No.33 - August 31, 2023
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Saint Chavara
A Reformer of the Liturgy of Thomas Christians

Prof. Francis Kanichikattil cmi.

  Dr. Francis Kanichikattil, was, for long time, Professor of Sacraments and Liturgy at Dharmaram Vidyakshetram, Bangalore. He did his Licentiate in ‘Theology of Sacraments and Liturgy’ from Catholic University of Paris, and Doctorate in Liturgy from Heythrope College, University of London. His ongoing research is in the area of Liturgy and Inculturation. The present article explains the Liturgical Reform initiated by the Saint Chavara for a spiritual revival of Thomas Christians in 19th century. That means, even before the II Vatican Reform of the Liturgy, Saint Chavara had a vision of renewing the Liturgy of his Church for the spiritual benefit of the People of God.  Some of the publications of the Author : To Restore Or To Reform? (A critical study of the Syro-Malabar Liturgical Reform  (1991),  Divine Liturgy in the Vision of Narsai (2003), Search for Liturgy in India (2018)

          Saint Kuriakose Elias Chavara was an ecclesiastical luminary in the horizon of the Malabar Church of Thomas Christians in 19th century. When he was the Vicar General, he steadily revised the liturgy in view of awakening the sacramental life of the clergy and the people, and thereby ensuring a spiritual renewal within the Church. He wrote Thukasa to keep an order in the celebration of the Eucharistic Liturgy; compiled the Divine Office for the clergy and religious; formed a new liturgical calendar for the use of Thomas Christians and so on. Thus with the help of confreres of his own congregation, he made a renewal in the liturgical life of his Church. Regarding the revision of the liturgical texts he left no stones unturned, he passed through all the liturgical books of the Malabar Christians of 19th century


1. Kerala Society during the Time of Saint Chavara:

The Socio- Ecclesiastical set up of the Kerala society was very confusing and complex during 19th century. Illiteracy, Poverty, Superstitions, Caste difference, Child marriage etc. were inflicting the Kerala Society from the sociological point of view. The people experienced sheer starvation and Caste difference was at its zenith. No one helped or regarded each other. English Education already started at certain parts of India, but not very common in Kerala during the first half of the century. Yet the breeze of the Western Education was slowly diffusing in the Kerala society. The Basil Evangelical Mission (BEM) was in north Kerala and the German Missionaries gave leadership for it. They were engaged in starting English schools at Thalasserry and Kozhikode. With the Education the missionaries spread the Bible to the people. In the South, the Church Mission Society (CMS) and London Evangelical Mission (LEM) started English schools at Kottayam and Thrissur.

Hermon Gundert (1814-1893) was a contemporary of Saint Chavara and he was in Kerala during the time of Chavara. From 1839 his Mission field was Thalasserry. For twenty years he worked hard as a missionary and a literary man there. He learnt many languages of South India and wrote about 20 books in Malayalam apart from the illustrious Malayalam-English Gundert Dictionary which made the language Malayalam world famous. Thus, the English Education started by the Western missionaries, was rapidly changing the face of Kerala society. Saint Chavara was very much attracted by the literary work of the missionaries. He also had a desire to start schools in order to eradicate the illiteracy and superstitions from Kerala society. But English Education was prohibited for the Catholics at that time because of the heretical fear among Thomas Christians. That was one of the reasons that the Saint started a Sanskrit school for Catholics where all without any caste difference may join for learning. Chavara brought a Varrier from Thrissur to teach Sanskrit where both the seminarians and children of the low caste studied Sanskrit. Starting a Sanskrit School was a bold step of Saint Chavara because nobody except the high caste Hindus dared to start such school during that time. Chavara’s ardent love towards Indian heritage and its religious philosophy is very evidently manifested by this venture and he found that Sanskrit language was not at all a sacrilege for the Catholics.

From the Ecclesiastical point, the Malabar Christians were under double jurisdiction during Chavara’s time: namely the Portughese Padroado (patronage of the King) and the Roman Propaganda. The Christians were not at all satisfied by this double jurisdiction. There was an internal fight amongst the foreigners for domination over Thomas Christians. Till the Coonan Cross oath in 1653 there was only the Padroado Jurisdiction. After the riot of 1653, Rome intervened and established the Apostolic Vicariate of Malabar for the safeguard of Malabar Christians. Later it was restructured as Apostolic Vicariate of Verapoly.  Even though it was a small healing, in the long run, the Christians were not at all pleased under the Vicar Apostolic of Verapoly. They wanted somebody from their community to be appointed as their Head. With that intention, they elected two em[1]inent priests, Frs. Joseph Kariatty and Thomas Paremakkal and sent them to Rome. They conveyed Rome the sad situation of the Thomas Christians and their great desire for a native Bishop. Rome sympathetically heard their grievances and discussed the matter with interest. Without much hesitation Mar Joseph Kariatty was appointed as the Arch bishop of Kodungallur by Padroado and ordained at Lisbon with the knowledge of Rome in 1782. The long awaited desire of the Malabar Christians was thus partially fulfilled. An unfortunate thing that had happened in 1786 was the sad demise of the Arch bishop in Goa. The news came out among Thomas Christians that the Arch bishop was tortured at Goa by the Portughese authorities and that resulted in his untimely death.

Frustrated by their failure to get one from among themselves appointed the head of their Church, they turned to the East Syrians or Chaldeans of Persia. The Chaldean Church was not immediately in a position to intervene. But after five or six decades, when the relations between the Thomas Christians and the Propaganda Carmelite Missionaries further deteriorated, and when the Chaldean Church was under the leadership of Patriarch Joseph Audo VI, the interventions came further complicating the situation. Against the explicit directive of Rome, the Chaldean Patriarch ordained Thomas Roccos (1861) and sent him to India as the Bishop of the Malabar Christians. This incident further complicated the Kerala situation as the Thomas Christians were divided into two groups. At this juncture the Vicar Apostolic of Verapoly Bernadine Baccinelli appointed Father Chavara as the Vicar General of the Thomas Christians. The saint studied the complicated situations of the Community and with the direction of Rome he sent Roccos back to Middle East. The apt intervention of Chavara at the right moment kept the Church away from a possible division. The Vicar Apostolic even determined to suggest Chavara as the Bishop of the Thomas Christians and he wrote to Rome[i]. But Chavara was always unenthusiastic of that position.


2. Deteriorating Spirituality:

The Synod of Diamper made drastic changes both in the sacramental as well as the social life of the Thomas Christians. The miserable consequence was the deterioration of the Spiritual life of the St. Thomas Community. After the Synod, Bishop Ross ordered to use the corrected Missal as the Eucharistic Text and it was very inconvenient for the priests. Only in 1774 new Syriac Taksa was printed from Rome for the use of the clergy. For administering the Sacraments, Syriac translation of the Latin Rite Text were introduced at the last session of the Synod. The Portughese Bishop Francis Ross introduced Latin Liturgical calendar for the Thomas Christians. All these created an apprehension in the community and their spiritual life began to decline in the following decades. The worst among them was the Divine Office. There were no proper texts of the Office for the clergy. Only some handwritten texts were left after the Synod. Those prayers were too long and there was no proper order and setting in reciting the office. Hence reciting the Divine Office was slowly fading away from Church at the time of Chavara[2]. The Portuguese missionaries tried to Latinize the Divine Office as the Latin model but it was not successful, hence they left the idea. Under the Propaganda Jurisdiction also, the Thomas Christians were not satisfied and they always turned to Middle East to get someone as their Bishop. At the time of the Saint the spiritual life of the Community was declining.


3. Saint Chavara: an Apostle of the Eucharist:

The central idea of the devotional life of the Saint was Holy Eucharist. For him the love towards the Eucharist was not perfect if it is devoid of nearness to and union with the Blessed Sacrament. The Saints become one with this divine love only to the extent they identify themselves in this world with Jesus Christ. Jesus the divine Xavier has himself stated: He that eats my flesh and drinks my blood, abides in me and me in Him. As the living Father has sent me, I live by the Father. So whoever eats me, will live because of me. (John.6:56-57). For the saints, the Holy Eucharist is instituted for two reasons; to be united with the souls through the Holy Communion and then to achieve the nearness of the lovers of Jesus, hidden in the tabernacle. He was fully convinced that the tabernacles were the abodes of God on earth. It may be stated without exaggeration that Saint Chavara spent most of his time before the tabernacle.

From his early childhood his deep devotion to the Holy Eucharist was predominantly manifested in all his dealings. He received the Sacrament as frequently as the custom in those days. Although he was incapable of carrying the Missal due to his tender age, he showed great fervor in assisting at the Holy Mass. This may be understood as an inborn inclination in him, to love God in the Holy Eucharist. As a seminarian this devotion became so extraordinary that he could win the esteem and admiration of all his friends. In the seminary he became an active apostle of the devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. As a young priest he tried his maximum to spread the Eucharistic devotion throughout Kerala. The Italian missionary Fr. Leopold recorded what he could see as: ‘the admirable dignity, devotion and recollection with which he celebrated the sacred Liturgy, made a great impression upon those who participated in it. Besides the usual visits to the Blessed Sacrament, he used to spend long hours on his knees, immersed in prayer before the Tabernacle.”[3] The charm and gracefulness that adorned his face while he was lost in meditation before the Blessed Sacrament have been noted by many of his colleagues and friends who could only describe him to be angelic.

In the meditations and prayers the Saint has revealed his ardent faith in the Blessed Sacrament. Referring to the O.T idea, he writes:

The Holy of Holies was a prototype of the real sanctuary, where the Son of the Eternal Father dwells although day and night in the Tabernacle, hiding all his majesty and power in the form of Bread. Even though I knew and believed unhesitatingly who was in the Tabernacle, how often have I entered the sanctuary without due reflection and respect! Yet how many times was I forgiven and was not awarded punishment for my irreverence and impoliteness.[4]

The arc of the covenant contained Law on Stone tablet. Here in the Tabernacle is the law-giver in the fullness of His Humanity and Divinity.  One who approaches him with due reverence received everything he needs. The Lord remains on the tongue that receives Him, staying in the heart gives Him accommodation. He comes down from the heaven when the Words of Consecration are uttered by a duly ordained priest.[5]

Father Chavara was very eager to exhort the religious in the monasteries and convents to practice devotion to the Holy Eucharist. He made arrangements in the monastery chapels for Divine Office to be sung Coram Sanctissimo ‘before the Holy Sacrament’ during eight days (ettamadam) after the feast of Corpus Christi. This practice was continued in the CMI monasteries till the introduction of the new Divine Office in vernacular in the year 1967.


4. Saint Chavara-A Wise Liturgical Reformer:

The basic theology of liturgy is the glory of God and Salvation of the World. God is to be praised and glorified in the fullness. The prayer that Jesus taught his disciples is the part of every Eucharistic Liturgy. The present Syro-Malabar liturgy starts with the hymn that Angel sang at the birth of Jesus: “Glory to God in the Highest, Peace and Hope to people on Earth”. In the Latin Mass there is a beautiful hymn, the Gloria on Sundays and feast days in the beginning, which is a type of praising God in the Highest. Further in every Eucharistic Liturgy there is the hymn Holy, Holy…. The background of which is Prophet Isaiah’s vision of God in Heavenly Abode(Isa.6.3) In the Syro-Malabar liturgy the prayer appears in the second gehanta of Anaphora and then follows the hymn. Thus praising God in the highest is the central theme of every liturgical celebration and through the liturgical celebrations the community experiences the divine.

             Equally important is the concept of Salvation of the World. God is the creator of everything in the world, namely the human beings, birds, animals, plants, mountains etc. According to Raymon Panikkar[6]  Rathere is a deep relationship in the Universe between Cosmos, God and Humans. Panikkar calls this relationship as, Cosmotheandric-Experience. It is a radical relativity and one does not exist without the support of other. In Christian tradition, God so loved the World that he sent his only Son to the World. By His death and resurrection Jesus Christ, the eternal Son fulfilled the glory of God the Father, and sanctification of the World. The liturgical celebration on Earth, especially the Eucharistic celebration may be understood in this background, as the experience of a deep relationship between Cosmos-God-Humans.

In the liturgical celebrations the divine is manifested through signs and symbols. Hence the Liturgy Constitution, Sacrosanctum Concilium reads: “in the Liturgy the sanctification of humans is signified by signs perceptible to the senses, and is effected in a way which corresponds to each of these signs”[7]. That means in the Liturgy the Divine is experienced through signs and symbols and they must be perceptible to the human senses. Again the Constitution says : “that the liturgical celebration, it is an action of Christ the Priest and of His Body which is the Church, is a sacred action surpassing all others, and no other action of the Church can equal its efficacy by the same title and to the same degree”.  That means, very liturgical celebration is a sacred action of Christ, the Priest, and the mystical Body the Church. Hence in every liturgy the celebrant priest stands for the person of Christ, persona Christi, and hence his actions must be most perfect and holy.

The liturgical reform brought by Saint Chavara was very promising and effective as the community of the faithful is concerned. After the Synod of  Diamper the Missal of the Thomas Christians was very much Latinised, whereas the language remained the same (Syriac). The Portuguese made many Latin additions in the text and also introduced Latin rubrics for the celebration. The clergy were ordered to use Latin Vestments. There was no uniformity for the celebration and the Divine Liturgy was celebrated differently in the churches. This adversely affected the spiritual life of the clergy and the people. As the Vicar General of the Thomas Christians, the Saint understood the complexity of the divine celebration, and as an answer for it, with the consent of the Vicar Apostolic, he wrote the Thukasa(Order for the celebration)  in vernacular for the use of the clergy. At the time of Chavara the Eucharistic text was already fixed and Chavara could not make any change in the text. But he was very conscious that “it is a sacred action surpassing all other actions of the Church”.Therefore Chavara insisted an Order for the celebration of the Liturgy, not only for the Holy Mass but other Celebrations as well. In Thukasa, the Saint explains the priest’s entering into the sanctuary as:”then taking the Chalice by the left hand and putting the right hand on the ketana, bowing the head before the Crucifix in the sacristy, the priest enters the Holy of Holies with great devotion and spiritual sentiments”.[8] Similarly on blessing the people before reading the Gospel,  the Saint writes:”turning to the people, with eyes downward, placing the left hand on the chest, priest blesses with right arm with all fingers straight, he raises the right arm till forehead and then to the downwards,…..[9] Thus for Chavara the Eucharistic celebration is a celebration of the Mystery of Christ, namely the death and resurrection of Christ on the holy altar. It is the Sacred Action of the Church.

In the Apostolic Exhortation “Sacramentum Caritatis” the Sacrament of Love, Emeritus Pope Benedict has explained “Ars Celebrandi” .He writes;

The primary way to foster the participation of the people of God in the sacred rite is the proper celebration of the rite itself. The ars celebrandi is the best way to ensure their active participation. The art of celebration is the fruit of faithful adherence to the liturgical norms in all their richness; indeed for two thousand years this way of celebrating has sustained the faith life of all believers.[10]

The Second Vatican council has well stressed the active participation of the faithful in the liturgical celebration. “Mother Church earnestly desires that the faithful should be led to that full, conscious, and active participation in the liturgical celebrations”.  Pope Emeritus says that the full active participation is ensured by the proper celebration (ars celebrandi) of the liturgy.

Saint Chavara was fully aware of the proper disposition of the Community for the liturgical celebration. Liturgy, especially the Eucharistic Liturgy is the celebration of the Mystery of Christ. It is the Sacred Action surpassing all other actions of the Church; the priest and the community of believers must perform this action with dignity and esteem for the glory of God and salvation of the World. For this reason Saint Chavara wrote the Thukasa for the meaningful celebration of the Eucharistic liturgy.


5. Awakening the Sacramental Life of the Clergy and People:

Saint Chavara wrote Thukasa for the clergy to the fruitful celebration of the Eucharistic Liturgy. He compiled the Divine Office in oriental patterns for the spiritual growth of the clergy and people. Chavara was the mastermind behind the creation of an Order for the Solemn Eucharistic Liturgy (Sung Mass) and the Solemn Ramsa, popularly known by the Portughese name Vespera in Kerala. The Sung Mass was in Syriac, but its music was a combination of Syriac and Latin tunes.Vespera was conducted in the churches on the eve of important feasts. Chavara edited the Office of the Dead from the existing manuscripts of Malabar, and the Office was fully in Syriac style. Later Fr. Abel composed the Office for the Dead in vernacular from Chavara’s Syriac Office for the Dead.

               The major contribution of Chavara for awakening the spiritual life of the Malabar Church was beginning of 40 hours’ adoration in the Monasteries. Its prayers and lyrics (translation of the All Saints’ litany into Syriac etc.) were composed by Saint Chavara himself. The Saint had a deep devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, further he got inspiration from the Carmelite Missionaries to start this devotion in the Malabar Church. It is recorded that first it was started during the three days following the Ash Wednesday at Koonammavu in 1866. Then this practice was followed at Vazhakulam and Mannanam in 1867 and at Elthuruth in 1868. Consequently it was extended to almost all the Forane churches in Kerala. The 40 hours’ adoration started by the Saint, is mainly responsible for the spread of Eucharistic devotion among the Catholics of Kerala. Large number of the faithful made their general confession and received the Holy Communion on this auspicious occasion. The feast of Corpus Christi began to be celebrated in a grand manner among the Thomas Christians. Both the Adoration and the celebration of the grand feast of the Holy Eucharist helped the people to renew their spiritual life. In fact there was an awakening in the sacramental life of the clergy and people.

The liturgical renewal of the Western Church in the last century was the result of the great effort and leadership of the monks of the Abbeys of the West European countries, namely France, Belgium and Germany[11]. Rome was only an observer in the beginning. Prosper Geranger of France is remembered as the Father of liturgical renewal. Geranger was never a reformer of liturgy but a traditionalist. He re-established the Order of St Benedict in France and founded the Benedictine Abbey of Solesmes in 1832.  The Abbey stood for a deep study and research which paved the way for an interest in the liturgical sources. For the second phase of the liturgical renewal, Belgium took leadership. Dom Lambert Beauduin of the Mont Cesar Abbey was a man of genius and he planned to awaken in all Christians an awareness of the sacramental life. For Beauduin, “Liturgy is prayer. The people must take part in it, not merely assist at it. We are part of the Church and we give glory to God in our whole being.” His programme for liturgical renewal was welcomed not only by the intellectuals but also by ordinary church going people who experienced a new spirit in the celebration of the liturgy.

Thus Benedictine Abbeys of the West, namely Solesmes in France, and Mont Cesar in Belgium were the wellspring for the liturgical renewal in the Western Church. Their research and leadership in the field of liturgical renewal invigorated the sacramental life of the clergy and people, which paved the way for a renewal in the Church.

In the same manner when we turn back to the history of the Thomas Christians of 19th century, we come across Chavara,  a strong pillar who took the initiative for the renewal of the sacramental life of the clergy and people. The old CMI monasteries founded by the Saint, at Mannanam, Koonmmav,  Elthuruth,  Vazhakulam and Ampazhakad  became the  liturgical centres from where a spiritual renewal spread all over Kerala. There were seminaries attached to these monasteries during Chavar’s time and that helped for the easy dissemination of the liturgical spirit.


6. Saint Chavara-A Faithful follower of the Oriental Tradition:

               Was Saint Chavara a follower of the Latin Tradition in the liturgical matters? Did he transmit Latin customs among the Thomas Christians? As a Malpan (Master), did he give formation in the Oriental method for the clergy and people of Malabar Church? Questions such as, we hear at times from different corners. Here, first we have to examine the time which Chavara lived. The Malabar Church was governed by the Propaganda Congregation of Rome at the time of Chavara (19th century). The Propaganda Prelates were very strict to follow the decrees of the Synod of Diamper especially in liturgical matters. They considered Malabar Church to some extent as schismatic, following Nestorian Christology.  Hence the Saint had a rare chance to introduce anything of his own in the Liturgy. He was satisfied by writing an OrderThukasa’ for the priests for uniform celebration of the Mass. However Chavara could stress the “mystery” aspect of the Eucharist in his writing. He could not make any change either in the liturgical Text or introduce any oriental innovation in the Eucharistc Text.

But Chavara could do something creative in the case of Divine Office. The Portughese missionaries tried to Latinize the Divine Office of the Thomas Christians. That means they attempted to change the Divine Office in the Latin model. But they could not succeed; and hence they left the plan. The Divine Office was slowly fading in the Church at the time of Saint Chavara. There were only few private manuscripts available in the Church, no printed texts. Further the Office was very long and prayers were in different handwritten texts. Chavara could understand the pathetic condition of  the prayer when he was a young seminarian. When he became the Vicar General of the Church, he called upon all the Malpans (learned) of the Church and discussed the matter with them. In the words of Fr.Porukara Eliseus , Father Chavara could write all the prayers by himself in Syriac and arrange in the oriental model[12]. As the Vicar General of the Church, he sent it to Rome for approbation in 1862. The arrangements of the prayers were exactly in the pattern of the East Syrian Breviary. The work of Chavara in the organization of the Breviary, and the attempts he made to print it shows his interest in the restoration of the prayers in the oriental module. Through this the Saint was preserving a very ancient model of the Divine Office in the Malabar Church.

When we come to the Liturgical Calendar, we see that the Synod of Diamper unified the Liturgical Calendar for the Latin and Oriental Churches in Kerala. The Synod compelled the Orientals to follow the Latin Liturgical Calendar. This greatly affected the liturgical life of the Thomas Christians. For centuries they were following the Oriental Calendar. Chavara understood this grief situation of the Oriental Church and when he was the Vicar general, with the consent of the Vicar Apostolic, he wrote a calendar from the manuscripts then available in Kerala. Accordingly the first Liturgical Calendar typically in the Oriental pattern appeared in 1865. That was a creative work of Chavara for the Thomas Christian Church. Till his death (1871), every year Chavara prepared the calendar for the Church. In the Calendar the Saint articulated the East Syrian Liturgical seasons, the feasts and fasts that appear according to different seasons, the names of Malayalam months etc .  In the same way Chavara prepared the Office for the Dead (Annida) and funeral service for the Malabar Church in the Oriental module. In the light of these creative works Chavara can never be called a ‘follower’ of Latin Tradition; on the other hand he was a strong pillar of the Oriental Rite.


7. Present day Liturgical Crisis in the Syro-Malabar Church:

The recent liturgical crisis created a vast disaster as far as the Individual Church is concerned. Regarding the celebration of the Holy Kurbana, the Church was following a meaningful order for the celebration. In 1999 the Synod of Bishops took a decision and it is reconfirmed in 2000 in which the celebrant faces the People of God during the liturgy of the word, while faces the Altar during the Anaphora.[13] It was eventually known 50:50 formula. But that was not put into practice. Many dioceses, especially the Major Archiepiscopal See of Ernakulum Angamaly and the Archdiocese of Thrissur followed the whole Kurbana facing the people. The bishops of Mananthavady, Thamarasserry, Palghat, Thrissur, Irinjalakuda, Ernakulam Angamaly seeing the pastoral catastrophe, gave permission according to Oriental Canon law no.1538, to do the entire celebration facing the people as before and it was followed till 2022 without much difficulty. Arch diocese of Chenganacherry eventually began to celebrate the Kurbana entirely facing the Altar. Different ways of celebration was well accepted in the Church and continued without any complaint for years. The Church fully realized that the unity of the Church is not simply the uniformity in the form of celebration of the liturgy, but the unity of the hearts of the people of God. That is most important and may reflect in the liturgical celebration.

After 22 years, the Synod of Bishops of the Syro-Malabar Church in August 2021 reaffirmed the decision of 1999 for the celebration of Eucharistic Liturgy without consulting clergy and people at all. It was interpreted that the aim of taking such a decision was ‘uniformity will lead to Unity in the Liturgy’. But uniformity of the celebration is not the unity in the Church and Liturgy.  Many dioceses gave memorandum to the Synod members even before Synod taking place. They wished to continue the existing form of celebration and a change in the form of worship might cause worthless calamity in the Church and that will cause a polarisation in the Church itself. Among the Synod members there were only a few retired bishops who participated in the 1999 Synod. They (5 bps.) submitted a long report to all Bishops of the Synod, the Secretary of State Vatican, the Prefect Cardinal Sandri of the Oriental Congregation and the Pro nuncio to India, entitled “The Conduct of our Synod and the Present Crisis in Our Church”(10 pages) that elaborately explained the manner in which the Synod was conducted. Major Archbishop’s letter, “Decision of the Synod on the Implementation of the Revised Text and Uniform Mode of Celebration” to all bishops says, “The Synod of Bishops of the Syro-Malabar Church unanimously decided of the Holy Kurbana of the revised text with the recognition….with effect from the First Sunday of the Season of Annunciation”.[14] It is to be noted that 5 bishops’ letter did never accept this statement of the Major Archbishop. In their letter to members of the Synod, it is worded as, “the so called decision to implement the uniform mode of celebration of the Holy Kurbana taken by the August2021 Synod was not, in fact unanimous…..The fact is that several bishops had expressed their strong disagreement in imposing the uniform mode of celebration of the Holy Kurbana……as the matter was never discussed in any proper form such as central liturgical committee, diocesan bodies etc., after the 1999 Synod”[15]. It is very sad. In fact the whole tragedy of the present crisis of the liturgy celebration points to this unique reason.

When the Major Archbishop sent the circular regarding the uniform mode of celebration of the Holy Kurbana in August 2021, there was a mixed feeling among the bishops, clergy and people.  The Bishops of the southern dioceses under the umbrella of Archdiocese of Chenganacherry welcomed it, while other Bishops did not welcome it. The Priests and people of Mananthavady, Thamarasserry, Palghat did not welcome the Synod decision. Even then, having no other way,  they started celebrating the Kurbana in the new form from November 2021 onwards. There was great protest from clergy and people in Thrissur and Irinjalakuda dioceses; at last the Bishops had to depend on police protection to disperse the people. Still some Churches have not accepted new form of celebration.

In the Major Archdiocese of Ernakulam – Angamaly the situation became worse. People made great protest against new form of celebration. Archbishop Antony Kariyil Cmi went Rome, explaining the tense situation of the Archdiocese to the Holy Father and the prefect of the Oriental Congregation, gave exemption for the Archdiocese applying Can.1538, from the new Synod decision of celebrating the Holy Mass. It was well accepted by the clergy and people of the Archdiocese. Clouds of apprehension and fear again clouded the liturgy scenario. The Archbishop again extended the exemption applying Canon 1538, ie allowing celebrating the Kurbana facing the People till X’mas 2022. The Synod was not all agreeable for it. Still the existing form of celebration, Priest facing the congregation is continued there. Further, the Oriental Congregation of Rome demanded the resignation of Archbishop Antony Kariyil and appointed Archbishop Andrews Thazhath of Thrissur the Apostolic Administrator of Ernakulam Angamaly See in Sept.2021. There was no Holy Kurbana and other Celebrations on Christmas night in the St. Mary’s Cathedral. The forthcoming Extra Ordinary Synod of  November ‘23 has got three key Words: Communion, participation, and mission. The Synod may open more opportunities to hear the clergy and people and may settle the liturgical problem in a fruitful manner.


8. Chavara – A promoter of Unity in the Church:

Saint Chavara ever stood for the Unity of the Church. He was a strong supporter not only of the Maalabar Church, but also of the Church Universal. By his personality and activities, he proved that he is a strong supporter of the Catholic Communion. He was a humble servant of the Church, and his contributions may be understood in that perspective.

Father Chavara was appointed by Bishop Bernardine Baccinelli (1861) as the Vicar General of Thomas Christians at a time when the Church was in great difficulty. An unauthorized Bishop Roccos from the Chaldean Church (Bagdad) reached Malabar in 1861 and began to accumulate people to his side with the help of his supporters. Thomas Christians supported him because they detested the rule of Carmelite prelates and welcomed someone from Middle East. Saint Chavara as the Vicar General of the Thomas Christians appeared on the scene and skillfully studied the situation. To understand the truth, he wrote a long letter to Pope Pius IX, explaining the grief situation in Malabar. That letter shows his anguish of the unity of the Church and deep love towards the Holy See. He wrote,”Holy Father, in utmost humility and grief, with eyes filled with tears, I pray to you for the sake of the Faithful, please reveal to us the Truth. What answer did Your                Holiness give to the Patriarch of Caldea, Whom shall we oblige? Bishop Bernardine Baccinelli Or the newly arrived Roccos? In this difficult situation, please lead us in the true path.”[16] The letter very specifically shows the Saint’s great concern of the unity of the Church and his adherence to the Holy Father. The Holy Father very positively responded to the letter of the Saint, saying that the newly arrived Thomas Roccos is not an authorized Bishop with the consent of Rome. He has no authority over Thomas Christians of Malabar and to be sent back to Bagdad without delay.

Chavara also wrote two letters in 1861 to the Prefect of Propaganda Fidei,  Cardina Alexander  Bernaba on the same matter. In 1869, the Saint wrote to the same Cardinal expressing his deep respect to the Congregation and love to the Thomas Christians of Malabar. He writes, “We received our Faith from Saint Thomas, the Apostle and we are Thomas Christians. We do not have a bishop as our own for years. But other Oriental Community (Jacobites) has their own Bishop. People look for a bishop as their own. Hence I would like to invoke you, it is better to have two bishops; one for the Latin Christians and another for the Syrian Christians (Thomas Christians).”[17] The Saint did not propose a Bishop from Thomas Christians. Chavara also wrote a few letters to the same Congregation for the approbation of the Liturgical Books and rites concerned with Liturgy. The life of Saint Chavara itself is a manifestation, without any apprehension, of his ardent love to the Holy Father and the Universal Church on the one hand, and on the other his commitment and dedication for the spiritual growth of the Thomas Christians of Malabar.

Conclusion: Thus the Saint made a renewal in all areas of the Sacred Liturgy of the Church. Chavara was not at all a liturgiologist in the strict sense, but very well a promoter of liturgy. He touched all areas of liturgy, and left no stone unturned. He did everything for a spiritual renewal in the sacramental life of the clergy and people.


[1] Panthamplackal T; Chavarayachan Oru Reghachitram (Mal.), Ernakulam, 2004, pp.72-73.

[2] Bernard T.O.C.D; C.M.I. Congregation in Early Centuries; re-edited in  1989 , Ernakulam, pp. 17-19.  

[3] Beccaro L. O.C.D. Blessed Kuriakose Elias Chavara, 1871, re-edited at Mannanam 2003; pp.13-14.    

[4] Complete Works of Chavara  (Eng,)  vol. lll p.15.

[5] Ibid .  p. 18.

[6] Raimond Panikkar; Cosmotheandric Experience, Orbis Books, 1993.

[7] Sacrosanctum Concilium  art. 8.

[8] See the explanation in Thukasa . pp. 1-2.

[9] Ibid. 18-19.

[10]  Late Pope Benedictus XVI. Sacramentum Caritatis ; no. 38,  2007.

[11]  For a study of the Liturgical Renewal of the Western Church, refer Kanichikattil Francis ; Search for Liturgy in India,  Dharmaram Publications, 2018,  pp. 85-90.

[12] See Porukara Elias; Founding Fathers  (Mal.) (repub.) in Mannanam  1989;   pp. 37-39.

[13] Letter from Prefect Leonard Cardinal Sandri of  the Congregation for Eastern Churches to Major Archbishop Cardinal George Allencherry, of the Syro-Malabar Church ; June 9, 2021, Rome.

[14] Refer , The letter of Major Archbishop Cardinal George Allencherry  to all Bishops of the Syro-Malabar Church. August 27, 2021.

[15]  Refer, the Letter of  Five Bishops to Major Archbishop and other Bishops of Syro-Malabar Synod, “The Conduct of our Synod and the Present  Crisis in Our Church”  29 . Dec. 2021.

[16] Chavarayachante Sampoorna Krthigal IV; The Letters to the Holy Father (Malayalam)  1986;  Mannanam.            pp. 13-15.  (free translation of the author).

[17] Ibid. Letters to Propaganda Congregation; pp. 34-35. 1986. ( translation by the Author).