Eastern Rite Catholics in celebrated Mass outside of St. Mary’s Cathedral Basilica on Sunday, a week after authorities closed the church due to clashes between worshippers.
The cathedral and mother church of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church is located in Ernakulam, a district of the city of Kochi in Kerala state. The Syro-Malabar Church has 4.25 million members, more than half of whom are located in Kerala.
A liturgical controversy has been causing tension in the Eastern church, with many congregations resistant to a “unified” liturgy meant to end the various ways of celebrating the Eucharist within the church. Although most of the church has accepted the unified rite, the archdiocese of Ernakulam–Angamaly has been resistant to the change, which stopped the priest from facing the people during the Mass.
In July of last year, Pope Francis wrote the Syro-Malabar Church and asked for it to adopt the unified rite.
On Nov. 27, there were clashes at the cathedral between the two sides, with Archbishop Mar Andrews Thazhath being blocked at the church entrance. The police intervened and dispersed the crowd, and later called on the district administration to close the church until the situation returned to normal. Police have asked the two groups to give assurance there would be no more disturbances and sign an agreement assuring this.
On Dec. 4, the faithful lined the street in front of the cathedral, while a priest celebrated Mass alone inside. The cleric then brought communion to the faithful outside.
“It is extremely painful that the St. Mary’s Basilica is closed because conflicts between two factions based on the liturgical problem created by the Syro-Malabar Synod in Ernakulam-Angamlay Archdiocese,” said Father Paul Thelakat, the former spokesman of the Syro-Malabar Synod.
“The priests and people of the archdiocese of Ernakulam- Angamaly are asking only to be allowed to follow a ritual practice which they were in the habit of doing for years. They are not opposing any matter of faith or morals of the Church; they are simply asking a different way than what the Synod has decided without any consultation. This they are doing to impose uniformity,” the priest told Crux.
Pope Francis appointed Thazhath administrator of the Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese July 30, with a mandate to settle the liturgical dispute caused by the stiff opposition to the decision of the synod to have uniformity in the celebration of Mass.
The resistance to Thazhath took a turn Sept. 30 when he ordered all the priests to celebrate the synod-approved Mass immediately.
Most priests publicly defied the order and continued to celebrate Mass facing the people. More than 450 institutions, including 328 parishes and subparishes, have refused to follow the apostolic administrator’s orders.