OUR Byzantine Catholic Parish has one priest assigned plus three others who help out from time to time. By an untimely coincidence of schedules, we are in the midst of 3 weeks without a priest to serve the Divine Liturgy. This week, in fact, we had no Deacon as well. There’s a conference in Vienna. There are prayers to say in such a case, known as the Typica. This is, essentially, the Divine Liturgy with the priest’s and deacon’s content removed. What remains is a suitable devotion for the Laity. To this is prepended the 3rd and 6th liturgical Hours from the Daily Office. The resultant service takes about one hour to read, maybe a little more. If there is a Deacon present he can (with a blessing) give out communion from the reserved sacrament. He can also preach as needed.
In the Orthodox Church where (in my experience) such a service can be common – but parishes few and far between – the whole community arrives in a timely manner and prays together. In the Byzantine Catholic Church, it seems that some would rather go to a local Latin-rite parish, even though they are on a different liturgical calendar. In such a situation, there are often multiple options. We rent our chapel from a Latin rite parish and I walk by three other Latin rite parishes (including our Cathedral) to get to this community. Any of these had Mass today – or for the other times we have Typica. Multiple Masses, in fact.
Why would one go to Typica instead? To answer this question highlights the difference between religion and relationship.
Two weeks ago the pastor reminded me of St Mary of Egypt (Late 4th, early 5th Century) who went from a life of libertine indulgence to ascetic struggle and sanctity in the Judean wilderness. She took communion twice – as we have it recorded in her hagiography. Only twice. The rest of her life was prayer and ascetic struggle, pardon the tautology. This is what the Christian life is: struggle for sanctity. Struggle – ascesis in Greek, podvig in Slavonic, Jihad in Arabic – is what it takes to submit the human will to God’s love. That requires a relationship: the human will does not come into its full submission to God’s love (that is, God’s self) until the will is in love with God. This is why God calls the soul his Beloved. This is why there is so much marriage imagery in the Bible. God created us to be his, not as slaves but as deeply intimate friends, in fact, as Sons and Daughters.
But it is very easy to turn that into rules. To turn that into religion.
I spent this last week watching a series of videos from Fr John Behr, an Orthodox Priest, doing a retreat for the Brothers and Sisters of Charity in Arkansas. It’s interesting – and encouraging – to think of an Orthodox Priest doing a retreat for a Roman Catholic Community! But they do miss his points often – and he’s not very familiar with Western liturgy either. So they are sometimes talking at cross purposes. Over nine (or so) sessions with the Community, Fr John points out that the early Church used what we think of today as Eucharistic Language not for the Eucharistic elements, but for humanity in God’s image – especially in the martyrs. At the earliest stages of the tradition the “words of institution” are not even in the Eucharistic prayers. But the martyrs (even women) are described as Christ made visible. Fr John says that for the earliest Christians, the scriptures were only understood in the light of Christ’s Paschal Mystery. In fact, he says, it’s the Pascha that comes first. Scripture flows out from the Pasch (even backward through history). There is no plan B: the Lamb is slain from before the foundation of the world. This is how God is loving us.
All of human history is us coming to understand this love. That is, all of human history is us entering into this relationship that we cannot consummate until our Death.
But we have a tendency to make rules and to put structures around this relationship. We are terrified of death – which Jesus has destroyed. But still, we don’t want to die. And we will do anything to feel better about things. So maybe I can manipulate God – that is religion. Maybe I can do enough Good Things to get Him to do Good Things (one form of legalism) or maybe I can not-do enough bad things to get Him to not-do a bad thing to me (another form of legalism).
Imagine if you governed your marriage by only positive and negative commands.
Instead of by love.
I think we are much happier stressing over rules than working on relationships. We want to make sure that God is on our side – so we can go do whatever. That is the stereotype of Roman Catholicism, right? Do whatever, go to confession… boom. Yet, that’s not how it works. A priest once called me out (in confession) for using the sacrament like a Car Wash. It’s more like marriage counseling.
And I think we have a tendency to treat the Most Holy Eucharist as if it were rings in Sonic the Hedgehog: Collect, collect, collect, collect, hit something bad (mortal sin) and boom! All the rings fall away.
Ooops. Time to start over.
I think this starts by putting anything – even the Eucharist itself – before the relationship with God. Anything that goes before that relationship can become locked into something other than what God intended it to be. Source and summit does not mean end-all and be-all.
If St Mary of Egypt can do her entire life with only two communions (and one of those was outside of Liturgy) then what about us? Generations of Saintly Catholics and Eastern Orthodox were raised without any form of regular communion. And when we think of “full, conscious, and active participation” but then we see people not singing, not praying… but they get their communion… what are we doing?
And so, Typica.
This is what Christians do on a Sunday: Christian things with other Christians. When there is a priest present, Christian things include the Eucharist. But If there is no priest, the Community still gathers. We worship God, we venerate the living Icons of God in each other and in his saints, and we eat together. Sometimes it’s Eucharist but today it was just some bread and wine, unblessed. This what God’s people does on a Sunday: enter deeper into our relationship with Him by entering deeper into our relationship with each other. The deeper that relationship is, the more we are being saved.
Fr John suggested that much of the Resourcement movement of the last century, both in the East and in the West, engaged in a sort of patristic proof-texting. Instead of reading the Fathers as they wrote, we looked for validation of our beliefs and (at that time) theological conversations. Although I think I understood what he meant, he did not seem to offer something else instead, so I’m not sure where that point should take me. Yet it raises a very valid question. Is Church-as-Communion only a modern reading of the Fathers – is there something else there that we’re missing?
Typica, at least, has me thinking that Church as Communion does not mean Church as Eucharistic Buffet or Sacramental Slot Machine. We can worship God on a Sunday even in the absence of a priest. And it may even be more for our salvation to do so from time to time.
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