More from the Mailbox

17 09 2008

A continuation of a previous conversation:

Of course the liturgy of the Byzantine Church is infinitely better than the Latin Church. Why do you think I had anything to do with it? Just because I “liked it” or that it made me “feel closer to God!” There are many reasons for why it is better.

The Latin Church has always been rather primitive. It tends far more towards the “mystical” and direct “feeling” approach because it is so far behind the eight ball when it comes to brains. They (Latins) never really got into the big theological debates of the first 7 councils. They have always promoted a Jesus-centric, (not even Christo-centric) spirituality. They have never really come to terms with the role of the Mother of God. All the major liturgical feasts of the BVM were imported from the East and the Reformation never had a clue what it was all about. Of course you could start on the Holy Spirit and the ease with which they stuck the Filioque in the Creed and screwed up the order of the sacraments of Initiation.

I went to the local Jesuit Church the other day as it was the anniversary of my Mother’s death. Sometimes that Church commemorates members of my family (that day they didn’t.) Anyway it was a Vietnamese priest in a very small “Lady Chapel” with a congregation of 20 with a cumulative age of 2,000 years. Anyway, it was clear form the way that the priest was “carrying on” that he thought that the Mass was a “re-enactment” of the Last Supper. He was playing the role of Jesus and we the apostles. This Latin tradition goes way back. Why did they change the bread to look more like mazza? Why could they get on for so long with out an epiklesis. It’s because their liturgy has only 2 dimensions, past (may be Jesus) and present (may be the re-enactment and sacrifice to the Father). The eschatological dimension is very weak (I’m being charitable).

The Spirit, is the “active principle” who carries the liturgy forward and brings it into the perfection of the kingdom. It is only in the light of the future life that the liturgy makes sense. Therefore it is “mysterious” because we do not know what the future life will be like, all we know is that it will be “like” the liturgy.

This may be why the question of the “real presence” were never very big in the East. The present status of the “bread” is determined not only by past (what Jesus said) or present (what the bread “is”) but more importantly how the whole thing is a foretaste of reality. Reality for us is mysterious -hidden and covered. Only when reality finally breaks through into our world will the Eucharist and the liturgical life not be “mysterious”.

It’s the “open window” of the physicality of the Byzantine Liturgy that makes its so much superior for us to the Latin liturgy. It is the product of a sophisticated, intellectual world – a world that had inherited the Greek language from the classical world, as well as all the permutations that Greek philosophy had undergone. And the Byzantine world knew this perfectly well. It was all judged in the light of the Gospel but certainly not rejected.

The Latin Church is the result of a Church struggling with the collapse of a political entity who had had a “borrowed” culture. It has battle for its physical and intellectual existence from its earliest days. When persecution ended the first thing the Church did was to abandon the West and move East. The Eastern Emperor often paid off the barbarians to go and sack the West and leave the East in peace. I think you can get a feel for what is going on by looking at the Latin translation of the Bible. It is so cloth-eared and country bumpkin. And they love it. Look what happened with Pius XII’s attempt to clean up the psalms. Everyone hated it.

Anyway never fear Mr V. Eternity is long and one day the Latin Church will feel at home in its own shoes. Just look how “un-scriptural” the Church became after the Reformation. The Bible was something for the Protestants! Bouyer somewhere says an interesting thing…It was the classical revival that did for the Bible in the West. Classical mythology and values became the currency of literature. People could tell you who “Shining Athena” was but had no idea who Ruth was!

Anyway the Church is struggling to “re-capture” the Bible…Will it work? I don’t know. It hasn’t worked so far…


There are lots of things in here that I don’t agree with, but they deserve to be brought up anyway. I will address them later. It is interesting to note that the man who wrote this is an Eastern Catholic.



10 responses

10 09 2019

My perception is that the Traditional Roman Rite was always relatively spare because it came into its own during a time of widespread poverty and anarchy in the western world. Contrast with the Greek Rite, which came of age in a time and place of stability and opulence. I first got this idea while reading “Byzantine Rome & The Greek Popes” by Economou, but since then my suspicions have been repeatedly confirmed.

10 06 2019

Muito bom post! Nós seremos ligando para isto particularmente
grande conteúdo em nosso site. Manter-se o grande escrevendo.

22 05 2019

Reblogged this on Reditus and commented:

I was re-reading this the other day and thought I would share it again.

20 09 2008
M.J. Ernst-Sandoval

The Western liturgy has historically been very conservative. This is probably due, as my friend insinutates, from it being in a dead language.

This is my thought exactly. I’ve always been told that “the hallmark of the Roman Rite is the absence of unnecessary ostentation.” Before the advent of the printing press this surely caused a slight disconnect between many of the laity and the texts of the liturgy (not including the Gospel perhaps being read before the occasional sermon), thus the many bells and signals to let you know something is happening. However, as Eamon Duffy points out, this also gave rise to a host of extra-liturgical devotions, which in many ways made up for the minimal pagentry in the liturgy .

Is chanting an akathist to St. Seraphim of Sarov any more to be considered liturgy than a woman saying a novena to St. Jude. How is the epitaphion procession liturgy, and the Stations of the Cross not liturgy. I think we have a problem with nomenclature.

Good point. This is perhaps why there are many Greek Rite Catholics who see the Western extra-liturgical devotions that their members have adopted over the centuries as foreign and there has been a move to get rid of the rosary and Stations of the Cross from Byzantine Rite parishes. To the Latin, the liturgy is the Mass and the public recitation of the Divine Office.

Of course the liturgy of the Byzantine Church is infinitely better than the Latin Church.

Roman Rite, Byzantine Rite; apples, oranges. Your friend’s jugement, if he is somparing the Byzantine Liturgy to the modern Roman Rite, is duly warranted. But considering the Roman Rite historically, his characterizations are a bit harsh and don’t take into consideration anything that happened after the Middles Ages.

18 09 2008
Arturo Vasquez

Okay, so here’s my opinion, the extended version:

I spent three years of my life thinking the Byzatine liturgy was the solution to the world’s ills, and truth be told, I still think that the West has a lot to learn from it. I think that you only need to spend five minutes at an Orthodox Divine Liturgy to question the wisdom of the liturgical reforms that took place in the West in the 1960’s. There was a severe rupture there, and not necessarily one that most people think of.

The other problem of course is how one rite’s liturgy is interpreted as popular piety in another. The Western liturgy has historically been very conservative. This is probably due, as my friend insinutates, from it being in a dead language. Many of the developments that people love about the Liturgy of St. John Chrysotom weren’t there at the time of St. John Chrysostom, the Cherubic Hymn being one of the most significant off the top of my head. The procession with the epitaphion on Holy Friday is also a very late development. The Western liturgy can thus be accused for being historically backwards because of how little it really changed. Is chanting an akathist to St. Seraphim of Sarov any more to be considered liturgy than a woman saying a novena to St. Jude. How is the epitaphion procession liturgy, and the Stations of the Cross not liturgy. I think we have a problem with nomenclature.

The problem is the resourcement reformers bought into some sort of “liturgy fetish” hook, line and sinker. “This is liturgy because it is more Biblical”, “that is liturgy because it is more ancient”, “this is liturgy, and that is just personalistic kitsch”, and so on and so forth. The Bouyers and Jungmanns of the world care to speak dogmatically of their own very prejudiced opinions. There was some sort of diagram of an idealized church that they were trying to enforce in their scholarship that is really just a reflection of what they find acceptable.

In terms of East vs. West, my friend here is comparing the ideal of one with the reality of the other. I never felt anything particularly “eschatological” about the Byzantine liturgy in the hundreds of hours I had to spend at it. One can point to the “text”, but I always find comparing texts that most people don’t read or hear a rather tendentious exercise. In the end, the real “magic” of liturgy is extra-liturgical. Perhaps you cannot have traditional Christianity at a modern Presbyterian worship service, but to argue exclusively from texts the “eschatological dimensions of liturgy” I don’t think gets us very far.

The ethos of the society in which we live determines how we experience the liturgy. In rural societies where few people could read, whether it be Albania or Spain, with different languanges or rites, I would think that the experience that people had towards their church going would have been the same. That being said, I don’t think, absolutely speaking, that a couple of hours on a Sunday in the same worship service is going to radically change your worldview living in a world like this. I can’t help but think that we are all in the same boat.

And again, I have to reiterate that if the vast majority of Christendom went “without a liturgy” for so long and managed to build Chartes Cathedral, evangelized the Americas, and created a long line of saints and other heroic figures, one could ask what good is this abstract concept of “liturgy” in this case. Do the abortion rates in the former Soviet block, the rising tide of Russian nationalism, and the internal crises in the Orthodox Church in this country make the Byzantine liturgy a good poster boy for authentic Christianity? Again, define your terms! It seems all to come down to what “I” think is kitschy, or what “I” think is non-Biblical, etc. In the end, we are all in the same boat. Many seem to be creating a past that never was, or imposing their idea of history but failing to realize that what they see as good and bad in one is also good or bad in another. Scratch the surface, and the crisis is pretty much the same.

17 09 2008
Arturo Vasquez


I will say, briefly, that I find that what is said here begs a lot of questions. If Czarist Russia or Ottoman-occupied Greece are Christian societies with a liturgy, and Spain during the Age of Gold is a society without a liturgy, one can be forgiven for saying, “to hell with liturgy!” All of this is a bit idealized, and I find Bouyer’s liturgical thinking a whole lot of bosh. And I find the “Bible-baiting” stuff really, really stupid. My friend still has a lot of resourcement thinking in his head. He is smart as a whip, but still, all of this is so 1960’s!

17 09 2008

Could you provide a link to the previous conversation referred to? Thanks.

17 09 2008
Christopher Orr

I look forward to your thoughts on this post. Thanks, FrGregACCA for your thoughts, too.

17 09 2008

Ironically, the text of the Novus Ordo strengthens the eschatological and pneumatological dimensions of the Latin Rite Mass, and to this moment, Eucharistic Prayer I, the “Roman Canon,” mentions the Holy Spirit only once (in the doxology) and the parousia not at all.

I do think it is a mistake in this context to play the dimensions of past, present, and future off against each other. Each is present and each is integral to the Liturgy. However, he is right in that the Eastern Rites in general, and the Byzantine Rite in particular, do a better job of this than does the Latin Rite, in either form.

IMHO, a basic problem that the above writer alludes to but does not discuss directly is that at some time in the West, the “rule of prayer” as a whole ceased being “canonical”, i.e., normative. That is, as long as certain basic elements, such as the Words of Institution and the basic structure, were retained, much else was up for grabs. Thus, as he mentions, the order of the mysteries/sacraments of intitiation was disrupted, the Mass ceased to be, first and foremost, a celebration of the whole community of a particular place, and “Low Mass” (along with Private Masses) became the norm, of which “High Mass” was an elaboration whereas, in the East, “High Mass” was always the norm and “Low Mass”/Private Masses virtually unknown.

As you pointed out earlier, one cannot change form willy-nilly and not have content also affected.

17 09 2008

Seems like a rather childish understanding of religion to me.

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