An Eastern Catholic Examines
Liturgical Problems




Fr. Archimandrite Serge Keleher is one of the best informed and scholarly authorities regarding events taking place in both the Eastern Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches. As Editor of the "Eastern Churches Journal : A Review of Eastern Christianity" (P.O. Box 146, Fairfax, VA 22038-0146; subscription $40 yr.), he regularly provides a thorough review of happenings in the world of Eastern Christianity as well as reports on aspects of ecumenical progress resulting from the Second Vatican Council. Living in Dublin, Ireland, since 1986, he has been the Greek-Catholic priest serving the growing number of Byzantine Catholic faithful, many of whom are immigrants from Russia, Belarus, Ukraine (both Western Ukraine and Donbas), Moldavia, Latvia, the USA, and elsewhere. There are also Irish members of his flock who have been attracted to the beauty and majesty of the Byzantine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. Divine Services held at St. Kevin's Oratory at the Pro-Cathedral in Dublin include a mix of Church-Slavonic, Greek, Irish, and other languages as needed.

In his 2006 work "Studies on the Byzantine Liturgy-I" (Staurpegion Press, P.O.Box 11096, Pittsburgh, PA 5237-9998) Fr. Archimandrite Serge made an extensive and minute critique of a Draft document proposing a "Recasting of the Byzantine-Ruthenian Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom" by the Byzantine-Ruthenian Metropolitanate of Pittsburgh. Since the publication of Fr. Serge's book, this Draft document, for the most part, has been promulgated as the official English translations of the Divine Liturgies of St. John Chrysostom and of St. Basil the Great for the aforementioned jurisdiction, and has been "received" by the Congregation for Eastern Churches in Rome, which recognizes them as the licitly promulgated official texts for liturgical use. Any new translation of the Divine Liturgy in English, Fr. Serge had pointed out, affects all the various Byzantine Greek-Catholic Churches. He also noted the continuing dispute between "those who wanted a liturgical practice as close as possible to the liturgical practice of Eastern Orthodoxy, and those who wanted a liturgical practice as distant as possible from that of Eastern Orthodoxy" (involving also the introduction of certain latinizing practices). He recounts the recent history of liturgical and political conflicts among the Byzantine-rite bishops and priests and the resistance in the Pittsburgh Metropolitanate to a "people's edition of the Divine Liturgy in conformity with the official Church-Slavonic books published in Rome".

Our author insists that any proposed restoration of Byzantine liturgical practice adapted to conditions in English-speaking countries must be in accordance with "the clear and unambiguous" directives of Vatican II and the Roman See which observed that renewal among Byzantine-rite Catholics cannot be "a blind imitation of a dead past, but an attempt to free Eastern Catholics from a past in which, severed from the roots of their own tradition, they were deprived of any organic development and could conceive of growth only as sterile servility to their Latin confreres". To be regretted among Byzantine rite clergy (quoting words of another leading Byzantine liturgical scholar Robert Taft, S.J.), is a certain "latinization of the heart resulting from a formation insensitive to the true nature of the variety of traditions within the Catholic Church". Failure to live the authentic theological, spiritual, and liturgical ethos of the Byzantine Catholic tradition only serves to impede the prospects of Reunion with the various Eastern Orthodox Churches.

This is the background for Archimandrite Serge's concerns regarding the liturgical rubrics in the proposed English translation of the Byzantine-Ruthenian Liturgy which he declared "confused and inadequate. He was also very critical of the use of "horizontal inclusive" language in the proposed draft (sadly, this has become part of the officially promulgated liturgical texts). He cites the fact that both the Magisterium of the Catholic Church and the proper authorities in Eastern Orthodoxy have voiced strong opposition to the use of such language in the Liturgy. Moreover, there are alleged serious textual inaccuracies and mistranslations (he alleges 23 of them though he admits that some may be the object of legitimate dispute). In addition, he declared problematic 33 other instances of words or phrases rendered in English that do not faithfully render the meaning of the original (or best) texts in Greek or Church-Slavonic.

Readers may not be interested in the "nuts and bolts" of the liturgical problems and difficulties encountered by our Byzantine Catholic brethren in their efforts to revivify their spiritual and apostolic heritage, but they too can profit from acute observations touching on the Roman rite contained in Fr. Archimandrite Serge's Study. Throughout his volume, he fittingly quotes the liturgical views of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger whose profound understanding of Catholic liturgical worship is, in fact, reflected in all the Church's traditional liturgies of East and West, faithfully observed. Interestingly, he points out that "the Novus Ordo Missae of Pope Paul VI does not require the priest to offer the Eucharistic Prayer aloud" (although, contrary to longstanding practice, this is required in the new Byzantine-Ruthenian Liturgicon). It has become common, he states, for the Eucharistic Prayer (known as the Anaphora in the Byzantine rite) to be recited aloud and in vernacular languages. But "is there a heightened appreciation of the Roman Canon - one of the most ancient Anaphoras anywhere in the Church?" Not only has use of the magnificent Roman Canon become "very rare in practice" but neither has understanding or reverence at Mass grown. "Far from understanding increasing, there has been an insatiable demand for "new Anaphoras" - the modern Roman Liturgy now has Anaphoras for use during Mass celebrated with children (in all the history of the Church no one ever heard of such a thing").

Certain liturgical innovations in the Roman Liturgy difficult for many to understand (such as altar girls, women Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion dominating the sanctuary, the near-mandatory celebration "facing the people", the increasingly widespread practice of "Communion in the hand", and attempts to introduce "Inclusive language") Fr. Archimandrite Serge regards as creating serious difficulties for the prospects of Reunion with the Eastern Orthodox. It may be added here that a recent Eastern Orthodox theologian also has not hesitated to declare his brethren repelled by what they regard as "a new and alien liturgical spirit". (Fr. Laurent A. Cleenewerck in his book "His Broken Body" - see notice of my Review on my Website:  JAMES LIKOUDIS' PAGE)

The same writer took occasion to declare:

"As long as the current liturgical spirit of modern Roman Catholicism remains the accepted norm, no amount of theological dialogue will achieve any result".

With Byzantine Catholics encountering the phenomenon of "Americanization" as well as social and clergy pressures to adopt some of the above or yet other untraditional practices contrary to their best liturgical tradition (for example, in the past, there had been pressure, much of it self-inflicted, for Ruthenian Catholics to eliminate icon-screens and, at present, there is pressure, also mostly self-inflicted, to no longer pray the Anaphora inaudibly, in secreto or in mystica, the practice of the last thousand years), it is understandable that Fr. Archimandrite Serge should ask whether Byzantine Catholics should hazard adopting innovations which in the Western Church have "contributed to a serious reduction in the Faith concerning the Divine Liturgy and the Holy Gifts. One may question whether such results are desirable in the Greek-Catholic Church".

A careful reading of Fr. Archimandrite Serge's work reveals similar problems encountered by the faithful of the various branches of the Byzantine Rite (Ruthenians, Ukranians, Melkites), to those encountered by Catholics of the Roman rite troubled by certain liturgical innovations (some even receiving official ecclesiastical sanction), and outright abuses offending the very sense of the Sacred. As there has been a pattern of resistance to the authority of Rome regarding directives to implement a real "reform of the reform" regarding liturgical practice in the West, so has there been a similar resistance to Vatican II's (and Rome's) insistence that Greek-Catholics maintain the authentic liturgical heritage and practice of the Catholic Church's Byzantine tradition.

Our author concluded that:

"the honor of the Catholic Church is involved. Rome urges Greek-Catholics to be conscious of the liturgical and spiritual treasures which Greek-Catholics hold in common with the Eastern Orthodox. If this October 12, 2004 Draft were to be adopted as it stands, it would distance the Byzantine-Ruthenian Catholic Metropolitan of Pittsburgh still further, both from the other Greek-Catholics in the United States and from Eastern Orthodox in the United States. That is a severe drawback... If this draft were to be adopted, it would give substance to the accusation that such pious statements from Rome are simply window-dressing and that in reality Rome wants a revisionist liturgy to drive a further wedge between the Greek-Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox."

These are serious matters for Catholics of every liturgical rite involved in the Church's ecumenical efforts. The subject "proposed Draft" with all its problematic aspects that have been the focus of this article, with only minor changes, has received, as previously noted, the approval of the Byzantine-Ruthenian Metropolitan of Pittsburgh, along with the Council of Hierarchs of the Pittsburgh Byzantine-Ruthenian Metropolia, and the Congregation for Eastern Churches in Rome, and has been promulgated as the official English translation of the Divine Liturgies for that jurisdiction. It has been reported, by members of both clergy and laity of the jurisdiction, that, since promulgation of this re-casting of the Byzantine Divine Liturgy, effective June 29, 2007, many complaints have been forwarded both to the Ruthenian Byzantine Hierarchs in the United States, and to the Congregation for Eastern Churches in Rome. The hope on the part of many of the Byzantine-Ruthenian Catholic faithful, and this is not without historical precedent, is that the Congregation for Eastern Churches will take "another look" at what has been promulgated, and bring about a liturgical state of affairs in the Byzantine-Ruthenian Metropolia of Pittsburgh which is more in keeping with the mind of the Universal Church.



James Likoudis is president emeritus of CUF. His co-authored book "The Pope, the Council and the Mass: Answers to Questions the 'Traditionalists' Have Asked" (Revised edition, 2006) is available from Emmaus Road Publishing. To order, visit www.emmausroad.org or call (800) 398-5470.


About James Likoudis
James Likoudis is an expert in Catholic apologetics. He is the author of several books dealing with Catholic-Eastern Orthodox relations, including his most recent "The Divine Primacy of the Bishop of Rome and Modern Eastern Orthodoxy: Letters to a Greek Orthodox on the Unity of the Church." He has written many articles published by various religious papers and magazines.
He can be reached at:  jlikoudis@cuf.org, or visit  Mr. James Likoudis' Homepage