quod pro nobis traditum est

Thursday, February 12, 2009

renewing a solid sense of liturgy

Divine Liturgy: East and West
It was in 1054 that the Church began to think in terms of Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox instead of Western and Eastern Christianity.

The split was prefigured in the coronation of Charlemagne in 800 as an emperor distinct from the emperor in Constantinople. This tragic schism damaged what John Paul II called "the two lungs of the Church" and restoration of full communion between the Churches is a priority of Benedict XVI. The enthronement of Kirill I as Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia on February 1 pleased the Pope since this new leader of 160 million Russian Orthodox is a good friend of his.

The election of the new Patriarch took place in the new Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, built on the site of the cathedral which Stalin ordered his minister Kaganovich to blow up in 1931. It is a meticulous recreation of the original from photographs, old blueprints, and living memory. It is a worthy house for the Divine Liturgy which is the heart and soul of Eastern Christianity. Father Frederick Faber called the Latin rite of the Western Church "the most beautiful thing this side of Heaven," and it certainly opens Heaven's gates to souls, but Faber forgot the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom with its incomparable evocation of eternal mysteries. Such worship converted the Slavs, for when the Great Prince of Kiev sent messengers to find a religion suitable for the rising capital of ancient Rus, they were dazzled by what they saw in Constantinople's church of Hagia Sophia, completed by Justinian in 537, with its 80 priests, 150 deacons, 60 subdeacons, 160 readers, 25 cantors, and 75 doorkeepers. The Ottoman Sultan eventually desecrated it, and the Turkish government turned it into a museum in 1935, but the Divine Liturgy remains.

By renewing a solid sense of the liturgy in the West, our Holy Father is doing more than any number of ecumenical discussions to unite Christians East and West in the massive confrontation with practical atheism. We can learn much about our own liturgical tradition through the teachings of the present Pope. The Internet is now a resource that our forebears did not have. One excellent site is

St. Paul reminded all Christians, East and West, that in the Holy Eucharist, "you show the Lord's death till he come" and urged an examination of conscience before receiving Communion, for to partake "unworthily" is to profane the Body and Blood of Christ (1 Cor 11:23-30). Concern only for the external details of ritual becomes empty Pharisaism. But when worshipers come to church and offer a sacrifice of their own hearts, then they can say what those messengers of the Great Prince of Kiev reported to him when they had seen the Divine Liturgy: "We were unable to tell if we were on earth or in Heaven."


No comments: