For several months, the position of the celebrant at Mass has become a bone of contention in the the Catholic Syro-Malabar Church, which, with its 30 dioceses in India, brings together nearly five million faithful.
As in the West half a century ago, priests and faithful divided over the question of whether Mass should be celebrated “facing the people,” or rather, as the rite requires, versus orientem, towards the East where the morning star rises, which symbolizes the eternal vigor and radiance of the redemptive sacrifice, only from which can come the salvation of the world.
The extraordinary synod of this ancient Church attached to Rome—whose tradition traces its foundation back to the apostle St. Thomas—held its first session from January 10-15, 2020, at Mount Saint Thomas, which is both its central seat, and the seat of the eparchy—or archbishopric—of Ernakulam-Angalamy.
The liturgical question was largely on the agenda of the first session: a few days before the opening of the synod, a priest from the Marymatha Major Seminary, Msgr. Varghese Njaliath, declared himself publicly in favor of the celebration facing the faithful, in the name of “the spirit of the Second Vatican Council.”
Besides—as was the case in Europe even before the Council—the diocese of Ernakulam has seen breaches of the liturgy multiply for several years, by masses celebrated facing the faithful, that is to say with the priest’s back to God.
The Hindu newspaper, in its January 16, 2020 edition, reported on the synod’s decision to implement a “renovated liturgy,” which “will come into effect upon Roman approval.”
And since the Syro-Malabar synod does not really have any dissent, it is to “guarantee liturgical unity” that the venerable use of the celebrated Mass versus orientem will thus be relegated to the mists of the past.
Drawing on the experience of the upheavals in the Roman rite, we should ask ourselves how unity could come from reinvented or even fabricated rites, foreign to liturgical tradition, and by definition, evolving. The Syro-Malabar Church is in great peril.