Recently, Pope Francis has come out to say some frightening words regarding the Theotokos that would make an Orthodox Catholic cringe. In an interview with the chaplain of the Padua – Father Marco Pozza – he stated: “From the moment she was born until the Annunciation, to the moment she encountered the angel of God, I imagine her as a normal girl, a girl of today, I can’t say she a city-girl, because she is from a small town, but normal, educated normally, open to marrying, to starting a family.” Link.
These are an interesting use of words considering that this statement not only contradicts the ancient dogmatic faith of the Church regarding the Perpetual Virginity of Mary, but it also lowers the Theotokos to the status of an ordinary female when he stated: “I imagine her as a normal girl, a girl of today.”
“I imagine her as a normal girl.”
In the East, we sing unto Mary in the ‘Axion Estin’ that she is “Higher in honor than the cherubim, far more glorious than the seraphim” since she is even superior to the angels for giving birth to God within her womb – which even caused St. Gabriel to have fear of her out of reverence.
“Gabriel is on his way to announce the glad tidings to the Virgin; He is ready to cry out in fear and wonder: Rejoice, O Full of Grace, the Lord is with You!” – (Feast of the Annunciation, Troparion Tone 4, Byzantine Rite). If she as the Theotokos was a “normal girl”, this would mean that she is equal to all other women and vice versa, also meaning that she isn’t “Blessed Among Women” as St. Gabriel the Archangel solemnly declared.
If Pope Francis truly means that Mary was a ‘normal girl’, it would seem to suggest that he believes that she had sinful inclinations. Not only that, but it would seem that he is also suggesting that she had worldly cares when stating that she was open to “starting a family”.
Such a suggestion would contradict the words of St. Augustine when he taught that Mary willed and chose to be a Virgin all of her life. “In being born of a virgin who chose to remain a virgin even before she knew who was to be born other, Christ wanted to approve virginity rather than to impose it. And he wanted virginity to be of free choice even in that woman in whom he took upon himself the form of a slave (Holy Virginity 4:4 [A.D. 401]).
“A girl of today.”
What’s also dangerous is the fact he stated that he imagines her as a “girl of today”. But when we look around us in this fallen world of today, what exactly do we see when we come across young teenage girls and young women? Do we not see young women dressing impurely and taking half – naked pictures for ‘likes’ on social media? Not that this applies to all young females, but we cannot deny that this is an unfortunately reality in today’s society within the secular west. To suggest that Mary would have been like a girl of today’s age – and a teenager at that – would be a sacrilegious rationalist ideology.
A scary quotation from Gustavo Raffi, the former Grand Master of the Masonic lodge of Rome, stated “With the election of Pope Francis nothing will be the same again.” (Thursday, March 21, 2013). See here.
Continue to pray for the church in these dark times we live in. St. Michael the Archangel, pray for us.
For more information on the Perpetual Virginity of Mary, click here.
The coldness of the heart is a dangerous self destructing weapon and vice that can keep us enslaved. It is the cause of destruction, pride, apostasy, blasphemy, hatred, and rebellion against God’s Holy Law.
It was the hardness of heart that caused Lucifer to fall into pride and rebel against God. It is what caused the Pharisees and the Scribes to persecute Jesus Christ. It is what caused Judas to betray Jesus for the riches of this world. It is what caused the Rich man to be condemned to Hell for refusing to show mercy to the poor man Lazarus. We must ask ourselves, where do we stand?
Jesus says to love your neighbor as yourself after God. (Matthew 22:37-39) Yet, our sin stained flesh and it’s passions can easily cause us to ignore this commandment and go astray as a result of our spiritual wounds that need cleansing and healing, something that we cannot do on our own strength; but only by God’s life giving and nature restoring Grace.
This can be hard, especially if we are having a hard time forgiving those that have hurt us. However, let us examine the 5th petition of the 7 that’s within the Our Father. “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church says this about the 5th petition:
“Here we’re begging for God’s mercy. This is the one line that causes many to stumble praying the Lord’s Prayer. If it just contained the first part no one would ever stumble with it (forgive us our trespasses) but the second past is there too: forgive us our trespasses As we forgive those who trespass against us (cf. CCC 2862).
In the words of Father Miguel Marie Soeherman: “In other words, we’re telling the Father: Father, please forgive all my offenses to you and to my neighbor, but do me a favor Father, forgive me only as I forgive others. If I don’t forgive even one person, then don’t forgive even one of my sins.”
So what are we to get out of this? That we should work on overcoming our hardness of heart, for we will have to answer for it when it’s time for our judgement. Let us not puff ourselves with pride and flatter ourselves because of the talents and gifts that we have, for all good things comes from God and God alone. Let us not refuse to forgive those that hurt us and even pray for them, though it may hurt. Let us, rather, Ask God to warm us with the presence of the Holy Spirit so that the cold passions of our heart may melt by His Divine Power, trampling over the wickedness of our hearts.
From the Byzantine Akathist Hymn to our Sweetest Lord Jesus: “Teach me to pray with faith and love. Pray in me, that with you I may love my enemies and pray for them.”
(1). The “brothers and sisters” of the Lord in scripture are not Jesus’ biological siblings, but cousins and close relatives considering that the word cousin was not used in the ancient Aramaic spoken by the Jews in the ancient world.
(2). Being that Jesus Christ is the First – Born of the Theotokos (Matt 1:25), it would obviously mean that He is the oldest of all His “siblings”. Had this been the case, it would be against the ancient Palestinian tradition for the younger to correct and rebuke one’s elders, as we see His “brothers” do in John 7:3-5.
(3). In John 19:26, Jesus gives His Mother to the Apostle John. Had Jesus had siblings, He would have passed that care to the next oldest sibling. This was the ancient law of the Jews.
(4). Protestants and other heterodox sects use Matt 13:55 as one of the scripture verses to argue against Mary’s virginity considering that there is a list of “brothers” of Jesus by name; that being James, Joseph, Simon, and Jude. This was an argument used by the ancient Helvidius and Antidicomarianite heretics.
Yet, it must be taken into account that James, the “brother of the Lord” in Acts 9:27 is the Son of Alphesus, whereas the Martyred James of Acts 15:6 was the son of Zebedee. (See Matt 10:3, Mark 3:18). Jude, being the brother of James the Less (Luke 6:16, Acts 1:13) would have to also be the son of Alphesus.
St. Simon (not to be confused with Simon Peter), was known by the early church to be Simon, Son of Cleopas, in whom succeeded James the Apostle as Bishop of Jerusalem. On comparing John 19:25 with Matthew 27:56, and Mark 15:40 (cf. Mark 15:47; 16:1), we find that Mary of Cleophas, or more correctly Clopas (Klopas), the sister of Mary the Mother of Christ, is the same as Mary the mother of James the Less and of Joseph (Joses). That being said, St. Simon of Jerusalem was also the son of Mary of Cleopas, along with Joseph. (Not to be confused with the adoptive earthly father of Jesus).
Note: Cleopas and Alphaeus are the same person. Papias of Hierapolis, who lived c. 70–163 AD, teaches: “Mary the wife of Cleophas or Alphaeus, who was the mother of James the bishop and apostle, and of Simon and Thaddeus, and of one Joseph.”
(5). “Until” in Matt 1:24-25 is a idiomatic expression not to be taken literal, as 1 Sam 6:23 also expresses that Saul’s daughter didn’t have children until her death. Does that mean that she had children after her death? Of course not! In 1 Cor 15:25, it states that Jesus must reign until He has put all enemies under His feet. Would that mean that His reign would eventually end? Absolutely not. (Luke 1:33).
Hilary of Poitiers: “If they [the brethren of the Lord] had been Mary’s sons and not those taken from Joseph’s former marriage, she would never have been given over in the moment of the passion [crucifixion] to the apostle John as his mother, the Lord saying to each, ‘Woman, behold your son,’ and to John, ‘Behold your mother’ [John 19:26–27), as he bequeathed filial love to a disciple as a consolation to the one desolate” (Commentary on Matthew 1:4 [A.D. 354]).
Athanasius: “Let those, therefore, who deny that the Son is by nature from the Father and proper to his essence deny also that he took true human flesh from the ever-virgin Mary” (Discourses Against the Arians 2:70 [A.D. 360]).
Augustine: “In being born of a Virgin who chose to remain a Virgin even before she knew who was to be born of her, Christ wanted to approve virginity rather than to impose it. And he wanted virginity to be of free choice even in that woman in whom he took upon himself the form of a slave” (Holy Virginity 4:4 [A.D. 401]).
Cyril of Alexandria: “[T]he Word himself, coming into the Blessed Virgin herself, assumed for himself his own temple from the substance of the Virgin and came forth from her a man in all that could be externally discerned, while interiorly he was true God. Therefore he kept his Mother a virgin even after her childbearing” (Against Those Who Do Not Wish to Confess That the Holy Virgin is the Mother of God 4 [A.D. 430]).
Pope Leo I: “His [Christ’s] origin is different, but his [human] nature is the same. Human usage and custom were lacking, but by divine power a Virgin conceived, a Virgin bore, and Virgin she remained” (Sermons 22:2 [A.D. 450]).
Therefore, being that Mary was the spouse of the Holy Spirit, it is clear by scripture and by the teachings of the Early Christians that Mary remained a Virgin all the days of her life.
It is easy to fall into pride by thinking that we can conquer temptations without prayer, fasting, and patience. This is because our fallen human nature deceives us into thinking that we can battle evil by own our power. But we must humble ourselves and remember that salvation cannot be achieved by our own strength, but only by God’s. (Matthew 19:26).
To the self righteous, you may glorify yourselves and cheer “I have conquered this temptation” deceiving yourself into thinking that you are now holy; giving you the inclination to judge the sins of your brother. However, such actions shall condemn you.
St. Caesarius of Arles teaches: “The worst kind of sin is not to acknowledge that you are sinful.” (Commentary on John 1:8).
Silouan the Athonite: “Understand two thoughts, and fear them. One says, “You are a saint,” the other, “You won’t be saved.” Both of these thoughts are from the enemy, and there is no truth in them. But think this way: I am a great sinner, but the Lord is merciful. He loves people very much, and He will forgive my sins.” (Writings, XVII.1)
St. Mark the Ascetic: “Guard your mind from self-praise and flee a high opinion of yourself, so that God does not allow you to fall into the opposite [passion to the virtue for which you boast], for man does not accomplish virtue alone, but with the help of God who sees all.” (Homilies, 85)
I remember my first confession. I was a convert to the Catholic Church. Having been baptized prior to my conversion, and due to odd circumstances which prevented my confirmation/chrismation from occurring for a few years, I was granted a rare privilege of going to confession before my reception into the Catholic Church. Most pre-baptized converts will confess right before their reception, so the administration of the Mystery of Repentance/Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation to someone not officially a Catholic is not unheard of, provided that they are, indeed, becoming Catholic.
Anyways, I think the hardest part of my confession was waiting in line for it. I remember staring at this examination of conscience pamphlet produced by the Fathers of Mercy, looking at all of the sins. As I read each one, I grew more nervous and fearful. But the hardest part was the wait! Sitting in line waiting to tell the priest my sins. Finally, after what felt like an eternity, I finally get to walk into the confessional.
It wasn’t a proper confessional, so to speak, but rather a room that they were using to hear confessions. Regardless, I speak to the priest and inform him that this is my first confession and that I would like to become Catholic. I had never seen a man so excited in my life. I pulled out the pamphlet and asked him if it was alright if I used it to help me. So I go through each one and as I tell him each sin, he gives a bit of advice. But I eventually finish my confession, 15 minutes later. However, what I remembered the most was the feeling of having this heavy weight lifted from my shoulders and how clean my heart felt afterward. I walked out of that confessional feeling like a new man. Because I was.
CONFESSION IS A SECOND BAPTISM
Baptism is the sacrament where we are brought into the Church by the literal and spiritual washing away of our sins. But as sinners, we stain our souls with our misdeeds and sometimes we even commit sins that cut us off from the grace of God completely! In this way, we excommunicate ourselves (literally: cut ourselves off from communion) and the only way to be brought back into communion is to be forgiven of the sins that separated us, to begin with. To do that, we need to first be truly sorry for our sins, resolve to sin no more, and resolve to repair whatever damage we have caused by our sins. It is then and only then we can be forgiven. Because anything less than that isn’t true repentance.
But when we sincerely repent, and we go to confession, we are forgiven of our sins, and those sins are wiped off of our souls, and it is just like we had been baptized all over again.
SO, HOW IS CONFESSION MADE POSSIBLE?
By, Jesus’s death on the cross of course! And it is also through His resurrection. When Christ died for our sins, He died for all who sincerely repent of their sins so that they may live in the newness of life. It is only because Christ paid the price for our sins, that is, death, we can live. Without the cross, the tomb, and the resurrection, there would be no forgiveness of sins. All sins that were forgiven by God in the past, in the present, and in the future, were made possible by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. We are only saved by His grace, not by any work that we do.
Yet, even with sincere repentance, we are still unworthy of forgiveness. It is only through the supreme mercy of God that He pardons our transgressions, our offenses against Him, numerous as they are. After all, if someone offended us the same amount that we offend God, we would find it hard to forgive someone. People have been executed for much less, after all. However, my point isn’t to show how unworthy we are, but rather show how great God’s mercy and goodness is since He forgives us for all of our transgressions when we truly repent.
CONFESSION ENABLES OUR SPIRITUAL LIFE
I was living in mortal sin for a little while in my life. How can one be spiritual with God while in a state of sin? You can’t. Our spiritual life is based on us trying to grow closer to God through prayer and repentance. If we are doing things that we know separate us from God, we are doing the exact opposite. Even worse, if we do those things, and are knowingly in a state of mortal sin, yet still go to communion, it is even worse!
The receiving the Eucharist both physically and spiritually unites ourselves to Christ. Yet, if we eat and drink the Eucharist in a state of sin, rather than eating and drinking salvation, we are eating and drinking judgment and damnation upon ourselves. In fact, St. Paul writes this:
26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
27Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.
28Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.
29For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.
30That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.
1 Corinthians 11:26-30 (ESV) – For more commentary on 1 Corinthians 11, click here
Yes, the sacrilege of receiving unworthily can even induce physical ailments and even death!
Why is it a sacrilege? Every sacrament comes from the sacrifice of the Cross. Baptism and Confession are the most obvious, but every sacrament is tied to the cross and is made possible only because of the cross. The Eucharist is more than bread and wine transubstantiated into the Body and Blood of Christ. The Eucharist is actually the entire service of thanksgiving, i.e. the Divine Liturgy is rightly and properly the Eucharist. And in this Eucharist, we are brought back to the death of Christ on the Cross for our sins. By receiving unworthily, we are making a mockery of His death. We are, in essence, saying that Christ died in vain since I can be united to Him without being forgiven of the sins I have committed/am committing. I am now taking my salvation for granted and even worse, not discerning the body and blood (i.e. the sacrifice, not just the real presence). This is why receiving unworthily is considered such a mockery. It is one thing to have committed venial sins, as those do not take us out of communion with God. It is another thing to physically unite ourselves to God when we are spiritually out of communion. That is why receiving worthily is actually a big deal.
And this is why confession is so important. When we commit a mortal sin, all we have to do is sincerely repent, confess our sins, and receive absolution. This prevents us from eating and drinking unworthily.
CONFESSION IS NOT A CRUTCH
When I was a Protestant, I had the mindset that since I was already “saved,” I could commit sins without any consequences. When I became Catholic, I learned that we had a bad rap for doing the exact same thing. The only difference was that we confess our sins to a priest for forgiveness rather than just assume forgiveness. If we go to confession insincerely, I assure you that we are not only not forgiven for what we have confessed, but we also commit a great sin of sacrilege. At this point, we are no longer seeking God’s mercy, but rather going through a ritual that lets us go to communion. There is also another sin, called presuming on God’s mercy, in which we say something along the lines of “I can eat this meat today,” or “I can watch this porn,” or even “I can hit that person,” because “I can just go to confession later and be forgiven of it.” Essentially, you are committing a sin with the intention of making an insincere confession. When you repent of that sin, on top of the other sin you committed, then you can have a sincere confession.
God has given us this wonderful sacrament of mercy and peace, but it is up to us to not abuse it.
HOW OFTEN SHOULD I GO?
The most famous answer is “as often as you need to.” However, I will say that there are two camps of people. Those who go to confession way too much (rare, but still exist) and those who do not go enough (the vast majority of people). The people who go too much are the ones with tendencies to scrupulosity, who go to confession every 3 days or so. Really, what is recommended to most people is that if you are not committing mortal sins, you should go to confession at least on a monthly basis. Some people recommend going weekly. It is truly something you should work out with your spiritual father. Going weekly will benefit some people without a doubt, but there are others who, by going weekly, turn it into a ritual that actually causes them to sin more. As crazy as that sounds, going too much could lead someone into a presumption of God’s mercy.
Here is a scenario. Confessions are held before liturgy each Sunday. You have a sin you commit on a frequent basis. You go to confession, are absolved, and then go to communion. You get home from church and go on to sin for the remainder of the week because you know that you will be able to confess your sins and approach communion. In fact, some people only use the confessional because mortal sins cut us off from communion. Not surprisingly, if people in mortal sins were allowed to go to communion, the lines for confession would be much smaller. It is our human nature: we do not like admitting that we are wrong.
However, the mindset of going to confession just to be able to receive communion is a dangerous one. The reality is that when we are in mortal sin, we are liable to the fires of hell. Again, I reiterate, if we are not forgiven of our mortal sin, we will go to hell. While wishing to receive Jesus is not wrong, don’t go to confession for just that purpose, but out of heartfelt sorrow for offending God.
But, at the end of the day, it is better to avoid sin than to ask forgiveness. How do we do this? By prayer and fasting of course!
In the words of my priest: “If you deny the use of icons, you deny the Incarnation of Christ.” How is this so? Because Jesus Christ, in the flesh, is the perfect Icon of the Father.
John 12:45 – “He who sees Me sees Him who sent Me”
John 14:6-10 – “‘Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me?’”
Hebrews 1:3 – “the brightness of His glory and the express image [eikon] of His person, upholding all things by the word of His power”
Collisions 1:15 – “He is the image [eikon] of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.”
The holy father St. John of Damascus teaches the following: “If the Word of God truly took flesh, He could be depicted in images … In the old days, the incorporeal and infinite God was never depicted. Now, however, when God has been seen clothed in flesh and talking with mortals, I make an image of the God whom I see. I do not worship matter; I worship the God of matter, who became matter for my sake, and deigned to inhabit matter, who worked out my salvation through matter. I will not cease from honoring that matter which works my salvation.”
The following Anathemas are taken from an 1111 edition of the Synodikon by a monk of the Monastery of Oleni in Moroea. “On every innovation and action contrary to the tradition of the Church, and the teaching and pattern of the holy and celebrated Fathers, or anything that shall be done after this: Anathema!… On those who accept with their reason the incarnate economy of God the Word, but will not allow that this can be beheld through images, and therefore affect to receive our salvation in words, but deny it in reality: Anathema!
Those who apply the sayings of the divine Scripture that are directed against idols to the august icons of Christ our God and his saints: Anathema!
Those who share the opinion of those who mock and dishonor the august icons: Anathema!
Those who say that Christians treat the icons like gods: Anathema!
Those who dare to say that the Catholic Church has accepted idols, thus over-throwing the whole mystery and mocking the faith of Christians: Anathema!”
Thus, one cannot be a Christian and reject iconography, otherwise, one would have to reject the Incarnation in which is a heretical conclusion.
To understand why the Catholic Church is in the crises that it is in as a result of poor catechesis, bad clergy, modernized liturgies etc; we must first take into consideration that the Catholic Church has an archenemy: the Freemasons.
The Freemasons are a secret society in which has plotted against the Catholic Church since it came into existence in the 14th – 15th century. The Freemasons promote heresies such as the denial of revealed dogma, naturalism, liberation theology, rationalism, universalism etc. Pope Pius XII taught: “..the roots of modern apostasy lay in scientific atheism, dialectical materialism, rationalism, illuminism, laicism, and Freemasonry; which is the mother of them all…” (May 23, 1958 A.D.)
Countless times throughout history, the Freemasons have tried to destroy the church from outside by persecuting it with force; examples being the French Revolution and the Cristero War. (Note: The newly Masonic government of Mexico was funded by the USA to destroy the Church in the country in order to establish a secular state). Since these persecutions did not work in regards to destroying the church (with the Cristero war coming later), Pope Leo XIII received a letter titled the “Alta Vendita” by the highest ranking Masonic lodge of Italy, warning that they would attack the Church from within by bribing clerics to spread error. (Even hiring their own members to become clerics to continue spreading heresy from inside the church).
The document also mentions how they even have a plot to abuse the Papal office by pushing for a Pope that will do what they desire; spread error from the top! “That which we ought to demand, that which we should seek and expect, as the Jews expected the Messiah, is a Pope according to our wants.” (section XIX, 1st half of the 19th century — emphasis added). You can imagine the fear that was installed into poor Pope Leo XIII, which explains why he warned against freemasonry more than any other Pope: Custodi di Quella Fede & Humanum Genus being only a couple examples.
Hence, the Catholic Church has anathematized the society, and declared that Catholics in which join the society are de facto excommunicated. Canon 1917, 2335: “Those who join a Masonic sect or other societies of the same sort, which plot against the Church or against legitimate civil authority, incur ipso facto an excommunication simply reserved to the Holy See”. In the 17th century, before Freemasonry was even publicly known to the world since its first lodges were established in the 18th century in London; Our Lady of Good Success in Ecuador warned that the Freemasons would attack the Sacrament of Marriage in the Catholic Church. She is called the “Queen of Prophets” for a reason!
“As for the Sacrament of Matrimony, which symbolises the union of Christ with His Church, it will be attacked and deeply profaned. Freemasonry, which will then be in power, will enact iniquitous laws with the aim of doing away with this Sacrament, making it easy for everyone to live in sin and encouraging the procreation of illegitimate children born without the blessing of the Church.” (June 21st, 1610). Even though this is the unfortunate reality of what is going on in the Church, and in the world, we should not be afraid and loose hope. Instead, we should simply pray for the sanctification of our own souls, pray for our clerics, stay in the state of grace, stay close to the sacraments, learn our faith, and preserve Catholic orthodoxy. Remember; God is in charge. God bless.
How can we say that we truly have the love of God within our hearts if we hate our neighbor? (See 1 John 4:20). Your neighbor extends to not only those in your community, nation, church, race, religion etc; but to all humanity. This is why Jesus gives a parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37. Do take note that Jews and Samaritan’s had been enemies for hundreds of years (1 King’s 15:6, John 4:9) yet the Samaritan had mercy on the Jew that was beaten, robbed, and poor. Christ, being the Prince of Peace, used this parable to give us an example of how we are to live as Christians. This is because by our actions, we preach the Gospel. (James 1:22, James 3:13, Matt 5:16).
Therefore, we must struggle to do what is right, even if it hurts. Christ commands us to love our enemies and to not curse them. (Matt 5:43, Luke 6:27-28). Doing so is to live up to the virtue of humility. To conclude, let us reflect on the words of St. Peter, Chief of the Apostles: “Do not return evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary bless, for to this you have been called, that you may obtain a blessing. For “He that would love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking guile; let him turn away from evil and do right; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” (He’s quoting Psalms 34:12-16). Now, who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is right? But even if you do suffer righteousness sake, you will be blessed.” (1 Peter 3:9-14).
A new gospel is being taught in this capitalist and materialist society we live in: “The rich are not obliged to help the poor.” As Catholics, we cannot hold such views since these contradict the Church’s teaching on the Corporal Works of Mercy. (Matt 25:34-45).
1 John 3:17 – “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”
Proverbs 14:31 – “He that oppresses the poor reproaches his Maker: but he that honors him has mercy on the poor.”
Proverbs 28:27 – “Those who give to the poor will lack nothing, but those who close their eyes to them receive many curses.”
Proverbs 31:8-9 “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
(Note: To refuse helping the poor willingly can lead to damnation: See – Luke 16:22-24, Matt 25:41-46).
St. Ambrose: “You are not making a gift of your possessions to the poor person. You are handing over to him what is his. For what has been given in common for the use of all, you have arrogated to yourself. The world is given to all, and not only to the rich.”
St. John Chrysostom – “The rich are in possession of the goods of the poor, even if they have acquired them honestly or inherited them legally.”
The Didache – “Share everything with your brother. Do not say, “It is private property.” If you share what is everlasting, you should be that much more willing to share things which do not last.”
Pope Pius X – “I was born poor, I lived in poverty, I wish to die poor.”
Technically speaking, we are “sui iuris (self-governing) Churches using the Byzantine Rite.” There are quite a few different churches using the Byzantine rite, and they can be grouped into categories of church, i.e. slavic, Greek, Russian, Antiochian, etc. The ones that most people are familiar with are churches in the slavic category (Ruthenian – which goes under the name of Byzantine Catholic Church in America, and Ukranian) as well as the Melkites. There are plenty of other Eastern Catholic sui iuris Churches that utilize different rites, i.e. Maronites, Chaldean, Syro-Malabar, etc. but for this article, I will be focusing primarily on churches using the Byzantine Rite, as this is where I have most of my experiential knowledge.
First Things First: Traditionally We Sing Everything
I know what some of you may be thinking: “at our church, we recite some liturgies.” Technically speaking, we aren’t supposed to be doing that. It continues for a few reasons:
Back in the era of forced latinizations, many parishes adopted Romanesque practices such as kneeling during Sunday and Paschal liturgies (in violation of the 2nd Nicean Council) which have stuck because the people who grew up with the latinizations thing this is what a Byzantine Catholic church should look like and don’t want to change it.
The parish is in a tourist area and wants to appeal to Roman Catholic visitors on vacation. Yes, this actually happens. You can tell it is a tourist church when the priest or some parishioner has to announce before liturgy that it is an Eastern Catholic Church but “we are still under the Pope, but we do things a little differently.” So, in this case, they are sacrificing their identity for tourist dollars.
People and Priests are too lazy to change. Remember that this is a list of potential reasons, and I am not writing about anyone’s church specifically (i.e. I’m not calling anyone lazy or saying anyone is lazy. I’m saying that there are people who *might* be lazy. One is calumny or gossip, the other is just throwing out potential ideas. Know the difference). Let’s be honest, singing a liturgy takes effort. And it makes the liturgy take a lot longer. A recited liturgy will be over in 25 to 30 minutes, whereas a sung liturgy will take a minimum of an hour. For time reasons alone, some people prefer recited liturgies.
With this out of the way, we should understand why we sing and why it is bad when the liturgy is just recited. St. Augustine says “he who sings prays twice.” In the Metropolitan Cantor Institute (Byzantine Catholic Metropolia of Pittsburgh), it states that singing indicates “oneness of heart.” Our singing changes liturgy from being a ritual to being a truly communal worship, a joyful, yet a reverent celebration of the resurrection. When we reduce it to a recited liturgy, the goal shifts from prayer and worship to simply receiving a sacrament. That issue will be covered in a later (and likely shorter) article.
THE MUSIC IS DIFFERENT IN DIFFERENT JURISDICTIONS
That’s right. Just because you walk into a church using the Byzantine Rite does not mean they use the same music. They have the 8 tones and they have the same responses, but they are written to different music. This is because when churches began to develop in certain areas, popular melodies were adapted to fit the words of the liturgical words. Thus, Ruthenian tone 1 will be different than Ukranian tone 1, which will be different from Melkite tone 1, etc.
They are different sui iuris churches. Again, it is important to emphasize that there is no one single Byzantine Catholic Church.
CANTORS OR CHOIRS?
Some churches use a cantor or two to lead the congregation in singing. Some churches use a choir to sing the responses and the people will sing along. In my church, as the cantor, my priest tells me to let the people sing. That means I start the music, and then I let the people sing it (i.e. I shut up and listen) and if they start going off track, I jump in to correct them. Yes, it takes practice to learn how to do this while still providing for a reverent liturgy, but it is possible. My priest likes it because it forces the people to sing rather than rely on me to do it for them. Some cantors are told to sing at a regular volume so that the people have a base melody to sing along to. In this case, a lot of the people will listen rather than sing. Other churches have choirs who are told to sing in plainchant (i.e. non-harmonized melody). Lastly, there are choirs who harmonize melodies and sound truly beautiful. My priest doesn’t like the idea of that because he thinks that with a harmonized choir, the people will not sing along.
So what is the right way? Obviously, I have my opinions and my priest has his opinion, but it really depends on the tradition of your church. One thing I learned in the Roman Catholic Church is that you do not need to be singing or saying anything to be actively participating in the mass (internal participation). This is the case in our church when parishes choose to use the language of their ethnicity rather than in the vernacular (in our case, English). Some prefer to use Church Slavonic, and despite what some may think, that is not a latinization. Many Orthodox churches will choose to sing more ancient languages rather than the vernacular. (Ironically it was Saint Cyril and Methodius who translated the original liturgy into Slavonic – the vernacular of the Slavic people, who they ministered and brought the gospel to.) Singing in Slavonic or in Ukrainian, while it may be nice for immigrants isn’t so great for potential converts or visitors. An example would be a Melkite Catholic who moves and only has a UGCC nearby, which sings solely in Ukranian.
In these cases, if the person doesn’t know the language, they cannot sing along, but they can certainly pray in the reverent atmosphere of the church, thus actively participating without saying a word. Of course, unlike a Latin Mass, this shouldn’t be the primary means of worship, but rather a way of worshipping when one cannot sing along. And yes, it is possible to sing along without actually praying along, but again – a different topic for a different day.
Overall, music is deeply ingrained in the liturgical life of Byzantine Catholics and is more than just background music or ambiance. It is truly the outpouring of one’s heart in the worship of God. The music may differ between jurisdictions, but the fact is that they all have their own music, thus a testimony to the great importance that it has in the liturgical life of the Church.