CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Byzantine liturgy celebrated in Cantonese strikes a Chinese chord

HONG KONG (SE): Not a word was uttered in the Byzantine rite Eucharistic celebration of Mass at Ng Wah College in Sanpokong on October 9 that was not offered in praise of God, as a petition, plea for mercy or act of consecration in chant or in song.

At a Mass according to the liturgy of St. John Chrysostom celebrated in Cantonese by the vicar general from the Ukrainian Eparchy of Melbourne, Australia, Right Reverend Olexander Kenez, with much assistance from the parish priest, Father Thomas Law Kwok-fai, Father Dominic Chan Chi-ming, Father Stephen Chan Moon-hung and four visiting priests from Mongolia and China, the people filled the parish church of the Mother of Good Counsel, Sanpokong.

Facing what is termed a royal screen, which was draped in red and yellow cloth featuring a display of Chinese-style icons, the altar was hidden from view as the ministers prepared the sacred space for Mass.

Father Kenez describes an icon as being a prayer in itself, not just a holy card. “You do not look at an icon,” he explained. “You pray an icon.”

The preparation for the liturgy takes place away from the gaze of the congregation.

The deacon incenses the holy table and the sanctuary, then prays with the priest setting a prayerful, reflective tone for the liturgy.

“Heavenly Father, advocate, spirit and truth, who are everywhere present and fill all things, treasury of blessings, bestower of life, come and dwell within us; cleanse us of all that defiles us and, O Good one, save our souls... Lord, you will open my lips, and my mouth shall declare your praise.”

While the altar faces east, in the direction of heaven, the traditional entrance for the clergy is through the door in the north side of the royal screen, which unseen hands roll back for the celebrating priests, deacons and altar servers to enter the body of the church in procession.

They are ushered among the people gathered in the church by an acolyte, who prepares their way with the sweet aroma of incense.

As the royal doors in the centre of the screen are drawn back, the clergy file into the sanctuary and the deacon welcomes the people, saying, “In peace let us pray to the Lord.”

He then leads the congregation in prayer for the Church, the pope, the patriarch, our nation under God, the city and the faithful who live in it, and for travellers, as well as for favourable weather, so the people may be blessed with the fruit of the earth.

The deacon then walks among the people bearing the book of the word of God aloft and, preceded by an acolyte, whose dexterity with the thurible would be the envy of any experienced altar server, the aromatic incense, together with the tinkle of the bells attached to the chain bid the people to be attentive and listen carefully to the word of God.

The gospel is proclaimed in similar fashion by a deacon, who bids the people to “stand aright,” before greeting them with the words, “Peace be with all,” and stands before the principal celebrant of the Mass to chant the gospel of the day.

During a litany that follows, the people respond to each petition with the plea, “Lord, have mercy,” which on each occasion is repeated three times.

The intentions of the congregation, which have already been collected, are included in the petitions led by the deacon, with special remembrance for catechumens, asking that God will catechise them with the word of truth and reveal the gospel of righteousness.

“O Lord our God, who dwells on high and looks down on things that are lowly, who unto the human race has sent forth salvation, your only begotten son and God, Our Lord Jesus Christ; look upon your servants, the catechumens, who have bowed their necks before you, and vouchsafe unto them at a seasonable time the laver of regeneration, the remission of sins and the garment of incorruption; unite them in your holy Catholic Church…”

Father Kenez explains that in the Byzantine rite, what are called sacraments in the Latin rite are referred to as mysteries, which are to be lived out as an experience of the people together with God, which creates a synergy, or a force greater than could be produced individually, whose goal is incarnation, or being one with God.

The sign of peace is offered according to the scriptural imperative to be at peace with your brothers and sisters before approaching the altar and together, all profess the faith of the Church in the words of the Nicene Creed.

The holy door in the north and south of the royal screen open as the gifts are prepared to be placed on the altar then carried in procession among the faithful, as the clergy and ministers appear and move among the people towards the royal doors to return to the sanctuary.

Father Kenez says that living the mysteries changes the person, and living the Eucharistic celebration gives the person the power to change and be strengthened for what lies ahead.

The symbols are important as life-giving realities and in the liturgy are presented with great attention to detail, for which the clergy gather around the altar behind the royal screen.

During the Eucharist prayer, the deacon invites God to bless the bread, to which the priest adds, “Lord, make it the precious body of your Christ.”

They do the same with the chalice, with the priest responding, “And that which is in the chalice the precious blood of your Christ… changing them with your Holy Spirit.”

The deacon emerges from the north door to invite the people to prepare for communion and another from the south door to implore God to make us all worthy of this sacrament, once again preceding the invitation with the words, “Let us be attentive” to the sacredness of this mystery.

The priest prays in preparation, “I will not tell the mystery to your enemies, nor will I give you a kiss as did Judas, but like the thief, I confess to you; remember me, O Lord, when you come into your kingdom.”

The deacon tells the people, “Approach with fear of God and faith.” The people reply, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, God has appeared to us.”

As communion is distributed by intinction on the tongue, with bread broken into small chunks like croutons, looking more like the real thing than the wafers utilised in the Latin rite, people are encouraged to tell the priest their names, so they can be addressed personally before communing with the Lord.

A thanksgiving prayer follows, in which the priest blesses the congregation with the chalice and prays that the whole day may be perfect, holy and sinless, “as we commend the whole day to you.”

The dismissal takes place at the royal doors and includes a prayer for protection, “Sanctify those who love the beauty of your house.”

The deacon looks to the north and south as he reads the final prayer. Then the royal doors are closed and the Mass is ended.

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