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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