Sunday, March 6, 2011

One, Holy, Apostolic

I first learned about the different Catholic rites in 7th grade, when a girl came to my school whose family belonged to the Byzantine Rite. It caused quite a stir in our tiny, Roman Catholic class. The teachers made a special effort to welcome her family: they invited her mom to come and speak to our class about the Byzantine Rite and then, after we had studied the Catholic rites in class, they took us on a field trip to the family's church: the elaborate and beautiful Annunciation Parish near Chicago.

I never forgot that trip. Every surface in the church - ceiling, walls, nooks and crannies - was covered with glorious iconography. Every last bit of it was created by Father Thomas Loya, the dynamic pastor, who also happens to be an incredibly talented iconographer. Even though I haven't been to a Byzantine Church since, I fell in love with the mystery and reverence of the Eastern rite then and there. I've always wanted to go back.

As it so happens, my pilgrimage group in the Holy Land will be attending Divine Liturgy at several Eastern Rite and Orthodox churches. To prepare us for the experience, one of the pilgrimage leaders invited us to attend St. Michael Byzantine Ukrainian Catholic Church in South Bend. Half the group went two weeks ago, but I had Junior Parents Weekend going on. The other half went the week after that, but I was out of town on retreat. So it wasn't until this morning that I finally made it to Byzantine Liturgy.

I was a little nervous going into it - what if I couldn't follow along with the service? What if I epically messed up and looked like doofus? What if it was awkward without any of my other classmates there? Turns out I had nothing to fear. My friend Mike was also at the liturgy, so he joined us for what was one of the most beautiful services I've ever been to. It had all the majesty and mysticism of the ethereal Tridentine Mass that I love so much, plus it was way easier to follow along because most of it was in English. Perfect combination.

The service was so different from my typical Mass, what with all the chanting and the random words in Ukrainian. Yet the liturgical structure was essentially the same. There is such a vast diversity of liturgical styles and practices in the Church, all falling under the one great family of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Faith. I love how the Church truly offers a place for everyone in that way. I'm grateful for the Byzantine Rite, so different from us and yet in full communion.

After the Liturgy, we went down to the church hall for a "Cheesefare Sunday" meal in preparation for "the Great Fast" (or Lent, for us Roman Catholics). Mike and I had a great conversation over our noodles and egg salad sandwiches. The funniest moment was when I was telling a story about my three-year-old cousin Andrei, who asked his mom if he could marry his cousin, so that he could marry me. I told Mike how I declared, "Yes I will marry you, Andrei!"... just as the Campus Ministry guide came to tell me we were about to leave. "Well I'll leave you two alone then!" he said backing away, and Mike and I cracked up like none other. It was hilarious.

I really loved the whole experience of going to Byzantine Divine Liturgy and I can't wait to go back!

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