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Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Byzantines

Today my husband and I went to the Divine Liturgy in the Catholic Byzantine Rite. The Divine Liturgy is basically the equivalent of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It was absolutely fascinating. There are many differences, and many similarities. Their prayers are similar, but the entire Liturgy is chanted, in English. There is a lot of incense used, and instead of kneeling they stand in joyfulness at the Resurrection.

In this particular church, the priest places a very strong importance on the children attending ("If there are no kids, there are no priests," he says). They are allowed to run amok in the church (within reason), make noise, and generally be kids.

During the Gospel they are rounded up and stand in front of the priest as he reads it. Then they venerate the Gospel. During the homily, they are again called forth to sit at his feet as he gives them a very short homily that is directed precisely at them as children - easy to understand, and to the point. Since today is the Feast of the Assumption, he showed them an embroidered icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary (known to the Byzantines as the Theotokos, or God Bearer) and explained that she was Assumed body and soul into Heaven. This short homily delivered, he said, "Okay? Alright. Scatter." The children scampered back to their parents, and then the homily for the adults was given.

There was such a natural feeling to it all. It was noisy, and slightly chaotic, and relaxed. Like, "Hey, dudes, we are all chillin' here with the Christ". Yet oddly enough, it was also extremely reverent. The icons and the whole church were stunningly beautiful.

The altar, which is Heaven, is screened off with a gold "Iconostasis" (basically a screen). In the center is a large gate, the "Royal Door" which is opened so that the priest, in persona Christi, can walk from Heaven to Earth and back and forth throughout the Divine Liturgy. On the sides are smaller doors that the deacons and altar boys walk through as needed.

Phillip whispered to me, "I understand why there can be hijinks in the Church. Its because their Altar is separate. No hijinks go in there, it is protected. So its okay if its a little unruly out here. This is considered Earth. And back there is Heaven."

We had left our girls at home with my parents, who are visiting. But I really regretted not bringing them, because they would have had a whole lot of fun. How many times can you say your kids have actual fun during the Roman Catholic Mass? It is not how I would describe that experience for the children. Reverent, yes. Holy, yes. Solemn, yes. But fun? Definitely not.

So I think we are going to make an effort to go to Mass there again in the coming months so they can experience it.

Another difference between them and the Roman Rite is that the children take Communion immediately after Baptism. Unlike how we go through classes and preparation, they go straight into it and are Catechized from the time they are itty bitty little ones. I saw a 5 year old go up and receive, and I was feeling all shocked and awkward, wondering if I should tell her mother. I thought, "What if they are running so amok that a kid sneaks through and takes Communion when they are not supposed to?!" I asked her about it afterwards and she explained that this is how the Byzantine Rite works.

There are so many other interesting things about it - the smells and bells, the many, many  Kyrie Eleisons, the mode of receiving the Eucharist, etc. But it would take forever to explain it all. All I can say is this: If you ever have a chance to go to a Byzantine Divine Liturgy, you should. You may feel out of place and awkward at first because you don't know what do to, but then you find that no one is really staring, and they don't seem to care if you are doing it "right". It helps if you have a friend who goes there and can explain things to you. It fulfills your Sunday obligation and they are in full Communion with the Holy Roman Catholic Church (in fact, they pray more times for the Pope that we do at our Mass!) Its a learning experience, and is a way to begin to grasp just how rich our faith is. Its easy to think in terms of "Novus Ordo" and "Extraordinary From", but I suddenly realize that there is so very much more out there. My mind has been opened.

1 comment:

  1. That sounds so lovely! Especially for the kids. At our mass it's expected that the kids will either be silent or we mothers have to take the kids and leave the church. It's very isolating and frustrating. (A few decades ago the church was situated differently and mothers would have to stand outside in the rain with their crying babies!!)


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