Today I thought I’d do a fun post about things to love about Byzantine Catholicism.
When I attended my first Divine Liturgy at a Ukrainian Catholic Church, it was a little stressful. My husband (who I was just dating at the time) expressed a huge interest in having our family be centred in this church, and I knew almost nothing about it. I’d only finished RCIA two years before, and for some reason none of my vast history knowledge included any information about Eastern Catholicism or Orthodoxy.
You can laugh at me, because I’m quite sure I assumed the Orthodox Church was just another form of Protestantism. But there you go. The public education system fails us again. And that’s just another reason our family is homeschooling. But I’m getting off topic.
Before I get into my list, I have to put in a little disclaimer. These are my 7 most beloved things about Byzantine Catholicism today. I’m still being introduced to new traditions, and other aspects of Byzantine Catholicism that I haven’t yet heard about or really contemplated. Perhaps I’ll make this a yearly post topic and we can look at amazing Byzantine things more often.
Number 7: The Prayer of the Usual Beginning
I love this prayer to the Holy Spirit. I handmade a poster of it for our family home. Since my husband leaves before I wake up some mornings, we don’t get to pray it together every morning but I want us to get to that point.
Sometimes it feels like devotion to the Holy Spirit is lacking compared to devotion to the Father and Jesus. Calling upon the Holy Spirit as “Heavenly King, Advocate, Spirit of Truth” and as “Treasury of Blessings” and “Bestower of Life” evokes a sense of the majesty of God. I also love that this prayer, which begins most Byzantine prayers and liturgies, invites the Holy Spirit to “come and dwell within us.” It is certainly important to call upon the spirit.
6. The Byzantine Prayer Before Communion
Before I’d even heard of the Byzantine churches, my husband shared the prayer before communion with me. Reading through the prayer for the first time, it spoke to my heart. Since memorizing the prayer after going to enough Divine Liturgies, I also pray it during the Roman Mass (after also saying their equivalent). I know I don’t have to. It’s just, this prayer so adequately says the thoughts of my soul on the way to communion.
Here is the prayer:
I believe, O Lord, and confess that you are truly Christ, Son of the Living God, who came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the first. Accept me this day, O Son of God, as a partaker of your mystical supper. I will not tell the mysteries to your enemies. Nor will I give you a kiss a did Judas, but like the thief I confess to you:
Remember me O Lord, when you come into your kingdom +
Remember me O Master, when you come into the kingdom +
Remember me O Holy One, when you come into your kingdom +
May the partaking of these mysteries O Lord, be unto me not for judgment and condemnation, but for healing of soul and body.
God be merciful to me, a sinner +
God, cleanse me of my sins and have mercy on me, +
I have sinned without number, forgive me, O Lord. +
5. Full Initiation of Babies
When Little Fox was baptized, she was also Chrismated and received her first holy communion. She received this before she was even a full month old. I love that she can receive Christ so fully as an infant. Just as she shared in my graces when I received communion while pregnant, she is now able to take the blood of Christ upon her own lips. And now that she is able to consume solids, the priest includes the body of Christ on the spoon for her.
Apparently there were times in early church history where young children received communion even in the Latin rite, changes to the distribution of communion led to it being impractical. At the council of Trent it was declared unnecessary for young children who are baptized to need communion before reaching the age of reason.
While I understand these pragmatic and theological norms, I really appreciate the way that babies can receive Jesus in the Eucharist in Byzantine churches.
I love the absolute appreciation for beauty in the Byzantine Catholic Church. The iconography throughout the church and the tradition add so much depth to the theology. Byzantine icons highlight the majesty of God so well. Although we have a few Latin styled icons, most are traditional Byzantine. We also have some that are a mix of the styles, which I like because it combines the gold with vivid greens, blues, etc.
The beauty of Byzantine icons is highlighted by the iconostas. An iconostas is a wall of icons, with two side “deacon’s doors” and the royal doors in the centre. Even the doors have icons on them! Walking into a Byzantine church and seeing the iconostas leaves no doubt as to whose house you’ve just entered. Glory to God!
I’ve already written one article about icons (Why Everyone Needs an Icon Corner). There’s still a lot more to say so you can expect another article soon!
3. The Fact that Divine Liturgy is Sung
Confession: I’m not a great singer. I love to sing, love music, but don’t love my singing voice. Probably doesn’t help that I’m an alto but when I hear the melody my head only wants to sing soprano. Thankfully, it’s okay to have a poor voice when singing along with everyone else at Divine Liturgy. (The Lord hears the cry of the poor, after all)!
When the Divine Liturgy is sung, participation becomes that much more lively. The Liturgy becomes a Divine melody, and you are a part of the harmony. It’s so beauty. Even Little Fox likes to join in the singing. And she only makes one sound on one note when she sings. It’s the effort God appreciates. And we all sound beautiful when we join our voices together to praise God.
2. Pre Sanctified Liturgy
During Lent and the first 3 week days of Holy Week, Byzantine churches celebrate Pre-Sanctified Liturgy. This Liturgy is so beautiful. It includes Vespers and communion with preconsecrated hosts. The Liturgy begins in darkness, lit by candles. We sing Vespers, do several prostrations, and transition to receiving the Eucharist. I love the Lenten tone of the Liturgy. The kneeling speaks to my Roman Catholic heritage (I love kneeling before God). I also love candlelit services. Now that I’m holding a baby, we bought our own battery operated candle off amazon. The church has candles for the children to hold during the gospel, but since Little Fox puts this in her mouth I like having her own. Plus I use it during Pre Sanctified.
1. The Byzantine Vespers
I was a little vague about Pre Sanctified, but that is because I’m talking about Vespers now. Vespers is amazing. I love the psalms, the intense, but most of all, I love the Hymn of the Evening.
Unlike in the Roman Catholic tradition, Byzantine Vespers uses the same psalms each time. This doesn’t make it feel too repetitive. Instead, it allows these psalms to make their way into our hearts, and help us learn them. Try reading/singing the same psalm every day for a month. You’ll notice a difference on how well you know the psalm.
The Hymn of the Evening has a couple different English translations. Our parish uses “O joyful light” which my husband says isn’t the most literal translation, but I still love it. You can read more about vespers and the evening hymn on the Archeparchy of Pittsburg’s website.
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