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Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Truly Universal Experience at Mass

I am the first to plead ignorance here, as I know absolutely zilch about the 20+ Eastern Rite Churches in communion with the Catholic Church.  My lone personal experience with one of our Eastern brethren came when my bishop asked me to give one of the Eastern-rite bishops a tour of the city.

However, something beautiful happened at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome this morning (roughly 2:30AM Texas time) that showed me just how Universal the Church truly is.  For the better part of nearly two and a half weeks, the Church had a Synod (gathering, if you will) of a group of bishops, archbishops, cardinals and invited guests to discuss the situation of the Faith in the Middle East.  At stake is the very essence of the Christian community in the land where the Faith was born.  Here, Christians face persecution to the point of martyrdom.  The flock needs to be strengthened, encouraged and allowed to flourish.

This morning, the Holy Father celebrated the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass to close out the synod. What transpired was nothing short of majestic, sublime and beautiful.  It was, as it were, a confluence of the Eastern and Latin rites.  Inasmuch as the Mass was the Latin-rite liturgy, there were elements from the Eastern-rites that brought a truly different dimension to the Holy Sacrifice.  The chanting of the Gospel both in Latin and in Greek was one aspect.  There were also various chants from the Eastern-rite, unaccompanied by musical instruments.  Chris  Altieri, one of the best Vatican Radio English-language journalists around (along with Charles, Emer and Phillipa), provided the commentary and helped to educate viewers as to what was being chanted.  Even though I did not understand what was being chanted, the music had the element of the sacred that is missing in many of our English-language liturgies.  It was directed at God and not at all about us.

Listening to the chants, I was taken back to what many called the "infamous" Papal Mass that was celebrated back in 2008 at Nationals Stadium in DC.  The late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus called the music used a "cultural mish-mash."  One bishop called it a multi-cultural celebration.  I side with Fr. Neuhaus' stance on this one.  The Mass, let alone a Papal one, is not the place where we celebrate cultural diversity.  It is where we come together as the People of God, united in one Faith, in one Spirit, in one Body.  What happened this morning at St. Peter's Basilica was not some multi-cultural festival.  It was the union of what the Venerable Pope John Paul II called, the "two lungs" of the Church.  It was the Church being what she truly is:  the Universal Body of Christ.  To see the Eastern-Rite patriarchs and beatitudes up on the Altar of the Confession with the Holy Father was to see the epitome of unity in the Church.

It drove home the point to me that the Church is not just about the Latin-rite (even though, at least in the West, most Catholics are Latin-rite).  The Eastern-Rite is just as much a part of the Church as well.  While I may never get to experience, to pray, an Eastern-Rite Divine Liturgy, it is important to know that such exist.  If I should ever be blessed to assist at one, I will be in Communion with the Universal Church.  It is this Communion that we should celebrate.


  1. Well said. I went to the DC mass, and enjoyed being with the pope, but the music was somewhat disappointing. How long will it take people to figure out that the mass is not about us?!?!

    Ben (Also known as TheMc on CAF)

  2. The problem is that folks assume that just because such music is used in the Mass, then, it's okay. They assume that just because something is in the song books that their parishes use, then, it's fine. But, I think that something has got to give.