March 16, 2012

West meets East

I love being Catholic.  (Shocking, I know!).  Every once in a while, I have an experience that rekindles that love or opens me to a new portal of discovery of the richness of the Catholic Church. 

Last month, I had the chance to experience this richness and communion in a new and deeper way when, at the invitation of one of our students, a few of us sisters visited Assumption Ukrainian Catholic Church as they hosted a replica of the Shroud of Turin. Since I teach Theology of the Church each year to my Juniors, I am aware that there are 21 Eastern Catholic Rites that are in union with Rome.  And that’s about it…awareness.

Even walking through the doors of the church that evening (and then two more times within the following week) was an invitation to recognize and enjoy the universality of the Church.  Beauty flooded my senses as I walked through the doors.  The following Sunday, I was overwhelmed by even more beauty as we prayed the Divine Liturgy in Ukrainian.  I was glad that we chose to go to the Ukrainian Liturgy for my first full experience of the Byzantine Rite. Since I don’t speak a word of Ukrainian, I was pretty grateful for the missalettes that offered the English translation alongside what was being prayed and that our student joined us to help us follow along.  The icons, the chanted Liturgy, the incense, the golden sanctuary, the reverence: one cannot help but be open to the greatness of God and truly raise the heart and mind to Him in prayer and worship, just based on what can be seen, heard, smelled and tasted. 
Inside Assumption Ukrainian Catholic Church
Something that was particularly striking to me throughout the Liturgy was the emphasis on mercy.  I cannot even count how many times we prayed ‘Lord have mercy.’  It seemed that it was the response to just about everything.  And isn’t that the truth?!? Don’t we pray that the Lord will always respond to us in mercy? Should mercy not be our response to everything?

This past summer, one retreat master remarked that when we pray “Lord have mercy,” yes, we are asking mercy for our sinfulness, but we are also asking the Lord to make us more merciful.  I had never heard it put quite like that, but since our charism is to ‘make the merciful love of Christ visible,’ how appropriate and poignant that moment in the Liturgy has become for me.

During the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom (prayed by most Byzantine Catholics), one cannot escape mercy…Asking for it…asking to become it…asking for the grace to make it visible.

P.S.  If you have never experienced the Liturgy in one of the Eastern Rites, make sure you do it before you die!  Whether Byzantine, Maronite, Melkite or Syro-Malabar, you do not want to miss the richness that exists within the communion of the Catholic Church.

- Sister M. Karolyn, FSGM, teaches in New Jersey

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