An Ultimatum for the Syro-Malabar Archeparchy of Ernakulam-Angalamy

August 21, 2023
A Syro-Malabar church in the Ernakulam-Angalamy Archeparchy

The pontifical delegate sent to the diocese of Ernakulam-Angalamy, Kerala-India, to resolve the liturgical quarrel which divides Syro-Malabar Catholics raised his voice and evoked the ecclesiastical sanctions that could be taken against the priests tempted to persist in their disobedience.

“Vasil go home!” The tone was set shortly after the arrival of Archbishop Vasil in Kerala on August 4, 2023, and the days followed one another to the rhythm of protests from the faithful, encouraged by part of the clergy, who did not want the application of the “uniform liturgy,” decreed by the local Catholic hierarchy, and by Rome itself.

Behind this liturgical quarrel is the will of some Catholics to refuse the return to a rite that corrects deviations that have appeared over the previous decades. Despite the direct appeal made to them by Pope Francis, a notable part of the priests and lay people of the archdiocese demand the use of a rite which represents a break with the Syro-Malabar tradition.

By sending a personal delegate of the Holy Father, Msgr. Cyril Vasil, Rome seems to be playing its last card and giving a final chance to the recalcitrants to fall into line. This is also the feeling that prevailed during the Mass of the Assumption celebrated by the Slovak prelate in the cathedral of Cochin, on August 15th.

Archbishop Vasil addressed all the faithful during his homily in these terms: “I would like to ask each of you the question: are you with or against the Holy Father? Do you wish to remain members of your Syro-Malabar Church, or do you prefer to follow the troublemakers who lead you towards disobedience to the Pope and to the legitimate pastors to whom you have been entrusted?”

It was his way of warning the priests and the faithful that they may incur the most severe penalties provided for by Church law against seditious persons: “I warn you that the only fruit that will come out of this protest and this attitude of continued rejection will be a source of great evils for the Church, will constitute a great scandal for those who observe you, and will cause spiritual damage which is the fruit of disobedience to the will of God.”

The representative of the Holy See was not satisfied with vague threats. He sent a letter to all the priests of the Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly urging them to implement the unified Holy Mass beginning on August 20, reported The New Indian Express on August 18, 2023.

The ball is now in the court of the opponents of the liturgical corrections of the Syro-Malabar Mass. It is difficult to see how said opponents will be able to get out of the impasse they have gotten themselves into: hunger strikes, physical violence, and church occupations have followed one another for several months.

Thus, Fr. Kuriakose Mundadan, secretary of the presbyteral council, declared that 450 of the 470 priests in the archdiocese were not ready for any compromise. It remains to be seen whether the dissidents are as die-hard as they claim.

It is possible that the opposition, if they stay large and united enough, will end up getting something, though it's hard to guess what that might be.

One thing is certain: the current drama that the Kerala Catholics are experiencing is unfolding under the mocking gaze of the Hindus of the nationalist party, who are already rejoicing in a quarrel which can only weaken a Church.