Letter to a formerly Orthodox friend who became a Roman Catholic

To an agnostic-turned Orthodox friend who left Orthodoxy for Catholicism at the time of his marriage to a Roman Catholic. December 2015.
Dear  _______,
Congratulations on your marriage! Many years! I hope you both are doing well. I appreciate your thoughtfully detailed comments. I am in the midst of exams, so I will respond to your specific points in more detail later.
I remember that at a Bible study Metropolitan Jonah was hosting at St Mark’s OCA parish in Bethesda some years ago, probably late fall 2013, you commented that you hadn’t felt Christ truly present when you communed of the Eucharist. That always astounded and saddened me, since it was entirely the opposite of my own experience upon becoming Orthodox. I hope and pray you did come to experience Him noetically while you were still Orthodox, or, if not, that you have begun to experience this when communing now as a Catholic. I fell in love with Orthodoxy above all else because I encountered Christ in a way I never had as a Roman Catholic. I saw Him acting and alive in the Orthodox around me, in the beauty, truth, and majesty of the divine services, and in the words of her Saints and the ancient Fathers’ writings which simply breathe grace. Immersed in living (and failing repeatedly to live up to) Orthodoxy, God touched my soul and illumined my heart in a way I had never encountered as a Catholic. Time and again since becoming Orthodox, I have experienced profound grace and God’s healing (salvific and therapeutic) presence, mainly through moments in church, communing of the Eucharist, reading the Bible and the Fathers’ writings, talking with the poor, and in deep noetic prayer. I pray that you have found and continue to enounter Christ in this real, intimate way, above all in your marriage and in becoming a Catholic. Although I naturally was sorry to hear you had left Orthodoxy, and am grieved for you, I respect you too much to think you could ever make such a decision lightly.
I guess I’m wondering: what inspired you to leave Orthodoxy for Rome? Are you predominantly worshiping now according to one of the Roman Rites (Ordinary Form/Novus Ordo Missae/Mass of Pope Paul VI, or the Extraordinary Form/Tridentine Latin Mass) or one of the Eastern rites? I have several Melkite and Ukrainian Greek Catholic friends, so I couldn’t help but wonder which rite(s) you and your wife decided on in terms of worship.
A major factor for me in moving from Roman Catholicism (my faith for the first 21 years of my life) to Orthodoxy was not so much the papal claims in theory (these were problematic enough) so much as what I saw as their utter failure in practice. By this I mean: it’s all well and good and right (and apostolic) to have the Pope of Rome serve as the “servant of servants”, as St Gregory the Great called himself. The Pope ought to be Primus in rank and Protos in authority and honor, exercising a supreme archpastoral role, presiding in love, mediating conflicts between local Churches (jurisdictions), etc. I and most Orthodox would welcome this someday. Metropolitan John Zizioulas has written superbly in this area (a man whom Metropolitan Kallistos Ware has recently and publicly referred to as the best Orthodox theologian alive today).
To be honest — this may surprise you — the papal claims themselves aren’t nearly as unnerving as what many of my Orthodox friends call among ourselves “the L factor”. Both the papal claims and “the L factor” are supremely interrelated — the latter could never have taken place without such a concentration of power over the fate of the sacred liturgy itself in the papacy’s hands. We are terrified — genuinely — and deeply concerned more than anything else about the radical innovations which have taken place in Rome’s liturgical worship since the implementation of the Novus Ordo Missae/Mass of Pope Paul VI beginning in 1969. Put simply, Pope Benedict’s well-intended but, I believe, ultimately futile efforts to defend the Ordinary Form as a valid Mass when properly and reverently offered does not convince me. Where the Holy Father insists on defending both the Mass of Pope Paul VI and the Tridentine Mass as equally valid forms of the Roman liturgy, as much as I respect him, I can’t accept this view. Rather than accept his earnest contention that faithful Catholics must try to understand, reform, and improve the Novus Ordo rite through a “hermeneutic of continuity”, Benedict himself admitted to observing with alarm a noticeable “hermeneutic of rupture” between the 1969 Missal/Ordinary Form and the previous, organically developed missals of the Roman Mass. In his Introduction to the French edition of The Reform of the Roman Liturgy by Msgr. Klaus Gamber, then-Cardinal Ratzinger wrote:

  What happened after the [Second Vatican] Council was something else entirely: in the place of the liturgy as the fruit of development came fabricated liturgy. We abandoned the organic, living process of growth and development over centuries and replaced it, as in a manufacturing process, with a fabrication, a banal on-the-spot product (produit banal de l’instant). [Introduction by Cardinal Ratzinger to La Reforme Liturgique en question (Le-Barroux: Editions Sainte-Madeleine), 1992, pp. 7-8.]

Bearing this in mind, how can we Orthodox possibly consent to lowering and denigrating the Divine Liturgy and our other ancient, holy services and admit, as Pope Benedict and certainly Pope Francis would have us do, that the Mass of Pope Paul VI — as it is commonly and usually offered — is on the same level as the Orthodox divine services when spiritually, noetically, and liturgically it simply and obviously isn’t? How can we be seriously be expected to say that the Novus Ordo, as usually offered, is right glory and right worship truly befitting God when so often its celebration is marked with profound irreverence, liturgical abuse, and an overall Protestant atmosphere? How am I, or anyone with eyes to see and noses to smell and ears to hear, supposed to seriously believe that a solemn, reverent High Church Anglican service is supposed to count as less valid in God’s eyes than the most sloppily offered Ordinary Form Mass? Because one is offered in communion with Rome, and the other not?
Such a claim astonishes me in both its sweeping arrogance and its utter dismissal of the crucial importance virtues like beauty, reverence, solemnity, and dignity play in leading and beckoning the worshiper to God. All these things, Rome says, matter less than being in communion with one man. How can you expect me to explain to my Russian or Greek or Antiochian friends that the Novus Ordo Mass as commonly offered is, in Rome’s view, actually equal to the Divine Liturgy? Even if liturgical abuse were not nearly as widespread as it is among so many Novus Ordo parishes, these kinds of abuses should not be taking place at all. Yet these abuses have gone on for decades with little to no real interference from Rome, because, I suspect, she values 1) even a nominal communion with her See no matter how skin-deep or threadbare, and 2) Novus Ordo parishioners’ continued tithes rather than risking driving them from the pews by restoring traditional, reverent worship to replace what they’ve gotten used to since 1969, all over an actual fidelity to orthodox, organically developed Catholic worship and spiritual tradition.
How can you justify these liturgical abuses or explain them away, when many of them take place with the full knowledge and support of local Catholic bishops and archbishops, even the papacy itself?
To illustrate my point, think on the sad reality that every year the horrifically irreverent Los Angeles Religious Education Congress occurs, sponsored by the L.A. Archdiocese, one of the nation’s largest, and attended by numerous faithful laity, priests, and bishops, including the Archbishop himself. Far from only occurring in a few tiny, marginalized liberal name-only Catholic parishes such as this one in Seattle, these liturgical abuses are taking place at major stadium events, major “valid but illicit” Masses celebrated with the full knowledge and blessing of Church leaders as high as the L.A. Archbishop himself. You then might say, in defense of Rome, “well at least this wrong, unfortunate toleration of liturgical abuse and error is only a problem among liberal bishops and archbishops. At least it does not extend all the way up to the Papacy itself!” Sadly, Rome is entirely complicit in not only allowing such abuses and turning a blind eye, but as recent as 2011, the man who is now the Pope of Rome himself happily presided over a “Children’s Mass” replete with liturgical abuse. Think on the sad reality that in this public “Children’s Mass” celebrated in Argentina in 2011, the presiding celebrant was none other than then-serving Buenos Aires Cardinal and Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio, now Pope Francis.
According to the video,
El 15 de octubre de 2011 se realizó la Misa Arquidiocesana de Niños en el Estadio del Parque Roca. La jornada se llenó de sol y alegría con la participación de muchísimos niños acompañados por sus catequistas, dirigentes y delegados. La Misa fue presidida por el Cardenal Jorge Bergoglio.
[My translation] On the 15th of October 2011 was celebrated the Archdiocesan Children’s Mass in the Parque Roca stadium. The day was filled with sunshine and joy with the participation of many children accompanied by their catechists, leaders and delegates. The Mass was presided over by Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio.
Think of the reality that not only was this event somehow seen, indefensibly, as a proper form of catechetical instruction for Catholic youth, but that the man who is now the Roman Pope, allegedly the Vicar of Christ Himself, willingly presided over such a Mass! How does this kind of banal, ugly worship lead anyone to salvation? Yet we Orthodox are often accused of chauvinism and triumphalism (“our liturgical life could never get that bad!”). We are somehow expected to “mind our own house” and not express our horror that, were we to reunite with Rome anytime soon, we would be obliged and expected to accept as entirely legitimate this kind of “worship” as a valid Mass! This is theological-liturgical minimalism — “let’s set a low baseline standard of what has to take place in a service for it to be counted as a valid Mass. The rest doesn’t matter”. This overly permissive, I would argue fundamentally lazy attitude to offering the Eucharistic liturgy could not be more estranged from the ancient Orthodox phronema which holds instead that we are to offer the most beautiful, glorious, reverent, and majestic worship to our King and Creator. Man’s primary purpose, his intrinsic end, is to worship God and grow closer to Him — so how can such irreverent, minimalist  “I guess this is good enough to count as valid” worship be pleasing to Him? Why do we presume to offer anything less than the most beautiful and sublime worship to God?
Perhaps the sad truth is that we, Rome and the Orthodox, have gradually, in the past millennium of intermittent levels of cultural and liturgical and theological estrangement, but more rapidly in the past five decades, developed apart from each other fundamentally different understandings of what true beauty and true sublime worship actually are, and thus, we sincerely believe in worshiping God in very different ways? From an Orthodox perspective, this chasm has only occurred because Rome, by giving a primacy of emphasis to her political and jurisdictional claims, has tragically over centuries cut herself off from her organic roots, from the single, united deposit of apostolic Faith and post-Nicene worship which defined the pre-Schism Church, East and West. (Let us leave the Arians and Nestorians and Non-Chalecedonians aside here, since both Rome and the Orthodox view these divisions as ruptures by heretical groups from and out of the one Catholic Orthodox Church). Thus we Orthodox are forced to ask, especially when we walk into most Novus Ordo liturgies and are confronted with the spectacle of what is clearly another faith separate from our own: what have we carried on and preserved which Rome has lost, and what has Rome accrued and accepted which we reject as, at best, unhelpful, and at worst, heretical? There is, I believe, a close interconnection between the two components.
I understand and have processed the intellectual draw of the papacy and its claims, yet all my research using numerous patristic sources and Greek language scholars over the past five years supports an Orthodox understanding of the papacy (pre-Schism), an understanding which is very different from how Rome has gradually come to define its understanding of the proper universal powers and role of the papacy from 1213-15 (Fourth Lateran), to  Trent (1545-63), to Vatican I (1868-70) and Vatican II (1962-65), and of course in the latest edition of the constantly updated Catechism (CCC).
Fundamentally, I believe that the Orthodox are correct in arguing that the Roman papacy has evolved its theological views, and more recently ruptured its ancient, inner liturgical life, to become, since the Schism gradually became reality, something now which it was not prior. Put another way, the papacy tragically claims today for itself a degree of absolute spiritual authority and power which it simply did not always have.
Then you have the disturbing theological and pastoral implications of Rome’s opposing approach to chrismation/confirmation between the Roman and Eastern rites. Rome delays confirmation and communion in the two Roman rites, but now encourages and supports the ancient Catholic and Orthodox practice of chrismating and communing infants among Byzantine and other sui iuris Eastern Catholic Churches. This disparity is extremely disturbing to me. How can they both be right? Regarding ministering chrismation and communion to infants, it is either an apostolic, orthodox practice and therefore essential for the good of the young souls being chrismated and then communing, or it is, on the other hand, wrong to offer confirmation and communion, as the Scholastics argued, to those who could not begin to rationally discern what they were consuming. One approach being right/orthodox logically and rationally necessitates the other one being wrong/heterodox. That Rome endeavors to try to allow and maintain these two fundamentally contradictory approaches to such major questions is to me astonishing, and reinforces my belief that she values maintaining communion with her to the great expense of any notion of enforcing orthodox of belief and practice. My same concern applies with equal weight to the Latin/Western Church’s longstanding custom (with almost the force of law) since the 13th century of requiring celibacy vows of all priests. This innovation goes against the pre-13th century universal practice in West and East alike of married clergy (excluding monks who were always celibate, from whose ranks bishops in the East are selected). There are numerous other examples of Rome departing from the pre-Schism practices of the Church, but for time’s sake i will not delve into them here. Suffice it to say that, far from serving as the universal conservator of Truth and the early apostolic and pre-Schism Faith, Rome seems to have become a great innovator and enabler of new theological ideas, customs, and pastoral practices.
Far worse, in my estimation, the Magisterium has colossally failed in the past fifty years (since the conclusion of the nebulous, much-misinterpreted and much-misunderstood Second Vatican Council and the subsequent issuing by Pope Paul Sixtus of the revised, much abbreviated Roman Missal) to preserve intact the most basic and important of all things — orthodox, reverent, holy Catholic worship. Isn’t it a scandal that something like the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress exists, much less that it is so expensive and yet continues to be held and publicized annually? I was raised in the Novus Ordo/Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite. I attended two parishes when I was a child and went to Mass every Sunday with my family, one parish from 1990-1997 when I was in northern VA and then one in suburban Long Island, NY from 1997-2010, when I started exclusively going to Orthodox divine services. These churches were both very modern, ugly (built, of course, in the 60s), and everything there was conscientiously done to adhere to the so-called, nebulous, somehow decidedly progressive “Spirit of Vatican II”.
The vast majority of Masses offered by the Catholic Church today are Novus Ordo (Mass of Pope Paul VI/Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite). I know that the Revised Missal’s rubrics prescribe great reverence, assume that the priest is celebrating ad orientem and using incense, defend the continued pride of place of Gregorian chant and the organ to the exclusion of “secular” instruments and music bands. Yet visit most OF/NO parishes around the Catholic world and this is never the case. Ask yourself: why and how is this? What is the purpose of the Pope’s supposedly universal spiritual authority and jurisdiction if not precisely to enforce such rubrics’ liturgical orthodoxy, while working to forbid and prohibit liturgical abuse and innovations?
Every year I dread going to Western Christmas Eve Mass with my mom and sisters because of how fundamentally Protestantized, how “happy clappy”, how fundamentally irreverent and banal the ethos of the service is, how ugly the building is, etc. I try so hard to find beauty there, but compared to Orthodox worship it is like night and day. Beauty points to holiness and witnesses to and conveys inner spiritual truths. Its absence is jarring to me. 
The “Spirit of Vatican II” as interpreted by theologically progressive liberal bishops and priests has been devastating to Catholic orthodoxy and orthopraxy. Where is Rome in all this? What has Rome done to restore proper, orthodox Catholic catechism, discipline flagrantly heretical, progressive”social justice warrior” priests and nuns such as the defiant LCWR groups, and encourage the restoration of dignified, reverent, orthodox worship in its Ordinary Form? Pope Benedict’s “New Evangelization” was laudable, but all of his efforts seem to be quietly, and sometimes not so quietly opposed, by his perplexing successor. This highlights another major vulnerability to the papal Church’s governmental structure — one more traditional, orthodox Catholic pope can work so diligently to reform and undo decades of poor catechism and liturgical abuse, but then his more liberal successor can in turn undermine, slow, or undo all his efforts. The hypercentrality of the Papacy–which has the practical effect of rendering all Catholic diocesan bishops worldwide as essentially little more than deputies or vicars of the Pope, who thus becomes the only one true ruling bishop– has the major liability of allowing successive popes to greatly disrupt, interfere with, and disturb the organic liturgical life of the Church via papal fiat, Vatican council, or committee agenda. This kind of concentrated power to alter or revise or even do away with the sacred liturgy is incomprehensible to the Orthodox.
It is deeply saddening, and terribly ironic to me, that at the end of the day we Orthodox are being asked to sacrifice our commitment to absolute, organic, high and ancient standards of truth-conveying beauty in our liturgical life for the sake of external unity. We are being told “keep your liturgy as you like, for now, but if you enter into communion with Rome, you have to recognize even the most irreverent Novus Ordo Mass as valid.” This is theological and liturgical minimalism and I just can’t bring myself to accept it. I can’t see how it is right to offer second-rate worship to God in purposely-built ugly buildings with banal services but still pride oneself on being in communion with Pope Francis. What would one gain from entering into communion with him which one does not already have as an Orthodox Christian? My spiritual life would be greatly impoverished were I to do that, and I would lose so much of my relationship with God which the Orthodox Church has helped me deepen and cultivate.
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We so clearly have two different religions, two different faiths — Rome and the Orthodox. At our worst we Orthodox are factious and feuding. We need papal primacy properly exercised. But at Rome’s worst, you have archbishops and bishops presiding over the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress every single year, with either Rome’s tacit approval or her inability to stop the madness. Then you have the current Pope himself happily and freely presiding over, enabling, and doing nothing to correct a Children’s Mass in Buenos Aires filled with numerous examples of liturgical abuse. This man is supposed to Christ’s Vicar on earth? The idea is really laughable, were it not so sad.
My studies of all the Vatican I and Vatican II documents — and my years of seeing their poisonous fruits firsthand (appallingly bad-to-nonexistent parish Catholic catechesis, openly heretical “Spirit of VII” priests and nuns who deny the Real Presence and the Trinity and Christ’s maleness and even His (and thus all of our hope for) bodily resurrection, all sorts of liturgical abuse uncriticized and unchecked)– have convinced me that Rome has fundamentally erred and has lost in various ways the pre-Schism deposit of Faith which she once shared with the Orthodox. Put simply, if you go into almost any Novus Ordo/Ordinary Form parish on a Sunday, and then visit an Orthodox Divine Liturgy the next weekend, you will not be able to believe that these two services, worlds apart in content, ethos, atmosphere, decorum, style, and reverence, are somehow of the same religion and a shared faith.
We Orthodox are asked and expected to acknowledge the full, immediate, and supreme jurisdictional authority of a Pope, resting by virtue of his office in and on a man who, in the case of Pope Francis, willingly presided over flagrant liturgical abuse. Seriously? I just can’t believe that this man is who Rome claims him to be.
My point in all this is that the Orthodox have preserved, over centuries, in a living Faith, an astonishing degree of beauty and inner truth without the externally-imposed unifying power of a theoretically (in certain situations) infallible and unerring Pope. We have, despite centuries of Ottoman Turkish and then communist Soviet oppression, preserved something in and by and through the inner life of our Church — the divine services above all — and defended and kept and passed down such an inheritance of beauty united with Truth. Sadly, despite having her theoretically universally-ruling and situationally infallible Pope, or more likely because of this overcentralized papal structure, Rome could or would not preserve and keep intact this same rich and timeless deposit of Faith.
This is by no means to argue that the Orthodox Church does not have serious problems of its own, especially concerning evangelism and petty jurisdictional disputes, or that every Novus Ordo Catholic parish is a nest of irreverence or liturgical abuse. One can search hard and find a OF/Novus Ordo Mass properly offered according to the prescribed, rarely followed rubrics. These are a tiny minority — and this reality speaks volumes. With Catholic parishes in most Atlantic and Pacific coast towns and many even in more Protestant Midwestern states, something is really wrong if one has to drive hours, even across state lines, to find a reverently offered Novus Ordo Mass or Tridentine Mass. One can also remain in communion with the Pope and choose to worship in the different Eastern Rites or the Extraordinary Form (TLM) and shut one’s eyes and ears to flagrant liturgical abuse in Ordinary Form parishes. That defensive, withdrawing attitude of “what isn’t around me can’t harm me” is understandable for Catholics looking for a healthy, liturgically orthodox parish, but it is ultimately a kind of head-in-the-sand denial of the reality of how things are for the vast majority in the Catholic world. The sad reality is that the vast majority of Roman Catholics will never experience anything beyond a banal (to use Pope Benedict’s word), protestantized Mass of Pope Paul VI, which, as it is usually offered, is such a profoundly impoverished, sad departure from the glorious musical, artistic, liturgical, theological, and architectural patrimony of ancient and medieval Catholic tradition. 
Despite the laudable attempts at restoring Catholic orthodoxy via the recent New Evangelization, this movement has made very little headway outside of elite Catholic intellectual circles. I can guarantee that, once again on Western Christmas Eve this year, my local Catholic Novus Ordo parish will celebrate Mass on the second-holiest day of the year without incense, versus populum, clapping for the choir’s performance during the service against Pope Benedict’s ethos, a full music band, communion in the hand in an assembly line, etc. This kind of worship can’t possibly somehow be passed off as “basically the same thing” as the Orthodox Liturgy. No one can seriously be that blind. The ethos of the Mass will feel more like a banal, lovey-dovey Unitarian Universalist assembly than an authentic, reverent, traditional Catholic liturgy where Christ’s Sacrifice at Calvary is fully made reality and He is offered, by and of Himself, on the altar to be worshiped and consumed body, soul, and divinity. Yet if I were to ask the parish priest beforehand to celebrate ad orientem and use incense, he would either be confused, laugh at me, or be annoyed that I dared to question or disrupt the “new normal” of post-VII life. Most Catholic laity have in this environment only a tiny glimmer of the glorious patrimony of Catholic sacred music or art or architecture. This is so sad.
How do you explain or reconcile yourself to all this? How did you come to terms with the rampant liturgical abuse, the poor state of parish catechism, or the hundreds of radical feminist liberal pro-abortion nuns (LCWR) who openly espouse various heresies, whom Benedict XVI sought to discipline but whom Francis let go free? How do you view the internal Vatican reaction to the child abuse scandals, or the reality that the Orthodox have preserved liturgical integrity and orthodoxy of belief far better without a supreme Pope than Roman Catholicism has managed to do with popes? I’d love to hear your thoughts when you have time. Thanks, and God be with you.

Insight into the poor state of catechism among many Novus Ordo Catholics

Examining a poorly [non] catechised Roman Catholic friend’s critique of the 2011 changes to the Ordinary Form of the Roman Mass (also known as the Mass of Pope Paul VI or the “Novus Ordo Missae”, the New Order of Mass):

A typical Novus Ordo Mass (Mass of Pope Paul VI). Note the celebration is versus populam (

A typical Novus Ordo Mass (Mass of Pope Paul VI). Note the celebration is versus populam (“facing the people”) as opposed to ad orientem (“to the east”).

In January 2012, my friend Malinda (Mindy) Nafziger published this piece which she titled “The New Mass: Anti-Catholic Ideals?” on her blog Cor Ad Cor Loquitur (“Heart Speaks to Heart). She is a very kind person who, prior to graduating, was active in the Roman Catholic Novus Ordo (Ordinary Form) choir at American University. She taught Sunday school for a number of years, having been blessed by her parish priest to do so. She is someone who is always there for her friends, and in critiquing her piece, I keep that in mind. Here is the post in question:

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The New Mass: Anti-Catholic Ideals?

Hey there everyone. As you all know, I studied abroad last semester and have been away from this blog because of that. I’m writing today about the new changes to the Catholic mass. After you read this, I would love your comments!
I have several issues with the new translation of the mass. The way we went about making the changes hurt the cause of being the universal church we claim to be. Let’s start with the beginning. The priest says “the Lord be with you” as a form of greeting to the congregation. The logical thing to say when someone gives such a greeting is “you too” or, as it were, “and also with you.” We once believed as Catholics that the priest was our advocate, and therefore one of us. Human. With the change to “and with your spirit,” we place the priest on a different level. He is no longer our advocate, but a different spiritual being we cannot comprehend or relate with on a personal level.
The changes don’t stop there. The Penitential Rite places Catholic guilt out in the open. “through my fault, my fault, my most grievous fault”?! We get it. We have found fault with the Lord.  We don’t need to repeat the fact that we sinned through our own fault a hundred times to feel bad for what we’ve done. Doing so makes it seem like we are hopeless for our own salvation. Christians supposedly believe in hope and salvation for all people equally through Jesus. This guilty rambling seems to say “salvation for the worthy but not for me, I’m too guilty.” but even this isn’t the biggest flaw in the new mass.
When I have talked to people about the new mass and mentioned my final argument as to why it’s not Catholic, many people have not even noticed this change. When the priest lifts the cup and is telling the story of the Last Supper, he used to say “…this is the cup of my blood, … It will be shed for you and for ALL so that sins will be forgiven.” Now, the words are “…this is the chalice of my blood, … It will be shed for you and for MANY for the forgiveness of sins.” MANY?! What?! Not the Jesus I know. Not the Jesus I learned and taught about in Sunday school. Jesus didn’t pick and choose who to die for and who to leave to rot in hell. He died so we wouldn’t. I asked a priest about this, who shall remain nameless, and he said “well, this is implying that some people won’t get in.” Sorry, father. I don’t believe in that. And neither should this church. I’m pretty sure Jesus didn’t change His mind on us from heaven this last year. “Catholic” means “universal.” It’s time we started acting like it.
Here is my response:

Hi Mindy,
Thanks for your thoughtful post. I hope you’ll let me share my own thoughts here.

You write, “Catholic” means “universal.”” It actually doesn’t. Just to give you the context of where I’m coming from, I took a semester of biblical Greek at Scotland’s University of Edinburgh Divinity School.
During my studies there, I learned that the word “universal” is a really inaccurate Latin corruption which evidently didn’t translate the original Greek well. κατα ολος, “Kata holos”, is a Greek composite (katholikos) which means ‘according to the whole”, literally “by the total”. This refers to the wholeness, the internal unity and truth, of the orthodox (correct) faith.
Catholic doesn’t mean “universal” as in something that applies to everyone. Rather, it specifically refers to the wholeness and internal unity of the faith of the early Church as those beliefs held by orthodox (right-believing) Christians against the early heretics. This is why the first Church ecumenical councils were called, and why the Nicene-Constantinopolitan creed was produced (AD 325-381): as a rebuttal to several major Christological heresies. Thus, the statement of faith is just that: it’s intended as a proclamation of our beliefs, the most basic teachings of the Church.
You also mention that you don’t like the reintroduction of “And with your spirit” in the people’s response to the priest. This response was used exclusively for the entirety of the Church’s history before the introduction of the Novus Ordo Missae in English. “And with your spirit” is still used in all non-English language Catholic liturgies today. “Y con tu espiritu”, “E con tuo spirito”, etc.
The Eastern Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians around the world also use only “And with your spirit”. So actually, the response “And also with you” is something that *only* English-speaking Catholics used, along with mainline Protestant denominations. Why is this, that the Ordinary Form of the Catholic Mass in English started using a Protestant-inspired response to the priest’s greeting of peace? You may not know this, but the Vatican Commission that was charged with implementing the New Order Mass in English-speaking countries had several Protestants on it who served in an advising capacity.

So if you want to talk about the universal witness of the Church, the response “and also with you” is a departure from that universal witness. You contend that “The logical thing to say when someone gives such a greeting is “you too” or, as it were, “and also with you.” While that is correct in ordinary day conversation (“peace dude!”), the Eucharist is not an ordinary experience– at least, it’s not meant to be. A priest isn’t just a guy you say “you too” to, or else, what is the point of having priests? (This falls into the Lutheran argument of the ‘priesthood of all believers’).

You write, “We once believed as Catholics that the priest was our advocate, and therefore one of us.” The priest very much is still our advocate, which is why, when we wish peace to his spirit, we are honoring in him his dignity as a priest, a servant of God set apart by his ordination, as someone whose soul is wrapped up in love of God and love for us.

It is your view that “With the change to “and with your spirit,” we place the priest on a different level. He is no longer our advocate, but a different spiritual being we cannot comprehend.” I’m very surprised by these words, since I actually feel the opposite. By referencing the spirit of the priest, we are reminded that all existence has a spiritual dimension.

If you respond “and also with you”, this greeting basically implies that the priest is just another “guy”, and this casualness reduces the reverence offered to God by the respect we give to the office of the priest who offers the Eucharistic sacrifice with the people (laos) for the whole Church, living and departed.

By wishing peace to your priest’s spirit, you are actually addressing a much higher spiritual dimension than you would by saying “and also with you”, which, colloquially, could be substituted with “You too, buddy!”

You’re in the Mass, the divine liturgy where bread and wine are miraculously, mysteriously transformed into Christ’s body and blood. When we partake of the Eucharist, thus, we imbibe Christ, we partake directly of our Saviour. In this atmosphere, to me at least, why would we not speak only in a spiritual mindset, when we are in the direct presence of our God?

Just some food for thought.

Peace in Christ,

-Ryan

Reflecting on this exchange with my old friend, I am struck by something: the near complete contrast or separation between the “Spirit of Vatican II” as manifested through my friend’s words, and what the documents of Vatican II, even in their vagueness, authorize, recommend, and insist upon. There is no conclusive evidence that the Council Fathers at Vatican II wanted to create the Novus Ordo Mass.  Vatican II documents stressed the importance of maintaining Latin in the Mass and the “Pride of Place” of Gregorian Chant.  There are no documents dedicated to removing the sacredness and the breaking of the continuity with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass of all ages.  But because of the ambiguous wording, modernists and “progressive” Catholics were emboldened and the liturgical revolution happened. It is immensely disturbing to many Orthodox that these abuses and alterations took place at all, but what is most disturbing is that many of these alterations were explicitly blessed by Pope Paul VI when he published the Novus Ordo Missae. It is telling that the New Mass of Pope Paul VI (published in 1969) came four years after the closing of the Second Vatican Council (1965); the Council never authorized the development of a new rite, yet it was done all the same with full papal blessing.

In practice, and as my friend’s words reveal, the Novus Ordo Missae, as normally and most commonly celebrated, has unfortunately incorporated and allowed for a variety of Protestant theological elements, especially in the atmosphere of the worship and the sheer scale and scope of so many ancient prayers greatly simplified or entirely omitted. Eucharistic Prayer II, in the New Mass, can be said by all the people and priest together as if they were all concelebrating the mass together like Protestants believe. The community becomes very important at the expense of the priest’s sacredness as a “set apart” ordained minister of Christ and at the expense of emphasizing the oblational nature of the Mass. In contrast to this imbalance in the Novus Ordo, the Orthodox Divine Liturgy carefully maintains the sacrificial language of the Eucharist while making clear that everything that is offered is in the third person plural, a communal, corporate offering in which the clergy and laity alike supplicate God and offer to Him “this spotless, unbloody sacrifice”– e.g. the use of phrases such as “We offer thee…”, “We praise thee”, “We worship thee”.  A notable departure from the pre-Vatican II Tridentine Mass and earlier Roman rites is that in the Mass of Pope Paul VI the ancient Roman prayers of purification and absolution at the foot of the altar are entirely missing, and, similarly, there is no absolution of sins given by the priest at the beginning of the Mass; now, everyone says it together with the priest. Thus, it becomes unclear in the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite: just who is doing the absolving? Before, only the celebrating priest or bishop pronounced the absolution because only a priest or bishop acting in Jesus’ place and by His grace and authority can absolve sins. Instead, today in the Novus Ordo, the celebrating priest says these prayers with the people, implying that lay people have a role in effecting their own absolution without the sacramental grace conferred by a priest or bishop.

While, on one hand, the communal nature of the Eucharist tends to be over-emphasized in the New Roman Mass, the sacrificial aspect of the Mass has been deliberately well hidden. The ancient Roman marble or stone altars of sacrifice bearing relics of saints were removed and a wooden table/altar is used often without any relics of the saints built into the altar. Our Orthodox practice of requiring an antimension to be placed upon every altar — into which relics of saints are sewn along with the local bishop’s signature conferring his approval of the altar for Eucharistic oblations — helps us avoid such tragedies as the use of unconsecrated altars. Canon II of the Mass of Paul VI has only one word that implies the idea of sacrifice and instead a “community meal” gathering has been emphasized. Before the New Mass, people understood that the Holy Mass was Calvary re-made present among us, truly a holy oblation, as we Orthodox understand our Divine Liturgy.

My biggest concern with the Mass of Paul VI/Novus Ordo is how it represents such a rupture in the historical and liturgical life of the Roman Church. Liturgy develops very gradually over a long period of time. The Holy Liturgies of antiquity were inspired by God and handed down (traditio) through the generations; in contrast, the Mass of Paul VI was created in an extremely brief period. True liturgy passes and carries on from generation to generation by adding and subtracting small elements over centuries and centuries; in contrast, the New Mass marked a huge rupture from organic Catholic tradition as it was essentially created by the Concilium and Pope Paul VI.  His Mass is a clear breach with the past; truly divine liturgies alter slowly and gradually over time, and are not created in a short span of time by men.

As one Catholic friend of mine said to me earlier today, “many individual Catholics – especially in the Americas and Europe – have been tainted by the liberal theologians that have distorted Catholic teaching since the 1960s. Also – lex orandi, lex credendi – with so many OF Masses not being done according to rubrics, the loss of piety, etc. – many individual Catholics do not believe what the Church teaches. I have no idea, of course, how many Orthodox are afflicted by this, but I’m guessing it’s a smaller percentage.”

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Journalist and author Rod Dreher on his conversion to Orthodoxy

“Because Orthodox churches are full of ordinary American people, they are also filled with ordinary American problems. Anyone who comes to an Orthodox church expecting perfection will be disappointed. What you will find, though, is truth and beauty presented in a way that can be breathtaking to modern Americans, and an ancient Way grounded on doctrinal stability, sacramental reality, and practical Christian mysticism – a mysticism that has been marginalized in most other American churches.”

Read more: What’s So Appealing About Orthodoxy? : Journey To Orthodoxy | The Orthodox Christian ‘Welcome Home’ Network for Converts

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Who are the “Eastern Catholics”? 

This is an intriguing podcast published in March 2011 by Kevin Allen as part of his acclaimed “The Illumined Heart” series on Ancient Faith Radio. Allen interviews Fr. James Babcock, a Melkite Greek Catholic priest and pastor of Holy Cross parish in Placentia, CA. Father James also serves as vice president of the Society of St. John Chrysostom (http://www.ssjc.org/) which organizes the annual Orientale Lumen conference, publishes the Eastern Churches Journal and is dedicated to building understanding between the Eastern and Western Churches.

It is interesting to note how Rome has gradually become more respectful of Eastern Catholics’ observance of their unique traditions. In his May 1995 Apostolic letter Orientale Lumen the late Pope John Paul II cautioned Roman Catholic bishops overseeing Eastern-rite dioceses not to obstruct the preservation- and in many cases, the much-needed renewal- of key aspects of Eastern liturgical and spiritual practices. The Pope also encouraged Eastern Catholics to reunite themselves to those Eastern/Orthodox traditions which they might have lost due to earlier forced or inadvertent latinizations.

Certain problems remain which contribute to the sense among many Orthodox Christians that the Eastern Catholics are cut off from the fullness of the Orthodox tradition and subject to interference by ‘latinizing’ bishops or priests. To an extent, diocesan and parish spiritual and liturgical life are dependent on the degree of autonomy which Rome permits. Most Roman Catholics are not even aware of the existence of the Eastern Catholic Churches within the fold of Catholic communion under the Holy See. Most obviously, there remain strong points of tension in the local administration of Eastern Catholic dioceses, whose bishops are still appointed by the Pope, rather than Eastern Catholic synods.

The 1990 Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches promulgated by the late Pope also specifies that, for Eastern Christians to be in communion with Rome, they must accept as doctrine but not necessarily teach certain Roman Catholic beliefs such as papal infallibility ex cathedra, the dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption, indulgences, purgatory, etc. What are the impacts of these requirements on the beliefs of those Eastern Christians in union with Rome? Do Eastern Catholics practice and believe a faith that is actually Orthodox while living under Rome’s jurisdictional authority? Is their faith thus considerably different from Roman Catholicism?

These Byzantine Catholic bishops celebrate a liturgy which appears to be Orthodox in all ways- except that they honor and commemorate the Pope of Rome in their litanies.

These questions beg the broader question: who are the Eastern Catholics? Estimates of their numbers in the United States range from half a million to almost two million. Are they essentially Orthodox Christians living autonomously in communion with the Pope, or are they fully Catholic Christians in submission to Rome whom the Vatican permits to carry on historic Eastern spiritual and liturgical traditions? Or— are they perhaps somewhere in between?

These Byzantine-rite Eastern Catholic bishops in Bulgaria preside over a small minority faith in that predominantly Orthodox country. Note the Western (Roman rite) Catholic bishop with his distinctive elongaged mitre to the right, and the Eastern Catholic bishop with his Byzantine closed-crown style mitre on the left.