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Leader comment: Position imposition

30 June 2023

A PHOTO emerged this week of members of the Eastern Rite Syro-Malabar Catholic Church burning a directive from their Archbishop. In what was termed by the Crux news agency the “Catholic world’s nastiest liturgical dispute”, the Archbishop, Mar Andrews Thazhath, had written to the priest and lay people in charge of his cathedral in Kochi, Kerala, southern India, ordering them to comply with his synod’s instruction that the priest should face east during the liturgy. The cathedral has been closed since December, since it insists on following the practice, widespread in Roman Catholic circles since Vatican II and now common in Anglican churches, of having the priest face the people from behind the altar throughout the eucharist. A Vatican mediator has been asked for, but no one appears to be in a hurry to intervene in such a long-running, and at times, violent dispute.

It is a reminder to worshippers more used to facing a stage than a chancel that the holiness attached to an altar, and the liturgical relationship of priest and people, still have great significance for many Christians. It is tempting to dismiss this as a trivial dispute; for, although English history furnishes plenty of examples where similar heat has been generated, if there is one thing that most Anglicans now recognise, it is that they can cope, at least occasionally, with diverse styles of worship. The north-end celebration still sometimes found among us is not, of course, a solution for this south Indian Church, while it would be a slip, too, to infer from a state of communion with Rome that some kind of Act of Uniformity must require the Pope’s Eastern clergy to use the Roman Rite and none other: far from it. The issues may be complex, but one thing is clear: something imposed — liturgical, or pertaining to any other aspect of church life — will often meet resistance when, if negotiated, it might be accepted.


THE rebellion last week by the leader of the Wagner Group, Yevgency Prigozhin, has revealed the vulnerability of President Putin far more than any Ukrainian counter-attack. Most telling is that, in the aftermath of the Wagner occupation of Rostov and its aborted move on Moscow, the Russian President was unable to impose any significant sanctions on the rebellious troops, since he relies on them to hold back Ukrainian forces in some of the most disputed territory in the southern part of that country. For the first time, Western authorities are talking openly about a post-Putin Russia — openly, but not optimistically. The popular support for Prigozhin, who has argued consistently that the invasion of Ukraine is not being pursued with sufficient vigour, suggests that a tilt to the Right is not off the cards. Once again, the hope is that the many thousands of bereaved parents, spouses, and children will reject the rhetoric of sacrifice and victory and, instead, campaign to prevent the adding of any more to their number.

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