What is the controversy that is leading the Syro-Malabar Catholics into schism?
The major issue is in the manner in which the priest says his mass. In the Syro-Malabar Rite, the traditional manner in which the priest says mass is facing the east (ad orientem). Now however there is a movement of some priests and faithful to have the mass said facing the people (versus populum). The vast majority of the faithful still desire the mass to remain as such, however the numbers of those desiring to have their mass said as in the Latin Rite is growing fast.
The uniform mode, adopted by the Church’s synod in 2021, is a compromise between the Syro-Malabar Church’s ancient tradition, in which the priest looked east (ad orientem), and the emergence of a post-Vatican II Latin-influenced practice in some churches, where the priest faced the people throughout the liturgy (versus populum). - Mass resistance: Syro-Malabar priests defy papal delegate’s deadline
This seems like a well organized push by a small number of Catholics to change their traditional approach to having their Masses said facing the east in order to show a greater universal unity with the the Latin Rite and the pope.
The tradition of ad orientem worship is apostolic in origin. This practice is still permitted in the Ordinary Form of the Mass. This in fact was not changed or abrogated by Vatican II.
The Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches actually asks theses Catholic Eastern Rites to preserve this tradition. Thus Rome still must encourage this tradition.
Instruction for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches
Prayer facing the east
"Ever since ancient times, it has been customary in the prayer of the Eastern Churches to prostrate oneself to the ground, turning toward the east; the buildings themselves were constructed such that the altar would face the east. Saint John of Damascus explains the meaning of this tradition: "It is not for simplicity nor by chance that we pray turned toward the regions of the east (...). Since God is intelligible light (1 Jn. 1:5), and in the Scripture, Christ is called the Sun of justice (Mal. 3:20) and the East (Zec. 3:8 of the LXX), it is necessary to dedicate the east to him in order to render him worship. The Scripture says: 'Then the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and he placed there the man whom he had formed' (Gen. 2:8). (...) In search of the ancient homeland and tending toward it, we worship God. Even the tent of Moses had its curtain veil and propitiatory facing the east. And the tribe of Judah, in as much as it was the most notable, encamped on the east side (cf. Nm. 2:3). In the temple of Solomon, the Lord's gate was facing the east (cf. Ez. 44:1). Finally, the Lord placed on the cross looked toward the west, and so we prostrate ourselves in his direction, facing him. When he ascended to heaven, he was raised toward the east, and thus his disciples adored him, and thus he will return, in the same way as they saw him go to heaven (cf. Acts 1:11), as the Lord himself said: 'For just as lightning comes from the east and is seen as far as the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be' (Mt. 24:27). Waiting for him, we prostrate ourselves toward the east. It is an unwritten tradition, deriving from the Apostles."
"This rich and fascinating interpretation also explains the reason for which the celebrant who presides in the liturgical celebration prays facing the east, just as the people who participate. It is not a question, as is often claimed, of presiding over the celebration with the back turned to the people, but rather of guiding the people in pilgrimage toward the Kingdom, invoked in prayer until the return of the Lord."
The majority of those involved are from one diocese and an emergency meeting this November 24th, 2023 has been scheduled.
It seems to me that there is local tradition within one diocese in question and it is to have the mass with priest facing the people, whereas the rest of the entire Syro-Malabar Rite priests face the east when they say mass.
It should be noted that that Rome has sent in a delegation to maintain the ad orientem form in the Syro-Malabar masss.
The top decision-making body of the Eastern rite Syro-Malabar Church has formed a team of three bishops to dialogue with warring priests and the laity of an archdiocese amid threats of them breaking away from the Catholic Church over a protracted liturgical dispute.
The permanent Synod of Bishops of the Church based in southern Indian Kerala state formed a panel consisting of Archbishop Mathew Moolakkatt, Archbishop Joseph Pamplany and Bishop Jose Chittooparambil at an online emergency meeting on Nov 24.
The panel was scheduled to meet the leaders of protesting priests and lay people on Nov. 25,” an official statement said.
The priests and laity in the archdiocese have formed a human blockade at the gates of the Archbishop’s House since Nov. 21 and say they will not allow the apostolic administrator, Archbishop Andrews Thazhath, to enter it or any other archdiocesan institution.
The protesters had declared a boycott of Archbishop Thazhath in October after he unilaterally ordered priests to comply with an August 2021 decision of the Synod of Bishops to adopt a uniform Mass over traditional liturgical practices in the church.
The synod-approved format requires the priest to face the altar against the congregation during the Eucharistic prayer to Communion, but a majority of priests and lay people in the Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese want to continue with the traditional Mass with the celebrant facing the congregation throughout. - Split fears over liturgy row force Indian bishops to talk
Local synods can be overturned by Rome. But whether Pope Francis would do this is an open question as we know how untraditional he is in his thinking and recent decrees over the Extraordinary Form of the Mass in the Latin Rite!
This seems clearly to the exact opposite of the orientation phenomena that is afffecting the the Latin Rite.
The order follows a public statement by Vasil’ last week, in which he set an absolute deadline of Sunday Aug. 20 for priests of the archeparchy to drop protests against the uniform mode of the liturgy of Holy Qubana, ordered by the Syro-Malabar Church’s governing synod in 2021, in which clergy are to face ad orientem during part of the Eucharistic celebration.
The majority of the priests of the archeparchy have rejected the revised liturgy, which was intended as a compromise to accommodate clergy and faithful attached to the celebration of the liturgy versus populum — a modern innovation adopted in the Syro-Malabar Church following the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council for the Latin Church. Report: Four priests removed from Syro-Malabar seminary over liturgy protest
Other smaller issues are the introduction of some Latin Rite devotional practices of the Roman Rite such as the Rosary and the Stations of the Cross into this rite.