Thursday, May 23, 2024 UTC

The Divine Liturgy and The Liturgical Day in the Eastern Catholic Church

The most important element of an Eastern Christian’s worship life is the Divine Liturgy (Mass in the Roman Church). The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is used on most Sundays and weekdays of the year. Dating back to the 4th Century, this Liturgy is based upon Liturgical practices reaching back to the very infancy of the Church. The Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great is used on special days of the year, and features an elaborate and more poetic Anaphora (Eucharistic Prayer). The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts is used on weekdays of the Great Fast (Lent), and is actually a Vespers service with Holy Communion. The Divine Liturgy may last up to 2 hours, in which we truly enter the Kingdom of God, where heaven and earth meet, and where there is no time as we know it.

THE DIVINE LITURGY OF ST. JOHN CHRYSOSTOM (from Metropolitan Cantor Institute):

THE LITURGICAL YEAR (from Metropolitan Cantor Institute):

BYZANTINE CATHOLIC TRADITION: Byzantine-Catholic-Tradition-2021-revised-1

The Liturgical Day in the Eastern Catholic/Orthodox Churches:

(From Facebook Page of Assumption of Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church)

VESPERS – First Service of the Day.  Usually served at sunset, but can begin anytime after 3:00 PM civil time.

From Ancient times, the Church under both the Old and New Testaments, has ended the day with the setting of the sun, beginning the new day by lighting the lamps of evening (Gen 1:3).  As the civil day comes to a close, believers, together with the Church, stand before God filled with gratitude. We thank Him for the abundant blessings He has granted to us and to all creation throughout the day just passed. With the setting of the sun, everything is led towards rest. Many psalms of the Old Testament, including 103(104) and 140(141), are dedicated to this Hour: “LET THE LIFTING UP OF MY HANDS BE AN EVENING SACRIFICE” (Ps. 140[141]).

COMPLINE – Usually served before retiring to sleep. It is the liturgical night prayer of the Church. Outside of monasteries, it is usually a private prayer said at home.  The exception: on three great Feasts (Nativity of our Lord, Theophany, and Annunciation), it is served publicly in the parish church. It can also be served in the parish on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of the weeks of the Great Fast:  “IN PEACE I WILL BOTH LIE DOWN AND SLEEP; FOR YOU ALONE, O LORD, MAKE ME LIE DOWN IN SAFETY.” (Ps. 4)

After the evening meal and before going to sleep, we glorify our Creator. We thank Him again for the blessings of the day and remember that is through His will  and love for us that we remain in existence. We therefore ask His forgiveness of our faults and negligence. We entrust ourselves to Him who created us and sleep in peace, knowing that we are under the protection of the Lord who holds all things in His hands.

THE MIDNIGHT OFFICE – Served in strict monasteries only. Middle of the night. Rarely if ever seen in a parish. Sometimes combined with Matins (see below) in the parish.

When it is possible for us to rise in the middle of the night for prayer, or perhaps unable to sleep so that we turn to prayer, we are able to enter into a long tradition. We find this witnessed to in the Old Testament by the prophet David. We also find it in the New Testament, there in the jail in Philippi where the apostles Paul and Silas prayed to God at midnight, “…the prisoners listening to them.” (Acts 16:25). This prayer has a particular grace, for while everything is silent and at rest, the soul which loves God rises from sleep, and together with the heavenly realms, the angels, sends up praises and thanksgiving. The saints throughout the ages have had much to tell us concerning the particular blessing the soul feels when it prays at this hour:  “AT MIDNIGHT I WILL RISE TO PRAISE YOU.” (Ps 119)

MATINS – This is the official morning prayer of the Church. It is usually served in parishes in the morning, but is often anticipated the civil evening before the assigned morning. It is perhaps the most beautiful service in the Eastern Tradition as well as being the most complex. For the latter reason, it is often neglected at the parish level. This service, together with the Vespers, serve as the main teaching agent in the truths of our faith. To disassociate them from the Divine Liturgy is to do a disservice to the Divine Liturgy.

The central matins prayer is the Canon, which is a series of eight poetic odes the lead us to the climax of the Divine Liturgy and the reception of Holy Eucharist. On Sundays and Holydays, a Gospel is included. After the reading of the Gospel, all the members of the congregation come forward to venerate the Gospel Book (The Word of God) in preparation to receive the Body and Blood of Christ.

Because it is the central service of the liturgical day, many of our other Church services are a development or adaptation of Matins.  Paraklesis, Molebens, Akathist to the Mother of God and certain saints, Parastas, and the Funeral service itself.

At dawn, the believer again rises and, seeing the coming day, the expression of God’s abundant love towards us and all creation, goes first to God with praises, thanksgiving, and petitions, seeking His blessing for the new day. From Old Israel, Christians inherited the discipline of prayer at set times of the day. The Church, the New Israel, through the lifegiving Holy Spirit, established Matins fully as the prayer of sunrise: “O GOD, YOU ARE MY GOD; EARLY WILL I SEEK YOU!” (Ps 63)

THE HOURS –THE FIRST HOUR – Around 6:00 AM civil time.

For millennia before the use of clocks, the hours of the day were reckoned from sunrise. We would say not that the First Hour after sunrise corresponds to about 6 or 7 o’clock in the morning. Our Church prays and asks God to bless the day at this hour. She particularly beseeches God to guard us from everything which would harm us in body or soul. At this time, when the senses are awakening through the material light, she for spiritual awakening through the Savior Christ, who is “the true light enlightening every person who comes into the world.”  “TO YOU I PRAY IN THE MORNING YOU HEAR MY VOICE!” (Ps 5)

THE HOURS –THE THIRD HOUR – Around 9:00 AM civil time.

At this hour, which corresponds to about 9:00 AM civil time, the believer along with the Church thanks the Heavenly Father for the very rich gift He gave to the Church when at the third hour the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, came down upon the Apostles (Acts 2:16).  From that time onward the Holy Spirit ever remains in the Church, guiding, sanctifying and safeguarding it. As we share with every faithful soul this invaluable gift, we thank our God and Father and ask Him never to deprive us of the fruits and graces of the Holy Spirit.  “TAKE NOT YOUR HOLY SPIRIT FROM ME.”  (Ps 51)

THE HOURS –THE SIXTH HOUR – Around 12:00 Noon  civil time.

Now, even more than at other times, we should join in prayer with the Church, for every soul, delivered by Jesus, ought to have a sense of awe and gratitude. At this hour, corresponding to about 12:00 noon, the divine drama of our Lord’s sacrifice began. At Golgotha, “the place of the skull,” Jesus was nailed to the Cross like a criminal (Matthew 27:45 ff.; Mark 15:33 ff.; Luke 23:44 ff.). Do not just shudder, considering the terrible image, but rejoice in the infinite love of God. Give Him grateful thanks, for by this, He has wrought your salvation.  “THERE THEY CRUCIFIED HIM. … IT WAS NOT ABOUT THE SIXTH HOUR” (Lk 23:33-44)

THE HOURS –THE NINTH HOUR – Around 3:00 PM civil time.

At this hour, corresponding to about 3:00 in the afternoon, the drama of our Lord’s sacrifice upon the Cross ended as He gave up His spirit to the Heavenly Father. He had promised His Kingdom to the repentant thief (Luke 23:43). Our Church, and with her every faithful soul observing in wonder, gives thanks and prays to the divine Redeemer, singing of these inconceivable and saving events with appropriate prayers. And so with the death of Christ the liturgical day ends with the joy and fulfillment of the Cross of Christ.  The cycle begins again anew with the new day beginning with Vespers:  “AND AT THE NINTH HOUR … JESUS UTTERED A LOUD CRY AND BREATHED HIS LAST.” (Mark 15:34-37)



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