Sunday, August 19, 2007

Mass Confusion

We attended mass today, in one of the many lovely churches of L'viv. The city's dominant religious community is the Byzantine (Greek) Rite Catholic Church. Many Catholic rites exist and they are distinguished by their geographic distribution and various liturgical idiosyncrasies. The Catholic Encyclopedia has a detailed entry about these rites, but in a nutshell, the particular Catholic rite popular in L'viv is similar in its practices to the Orthodox Church, but is in communion with Rome and subordinate to the pope. This rite was banned under the Soviets, with many followers moving to the Orthodox Church.

We decided to attend the Dominican Cathedral, a massive church a few blocks from the apartment. Actually, there are many churches a few blocks from the apartment; while L'viv may lack in certain amenities, it does not lack in churches. The Dominican Cathedral is notable in part because it was converted into a Museum of Atheism in the Soviet period (and now has a Museum of Religion).

Today is Spas (or Apple Spas), an important Orthodox holiday also celebrated in the Ukrainian Catholic Church. It is the feast of Transfiguration and a harvest festival. Many people brought baskets of fruit or sprigs of dried flowers and fruit to church, and they were blessed after mass. Apples adorned most of the baskets, but they were also filled with other fruits such as grapes and plums as well as dried flowers. According to what we have learned, devout Ukrainians supposedly did not eat fruit until this holiday. If you want to know more about Apple Spas, you may read more details here (scroll down the page to the Spas entry).

Mass had a few familiar elements, but was quite different from mass at our home parish in Lawrence. We arrived about fifteen minutes early and the church was already abuzz with activity. Senior citizens and women with small children filled the approximately 180 seats available to churchgoers. Everyone else was expected to stand. Ten minutes before mass began, the church bells sounded out the call to mass; by the beginning of mass, the church was packed with at least 500 people. Mass began with the young priest and assistants entering from the side, as a cantor chanted prayers. The first fifteen minutes or so were filled with chants led by the cantor and responses by the faithful. During this time, the priest blessed the altar, icons, and parishioners with incense, rarely facing the assembled masses. People regularly bowed their heads and made the sign of the cross - in Orthodox fashion rather than like Roman Catholics (i.e., right to left rather than left to right). The priest faced the people during his homily. Erik understood bits and pieces, indicating that it was a fairly standard call to be Christ-like in behavior. After the homily, there were more chants and incense, followed by the preparation of communion. Before communion, there was the sign of peace, one of few familiar parts of the mass. When communion was distributed, only a handful of churchgoers went up to receive the bread and wine (perhaps 10% went to get communion). Erik got in line and as he approached the priest, he noted that the manner of distribution was unusual. Rather than receiving the host by hand, the priest used a spoon to drop a piece of wine-soaked bread into the recipient's open mouth (with the best technique including a slightly tilted and craned neck). Many parishioners kissed an icon on the way to communion. Erik received communion and tried to return to give Lea a turn. But, church was so packed it took him awhile to navigate a path to Lea and Carter. By that time, communion had ended. Lea spent much time looking at the statues of saints with pained looks on their faces and wondered if they too were standing on a marble floor for over an hour in high heels at a mass with only two words they could understand (amen, alleluia). After devouring most of his diaper bag food stash, Carter fell asleep in his stroller, which we put next to us halfway back in the church, directly behind those who were seated. When we left the church after mass, the space in front of it was packed with people, many with children dressed up, all holding up their baskets of fresh fruit or sprigs of dried flowers to be blessed. Some prayers were chanted and the priest sprayed holy water on the crowd.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yes, people do stand for liturgy in Europe. Byzantine liturgies tend to be longer than Latin Rite liturgies. Sad to see that so few receive communion. And yes, it will be combined bread and wine on a spoon! Interesting that it was Transfiguration, will have to look at a couple of calendars. Lea's Dad