Unified Mass: Bishops of Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese voice dissent over excommunication threat

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Kochi: In a significant development within the Syro-Malabar Church, bishops from the Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly have registered a strong dissent against the recent move to potentially excommunicate priests deviating from the mandate to hold unified Mass services. The Syro-Malabar Church had mandated all churches in the Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese to hold unified Mass services from July 3.

The dissent was conveyed in a formal letter addressed to  Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church Mar Raphael Thattil. The bishops — Mar Ephrem Nariculam, Mar Jose Chittooparambil CMI, Mar Jose Puthenveettil, Mar Kuriakose Bharanikulangara, and Mar Sebastian Adayanthrath — expressed deep concerns over a circular jointly issued by Mar Thattil and Bishop Bosco Puthur, the Apostolic Administrator.

In their letter, the bishops highlighted several points of contention. Though the priests assured of their commitment to synodal decisions on uniformity in Qurbana celebration, they questioned the hasty issuance of the circular without prior discussion at the Synod. They cited Pope Francis’ emphasis on dialogue and unity in the Church, contrasting it with what they perceive as a unilateral decision-making process.

“The Circular issued by Your Beatitude (Mar Thattil) and the Administrator reflects a medieval approach contrary to the spirit of the Church post-Vatican II,” the letter stated. The bishops also expressed dismay over the potential long-term consequences of the circular, which they fear could deepen divisions and erode faith within the community. They called for a reconsideration of the decision and urged for a more consultative and reconciliatory approach to resolving the current crisis.

The bishops concluded their letter with an appeal to Mar Thattil to record their dissent formally and share it with all members of the Synod. They offered their willingness to engage in dialogue to resolve the issue while upholding the virtue of obedience.

The circular issued by Metropolitan Major Archbishop Mar Raphael Thattil, dated June 9, warned that dissenting priests would be removed from priestly duties if they do not adhere to the unified mass directive by July 4. Pope Francis had personally urged this twice via papal communication and once in a direct video message, the circular said. Marriages performed by non-compliant priests will not be recognized by the Church. Priests serving outside the Archdiocese or studying further must submit an affidavit affirming their commitment to the unified Mass; failure to comply will result in suspension. The circular criticised dissenting priests and laity for complicating the Eucharist dispute with negative propaganda and warned of exclusion from the Catholic communion for those challenging Church authority and discipline.

The issue of the circular had led to large-scale protests with many believers throwing the Archbishop’s letter into the trash can. In defiance of the directive, the laity at Elamkulam Little Flower Church, Ernakulam, tore down the circular and discarded it into a waste bin after Sunday’s Mass. Similar protests erupted at Puthiyakavu St Francis Xavier Church, Ernakulam St Mary’s Syro-Malabar Cathedral Basilica and Tripunithura St Mary’s Forane Church, where the laity, supporting the priests, set the synod circular on fire.

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