KOCHI (UCAN): An elaborate set of guidelines issued by Bishop Remigiose Inchananiyil, from the Syro Malabar Church tradition in India, has caused controversy over a section that says men should marry before the age of 25 and women before 23.
It also says that extravagant marriage ceremonies should be avoided and bans bridesmaids and flower girls.
In addition, the circular focusses on simplicity and criticises the emerging trend of delaying the burial of bodies for people’s convenience. It says they should be buried within 24 hours of death.
The circular also wants to ban fireworks displays and modern musical instruments from being used during Church festivals and other functions.
José Sebastian, a social commentator, said some suggestions are impractical and unnecessary.
“A person may not be able to complete studies, get a job and establish himself financially before the age of 25. It may not always be possible to get married before the age of 25,” Sebastian said.
He added many funerals are generally delayed to help relatives of the deceased, who work outside the state, attend the ceremony.
“Although these guidelines are not compulsory, it may create discord between the clergy and the people when a parish priest tries to comply with the bishop’s directions,” he said.
Reji Njallani, the state convener of the Kerala Catholic Church Reformation Movement, said the guidelines may be an attempt to restore the centuries-old customs and traditions of the ancient Syro-Malabar Church that traces its origin to St. Thomas the Apostle.
Many Kerala Christians, also known as St. Thomas Christians, follow the customs of high caste Hindus, but the arrival of Portuguese missioners in 16th century helped them accept several liturgical changes.
“A group in the Church has been attempting to restore what they call the traditions of St. Thomas Christians,” he explained.
Njallan said that banning flower girls and recommending early marriage should be seen in this light, as it is a tradition of the upper caste Hindus in the state, which also demands the funeral be held on the day of death, or at least within 24 hours.
It is also regarded as an encouragement not to flaunt affluence and for people to keep their eyes on the ball in celebrating the rites of passage.