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Kerala: Two Christian groups again clash over which direction to face during prayers, altar of Cathedral in Kochi vandalised ahead of Christmas

Two groups are fighting over which direction to face while offering prayers, one group says the priests should face the people, while the other group that supports the unified mass says the priests should face the altar during the mass.

A day before the Christmas festival, violent clashes erupted at Saint Mary’s Cathedral Basilica in Kerala’s Kochi between two groups of devotees over the procedure of offering the unified mass. The advocates of the unified holy Mass approached the church as the other group was offering Mass in front of the congregation. The altar was destroyed in the ensuing conflict between the two factions. Two groups are fighting over which direction to face while offering prayers, one group says the priests should face the people, while the other group that supports the unified mass says the priests should face the altar during the mass.

According to the reports, the Christians who support the Mass facing the people also offered the Mass on Friday night. On Saturday morning, however, individuals who favour the Synod-approved manner of Mass facing the altar gathered at the Cathedral to express their displeasure.

On Friday, the diocesan administrator selected by the Church’s official authority and the archdiocese’s dissident pastors stood face to face on each side of the altar table. Dissident priests, according to administrator Fr Antony Poothavelil, celebrated back-to-back Holy mass in an attempt to prevent him from accessing the altar and performing mass in the manner approved by the synod. Other priests, however, stated that Fr Poothavelil purposefully caused the issues by entering the altar and disturbing the ongoing mass.

Having to seize control of the church before 10 am, demonstrators vandalized all artifacts placed on the altar and wrecked mayhem. Despite the fact that extra officers were dispatched to disperse the demonstrators, the attempts proved worthless.

Even amid the violence, a group of Christians attempted to celebrate the holy Mass in front of the altar. The cops were restricted to take strict action as the confrontation took place within the basilica. The supporters of the unified holy Mass said that the rebel group had been carrying out the “Mass of evil” for the last three days by threatening the administrator.

For several decades, the Syro-Malabar Church’s jurisdictions have used various modalities of offering mass. While one portion of the priests faces the congregation, another faces the altar. In several other dioceses, the Church practices a hybrid of the two. According to the universal style of offering Mass, priests and bishops from all dioceses must conduct the ritual while facing the altar throughout the ceremony.

The archdiocese’s priests continued to conduct Mass until late at night on Friday, resulting in a clash between the two groups of people at one point which even continued on Saturday. A congregation that supported the priests said that ladies from the opposing side entered the altar during the Mass and interrupted it by removing sacred items and literature. Given the circumstances, police officers were stationed in large numbers in the area.

Earlier on November 27, a similar confrontation between two groups of devotees over the procedure of offering the unified Mass on Sundays was reported from St Mary’s Cathedral Basilica in Kerala’s Kochi. Archbishop Andrews Tazhath, the Apostolic Administrator, was even stopped from entering the Basilica by devotees who opposed the implementation of the unified mass service. Another group of devotees attempted to break the lock, which further fanned tension. Reportedly, the violent protestors also damaged church property.

Notably, in August 2021, the Synod of the Syro Malabar Catholic Church decided to enforce a uniform method of conducting Holy Mass across its churches. It is important to mention here that offering mass is believed to be the best procedure of worship among Christians.

The synod decided that all churches must use the same mass format, with priests facing the gathering of devotees during the introduction and conclusion of the masses and facing the altar during the main part of the mass. However, the Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese opposed the implementation of a new format without discussions.

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OpIndia Staff
OpIndia Staffhttps://www.opindia.com
Staff reporter at OpIndia

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