A Uniform Mode of Celebrating

The Press Office of the Holy See released a letter of Pope Francis on the Syro-Malabar liturgy today.

In the letter the Holy Father urges the members of the Syro-Malabar Church  to foster to “a uniform mode of celebrating the Holy Qurbana, considering this an important step towards increasing stability and ecclesial communion”.

This is the full text of the short letter:

To the Bishops, Clergy, Religious and Laity of the Syro-Malabar Church

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

The Holy See regards with special approval and encouragement the agreement unanimously reached by the Synod of Bishops of the Syro-Malabar Church in 1999 – and repeatedly endorsed in subsequent years – for a uniform mode of celebrating the Holy Qurbana, considering this an important step towards increasing stability and ecclesial communion within the whole body of your beloved Church. The concerted efforts towards applying this auspicious development in the great Jubilee Year 2000 gave joyful confidence in your sui iuris Church to my saintly predecessor Pope John Paul II.

Notwithstanding some difficulties, which require ongoing discernment in the life of your vibrant Church, the approved norms for the Eucharistic celebration have borne considerable fruit including evangelization in those places, especially the missionary Eparchies, where the whole community has joined in peaceful and prayerful observance, interpreting the continuing consensus of the Hierarchy as a fruit of the Holy Spirit.

I strongly urge the Syro-Malabar Bishops to persevere, and I confirm their ecclesial “walking together” with God’s people, trusting that “time is greater than space” (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 222-225) and that “unity prevails over conflict” (cf. ibid, 226-230).I willingly take the occasion of the recognition of the new Raza Qurbana Taksa to exhort all the clergy, religious and lay faithful to proceed to a prompt implementation of the uniform mode of celebrating the Holy Qurbana, for the greater good and unity of your Church. May the Holy Spirit foster harmony, fraternity and unity among all members of your Church as you work to implement the Synodal decision.

Entrusting all of you to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Holy Patriarch Saint Joseph and the Apostle Saint Thomas, I gladly impart my Apostolic Blessing. I assure you of my closeness in prayer and ask you, please, to pray for me.


Rome, Saint John Lateran, 3 July 2021

I have no real experience of the Syro-Malabar Church or Rite.  But it is a very important Eastern Church in Communion with Rome with over 4 million members.  A number of websites discuss some problems with the new liturgical rites of the Syro-Malabar Church and a newspaper article from last year mentions problems with the orientation of the celebration of the Eucharist. The various Eastern Churches in India have a common origin in the Thomas Christians, but are still suffering from divisions that followed the Portuguese colonization of India and the attempts of the Portuguese to reform the local Church.  This led to the split of the original Thomas Christians into a myriad of different groupings. The Academia page of Prof. Paul Pallath of Rome’s Oriental Institute provides the best material for further study of these liturgical rites.

The Syro-Malabar rite was revised after the Synod of Diamper of 1599. Over the years it was gradually Latinized through contact with different European missionaries.  In the twentieth century there was an attempt to renew the Syro-Malabar liturgy under Pope Pius XII and the renewal of the Roman Rite after Vatican II did have some influence on how the Syro-Malabar liturgy was celebrated.  A lot of the tensions there seem to be between those who want to strip the liturgy of its Latin influences and return to its East Syrian roots. I think this is the context in which the letter of Pope Francis must be interpreted. The Pope encourages unity and point out that in spite of “some difficulties … the uniform mode of celebrating” the liturgical rites will lead to “the greater good and unity of [the] Church … [and] foster harmony, fraternity and unity among all members of [the] Church”


  1. Back in 2003 my wife and I attended the “Ecumenical Theology from a Roman Catholic Perspective” at the Centro Pro Unione. I believe it was the 3rd week when the Spyro-Malabar Rite was likely taught. Recalling the excellent instruction and reading this article made me muse then and now how much r”ecclesial gymnastics” (my term) Rome went and goes through to bring these distant relatives back into the Roman fold….and how she and the Lutherans can’t seem to agree on recognition of clergy and Eucharistic sharing. Amen. Come Lord Jesus!

  2. One of the confusing effects of colonialism was that some of the Thomas Christians get influenced by Anglicans when Britain ruled there, and there is some kind of Syro-Malabar church which is highly modified by that contact, and is in communion with Canterbury, etc.

  3. My understanding is the 1999 Synod decision Pope Francis is referring to was about (believe it or not) ad orientem vs versus populum, as there was significant disputes about introducing the Vatican II influenced preference for versus populum into this rite (which it didn’t traditionally have).

    The 1999 Synod basically adopted a compromise position, where the priest will face east from the Eucharistic prayers until Communion, and the people for the rest of the liturgy.

    Which is interesting, because it reflects the interaction between two principles of liturgical reform expressly stated at Vatican II, being both the idea Eastern rites should delatinize / maintain their own integrity (c/f Orientalium Ecclesiarum), and the adoption of the principles SC otherwise proposed for the Latin rite.

    In this papal decision, we see I think that both of these principles need to be respected, which
    relativizes some of the more fundamentalist approaches to both ideas (i.e. we can’t say either principle is an absolute doctrinal one, which is required to fully/best express Catholic worship).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *