Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Re: The East

I went to a Divine Liturgy on Sunday. Here's a note to everyone: When you are out of town, try to check out a different facet of the Faith. If you've never been to a Traditional Latin Mass, go to one. If you haven't seen the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, do so.

To begin, I must thank my posting colleague Karl and my wife for first sparking my interest in things Eastern. Sure, I'd read some of the Fathers and what-not, but it bore very little attraction for me until I first encountered Karl on NDNation. Karl's take on things led us to a lot of similar conclusions, but his perspective on things was so radically different that I was immediately intrigued.

As for my wife, she initially sought to convert to Orthodoxy, then opted to swim the Tiber instead. However, there was a year or so there in which I was treated to my first Divine Liturgy. It was an extraordinary experience. Despite my wife's conversion, she still describes having to leave the liturgy behind as having a limb amputated. For the record, there is no Eastern Catholic liturgy or Traditional Mass within 4 hours or so of here.

Anyways, back to this weekend. The actual church was St. Basil's in Irving, Tx. This was my second time attending there. Before that, I attended St. Sophia's in The Colony, Tx when I was in the area. No offense to St. Sophia's. Fr. Vasily is awesome. St. Basil's is just closer to where I've been staying.

St. Basil's is small in square footage but big in attendance. What always amazes me, and I'm sure astounds the Call to Action types, is the percentage of young folks at traditional liturgies. There were probably 70+ people at this one and the average age (I kid you not) was under 35. And this was a holiday weekend. Last year, when it wasn't 4th of July, it was standing room only.

On a side note, please pray for this parish. They are currently without a resident priest.

The priest who was there was a Melkite from out of town. I got there early to do the Third Hour and ran into him as he was arriving. I asked him if he would hear my confession, and he readily agreed. I'd never done this before with an Eastern priest. It's pretty radical.

I'm a huge fan of the confessional box and what it symbolizes. The absolute darkness and isolation as a sinner always helped me in coming to understand the reality of my sins. Of course, we've screwed this all up in the Latin rite by getting rid of the boxes. This brings me to my first bit of praise for the Easterners. They don't go out of their way to screw things up as much as us. While I'm at it, to hell with Latinization. Let us do the Latinizing. We need it a whole lot more than you Easterners do.

Eastern confession is way different. The priest took me to the icon of Christ and had me confess to the icon. He then counseled me a bit and asked me to lean over. He covered my head with his stole and pronounced the absolution, concluding by blessing me with his cross. It was beautiful and retained the outward signs that make sacraments so powerful. Sure, they weren't the same signs that I know from my Latin heritage, but they are just as significant and meaningful. Easterners remember that these things are important. Too many of us Latins seem to be in a hurry to get rid of them so that we can bask in ugliness or plainness, terms which are synonymous when you are talking about worshipping and giving glory to God.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the liturgy itself. Easterners have their liturgical business together. The priest is turned around the right way. Incense. Bells. Music that will knock your socks off and is sung by the whole congregation. Actual freaking rubrics to draw your attention to the sacred mysteries. It's an entire action that draws the mind away from self and towards God. Laying aside all earthly cares, so to speak.

Here's an example. What is the fundamental mystery of the Faith? The Trinity. You get Trinitarian theology from start to finish in the Divine Liturgy. The whole thing is one big catechesis on Father, Son, and Spirit. People are making the Sign of the Cross and bowing all over the place because the Thrice Holy is invoked by name(s) so many times. You could go to a single Divine Liturgy and walk out with a pretty good idea about the basics of the Faith. Unless your priest is using the Roman Canon (aka- Eucharistic Prayer I), I'm not sure that us Latin rite folks can make similar claims.

The homily was great, too. The priest gave a great shpiel starting with the radicalness of Christ's actions seeming to turn the world upside down. We only see it that way, though, because we (and the entire world) are already upside down. Christ is turning things right side up again. This led to a discussion on freedom and how God makes us free, even if it doesn't seem that way to us. The fact is that we become freer as we become holier. All this was interspersed with brief teaching moments on the sacraments and how they contribute to this process.

It was a marvelous time. I wasn't the only one who thought so either. As was the case last year when I visited, a small group of other visitors lingered behind to ask parishioners about the church and what all the icons, etc. meant. As I left, I'm pretty sure I heard the visitors comment that they would be attending there on a regular basis. This should not be surprising. It's what happens when the splendor of the Church is allowed to shine forth without all the filters that have dumbed things down in so many places.

God bless St. Basil's.


Philip said...

Sometime I'd be interested in hearing thoughts on the moral implications of the MMR vaccine. Maybe you, Karl and others can take a shot.

You might remember that my wife is a pediatrics resident. Yesterday, one of her co-workers had a lady who refused the MMR vaccine for her twins not because of autism concerns but because her Catholic beliefs prevented her from allowing it to be administered to her children.

Knowing that my wife is Catholic, the co-worker asked her about it. She had never heard of any objections from the Church against the MMR vaccine.

Lo and behold, after some research, the rubella vaccine (the R in MMR) is developed from a single cell line that was taken from an electively aborted fetus back in the 1960's. The lady had a point.

So why don't we hear more about this from the Catholic Church? Is the Church okay with the MMR vaccine, or have the Mrs. and I just not been paying attention?

For what it's worth, I think that the polio vaccine has some similar concerns.

Of course, the lady who was refusing the vaccines wasn't entirely consistent with her Catholic beliefs. Her twins were conceived through IVF.

Chants a Lot said...

There is indeed something quite extraordinary about the Divine Liturgy in the Eastern Catholic Churches. Mass in a western rite, particularly if celebrated according to the Extraordinary Form, can be quite beautiful and can show us that the Mass is indeed heaven on earth. But this connection with heaven is even more evident in the Eastern liturgy. A friend of mine who is ordained in the Episcopal Church, but who will, I believe, end up in the Orthodox Church, says that this difference exists because the theology of the western churches is rooted in Aristotle while the East remained Platonic. As a consequence, he says, we westerners feel a need to over-analyze and understand everything, which causes us to lose a real sense of mystery, while the Eastern Christians are content to allow the grace of the ancient liturgy to instill that sense of mystery in them as they participate in it. It's almost as though we in the West think we have to apologize that the central dogma of the faith - the Trinity - is a mystery, while our eastern brethren embrace and celebrate this mystery in an almost in-your-face manner. I think he is correct about this, and it is the reason that I, like your wife, almost became Orthodox before I entered into full communion with Holy Mother Church. At any rate, I'm glad you had this experience.

Throwback said...

Hey, Phil. The Vatican actually issued a response to your question back in 2005. Here you go:

Karl said...

Hey ChantsaLot,

Don't take the "Rational West, Mystical East" caricature too seriously. It's a convenient (and rather self-serving) way for Orthodoxy to define itself against Catholicism. There is a grain of truth to it, but also some grains of salt.

The liturgical conservatism in the East is wonderful, but is also a result of necessity. Remember that most of Orthodoxy has been under either Islamic or Communist rule for years. The Church is a center of identity for an oppressed minority, and change would be culturally suicidal. Historical necessity becomes a virtue.

Anyway, I'm with you. The Divine Liturgy is the most beautiful thing this side of heaven, except for maybe the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete.

Throwback said...

If it means anything, and it might not, my wife's discovery of what Karl is saying was one reason why she became Catholic.

By the way, thanks to SA-Mom and ForumJunkie from the DCF board for supplying the immunization link.

Chants a Lot said...

Karl, Thanks for your comments. Yours is probably a better explanation than mine. I will say that, whatever the reason for their liturgical conservatism, Eastern Rite Catholic Churches and Eastern Orthodox Churches have been mercifully spared the horrible (unauthorized and unforeseen(?)) innovations (particularly musical ones) that have been foisted upon us Western Catholics since Vatican II.