Thursday, April 17, 2014

Maronite Thursday of Mysteries

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.


  1. Sorry to hear. I know a fellow on-line who is a great advocate and defender of the ancient Maronite rite. He laments the status quo very much.

  2. I've been thinking recently about how odd it is that, as Eastern Catholics are so quick to use "Latinization" as a pejorative to describe their former practices (which no doubt edified many souls), many (most?) have happily adopted far more pernicious elements of the modern Roman Rite: evening eucharistic liturgies, negligible communion fasts, uncovered ladies' heads, de-segregation of the sexes, etc.

    I had previously considered attending the liturgies at the local Ruthenian church today (Good Friday), but I'm too discouraged by the Pacellian schedule: Passion Gospels (Matins) at noon, Burial Vespers at 7 pm). This seems to be similar to other schedules I've seen online, with the exception of a few Melkite parishes. Very unfortunate.

    1. I have not had that experience. My local Ukrainian parish is doing Vespers, placement of the Holy Shroud, and then Jerusalem Mattins afterwards. It all starts at 7 pm. The local Ruthenian church, meanwhile, is doing Entombment vespers. Fortunately, both churches are very de-Latinized. I find the various Byzantines to generally be the Catholics most tied to their old traditions.

      I have had experiences with other Eastern churches and it has been mostly positive. The Syro Malankara church I visited followed the true Antiochene tradition with only one frill of Latinization: unleavened bread for communion. The Syro Malabar churches (there's three in the city) struck me as far more Latinized historically, but liturgically they were definitely East Syriac (the Roman statues and the candles for Eucharistic Adoration were off-putting, but didn't ruin it). The priest in one actually lamented the Latinizations to a group of 1962-missal Roman Catholics (including one who was smugly satisfied that the Malabar had Eucharistic Adoration), a couple of them were touched and empathized with the priest (perhaps reflecting the loss of their own rites).

      I accompanied his Traddiness to last night's Maronite thing and... His post tells the rest.

      The thing is, these ugly modernizations in the Maronite (and briefly flirted with by idiot Malabar clerics) would not have happened if they had remained true to their traditions.

  3. I will probably regret posting this comment, but here goes: the Rad Trad has my deepest condolences. I have been experiencing something similar, mutatis mutandis, this year with my first-ever experience of 1962 Holy Week ceremonies. Previously, I had only known or celebrated the ancient ceremonies or, pro dolor! the Novus Ordo (which has, at least, the advantage of vague rubrics--vague enough anyway--allowing one to import certain traditional elements). It's painful to witness the "restored" rites while knowing what has been changed or lost. However, there are many good souls involved in these efforts, I know, but more consoling is the thought that there are so many other good souls (among them the Rad Trad) who in small ways or large are working to bring back what we have lost, East or West, lost for the time being, at any rate.
    A blessed Holy Week to you and your readers,
    Fr. Capreolus

    1. "this year with my first-ever experience of 1962 Holy Week ceremonies"

      You have my deepest sympathies, Father. Holy Week is the one week of the year when I would prefer the Pauline liturgy—well practiced—over the '62 rite without the slightest bit of hesitation.

  4. This is particularly common. I have come to chalk it up to misguided missionaries; that is, missionaries that dropped their habits even in lands occupied by the Infidels. In my memory is burnt an image of a Catholic religious sister in Pakistan wearing a short-skirt and no habit while the women around her, I am sure both Christian and non-Christian alike were dressed in the ancient way, appearing as icons of Our Blessed Lady.

    Modernism is pervasive. Let us not forget that the word modern is akin to modo; that is, in the Italian 'clothing fashion'. Change their clothing styles and you can change how they believe. I say it is better to make haste to the hill country carrying Our Savior in our breasts and bellies, than ever make any attempt at psychologizing another human being.

  5. Maybe the problem really is just the culture of the U.S? Since the Church failed to convert the culture and instead was converted by the culture the result arguably is that now there is no escape from banal liturgy because it is just part of the American soul?

    Food for thought anyway.

  6. Wow, such cynicism in the guise of what? I suspect the eucharist was present in these assemblies but that reality seemed absent from the commentators here. Ecumenism be damned?