The Divine Liturgy

The highest point of spiritual life and the center of Byzantine Catholic worship is the Divine Liturgy. In Roman Catholic Churches it is referred to as the “Mass”. In Byzantine Catholic Churches, led by the priest, we, the Faithful come together in faith and reverence, words and actions to publically worship at the Divine Liturgy. It is at the Divine Liturgy that we remember and give thanks for everything that God has done for us and offer Him all that we have. And it is at the Divine Liturgy that we commemorate the sacrifice on the Cross and Resurrection from the dead of God’s beloved Son, Jesus Christ and partake of His body and Blood. The Divine Liturgy is truly an occasion for joy.

In Byzantine Catholic Churches, the Divine Liturgy is almost entirely sung. The singing (Byzantine Liturgical Chant) is led by the priest with the Faithful (led by a Cantor) responding. Our whole body, mind, spirit and senses are engaged by the singing, the incense and candles, the beautiful icons on the Church walls and on the iconostasis. It is in this earthly Liturgy that we get a glimpse of the heavenly Liturgy which is celebrated in the Holy City of Jerusalem.

Throughout the year, the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom (349-407), who was the patriarch of Constantinople and a Father and Doctor of the Church, is the one primarily used. The Liturgy of St. Basil the Great is also used, but only ten times during the year; Jan. 1 (Feast of St. Basil), the first five Sundays in Lent, Holy Thursday, Holy Saturday, Christmas Eve and on the Eve of Theophany.

The Divine Liturgy consists of three main parts:

1. The Preparation (Proskomedia):

Prior to the Divine Liturgy, the priest prepares the bread and wine (Holy Gifts) which will be consecrated during the Liturgy of the Eucharist. As he recites Scripture passages from the Prophets and the Gospels which speak of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, he cuts small pieces of leavened bread into smaller portions which he will then distribute as Holy Communion. He remembers and prays for the needs of the living and the dead.

2. The Liturgy of the Catechumens (of the Word):

During the Liturgy of the Word, the focus is on the proclamation of the Gospel; the Good News of Jesus Christ as recorded in the Scriptures. The major parts are:
  1. Opening Doxology: "Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." Our worship, which is a participation in the Kingdom of God, is always focused on the One God who is Three Persons.
  2. Great Litany: Here we pray for our various needs, asking the Lord to have mercy on us.
  3. The Antiphons: These Psalm verses are joyful expressions of praise in which we thank God for His gracious works of love, mercy, and salvation.
  4. Hymn to Christ, the Only-Begotten Son of God: We proclaim that Jesus, the Incarnate Second Person of the Trinity, is true God and true man.
  5. The Little Entrance: All are solemnly invited to worship the risen Christ as we pay homage to his presence in the Holy Gospel.
  6. The Troparia and Kontakia: During which we hear the theme of the day's Divine Liturgy.
  7. The Trisagion: We glorify the Holy Trinity with these words: "Holy God, Holy and Mighty, holy and Immortal, have mercy on us." Following these introductory hymns, the Scriptures for the day are read in this order:
  8. The Prokimenon: A responsorial Psalm.
  9. The Epistle: Taken from the New Testament, this usually addresses a particular aspect of the Christian life.
  10. The Alleluia: Two Psalm verses separated by the singing of "Alleluia," which means "Praise the Lord."
  11. The Gospel: The public proclamation of the Word of God, taken from one of the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. We always stand during the reading of the Gospel.
  12. The Homily: The sermon in which the priest proclaims the Good News of Christ while, at the same time, applying it to our everyday lives.

3. The Liturgy of the Faithful (of the Eucharist):

After the Liturgy of the Word, the Faithful turn to the central mystery of faith; participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ through the celebration of the Eucharist. The word "Eucharist" refers to the Body and Blood of Christ. It means "thanksgiving," and it expresses gratitude for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life the faithful receive in Holy Communion.

The major parts of the Liturgy of the Eucharist are:
  1. The Great Entrance: While the Cherubic Hymn is sung, the bread and wine are brought to the altar. We are invited to unite ourselves with the angels in worship and to "lay aside all earthly cares so that we may receive the King of All."
  2. The Creed: A declaration of our common faith in the Trinity, the deity of Christ, and other tenets of the Catholic Church.
  3. The Eucharistic Prayer: Recalls the institution of the Eucharist by Christ at the Last Supper and proclaims the holiness and love of God through the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ, our Saviour.
  4. The Consecration: The gifts of bread and wine are changed, by the power of the Holy Spirit, into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.
  5. The Commemorations: These help us to recall all those for whom our sacrifice is offered.
  6. The Lord's Prayer: Our acknowledgement that God is our Heavenly Father.
  7. Prayer before Communion: We profess our faith in Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist, and ask Him to make us worthy to receive Him in the sacrament.
  8. Reception of Holy Communion: The climax of the Liturgy, when we partake of the Eucharist, "the source and summit of the Christian life." [CCC 1324] By partaking of the Eucharist (Holy Communion) we fulfill the purpose of our worship by uniting ourselves with Christ "for the forgiveness of sins and unto life everlasting." After receiving the Eucharist, we express our thanks by worshipping the Trinity who saves us.
  9. We pray to depart in peace, in the name of the Lord, in order to bear witness to Christ, our Saviour and Lord.
  10. We pray for salvation and guidance during the closing prayer recited by the priest in the center of the Church.
  11. We receive the Lord's blessing, proclaimed by the priest through the veneration of the Cross.