Thursday, December 02, 2004

Of Ukrainian liturgy, Walter Ciszek and Teilhard's "Mass on the World."

This morning at Abbey Living Center we had our once-monthly Byzantine liturgy, offered by a priest of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, one of the Eastern churches in union with Rome. Abbey has a decent number of Ukrainian residents, but today's liturgy expected a goodly number of non-Ukrainians as well. The entire liturgy was done in Ukrainian, including the homily and pre- and post-liturgy banter from the priest (who, I later discovered, speaks virtually no English). I've been to a few Byzantine Catholic liturgies before, but this was the first one I attended outside a parish church. Watching the elaborate Eastern liturgy conducted in the mundane setting of a nursing home dining room somehow made me think back to American Jesuit Walter Ciszek's descriptions in With God in Russia and He Leadeth Me of the experience of offering Mass in the Soviet gulags. Celebrating the Eucharist in the midst of suffering humanity - whether covertly in the terrifying environment of the gulag or openly among elderly people struggling with the effects of aging - somehow makes what we Catholics describe as the Real Presence a bit more real, serving as a powerful reminder that Jesus is both with and among us in our suffering. In the process, I hope that the experience helps those who are suffering together to find God in one another and in all things. Perhaps inevitably, these reflections lead me to Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin's "Mass on the World." If you haven't read this short but profound piece, I encourage you to check it out at the link provided (in the same way, if you haven't read Ciszek's two books, I encourage you to pick those up as well). Just as Teilhard did on the battlefield and on the steppe, the priest offering Mass in the prison or in the nursing home lifts the sufferings of the world to God. Perhaps some of my readers have gotten this far only to scratch their heads and say, "Huh?" By contrast, some others may have found my abstruse ramblings on this subject interesting and even moving. Whichever category you find yourself in, thanks for indulging me as I think and pray aloud. AMDG.


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