Liturgical renewal

religion | Dec 06, 2010 | By David Petras

At the end of the 16th century to the mid-17th century, some Eastern churches of the Byzantine tradition entered into communion with the Church of Rome. These unions were made under the condition that they would be able to retain their traditional Liturgies – the Divine Liturgies of St. John Chrysostom, St. Basil the Great and the Presanctified Liturgy – as well as the cycle of Divine Praises, Vespers, Orthros (Matins) and the lesser Hours. There is no doubt that this condition was kept textually, but it was quite a different matter in outward rituals and appearances.

The era in which the unions were made was the high point of Western culture and the low point of the East. Western Europe was robust and strong. It had superior institutes of learning and was undergoing a scientific, industrial and artistic revolution that would make it dominant in world politics. The Western nations were building empires that spread throughout the world.

In the East, however, in the main areas of the Byzantine Church, Russia and Greece, the church found itself in a primitive culture ruled by a despotic tsar (Russia) or under the domination of a non-Christian power, the Ottoman Turks (Greece and the Middle East).

The cultural presumption, therefore, was that the West was vastly superior, and this led, in the churches united to Rome, to a process called "Latinization." The text of the Liturgy was maintained, but in outward appearance (rituals, church decorations, sacred objects), changes were made to make the worship look more "Latin."

Eighteenth century

The modification of the Liturgy due to feelings of cultural inferiority was the strongest in the 18th century. Then there was some restoration, but the partition of Poland between Austro-Hungary and Russia gave a political motive to liturgical change.

Since Russia was strongly Orthodox and dis-established the Eastern Catholic churches wherever it had power, the Byzantine Catholics did not want to look like the Russian Orthodox. They favored Greek practices and, at times, Old Believer rituals and even Latin usages to emphasize that they were not Russian. This resulted finally in the 1905 Liturgicon.

However, the Metropolitan Andrew Sheptytsky did not accept this. He wanted a uniformity between the Catholic and Russian rites to facilitate an eventual union between the two. This resulted in the Liturgicon known as the Ruthenian Recension, prepared by a commission of the Oriental Congregation headed by Father Cyril Korolevsky. This was made the standard for the Ruthenian Church, beginning in 1942.

It has been the policy of the Roman Catholic Church, ever since it accepted some Eastern churches into its communion, to uphold the principle that the Eastern Catholic churches should be faithful to their tradition as much as possible.

Nineteenth century

The problem is that there have been some compromises with this principle. The Roman Catholic Church in the 19th century tolerated some "latinization," to keep the Eastern Catholic churches in its communion. Sometimes local Roman Catholic churches in Eastern Europe put tremendous pressure on their Eastern Catholic brothers to change. Sometimes the Eastern Catholics "latinized" themselves to imitate what they saw as a superior religious expression.

Twentieth century

In the 20th century, however, the universal church taught very clearly that the Eastern Catholics should be zealously faithful to their authentic tradition. For the Ruthenian Liturgy, this was spelled out in the Ruthenian Recension promulgated in 1942. This was to be confirmed by the Vatican II Ecumenical Council, which instructed the Eastern Catholics to return to their "ancestral traditions," even if would be a struggle. This was then to be re-affirmed by the new Code of Canon Law for the Eastern Catholic Church, whose liturgical laws were explained by the insturction of the Oriental Congregation in 1996. There can be little doubt where the Spirit is calling us.

The question is: how did this play out in actual history? The Ruthenian Recension was promulgated in 1942, but immediately there were difficulties. In Europe, after World War II, the Soviet Union took control of the countries in Eastern Europe where Eastern Catholics had their home. They were perceived as spies for the West – in communion with the Pope of Rome – and were forceably dis-established. These churches were unable to re-establish themselves until after the fall of communion in the early 1990s.

In the United States, the reaction was different. I speak now only of the Ruthenian jurisdiction of Pittsburgh, an exarchate until the establishment of the Eparchy of Passaic and a Metropolitan Province after 1969. At first, there was no response to the directives of the Oriental Congregation. Bishop Basil Takach was suffering from cancer and was unable to respond effectively. When he died in 1948, Bishop Daniel Ivancho became the exarch. He was willing to promulgate the new 1942 Liturgicon, but he requested 23 modifications to make it easier to accept. Of these, the Oriental Congregation in Rome accepted 10, but rejected 13 others because they were "latinzations." Of the 10n accepted, eventually only one became the standard practice, the following of the Greek custom of keeping the icon screen doors open throughout the entire Divine Liturgy.

However, Bishop Daniel was removed as exarch before he could follow through on his plan and was succeeded by Bishop Nicholas Elko, who was opposed to the promulgation of the 1942 Recension. He sent an exact English translation of the 1942 text to the Oriental Congregation for approval, but when he promulgated it, he made it clear that the translated text (the "red book" published in 1965) was to be used, but celebrated according to the usages of the 1905 Liturgicon.

This became the general norm in the Metropolitan Province for the next 30 years. However, Bishop Emil Mihalik in 1970 and Bishop Andrew Pataki in 1986 directed that the usages of the 1942 Liturgicon of the Oriental Congregation were to be followed, except for some parochial adaptations mostly regarding the recitation of litanies. This we will discuss in the next article. In 1995, the new Metropolitan Judson Procyk wanted to bring about a uniformity in the whole Pittsburgh Metropolitan Province, based on the official texts, and this we will discuss in the second forthcoming article. 

Archpriest David M. Petras SEOD is a professor at the SS. Cyril and Methodius Byzantine Catholic Seminary in Pittsburgh PA.

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