BENGALURU, India (ChurchMilitant.com) - Pope Francis isn't likely to abrogate the Vatican-approved "Indian rite" Mass even though it uses Sanskrit, has intensified caste divisions among Catholics, and sparked discord between Hindus and Catholics, Church Militant has learned.
Indian Catholics are asking if Francis will cancel the syncretic Hinduized liturgy after the pontiff issued his motu proprio Traditionis Custodes imposing draconian restrictions on the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM) — blaming it for triggering division in the Church.
Multiple clerical and lay sources in prominent positions told Church Militant that the so-called Indian rite Mass was a syncretic and heretical "Hindu rite" liturgy which was offensive and alienating to Catholics from low caste and untouchable backgrounds.
Hindus have also denounced the Vatican and the Indian Catholic hierarchy for permitting the Hindu rite Mass and plagiarizing, misappropriating and altering "every component of Hindu culture and life" in the name of inculturation and indigenization.
"I was shocked to read Pope Francis' motu proprio restricting the Extraordinary Form (TLM) of the Mass," lamented Michael Prabhu, author of Medications and Mediations in the New Age: A Compendium of New Age Deceptions and Corresponding Church Teachings.
"Instead, Francis needed to ban the syncretized Hindu/Indian rite Mass that has been a scourge in my country for five decades. Our complicit bishops and clergy are not going to urge him to do so," Prabhu told Church Militant.
The Hinduized Mass is heretical, he explained, because "instead of Indian culture being influenced by the gospel, elements of Hindu rituals and art forms have been incorporated into the Roman Novus Ordo liturgy, bastardizing it beyond recognition."
On April 25, 1969, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments authorized Indian bishops to include elements from Brahmanical Hinduism and create an "Indian rite Mass."
The Brahmins are the highest caste of Hindu priests and perform rituals in Sanskrit — the sacred language of Hinduism. Despite complaints from faithful Catholics, including repeated pleas from researchers like Prabhu, the Vatican has never abrogated the 1969 edict.
While modernist bishops and theologians have promoted the Hindu Mass in seminaries, houses of formation, religious institutes, ashrams, and retreat centers, the hierarchy has fiercely resisted requests for the TLM despite pleas from lay Catholic groups.
"It is shocking to hear the serious deformations of the liturgy taking place in India in the name of inculturation," Dr. Joseph Shaw, chairman of the Latin Mass Society of England and Wales told Church Militant.
As secretary of Una Voce International, Shaw noted, "I have also heard from Catholics in the country who have been campaigning for more than a decade to be allowed celebrations of the TLM, and the bishops have been extremely reluctant to allow this."
According to the Latin Mass directory, there are only nine churches offering the TLM in a country where the Catholic population is estimated at 20 million. Churches offering the TLM are exclusively in the state of Tamil Nadu and in the megalopolis of Bombay (Mumbai).
Under Traditionis Custodes, the TLM will no longer be permitted in "parochial churches" and the bishop is "to take care not to authorize the establishment of new groups," effectively ending the TLM in India.
"It is mystifying that the Indian hierarchy will allow liturgical practices clearly in breach of the Church's discipline and tradition, but not the Mass that formed the historical basis of the Latin rite Catholic communities in India for centuries," Shaw observed.
Indian Dalits (untouchables) are now urging Pope Francis to permit Dalit Catholics and priests to have their own "Dalit rite" Mass with all faculties under the direct control of the Holy See following the model of India's Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara rites.
Even "in the Indian Latin, Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara rites, brahminical forms like Bharata Natyam, the Karagam water pot carrying dance, and decorated Kumbam water pot submission are included in the Mass," Franklin Caesar Thomas, coordinator of the National Council of Dalit Christians (NCDC) told Church Militant.
"That is why Dalit Catholics want to have their own discrimination-less indigenous rite under the direct control of the pope, so they can have their own bishops and spiritual and social emancipation," Thomas emphasized.
The Hindu rite liturgy also continues to divide conservative and liberal Catholics since, all its "liturgical rituals, art forms and architecture have been adapted from the majority religion, which is Hinduism," Prabhu writes in his 600-page book.
The Vatican's approval came a month after 51 out of 71 bishops had approved the new rite, despite 30% of the bishops rejecting it. The Liturgical Commission page of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of India (CCBI) maintains: "The liturgical renewal launched by the Conference and the late Fr. Amalorpavadass needs to be reached to the people and the clergy."
Fr. Amalorpavadass, a theologian and founder of Anjali Ashram, was a key figure behind the creation and promotion of the Hindu rite Mass. Prabhu said that a 2016 CCBI directive urged that "the celebration of the 'Order of Mass for India' is not to be continued," but "there is no other evidence to substantiate their statement."
An Indian anaphora, pregnant with Hindu theology, was approved by a Catholic bishops' meeting in Madras in April 1972, receiving 60 votes out of 80 bishops present. Again, 25% of the bishops voted against it.
"The '12 Points' were undoubtedly a grave fraud perpetrated on the faithful of the Church in India by the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI) and their insidiously evil tool, the National, Biblical, Catechetical and Liturgical Centre (NBCLC) in Bangalore," argues Prabhu.
The Hindu Mass often includes verses from the Hindu scriptures like the mantra Om and the chanting in Sanskrit of the vedic Pavamana mantra from the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upanishad as well as the Gayatri mantra from the Rig Veda.
Bhajans (Indian choruses) are sung by a congregation squatting on the floor with the celebrant wearing an Indian shawl and an angavastram (stole). The bhajans are sung in Indian languages and in Sanskrit — the latter directly adopted from Hindu equivalents.
The Vatican permitted the use of "aarti" — a Hindu liturgical rite in which camphor flames, flowers and joss sticks are offered to the deity by means of a clockwise rotation while standing before an idol.
The five camphor lights symbolize the five elements of earth, air, fire, water and the ether — representing the totality of the cosmos in Hindu theology. The ceremonial is also used to welcome an important personality or guest, since in monistic Hinduism the whole of creation is one single principle of divinity.
"Here we have a purely Hindu ceremony introduced," writes Victor J. F. Kulanday in his book The Paganized Catholic Church in India.
Bishop of Belgaum Derek Fernandes provoked backlash from Catholics and Hindus in 2019 after he celebrated the Holy Eucharist using saffron robes worn by Hindu priests before a tabernacle in the form of a Shivalinga — the phallus of the Hindu god Shiva, Church Militant reported.
In December 2020, Francis commended a post-Vatican II Zairean rite even though the African eucharistic liturgy incorporates the pagan custom of "invocation of ancestors."
"The Zairean rite suggests a promising way also for the possible elaboration of an Amazonian rite," writes Francis in his preface for a new book titled Pope Francis and the Roman Missal of the Dioceses of Zaire: A Promising Rite for Other Cultures.
Francis' endorsement of the Zairean Mass comes a year after the pontiff celebrated a special Mass for Congolese Catholics in St. Peter's Basilica using the Zairean rite.
Liturgists point to pagan elements in the Zairean Mass, especially the rite of the "Invocation of the Ancestors of Upright Heart" — together with the saints in the opening rites of the Holy Mass — permitting the congregation to even invoke their pagan ancestors.
"We can take up into the liturgy many elements proper to the experience of indigenous peoples in their contact with nature, and respect native forms of expression in song, dance, rituals, gestures and symbols," Francis wrote in his apostolic exhortation Querida Amazonia.
"During the [Amazon] Synod, there was a proposal to develop an 'Amazonian rite,'" the pontiff explained in a footnote.
Church Militant contacted the NBCLC and CBCI for comment but received no response as of press time.