I wrote last month about Pope Francis’ letter on the Syro-Malabar liturgy. Pope Francis wanted to foster to “a uniform mode of celebrating the Holy Qurbana, considering this an important step towards increasing stability and ecclesial communion.”
Now it is being reported in the press that all “456 priests of the Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly have written to Pope Francis saying they want to continue to offer Mass facing people, a practice that the Syro-Malabar eparchy has followed for the past 50 years.”
Again, please allow me to stress that I am well outside my area of expertise when dealing with liturgy in the Syro-Malabar Church. But I believe that since their union with Rome and particularly under the Portuguese from the 1500’s many Latinizations crept into the Syro-Malabar liturgy. Immediately after Vatican II some of the reforms that were applied to the Roman Rite were also adopted by Syro-Malabar priests. Over the last few years there has been an official encouragement from the Congregation for the Oriental Churches to readopt Eastern practices to bring the liturgy in the Eastern Churches in full communion with the Holy See more in line with the liturgy as celebrated in the Eastern Churches that are not in full communion with the Holy See.
While this is a laudable goal, it does not always meet with agreement from the Christians who worship in these Churches. Over time the Latinizations (be they historical or simply coming from the post-Vatican II renewal of the Roman Rite) have become part of the prayer lives of these Christians and whatever the reason they simply are happy with things the way they are and have little desire to change.
A case in point is the direction the celebrant faces during the Eucharistic Prayer or Anaphora. Apparently, some priests of the Syro-Malabar Church celebrate facing the assembly (versus populum) and others celebrate facing East (ad orientem). The priests of the Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly apparently are used to celebrate facing the assembly. It is interesting that each and every one of the 456 priests agreed to sign the letter. A Synod will take place in the Syro-Malabar Church from 16-24 August and it will consider the implementation of the newly published Raza Qurbana Taksa. it seems that the priests of this Archdiocese are afraid that the Church as a whole will decide to adopt “a uniform mode of celebrating the Holy Qurbana” in which the anaphora would be prayed ad orientem.
Personally I believe that it is normally more pastorally effective to celebrate versus populum, but I realize that there are other factors at play here. But I will be watching from the sidelines and keeping the Syro-Malabar Church in my prayers hoping that they are able to balance unity with pastoral effectiveness and charity.