Saturday, April 12, 2008

Some liturgical differences between Latin and Eastern Catholic Churches, Part 1

As I wrote in a previous post, I have an unswerving affection for the style of worship found in the Eastern Rite of the Catholic Church. Although all Eastern Churches do not share the exact same liturgy, as a whole I detect a greater sense of mysticism (mystery of God) in their liturgical and ceremonial praxis. In this post, and in a series of posts to follow, I will detail some of the differences between Roman Catholics and our brethren of the Easter Church. Tied into this subject matter is the historicity that brought about the split between churches in communion with the Bishop of Rome and those who call themselves Orthodox. It's a bit more intricate than what some people think.



The Icon Screen or iconostasis

In most of the Byzantine Catholic Churches a very visible structure measuring several feet high, and comprising of three doors and a number of panels, separates the sanctuary and the altar from the nave where the congregants gather. This structure, called the icon screen or iconostasis, can reach all the way to the ceiling of the Church, and is decorated with icons of Jesus, saints, and the Mother of God (theotokos). The iconostasis also contains three doors: two single doors to the left and the right of it with a double door in the center. This double door is called the Royal or Holy Doors because only the Eucharist, Bishop, or priest can pass through it.

The icon screen’s primary functionalities are that of separator (keeping the sanctuary and the altar divided from the nave) and also as a connective conduit between Heaven and Earth. As a separator it symbolizes the tremendous gulf between humanity and God, and the incomprehensible love God has for His creation by reaching out to us and becoming one of us. As a link, we can think of the iconostasis as the point of demarcation where Heaven and Earth connect.

In the Byzantine tradition, the readings to the congregations are chanted facing the congregation. But during the solemn Eucharistic sequences of the mass, the priest stands within the sanctuary with his back to the congregation. This practice impresses in the minds of the congregants the significance of the Consecration and the special veneration applied to such action.

Sadly, in order to conform with Western architecture, many Byzantine Churches removed the icon screen from their liturgical traditions. In recent times, however, they have found greater popularity and are experiencing a restoration to the place they once held.


This You Tube video, although not in English, shows the Consecration beginning inside the sanctuary. To avoid cacophony, either mute the You Tube video or pause the music player.

4 comments:

Tracy said...

Super post Tom! Very interesting!!!

Adrienne said...

Ok. This is wonderful. We have actually been contemplating going to the Eastern rite.

Wonderful post. I'll try to squeeze time away from my music listening to keep up;)

Jaimie said...

We have an Eastern church that is located in our diocese and we have been encouraged to visit to experience their liturgy.

The only thing we are told is to pack a lunch! It goes on for hours!

Someday I will go to check it out.

Shirley said...

Thanks for doing this series, Tom. I have been curious about the Eastern Rites for some time.