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NEWS: August 30, 2023
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Bird’s Eye View of the News

Atila Sinke Guimarães
THE SYRO-MALABAR RESISTANCE – We have been reading a great deal of news on the resistance of the Catholic Syro-Malabar Church against the attempt of progressivist Rome to change its liturgy. The news reports normally do not give the background of the story, or give it only partially, which makes it difficult for any reader to follow the controversy. Let me try to fill this gap with a historical view of the problem to see what Francis is trying to impose on our Catholic brothers of the East.

First, we have to take into consideration that there are three types of Catholics in India: 1) those who follow the Roman Catholic Rite, the Malabar Latin Catholics; 2) those who follow the Eastern Syriac Rite, the Syro-Malabar Catholics; 3) those who follow the Western Syriac Rite, the Syro-Malankar Catholics.

Since the 5th century, India has had Nestorian heretics deviating Catholics from the right path, and from the 16th and 17th centuries on, Protestants have been spreading their errors.

If we look for key dates of the Catholic Cause, here are some:
  • 52 – St. Thomas went to India to preach, leaving the St. Thomas Christians as followers;

  • Tomb of the Apostles St. Thomas

    Tomb of the Apostle St. Thomas in Chennai, India

  • 431 & 451 – Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople, was declared a heretic by the Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon, respectively; the St. Thomas Christians did not accept those Councils’ condemnations and became Nestorians, calling themselves the Church of the East or continuing with the name St. Thomas Christians;

  • 1321 – Franciscan and Dominican missionaries arrived in India; their followers were called Malabar Latin Catholics, that is, the converted Indians who follow the Latin Catholic Rite as it is in Rome.

  • 1329 – Pope John XXII erected the Diocese of Quilon as the first diocese of India;

  • 1498 - The Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama arrived in Calicut, capital of the Malabar Coast – today’s State of Kerala – in India, followed closely by Catholic missionaries;

  • 1534 – Pope Paul III created the Archdiocese of Goa;

  • 1541 – St. Francis Xavier SJ went to India and made many conversions;

  • 1552 – The Church of the East split, with part of it uniting with Rome; it became the Chaldean Catholic Church, following the Eastern Syriac Rite;

  • 1601 – The Pope created the Diocese of Angamaly in the State of Kerala;

  • 1653 – The St. Thomas Christians had a split: The great majority united with Rome and became the Catholic Syro-Malabar Church. A minority did not unite with Rome and became the Malankara Church. Eventually, the latter split again into the Jacobite Malankara Church and the Orthodox Malankara Church.

  • 1930 – A faction of the Orthodox Malankara Church united with Rome and became the Catholic Syro-Malankara Church. Given its relatively recent adhesion to Rome, the followers of this Catholic Malankara Rite maintained their liturgy, which is called the Western Syriac Rite and differs from the Eastern Syriac Rite adopted by the Catholic Syro-Malabar Church.
This is the historical background of the controversy.

It is upon the Catholic Syro-Malabar Church, the largest group of Catholics in India, that Pope Francis is acting with force. He is trying to impose the principles of Vatican II and Paul VI’s Liturgical Reforms on them.

Characteristics of the Syro-Malabar Rite

The followers of the Catholic Syro-Malabar Rite are 2.3 million in India, mainly in Kerala, and 4.2 million worldwide. It is the second largest group of Eastern Catholics after the Catholic Greek Ukrainian Rite (4.5 million) and larger than the Catholic Maronite Rite (3.9 million).

Synod of the Catholic Syro-Malabar Church

 Bishops or Eparches of the Catholic Syro-Malabar Church, with the Major Archeparch at their center

As far as the rite is concerned, the Eastern Syriac Rite followed by the Catholic Syro-Malabar Church originated in Edessa, Mesopotamia, and traces its origin to the Apostle St. Thomas and his disciples St. Addai and St. Mari, who succeeded St. Thomas in keeping the Catholic Faith alive in ancient Mesopotamia, today Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey. The Eastern Syriac Rite remains in use in the Chaldean Catholic Church in Iraq, with a branch in India, and in the Catholic Syro-Malabar Church based in India.

Its liturgical language is the Eastern Syriac, which is a dialect of Aramaic. Its liturgical vestments follow the Eastern pattern of solemn dress with references to the Old Testament rather than following the style of the Latin Rite. The Mass obeys the same sequence as the Latin Rite Mass, but with many variations and historic differences.

Regarding the structure of power, the Catholic Syro-Malabar Church is headed by the Major Archbishop, or Archeparch, of the Syro-Malabar. The Syro-Malabar Synod of Bishops, or Eparches, which is convoked and presided over by the Major Archbishop, is the supreme authority of the Church second only to the Pope.

Francis’ Impositions

Pope Francis, as my readers know, is using his iron rod against all Catholic organisms that have any remnant of conservatism in their structure – the Order of Malta, the Franciscans of the Immaculata, the Legionaries of Christ, the Opus Dei, to name just a few. Now he has turned his radical pogrom to destroy toward the recalcitrants among the Eastern Rites.

Pope Francis

Francis uses his iron rod to destroy
the Catholic Syro-Malabar Rite

Unfortunately, many of these Rites have succumbed to the Conciliar Revolution and changed their beautiful historical liturgies to adapt to the revolutionary tenants of Progressivism. So, we have seen with sadness the Maronite Rite, the Melchite Rite and the Ukrainian Rite change their ancient Masses based on St. John Chrysostom to be said in the vernacular and to accept women as lectors and acolytes. Other rites such as the Armenian Rite are under attack by the Vatican and are little by little giving up.

Now the time to impose the Vatican II reforms on the Syro-Malabar Rite has come. It is not difficult to realize that the Eastern religious authorities have either to accept the progressivist Vatican diktats or be dismissed from their positions. So, the Synod of the Syro-Malabar Major Archdiocesan Church accepted the progressivist reforms.

Many of the 35 Dioceses under the Major Archbishop agreed to follow the “uniform liturgical celebration” commanded by the Synod. However, many priests and a multitude of the lay faithful of the Ernakulam-Angamaly Diocese did not. They refused to abandon their bi-millennial traditions and did not accept the Synod decisions. The main demand of the new reformed liturgy is that during Mass the priest should face the people and not the altar, as was traditionally done in the Eastern Syro-Malabar Rite.

Archbishop Antony Kariyil – the Archiepiscopal Vicar of Ernakulam-Ankamaly, the largest Diocese of the Syro-Malabar Church with a half-million Catholics – issued a circular stating that he could not give his support to the Synod decision regarding a uniform Mass.

Archbishop Antony Kariyil

Archbishop Antony Kariyil

Later he gave a dispensation to the entire Diocese, releasing its faithful from following the Synod Mass. Even under pressure from the Vatican, Kariyil refused to withdraw his dispensation and instead sided with the priests and laity. Actually, 316 priests had attended a meeting asking him not to withdraw that dispensation.

Next, to demonstrate their anger, the laity set fire to effigies of Card. Leonardo Sandi, Prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, and Card. George Alencherry, the Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church.

Facing this situation Francis chose Slovac Archbishop Cyril Vasil, who had been the Rector of the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome from 2009 to 2020, to go to India and resolve the case.

His mission began on August 4, the date he arrived in India. He attacked the priests involved in the resistance as manipulators of the people and their position as a “sacrilegious rebellion.” He also threatened the resistant priests with canonical penalties including excommunication if they would not comply with the Synod decisions by August 20.

Indian Catholics burn the letter of Arch Vasil

Syro-Malabar Catholics burn the letter of Arch. Vasil outside St. Mary’s Cathedral in Ernakulam

Are you “with the Pope or against him”? he asked, implying that the resisting priests and laypeople were heading toward a schism. After receiving the letter with these threats, the laity burned Vasil’s letter outside their Cathedral.

Of the 320 parishes of the Archdiocese, only six adopted the “uniform Mass.”

Francis called Arch. Vasil back to Rome. The 20th of August – the deadline for the excommunication – came and went without any enforcement of Vasil’s threats…

Let us see what happens next. It is a case to follow and to pray for.

I hope that our brothers of the Catholic Syro-Malabar Church will continue in their heroic resistance and not fall into any schism, but instead give their noble position a consistent doctrinal base. They might make an official statement to their religious authorities, who are subserviently complying with Progressivism, that it is more Catholic to follow a 2,000-year-old tradition coming from St. Thomas, than to adapt to a utopian new doctrine that comes from Vatican II, only 60 years ago.

Based on this argument they might resist the progressivist authority and remain inside the Catholic Church. The strength of their position lies entirely on this latter condition.


Blason de Charlemagne
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