I came to the Maronite church tonight expecting some form of Lebanese Catholicism which, although somewhat Latinized, might initiate me into the ancient liturgy and piety of that people. What my friends and I got could not have been farther from that.
The church looks like a modern Roman Catholic Church in America: wood paneled walls, comfortable seats, plaster statues, a free standing altar, and a tabernacle behind the priest's chair. The celebrant, in a way foreign to most oriental rites, entered the sanctuary in a procession. The celebrant tonight was Fr. Mitch Pacwa of EWTN. Instantly the music—some groovy 1970s blend of synthesizers—immediately gave away the heavily neo-Latinized rite we were about to witness.
Upon arriving at the sanctuary the concelebrant, the parish priest, congratulated Fr. Pacwa on the anniversary of his ordination and thanked him for making his annual trek to this particular parish. Rousing applause met Fr. Pacwa. After some introductory rites, which seemed like arbitrary greetings based on more ancient texts, we were treated to a series of narrations by a
lector lectrix who read the part of the deacon.
During the Gospel we sat while the parish priest washed the feet of twelve primary school-aged boys. In the Maronite tradition the foot washing takes place in the midst of the Gospel. Apparently the ancient Maronite practice was for the priest to wash the feet of all present. In the newer Maronite usage the priest washes twelve people's feet, the last of whom represents St. Peter and interjects the washing with the Apostle's dialogue with Christ. Nothing is less euphonious than a pubescent 11 year old squeaking "Are you going to wash my feet, Lord?"
I thought better of all this nonsense and resolved to give the liturgy a fresh start at the sermon. What's that? On this, the night on which Christ instituted the Eucharist and priesthood, the night which the Son of God was handed over to wicked men by His Apostle, the night which began the final steps in the journey of the redemption of all the world, the night which God Himself sweated blood you expect a sermon on a relevant topic? Good luck! Fr. Pacwa gave a sermon on atheism and our constitutional right to freedom of religion.
The Creed was not the Greek version in English, but the Latin version ("....God from God....Who proceeds from the Father and the Son...."). Perhaps the strangest thing about the Creed was not that it was the Latin Creed, but that it utilized that erroneous old translation "We believe in one God."
Before the offertory the parish priest again congratulated Fr. Pacwa on the anniversary of his ordination, prompting more applause and smiles. This was the last straw for me. Laughter and self-referential chatter are not suitable for this night.
I went outside and five minutes later was joined by a friend who was horrified that they began celebrating the Eucharist versus populum. We sat in the car and my first reaction was "What is this $***!?" My friend hastily advocated for the immediate suppression of the Maronite rites. As a compromise we sang the Evlogitaria. Later there was a full blown Blessed Sacrament procession followed by adoration with a monstrance.... This is a Lebanese church.... It is difficult to doubt the intentions of the Maronites, but what is their tradition? The liturgy, what I saw of it, seems born not in Lebanon, but in the spirit of the Mass of Paul VI with all the poor liturgical taste of the year 1975.
We salvaged the night with pancakes at IHOP.