St. Athanasius Byzantine Catholic Church

2/17/2013 2 Comments

The outside was pretty boring
This evening I had the opportunity to go to a Byzantine Catholic Church.  Basically, they are in union with Rome (accept the pope as the head of the Church), but are part of a different rite (I'm pretty sure that's the way it works).  As far as I can tell St. Athanasius the Great, the church we went to, is an Eastern Catholic Church that has its traditions/customs from Constantinople.  I may have to look into the history more when I write the required paper for it, but I don't know too much right now.
Anyway, here's how it went:  We showed up about 5 minutes till 5 PM (when Mass was supposed to start - they called it the Vigil Divine Liturgy for Sunday, so it was an anticipation Mass for tomorrow).  The basic order of things was the same as any Roman Catholic Mass (with the exception that the homily was at the end of Mass), but everything was different.  For instance, the altar had a wall in front of it with icons on it and doors in it - they opened the doors during Mass, so you could see the altar, but before/after, when the doors were closed, all you could see was the ambo (I think?) in front of the wall and wherever there was a opening in the wall.  It was very interesting.  This wall is called an iconostasis.  Also, the liturgy was quite beautiful because everything (except a few prayers and the homily) was chanted. I never quite figured out how to sing along with everything; there were many parts that the people sang (sometimes along with the priest or deacon, other times in response to them), but there wasn't an even rhythm, so you would be singing along:
And they would speed up and slow down at (to me) random times.  I would think I had figured out the pattern and they would switch to a different prayer, with a different chant tone, and I would be back at square one.  I guess they would have the same problem in a Catholic church... 
Close up of Iconostatis and its door
Mass started with the deacon singing an hymn and then walking around the church (which was pretty small and had very few people in it) and incensing all the (many) icons and the people.  Then we chanted several prayers with the deacon leading all the people to respond to the priest's prayer.  There were lots and lots of prayers that ended with "Lord have mercy", and many were to/for the intercession of the Theotokos, ie: Mary.  (Note: the Mass was in English, but they used "Theotokos" for Mary because it is a Greek word meaning "God Bearer".)  After several of these prayers, with the Gloria mixed in someplace, the deacon chanted the first reading.  Interestingly, at this same time, the priest was incensing the altar (with it's candelabra and icons of Mary/Jesus).  Soon after this, with the requisite chanted prayer, the Priest chanted the gospel (about when Philip got called by Jesus), and then we went into a series of petitions (all responded to with "Lord have Mercy", sometimes multiple times.  From there we got a few more prayers quickly going into the Consecration.  Awkwardly (for me), in Byzantine Churches you never kneel (at least not during Mass), so everyone makes a profound bow at the Consecration.  Anyway, the real presence is there, and that's the important thing. 
Next was Communion, which was done under both species at once, a method called intinction, meant that the priest, with the deacon holding a cloth under the chalice and communicant, dipped or dropped the consecrated piece of bread (I believe the Byzantine rite uses chunks of bread rather than hosts, but I didn't particularly notice this) into the precious blood and then laid it onto the person's tongue with a spoon.  I didn't receive Communion, so I couldn't tell exactly, but that's what it looked like.
One of the icons
The Mass continued quickly with several more prayers and responses (chanted), then the homily by the priest (which was about how we need to work towards having a faith like Philip's through the discernment of spirits), and then everyone processing up and kissing the crucifix held by the priest.  Finally, a concluding hymn was sung, and Mass was over.  It felt like it went really fast (actual time = 45 minutes) because it literally never stopped.  I mean, at a Roman Catholic Mass you have some pauses and stuff, but here somebody was pretty much always chanting.  I'm sure that I have left out a ton of interesting things; I'll have to go back some time to really soak it in.  Super quick summerization: lots of chanting, incense, icons, and "Lord have Mercy" all with the same basic structure as our typical Mass.

*I called their liturgy a "Mass" but I believe that they always call it the "Divine Liturgy".
** I took about a minute of video during some of the chanting; I'll let you know when/if I get it up to YouTube.

The inside was pretty cool


  1. I think another interesting worship-place to visit would be a Jewish Temple. Did you know there's one in Quincy? I have one Jewish friend here in town who said I could attend with her sometime. I would really be curious to see what they do (traditions) and what they talk about in the 'sermon', if they even have a sermon! Surely in the bigger cities with larger populations of Jews, there's more 'hoopla' going on during the service...but from what I can tell from my friend, there's few Jews in Quincy and they only have a rabbi come to town every other weekend. I bet Indy has a bigger Jewish population and larger Temple to see.

  2. Writing the paper on this visit is fantastic!