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Veritatis Splendor

"Keep your eyes fixed upon Jesus, who inspires and perfects our faith" --Hebrews 12:2

Pope Benedict XVI before our Lord

And only where God is seen does life truly begin. Only when we meet the living God in Christ do we know what life is. We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution.
Each of us is the result of a thought of God.
Each of us is willed,
each of us is loved,
each of us is necessary.
There is nothing more beautiful than to be surprised by the Gospel, by the encounter with Christ. There is nothing more beautiful than to know Him and to speak to others of our friendship with Him.
~Pope Benedict XVI, Homily April 24th, 2005

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Just got back from a Byzantine Divine Liturgy - Wow.

I have just returned from participating in my first Eastern Catholic Divine Liturgy (the Easter Rites' equivalent to the Roman Catholic Mass... Sidenote: Don't ever call an Eastern Divine Liturgy a "Mass," since "Mass" comes from the Latin words for dismissal! Thus, the Latin Rite liturgy is called "Mass," and not the Eastern liturgy.) and holy (truly) cow! I totally see now what our Holy Father said when he referred to the Western (Latin) and Eastern Churches as being the two lungs of the faith, and that we must breathe deeply of both in order to come to an understanding of the fullness of the Catholic Church.

Our local faithful order of Franciscan brothers (the Franciscan Brothers of Peace) is co-sponsoring a monthly Byzantine Catholic Divine Liturgy, held in their friary chapel and offered by the priest from St. John the Baptist Byzantine Catholic Church in Minneapolis. Before the Divine Liturgy they offer a brief class on Eastern Catholicism. They started this a couple of months ago, but I wasn't able to go until tonight. Tonight's liturgy was special, because we are in the season of Great Lent, it was the Liturgy of St. Basil, so the liturgy was about half-hour longer than the average Byzantine liturgy (they normally use the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom; the Liturgy of James of Jerusalem is used, very rarely, as well).

A few things in particular that struck me, as your typical Roman Rite Catholic (who has grown up with Mass in English, though I have gone to Tridentine Latin Masses, and Latin High Masses using the current missal, before) --

1) - The smells 'n bells! Oh yeah, the Eastern Churchs sure know how to invite the whole body to praise Jesus Christ and experience the mystery of our redemption! Incense everywhere, with those cool "Eastern" censors that have bells on them. Icons everywhere, every word of the Divine Liturgy is sung or chanted.

2) - The language! Oh yeah, baby, now this is a properly reverent vernacular translation! Check this out, this is what the congregation (the ones who will be receiving Communion anyway) recites together before going up to receive Communion:

O Lord, I believe and profess: that You are truly Christ, the Son of the living God, Who came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the first. Accept me as a partaker of Your mystical supper, O Son of God; for I will not reveal Your mystery to Your enemies, nor will I give you a kiss as did Judas, but like the thief I confess to you: Remember me, O Lord, when You shall come into Your kingdom. Remember me, O Master, when You shall come into Your kingdom. Remember me, O Holy One, when You shall come into Your kingdom. May the partaking of Your holy mysteries, O Lord, be not for my judgment or condemnation, but for the healing of soul and body. O Lord, I also believe and profess that this, which I am about to receive, is truly Your most precious body, and Your life-giving blood, which, I pray, make me worthy to receive the the remission of all my sins and for life everlasting. Amen. O God, be merciful to me a sinner. O God, cleanse me of my sins, and have mercy on me. O Lord, forgive me for I have sinned without number.

I bet that if the Western Rite started doing a prayer like that before shuffling up the Communion line the numbers of people who claim ignorance of the Real Presence of Our Lord would diminish... They even keep the correct "And with your spirit" phrasing instead of the bland "And also with you" that the current Latin Rite uses. The language during this Liturgy puts ICEL to absolute shame. Anyone who is looking for reverent liturgical language, in the vernacular English, needs to go check out one of these Divine Liturgies.

3) The petitions/imploring our Lord for mercy! Rather than stick almost all of the petitions in one spot right after the homily (or Creed, on Sunday), the Byzantine Rite has long petitional sections all throughout the Liturgy of the Word; in fact, the Divine Liturgy starts with a series of petitions. It is beautiful to hear, as it truly makes us realize that we are indeed worshipping the Lord of all Creation, the Omnipotent God! Plus, the refrains are phrases like, "Lord have mercy," "To You, O Lord," and "Grant it, O Lord." Sweet.

4) Alleluia!! Yes, the forbidden A-word during Lent is sung long and proud in the Eastern Rite (something that I never understood in the Latin Rite - especially since it typically is replaced with a phrase like "Glory and praise to you Lord Jesus Christ," which basically is restating what Alleluia means in sentence form, so why bother?)

5) Sign of the cross! In the Eastern Rite, the sign of the cross and a head bow is done every time the Trinitian formula is said (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), and they traditionally do the sign of the cross from right to left, unlike the Roman Rite... I was told tonight that the entire Church did it right to left until the 14th century or so, when the Western Church laity started doing it backwards. Weird. I liked it though. I wish we did the sign of the cross more often in the Western liturgy, getting the body more involved in worship like that is a good thing I think.

6) Leavened bread for Communion! Communion under both kinds by intinction! While I had academically learned long ago that the Western Church uses unleavened "wafer" bread (hosts) for Communion while the Eastern Church uses leavened bread, I was still surprised somehow to actually see it... It was weird for me, as a knowledgeable Roman Rite Catholic, to see bread being used that would make me cringe if I saw it used at my own parish... I first wondered just why they would use cubes of "real" (leavened) wheat bread, since it seems the danger of there being fragmentation and spillage of the Body of Christ is too great to use leavened bread. Well, duh, of course they don't just go handing out little pieces of crumbly Body - instead, they combine the Body with the Blood, and everyone receives (via a Communion spoon!) directly into the mouth the Body of Christ soaked in His Blood. Wow. I was definitely not quite comfortable with this, being so set in my Roman Rite ways as I am, but I can certainly appreciate the value of doing it this way. Much more intimate of a Communion method, and far more reverent as far as I am concerned.

7) Blessed bread! After the Divine Liturgy, those in attendance come up to venerate a crucifix and take a piece of "blessed bread" - bread that is not consecrated, so it's still bread (not the Body of Christ), but has been given a blessing. Therefore, it is a sacramental (like ashes on Ash Wednesday, or palms on Palm Sunday.) I'm not sure what I think about this tradition, it would seem to be a bit confusing to people in terms of trying to emphasize the Real Presence of our Lord under the appearance of bread at one point in the liturgy, and then handing out plain "blessed bread" on the other. But, then again, they also have that beautiful prayer that they recite and affirm directly before receiving Communion (unlike the Western Rite) so maybe it's not as big of a deal.

8) Mary! Marian phrasing and acknowledgement is all over the place - but still properly ordered, not spoken for her sake, but spoken so that we might better see the absolute wonder of the Incarnation, that GOD was born of a woman and became man, "for us men and for our salvation."

In summary, I was greatly impressed with what I saw tonight of Eastern Catholicism, and I would highly recommend that everyone who has access to an Eastern Rite Catholic Church go and see the Divine Liturgy for yourself! Remember, it's still our same Lord!

Those of you who are in the area of St. Paul/Minneapolis MN, please go check out the "St. Michael's Outreach" Divine Liturgy at the Franciscan Brothers of Peace Friary in St. Paul - They hold this on the 3rd Saturday of every month, with class at 5pm and Divine Liturgy at 6pm. E-mail Gordon for more information at saintmichaels@frontiernet.net or call 651-235-2097.


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