Thursday, January 17, 2013

Mea Pars Deus

This Christmas Season gifted me, after "Latin" Christmas, with the full Octave from 7 to 14 January, of exposure to Byzantine Catholic Liturgy here in Ukraine: cathedral liturgies, an episcopal ordination, solemn parish liturgies, a private daily liturgy in the Bishop's chapel, most in Ukrainian and the whole ordination in Church Slavonic. I was more impressed than ever with a Divine Liturgy marked in its character by an emphasis on intercessory prayer; it is truly liturgy as a prayer of ongoing and earnest petition. It is an oriented liturgy directed to the East, it is an ongoing dialogue, it is very much sung, and much of the celebrant's prayer is sotto voce. It was an intense, week long experience which nonetheless gave me time to reflect on our own Roman Rite and its needs in reform.

The Roman Rite has its own genus and that is where I am at home; that is where I belong. Nonetheless, the exposure I am receiving here in Ukraine to Byzantine Catholic Liturgy in the variety of its Slavic expressions which exist here side by side enriches me and fills me with awe. The TLM as it has always and everywhere been celebrated in the Roman Church has a greater affinity to the Byzantine Liturgy than does the Novus Ordo as commonly experienced in various parts of the world. If the NO were oriented, if priests faithfully observed the rubrics of the 3rd edition of the Roman Missal, if Holy Mass were only accompanied by truly sacred music, if Communion on the tongue were to return universally, then, I think it would find its way back into the great tradition of Catholic Divine Worship.

My Byzantine Christmas Octave aided me in my reflection on one of the other challenges to recovering continuity with our liturgical tradition, that is, with all that is required for healing the rupture and returning the Roman Rite to the path of organic development. More specifically, the challenge for me and I suspect for others is one of comprehending the role of silence in the Roman Rite, which is indeed one of its hallmarks and something foreign to Byzantine Catholic Liturgy. In the Byzantine Liturgy, if the celebrant is not singing then the choir and congregation or a cantor or deacon is. It is a layered experience even during what we would call the Eucharistic Prayer, not unlike the dynamics of the prayers at the foot of the Altar of the TLM, where at Solemn and Pontifical High Masses the choir is singing an antiphon while the bishop or priest and ministers are on another track if you will. I remember getting totally distracted because of the choir once at a Solemn High Mass in the cathedral at home, as a young adolescent, and completely losing it during the Confiteor, with Monsignor firmly telling me to start over and concentrate on getting it right. As I say, even the Eucharistic Prayer in the Byzantine Liturgy is layered as the celebrant and concelebrants quietly pray as the choir sings the Sanctus. They finish and the Institution Narrative is sung aloud with choir and congregation responding Amen, Amen, Amen. It is a beautiful world, but not the Roman one.

Many of those I have read recently rightly point out the fact that the pauses to be observed in the Novus Ordo are not the same as the silence which has its place not only in the priest's private Mass but even in the Pontifical High Mass of the TLM. Not that long ago (here) I started to grapple with this difference and what a challenge it represents for some (perhaps a greater challenge than even using Latin as the liturgical language). The question, or a question to be faced, is that of seeing or understanding how silence binds all together in a liturgical action which is directed to God, not anthropocentrically dialogical but in a sublime dialogue between Christ and His Bride the Church, a loving action which in the Roman Rite is not only a feast for the eyes (beauty in symmetry and the arts) and for the ears, but moreover and importantly, in way that Byzantine Liturgy is not, a dialogue of rich silence, not at the Altar where the celebrant is quietly praying the Canon of the Mass, but in the ambience of the church building for its whole length and breadth, where all are focused together on Christ (Oriens) and His great Sacrifice for our salvation.

There are those outspoken (mostly clerics older than me and not so many even any more) who laud the total elimination of the layering typical of Liturgy East and West since the earliest ages of the Church as one of the great gains for rationality that has come with the NO. The only hint of what was once a beautiful and suggestive edifice of silence is that brief moment of the celebrant's personal preparatory prayer for Communion, before he turns to the congregation to say the "Ecce Agnus Dei..."

What have we lost? My octave of reflection tells me that above all we have lost that common thrust of worship directed toward the Father, in the Holy Spirit, Who sent His Son to heal and save us. As much as a blog is supposed to be a log, I guess I'm logging something for you as coming to a greater clarity in my own life. The silent Canon with the one exclamation (Nobis quoque peccatoribus) is our tradition. Could it work in the vernacular? It works in the Byzantine Liturgy celebrated in Ukrainian.

I'm not ready to say: "This is the path! Follow it!" But I am ready to admit a receptivity through mutual enrichment (thank you, Holy Father!) to organic development towards a restoration of the Bride's proper focus on her loving Bridegroom.



  1. Could it work in the vernacular? It works in the Byzantine Liturgy celebrated in Ukrainian.

    Really? I thought it was Church Slavonic in Ukrainian pronunciation. A bit like Latin was pronounced differently in France, Spain and Italy during Middle Ages.

  2. In the Eparchy of Mukachevo the liturgy is celebrated in Church Slavonic with a Ukrainian pronunciation, as it was everywhere here until the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church came out of the catacombs. The official liturgical texts are all in Ukrainian now.

  3. Ah, ok.

    Is that the case with Patriarch Elias of the Ukrainian Orthodox Catholic Church too?

    Is he still considering John Paul II and Benedict XVI as non-Popes, by the way?

    1. His group has disappeared from the scene. It's nice of you to respect his claims, but the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has been very clear in pointing them out as invalid. He and his proteges may be priests but no more than that.

  4. Many thanks for your reflections here! My parish priests are good, orthodox men who none the less can't or don't see their way beyond the 'common experience' of the forma ordinaria (ad pop/'informality'/4 hymns etc) of the Roman Rite; I hope public conversation informed by contributions such as yours will, Deo volente, eventually help move us to a better future.

  5. I agree with your assessment of things. It will be interesting to see what the Congregation for Divine worship will be publishing in its upcoming manual regarding this issue. It is true that there is not enough silence and silence has to be re-discovered somehow.


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