Here are my reflections, reactions, and comments on the two Byzantine Catholic Divine Liturgies I attended this past week (on Friday morning and Saturday evening).
As "Roman" as I am (meaning, I love to kneel and genuflect in reverence during the liturgy), there is something I find attractive about standing (at attention, as it were) during the Divine Liturgy. Tired clichés aside -- "we're an Easter people!" -- it calls to mind the courage it takes to stand up for the true faith in God. It reminds me of the humble pride (not a contradiction) that the martyrs had, standing in the midst of trial and torture, not cowering to their oppressors. Clearly, the Church in her wisdom has retained the beauty of the Eastern and Western Rites because they supplement and complement each other so perfectly.
The incense and the bells! The icons! The deliberate gestures! The profundity! Ahh, the Liturgy as an experience engaging all the senses. I am sure heaven will be infinitely more beautiful, but for now, I find myself content with the Mass and the Divine Liturgy.
The constant chanting and singing. It takes a while to get used to it. I find that, for some reason, my throat gets tired and sore more quickly from chanting than from other singing... I don't know quite why, but I resolve to get it in line! The melodies used were sometimes tricky, and I can appreciate how a full choir would have supplied for the congregation's defect. (There was no choir, only a single cantor.) My sister and I were singing a lot, but softly usually... I don't know how much of the congregation was singing the Propers of the liturgy. But the simpler responses like "Lord have mercy" and "Amen" were sung by all, as far as I could tell.
Ad orientem worship! It re-orients (pun intended) the celebration of the liturgy to the God who is beyond us, and yet makes Himself present in our midst. It points us to the future, not simply to the present. And of course, it is punctuated by the priest turning to us on several occasions when he is speaking directly to us, making the Sign of the Cross over us, praying for peace for us. I only wish there had been a deacon as well.
Now, I will say I found the chanting of the readings a bit... well... silly. But only because they were in the vernacular. Hey, no offense, but you try chanting 1 Cor. 1! It sounded odd to hear the words of St. Paul, kind of rambling his way through the list of people he baptized, reporting what he heard from Chloe, sung. I now see the beauty and functionality of chanting the Scriptures in another language (be it Latin or Greek or Slavonic, etc.) and then simply reading them afterward, before the homily.
Oh, precious and loving God, the homily! That was, without a doubt, the clearest and bluntest (and I say that in a good way) homily I have heard in a very long while! The Gospel reading was from Matthew's account of the feeding of the 5000. The priest came right out and said (paraphrased): "If you cannot tell that this Gospel passage is a prefiguring of the Eucharist, you are in need of some remedial catechesis." But then, gracious pastor that he is, he went on and provided to us that catechesis, linking the Scripture with our faith and the liturgy. It was everything a homily should be. I regret that I don't remember the whole of it in the same detail as I remember the exegesis of the Gospel passage, but I do not think I shall forget that opening salvo of unadulterated Catholic orthodoxy for a long, long time!
Finally: Holy Communion. Before we received, we prayed something out loud that I wish God would inscribe in every single parish bulletin and missalette and songbook in the world. We announced our belief in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, asked that we receive not condemnation but healing, and cried out to the Lord for his mercy. And then, those of us who received walked up, took hold of the red cloth at the base of the chalice, held it under our chins, opened our mouths, and graciously and devoutly (I hope!) received the mingled Body and Blood of our Lord! This was the very first (and second) time I received by intinction... and under the form of leavened bread, at that!
So, to the parish of St. Michael's in Allentown, PA, I say thank you. And I am especially grateful to their pastor, Fr. Michael, for two liturgies well-celebrated (despite a lingering cough), a poignant homily, and a reminder of the universality of the Catholic Church.