Cross-Ecclesial Liturgical Participation

I am pressed for time, so you get another “whimsical” post.

Today I glanced over at Fr. Hunwicke’s web-log where, inter alia, he responds to a question about whether or not a Catholic should attend the Divine Office if it happens to be sung in an Anglican church. He saw no reason why this would be a problem. Given that I have, at best, a spotty knowledge of all of the different uses and revisions to the Anglican liturgy over the years, I am in no way, shape, or form competent to comment on whether one should, or would even want to, attend the Anglican office in a non-Catholic parish. Were I still in Chicago, I probably would slip into the Church of the Ascension down on LaSalle St. for choral Evensong now-and-again. (That Anglo-Catholic parish happens to only be a few doors down from not one, but two, Orthodox parishes — but one is Greek, and they don’t believe in ecumenism with the Orthodox Church in America.) My former home parish, St. John Cantius, recited the office in choir every day, though it was, unfortunately, according to the Liturgia Horarum rather than the traditional Breviarium Roumanum. Still, it had its charms. The able brothers and priests of the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius know how to make the most out of the truncated Vespers of the modern Roman Rite. It’s a pity other parishes haven’t done the same.

Anyway, in reflecting for a bit on Fr. Hunwicke’s comments, I started to wonder what the answer(s) would be if an Eastern Catholic or, heck, a Roman Catholic inquired about whether or not they should attend any of the Byzantine hours in an Orthodox parish. I could be wrong, but from my understanding, it seems that in America at least both Vespers and Matins (Orthros) are as scarce — if not scarcer — in Eastern Catholic parishes as they are in non-Russian Orthodox ones. Still, by virtue of the fact that the Orthodox have more parishes in the U.S. than the Eastern Catholics, it stands to reason that one has a better chance of finding an Orthodox parish that serves Vespers than a Catholic one. So why not attend? In fact, I know plenty of Eastern Catholics who, from time to time, do attend Orthodox services, especially when they are away from their home churches. Because I feel like putting on my advocatus diaboli hat for a few moments, let me suggest some reasons why a Catholic should not attend services in an Orthodox parish. Please keep in mind that I am not necessarily convinced by any of these, but I think they’re worth chewing on.

  • The Orthodox don’t like us. Even in America one is more likely to find an Orthodox Christian who actively mocks, denigrates, or even loathes Catholicism (and by extension Catholics). “Uniates,” according to some Orthodox, are the worst of the bunch. Is it in any sense spiritually beneficial or healthy to sneakily pray with those who — at least in the backs of their minds — think we’re the enemy?
  • The Orthodox liturgical calendar is filled with saints the Catholic Church does not recognize. While a bit of due diligence and planning ahead can ensure that one attends services dedicated only to recognized Catholic Saints, there’s always a good chance another, Orthodox-only, saint will be commemorated that day instead.
  • The litanies, hymns, and other prayers of Orthodox services are Orthodox-centric; Catholics are not contemplated. There in no sense, in the Orthodox consciousness, that we are included in their prayers except in the most general sense (“For the peace of the whole world…”).
  • Some, perhaps many, Orthodox believe it is sinful to pray with non-Orthodox. Again, should we really be infringing on their self-chosen exclusivity by showing up to pray and we’re not wanted? And if we are wanted — or even just tolerated — , it is likely in the hopes of converting us.

Like I said, I am not necessarily convinced of any of these points. Were I an Eastern Catholic I probably would be much more tempted to go to Orthodox services if/when my home parish wasn’t offering any. Even so, I would be very uncomfortable with “sneaking around” and hiding who I am and what I believe. I am curious if the rest of you feel the same. And for my Orthodox readers, do you feel the same about Catholic services? That is, do you ever get a hankering to sing and dance to “King of Glory“?