Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Belly up to the . . . Altar?

The title is a take on the song from “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” called “Belly up to the Bar, Boys.” (I looked for a Youtube clip to embed, but couldn’t find one. Copyright stuff, I’m sure.)

Click over to an article from Christianity Today called “Should Churches be as Friendly as Bars?

Do we want a friendly, affable, chatty place to go ‘where everybody knows your name’ or do we want something more?

In a place where people really belong, they are free to talk about the most uncomfortable things—sin and salvation, hate and forgiveness, suffering and hope, death and life. And they learn the fine art of forbearance and forgiveness. Merely friendly churches avoid such unpleasantness. But churches that take people seriously cannot avoid it.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

A Passionate Thought

Tonight (Saturday) at the Vigil Mass we had the reading of St. Luke’s Passion narrative for the Gospel of Passion/Palm Sunday.  I’ve done this for fifteen years, but tonight, some of the words from St. Luke struck a new meaning for me.

“Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me;
weep instead for yourselves and for your children
for indeed, the days are coming when people will say,
‘Blessed are the barren,
the wombs that never bore
and the breasts that never nursed.’
At that time people will say to the mountains,
‘Fall upon us!’
and to the hills, ‘Cover us!’
for if these things are done when the wood is green
what will happen when it is dry?”

Have we begun to reach those times?  Are not barren wombs much more in desire today?  Don’t we treat our fertility like a disease to be prevented at all costs?  If a couple has too many children, people scold them – sometimes in a teasing manner, and sometimes not – and let them know that their choice of embracing their fertility is not something that is in fashion any more.  We bless and extol the virtues to those who do the reasonable thing and choose to be barren.

And we tell our elderly and sick to go let mountains fall on them.  They are used up, they are of no more economic worth, they are just a drain on resources, especially medical resources.  So we use names to cover up suicide, and euthanasia, and we call it compassion as we vote it into law in our states and in our country.

The wood of our society is certainly green.  We have a higher standard of living than at any point in our past.  We are more than capable of caring for children, and for reaching out to those who do not have someone to care for them.  Yet if we look at children as a disease now, when things are so fertile and blessed, what will happen if we truly face a dire, worldwide catastrophe?  If human life is valued so little now, what will the future hold?

All this flashed through my mind as I was reading the Gospel, and I thanked the Lord for letting me find new meaning in a familiar passage.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Phoney Solutions

Yesterday (Friday) afternoon, a problem occurred with our parish phones.  Somehow, when you called the parish, your calls were redirected to an *ahem* naughty phone number.  OK, not just naughty, but sick, twisted, and evil.

I was first alerted to this around 5 p.m. when I received a voicemail message (on the parish system) that this person had ‘trouble’ getting through to the parish, and kept getting “a party phone.”  So I picked up the phone, used an alternative number, and dialed our main number.  No problem.  Tried it again and no problem.  And the person had left me a VOICEMAIL message on our system, so they did get through – so apparently it was a transient problem that was fixed.

Not so.  It seems that using our own system to call ourselves would not trigger the problem.

We had our parish penance service last night, and no one there reported any problems to us.  A staff member called someone else to say that there was still a problem, but I was busy, and I couldn’t investigate right away.

Once I had time I used a cell phone to call the parish.  I was greeted with “Welcome to the Party Line!  For English, press 1.  Para EspaƱol, marque dos.”  Trust me, that is NOT our usual answering message.

I hung up, knowing there was a problem.  I didn’t need to call a second or third time.  I obviously wasn’t reaching the parish, even though I dialed the correct number.

I called the phone company and within seconds they told me what the problem was, and how I could fix it.  I did.  Problem solved in seconds.

But here’s the part that puzzles me, but maybe it doesn’t because there is a spiritual analogy to it.

When someone called and got the wrong number, the “Party Line,” rather than just hang up and wait for the problem to be fixed, or possibly even call the phone company FOR US and have the problem fixed by them.  THEY KEPT CALLING.  Not only did they keep calling, THEY STARTED LISTENING TO THE MESSAGES AND KEPT PUSHING BUTTONS.  Over and over and over again, calling the number, FOLLOWING THE DIRECTIONS, and getting nasty, nasty, nasty messages, AND THEY KEPT LISTENING.  TO THE ENTIRE MESSAGE.  OVER AND OVER AND OVER AGAIN.  Thinking somehow, this time, it was going to be different.

Why?  Why keep calling?  Why listen to those nasty messages, not just once (and why keep listening the first time – did you expect to hear my voice saying APRIL FOOL or something), but again and again?  And then get upset at THE PARISH because of the nasty things they were hearing.

Don’t we do the same thing in our own lives.  We encounter a problem, and we try to fix it (maybe an addiction?).  Our fix doesn’t work.  So instead of taking a step back, realizing there is a bigger problem, we just try the same broken routine, over and over and over, and find ourselves getting into bigger and bigger problems.  But we don’t stop, ask someone (perhaps God?) for help, or ask the advice and counsel of a wise and holy person, we just keep going back, doing the same thing, and wondering why the problem isn’t solved.

Now I’m not equating God with the phone company, but the simple call for help and guidance set me on the right track right away.  But I had to admit there was a problem and that I WAS POWERLESS to change it (sound familiar, people), and turn to a HIGER POWER (or at least an expert in the field – the phone company) to fix the problem.  Then I had to follow their directions, and keep those directions handy in case the problem reoccurs.

By the way, I know that phone systems like ours can be hacked from the outside, and the problem we had can happen.  We are taking steps to prevent the problem from happening again.

Friday, March 19, 2010

On the Life and Mission of St. Joseph

John Paul II's great Apostolic Exhortation on St. Joseph.

SANCTE PATER: General Councils of the Church

General Councils of the Church:

Jerusalem (Acts 15:2)

When and where
Crisis or controversy
Gentile converts must follow Mosaic Law; 'Unless you are circumcised according to the Mosaic practice, you cannot be saved.' Acts 15:1
'Apostles and presbyters' Acts 15:6, and the following notables: Paul and Barnabas, Peter, James (Acts 15:6-22)
Decrees and resolutions
'It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities.' Acts 15:28

Nicea I

When and where
325. (Now Iznik, Turkey, 70 miles from Constantinople on the Asiatic shore of the Bosporus)
Crisis or controversy
Christ was a pure creature; made out of nothing; liable to fall; the Son of God by adoption, not by nature: Arianism.
318 bishops, and the following notables: Convened: Constantine I, Emperor; Eusebius of Caesarea, historian; St. Athanasius, theologian; Ratified: Silvester I, Pope.
Decrees and resolutions
The Nicene Creed; The Consubstaniality of the Word: homousion with the Father; Solved how the date of Easter should be calculated.

Constantinople I

When and where
381. (Now Istanbul, Turkey)
Crisis or controversy
The need to insist on homousion; Demonstrate to the world that Christians of the East are not Arians; Apollinaris was teaching that Christ was not true man.
186 bishops, and the following notables: Convened: Theodosius I, Emperor; St. Basil the Great; St. Gregory of Nyssa; St. Gregory of Naz., theologians; Ratified: Damasus, Pope
Decrees and resolutions
Renewed the work of Nicaea; Condemned the heresy of the Macedonians (the Holy Spirit was not really God); Condemned the heresy of Apollinaris (that Christ was not really a man).


When and where
Crisis or controversy
Nestorius was teaching that Mary was not the mother of God; Proponents of Nestorius began claiming that Christ was actually two separate persons, human and divine.
250 bishops, and the following notables: Convened: Theodosius II, Emperor; St. Cyril of Alexandria; St. John Chrysostom; Ratified: Celestinus I, Pope.
Decrees and resolutions
Condemned Nestorius; Decreed that Mary was also Theotokos, mother of God; Declared that Christ is true God and true man, that he has two natures (human and divine) joined in one person.


When and where
451. (Ancient seaport of Bithynia on the sea of Marmara)
Crisis or controversy
Monophysites were teaching that Christ had a single divine nature and no human nature.
600 bishops, and the following notables: Convened: Marcianus, Emperor; Ratified: Leo I, Pope.
Decrees and resolutions
Condemned Monophysitism; Declared that Christ had two distinct natures and was both true God and true man; Promulgated canons of church discipline.

Constantinople II

When and where
Crisis or controversy
Emperor Justinian I wanted the Church to consider the orthodoxy of three Greek theologians: Theodore of Mopsuestia, Theodoret of Cyrrhus, and Ebas of Edessa.
150 bishops, and the following notables: Convened: Justinian I, Emperor;
Decrees and resolutions
Condemned the writings of theologians as having been infested with Nestorianism.

Constantinople III

When and where
Crisis or controversy
Monothelism was teaching that Christ did not possess a human will.
174 bishops, and the following notables: Convened: Constantine IV, Emperor; Ratified: Leo II, Pope.
Decrees and resolutions
Condemned Monothelism; Declared that Christ has two wills, human and divine.

Nicaea II

When and where
Crisis or controversy
Iconoclasts taught that using sacred images was idolatry.
390 bishops, and the following notables: Convened: Irene, Empress; Ratified: Adrian I, Pope.
Decrees and resolutions
Condemned Iconoclasts; Declared that sacred images may be honored without idolatry. Promulgated canons of church discipline.

Constantinople IV

When and where
Crisis or controversy
Needed to decide the right of Patriarch Photius or the restoration of Ignatius.
102 bishops, and the following notables: Convened: Basil, Emperor; Ratified: Adrian II, Pope.
Decrees and resolutions
Photius was condemned in 27 canons.

Lateran I

When and where
1123. (Basilica in Rome, Italy)
Crisis or controversy
Needed to face the social and religious problems of the day; First ecumenical council in the West.
300 bishops, and the following notables: Convened: Callistus II, Pope; Ratified: Callistus
Decrees and resolutions
Promulgated canons of mixed matters.

Lateran II

When and where
Crisis or controversy
A double papal election and ensuing schism when two rivals claiming to be pope divided the church.
1000 bishops, and the following notables: Convened: Innocent II, Pope; St. Bernard of Clairvaux Ratified: Innocent II.
Decrees and resolutions
Took measures against schism of antipope Anacletis II; Promulgated canons of church discipline

Lateran III

When and where
Crisis or controversy
Reorganization had to be faced; there was the ever-needed pressure to reform; restraint of abuses.
More than 300 bishops, and the following notables: Convened: Alexander III, Pope; Ratified: Alexander III, Pope.
Decrees and resolutions
Decreed that papal elections required two-thirds majority of cardinals at the conclave; Promulgated numerous disciplinary canons.

Lateran IV

When and where
Crisis or controversy
Albigensian heresy: two supreme beings, Evil and Good; Christ did not die; all material things must.
412 bishops; 388 priests, and the following notables: Convened: Innocent III, Pope; Ratified: Innocent III, Pope.
Decrees and resolutions
Declaration of Canon Law: the law of the Church; Decrees against Albegensians and Waldensians.

Lyons I

When and where
1245. (City in E. France)
Crisis or controversy
The difficult and heretical behavior of Emperor Frederick II; The persecution of religion.
140 bishops; more than 300 in toto, and the following notables: Convened: Innocent IV, Pope; Ratified: Innocent IV, Pope.
Decrees and resolutions
Excommunication and deposition of Frederick II.

Lyons II

When and where
Crisis or controversy
A marked decline of the detachment of the popes from the things of the world; Chronic restiveness of the Greeks toward Roman primacy.
500 bishops; 570 priests, and the following notables: Convened: Gregory X, Pope; St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Bonaventure; Ratified: Gregory X, Pope.
Decrees and resolutions
General reformation of the morals of clergy and bishops; Dogmatic constitution of filioque; Profession of faith of Greek Emperor Michael VIII.


When and where
1312. (City in E. France near Lyons)
Crisis or controversy
Problems with the religious order of Knights Templars.
122 bishops; 300 abbots, and the following notables: Convened: Clemens V, Pope; Ratified: Clemens V, Pope.
Decrees and resolutions
Templars were suppressed; Canon Law enacted; Three definition of dogmas; Disciplinary decrees written.


When and where
1414 - 1418. (City in Germany on Swiss border)
Crisis or controversy
The Great Western Schism: two sets of popes.
32 Cardinals; 183 bishops; 100 abbots; 350 priests, and the following notables: Convened: Segismund, Emperor; Ratified: Martin V, Pope.
Decrees and resolutions
Reformation of the Church; Material organization of religion.


When and where
1438. (City of N. Italy)
Crisis or controversy
East/West reunion; Constantinople was being threatened by Mohammedans.
more than 150 bishops, and the following notables: Convened: Eugene IV, Pope; Ratified: Eugene IV, Pope.
Decrees and resolutions
Reunion of oriental churches.

Lateran V

When and where
1512 - 1517.
Crisis or controversy
Needed reform in church administration; Rise of atheistic philosophy; Friction between bishops and orders of friars.
115 bishops, and the following notables: Convened: Julius II, Pope; Cajetan; Ratified: Leo X, Pope.
Decrees and resolutions
Condemned the Averroes philosophy: the soul of man is not immortal; Promulgated reform decrees; Established principles of book censorship; Rights of bishops defined.


When and where
1545 - 1563. (in Hapsburg's Germany; now N. Italy)
Crisis or controversy
Martin Luther; Revolt against the Pope; Widespread heresy.
70 - 252 bishops, and the following notables: Convened: Paul III, Pope; Ratified: Pius IV, Pope.
Decrees and resolutions
Doctrinal decrees: restatement of belief in opposition to the new theologies; The Catholic Reformation: the reformation of Catholic life.

Vatican I

When and where
1870. (St. Peter's Bascilica)
Crisis or controversy
A return to life of the Catholic Church: needed a revival of religious life General restoration and restatement of the faith was needed; Christian marriages and education needed safeguarding.
747 bishops, and the following notables: Convened: Pius IX, Pope; Ratified: Pius IX, Pope.
Decrees and resolutions
Promulgated decrees on the Catholic Faith and on the Church; Condemned the Rationalists and Semirationalists; Defined the charism of infallibility.

Vatican II

When and where
1962 - 1965.
Crisis or controversy
Constant need for reform and revival; Needed translation of faith into modern era: communication media; Christians and Jews; religious freedom, etc.
2908 bishops, and the following notables: Convened: John XXIII, Pope; Ratified: Paul VI, Pope.
Decrees and resolutions
Issued 16 documents: On Divine Revelation; The Pastoral Constitution; On The Church in the Modern World; On The Church

St. Joseph

This morning as I celebrated the Mass and talked about St. Joseph, a thought kept going through my mind.

St. Joseph accepted the responsibility that God gave him, no matter what his personal thoughts or misgivings might have been.  In true humility, he accepted his role in the Holy Family to watch over and guide Mary and Jesus.  Their holiness and wisdom probably surpassed his, but he accepted what God laid out for him.

As the pastor of a parish, I can tell you for certain that the holiness and wisdom of the parishioners far surpasses mine.  But God, through our Bishop has asked me to be here and asked me to watch over and guide the parish.  I accept that responsibility, and I let it call me to strive for an increase in my personal relationship with Christ, leading me to holiness and true humility.  As for the wisdom - well, I gotta work with what God gave me, and know that God's Grace and Wisdom are far more effective than anything I can do.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Morning Musings

After looking at the excellent work at, especially the list of United States Bishops who are active at or near the age limit of 75 (which you can find here), it just sets a mind to musing about the influence that Pope Benedict can have on Catholicism here in the US.

Here’s a list of those dioceses which have the Ordinary near or at the age limit.  The full list, including the Auxiliary Bishops is at the link above.  The order listed is from the oldest to the youngest of the group of Bishops.

Active at or over 75

  • Lafayette, LA
  • Seattle, WA
  • Spokane, WA
  • Oklahoma City, OK

Close to 75 (Two years or less)

  • Philadelphia, PA
  • Savannah, GA
  • Trenton, NJ
  • Yakima, WA
  • Manchester, NH
  • Altoona-Johnstown, PA
  • Lincoln, NB
  • St. Augustine, FL
  • Bismarck, ND
  • Evansville, IN
  • Miami, FL
  • Rockford, IL
  • Los Angeles, CA
  • Buffalo, NY
  • San Francisco, CA
  • Erie, PA
  • Las Cruces, NM
  • Orange, CA
  • Chicago, IL
  • Portland, OR

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


Father, I am 75 years old. I can’t go out. I sit around the house all day. What can I do?”

This is heard more often than I like to think in the confessional. In essence a person is saying that they are sin free because they are incapable of doing anything anyway. But none of us is sin free. “Anyone who says he is without sin calls God a liar.”

Sin may take on a drastically new and unfamiliar face however. A person may no longer be able to be (or have the desire to be) unchaste or steal a car or fly an airplane into a building. When one is capable of such terrible sins not saying grace before meals may seem so trivial as to not be worth mentioning. We have bigger fish to fry. But when you sin capacity is reduced, things that once seemed picayune are now greater in proportion because to be honest, if we are physically and situationally less capable of sinning, we are also have less opportunities to be loving. So our focus on our examination of conscience must become recalibrated, more refined, and more thoughtful.

Here are some things to consider. This is not an exhaustive check off list of sins for shut-ins, but a springboard for further thought.

With more time on your hands have you developed an exponentially greater relationship with God? Has your prayer time greatly increased? Have you developed a habit of contemplation and meditation? Have you gotten to be old friends with God? Have you taken time to read Scripture? Have you shared your friendship with God with others?

Have you carelessly used God’s name Who we are to love above all else? Is His name reverenced by you? As an elder have you attempted to gently correct those around you who take His name so?

Have you made an effort to attend Mass and other services that are available to you? Have you made arrangements to receive Holy Communion and confession if you are unable to get to Mass? Do you do something special to mark Sundays and Holy Days of obligation? Are the people around you aware that you are Catholic and what services you desire should you become very ill?

Have you become that elder in the Church through your example and love and have so lead others to Christ? Have you actively worked and bringing peace and forgiveness to your family? Do you pray for your deceased relatives and friends? Do you support and assist your children in their roles as spouse and parent? Have you supported your grandchildren in the faith?

Do you speak about others in gossip? Do you harbor ill or unkind thoughts of others? Are you always kind to your caretakers? Are you always patient when you are in the role as caretaker? Are you honest with your doctor about your health? Do you take care of yourself, eat well and get enough sleep? Do you follow the directions of your doctor? Do you fulfill what your therapist asks you to do? Are you faithful about your medication? When the burdens of taking care of someone else becomes more than you can do well, are you able to admit it and seek help?

Have you given in to despair or grief? Have you given up on hope? Do you have joy? Can you accept the afterlife?

Is your estate in order? Do you have a will? Do you have a Catholic living will? Is the executor of either of these documents been properly informed as to their location and what is contained in them? Are they willing to uphold your Catholic wishes?

If you cannot give to charity or do works of charity have you carried forth charitable prayers? How do you fill your day? Is it in keeping with all virtue? What do you spend your time watching on T.V. or on the computer? Have you wasted too much money of gambling and other forms of entertainment?

Have you envied someone else’s good health or mobility or family? Have you reached out to others or have you become self centered? Do you write off poor behavior to some excuse? As an elder have you taken care to set an exemplary example of Catholic living?

Do you harbor ill feelings? Have you ever done a lifelong examination of conscience expressing repentance of things now realized sinful though you may have not paid it much thought in the past?

Is there good you could have done but not taken the effort? Is there a letter that should be written? An apology that should be extended? A phone call that should be made? A complaint about family that should be reserved? A prayer that should be prayed? Any restitution that should be offered? Any love withheld?

Monday, March 8, 2010

ADORO: Byzantine Divine Liturgy - Ruthenian Rite

Byzantine Divine Liturgy - Ruthenian Rite: "

This morning, accompanied by friends and younger friends (their children) we descended upon St. John the Baptist Ruthenian Byzantine Church, in northeast Minneapolis which, for those who are not aware, is one of the 22 Rites of the Church united with Rome. So, yes, they are a fully Catholic Church!

This visit to the Byzantine Church was the first for all of us, and we knew some very basic differences and that the Divine Liturgy (their term for the Mass) is quite different than what one would find in a Roman Catholic Church, although it is the same thing; the re-presentation of the Holy Sacrifice of Calvary.

For those who may not know, the Eastern Churches make the Sign of the Cross from right to left, as opposed to the Roman version which is left to right. As today, the 3rd Sunday of the Great Fast, they celebrate the Sunday of the Holy Cross, there is an explanation in their bulletin for the very reason for this tradition:

'Blessing oneself with two fingers brought to the thumb represents the Trinity. The last two fingers held to the palm represent the two natures of Jesus - God and man. For the first 1,200 years of the Church, in making the Sign of the Cross, the hand was typically brought from the right to the left shoulder even in the Western Church. In the East this is still the practice, to signify Christ enthroned at the right hand of the Father. According to tradition and in the words of Pope Innocent II (1198-1216), the Sign of the Cross is made with three fingers because it is impressed upon us in the name of the Holy Trinity. From the forehead we pass to the breast, then from the right to the left.'

I admit I did not know this as the reason for the difference and I will have to look into why the tradition changed in the Western Church (that's us, Roman Catholics!). I surmise there must be a theological reason for our tradition of left to right, or we wouldn't be doing it. Does anyone know?

We arrived early, and upon entering the Church was empty. I took the opportunity to take a couple photos of the very small church, which was built in the Western style, but inside, was clearly Eastern in worship. The Iconostasis was striking, as was the scent of incense that permeated our senses. We knew immediately that we were in for a real treat! Nothing says "Heaven touches earth" than the smell of incense!

All of us are familiar with both expressions of the Roman Rite: the Ordinary Form (often pejoratively called the "Novus Ordo") and the Extraordinary Form (often pejoratively called the "Pre-Vatican II Mass"). Of course, what this means is that we all immediately were attracted by the holy scent of incense which does amazing things to prepare one, all by itself, for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, or, in Byzantine Terms...the Sacred Mysteries.

When a few people arrived, we went out into the entry area with the children as their footsteps and toddler commentaries echoed throughout the space, and we wanted to be respectful of those who desired to pray and might better do so in silence. After all, as guests in a new place, we wanted to be polite! Besides, not knowing the character of the Church, it is always best to stand back an observe as opposed to insinuating oneself into a situation!

As it was, we became the impromptu "welcoming committee" for the regular parishioners, most of whom seemed thrilled to run the short gauntlet of young families and children. Several people commented on the dear children and how welcome was their presence. Even though I am not called to marriage and have no children, I have to admit it warmed my own heart to hear and see such expressions of love and welcoming for them.

Still, though, I have to admit; I now have a new appreciation for Protestants and other non-Catholics who visit a Catholic Mass for the first time, knowing only the most rudimentary things. I think I had the same misgivings and really, wanted to be sure not to offend. I was quite comfortable with the idea that we would stand out as visitors (well, not exactly "comfortable"...more....acquiescent to the terms of being a visitor to something new) and even more so when we saw the small size of the church itself. While when I first attended my own parish I could "hide", it was impossible for any of us to simply "blend in." We all knew it up front and just went with the flow.

A wonderful thing happened, though, as we waited for the Divine Liturgy to begin: an old friend of mine from college walked up the steps and into the Church. I haven't seen him in years, but he looks just like he did back then. (I swear..some people NEVER age!). On the other hand, I've changed quite a bit (I got fat like the rest of my Irish farmer family), but simply didn't have it in me to pretend I didn't know my old friend. Initially he didn't recognize me but all was well, he introduced us to his daughter and spent some time talking with us, helped us with some common things, emphasized that at Communion we should not stick our tongues out as Roman Catholics are wont to do, and, we found, he himself had prepared the leavened bread to be consecrated at that Mass! (Yes, this is proper in the Byzantine Church and it's not something EVERYONE does.)

Initial Observations:

When people entered the church, they did not genuflect as we do in the Roman Church. It appeared that they reverenced (kissed) the icons upon entry, some wrote something in a book (forgot to ask about that), and bowed before entering their pew. Instead of kneeling to pray in preparation as we do, they stood for a time, then sat. This is of course quite alien to the Roman but given our surroundings, did not seem "out of place".

The parishioners were very helpful and directed us to the books and guides that would help us follow along, and I found that, in fact, the Liturgy was very easy to follow as it was in English. While (I think) there were a few songs and prayers in Slavonic, overall all was in the vernacular with all the traditional chants.

Divine Liturgy

There are no musical instruments in a Byzantine Liturgy. As some explanations for this go, all come as they are, with what they have, and who they are. Instrumentation is not necessary, for God gave us voices to raise to Him in praise and supplication; nothing else glorifies God so much as that which He Himself created.

The melodies were very easy to follow, and believe me, there is a LOT of singing in the Byzantine Rites! But in those places where the choir sang, and although I am familiar with Byzantine Chant, it is an entirely different thing to hear that chant in the proper setting of the Liturgy.

Oh! I know now how angels sound when they sing their eternal praises to God!

I'm sorry, but very little of the music I have EVER heard in the Roman Catholic Church can compare to the simple chants of the Byzantine Liturgy.(click the link to go to a Byzantine site where you can hear the chants and order the CD.) And I put their music far over and above what we hear even in the holy ostentatiousness of the Baroque choirs of Mozart and his ilk at the infamous St. Agnes. (Which I admit, quite un-popularly, to be quite loud and too ostentatious at times. Sorry to those who love it, and yes, I do think it is far better than the Broadway faire of Haugen-Haas)

For those who have never experienced an Eastern Liturgy of any type, it is quite different. There are some similar elements, but it takes a LOOONG time to get to those things we recognize, such as the readings (which differ from ours) and the Consecration, which DOESN'T have bells to call our attention to it. Incidentally, there ARE bells in the first half of the Divine Liturgy, although I forgot to inquire as to the significance.

In following along, though, what impressed me was the ongoing praise to God alternated with the cries for His mercy, which is what the Liturgy throughout the Church, properly done is all about: knowledge and praise of God, while coming to know oneself in the face of God. So much of this is lost in the Roman Liturgy, not because of the liturgy itself, but through the music which, in the Roman Mass, tends to be more of a celebration of ourselves as opposed to great praise and supplication to God. (This is the point of reform within the Roman Catholic Church, and for good reason!)

There was absolutely no doubt, in this Liturgy, to WHOM it was addressed, and WHY. Yet, for those who want to juxtapose the interior with the exterior practices of our Faith would find them quite united here. I think that those who love to focus on the physical participation in the Mass in the Roman Catholic Church would find their home here in the Byzantine, for there are few pauses and it is dominated by the active singing and response of the congregation. In fact, I know someone who has a very difficult time focusing unless she is doing something at Mass, and may really find that the Byzantine Divine Liturgy keeps her attention as it demands a constant response.

I have to wonder if the minds behind Sacrosanctum Concilium were looking at the Eastern Liturgies as they wrote that document, seeking to combine the focus that has always oriented the Liturgy in all Rites to God with both the interior participation as well as the 'active' participation of the Faithful.

The Doors and the Icons

While the Byzantine Church also has an Offertory (for which I was not prepared today, to my shame), it is followed by the Liturgy of the Eucharist, which again, differs greatly but was still helpful in orienting me as to what was going on at the time. The book containing the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom was very helpful, but still, I found that I needed to be focused on what was happening in the sanctuary through the opened Doors, to which our attention is called throughout.

To explain, briefly, the Iconostasis, which operates much like a Communion Rail in a Roman Catholic Church (in those few where it remains), separates the human world from the heavenly world. It contains 3 doors: in the center are the Holy (or Royal) Doors, which open to the Sanctuary where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved, and represent the Gates of Heaven. Only the Priest may pass through these particular doors; any others are automatically excommunicated for the infringement. The Deacon's Door, to the right, is graced by the image of St. Stephen (at least at St. John the Baptist), the protomartyr behind which we see the Deacon's Altar. The door to the congregation's left is the Server's door, and portrays most often, and clearly in this particular Byzantine Church, the icon of St. Michael the Archangel.

Of note in every Byzantine Church, you will find on one of the doors to your right, the icon of St. Nicholas of Myra, the Patron of the Byzantine Church.

Holy Communion

I admit I was nervous to receive Communion in the Byzantine Church, if only because it is a little different. I am accustomed to receive on the tongue, so opening my mouth to receive Our Lord isn't the problem. Rather, because this is such a Holy Moment, a Holy Action, I wanted to be certain that if I screw up at any point, it wouldn't be THAT point! I even seriously considered not receiving at all!

Yet I knew I could...I went to Confession yesterday, am sure I had not committed any mortal since since my Confession, and really, the newness shouldn't detain me. Yet..that's just me. I'm a wimp and often want to hang back instead of trying new things, especially when making a mistake with new things can become sacrilege.

I had asked my friend, in the entryway about this, and this is where he emphasized to receive by tilting the head back, mouth open. For all the Roman Catholics out NOT stick out your tongue! He laughed about how they always know a Roman by the instruction, "Tongue in!" and according to habit, we stick our tongues OUT to receive!

Not in the Eastern Church. I actually LOVED Holy Communion in this form, so I will explain it from a newbie perspective in anticipation of other newbies:

You will queue up like we always do. Like the English, we Roman Catholics in America are very serious about our queues, so you can expect here what you do at Communion time at Mass.

There is a small table (Tetrapod) near the front containing an icon (Pictured) with two candles on either side. Today, as we venerated the Holy Cross, the Tetrapod contained an icon of the Crucifix. At Holy Communion, consistent with the spirituality of each person coming to God as they are, each person went forward to the Priest to receive. We formed two lines, waited at the Tetrapod. and when the person before us had moved aside, went forward.

I noticed that the server beckoned me...I don't know if he does that for each person or just for newbies. It could be that I waited too long to advance.

The servers on either side of the Priest hold up a red cloth (I know there is a name for this, please inform me) beneath the chin of the one receiving. Many people bent their knees, and although I am short, I did a little, too, to make it easier for the Priest. Make a sign of reverence while standing in line (much like the Roman Rite), then approach, the Priest will offer Christ from a chalice where the leavened break is mingled with the Precious Blood in the Chalice that he holds. If needed, bend your knees, open your mouth (tongue in!), and the Priest will use a spoon to place the Sacrament in your mouth.

I have read this too, and know this is hard to envision. But I can tell you this: today I KNEW I had received God Himself, the very BLOOD AND FLESH of Christ on my tongue. I can't describe it, but it is completely different from the physical "feeling" of Holy Communion in a Roman Catholic Church. I have received by valid intinction (consecrated hosts on a paten with a small chalice attached, where the Priest intincts the Host.)

I have a strong devotion to the Precious Blood of Christ, but don't often receive from the chalice, and found that Holy Communion today has brought me more deeply into that particular devotion in a way I will not soon forget.

After Holy Communion, the Faithful return to their pews and stand, for in the Eastern Church, THAT is the sign of reverence. I knew this in advance and thought that I would miss kneeling, and indeed, I WANTED to kneel. This Church had kneelers utilized by some, but I found that I wanted to remain standing given the practice and the ancient sign of respect in this Church. After all...when in Byzantine, do as the Byzantines do.

Please note that this differs from the odd Roman Catholic Churches that stand at the consecration in disobedience and outside of the tradition of the Roman Rite; I attended some of those prior to my conversion and 'knew' that standing was wrong...and had a sense of the kneeling that was missing during the consecration.

I did not have that sense of discomfort today. That speaks volumes.


During Holy Communion there are several Hymns, and following, prayers of Thanksgiving. There are more prayers to be merciful to we, the sinner, supplications to God, and an admonition from the Priest to be attentive to Our Lord and the Holy Spirit, as I recall. (I'm sorry I can't link to this part of the Liturgy)

There was no procession out to which we Romans are accustomed.

The people in front of us took this time to introduce themselves and welcome us to their church, invited us back, exclaimed over the children, and said that they had been raised as Roman Catholics. Lovely people, and for some reason, reminded me of Texans. I don't know why and can't explain this. (no accent, they just..quirkily, made me think of Texans).

But because they were so homey and personable,and seemed so informal even though something was STILL going on in the Church, I was a bit discomfited. I was watching the Faithful filing forward, as if for Holy Communion, instead of filing out.Clearly people were receiving a blessing from the Priest, who was holding a glass bowl containing what appeared to be oil.

To either side stood servers, the one to my left holding the Bulletin, the one to the right holding a basket and a bulletin.

The man I asked explained that because it was the Sunday to venerate the Holy Cross, they were going forward for the veneration of the Icon of the Cross, and then to the Priest for a blessing. He explained that the basket contained the bread that was not used in Communion.

I went forward, kissed the Cross, and found that the person in front of me was engaged in a conversation with the priest. I'd started to move forward but saw that I should wait as their conversation continued...clearly this was more informal. It reminded me of the Roman Rite of the Liturgy of the Priest Greeting after Mass.

The Priest used what looked like a fine-tipped paint brush to paint a cross on my forehead with the holy oil from the bowl. I had to hold back my bangs for this, as did other women. He spoke in Slavic, so I have no idea what he said.

I did not take any of the bread from the basket, but one of my friends asked the Server if it was the Eucharist. He said that it was.

No, it wasn't. It was blessed bread, but as I understand, not consecrated, so not Christ Himself. This was a cause for concern for a time, but my friend explained it to us (thankfully!) and I can assure anyone who experiences this that no one is desecrating the Eucharist!

After this, we received a tour of the Church, I took photos of the icons while listening, and find that I will need to attend again both with more knowledge of the Ruthenian Divine Liturgy, and to get better photos of the icons.

I left feeling blessed, knowing that I had received Our Lord, and with a greater appreciation of the Universal Church.

Thank you, Jesus.


Thursday, March 4, 2010


What do you do when you do not like your bishop?

When still a seminarian there was a student/friend of mine who left to go to another diocese where there was a bishop that he liked more. He was there for a while and then as things go they changed bishops and he was once again unhappy.

Liking or disliking a bishop is more than just having a preference for a boss or even a politician. Bishops are more to us than that. We all belong (hopefully) to a parish and the parish is just part of a larger entity known as the local Church of which our bishop is the head. This is not a company with a CEO, it is more like a large family with a patriarch. And it is a hard job. Terribly hard. Especially in this difficult times.

Did you know that it is difficult even to find priests willing to become bishop? I think no sane man would do it unless he was an upper level saint. As one person once said, “Anybody who wants to be a bishop deserves to be one.” The glory days are way over.

And so we have a consecrated man as our see, a combination of administrator, politician, father, teacher, chief priest, healer, and at times, because it is necessary, CEO. Is there any other job requiring so many hats? And he is expected to be good at all of them plus be a saint if possible.

“It’s lonely at the top” is an understatement. A bishop makes decisions and they are wildly popular with some (these people remain quiet) and condemned as damnable by others (and these are quite vocal.) This past week I made a decision on socks for our uniforms in the school. You would have thought that I required each student to be flogged. I can’t imagine making decisions on whether a school or parish remains open.

Hopefully you like your bishop. But perhaps you do not. It may be that your bishop, in your eyes, is making terrible mistakes. You don’t have to like him but love him. Pray for him. Or this whole thing falls apart. I know some are facing terrible things in their lives because of how a decision of a bishop is effecting them but do not let hate enter your soul – do not become what you hate – do not, in trying to “save the Church” lose your soul.