Today was the 3rd Sunday of the "Great Fast". This is what the Eastern rites call Lent.
As some of you know from my profile I was baptized Roman Catholic, and am grateful to be Catholic, but I worship regularly and volunteer much time in a Ukrainian Byzantine Catholic parish.
Today is the anniversary of when we first attended Divine Liturgy there. It is the Sunday in Lent, like September 14th and the Sunday following it, when we Venerate the Cross.
To venerate the cross in the Roman Rite on Good Friday, meant a procession to kiss the cross.
What you would have witnessed if you came into our church today was multiple prostrations, people going down to the ground and touching their foreheads to the ground in love and reverence and gratitude and awe for the sacrifice of the Lord, God, and Savior, Jesus Christ. In no Sunday worship service in the Roman Catholic Parishes I attended did I see everyone: Priests, Altar Servers, 4 year olds, 80 year olds (if they can do it) not just bow, not just genuflect, but go full body down to the ground before their Lord and their King. They do this before and after each station of the Cross during their Way of the Cross devotional as well.
As meaningful as this practice alone is, it is just an example of how much more reverent, more humble before God, and more worshipful I find the Divine Liturgy. It seems to have more integrity to the type of worship we read about in Revelation 7:9-12:
9 After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice:“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.”
11 All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying:
Praise and glory
and wisdom and thanks and honor
and power and strength
be to our God for ever and ever.
Praise and glory
and wisdom and thanks and honor
and power and strength
be to our God for ever and ever.
Even the angels around the throne fall on their faces before the throne and worship God! I was familiar with this when I attended this church the first time and that is why when I saw them doing this humble practice of adoration, I was somewhat hooked. This, to me, this is similar to what we will encounter in heaven. I don’t have to “imagine” as the MercyMe lyrics indicate. I am pretty sure that if Jesus did show up in Church (as we believe he is there in the tabernacle) and was no longer concealed in the appearance of bread and wine, I am pretty confident I would be face down before him, in awe and adoration, until he told me to get back up.
As I mentioned before, I teach "Religion School" to the 1st and 2nd graders in this parish. Today I was a bit fired up and impassioned to share with them my love of scripture. So this was the lesson plan for today. You might find the scriptures on Jesus a particularly powerful meditation for Lent.
Why is it important and holy?
· Holy Scripture is another name for what is contained in the Holy Bible. Reading Holy Scripture prayerfully is one way of directly encountering our Lord
· We come to know who God is by reading Holy Scriptures
· We come to realize how infinitely great is his love for us
· We come to a place of humble gratitude, and praise for Our Creator, Our Savior, Our Comforter – The Glorious Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit
· We are drawn to prayer and to a “deep friendship with Jesus Christ” – Pope Benedict XVI
Holy Bible – What is It?
· Bible means Books – it is composed of many books
· How is it divided? Two Parts:
· Old Testament: Before Christ; more books in the first part of The Bible. Composed of history, prophecy, and wisdom books.
· New Testament: The Gospels that tell of Christ’s coming, ministry, and redemptive sacrifice, Acts: which tells of the birthday and very early church, and then Epistles: which were letters written by St. Paul and other apostles to members of the early Church
How do you find things in the Bible?
· Book Chapter:Verse(s)
· Example: Revelation 7:9-12
· Revelation is the last book in the New Testament, you can turn toward the end of the Bible to find it. Then find Chapter 7 using the chapter numbers at the tops of the pages. Then find the verse. Every sentence or group of sentences is a verse.
Application– Who is God?
· Revelation 7:9-11
· Even the angels are prostrate before God
· What do we do during the Veneration of the Cross?
· Isaiah 6:1-8
· Holy, holy, holy is the Yahweh Sabaoth. (I didn’t cover the following explanation of Yahweh Sabaoth, but it was included in the handouts so the parents could read it and explain it to their kids.)
"Yahweh Sabaoth, the God of hosts" is one of the frequent titles or names of God in the Old Testament. It is cited 260 times according to one scholar, 285 times according to another (cf. Theol. Dictionary of the OT [German edition], 6, 876-892). Though used less in the historical books, it is found very frequently in the prophets. "It is the most sublime and magnificent proper name of God" (ibid., 692). Every day at Holy Mass we call upon God by this name, uniting ourselves with the holy angels when we sing: "Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, Dominus Deus Sabaoth–Lord God of hosts", as it was formerly translated.
b) What is the meaning of this name?
This name expresses something of the grandeur of God. Of course, God has no need of an army as a human king stands in need of one. His kingdom is based on His omnipotence; His voice has a creative power to which the Psalmist refers, saying: "when He raises His voice the earth crumbles away" (v. 6). No creature, neither the highest nor the least, nor even the greatest multitude can add anything to Him. Rather, they represent in some way His immense richness and His proper dignity. As the power of a human king is manifested by the extension of His property, by the people under his government, and by the number and quality of his army, so also God’s kingship and His very dignity can be manifested and glorified by His army. Parente observes correctly, "the terms Hosts, Army, do not necessarily give the idea of a warlike preparation for military strife; they rather imply a well-ordered and well-organized multitude of heavenly spirits, most powerful and ever ready to obey God, the king of heaven, the Lord of Hosts" (P. Parente, Beyond Space, Tan 1973, 69). The "acies ordinata" (Cant6:4) is rather a sign of quality; of His holiness, order and perfection; of the holy angels "as it were grouped together in society...divided into orders and grades" (John Paul II, General Audience, Aug., 6th, 1986, n°3).
c) God’s work leads to praise.
The reference, then, to the heavenly hosts in this Psalm refers, on the one hand, to the marvelous work God has done for man in the past. On the other hand, it reflects God Himself Who worked these wonders more perfectly, thus leading man to praise and adore his Lord and God. The reflection on the experience of life ends in the song of praise, "Yahweh Sabaoth, the God of hosts, [Who really] is with us, the God of Jacob...our refuge"! It becomes a song of admiration which invites us to broaden our glance to take in all the hosts of God and all that belongs to Him. It is a song of thanksgiving, of trust and confidence; an expression of peace and the testimony of the Psalmist’s life. He, "Yahweh Sabaoth, the God of hosts", He is the Lord of the universe; to Him all is submitted and all obeys His command.
Application– Who is Jesus? (Good Lenten Meditation Scriptures)
· Psalm 22:1-18
· Isaiah 53:3-5
· John 3:13-17
· Matthew 27:27-50
· Revelation 1:12-18
· Write down what you have learned about Jesus and what you learned about how much he loves you!
It was quite a challenge covering all these verses with only 30 minutes in the class time. So we found the first two together and then we had them listen with amazement at how prophecies of David and Isaiah 1000-700 before Christ were fulfilled in the events captured about the Passion of Jesus Christ in the Gospel. If we would have read the rest of Psalm 22 we would have learned of the Prophecy of Christ’s Kingship and glory as written about by John in Revelation.
One difference in the Ukrainian Liturgy is the readings. There are no readings from the Old Testament in the Liturgy of the Word portion of the Divine Liturgy. The first reading is an epistle, and the second is from the Gospels. So the children and the adults too, unless they study Scripture on their own miss the faith building marvel that “The Old Testament is Salvation History Concealed, and the New Testament is Salvation History Revealed.”
There are other differences too, that leave me more “at home” worshipping in this Parish. If you ever read the three pages that are the equivalent of “wash away my iniquity and cleanse me of my sins” in the Divine Liturgy written by St. John Chrysostom, you would marvel at the contrast as I do. Maybe I’ll share that in a future post. Then there is the continuous litany of “Lord Have Mercy”, that again feels more right to me in my mind-heart than three quick Kryies at the very beginning of Mass. Does anyone else get a little irritated when the Confeitor is not prayed? It just seems like someone deliberately took out what is beautiful and good about confessing our sinfulness (my fault, my most grievous fault) and pleading for mercy. That is what is fully present during the Divine Liturgy. These responses are sung acapella. There is no organ, no piano, no guitar, no drums, and no rainsticks. I find it transporting and peaceful. The sacrifice is offered with the priest facing East, but not whispering the Words of Consecration as is done in the Latin Tridentine Mass, we can hear them, and we can hear them in English during the Liturgy I attend (the earlier one is in Ukrainian) and we participate by singing Amen. There aren’t bells letting us know. We know, because we have been fully participating with the frequent sung responses leading up to the Consecration.
Of course what also kept me there was our two priests. They preach sermons, in the tradition of St. Cyril and Methodius . They preach often about the importance of private reading of Scripture, of growing in a relationship with Jesus who loves us, of praying every day, unceasingly, and of loving and forgiving everyone. These priests also regularly preach against abortion and give advice around elections of why we should not vote for politicians promoting and protecting the national evil that is abortion. For some reason this was not mentioned in the parish close to us, that we left when we began attending the Ukrainian one. Occasionally I ran into a Roman Catholic priest that would give an anointed homily, but I was hearing one every Sunday in this Ukrainian Catholic parish. I was also hearing Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict the XVI, St. Therese, St. Faustina, St. Padre Pio quoted more often than I ever heard them quoted in my former parish. Do your priests preach the scriptures? Do your priests encourage you in praying and studying scripture? I hope so. I don’t know if our two priests are like this because they are both humble praying priests dependent on the intercession of Mary and the working of the Holy Spirit, vs this being the norm for Ukrainian rite priests. I haven’t attended Divine Liturgy at any other Ukrainian rite churches. I know we’ve been blessed to have been led here.