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 | Rev. Mark Pautler

Mass Appeal Part III

Tucked away on N. Evergreen Road in Spokane Valley is the Church of Saints Cyril and Methodius, which recently celebrated its 40th anniversary. Rev. Bill O’Brien is pastor of this modest Ruthenian-Byzantine Church. But is it Catholic? Let me try to ‘splain.

The Roman Catholic Church consists of 23 distinct churches sui iuris, which roughly translated means “autonomous” churches. The Latin church and the 22 Eastern Catholic churches each have their own hierarchy in communion with the bishop of Rome. (The Pastoral Companion, John Huels, p. 2)

The Ruthenian church, which celebrates the Byzantine liturgy, is one of the 23 Eastern Catholic churches. So the answer to the question is “yes.” Any attempt to elaborate upon Huels’ statement will only make things more complex. ‘Nuf said.

Bill invited me to “come out to Saints Cyril and Methodius. Celebrate the Divine Liturgy with us.” Eastern churches designate the rites of the Eucharist as the Divine Liturgy rather than Mass, a term derived from the Latin, missa. OK. It so happened that I was not scheduled on the Sunday after I received his invitation. So there I was, alb in hand, intending to discretely stand to the side and offer prayers of a concelebrant if there was a worship aid I could follow. It didn’t quite happen that way.

The subdued exterior of Cyril and Methodius gives no hint of its interior décor. As is customary for Eastern churches, icons are plentiful. The mélange of colors corresponds to the rich and complex ritual of the liturgy. One can recognize the twofold structure of Word and Eucharist introduced by the “Little Entrance” and the “Great Entrance.” Father Bill chants the liturgy with the constant responses, refrains and hymnody of the congregation. As for me, I was not off to the side, but in the center, sharing the prayers and occasionally chanting them myself.

I did not celebrate in alb and stole but was fully vested. Here, Father O’Brien is vested in the usual manner for liturgy. The vestments correspond to our western raiment: alb, stole, cincture, and chasuble. One noteworthy difference is the cut of the chasuble, which is open in the front, thus giving visibility to the stole. And the East adds one more accoutrement: the cuffs, to bind the sleeves of the alb lest they impede movement of hands and arms. And there are lots of them with many, many blessings dispersed throughout the service.

Other differences between the Byzantine and Roman rites: leavened rather than unleavened bread, consecrated, separated into cubes, and comingled with the consecrated wine in the large chalice. Besides the comingling (the unity of body and blood) as a symbol of resurrection, the East adds a measure of hot water, another sign of the Risen Christ. Without full participation of the congregation, the Byzantine liturgy would be a mystifying spectator sport, and very, very long. Bill moves along at a pretty good clip, but there is no way the liturgy can be celebrated in an hour.