Note: This post is the overdue second part of the fairly subjective reflection I wrote last month, “An Opening Remark on the Ways of Greek Catholicism in the West.” This “installment” concerns liturgy.
The phenomenon of “Latinizations” within the Greek Catholic churches remains a controversial topic, though perhaps less so than it was just a few decades ago. In two earlier entries, “A Note on Latinizations” and “Another Note on Latinizations,” I discussed the problems surrounding both the introduction and removal of spiritual-liturgical practices commonly associated with the Latin (Roman Catholic) West, albeit without offering anything close to a tidy solution. That’s because there isn’t one. As the history of liturgical reform (or upheaval) has shown, top-down efforts to alter the common liturgical experience of the faithful—one likely filled with para-liturgical elements as well—rarely ends well even if, over time, the original resentment fades and newer generations are, for better or worse, conditioned to a new liturgical reality. Going forward, the liturgical reality Greek Catholics will need to be conditioned to has less to do with “Latinizations” and more to do with upgrading the manner in which they serve the panoply of the Church’s liturgy. To a lesser, though still noticeable, extent, this is a problem facing Eastern Orthodox in the West as well.
Growing up I had almost no contact with the Byzantine services outside of the Divine Liturgy on Sundays and, at times, a highly truncated form of Matins (Orthros). Greek Catholic parishes in America, like many Orthodox ones, steadily abandoned most of their liturgical patrimony, becoming what Fr. Alexander Schmemann warned so strongly against, namely “Sunday churches.” Exceptions existed of course, particularly in larger metropolitan settings. Among the Orthodox, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR), heavily imbued with a monastic spirit, kept alive a maximalist approach to liturgy to the point where even small-to-midsized parishes could be found serving the All-Night Vigil on the eves of Sundays and feastday. The Antiochians and Greeks took a more minimal approach, dropping Vespers; abbreviating Matins; and sometimes serving a clipped version of the Divine Liturgy as well.
Efforts to roll back this trend among the Greek Catholics were met with resistance, a point highlighted in Fr. Peter Galadza’s article, “Seventeenth-Century Liturgicons of the Kievan Metropolia and Several Lessons for Today,” 56 St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 73 (2012). One way to strangle a positive liturgical suggestion in the crib among certain Greek Catholics is to call it a “Russian practice.” Of course, as Galdza and others have noted, contemporary Russian Orthodox liturgical praxis, along with certain formulations and rubrics found its service books, is not necessarily identical to Kievan praxis at the time of the Union of Brest or Ruthenian praxis at the time of the Union of Uzhhorod. And the Melkite Church, which did not establish official union with Rome until the 18th C. and possesses a different liturgical history than their Slavic brethren, certainly does not share fully the ways and means of Russian liturgy even if both traditions descend from a common rite. However, do to the woes of history and the shortness of historical memory, it has been necessary, at least so far, for Greek Catholics interested in breathing new life into their liturgical heritage to look to their separated Orthodox brethren for guidance and inspiration.
And there is nothing wrong with that, or so I contend. There are no “golden days” for Greek Catholics to return to. At the time of both Brest and Uzzhorod, many Slavic clerics were ill-educated and their liturgical texts riddled with errors. As Galadza’s aforementioned article details, it was only in the 17th Century that intentional—and above all intelligent—liturgical reform efforts took hold in Western Rus, and even then some of the outcomes were not unproblematic. For Greek Catholics in particular, the noble effort of some of their fellow churchmen, including St. Josaphat Kuntsevych, to keep alive the true spirit of the Byzantine liturgy ultimately came to naught as a Latin-Polish mentality quickly crept in. It would not be until the 20th Century that the Ukrainian and Ruthenian Greek Catholic churches would have a refurbished set of liturgical texts in Church Slavonic, and today those books, and the more authentic Slavo-Byzantine elements in them, are all but ignored.
If Greek Catholicism in the West is to survive and, more importantly, thrive, it must do so with a stronger liturgical ethos than it has perhaps ever had on this side of the pond. Western Orthodox outside of ROCOR have developed ways to do a lot with a little, such as the laudable Orthodox Two Part Music project which allows even modest-sized choirs to perform the primary Byzantine services with beauty and authenticity. At a time when the Roman Rite is at its lowest point in history (though there have been signs of improvement), Greek Catholics have a unique opportunity to offer a powerful demonstration effect on the importance of liturgical restoration for their coreligionists. At the same time, a renewed liturgical life within the Greek Catholic churches can lead to a renewed life in the Spirit and the growth of the Greek-Catholic Faith outside of its ancestral homelands.