Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Reflecting on the Traditions of the Universal Catholic Church

Last Sunday, I had the opportunity to visit an Eritrean Catholic community. I say community because there currently are no parishes belonging to the Eritrean Catholic Church in North America. The Eritrean Catholic community is very small in this country, and in this case, the local community meets once a month for Mass at a Latin Rite church. To get a brief overview of the newest sui iuris Church, take a look at my earlier essay here.

Also, I was able to participate in Vesperal Divine Liturgy for the Vigil of St. Nicholas at a Ruthenian Catholic parish just yesterday. With St. Nicholas of Myra being my patron saint and all, I did not want to miss this opportunity. Anyone familiar with this blog knows that I don't hide my love for the Eastern Catholic Churches, particularly the Byzantine Rite. But I have to say, both of these recent experiences were absolutely beautiful. And in reflecting on their beauty, their magnificent praise of our Lord, I started thinking about my own rite, the Latin Rite, and how banality has become the status quo. I found myself asking a question that I'm sure many before me have also asked: what happened?

Now I won't give a full treatment here of my experience at the Eritrean Catholic Divine Liturgy, as I should have something up on that soon elsewhere, but I at least want to express how lovely my experience was there. As can be seen in the above picture, a lot of incense was used during the Divine Liturgy. A deacon and server assisted the priest, with the deacon constantly ringing bells at various points, such as when the Gospel was processed around the altar. This reminded me of the procession that the Byzantines do. The priest, while in the sanctuary, also blessed the four cardinal points with incense before reading the Gospel. The priest and deacon also came forward out of the sanctuary to read the Gospel, just like in the Byzantine Rite, although it was the priest that read and the deacon that held the lectionary. as the Divine Liturgy continued, I noticed that what was happening here, in the Alexandrian (or Ge'ez Rite) Divine Liturgy, was more similar to what the Byzantines do than what the Latins do. And both of those rites shared many similarities with what takes place in the East Syrian Rite, specifically the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church from what I remember.
Divine Liturgy with the Holy Family Eritrean Catholic Community
The Eritrean Catholics also made use of intinction for the Eucharist, much in the same way that Maronite Catholics do, with a deacon holding the Chalice so the priest may dip the Host before giving It to the communicant. After Communion, the priest blessed the congregation with the Sacred Species, just as they do in the Byzantine Rite. Throughout the Divine Liturgy, the congregation would often clap in time with a single drum (as seen in the picture below) which was accompanied by a piano. A tambourine was also used at various times. However, the music was very fitting and reserved. It was completely reverent and fit in with their liturgical traditions that have been passed down for centuries. So what's the point I'm trying to make here in relaying all this?

Well, each of the Churches I've described above are fully Catholic. They all share many traditions with each other, but for whatever reason, there were not many shared practices with how the Latin Rite mainly conducts itself today. Incense in the Ordinary Form is very rare and is often seen as passe. There is no blessing with the Sacred Species. There is no traditional music played, and if the pipe organ is played, rarely is it for actual sacred music. However, all these things are present in the Extraordinary Form. But of course, finding Extraordinary Masses in the West is relatively difficult. Most parishes only offer Mass in the Ordinary Form, and often we see a desacralization in the liturgy today. We see our legitimate Latin traditions cast to the wayside, especially with the myriad of options available to clergy in which it is very easy to dispense from the traditions that have developed organically in the Latin Rite.

The music, though, is one thing in particular that really stood out to me. Often times we get guitars and drums dragged into the sanctuary or choir loft. This is not the practice of the Latin Rite. It's an innovation which certainly did not develop organically. When drums are used in the Latin Rite, it is never, and I do mean never done fittingly or reverently; the sole exception being the Zaire Use of the Latin Rite, but for our purposes we are discussing what takes place in the Western world's celebration of the Mass according to the Latin Rite.

When people use drums or other instruments foreign to the liturgical worship of the Latin Rite, they may think they have good intentions, but never is the fittingness of such an action considered. What is fitting are our own traditions. It seems that every other rite in the Catholic Church can embrace their traditions, but if we embrace what is fitting for the Latin Rite in a modern, run of the mill, American parish, we're sneered at or laughed at. We're told "we don't do that anymore". But these are our traditions! This is how our celebration of the Mass developed and it is how our ancestors worshipped! Why is it all of a sudden a bad thing to chant, to use incense, to receive the Eucharist on the tongue while kneeling and being crossed with the Eucharist, etc.? What's really sad is that we are actually encouraged by many people in the Church to forget about our traditions. That's goes for laity and clergy alike. Crucifixes are gone from sanctuaries, to even suggest worshipping towards the East will get one in trouble in some places, and learning basic prayers in our native liturgical language is seen as unnecessary. Yet all of our Eastern Catholic brothers and sisters do these things. Why don't we?

These things can be done in the Ordinary Form, but with all the options, it's very rare to see them all used as they are in the Extraordinary Form. Seeing how our various Eastern Catholic brethren worship made me put things in perspective. Their children are learning their traditions. Me and countless others have had our patrimony stolen from us, and we're trying to pick it up piece by piece. I've been to several Latin Rite Masses that more resemble a Protestant service than a Byzantine Catholic Divine Liturgy. That is a huge problem. It's something that needs to be addressed. If the 24 Churches in communion with the Pope make up the universal Catholic Church, then we should be pretty similar. But when we in the Latin Rite start discarding our honored and legitimate liturgical traditions, then that bond of unity is no longer visible to the eyes. it's still there, but we as humans are a sensual people. It certainly doesn't feel like we're united at times. I'm hoping that just as the various Eastern Catholic Churches have regained their traditions over the years, we do too.

I failed to mention that in the Ge'ez Rite, the priest blesses the bread and the wine several times with the sign of the cross; just as what happens in the Extraordinary Form of the Latin Rite. You see, there is a bond here between our rites. But it's been hidden in many places. The answer to putting people back into the pews is to embrace our authentic liturgical traditions. If we can't get divine worship right, there's no way we're going to get anything else right.

No comments:

Post a Comment