Is the priest ‘turning his back’ on the people?

There is a common myth that has spread throughout the Latin Church, and unfortunately in Latinized Eastern Catholic Churches, that claims that the reason why the priest used to pray “facing away from the people” was so that the congregation would not feel worthy to participate in the Eucharistic sacrifice. Therefore, Vatican 2 came to change that in order to fulfill its request to have “active participation.”

While we will not cover the details of what “active participation” truly meant in its proper context, we will give details in regards to why the Church originally prays facing Eastward.

It is Biblical: All throughout scripture, it is suggested that we pray towards the East. Examples from the Old Testament include Ezekiel 43:4 in where he saw the glory of God coming from the East:

“And the glory of the Lord came into the house, by the way of the gate looking eastward:”

In ancient Jewish worship of the New Testament, it was commanded that the ancient liturgy which prefigured the eternal Divine Liturgy of the New Testament face East:

“And if the prince should prepare as a thanksgiving a whole-burnt-peace-offering to the Lord, and should open for himself the gate looking eastward, and offer his whole-burnt-offering, and his peace-offerings, as he does on the sabbath-day; then shall he go out, and shall shut the doors after he has gone out.” (Eze 46:12).

Therefore, the Church is continuing in the practices of it’s Jewish heritage. Not only that, it is also facing East to face Christ Himself.

“For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man” (Matthew 24:27)

“Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.” (Mat 2:1-2)

“…Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11) Note: Christ Ascended on the Mount of Olives, and when He returns, He will be on a cloud coming from the East. (Luke 21:27).

You may be asking: “But didn’t Jesus face the apostles during the Last Supper, the very first Divine Liturgy?” In response, the ancient Jewish tables all had dinner on the same exact side to provide access for the servers, therefore Jesus sat on the same side as the Apostles.

St. John Damascus further explains in Book IV, Chapter 12 why we pray towards the East:

“It is not without reason or by chance that we worship towards the East. But seeing that we are composed of a visible and an invisible nature, that is to say, of a nature partly of spirit and partly of sense, we render also a twofold worship to the Creator; just as we sing both with our spirit and our bodily lips, and are baptized with both water and Spirit, and are united with the Lord in a twofold manner, being sharers in the Mysteries and in the grace of the Spirit.

Since, therefore, God is spiritual light, and Christ is called in the Scriptures Sun of Righteousness and Dayspring, the East is the direction that must be assigned to His worship. For everything good must be assigned to Him from Whom every good thing arises. Indeed the divine David also says, Sing unto God, ye kingdoms of the earth: O sing praises unto the Lord: to Him that rideth upon the Heavens of heavens towards the East. Moreover the Scripture also says, And God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there He put the man whom He had formed: and when he had transgressed His command He expelled him and made him to dwell over against the delights of Paradise, which clearly is the West.

So, then, we worship God seeking and striving after our old fatherland.

Moreover the tent of Moses had its veil and mercy seat towards the East.

Also the tribe of Judah as the most precious pitched their camp on the East.

Also in the celebrated temple of Solomon, the Gate of the Lord was placed eastward.

Moreover Christ, when He hung on the Cross, had His face turned towards the West, and so we worship, striving after Him.

And when He was received again into Heaven He was borne towards the East, and thus His apostles worship Him, and thus He will come again in the way in which they beheld Him going towards Heaven; as the Lord Himself said, As the lightning cometh out of the East and shineth even unto the West, so also shall the coming of the Son of Man be.

So, then, in expectation of His coming we worship towards the East. But this tradition of the apostles is unwritten. For much that has been handed down to us by tradition is unwritten.”

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‘The Liturgical Year according to The Byzantine Tradition’ by Byzantine Seminary Press

“The liturgical year is a system of yearly church celebrations by which the faithful repeatedly relive the salutary mysteries of their salvation. In the liturgical year Our Lord Jesus Christ continues to live with us, to teach us, and to lead us to our heavenly destination.

The liturgical year, like a beautifully painted iconostasis (cf. Byzantine Leaflet Series, N. 14), again and again places before our eyes Christ’s sublime work of redemption in order to keep us intimately united in our Divine Redeemer. It inspires us and gradually forms a living Christ in us “until we become perfect man” (Eph. 4:13). It is indeed “a year of grace”, a year of God’s favor.

1.

The Church follows the computation of time according to the civil calendar year. However, in the Byzantine rite, the liturgical year begins on September 1st, while the Western Churches begin their liturgical year on the first Sunday of Advent.

The Byzantine Church inaugurated the first of September as the beginning of the liturgical year in honor of the victory of Emperor Constantine the Great (d. 337 A.D.), over his adversary, Emperor Maxentinus, in 312 A.D. Prior to Constantine, Christianity was constantly exposed to persecution. But with Constantine’s victory, as attested by St. Ambrose (d. 397 A.D.), the Church began a new life.

The liturgical year in the Byzantine Church ends with the feast of the Beheading of St, John the Baptist (August 29), with whom the Old Testament also concludes. The New Testament, liturgically symbolized by the New Year, begins with the preaching of Our Lord, as indicated by the Evangelist; “After John’s arrest Jesus appeared in Galilee, proclaiming the good news: – The time has come and the Kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:14-15). Hence the liturgical year is often referred to as “a year of salvation.”

The liturgical year is inaugurated by the message of the Prophet Isaiah, which Jesus applied to Himself: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for He has anointed me. He has sent me to bring the good news, to announce a year of grace (favor) from the Lord” (Lk. 4:16-19). In this way the beginning of the liturgical year symbolizes the beginning of the New Testament, inaugurated by the preaching of the gospel (good news) in the Person of Jesus Christ, Anointed One of God.

2.

From the earliest Apostolic times the Christians were convinced that they must celebrate the saving work of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ by recalling the salutary mysteries of salvation on certain days of the year. The starting point was the weekly commemoration of Christ’s Resurrection on Sunday. Thus Sunday for Christians became – The Lord’s Day (Rev. 1:10), supplanting the Sabbath of the Old Testament. Every week on Sunday the Christians commemorated the Resurrection of Christ by the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, referred to by the Acts as “the breaking of bread” (Acts 20:7). The Teachings of the Twelve Apostles, compiled at the turn of the first century, admonished the faithful: “On the Lord’s Day, after you come together, break bread and offer the Eucharist” (14,1).

The early Church, commemorating the Resurrection of Christ every Sunday, did not neglect the yearly commemoration of the glorious event and, from the early days, celebrated the Feast of Easter with great solemnity. As a matter of fact Easter became the core of the liturgical year and was referred to as “The Feast of feasts and Solemnity of solemnities.”

3.

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In the early centuries there arose a heated controversy as the date of the celebration of Easter. The question was finally resolved at the First Council of Nicea (325 A.D.) when it was determined that Easter had to be celebrated every year on the first Sunday, following the full moon after the spring of equinox. According to this rule, the earliest date upon which Easter can be celebrated is March 22, and at the latest, April 25. But it always must be on Sunday.

Since the date of Easter changes from year to year, the Sundays, the holy seasons and the festivals that depend on Easter form the so called – Cycle of the Movable Feasts. The Movable or Easter Cycle begins four weeks before Lent with the Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee, and serves as a liturgical preparation for that Holy Season.

The Great Lent, in preparation for Easter, starts on the Monday after Cheese Fare Sunday (cf. Byzantine Leaflet Series, n.13). The sixth Sunday of Lent, called Palm Sunday in commemoration of Christ’s solemn entrance into Jerusalem (Jn. 12:12-19), introduces us into the Passion or the Holy Great Week, during which we relive the sufferings and the death of our Lord, endured for our salvation. Then, on Easter Sunday, we suddenly burst into the joyous celebration of Christ’s glorious Resurrection.

On the 40th day after Easter we celebrate the Feast of the Ascension, commemorating the Ascent of our Lord to Heaven. (Lk. 24:50-53). Ten days later, i.e. on the fiftieth fay after Easter, we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost in commemoration of the descent of the Holy Spirit, when the Church was solemnly inaugurated. (cf. Byzantine Leaflet Series, n.3).

Pentecost is followed by the series of 32 Sundays, indicated by successive numbers, the first of which is called All Saints Sunday. The Easter Cycle of the movable feasts ends with the 32nd Sunday after Pentecost, known as the Sunday of Zacchaeus (Lk 19:1-10).

4.

The second cycle which influenced the formation of the liturgical year is – the Cycle of the Immovable Feasts, at the center of which we find the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord, celebrated since the turn of the fourth century, on the 25th of December (cf. Byzantine Leaflet Series, n.5). These feasts are called – immovable because, unlike the feasts of the Easter Cycle, they fall on the same day of the month every year and their date never changes.

Eight days after Christmas, on January 1, we celebrate the Feast of the Circumcision and the naming of the Child Jesus, as indicated by Scripture (Lk. 2:21). On Febuary 2, forty days after Christ’s birth, we solemn commemorate the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple (cf. Byzantine Leaflet Series, N. 12). The Feast of the Annunciation, known in the early days as the Conception of Our Lord, is observed nine months before Christ’s nativity, that is on the 25th of March.

One of the most ancient feasts of this cycle is celebrated on January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany, the manifestation of Christ’s Divinity at His baptism, commemorated by the solemn Blessing of the Water on that day (cf. Byzantine Leaflet Series, n.9). Then on August 6th we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Transfiguration (cf. Byzantine Leaflet Series, n.18). Finally, on the 14th of September we commemorate the finding of the instrument of our salvation by St. Helen (d. 333 A.D.), as we celebrate the Feast of the Exaltation of the Venerable Cross (cf. Byzantine Leaflet Series, n. 8).

Thus, our Church, through the annual celebration of the Lord’s feasts, repeatedly unfolds to us the riches of Christ’s merits and salutary graces.

5.

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In celebrating the mysteries of our salvation we cannot exclude the Holy Mother of God (Theotokos), since she played an important role in the economy of our salvation. And we are happy to know that precisely the Byzantine Rite is characterized by its high esteem and veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Already at the beginning of the liturgical year, on September 8th, we celebrate the Feast of the Nativity of the Mother of God, sine Mary’s birth signaled “the beginning of our salvation” (cf. Sticheria of Litia). In connection with Mary’s birth, since the eighth century, we celebrate the Feast of the Conception of the Mother of God, recently referred to as the Immaculate Conception. (cf. Byzantine Leaflet Series, n. 36).

At the beginning of the 10th century the Feast of the Patronage of the Mother of God was introduced which with time became a great inspiration to the Ruthenian people in their filial devotion to the Blessed Mother of God (cf. Byzantine Leaflet Series, n. 1). Since the 8th century we also celebrate the Feast of the Presentation of the Mother of God in the Temple. (November 21st).

There are several minor feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary, but the liturgical year ends with the oldest Marian feast, the Dormition, known in the Western Church as the Assumption. It is solemnly celebrated to the present time of the 15th of August (cf. Byzantine Leaflet Series, n. 11).

6.

The Church Fathers also included the commemoration of many Martyrs and other Saints in the liturgical year. The II Vatican Council reminds us that the Martyrs and Saints, being “raised to holiness by abundant graces of God and already in possession of their eternal salvation, sing constant praises to God in heaven and offer prayers for us” (cf. Decree on the Liturgy, n. 104). By celebrating the passage of the Saints from the earth to heaven, the Church also proposes them to us as so many examples of genuine Christian living.

The veneration of the Saints has a similar purpose. This began in the first century, first the Veneration of the Martyrs and then of the Apostles. Soon other Saints were added. Between the fourth and fifth centuries the veneration of the Saints became a general practice, ceding the first place of St. John the Baptist (after the Blessed Mother and the Angels), in view of Christ’s testimony: “There is no one greater than John!” (Lk. 7:28). The Saints usually are commemorated on the anniversary of their death, since the departure of those “that died in the Lord” (Romans 14:8) was considered by the Christians as a day of birth to a new and happy life with God.

The liturgical year is indeed a year of grace and our sanctification, keeping us in close union with Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The liturgical year helps us to become more and more Christ – like, it molds Christ within us. In a word, through the liturgical year Jesus Christ continues to live among us, He continues to teach us, He continues to lead us toward our eternal salvation.”

(Byzantine Leaflet Series, No. 35 – With Ecclesiastical Approbation, August 1986 , Byzantine Seminary Press, Pittsburgh PA 15214). 

Troparion For The New Year (September 1st):

O Maker of all creation, under whose control are the seasons and the years, being Our Lord, bless the blessings of the year with abundance and, through the intercession of the Theotokos, preserve our country and the people in peace, and save us. 

Vatican II On The Liturgy:

“Holy Mother Church believes that it is her duty to celebrate the saving work of her Divine Spouse by commemorating it devoutly on certain days throughout the course of the liturgical year.” (n. 102).

The Feastdays Of Obligation:

  1. The Nativity of Our Lord (Dec 25); 2. The Epiphany (Jan 6); 3. The Ascension of Our Lord; 4. The Feast of Saints Peter and Paul (June 29); and 5, The Dormition of the Blessed Theotokos (August 15). 

Catholic Armenia

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                                   Armenian Catholic Liturgy                                                                                .

The Armenian Rite is one of the more ancient liturgies of the Catholic Church. it has its origins from the ancient Syriac and Cappadocian Liturgical rites which are considered to be the father churches of the Armenian church.

Armenia was said to have been first evangelized by the Apostles Bartholomew and Jude Thaddeus who converted a few Armenians during the first century and established a small and persecuted Armenian church within an overwhelmingly pagan nation in Lesser Armenia which was comprised of Edessa. The apostles managed to convert king Abgar of Edessa who died a couple of years after his baptism and had his realm restored to paganism by his pagan son Ananias. Both apostles were later martyred for the faith in the vicinity of Armenia.

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The next chapter for the church in Armenia began with a son of a nobleman whose father was killed for being seen as a political enemy by the king and was taken by his caretakers to Cappadocia in the roman empire to be brought up as a devout Catholic by the priest Phirmilianos  who educated him in the Catholic faith. Legend has it that he ventured off to evangelize his homeland but was immediately imprisoned by the king for 12 years in a pit where he remained until king Tiridates went insane after suffering a major loss in a war with the roman empire. Gregory was released from his imprisonment in 297 and was brought forth to cure the king’s ailment, which he did accomplish immediately after baptizing Tiridates III. The King then made the Catholic faith the state religion and from then on Armenia became known as the first Catholic nation with Georgia and Ethiopia following suit.

 

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St. Mesrob creating Armenian alphabet. 

After the conversion of the state, Armenia became a nominally Catholic nation with the liturgical language of the church being Syriac and Greek. It would not be until 405 AD when St Mesrob, an ordained priest-monk(vardapet), created a writing system for the Armenian language when the mass was finally translated to the vernacular. Afterwards, the last vestiges of paganism were wiped out of the kingdom and the church produced many saints such as St. Sahag.

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Bishop Michael with Fr. Anthony before the Liturgy on Theophany.

 

 

 

 

Separate parts of the Byzantine Rite Liturgy


The Proskomedia (from the Greek προσκομιδή, “offering”), sometimes referred to as prothesis (from the Greek πρόϑεσις, “setting forth”) or proskomide, is the Office of Oblation celebrated by the priest prior to the Divine Liturgy during which the bread and wine are prepared for the Eucharist. 

The Proskomedia is a prerequisite for the Divine Liturgy. The priest conducts the Office of Oblation behind the Iconostasis at the Table of oblation or Table of Preparation (also Prothesis, or sometimes Proskomide) that is located to the left of the Altar Table. Proskomedia, when translated to English, means “preparation.”

The Prothesis (Table of Oblation) represents the cave of Bethlehem where our Lord and Savior was born. Originally, the Prothesis was located in the same room as the altar table, being simply a smaller table placed against the eastern wall to the north of the altar table. 

During the reign of the Emperor Justin II, the Prothesis came to occupy its own separate chamber to the north of the altar, in a separate apse, and joined to the altar by a door way. 

Another apse was added on the south side for the Diaconicon. From this time on many large Byzantine Parishes were built with three apses on the eastern end of the church building. However, most smaller churches continued to be built having only one apse containing the altar, the Prothesis and the Diaconicon.

The Chalice with the Diskos and Star

The bread and wine are prepared for the liturgy on the Prothesis. The chalice and a round plate on a stand called the diskos or paten that holds the bread are kept on this table. 

These vessels are normally decorated with iconographic engravings, Christian symbols, and the sign of the cross. The top of each loaf is impressed with a seal bearing the sign of the cross.

The Greeks usually use one large loaf for the Liturgy of Preparation, with a large round seal on it inscribed not only with the square seal (from which the Lamb will be taken), but also markings indicating where the portions for the Theotokos, the Ranks, the Living and Dead will be removed. 

Those churches which follow Slavic usage will typically use five small loaves, recalling the five loaves from which Christ fed the multitude (John 6:5-14). Normally all will be stamped with a small square seal, though special seals for the Theotokos are sometimes used.

Also on this table is a special liturgical knife, symbolically called the spear, that is used for cutting the eucharistic bread (prosphora) and a liturgical spoon for administering holy communion to the people. 

There are also special covers for the chalice and diskos and a cruciform piece of metal called the asterisk or star that holds the cover over the eucharistic bread on the diskos. A sponge and cloths for drying the chalice after the liturgy are also usually kept here. 

The Prothesis is decorated in a manner similar to that of the altar table. Above the Prothesis may be found various icons, often one of Christ praying in Gethsemene: “Let this cup pass…”

The incensation of the congregation and the iconostasis. “They will teach your people to obey your Law; They will offer sacrifices on your altar.”

‭‭Deuteronomy‬ ‭33:10

Little Entrance
The Little Entrance is the procession of the clergy to the altar led by the Book of the Gospels. It sometimes called the “Small” or “First” Entrance.

Procession

If the priest is serving the Divine Liturgy alone, without a bishop, the Little Entrance is made by the clergy circling the altar table and then to the middle of the church with the Gospel Book. Then he enters the altar through the royal doors of the iconostasis accompanied by the hymn of Entrance.

If the bishop is celebrating, the Gospel Book is brought out to him in the center of the church, in the midst of the people, where he has been standing from the beginning of the liturgy. This is led by the deacon (who holds the Gospel Book in the procession), and is followed by priests in order of rank.

Meaning

In the Little Entrance, the movement of the entire Church, through its Head Jesus Christ in the person of the celebrant (and in the Gospel Book the celebrant is holding), to the altar, which symbolizes the Kingdom of God, can be seen.

But dwelling on this “historical-representational symbolism” can lead to a separation of the clergy and the laity and a resulting misinterpretation of the two groups from full participants in the common action to performers and audience.

History

Originally, the Little Entrance marked the beginning of the service, but it is now preceded by various Litanies and Psalms. It was a way the bring the Gospel Book from where it was kept to the service.

Apostolos

The Apostolos is the liturgical book containing the various Apostolic Readings as are appointed by the lectionary (just like the daily readings in the Roman Missal).  

The letters from Apostles to Christians in the New Testament are often referred to as Epistles, such as 1 Corinthians and the book of Romans. Also in this book, are the Prokeimenon and Alleluia Verses for each reading. 

Another form of the book is the complete Acts and Epistles with an index of the readings, and with the proper introduction, such as “Brethren…” or “In those days…”.

Liturgical use
In the context of the Divine Liturgy or other liturgical service, the epistles refer more specifically to a particular passage from a New Testament epistle, or from the Acts of the Apostles, that is scheduled to be read on a certain day or at a certain occasion. The liturgical book itself often has the readings arranged in three parts according to the Byzantine liturgical year: the Pascha season, the weeks after Pentecost, and the season of pre-Lenten, Great Lent, and Holy Week.

Great Entrance:

The Great Entrance is one of the two processions in the liturgical life of the Church. Like the Little Entrance, the Great Entrance generally originated in times when functions now concentrated in the sanctuary, such as the proskomedia and the storage of liturgical vessels, were segregated into separate architectural elements and the procession was needed to bring these objects into the church.

Performance:

The Great Entrance occurs at a later point during the Divine Liturgy when the bread and wine to be offered are carried from the Table of oblation, located at the north side of the sanctuary (sometimes occupying its own apse), out the North Door and back through the Holy Doors to be placed on the altar. 
This entrance interrupts the Cherubic Hymn and is accompanied by a series of intercessions formulated according to the customs of the jurisdiction.

The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, celebrated on Wednesdays and Fridays during Great Lent, and is a Vespers service combined with the distribution of Holy Communion that had been consecrated the previous Sunday. 

The Great Entrance is performed not with bread prepared for the offering but with bread that has already been consecrated, and in complete silence and subdued reverence.

Epiclesis
In the Epiclesis (or epiklesis), God’s Holy Spirit is called on to come down “upon us and upon these gifts” (the bread and wine), so that they may become “truly the Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” . A distinction is usually made between the invocation over the people (called a ‘communion’ epiclesis) and the one over the Gifts of bread and wine (called a ‘consecratory’ epiclesis). This is the main supplication in the Eucharistic Prayer.

The Divine Liturgy: 
The Catholic Church believes, that the Holy Spirit is always “everywhere present and fills all things.” The invocation of the Holy Spirit at the Divine Liturgy is the solemn affirmation that everything in life which is positive and good is accomplished by the Spirit of God.
During the Epiclesis, the people join their hearts to the words and actions of the priest as he petitions God to make these gifts holy. The bread and wine offered in remembrance of Christ, are the gifts to be changed into the Body and Blood of Christ.

The prayer:
The form of the epikleses vary from anaphora to anaphora. The consecratory epiclesis of the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom is as follows:
Again we offer unto Thee this reasonable and bloodless worship, and we ask Thee, and pray Thee, and supplicate Thee: Send down Thy Holy Spirit upon us and upon these gifts here offered.
And make this bread the precious Body of Thy Christ. (Amen)
And that which is in this cup, the precious Blood of Thy Christ. (Amen)

Making the change by the Holy Spirit. (Amen, Amen, Amen )
That these gifts may be to those who partake for the purification of soul, for remission of sins, for the communion of the Holy Spirit, for the fulfillment of the Kingdom of Heaven; for boldness towards Thee, and not for judgment or condemnation.