With the amazing beauty of living a Byzantine life, it is only to easy to dismiss the rich traditions of Roman Catholicism. To be honest, it was harder to make this weeks list, compared to last weeks [7 Things to Love About Byzantine Catholicism]. However, there still are many things that I appreciate about Roman Catholicism.
7. Palm Sunday Gospel
Palm Sunday stands out in the Roman Catholic tradition, and not just because of the presence of palms at church. A Gospel reading precedes the procession into the church, as well as during the regular time in the mass. The fact that the Liturgy is adapted to highlight this special occasion calls attention to the importance of this feast day.
The Gospel reading at the beginning of mass is the Entrance into Jerusalem, or Mark 11: 1-10. Starting the mass with this narrative focuses our minds on entering into mass and Holy Week the same way Jesus did. We see our King and Saviour praised and glorified, and we sing and wave our palm branches for him. The mass continues and the second (and very long) Gospel reading takes us through Christ’s Passion from the Last Supper to Jesus’ death on the cross. When Jesus enters the holy city on the colt, he knows he is coming to Jerusalem to die. Having both this joyous reading and the sombre reading gives us context for the meaning of Palm Sunday. That is why I love the way Roman Catholics celebrate mass on this day.
6. Psalm and O.T. Readings at Mass
One thing I appreciate about Mass is that we have 4 Bible readings on Sunday. Some Divine Liturgies have two New Testament readings (due to baptisms or special Liturgy occasions); however, there is generally only one N.T. reading. I know the troparion compliments the reading, yet I still miss hearing the psalm and Old Testament stories on Sunday’s. The way the O.T., N.T., and Gospel readings relate to each other really brings the Word of God to life. When Little Fox is old enough to understand what we read to her, we are going to read both the Roman Catholic and Byzantine Bible readings for Sunday the day before. Then we can discuss and reflect on both sets of readings. We can never have to much Bible readings anyway, eh?
I love the tradition of receiving ashes on my forehead at the start of Lent. The ashes connect us to the Jewish traditions of “sackcloth and ashes” during times of sorrow and repentance. This is referenced when the priest chooses to say “Repent and believe the Gospel” when placing the ashes on our foreheads. The other option a priest may use is to say “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” This phrase helps to remind us how God has created us, and that when we die we shall return to earth. Receiving ashes marks this day apart from the rest of the year. It can be quite helpful to have such a physical and visual reminder that Lent has begun and we are entering into a time of penance.
4. Procession at the Beginning of Mass
Another thing I appreciate about the Roman Catholic Mass is that it starts with a procession in. Divine Liturgy is begun by the priest opening the royal doors, and sometimes it isn’t clear when he is about to do that. It can be a little disorienting. This is one of the occasions when I definitely appreciate the Roman Catholic way. There are several other benefits to starting mass with a procession. It marks the role of the lay people participating (who is doing the readings). The procession marks the entrance of the Word of God, the cross, and the priest in a Catholic mass. In the Divine Liturgy, there is a procession with the Gospel, and then again with the gifts to be consecrated, but these occur in the middle of the Liturgy. All processions help draw attention to what is important during our time in church.
3. Kneeling During Consecration
One of the first things I really missed about Roman Catholic masses when I begun going to Divine Liturgy more often was kneeling. My favourite Christmas song is “O Holy Night” and my favourite part of the song is where we sing “fall on your knees…” The imagery of kneeling before God matches the sense of my awe of God. Kneeling feels very reverent, and also draws my focus to the Eucharist through my actions as well.
That’s probably another reason I love pre-sanctified liturgies… they bring back the kneeling.
Being aware of what we are doing with our bodies and why is helpful towards the goal of being mindful of every moment. God is with us, both in the Eucharist, and in every moment of our lives. What are we doing as we worship Him? How are we worshipping Him? Why are we doing it this way? When you know the answers to these questions it is possible to be even more attentive to the presence of God and how we are reverencing Him. Dan Burke from SpiritualDirection.com has an article about genuflecting and kneeling, which is a great read if you want to think more about how we pray.
Easter Vigil, 2013, I received my first communion and confirmation. Starting the mass in total darkness, to continuing in just candlelight, all the way through to turning the lights back on at the Gospel, the rich symbolism is deep and beautiful. The readings, the prayers, the renewal of Baptismal vows and Christian initiation… it is all so amazing. The chanting of the Exsultet touches the heart. If you’ve never heard it, a good version of it is available to listen to on YouTube. Same with the Litany of the Saints. Unfortunately, the Litany of the Saints is only a part of Easter Vigil if there is a baptism.
I love adoration. Even though our family is Byzantine, I’m going to take my children when they are older with me to adoration. Being in the physical presence of God quiets the soul and brings the heart deeper into prayer. Adoration is also great for appreciating that the Eucharist is the true presence. Although there are many ways to spend time in adoration, I most enjoy doing silent personal prayer then. I think this is because it is easiest to both speak and listen to God when I have mindfully put myself in a situation of silence. Depending on where I am at that day (or who is hosting) I also enjoy praying the rosary as a community or doing private spiritual reading.
Because in the Byzantine Churches, the Body and Blood of Christ are received together, it is not possible to reserve the Eucharist in the same way that it is done in the Roman Rite. While I love the way we receive communion in Byzantine Churches, I also love being able to go to adoration. Isn’t being Catholic awesome? Because of the diversity in the church, we are able to appreciate both traditions!
If you’ve never heard the Exsultet or the Litany of the Saints, go to the links above and listen to them and let me know what you think in the comments. If you are Roman Catholic, let me know what you love the most about the Latin Rite tradition. If you missed last week’s post, don’t forget to check out 7 Things to Love About Byzantine Catholicism.