So I Went to the Byzantine Divine Liturgy

I recently learned that there is a Byzantine Catholic Church about a mile from my new house, St. Basil the Great Byzantine Catholic Church. So my family went there this morning. This was my second time to attend the Divine Liturgy in the Catholic Church. The first time was a Melkite parish.

To be honest, it can be a bit intimidating at first. Everything is a little different. Early in the liturgy I realized that there would be no way for me to follow the books so I did my best and tried to participate by watching and listening. I was amazed by the priest. He didn’t have a deacon. He sang (excepting the homily) for about an hour and a half. Moreover, the role of the Byzantine priest is a very active one. When I was an Episcopal clergyman, we either sat or stood at the altar. This priest had two processions around the church and lots of sensing. Plus, he occupied himself with bowing and other gestures. It was impressive.

I was brought to tears during the anaphora, or Eucharistic canon. I know that Christ is present at every Mass, but in the context of the Divine Liturgy, it is unmistakable. My eyes filled with tears of humility as I considered how Christ rested upon the altar for my sake. Christ had deigned to be present for us.

Receiving the Holy Eucharist was even more moving. I haven’t much employed my Confirmation name “John” since I came into the Church, but as I bowed my head before the Blessed Sacrament and uttered my Catholic name “John”, I heard the priest announce aloud, “The servant of God John receives the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The priest did this for each and every communicant. The priest then blessed my children, not with a simple gesture, but rather by making the sign of the cross with the chalice over the head of each one of them.

In the typical Novus Ordo parish I receive the ineffable mystery of Christ’s body from a various layman – sometimes a nicely dressed man in a suit, sometimes a grandmother in a pant-suit, once from a woman in a short miniskirt. It makes a difference when you receive from a priest and especially when you’re standing before the iconostasis with people chanting “Receive the Body of Christ and taste the Fountain of Life!”

Those words sunk in as I received Christ – “Taste the the Fountain of Life!” The Precious and Life-Giving Blood flowing from the side of Christ is the Fountain of Life. (If you like typology, nobody does it better than the East!)

My children were more attentive during the Divine Liturgy. There is more to watch, and I especially appreciated how they were able to receive the antidoron (blessed bread – not the Eucharist) after the Liturgy. My five-year-old son has begun to recognize how he is “not invited” to receive the Eucharist and so this was a nice consolation. (Paedocommunion or “child communion” is a beautiful thing. One of these days I’ll do a post on the Patristic witness of this ancient and venerable practice of the East.) My children love Christ and know that Christ is present in the Eucharist. Do they understand “transubstantiation”? No – but neither do I!

Anyway, it was wonderful and I am grateful that the Church has preserved this beautiful patrimony of devotion. I could go on and on, especially about the Marian dimension and the Theotokion. The people were kind and hospitable. Will I go back? Most likely. I’m still a big fan of English hymns and rectangular churches, but I have a feeling that I might be at St. Basil’s this Friday for the Feast of the Holy Cross.

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