Friends, Roman Catholics, countrymen, lend me your eyes! Pope Francis has stirred up many around the world with his comments on different subjects. People have been quick to claim that Pope Francis has liberalized the Catholic Church and, in their eyes, softened the austere and non-inclusive stances of the Church.
This isn’t quite true, as he is merely restating the Church’s teachings and hasn’t changed much the holy doctrine at all–rather, he is shifting the focus of the Church. After all, we love the sinner but hate the sin, no matter what. People hang on Pope Francis’ every word and are eager to implement his “new” ideas.
The reason I bring this up is because Pope Francis said something that I think has been sadly overlooked. Pope Francis spoke of the “light of the East,” in the Eastern Rite Churches (be they Eastern Orthodox in schism with the Roman Church or Eastern Catholicism in full union with Rome). They have, in his words, a deep reverence and emphasis on God, the liturgy and adoration that may be overlooked in the West. Pope Francis additionally notes that in the West, there is too great an emphasis on “consumerism and well-being” that he feels has done great harm to the Church. I could not agree more.
Too much nowadays, the Western Church seems bourgeois, like a brand to be sold, with “modern” liturgical practices with the intent of increasing membership and the attractive appearance of the Church. The Western Church seems too caught up in having many members that may or may not adhere to the teachings (at their own eternal peril) in place of a smaller number of devoted followers who adhere to orthodoxy and tradition. This is where, I think, you can learn from the Eastern Churches.
Earlier this academic year, I went with my roommate to Byzantine Catholic Divine Liturgy and liked it so much I later joined a Byzantine Catholic parish. Byzantine and other Greek or Eastern Catholic Churches retain the practices of the old Eastern Churches while staying in full union with the Pope and with Rome. Byzantine Catholics use the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, which is in many ways more traditional than the liturgical practices used by the Latin Rite of the Roman Catholics.
There are many other aspects of the Eastern approach of worship that have captivated me—to name a few, chanting is done throughout the liturgy, and chanted psalms are also used in lieu of hymns, many of which were of Protestant origin to begin with. Incense is used with great gusto in the Eastern Church. Only the deacon (who has a far greater role than in the Latin Rite) and the priests distribute the Eucharist. The mixture of bread, water and wine, which becomes the holy body and blood of Jesus Christ, is spooned from the cup directly into the faithful Catholics’ mouths. Much reverence is given to the Theotokos, the Mother of God, and the Holy Trinity throughout the liturgy, with reverent use of the sign of the cross (remember to touch your right shoulder first).
If you are anything like some of my more devout friends and family, you are likely skeptical. It took some of my uncles and my roommate’s assurances and prodding before I went myself. I can tell you with full confidence that if you are a faithful Catholic, or if you enjoy exploring other religions and worldviews, you will enjoy the Byzantine Catholic Liturgy. John Carroll even has a Byzantine priest on staff (Father Andrew Sommerson), and the Byzantine Catholic Cathedral is located in Parma, only 20 to 30 minutes away. Slava Isusu Christu! Slava Na V’iki!