Mystery of Reconciliation

Do the eastern churches have the same manner of confession that we do in the west?

The manner of confession differs from Eastern Church to Eastern Church. I am most familiar with the form of confession used by the Byzantine Churches, both Catholic and Orthodox. In this form of confession the penitent confesses his or her sins before an icon of Christ. The priest stands or sits by the penitent’s side while the confession is made. Then the priest places his Epitrachelion (stole) over the penitent’s head, and recites the prayer of absolution. In some parishes the confession is made before the icon on the iconostasis.

However, some Byzantine Catholic Churches have adopted the Latin form of the sacrament in past centuries. There is a gradual movement to restore the traditional Byzantine form.

Blessed Bread

I attended an Eastern Orthodox liturgy a while back and I noticed that at the end, the congregation was allowed to take home the remaining Eurharist. Was this the Eucharist or was it just some other bread?

What the people received at the end of the liturgy is not the Eucharist. It is called “antidoran,” which is blessed bread given out after communion. In Eastern Orthodox Churches it is traditional to distribute the antidoran at the end of every liturgy. The antidoran comes from the same loaf as the consecrated Eucharist, but it is not consecrated but blessed. It hearkens back to the era in which Christians received communion infrequently, only once or twice a year. Because people didn’t receive communion, they would come up to receive the antidoran. Thus, antidoran literally means “instead of the gift.” Most Eastern Orthodox parishes will offer the antidoran to any baptized Christian, although some will only offer it to Orthodox Christians.

Do the Eastern Catholic Churches distribute blessed bread like they do in the Eastern Orthodox Churches?

The distribution of antidoran is common to both the Byzantine and Armenian liturgical traditions. I do not know if any other traditions use it. Among Byzantine Catholics, the practice varies. I know from personal experience that Byzantine Catholics of the Ruthenian Recension have largely abandoned the practice, although the antidoran is still distributed on certain feast days together with an anointing.

“Mass” or “Divine Liturgy?”

Could you explain why the celebration of the Eucharist is called in the Latin Church “Holy Mass” and in the Eastern Churches “Divine Liturgy,” and whether the two terms may be used interchangeably?

The word “Mass” refers properly only to the Eucharistic Liturgy of the Latin Church. The word has its origins in a dismissal found only in this liturgy. At the end of the celebration, the priest says (in Latin) “Ite missa est.” This can be roughly translated as “The dismissal is made.” In time the word “missa” was used to designate the entire Latin liturgy, and the word began to be pronounced as “Mass” by the laity.

In the Eastern Churches, the Liturgy is properly referred to as the “Divine Liturgy.” Liturgy is a Greek word, meaning “the work of the people.” Literally, Divine Liturgy means “the heavenly work of the people.” In the Eastern Liturgies there is a strong sense that the congregation has left this world, and is being mystically transported to heaven, where we participate in the Heavenly Liturgy. That is why we don’t use musical instruments.

It really is not correct to use the two terms interchangeably, although it sometimes happens.

Moment of Consecration

When does transubstantiation take place in the Divine Liturgy?

Concerning the moment of “transubstantiation,” Eastern Catholic theology does not narrow in exclusively on the words of institution as being the moment of consecration. The Eastern Church Fathers taught that the Eucharist mysteriously becomes the body and blood of Christ sometime during the anaphora (Eucharistic prayer). Eastern Catholics have traditionally placed a great emphasis on the epiclesis, which is the moment in which the Holy Spirit is called down upon the gifts to transform them into the Body and Blood of Christ. In the great Eatern Liturgies, which we still use, the epiclesis comes after the words of institution.

This difference in no way ruptures our communion with the Latin Church. Rather, it highlights what is distinctive about Eastern Christian theology: a heavy emphasis on mystery. We choose to believe that Christ manifests himself in the Eucharist at some (unspecified) time during the Eucharistic prayer. Narrowing in on an exact moment of consecration is not the Eastern style. Rather, we see the coming of Christ in the Eucharist as being a great mystery which we are unable to comprehend.

Mystery of Matrimony

I recently attended a Byzantine Catholic wedding, and the bride and groom did not recite wedding vows. Why?

Traditionally, in the Byzantine Churches vows are not exchanged during the wedding ceremony. Rather, the most significant event is the placing of the crowns on the heads of the bride and groom, together with the blessing of the priest. However, some Byzantine Catholic Churches added vows to the ceremony in an attempt to conform to Western culture.

Infant Communion

You referred to Infant Communion as being an ancient practice in the Eastern Rite. I have been thinking a lot about it; it makes so much more sense to me than the Roman practice. Can you help me understand better how ancient this is and why the Roman Catholic Church does not do this?

In the ancient Church, both Western and Eastern, it was very common for infants to receive communion immediately after Baptism. In the East, it was the norm for them to continue receiving the Eucharist each week. In the West, it was more typical for them to only receive the Eucharist immediately following Baptism, and not again until they were older. Nonetheless, weekly infant communion was practiced in many parts of the Western Church. This changed definitively for the West at the Fourth Lateran Council, and later the Council of Trent. These Councils taught that children must be able to understand what they are receiving, so that they can give devotion to the Eucharist. This teaching did not effect the discipline of the Eastern Churches.

The Catechism of the Council of Trent teaches that the Eucharist should not be received by “those who on account of their tender age have not attained the use of reason. For these are not able to distinguish the Holy Eucharist from common and ordinary bread and cannot bring with them to this Sacrament piety and devotion. Furthermore (to extend the precept to them) would appear inconsistent with the ordinance of our Lord, for He said: Take and eat words which cannot apply to infants, who are evidently incapable of taking and eating.” (The Catechism of Trent, on the Holy Eucharist)

Obviously I, as a Byzantine Catholic, strongly favor infant communion. But the Latin Church is entitled to its own discipline in this regard. Both disciplines are allowed to coexist in the Catholic Church, and must be respected.

Musical Instrumentation

Does the Eastern Catholic Church maintain the tradition of not permitting musical instrumentation such as organ music, piano, or guitar music, during the Divine Liturgy?

Most Eastern Catholic Churches do not use any musical instrumentation during the Divine Liturgy. The Ethiopian Catholics do use drums, however.

The reason that we don’t use instrumentation is because of our particular perspective on the Liturgy. We try very hard to model our liturgical worship on the Liturgy being celebrated in heaven, as it is depicted in Biblical books such as Revelation. In such texts the heavenly Liturgy is celebrated using primarily the human voice.

Liturgical Languages

Is it true that some Eastern Catholic parishes use English in their liturgy now? Is this allowed?

In the United States many Eastern Catholic parishes celebrate the Liturgy in English. The Byzantine-Ruthenian Catholic Church, for example, celebrates the Divine Liturgy almost exclusively in English in the U.S. This is because they are very Americanized, and have members from numerous racial and ethnic backgrounds. The Ukrainian Catholics, in contrast, are closer to their immigrant roots. They are still receiving new waves of immigrants on a regular basis. Thus, they use Ukrainian in many places because it is what the people are most comfortable with.

The ancient tradition of the Eastern Churches is for Liturgy to be celebrated in the language of the people. Hence, Byzantine Catholics were actually celebrating the Divine Liturgy in English here in America, while Roman Catholics were still using Latin.

Reception of Communion

Which tradition is older, receiving communion by the hand onto the tongue or by dropping it into the mouth from a silver spoon, like some Eastern rites do?

Almost all liturgical scholars believe that communion in the hand was the earliest practice. However, just because something is early doesn’t necessarily mean that it is best for our time. In most of the Byzantine Churches, communion is administered from a spoon because the Body is soaked in the Precious Blood. From a practical perspective, a spoon is necessary. In the Melkite and Maronite Churches, the Body is dipped into the Precious Blood, and dropped into the communicants mouth by the priest or deacon’s hand. The Latin Church was able to allow a return to communion in the hand because the Body is not dipped or soaked in the Blood. However, there is concern among some Latin Catholics that communion in the hand is less reverent. I can understand their concern. Nonetheless, communion in the hand is a legitimate practice.

Zoghby Initiative

What was the Zoghby initiative? Why did it not work?

Archbishop Elias Zoghby proposed “dual communion,” in which the Melkite Church would simultaneously be in communion with Rome and the Antiochian Orthodox Church. This step was seen by both Rome and the Orthodox as being too radical – although there is significant historical precedent for it. Nonetheless, the Melkite Patriarch and his Synod have been overwhelmingly supportive of his ideas.

Double communion (which is also called dual communion) has been a historical reality from time to time. Well into the 17th century the Melkite Church had dual communion with both Rome and Constantinople. There are several other examples as well.

Today both Rome and Constantinople reject the option of dual communion. Their attitudes could change on this, but it isn’t likely.