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Why?/Why: - 2

I invited a friend, (actually a co-worker) very involved in their Roman Catholic parish, to a Liturgy at our church. Reluctantly, the invitation was accepted. A few days later I got the enclosed, with a note questioning whether their “obligation was fulfilled”, inasmuch as our Liturgy did not satisfy certain “norms”. What can I do or say?


First, you must be commended for wanting to share the fullness of catholicity in the Catholic Church in its practical sense. That’s part of “evangelization.” Unfortunately, your friend has had no education about this, and perhaps others suffer the same lack of knowledge. It seems strange in these days of post-Vatican II influence, that such ignorance still exist. Some are short-sighted and close-minded. People are unaware of the variety of Churches in the Church, laboring under the false concept that Christ’s prayer “that all may be one” is to be interpreted as “that all may do exactly the same thing”.

For the benefit of the readers, here is the text of the item your friend enclosed: “When the Entrance chant is concluded, the priest stands at the char and, together with the whole gathering, makes the Signof the Cross…”

“It is clear, therefore, that the priest should ordinarily begin a Mass with the faithful from the celebrant’s chair. This chair ‘Must signify his office of presiding over the gathering and of directing the prayer.’

“It is not liturgically appropriate to begin the Mass either at the ambo or at the altar because each liturgical place should be reserved for its proper purpose, the ambo for the table of the Word, the altar for the table of the Eucharist.”

“Once the initial veneration of the altar is completed, it should not be used until the presentation of the gifts. It is also better to wait until this moment before placing the missal, visible microphone, extra ciboria and other necessary liturgical elements upon the altar.”

Now, about your concern as to what to say or do about this seeming attempt to discredit our Church because “it does not do things the way the Romans do”. You know your Church—and must know it better to be able to teach others about it and its relationship with Rome [and their concept of “obligation”]. We do not copy the roman Rite—nor should they use incidental things from our faith in the Risen Lord--our allegiance to that faith passed to us from his followers (the Apostles and their successors)—and adherence to the tenets of the Niceo-Constantinopolitan Creed. How we do it is our own special response to the Grace granted us at our Baptism, Chrismation and Communion in the Body of Christ--His Church.

You may not get very far trying to explain to this co-worker the two thousand-year history of the development of the Church from Apostolic Times until the present. You might make an impression with the fact that the Church began in Jerusalem and proceeded to Antioch (where Peter was bishop before moving to Rome). Now explain that the church has over two dozen Catholic. Churches of various “Eastern” expressions compared to the monolithic sameness of the Roman Rite which is but one part of the Church.

Point out: We use terms in a different context. The word “altar” refers to the entire space behind the icon screen; the “Holy Table” sits in the middle of the space. As shown in the Statutes for the Ukrainian Church in the United States, repeating directives published specifically for our Church in 1944 (issued by Rome, incidentally): “an altar cannot be considered fit for the celebration of the Divine Liturgy before an iconostas has been erected.” [article 435]

You may legitimately--although unappreciated--question your friend why their church has no such icon screen, yet they use the altar. Whatever you do, do not argue such point--but give good example by your ethical, moral and spiritual life in the things you say and do, enhanced by your knowledge.

Historic circumstances of civil, economic, and political activities have shaped the outward ways of the world, and the minds of many, to categorize the Church as something now found almost everywhere, encrusted with Western European trappings that frankly speaking are not catholic. That is not “the Catholic Church”.

Apparently your visitor visited other churches, but never visited other Churches. Without much true instruction in the matter, your friend was woefully unprepared for the experience. Some teachers know surprisingly little about the Church--and do not teach in relation to what the Church really teaches.

Curiously, many Romans tend to think “diversity” in the Church means “the same [Roman] Mass is celebrated in many languages, in disparate cultures and across generational lines.” It seems to go beyond the scope of many to see “diversity” as a totally different concept, more than skin-deep. Other Catholic Churches actually do things entirely different--yet all are the same--Catholic. Most on-the-street Eastern Christians know this. Quite a few “experts: in the Latin Church do not seem to grasp the idea. The Western Church might benefit by allowing specific cultures to express their faith in familiar forms, rather than have legitimate cultural treasures disappear by adapting to a homogenous puree of indistinguishable ingredients. Our faith is more than externals. But the externals are designed to guide us by what we hear, see, smell, taste and touch to a truer sense of our place Creation - God’s Kingdom.

You well-know the Byzantine Church is not the only Eastern Catholic Church and not the only Catholic Church. It is well within your responsibility as an informed Christian to learn all you can about your own traditions a Tradition. See to it that your parish has “enrichment” programs. Be sure that your parish (school if there is one) uses only those books that properly and adequately explain the theology, liturgy, Sacramental Mysteries, governance, art, architecture, music, prayer styles and general over-all use of terminology and thinking that provide solid bases for you to have ready replies to combat the lack of information others may have when they visit our Church. Then will you better appreciate Maronite, Chaldean, Armenian, Syriac or other Eastern Churches well. Why? So we can see how we are one.

So--what to do? Keep trying to show the Church as it is: a confederation of individual Churches that together make the Catholic Church catholic. The Roman Church is not the “Catholic” Church. The Byzantine Church is not the “Catholic” Church - not the Armenian, Coptic, Malabar, or whatever - but together we are the Catholic Church. Surely this encourages Churches to maintain their own identity.

Rather than “evangelize” other Catholics, invite non-Catholic—or non-Christian acquaintances. You might have better response. To many, the truths of the church have never been brought up—even if there might be some curiosity about who we are. Tell them!

Our Liturgy has a prayer “for the unity of the holy Churches of God” to make us all aware that we are not in this alone, but together.

By Fr. Denny Molitvy

New Star, September, 2009



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