I videotaped the Midnight Mass for Christmas from St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Wheeling, and just a few minutes ago finished watching it. I have to admit I was very pleasantly surprised. Here in the liturgical backwater that is Morgantown, there is not a single NO parish where Mass is celebrated licitly. They’re all valid, but every single parish adds or takes away something. I had come to the conclusion that this was the result of some sort of weird ‘trickle-down’ effect, that our Bishop was wishy-washy on the rubrics, or some sort of flaming liberal/progressive, but I now believe that there is hope for our diocese, even if I don’t see any change in these parts in my lifetime.
There was incense, there were traditional carols, there were properly vested altar BOYS, there were concelebrating priests! There was also too much hugging at the sign of peace 😦
There were no extraordinary ministers. There was no Latin. There was no chant (except for the vernacular chanted Our Father). BUT there was no inclusive language, and Bishop Bransfield used the Roman Canon – the long version – and it was all there, word for word.
The most extraordinary thing I noticed was that Bishop Bransfield, the concelebrating priests, the MC and most of the others in the sanctuary actually DID genuflect at the proper place in the Credo…..and at that point the camera angle was a wide shot from the upper back of the nave, and I didn’t see any of the congregation kneel; some bowed, but most remained standing 😦
Now, with that as an introduction, I noticed something else odd. While I understood (even better now) all the parts of the Mass, and would have had a beautiful worship experience had I been personally present at this Mass, I didn’t feel as if I had missed anything by joining my new parish family – the Byzantine Catholics – for Great Compline and Liturgy on Christmas Eve. I didn’t feel very ‘connected’ to any of it at all.
I thought about this for a while, and wonder if, for the past nearly 16 years, I’ve been in some kind of RC ‘foster faith’ or ‘faith incubator,’ and just recently due to my becoming VERY SERIOUS about living an authentically Christian life, I’ve been discharged, as it were, to where I really belong. My Protestant background, as I’ve mentioned before, is a pre-Martin Luther schism from the VERY SAME COUNTRIES evangelized by the Holy Saints Cyril and Methodius. I grew up celebrating Advent; fasting during Lent was never strange to me. Some of my earliest memories of Easter include Holy Week services every night at the Moravian church where I was baptized, including a (I now realize) Protestantized Stations of the Cross, a Memorial of Our Lord’s Passion, and the Tenebrae (service of darkness). Hymns sung by the Moravians aren’t sung in any other denomination; this year I learned carols of the Slav tradition that brought tears to my eyes with their theological density (meatiness, I like to say).
One of the traditions that I grew up with as a child was that, on Christmas morning, we would all gather at the Nativity scene and sing Happy Birthday to Jesus before we ate our breakfast or opened any presents….in all my years as an adult I have kept that tradition with my own kids, but whenever I mentioned it, most often the reaction was “oh, neat, maybe we will start doing that too.” Last night after Divine Liturgy we all gathered in the social hall, where there was a BIRTHDAY CAKE for Jesus and we all sang Happy Birthday before sharing it around. My Byzantine parish thinks it perfectly normal to do this, in fact they wonder why don’t more people do it…..
I didn’t have to endure watching the same kids of the wealthiest family in the parish bring in the Baby Jesus to the Nativity….instead, I bowed low along with my fellow worshippers and priest, in adoration and love after Father placed the Infant in the creche and incensed Him and sprinkled Him with holy water. After he placed the Babe in His place, Father knelt before Him on the floor and gave Him a kiss.
I have, truly, wrapped the Byzantine tradition around my heart like a comfortable sweater that once belonged to a favorite relative….it’s not a perfect fit, but it’s warm and I can feel the love in it from generations before me who have tried to do just as I am doing – “love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” I’m not Slav by any stretch of the imagination, but that strong-woman tradition is just as active in us Irish as it is in Eastern Europe. I’ve had to mostly find family in friends, but I’m doing that, having no plethora of blood relatives to walk with me this way (actually most of my blood relatives would probably be horrified to find I’m on my way to becoming a Byzantine Catholic – they already think I’m not Christian and not saved because I’m Catholic).
As I celebrate the days of the Feast of the Nativity, I am praying that as Christ is born in me, I can bring Christ to birth in my little corner of the world in some way every day. We are the ones who will rebuild His house, for as everyone can see, it is falling into ruin.
Morning Star, O cheering sight,
Ere Thou cam’st how dark earth’s night!
Jesus mine, in me shine,
In me shine, Jesus mine.
Fill my heart with Light divine.
(Johann Scheffer, 1657; tr. Benent Harvey Jr., 1885; melody HAGEN 18.104.22.168.7)
Merry Christmas, all!