I would like to share with you some reflections about why I have been attending regularly for the Byzantine Divine Liturgy for these past months. My intention is not to compare this particular liturgy to any other rite but to highlight those aspects in the Byzantine liturgy which I came to love and which help me to live my Christian life through worship and in communion with others. I understand that some or all the aspects I shall be mentioning could also be found in other rites. After all this is the beauty of our one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church: different churches with diversity of traditions but who are in communion with each other and with Rome, as “the church who presides in charity”.
Out of the 24 different churches that form the Catholic Church, fourteen of them celebrate their liturgy in the Byzantine Rite. The Divine Liturgy being celebrated in this rite, equivalent to the Latin rite’s mass, is attributed to St John Chrysostom, a fourth century archbishop of Constantinople and one of the early Fathers of the Church. This means that in some form or another the Divine Liturgy has been celebrated in the Church for these last sixteen centuries.
The language used throughout the liturgy is one of a mystical nature. The liturgy is meant to give its participants a taste of heaven rather than a rational understanding of it. This sense of awe is heightened by the use of the senses of sight, smell and sound. The sacred vestments, the icons of the Pantokrator, the Theotokos and the saints surrounding the church and other sacred articles are all meant to facilitate such a mystical experience. The use of incense and the sung liturgy are also meant to provide a glimpse of Heaven.
Like other liturgies, the Divine Liturgy is full of symbolic gestures. The short procession with the book of Gospel and the more solemn entrance with the Holy Gifts are just two examples of this.
Another aspect which struck me in the Divine Liturgy is the series of petionary prayers which is laced throughout the liturgy. Prayers are not only said to intercede for the Pope, bishops, priests, deacons and fellow Christians but also to civil authorities and the armed forces which protect us. Petitions are made for the granting of a healthy environment and to lead a life in peace. Most of these prayers are answered by a “Kyrie Eleison”. The frequent and rhythmic repetition of this short prayer helps me to enter in a spirit of prayer.
The Divine Liturgy also gives great importance to the Theotokos, the Holy Mother of God. She is invoked a number of times during the Liturgy with the faithful replying for each of such invocations “Most Holy Theotokos save us”.
The communitarian aspect in this liturgical worship is of fundamental importance. The Divine Liturgy is celebrated together as the People of God on our journey to our Heavenly home where we can see God face to face and where we can join together with the saints in the eternal Liturgy of Heaven.