Mass Facing the People Is More Important Than Facing the Direction of East

Light of Truth

Bp. Savarimuthu Arokiaraj,  Trichy

You are now the Bishop of the diocese of Trichy, what have you taken as your motto of your episcopacy and why?
The Motto for my Episcopal Ministry is the words of Our Lord Jesus to St. Peter: “Put out into the Deep water…” (Lk 5:4). It is my conviction that, as I take up this Episcopal ministry at this time, the Lord is telling me these same words. Therefore my ministry would be centred upon leading the faithful into the depths of not only the spiritual life but also into the depths of the communitarian, educational, social, cultural, economical life etc., without just being just satisfied with the superficial or peripheral level.

How will you describe your diocese and the Catholic faithful in your diocese? What according to you is the most urgent need of the people of God of your diocese? What are the statistical details of the people of God entrusted to you?
In general our diocesan Catholic faithful (the People of God) are good, pious, simple and well informed. They are also open to the signs of the time, the challenges and the changing realities of life. What we need at this time is the reawakening and rekindling of their faith as well as the on-going formation at different levels. As for our Diocesan clergy, an important and indispensable section of the People of God, the need is, as it is in all dioceses, to promote a deeper level of unity and solidarity among them and instilling into them the spirit of Unum Presbyterium. The Men religious and the Women religious, for their part, contribute a lot in the parish ministry and activities, and also in the fields of education, social work, health care, etc.

You have specialised in Liturgy, Pope Francis took sudden steps on July 16, 2021, to curtail the traditional Latin Mass, in an abrupt reversal of his predecessor’s policy, and how do you see the decision?
The Council of Vatican II not only allowed but also encouraged the Catholic faithful all over the world to celebrate the Holy Mass as well as the Sacraments in their own vernacular languages all over the world. Why? It is just for the simple reason that the language of Latin was unknown both to the priests and the people. Added to this, the priests were celebrating the Mass facing the altar fixed to the wall, while showing their back to the people. Hence the people were led to think that the priest was celebrating his own Mass, for Latin was a totally unknown to them. Further, there was no face to face contact or communion or communication between the celebrant and the people which is indispensable in the spirit of the post-Vatican reformation. Therefore, the Mass in vernacular was really a spiritual boon and blessing to the people to have a conscious, fruitful and active participation in liturgy. This paved the way for the elimination of Latin during the seminary formation and the result is that most of the priests in India today can neither understand the Latin Mass nor celebrate it. Actually, after Vatican II, the Tridentine Latin Mass is not celebrated in my diocese and so the new Motu Proprio of Pope Francis, which is a reversal of the decision of his predecessor, does not affect us in any way.

The Scripture says that all the baptized form one Mystical Body with Christ as its Head and that there is no separation among us whether we are “Jews or Greeks, slaves or free” (1 Cor 12:13), the social, cultural and local systems do not permit us to put it into practice. It is because of the social system that pulls down the Christian community from the Gospel values.

What is your opinion of Holy Mass facing the people and Mass facing the East? Eastern orientation was said to be started by Constantine the Emperor of Rome. He did that because the Roman god was the Sun. Do you think facing the people holds the theology of facing the Lord who comes in the other?
I have already expressed above my ideas and views regarding the Holy Mass `facing the people`. Now, as for the Holy Mass `facing the East`, it may be true that Sun was the Roman God and that the feast of Sun God gave rise to the Christian feast of Christmas in the early second half of the 4th century A.D. It may be noted here that the inspiration came also partly from a verse of the prophet Malachi who had prophesied that the Messiah (Christ) will arise as the “Sun of Justice” (Mal 4:2). Usually, in the Eastern countries people give much importance to the direction of the rising Sun. But theologically what is more important is the Resurrection of Christ, the climax, culmination and fruit of his saving Paschal Mystery. Therefore, it is my conviction that the Mass facing the people is more important than facing the direction of East.

Tamil church has a problem of caste issues coming up in deciding on church authorities and leadership choices? Why does such a problem creep in even though we have abandoned castetism?
The caste system, as we all know, is practised all over India for more than 5000 years and it is very deeply embedded in our social system, especially in South India. It was believed by the European missionaries, who thought that it did not affect the spiritual or the faith dimension of the Christians in any way. That is why the Jesuit missionary Fr. Robert De Nobili, with the approval of Rome, divided the missionary priests into two groups namely, the “Brahmanasamy” group to evangelize and work among the brahmins and the “Pandarasamy” group to evangelize and work among the non-brahmins, who were considered to be the Sudras. Though the Scripture says that all the baptized form one Mystical Body with Christ as its Head and that there is no separation among us whether we are “Jews or Greeks, slaves or free” (1 Cor 12:13), the social, cultural and local systems do not permit us to put it into practice. It is because of the social system that pulls down the Christian community from the Gospel values. As such, we cannot change the existing system over night. In fact, we need more time, education and formation of the Christian community. Yes, “… the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Cfr. Mt 26:41)

Caste, tribe and community are becoming so important that communal feelings are high in our country? Religious fundamentalism is also our major problem, how are we living our catholicity which implies an openness to all irrespective of colour caste and religion?
All that you say is true. But let us also not forget the fact that the Church is both divine and human. As in the past, now also, there may be failures that are to be corrected. With regard to the Religious Fundamentalism, on the one hand we have to be open and genuine; and on the other hand we have to engage ourselves more and more in the domains of Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue. At this juncture, accepting our human weaknesses, together with St. Paul, we could also say that ‘when I am weak, then I am strong’. Let us not forget that ‘we can do all things through Him who strengthens us’. (Cfr. Phil 4:13). Therefore let us sincerely try with faith, for our efforts and labour will not be in vain (Cfr. 1 Cor 15:58).

Today Pope Francis considers authority in terms of synodality, how are you going to exercise your leadership with 114 diocesan priests and a good number of religious priests as collaborators and the people of God?
The term ‘Synodality’ signifies the membership, partnership, involvement and close collaboration between the diocesan priests, religious priests and sisters and finally the lay faithful of the diocese. For, they are the different members of the one and the same Mystical Body of Christ, who is its Head. As a preparation for the synod, which begins in October 2021 and concludes in October 2023, the Pope Francis has already invited to arrange separate meetings at the levels of the diocesan clergy, men religious, women religious and finally, among the lay people at the parish, vicariate and diocesan levels. For, as the Vatican II has demanded, the Church should cease to be clergy-centred in order to be people-centred. Let us not forget that in the mystical body of Christ each member has his own privileges as well as rights and duties. I respect very much and welcome this freedom and responsibility of all. For, in our faith journey we have to always walk together accepting the individuality and uniqueness of each and every individual in order to bring the Kingdom of God on earth.

How do you think the market culture is affecting us and how do you face the issue? How do you pray and what is prayer for you?
The market culture, which is an off-shoot of the Corporate System, Globalisation and Secularisation, is prevalent all over the world. It has affected invariably the people of all nations, races, faiths etc. Hence, falling in line with the people of other faiths, the Christians of not only the Western countries but also of the Eastern countries, including the so-called religious country of India, are affected by it. Added to this, the influence of the Media and the Digital world, with their positive and negative sides, is also on the increase. As such, we the Christians in India cannot avoid this market culture. But taking into account the signs of the times, the deepening of our spirituality, faith and our prayer life is the need of the hour. So my prayer, based on my Episcopal Motto “Put out into the deep water” (Lk 5:4), is that I should be an effective instrument in the hands of God to lead my people into the depths of spiritual, social, cultural, educational and economical life. Finally, my prayer is that we must allow the Spirit of the Lord to enter into our lives so that we may act according to the inspirations of the same Spirit.

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