Western Rite Critic

A Balance to Contagious Enthusiasm

The Gospel as Liturgical Book

Gospel Reading“All things are worship in the Orthodox Church (Lex orandi est lex credendi: ‘the law of prayer is the law of belief’), so, the Liturgy and the Divine Services of the Orthodox Church are the place to see and understand the value She accords the Holy Scriptures.
First, the physical layout of the Church gives pride of place – the altar – to the Gospel book.

As Archimandrite Ephrem (Lash) notes, “All the other books which make up the Holy Scripture lead to or flow from the Holy Gospel.” The Gospel is also never intoned by a layman, always by a bishop, priest or deacon.” – Solum Corpus Christi – The Authority of Scripture in the Orthodox Church, for Lutherans – by Reader Christopher Orr


February 9, 2008 - Posted by | Western Rite Issues | , , , , , ,


  1. Incidentally, can you explain the difference in the Confiteor in these liturgies?

    This one has “to all the Saints, and to thee, father, that I have sinned exceedingly”. Whereas these two: here and here have the more familiar “to all the Saints, and to you brethren: that I have sinned exceedingly”.

    Also, why is St. John referred to as “The Baptist” rather than “Forerunner and Baptist”?

    Thanks, in advance.

    Comment by tuD | February 16, 2008 | Reply

  2. Well, my experience in WR has been both heterodox, for a time, and Orthodox for a much longer time. You’re right, the heterodox WR did have more of a dramatic feel to it. The Orthodox WR: my experience could have been b/c I was carrying over associations, or it could have been b/c I was young in Orthodoxy, or perhaps b/c I tend to feel things very strongly as a matter of personality. It wasn’t a negative experience, except occasionally I found the spiritual psychology surrounding it, or to which it often seemed to appeal, to be a bit disappointing. It was what sociologists would call ‘a psychology of resistance’. That can be a necessary thing, but it has its price and its toll, and it deprives one of the fullness of Orthodox experience as surely as does bigotry and persecuting the faithful. Still, it was a rich, rewarding, deeply helpful and meaningful experience. I love the Western Rite, when it’s really Orthodox, and when the religious attitudes and communities using that rite are Orthodox in psychology (or sociology, if you will).

    On emotions, I find the drama sometimes in the Byzantine right, on some days, or with some prayers, but not consistently. It seems to take one out of the emotions and elevate one to prayer as an ordinary activity akin to breathing. But then, how can one learn much from just an experience of one person? My own experience may mean nothing at all. Perhaps if I were to go and live in the same WR today, I would feel very differently, especially coming from a now much stronger Eastern base.

    For that and other reasons, I really wish a lot of converts would spend a long time in the ER first, drinking from the rich fullness that is there, before heading to the WR. They would do themselves good, and they’d have less conflict with others, and adopt less of the triumphalism we see, trying to “save” Orthodoxy, or “reinvigorate” it, both of which are heterodox attitudes that must be rejected. The WR, both when I was prayed it and, imo perhaps more so now, is a bit like the Old West – it’s a frontier rite, and feels in fair disarray. Not speaking of the text of the rite, tho that’s a reflection of the larger problem, but of the spiritual psychology surrounding it. And it has cut off its ears, trying to drown out all criticism with enthusiasm, and attack and repudiate all critics to silence them; almost it feels it can do no wrong. It appeals to mere authority and authorizations the way a Roman Catholic of old appealed to the sanction of the Vatican. It has, in my opinion, lost its mooring.

    As it is, I could never become WR. Perhaps some day, if these deep-rooted problems are resolved. But as it is, I don’t even like going to an ER church where the prevalent voice is “we’re so glad we’re not Roman Catholic or Protestant; we’re in the right group; Orthodoxy is about right affiliation; and let’s talk about how we’re superior”. And that IS common. You find that in lots of places.

    I’m usually more adamant than the next person that there is one Church, and the Church is one. That of the heterodox: their mysteries are no mysteries, their priesthood no priesthood, their church no church, and so on. That’ll raise hackles, but it is the consensus of the fathers, and of my church, and I hold to it regardless of the fashion that equates spiritual love with religious adultery.

    But that said, there’s a lot less triumphalism in old ER communities, on the whole. Sure, there are some ultra-correct parrishes out there, and they’re not hard to find; you could be singled out for reading the wrong books or wearing the wrong clothes. But on the whole, that issue: hyper-traditionalism and hyper-ecumenism has a way of working itself out in the Orthodox Church, which sweeps aside, by one means or another, these distorted extremes. In the WR attitudes that seem to prevail, it’s like a special dispensation – a license to form extreme communities w. extreme attitudes and institutionalize them practically overnight with texts, devotions, etc. that isolate them from the self-correcting process of larger Orthodoxy. It is a concern. The fact that the bulk of these folk tend to knock aside all concerns, storming into this or that forum with their light sabers and demanding adherence to the new paradigm, casts it in grave doubt. Every movement of man that has ever been like that in human history has been a disaster as best, and a nightmare at worst. And layer upon layer, these folks don’t care: their response is ‘were here, we’re near, and we’re not going away’ and ‘we’re going to do it the way we’re going to do it – get on board or get out of the way’. All right, I’ll take option 3. I’ll stand on the tracks, and see what kind of people you are. Your behavior will tell me. And if that’s consistently as extreme as it seems to be, then I’ll know, and I’ll not enter your temples.

    Anyway, thanks for answering my question. It’s Aidan Keller, isn’t it? I remember you from years upon years ago. Pocket History and all that. I’ve used your work to teach catechumens. Have you found a home yet? Texas, I believe. Hmm. You’re in Austin still, or are you closer to Dallas? You might knock on Archbishop Dmitri’s door. Anyone familiar with recent history in the OCA, not to mention the history of Orthodoxy in that part of the country, knows he’s probably one of the most welcoming hierarchs in America. St. Seraphim, I believe his cathedral is called. I have friends that have known him and, even in areas of controversy, they report that he’s a genuinely tolerant, open, and reasonable shepherd – they can find nothing ill to say. Just a thought.

    As for me, I have no real reason to participate in the WR, but I would like to be able to, and I really don’t think I could, given the state it’s in. I could see myself walking into a WR church and finding it’s the day of venerating the “sacred heart” (spira), find a table of pamphlets that include instructions on praying the “rosary” (et sputa), step into the nave and be expected to sit on pews and kneel on Sunday, and be staring at a giant crucifix w. statuary corpus behind the altar, open the prayer book and find I’m reading an Anglican or Tridentine liturgy, and upon getting some coffee (I’d skip the obligatory 1-hour fast after communion [do they even keep that now?] and be needing a shot of something strong), and brace myself for where the conversation turns (the comparisons, the us/them, this not that, ethnic/”american” homogenous, the desperate drive to westernize – to find the right romanized icons, to adjust this or change that to be more authentically and uniquely Western and for goodness sake not be the bastard child of the ER – same stuff you hear on the boards), and then I’d leave feeling… well, sad. And not wanting to feel that sad, it’s better I don’t go. I’m already sad. But that’d just make it worse.

    Comment by tuD | February 16, 2008 | Reply

  3. There is a “flavour,” and perhaps one could say an “approach” that is unique to each of the Church’s rites, including the Byzantine one, the Alexandrian one, the Roman one, the Mozarabic and Milanese ones, and so forth. However, if the feeling, perception, or understanding is perceived as radically different from the flavour and understanding of the Byzantine rite, then something has gone wrong. It could be that before you had the grace of the Church’s Mysteries your experience of [some sort of Western] services was more confined to the realm of your emotions and cognitions. Hey, what’s a heterodox to do? Or it could be that if you formerly worshipped in services of Protestant origination, there really was a difference in the spirituality and paradigm behind the rite. In any case, the Orthodox Church’s historic Western rites may have their own culture, but they also feel remarkably like “home” to most pious, traditional Orthodox Christians, especially those coming to the West from traditional Orthodox homelands. I do feel that the old, pre-Schism Western rites can be rather striking in ways the Byzantine rite is not, and the reverse is also true. For example, there is a strong sense in the old Roman rite of the progression of Christ’s life, from his birth at Bethlehem symbolised at the beginning of the Holy Mass to His ascension into heaven symbolised at the end of Mass (and everything in-between is symbolic of the chronological progression of our Saviour’s life). This is much less present in the Byzantine rite, where the symbolic re-enactments, if you will, of Christ’s life are entirely non-chronological. It is good for a convert to become steeped in the authentic flavour of Orthodox worship as it has come down to us from centuries before the Reformation, for that rooted experience provides a sound base from which one can admire and benefit from the historic Western rite’s spirituality and culture. Of course I, with archpriest John Shaw of the Russian Orthodox Church, an expert in matters relating to the Sarum use of the Roman rite, believe that the older forms of the Western rite contain much that is of practical usefulness for the spiritual life of the Orthodox worshipper of today.

    Comment by hieromonachusaidanus | February 16, 2008 | Reply

  4. I’ve always found profound reverence in a solemn mass, but I’ve wondered about something:

    I think I’ve not been alone in learning to distrust what seem to be the prevalence of emotions inspired by the pieties of the Western Rite. This is hard to describe, but, and I am biased on this matter, since my experience with Western liturgy is from my youth: I miss the deep emotional pull, the profundity of the tragedy of the Western liturgies, for want of a way to describe it. And yet, I’ve been trained to associate those feelings now, with the passions, and to find a kind of serenity in the Eastern rite. My question is this, and first please forgive my inability to describe these things properly: is there a difference in attitude about these things that’s appropriate to each rite?

    Comment by tuD | February 16, 2008 | Reply

  5. Going back to the idea of the holy Gospel-book, it is highly venerated in the Sarum use of the Roman rite, as follows. The book, always encased in gold or silver with Byzantine-equivalent ornament as befits it, is carried in procession at the first entrance of the Holy Mass. Once the priest arrives at the holy altar table, it is held to his lips for him to kiss. At the gospel reading, the book is first censed solemnly, then borne up into the rood-loft with tapers, incense, and cross to be sung by the deacon, who afterwards kisses it. On high feasts a 2nd gospels is also borne in that procession, for added solemnity. After the reading the people all cross themselves and make a prostration. (It is considered important that it is carried up for the reading tilted, like a diamond shape, then afterwards returned to the altar held straight up (like a rectangle) in both hands. The gospels-book is then brought to the bishop and priest to be kissed. Next the subdeacon carries it to all the clergy and the choir that they too may kiss it. During the offertory the book is again held to the priest’s lips for him to kiss. In the retrocession (return procession) at the end of Mass, the book is again borne solemnly.

    Comment by hieromonachusaidanus | February 16, 2008 | Reply

  6. Actually the 3-fold Kyrie is an ancient tradition of the Ambrosian or Milanese rite as well as an ancient component of the Gregorian or Roman rite.

    Forgive, Father, the way I learned it may indeed be incorrect, but it seems to include the things you’ve said, namely that the most ancient form was threefold, but that in accordance with the pattern of Orthodox piety in all things, of heaping fullness upon fullness (I could provide some examples, but I think you know what I mean), it became ninefold. And then for quite some time, that was the standard. And then later, still, it was abbreviated in the way I mentioned. Is this not so?

    The Sarum use of the Roman rite did not have that in it, but instead these also-beautiful words

    It sounds very much like the Celtic prayers I know, even if it does come, sadly, from a Norman rite (Sarum), does it not?

    Comment by tuD | February 15, 2008 | Reply

  7. Actually the 3-fold Kyrie is an ancient tradition of the Ambrosian or Milanese rite as well as an ancient component of the Gregorian or Roman rite. Orthodox Christians have long sung, “Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison.” It does not come from a mistaken abbreviation.

    “O Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldst enter beneath my roof,” is a beautiful devotion in many uses of the Roman rite. The Sarum use of the Roman rite did not have that in it, but instead these also-beautiful words: “Hail forevermore, most holy Flesh of Christ, to me before all and above all the highest sweetness. The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ be to me, a sinner, the way and the life.” And, next, “Hail forevermore, heavenly Drink, to me before all and above all the highest sweetness. The Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ be to me, a sinner, everlasting healing unto eternal life.”

    Comment by hieromonachusaidanus | February 15, 2008 | Reply

  8. Thank you, Father. Agreed. I am listening to the Gregorian rite now, actually. I have always loved it deeply. I don’t think I ever want to let go of my beloved Byzantine rite, and its way, especially not for the recent incarnations of WR that pass for Gregorian, but I do love it, even where I hear abridgments. And were it offered to me in the fullness of what it could be, in the fullness of its purpose, I would pray it.

    Remember the prayers before you say the Communion? Crossing yourself each of three repetitions: “Lord I am not worthy that Thou shouldst come into my roof, but speak the word only, and my soul shall be healed.” And again, in the Confiteor, pounding the breast each mea culpa, “through my fault *, through my own fault *, through my own most grievous fault *.” Simple things, but profound.

    Or at Advent: ” May the Lord answer in time of trial; may the name of Jacob’s God protect you…” that great psalm of blessing and Faith. Or the all night lamentations of the Tenebrae Office for Holy Week, the Shadows, the Reader kneeling in the dark with the only candle, and crying out with the weeping voice of the chant.

    On abridgment: yes, just one example of that is the fact that the Kyrie is supposed to be ninefold in the WR.

    Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy.
    Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy.
    Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy.

    The ninefold Kyrie has always been the standard. When composers began going to work for the Church, they would abbreviate it on paper to save paper/space/energy, but would still always do the 9-fold in the liturgy. But over time, the abbreviation began to be mistaken for the thing itself, and that’s where you get the modern 3-fold kyrie in, say, the Episcopal Church. Or so I am given to understand.

    Comment by tuD | February 15, 2008 | Reply

  9. Part of the beauty of the old way of doing the Western Mass is that the Gospel book is so very highly venerated. In fact, the book is reverenced many more times than it is in the Byzantine rite. There are strong points to the Eastern rite and strong points to the Western rite. Having both rites in existence in the Church does result in an overall, overarching fullness and breadth. Of course, this fullness in the Western rite came to be more and more abridged with the passage of time, after the Schism of Rome in 1054.

    Comment by hieromonachusaidanus | February 15, 2008 | Reply

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