents of the reform: “A liturgical variant for the eparchy of Ernakulam-Angamaly is therefore excluded,” the high prelate wrote to Archbishop Thazath.
And Cardinal Sandri added: “While leaving it to the pastoral care of your grace to decide on particular measures, it seems necessary to put an immediate end to the confusion about the principles, and specify that all bishops, priests, religious, and laity are bound to conform to the synodal decision on the holy liturgy.”
And to put words into action, Rome has decided to depose Msgr. Antony Kariyil, an opponent of the reform.
It was the circular written by Archbishop Thazath which was to be read from the pulpit on October 9, 2022, ignited a fierce negative reaction.