The dispute over the celebration of a unified liturgy in the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church has led to the resignation of a bishop in southern India.

Archbishop Antony Kariyil, the 72-year old Archiepiscopal Vicar of Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese in Kerala state, stepped down on July 26, UCA News reported

The news followed several days of media reports about rumours Kariyil had been asked to resign by the Vatican’s representative in India, the apostolic nuncio, over the refusal to adopt a “uniform”, or unified liturgy .    

The Eucharistic liturgy of the Syro-Malabar Church, known as the Holy Qurbana, has been the subject of a decades-long dispute

In July 2021, Pope Francis issued a letter exhorting “all the clergy, religious and lay faithful to proceed to a prompt implementation of the uniform mode of celebrating the Holy Qurbana.”

One month later, in a pastoral letter issued on Aug. 27, 2021, Cardinal George Alencherry, head of the Church, called on the clergy and the faithful to set aside “individual preferences” and to work toward unity.

In March 2022, activists set fire to effigies of Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, the prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Eastern Churches, and Cardinal Alencherry.

Pope Francis addressed a letter to those opposing the introduction of a uniform liturgy in April 2022. In a three-page letter addressed to members of the Archeparchy of Ernakulam-Angamaly, the pope noted that the Synod of Bishops of the Eastern Catholic Church based in India had endorsed the move.

Mar Joseph Srampickal is consecrated Bishop of the Syro-Malabar Eparchy of Great Britain at Preston North End stadium on Oct. 9, 2016. Photo .
Mar Joseph Srampickal is consecrated Bishop of the Syro-Malabar Eparchy of Great Britain at Preston North End stadium on Oct. 9, 2016. Photo .

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The reasons for the liturgical dispute are both historical and complex.

Mar Joseph Srampickal, Bishop of the Syro-Malabar Eparchy of Great Britain, said to CNA in December 2021, “unfortunately, there exists certain regional groupism and ego-centered sectarianism in the Syro-Malabar Church.”

“For the ordinary faithful, there is no issue at all,” Srampickal said. 

The Syro-Malabar Catholic Church is the second-largest Oriental Catholic Church. Based in the state of Kerala, India, it is an autonomous Church in full communion with the Vatican, with self-governance under the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches.

It is the largest of the churches that trace their origin to St. Thomas the Apostle, who is believed to have traveled as far as India during his missionary journeys. The members of these churches are known collectively as the “St. Thomas Christians.”

The name “Syro-Malabar” is a combination of the words “Syriac,” referring to its East Syriac Rite liturgy, and “Malabar,” an older name for Kerala. 

The Church has more than four million members worldwide, with eparchies in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Australia and New Zealand serving diaspora communities. 

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