Saturday, August 23, 2008

A Question from Finland: "Mass" or "Liturgy"?

I was interested to get this e-mail from a writer in Finland:

: Do the western rite orthodox use the term "mass" or "liturgy"?

It's quite sad that the western rite isn't in wider use. I'm considering joining in the Orthodox Church and I'm accustomed to western masses. I wish the Church of Finland would also have a western rite...

A: Thank you so much for your question! I will try my best to answer you, but let me begin with this: if a Western Rite is not available, please don't let that deter you from joining the Orthodox Church. We are Orthodox first and celebrants of a canonically approved expression of Orthodoxy second. The Orthodox Church is your heart's home; I hope you'll investigate it carefully, whether you have the ability to worship in the Western Rite or not. And you might always prays Western Rite prayers in your home; the Monastic Diurnal and Monastic Breviary Matins are available from this distributor, and you can download St. Tikhon Rite Matins and Vespers (with music) here.

The answer to your question is, yes: the Eucharistic service in the Western Rite is called both "Mass" and "Liturgy." True, the term "Mass" is more common in the Western Rite and "Divine Liturgy" more common for the Byzantine, but one may hear the Western Rite service called the Divine Liturgy — e.g., "The Liturgy of St. Gregory," "St. Tikhon's Liturgy." Technically, the Orthodox Missal is the approved text of the Antiochian Western Rite Vicariate, and it uses the term "The Mass according to the Rite of Saint (Gregory/Tikhon)." My own preference is to call the Western Eucharistic service Mass and the Byzantine Liturgy, but I'm ambivalent either way.

One sometimes finds both terms used for the Byzantine rite, as well. For instance, the Byzantine service book Divine Prayers and Services by Fr. Seraphim Nassar (sometimes lovingly called "the five-pounder") regularly uses the term "Mass" instead of "Liturgy." (It also refers to Lent as "Quadragesima"; confusing, since that term, and all "The Gesima Sundays," have another meaning in Western liturgics.) Yet this book is still used by the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America. Undoubtedly, some Carpatho-Russians, OCA members, and others continue to use the term "Mass" for the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.

There should be little concern about which term we use: both are ancient. What no one should countenance is the common misconception that the term "Mass" is some kind of post-Schism Roman abuse that Orthodox Christians should never utter except when adjoined with the word "anathema!" The Catholic Encyclopedia gives some background on the term: "The word Mass (missa) first established itself as the general designation for the Eucharistic Sacrifice in the West after the time of Pope Gregory the Great (d. 604)." In fact, St. Ambrose of Milan used the Latin phrase in a letter to his sister, Marcellina (Letter XX).

I'll let Fr. Michael Keiser have the final word, through this quotation from his book, Offering the Lamb: Reflections on the Western Rite Mass in the Orthodox Church:
The two names that are most commonly used among Orthodox Western Rite to describe the Eucharistic gathering are the Mass and the Divine Liturgy. I do not think one is necessarily more appropriate than the other, but it is important to understand that the Mass is not a late Roman Catholic innovation, but an Orthodox designation that was used by Orthodox Christians for centuries prior to the schism between the East and the West...What a blessing it would be if we could rejoice in the richness and diversity of Holy Tradition, as expressed in the names we used for the holy and common action that forms the center of the Orthodox Christian life: the Mass, the Divine Liturgy, and all the other words and rites that remind us of the rich tapestry that is the experience of the universal and True Faith. (pp. 8-10, 10).
(P.S.: I'm truly sorry it took me so long to answer, and I'm sorry for posting your comment and your question here. Usually, I just post one or the other. I'm humbled that you asked for my poor response. Thank you for stopping by this blog; we hope you'll return regularly. And please keep us informed about the Church in Finland!)

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Friday, August 22, 2008

The Assumption vs. Assumptions

Among some Orthodox, especially among new members of the Orthodox Church, there seems to be an impression that "the Fathers" never deviated from one another in any detail. Thus, by reading one father or one group of fathers, one may comprehend all of Orthodoxy. This is an oversimplification and runs the risk of denying the Fathers' humanity. Yes, they were great lights, and all are worthy of study, but they must often be read in view of one another.

The Feast of the Dormition/Assumption, whose octave falls today, is one case in point. Like many other feasts, the practice moved from the East to the West, and some Western fathers had questions about it. Two in particular were St. Adamnan of Iona (d. 704) and the Venerable Bede (d. 735). The former wrote in De Locis Sanctis, "on the right side of it [the lower church] is the empty stone sepulchre of St. Mary, in which for a time she rested after her burial. But how or when or by whom her sacred body was raised from that sepulchre, or where it awaits the Resurrection, it is said that no one knows certainly." The Venerable Bede echoed his questions.

Yet this Feast is celebrated by East and West, attested to by many Fathers. I don't say this to diminish either saint, especially the Venerable Bede. But there are some who will find a doctrine eluded to by one writer and run with it as far as they can, or who read a certain Byzantine term was used one time in a missal in a far-flung corner of the continent, and thus this is transformed into "our ancient Western heritage." But scattered individual uses, liturgical or doctrinal, are by definition idiosyncratic and, at times, simply wrong. This should serve as an antidote to our relying too heavily upon any one saint or geographic congolomeration of saints, in whom there may be error, and encourage us to rather lean upon the whole testimony of the fathers and the mind of the Church.

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Thursday Within the Octave of Dormition/Assumption

O most prudent Virgin, whither goest thou, shining resplendent like the glowing dawn? Daughter of Sion, thou art all comely and beautiful, fair as the moon, clear as the sun.

Antiphon on the Magnificat from I Vespers of the Feast.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Audio: A "New" Ex-CEC Member on "True Convergence"

It had been nearly eight months since its last update, so I wondered if it had died out, but thankfully the "True Convergence" podcast has come roaring back to life. You can now hear: True Convergence Episode #6, recorded two weeks ago. The new episode features the testimony of Noel Gnotti, a former member of the Charismatic Episcopal Church, now a member of St. Anthony's Orthodox Church in San Diego, California. Also on this episode is Fr. Patrick Cardine, of St. Patrick Antiochian Orthodox Church (Western Rite) in Warrenton, Virginia, a longtime friend of the newly chrismated Noel. We also hear from Matt Cuthberton of St. John the Theologian Orthodox Church in San Juan Capistrano, CA. (Matt has just opened the Byzantine chant site:

As with all the previous episodes, this is well worth listening to, especially for CEC members, charismatics, or evangelicals considering the Orthodox Church. (You can get a a run-down of earlier shows here.) Noel's words about being a "professional Christian" are touching (and convicting). The guests also discuss such topics as:
  • Developing a less "casual" view of truth;
  • The Convergence Movement's hidden pitfalls: syncretism and self-deception;
  • The deep theological content of Orthodox services;
  • How charismatic "revelations" are commonplace in Orthodoxy;
  • True Convergence occurs within the Orthodox Church;
  • What holds us back from pursuing truth; and
  • Satisfying spiritual hunger.
You can download all the episodes here.

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So, Two Pictures Are Worth 2,000 Words....

I know the blog entry was some time ago, but I couldn't forget those pictures of St. Gregory the Great's parish being changed from this to this. The images showing Fr. Alford and his congregation laboring to construct a reverent WR Orthodox church out of a former Pentecostal meeting house got me thinking. You could see these two pictures as graphic representations of the transformation of so many former evangelicals from Protestants into Orthodox Christians. It reminds me of this cartoon, actually. (Or read the archives of this blog.) No one can say how many, but over the last several decades, thousands have become Orthodox, either Eastern or Western Rite. This number includes not a few charismatics, perhaps not unlike the group that formerly owned St. Gregory the Great's building.

One striking aspect of Orthodoxy, both Eastern and Western Rite, is the palpable sense of God's presence that our architecture, our sacred space, conveys. This is not always obvious in the architecture of our souls. Because of our sins, whether "cradle" or "convert," Eastern or Western, we desperately need to change from within. This is not merely rearranging the deck chairs (though some saints had a high level of sanctity from infancy); for most of us, it is a major refurbishing. At various stages in our renovation into the image of Christ, our souls may look like this and even this. Someone may look around at the refuse and think to himself, "Things were better before I started this undertaking; all I've done is destroy the condition of my soul. At least before, everything was in its place." Yet we know if the inner man is to become what our Lord wishes it to be, if we are to persist in following His commandments, more renovation must take place, messy and unfamiliar as things sometimes become.

This difficulty is compounded by the fact that, not only can this stage of growth be mistaken for destruction, but a period of destruction can also confused for this stage of growth. This is most true when one destroys his previous background's tradition and replaces it, not with the Lord's commandments, but with self-confidence and his own wisdom. "There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death." (Prov. 16:25). This person may seek to avoid the clear moral teachings of Orthodoxy, but constructing with a faulty moral blueprint, however well reasoned, will lead only to chaos, artifice, or disfigurement.

More often, he tries to remake the Church in his own image. Such a person knows the Church's teachings but finds he has a much better idea. He has culled ancient (and often long-dead) canons, divorced them from their context, and insisted "true" Orthodox follow them. Or he has strung together a series of liturgical texts that run in a cadence he rather likes and may (or may not) have come from pre-Schism times, and so insists the Church must bless and allow him to use it; after all, he is merely "returning" the Church to her foundations. They begin to ponder: "Perhaps the Church has not considered...Perhaps I was converted for the very purpose of helping the Church discover (or 'rediscover')...." He has been given immense wisdom and insight, engaged in "monumental undertakings," and his light was not made to be hid under a bushel. He cannot! He will not!

However, the Church has a way of shrugging off proud suggestions and self-congratulatory "scholarship" (and often such "scholars" have no scholarly credentials to begin with). Thus, the person becomes angry, frustrated, and his superior canonical or liturgical knowledge (conveniently) allows him to indulge his anger and hatred of the Church herself. He alone (or with a group outside the Church) has preserved the fulness of Church tradition, which the Church has rejected. If She has done this, she must be opposed to...the Church! How apostate, even Satanic, the Body of Christ becomes in their reasoning! Somehow, in making this case, these people cannot understand who might motivate them to attack the Body of Christ in such a way. If such people join a canonical Orthodox Church, they may no longer be members of their former denominations. They become "Orthodox" in name but rejected the Church's plan for constructing their lives. They destroyed their former background and built a self-directed shack in its place, them helpfully placed a plackard advertizing them as "Orthodox" in the front...the better to discredit the rest of us.

There is no place for self-guided morality or canons. And so it is with the Western Rite, as implemented by canonical Orthodoxy. In matters of liturgics, as in matters of our theosis, there is no room for Do-It-Yourself schemes. Following our own preferences will introduce chaos into what should be a well-ordered system. And as those who know construction will attest, problems with one part of a structure affect other parts of the edifice, as well. Soon, our moral, sacramental, and prayer lives are built on self rather than Christ. We turn our churches, and our souls, from this to this.

We have much work to do to turn our soul into an abode worthy of the Lord; or rather, none of us is ever worthy. God has given us the remaining time of our lives to bring these boards, bricks, and mortar into proper arrangement, and the Church has given us the blueprint of our soul's moral, ecclesiastical, and spiritual construction. Rather than debate and gainsay it, exalt our own "scholarship," let's merely, humbly, anonymously go about following it. Yes, we may at times be confused by new doctrines we have learned that contradict our previous affiliations, moral standards higher than our habitual practice, a prayer regimen arranged differently than those we celebrated. But if we persist, we clear away damaged or rotten boards, build an unshakable foundation, and rearrange parts of our building that the blueprint tells us are sound but out of place. In time, this building comes into order. On the way, we would do well to make ours the supplication of that ancient prayer from the Gelasian Sacramentary, which is included in the Orthodox Missal's "Prayers Before Mass":
Purify our consciences, we beseech Thee, O Lord, by Thy visitation: that our Lord Jesus Christ Thy Son, when He cometh, may find in us a mansion prepared for Himself, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

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