Catholicate
Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD.
Psalm 139:4

The Canonical Status of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church

 

Introduction

 

                       On 10 February 2005 the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church was raised to the status of a Major Archiepiscopal Church and its hierarchical head was elevated and appointed as the Major Archbishop by Pope John Paul II of venerable memory, the Supreme head of the Universal Church.  Till then the SMCC was a Metropolitan Church headed by a Metropolitan.  What did the Church gain with the proclamation of the Pope on 10 February 2005

            The two bulls, Ab ipso sancto Thoma and Cunctis ecclesialibus communitatibus, by which the Church was raised to the status of a Major Archiepiscopal Church and its head was elevated and appointed as the Major Archbishop respectively, states clearly that the Church and the Major Archbishop have all the rights and obligations as stated in the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches (CCEO).  The Code stipulates that each Eastern Church shall be governed by the Code, the Common Law for all the Eastern Churches and by its own Particular Law and legitimate customs.  Canons 151 to 154 of the CCEO stipulates that the Major Archbishop does not have the title “Patriarch” but “what is stated in common law concerning patriarchal Churches and patriarchs is understood to be applicable to major archiepiscopal Churches or major archbishops, …”.  According to the Particular Law and customs of the Malankara Church, the proclamation of 10 February 2005 was received with the understanding and acceptance that the  head and the father of the Church is Catholicos.

            With the canonical empowerment of the Church, the SMCC became a fully autonomous (sui iuris) Church, a Church of its own right and self-governing, in the communion of the Universal Church headed by the Supreme Authority of the Church. 

            The mission of the Church is the mission of Jesus Christ himself.  Jesus Christ established, through his mission of salvation, the Kingdom of God on earth, the Church. The rights and obligations entrusted to the Church is to continue the economy of salvation and to make present the Kingdom of God established by Jesus Christ and to make its fruits available to the People of God.  When the ways and means for this is fully present in a Church, a Church becomes autonomous.  This is the “power”, the divine power, the Church is empowered with through its present canonical status. It is the action of the Holy Spirit. 

            The Universal Catholic Church, through the teachings of Vatican II, teaches and sees that the economy of salvation and its fruits are exercised through the three services or offices in the Church – “The Christian faithful are those who incorporated in Christ through baptism, have been constituted as the people of God; for this reason, since they have become sharers in Christ’s priestly, prophetic and royal function in their own manner: they are called, in accordance with the condition proper to each, to exercise the mission God has entrusted to the Church to fulfill in the world” (CCEO c 7).  When a Church is empowered fully to exercise the priestly, prophetic and kingly functions of Christ in the Church, it is a Church of its right and self-governing.  This is the divine empowerment that is bequeathed in the Church through its new canonical status.

The functional gains of the SMCC

                         According to the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, the Church makes available the priestly, prophetic and kingly functions (dharmangal) to the People of God through the functions or offices of sanctifying, teaching and governing.  When viewed from this angle, the SMCC attained perfection in all these three functions of the Church with its elevation to the new status.

The Sanctifying Office

                         Jesus Christ sanctifies the Church redeemed by him through his priestly ministry.  For this, he entrusted his priestly functions to his disciples and it is handed down to their successors through the laying on of hands.  The fullness of priesthood is in the Bishop.  According to the tradition of the Eastern Church the Synod which is the communion of Bishops united with its Head, by the laying on of hands on the candidates to Episcopacy consecrates Bishops and thus priesthood is perpetuated in the Church.  Our Church which is in communion with the Universal Church expresses it in hierarchical communion with the Pope, the Supreme Head of the Universal Church.  In communion with the Universal Church, the Holy Synod of our Church elects its Head according to the norms of canons 63-71 and enthrones him in his office.  Similarly, the Synod in union with the Major Archbishop-Catholicos, the father and head of the Church, elects the Bishops, the members of the Synod according to the norms of cc 180-189.  Thus the office of sanctifying is fully vested in the Church.  When our Church was a Metropolitan Church, the powers of the father and head of Church was not vested in the Metropolitan who was the head of the Church.  The Church did not have a Synod to exercise the Synodal powers over the Church.  The Metropolitan and the Bishops were directly appointed by the Roman Pontiff.  The Metropolitan exercised his powers as a representative of the Pope of Rome.

The Teaching Office

                          From the prophetic function of Christ arises the teaching office of the Church, that is the power to teach the People of God.  As Jesus Christ came to preach the Kingdom of God, the Church, exercises the power to teach the People of God and continues the teaching or prophetic function of Christ.Strengthening the teaching office of the Bishop in his Eparchy, the Head of a sui iuris Church in communion with the entire Universal Church exercises the teaching authority or office on matters of faith and morals.  Thus in the father and head of the Malankara Catholic Church, in the Major Archbishop-Catholicos, is vested the authority to teach the entire SMCC through common pastoral letters and encyclicals.

The governing office

                           The mission to lead the People of God in their pilgrimage towards heaven is fulfilled by the Church sharing the kingly function of the Jesus Christ.  This is the source of the power of governance in the Church.  Power or function of governance is obtained through Sacred Orders given through the laying on of hands.

            The power of governance is distinguished as legislative, executive and judicial.  In accordance with the present canonical status of the Church, she has obtained in full all these three dimensions of the power of governance.

  1. Legislative power.  The legislative power, the power to make laws is vested in the Holy Episcopal Synod of the Church (c 110).  Laws are for the order of life of the Church.  They are codified in accordance with the sources of canonical discipline of the Church to assist its daily life.  Therefore, we are now engaged in the codification of a Code of Particular Law of the SMCC.  The codified law will be promulgated by the Major Archbishop-Catholicos.

  2. Executive power.  The daily life and activities of a Church goes forward through the exercise of executive power.  Ordinarily this power is vested in the Major Archbishop-Catholicos.  It is exercised by him personally or through persons he delegates.

  3. Judicial power.  Through the exercise of judicial power, the Church administers justice to the People of God.  It is done through the judiciary of the Church.  According to CCEO c 1062, within the territorial boundaries of the SMCC, without prejudice to the Apostolic See, the Synod of Bishops exercises the highest judicial authority in the Church.  For this the Synod establishes a panel of Bishops as judges of whom one is the President.  The contentious cases between Eparchies, Bishops, etc. are reserved to this tribuna.

Besides this, the Major Archbishop-Catholicos establishes the Ordinary Tribunal for the entire Church.  This tribunal handles cases in the second and ulterior instances (It can called the Supreme Court of the Church). In a Metropolitan Church this power is vested in the Apostolic See and the Roman Rota is the third and ultimate instance).

The Rights and obligations of the Major Archbishop-Catholicos

The above mentioned rights and obligations are vested in the Major Archbishop-Catholicos.  These functions of sanctifying, teaching and governing, as seen in the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, can be summarized (though not exhaustively) as follows

  1. The power which the Major Archbishop-Catholicos (MA-C for short) exercises over the Christian Faithful of the SMCC is ordinary and proper, but personal (c 78 § 1).

  2. The MA-C represents the Church in all its juridical affairs (c 79).

  3. In places where provinces have not been erected, the MA-C exercises metropolitan powers (c 80.1o)

  4. The MA-C can supply for the negligence of the Metropolitan  according to the norm of law (c 80.2o)

  5. When a Metropolitan See is vacant, the MA-C exercises the rights and obligations of a Metropolitan in the entire province (c 80.3o).

  6. The MA-C is to warn a Metropolitan who has not appointed a Finance Officer (c 80.3o).

  7. The MA-C communicates the acts of the Roman Pontiff to Bishops in case the Apostolic See has not taken measures directly (c 81).

  8. The MA-C can issue decrees within the scope of his competence, to determine more precisely the methods to be observed in applying the law or to urge the observance of laws (c 82 § 1.1o).

  9. The MA-C can issue instructions and letters to promote the faith and moral teachings of the Church, on the observance of the Rite of the SMCC, etc. (c 82 § 1.2o, 3o).

  10. The MA-C can issue orders to Bishops, Clerics and the Religious to have the above read in their Churches and houses (c 82 § 3).

  11. The MA-C will not fail to hear the Permanent Synod and the Synod of Bishops, or even the Major Archiepiscopal Assembly on more serious matters (c 82 § 2).

  12. The MA-C has the right and obligation to visit canonically an Eparchy without prejudice to the obligations of the Eparchial Bishop at times established by the Particular Law (c 83 § 1).

  13. In serious matters, with the consent of the Permanent Synod, the MA-C can visit a church, city or Eparchy either personally or through another Bishop (c 83 § 3).

  14. The MA-C is to foster consultations to enhance unity with the Hierarchs of other Churches sui iuris and of the entire Church and also on matters that concern a province or region (c 84).

  15. For a serious reason, with the consent of the Synod and after having consulted the Apostolic See, the MA-C can erect Provinces and Eparchies and modify their boundaries and transfer an Eparchial See (c 85 § 1).

  16. The MA-C can provide a Co-adjutor Bishop or Auxiliary Bishop to an Eparchial Bishop according to the norms of canons 181 § 1, 182-187, 212 (c 85 § 2)

  17. For a serious reason, with the consent of the Synod, the MA-C can transfer a Metropolitan or an Eparchial Bishop or an Auxiliary Bishop to another Metropolitan, Eparchial or Titular See (c 85 § 2.2 o).

  18. The MA-C, with the consent of the Permanent Synod can erect, modify and suppress Exarchies (c 85 § 3).

  19. The MA-C is competent to give to a Metropolitan or Bishop a Major Archiepiscopal letter of canonical provision (c 86 § 1.1o).

  20. The MA-C ordains Metropolitans either personally or, if impeded, through other Bishops, and if Particular Law so provides, also to ordain all Bishops (c 86 § 2.2o).

  21. The MA-C enthrones a Metropolitan after Episcopal Ordination (c 86 § 2.3o).

  22. By the law itself, the faculty is given to the MA-C to ordain and enthrone Metropolitans and Bishops who have been appointed by the Roman Pontiff outside the territorial boundaries of his Church (c 86 § 2).

  23. Episcopal ordination and enthronement should take place within the time limits determined by law; the letter of canonical provision should be issued within ten days of the proclamation of the election. The Apostolic See is to be informed of these as soon as possible (c 86 § 3).

  24. The MA-C can appoint Bishops to the curia according to the norms of c 87.

  25. The Metropolitans and Bishops of the SMCC must show honour and respect to the MA-C and must render due obedience to him (c 88 § 1).

  26. The MA-C is to seek to resolve controversies that perhaps might arise among the Bishops with due regard for the right of deferring them to the Roman Pontiff at any time (c 88 § 2).

  27. The MA-C exercises vigilance, according to the norm of law, on all clerics; … (c 89 § 1).

  28. According to the norm of c 89 § 2, the MA-C can commit a function that regard the entire SMCC to a cleric.

  29. The MA-C can confer titles of his Church to any Cleric according to the norm of c 89 § 3.

  30. The MA-C can exempt places from the power of the Eparchial Bishops according to the norm of c 90.

  31. The MA-C must be commemorated in Divine Liturgy and in the divine praises after the Roman Pontiff by all Bishops and other clerics according to the norm of the liturgical books (c 91)

  32. The MA-C is to manifest hierarchical communion with the Roman Pontiff, commemorate him in the Divine Liturgy and visit him according to the norm of c 92.

  33. The MA-C is to reside in his see (c 93)

  34. The MA-C is to celebrate the Divine Liturgy for the people of the entire SMCC (c 94)

  35. The MA-C is to fulfill the obligations of the Eparchial Bishops as stipulated in c 196 (c 95)

  36. The MA-C shall have vigilance over the pastoral functions of the Eparchial Bishop according to the norm of c (c 95 § 2).

  37. The MA-C is to protect and foster the rite of the SMCC according to the norm of c 96

  38. The MA-C exercises vigilance over the administration of the temporal good of the SMCC (c 97)

Conclusion

                   The Church grew up as individual Churches – the Roman, Antiochene, Alexandrian, Constantinopolitan, Persian, etc.  The Church of St. Thomas Christians in India grew and developed and existed in the Universal Church through its relation with the Persian Church.  Our forefathers wanted to continue this position of the Church. In the year 1653, the year of the Koonan Cross Oath, this canonical status was lost.  In 1932 we attained communion with the Universal Church under the leadership of Archbishop Mar Ivanios. In 1932 a hierarchy headed by a Metropolitan- Archbishop was installed in the Church by the Holy See. On 10 February 2005, the Church attained this status in its fullness.  It became an autonomous Church, a Church of its own right and self-governing, in the communion of the Universal Catholic Church.

            While we underline the position of our Church as an autonomous or self-governing Church, we assert at the same time, that our Church is in communion with the Universal Church accepting the supreme authority of the Roman Pontiff, as the successor of Peter, the chief of the Apostles.  We foster unity of faith, communion in sacraments and live in harmony with the same form of ecclesiastical government.

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