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Illuminating Eastern Catholicism

Guidelines issued in January 1996 by the Congregation for the Eastern Churches for liturgical renewal in the Eastern Catholic churches.

Last January the Congregation for the Eastern Churches issued guidelines for liturgical renewal in the Eastern Catholic churches. Excerpts from the “Instruction” follow.

In the Apostolic Letter Orientale Lumen, John Paul II…underscores that “liturgical prayer in the East shows a great aptitude for involving the human person in his or her totality.…

“In the sacred act, even [the physical] is summoned to praise; and beauty, which in the East is one of the best loved names expressing the divine harmony and the model of humanity transfigured, appears everywhere: in the shape of the church, in the sounds, in the colors, in the lights, in the scents. The lengthy duration of the celebrations, the repeated invocations, everything expresses gradual identification with the mystery celebrated with one’s whole person. Thus the prayer of the church already becomes participation in the heavenly liturgy, an anticipation of the final beatitude.”

This confirms…the conciliar [Vatican II] decree on ecumenism: “Everyone should realize that it is of supreme importance to understand, venerate, preserve and foster the rich liturgical and spiritual heritage of the Eastern churches in order faithfully to preserve the fullness of Christian tradition, and to bring about reconciliation between Eastern and Western Christians.”

Purposes of the Instruction. The intent of the Instruction, presented to the Eastern churches that are in full communion with the Apostolic See, is to help them fully realize their own identity…. [and] poses the following objectives:

• to lead to a more profound understanding of the…richness of the authentic Eastern traditions, which are to he scrupulously maintained and communicated to all;

• to arrange the liturgical norms valid for all the Catholic Eastern churches in an organic summary and to introduce recovery, where necessary, of the Eastern liturgical authenticity, according to the tradition that each Eastern Church has inherited from the Apostles through the Fathers;

• to exhort a permanent liturgical formation to be organized on a solid basis, for both the clergy – beginning with seminarians and formation institutes – and the people of God through…catechesis;

• to list the principles in common for the elaboration of liturgical directories for the individual churches sui iuris [those churches having full legal rights]….

Responsibles for implementation. [In conformity with the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, published in 1990, it is left to the superior authorities of the 21 Eastern Catholic churches to implement the liturgical norms of the instruction in a manner they deem appropriate. After the superior authorities have acted], “the eparchial bishop, as the moderator, promoter and guardian of the entire liturgical life of the eparchy,” [will see to the faithful observance of the liturgical law.]

The Sacraments of Christian Initiation. The baptismal rebirth as children of God, inheritors of the Kingdom, justified, redeemed and sanctified, entailed the full entrance into the people of God. The ultimate “sign” of this event was the admission to the banquet of the Kingdom. That indivisible sacrament was, therefore, necessarily conferred, with the most coherence, in a single celebratory context…. Such usage was practiced in the life of all the churches in the first centuries.

[These] practices were abandoned by the Western Church, and the baptismal initiation was conferred to children in various successive moments. However, the ancient use was maintained intact, uninterrupted, in the East. This link is so strong that, in quite a number of contexts, the term “Baptism” usually implies all three of the phases of Christian Initiation, the title attributed to them in many manuscripts or printed euchologion [liturgical prayer books].

Under external pressure, this practice changed during the last centuries in different Eastern Catholic churches. Based on spiritual and pastoral definitions, [and] altered by Latins, [these changes were] comprehensible but extraneous to the organic progress and not in line with the dynamism of the Eastern patrimony.

In places where the traditional practice has been lost, the application of the norms prescribed in the content of the Code will require a true reform, analogous to that which the conciliar Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy required for the Latin liturgy. Though without acting hastily, an in-depth study of the ancient practice, obtained from related manuscripts and printed texts that have been published by Eastern Catholics and also by Orthodox, should first be prepared. The practice still in use by the Orthodox should also be taken into account. The necessary instruction should be provided so that the motivations can be understood by all: clergy, theologians and the Christian people….

The competent authorities of the different churches sui iuris should take care to emanate appropriate directives such that changes or abbreviations are avoided that may be harmful or less expressive of the meaning of the various moments that constitute the rite: the preparatory acts of exorcisms or renunciation of Satan, of blessing the water and oil, of prebaptismal anointing, and the concluding act of postbaptismal dressing.

Many liturgical books provide for the usual administration of Baptism through the rite of triple immersion. Maintained throughout the traditions of the Eastern churches, it is a meaningful and highly expressive rite that is still present and encouraged today in the Western Church, though too often abandoned for simple reasons of convenience. The competent authorities should therefore seek ways to restore it, with prudence but also with zeal.

Christmation…is the name given in the East to the sacrament that the Code of Canon Law calls Confirmation. Such diverse designations for the same sacrament may correspond to traditional understandings that are substantially identical but diversely accentuated. Each [designation], in fact, insists preferably on one aspect and underscores, in the Eastern churches, the perfect initiation into the mystery of Christ, and, in the Latin Church, the capacity acquired by the individual’s testimony of his or her faith.

Finally, the administration of the Divine Eucharist to infant neophytes is not limited only to the moment of the celebration of Initiation. Eucharist is the bread of life, and infants need to he nourished constantly….

Entering into monastic life. Christians of the East give a common witness to the tradition of considering the initiation into monastic life strictly analogous to the baptismal initiation, with the help of formulas, symbols and gestures that recall those used for the initiation into Christian life….

The rituals of introduction into the monastic life in the different Eastern churches are an integral part of the respective liturgical traditions and are precious sources for explaining the ultimate meaning of Christian monasticism.

It is, therefore, necessary to preserve these rituals, use them for the professions that are specifically monastic and [to] be inspired by them for religious orders and congregations of the Eastern churches.

The Eucharistic Liturgy. In the celebration of the Divine Mysteries, the text of the Anaphora [Eucharistic prayers] shines like a precious treasure. The Eastern Anaphora date back to venerable antiquity. Often attributed to the Apostles, according to the living awareness of the churches, or to saints of the primitive church, or to other important personages in the history of the churches, the Anaphora are, in the act of offering, the proclamation of praise and thanksgiving to God, and the epiclesis, which is the invocation of the Holy Spirit.

From the treasure of the Anaphora, rather numerous according to the various churches, care should be taken to offer the possibility of using, as is deemed suitable, more texts of the Anaphora, some of which are no longer in use today but should be restored….

Canon 700, paragraph 2, of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches exhorts the concelebration together with the bishop or with another priest “since in such a way the unity of the priesthood and sacrifice will be suitably manifested.” Many conciliar texts underscore that, in doing so, the unity of the whole church is made manifest….

However, there can be reasons that advise against concelebration, particularly when the number of concelebrants is disproportionately greater than the presence of lay faithful. The liturgical celebration, as the “icon” of the church, should respect the nature of the community hierarchically articulated, composed not only of ministers but the whole flock of those who…live in Christ.

Of course, concelebration is nevertheless preferable to the so-called individual celebrations without the people. Individual, independent celebrations of the Eucharist on multiple altars in the same place at the same time are categorically prohibited. Such restriction is not applicable, obviously, to the simultaneous and synchronized celebration sometimes permitted, particularly in the Western Syrian and Ethiopian traditions….

The Eucharist should be distributed under both species of consecrated bread and wine. Thus, the usage of distributing Communion under the species of bread alone, as sometimes occurs today because of Latin influence, should be abandoned without delay. Such practice is to be considered a recent innovation, completely foreign to the Eastern tradition.

The reintroduction of the regular distribution of the Eucharist under both species can be facilitated by the use of instruments that are fitting, observing the norms and the uses of the particular ritual tradition….

Liturgical formation of sacred ministers. In the formation of sacred ministers, care should be taken to promote progressive growth of the interior participation in the holy mysteries and in him who operates in them. In order to he mystagogues (spiritual guides) of the people, [candidates] must live in an exemplary way…their role in the liturgy is to be the font, food and model for a life of fullness received by the grace of the Lord. Moreover, they are to be perfectly formed toward a precise, in-depth and well-founded knowledge of the holy liturgy in its theological, spiritual and ceremonial aspects.

The importance of the liturgical life is also emphasized in the canons that address seminaries. These affirm that the liturgy is to be the font and culmination of life, that it is to be taught in virtue of its special importance as a necessary source of doctrine and of a truly Christian spirit, and that the candidates of priesthood are to nourish their spiritual life from it. It is, therefore, necessary that the liturgical life be celebrated with great care and always in its integral form in Eastern seminaries and in formation institutes of Eastern monks and religious, such that the candidates may be shaped by it and learn it in all its richness and completeness, giving due space not only to the Eucharist but also to the Divine Office….

Christian marriage. It should be noted that the obligation of the sacred rite, and thus of the priestly blessing, for the validity of the marriage is specific to Eastern law. In the Latin Church, simply the presence of the local ordinary, or the parish priest, or a priest or deacon delegated by either of them, is required. In the Eastern tradition, the priest, in addition to assisting, must bless the marriage. To bless means to act as the true minister of the sacrament, in virtue of his priestly power to sanctify, so that the spouses may be united by God in the image of the flawless nuptial union of Christ with the church and be consecrated to each other by sacramental grace….

Communal value of penance. Individual confession is contained within a context that is by its nature exquisitely ecclesial and thus communal, first of all because reconciliation with God is also reconciliation with the church. Moreover, in all the Eastern churches, the sacrament is traditionally administered in a framework of prayers, declarations, admonitions and absolutions, which can be praiseworthily celebrated by an assembly of faithful. Such practice is suggested, at least indirectly, when the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches affirms that the proper place of its celebration is the church and corresponds to the Eastern traditional usage of celebrating it, not in a confessional similar to that used in the Latin Church, but in the same sacred building and, in some traditions, in front of an icon of Christ. It will be the task of the authorities…to find the formulas that best express the richness of their own traditions.

Anointing of the sick. In the Eastern churches, the celebration of the sacrament of the anointing of the sick is…complex and…prolonged, [ideally involving several priests]. In reality, this notable duration, different from the brevity of the Western rituals, underscores the mystagogical aspect of prayer that entails contemplation of the wonders of the Lord, proclaimed in various Gospel texts, from which strength and consolation are drawn. Supplication is made for the Lord to grant salvation of the body and soul to the sick, as much in the present circumstances as in the end times, when he will render his faithful participants in the fullness of divine life. If conditions require, the authorities of the individual churches can indicate the parts of the text to be used for celebrations in the house of the sick, when they are gravely ill, or in hospitals. However, it is better for the full formula to be used normally when the sacrament is administered in the church, as already occurs and is recommended, and to many sick people, if possible. In this way, the sacrament maintains its extraordinary catechetical value.

Final considerations. The scope of the present Instruction is to assist the Eastern Catholic churches [in] giving the liturgical celebrations the central place due them in ecclesial life, [and] in full fidelity to the specific features of their own traditions.

The insistence on the full recuperation of Tradition does not mean to function to the detriment of changes necessary for the sensibility of the contemporary culture. Rather it will be opportune in the future to address this perspective in more detail, in the lively hope that it can also account for the experiences that the Orthodox churches will acquire in this field, especially in those territories where they are particularly moved to do so.

Meanwhile, it seemed of primary importance to underscore some general criteria aimed, above all, at recovering a full celebratory coherence in the liturgy in the Eastern Catholic churches, in such a way that the whole church is enriched by their specific heritages.

The indications contained here can be completed by the reflection and contribution of the individual churches sui iuris, dedicating the necessary attention to them by studying how they should be applied in the various individual traditions and conditions.

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