Holy Smoke

Inside the world’s most vicious liturgy wars

23 min listen

In This Episode

In the ancient Syro-Malabar Church of south India, clergy who try to change the liturgy do so at their peril. At St Mary’s Cathedral Basilica in Ernakulam last December, a long-standing dispute over whether the priest should face the people led to scenes in which protestors attacked clergy in the middle of the service, sending the sacred vessels crashing to the ground. As a result, the cathedral was closed – and remains so, six months later.

This liturgy war is a hideous embarrassment for the Vatican, because the Syro-Malabar Church is the second largest Eastern Church in Communion with Rome. Traditionally dated back to St Thomas the Apostle’s mission to India, it has four millions members worldwide. Members are known for their missionary zeal – the Syro-Malabars are one of the few thriving Catholic communities in Britain – but also passions that in the last few years have spilled over into violence, allegations of corruption and hunger strikes. At the root of the dispute is an attempt by Rome to impose a uniform liturgy on congregations that bitterly disagree about whether the priest should face East or West during the Holy Qurbana, the Syro-Malabar name for the Mass. Bishops have been burned in effigy. 

My guest in this episode of Holy Smoke is Luke Coppen, senior correspondent of the Pillar and one the few journalists outside India who has been following the escalation of the Christian world’s most spectacular liturgy war. If you thought the Vatican’s attempt to crush the Latin Mass was a nasty business, just wait until you hear what Luke has to say about the situation in India, which the Pope seems powerless to control.

Image by Augustus Bino.


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