Sunday, December 28, 2003
I'm currently reading William R. Hutchison's extremely rewarding new book, Religious pluralism in America: The contentious history of a founding ideal. (Hutchison was one of my professors at Harvard Divinity School.) I'll have a lot to say about the book over the next few weeks, but today Mrs Philocrites and I experienced a bit of American religious pluralism by attending her grandmother's Byzantine-rite Ukrainian Catholic church in New Jersey. Wow.
Post-Mormon liberal Protestant that I am — another topic we can come back to sometime — I've had very little exposure to the Roman Catholic mass (only twice, actually), but I have attended a lot of Episcopal church services ("high" and "low") and two Greek Orthodox services. Byzantine-rite Catholicism certainly reminded me of the Orthodox liturgy and hardly resembled the masses I've attended at all. Mrs Philocrites' grandmother grew up in this congregation of Ukrainian immigrants, and raised her children there (although all five have since gravitated to Methodism, Quakerism, Roman Catholicism, or what we might call Lord-of-the-Ringsism). Her grandfather helped make the original church's onion dome; the congregation now occupies a spectacular modern church decorated by the most amazing icons and a gilded chancel screen ("iconostasis") of wheat and grape motifs. The icons in the sanctuary were surely the most beautiful I've ever seen, and I couldn't help but think how odd it is to encounter art like this in a museum rather than in a worship service — the experience is so different. (We went to the Met yesterday to see the El Greco exhibit; how utterly amazing that art would be if it could somehow be transported into a church!)
The service was conducted primarily in Church Slavonic, and everything is chanted by the priest, the cantor and choir, and congregation. (This high degree of congregational participation was especially interesting to me, since that was one of the goals of Luther and Calvin and the other Protestant reformers.) Although verses of "Silent Night" and "Joy to the World" were interspersed with the chants that opened the service and sung — in Church Slavonic — as a kind of recessional hymn, there were no "hymns" as Protestants would think of them. There were also no instruments.
The bread is placed in the communion wine, and then taken from the chalice and placed in the communicants' mouths with a spoon. (There's a helpful description of the rite at the Catholic Information Network site.) Unconsecrated bread is kept near the door for everyone to take as they leave; it was quite yummy.
Mrs Philocrites was amused by how clearly I stood out, with my English-Swedish face and bright red hair. We were both delighted by the name for the parish's new youth group: ByzanTeens.
Copyright © 2003 by Philocrites | Posted 28 December 2003 at 5:49 PM