The Divine Liturgy (As mentioned in the Instruction for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches)
The center of Christian worship is the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. This name, Divine Liturgy, used in the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches is not used exclusively. Used more specifically in the Churches of Greek origin, it is also found in other traditions, but together with other titles such as Sacrifice, Sanctification, Mysteries, Offering and Oblation, Eucharist or Thanksgiving, Breaking of the bread, and others.
Even if these terms evoke the sacrament of the Body and Blood of our Lord more directly, they also indicate the celebration in its entirety, articulated in two parts, the first of which is centered on the Word of God and the second on the eucharistic rite.
The conciliar Constitution on the sacred liturgy teaches us that Christ is present in his Word since it is He who speaks when Scripture is read in the Church. It further specifies that the homily is an integral part of the liturgical action and insists that this ministry of preaching be fulfilled faithfully and in a fitting manner, drawing its content above all from the font of Sacred Scripture and the liturgy, the proclamation of the wonderful works of God in the history of salvation. Therefore, care should be taken that the homily is never omitted in the celebration of the Divine Liturgy with the people, at least on Sundays and holidays of obligation.
The richness of the second part of the Divine Liturgy, and in particular of Communion which is the culmination, is wonderfully expressed by these words of Nicholas Cabasilas: “So perfect is this Mystery, so far does it excel every other sacred rite that it leads to the very summit of good things. Here also is the final goal of every human endeavour. For in it we obtain God Himself, and God is united with us in the most perfect union. (…) Since it was not possible for us to ascend to Him and participate in that which is His, He came down to us and partook of that which is ours. So perfectly has He coalesced with that which He has taken that He imparts Himself to us by giving us what He has assumed from us. As we partake of His human Body and Blood we receive God Himself into our souls. It is thus God’s Body and Blood which we receive, His soul, mind, and will, no less than those of His humanity.”
In the celebration of the divine Mysteries, the text of the Anaphora shines like a precious treasure. The Eastern Anaphoras date back to venerable antiquity: often attributed to the Apostles, according to the living awareness of the Churches, or to saints of the primitive Church, or to other important personages in the history of the Churches, the Anaphoras are, in the act of the offering, the proclamation of praise and thanksgiving to God, and the epiclesis, which is the invocation of the Holy Spirit.
From the treasure of the Anaphoras, rather numerous according to the various Churches, care should be taken to offer the possibility of using, as is deemed suitable, more texts of the Anaphoras, some of which are no longer in use today but should be restored. Considering that the Anaphora is a true masterpiece of mystagogical theology, it is appropriate to study the ways in which, at least in some circumstances, it could be pronounced aloud, so as to be heard by the faithful. The pastors should see to it that the people are formed according to that theology which is present in so pre-eminent a way in the Anaphora.
Can. 700 § 2 of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches exhorts the concelebration together with the Bishop or with another priest “since in such a way the unity of the priesthood and sacrifice will be suitably manifested.” Many conciliar texts underscore that, doing so, the unity of the whole Church is made manifest. It is, therefore, a very expressive usage. However, there can be reasons which advise against concelebration, particularly when the number of concelebrants is disproportionately greater than the presence of lay faithful. The liturgical celebration, as the “icon” of the Church, should respect the nature of the community hierarchically articulated, composed not only of ministers but the whole flock of those who, under their guidance, live in Christ. Care should be taken that the concelebrants are not of such quantity so as to have to overflow into the nave where the faithful are, and thus outside of the Sanctuary itself, or to occupy the space of the Sanctuary in such a way that impedes the dignified celebration of the rite. Of course, concelebration is nevertheless preferable to the so-called individual celebrations without the people. Individual, independent celebrations of the Eucharist on multiple altars in the same place at the same time are categorically prohibited. Such restriction is not applicable, obviously, to the simultaneous and synchronized celebration sometimes permitted, particularly in the Western Syrian and Ethiopian traditions.
Can. 701 of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches establishes the ways in which the concelebration between bishops and presbyters should be carried out in the different Churches . It is worth repeating here the exhortation to avoid any liturgical syncretism, but the appropriate vestments and insignia of their own Church should be worn. It is a most eloquent way of showing the variety of the ecclesial traditions and their coming together in the unity of the Church. This is a meaningful symbol of the future unity in multiformity and an instrument to protect the Eastern Churches and their specificity against every assimilation, especially in places where they are in the minority.
Addressing the different forms of participation in the eucharistic celebration, the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches reminds us many times of the need to respect the prescriptions of the liturgical books and the particular law. This requirement also applies to concelebration, considering that the ways of practicing it in the different Churches and of the different ritual families vary. It is notable that the practice recently established in the Western liturgies was inspired largely by Byzantine usage, interpreted, though, in the light of their own concerns and thus with some different outcomes. Participation in the same eucharistic Sacrifice can express itself in various forms, each of which has a specific value that should be organically preserved and developed. Reference to the prescriptions of the liturgical books is an invitation to attentively examine the data of each tradition and formulate directives which respect the authentic lineage.
Can. 709 § 1 of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches establishes that it is the responsibility of the priest to distribute the Eucharist, or also the deacon if the particular law of the Church so disposes. The subsequent paragraph grants the right to the Synod of Bishops of the patriarchal Church, or to the Council of Hierarchs, to establish norms by which other Christian faithful can also distribute the Eucharist.
Therefore, assigning to the deacon or even to other faithful the task of distributing the Divine Eucharist depends on the instructions of the particular law. It is indispensable to remember, however, that these instructions must be coherent with the specific context of the liturgical tradition in which they are inserted. It should be remembered that all the Eastern traditions emphasize the greatness of the mystery of holy Communion. An ancient Syro-Chaldean commentator describes the presentation of the sacred gifts to the faithful with the following words: “The Holy One comes forth on the plate and in the cup, in glory and majesty, accompanied by the presbyters and deacons, in grand procession. Millions of angels and servants of the fire of the Spirit go before the Body of Our Lord, glorifying him. All the people and all the sons of the Church rejoice when they see the Body come from the altar.” Therefore, reserving the distribution of the Eucharist normally to the priests has the scope of manifesting its highest sacredness. Even if this excludes enhancing the value of other criteria, also legitimate, and implies renouncing some convenience, a change of the traditional usage risks incurring a non-organic intrusion with respect to the spiritual framework to which it refers. Therefore, it is appropriate that the faculty of distributing the Eucharist by those other than the Bishop or the presbyter, or the deacon if so disposed by the particular law of each Church , be exercised only in the case of true emergency.
for fasting in the Eastern Catholic Churches is valued opportune, taking into account the meaning of both the traditional practice, which does not always exactly coincide with the Latin sensibility, and of the need to correspond with the different conditions of life in the world today.
Can. 704 of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches affirms that “the Divine Liturgy can be praiseworthily celebrated on any day except those which are excluded according to the prescriptions of the liturgical books of the Church in which the priest is enrolled.” To specify which days are non-liturgical, the canon thus refers to the prescriptions of the liturgical books. These prescriptions are not the same for the various Churches or, more specifically, for the great families of Eastern Churches. It is necessary to recognize that these prescriptions, although stated in the liturgical books and accordingly in force in many Churches , have too often dropped into disuse in recent times, also due to influence from the Latin tradition. Their disappearance often entails, besides the loss of the ancient tradition of non-liturgical days, abandoning the celebration of the liturgy of Presanctified.
Considering that the joyous and festive dimension of the Eucharist, experienced as an event and not as a habit, was alive in Christian antiquity and is maintained in many Eastern liturgies, the forsaking of such practice contributes to diminishing the full meaning of the Divine Liturgy, which is celebrated in an integral and solemn way at the conclusion and as a seal of a whole journey of preparation, punctuated by celebrations of various types. To recuperate an element so significant in the heritage of the undivided Church, it is necessary to proceed toward a revival of the discipline of non-liturgical days where it has disappeared in relatively recent times.
Regarding the time and place for the celebration of the Divine Liturgy, differing from the prescriptions of cann. 931-932 of the Code of Canon Law which are valid for the entire Latin Church, can. 707 § 1 of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches does not present norms valid for all the Eastern Churches but rather, requires the different particular laws to establish norms in this regard. However, eucharistic celebrations outside of the sacred place should be limited to an indispensable minimum.
The precise hour of the celebration of the Divine Liturgy is also linked with the discipline of fasting, which is different in the various days and periods of the year.
In addition, the excessive multiplication of festive eucharistic celebrations should be avoided: on the one hand, such multiplication hinders the celebration of the Divine Office; on the other hand, an assembly less dispersed and a greater concentration of faithful assure a greater dignity of the rite.
The presbyters should especially avoid celebrating the Divine Liturgy more than once a day without a specific pastoral reason. Practice deviating from this principle must be authorized and controlled by the episcopal authority.
Offerings to the celebrant for particular intentions in the Divine Liturgy are inserted in the broader context of the offering of self and of one’s own life to the Father, of solidarity with the whole Church and especially, with the poor, of the need to assist the maintenance of the priest and the costs of worship. Offerings by the Christian faithful for the celebration of Divine Liturgies according to their own intentions, in the case of more celebrations in a day, should be attributed to purposes specified by the local Hierarch.
Putting on a particular vestment to accomplish a sacred act signifies leaving the usual dimensions of daily life to enter the presence of God in the celebration of the divine Mysteries, with symbolic reference to Paul’s teaching: “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Gal. 3:27). The Armenian, Nerses Shnorhali, Catholicos from 1165 to 1173, writes: “Nobody believes the priestly habit to be useless and lacking mystery… It is a question of external observances of man for those who are in the service of the things of God. We speak also of the interior man, for which external worship is the figure of the luminous spiritual ornament.”
Indication for the liturgical vestments to be worn in the celebration must be specified by the particular law, and is usually found codified in the liturgical books or in other instructions of liturgical character which come from the competent authorities. Also in this area, the traditional usage should be preserved, maintaining all the value of the particular liturgical language and abstaining from the imitation of other Churches’ usage. Only very grave reasons or exceptional circumstances can authorize different practice. If undue changes in the liturgical vestments have been introduced, the traditional rules should be reinstated.
As for the non-liturgical dress of the clergy, it is appropriate that the individual Churches return to the style of the traditional Eastern usage.
Can. 706 of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches reminds us that “the sacred gifts which are offered are bread made of wheat alone (…) and natural wine of the grape.”
Can. 707 § 1 is concerned with the “preparation of the Eucharistic bread.” Since the Christian Churches know different ways of preparing the bread destined for Eucharist, the Code requires the observation of the prescriptions of the various particular laws. The most notable difference in this regard is that which exists between leavened bread, traditionally used by most of the Eastern Churches, and unleavened bread, used by the Armenians and Latins. About the symbolism of one or the other use, much has been discussed in the past, often in polemic tones, sometimes attributing theological interpretations to them. Since in this arena each usage has its value, the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches prescribes that each Church preserve that which it has inherited from its Fathers, because in such a way the complementary aspects of the eucharistic Mystery are expressed in symbolic form.
Other differentiations are noted in the form given to the bread destined for eucharistic celebrations and to the mark stamped on it, in the prayers which accompany the preparation, in the names with which it is designated, etc. Each one of these particulars is to be regulated according to the directions in the liturgical books.
As to the wine, it is necessary to point out that the rule presented by the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches differs from that of can. 924 § 1 of the Code of Canon Law which specifies that the wine is to be mixed with a small quantity of water. This mixing has not been mentioned in the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches because it is not in use in the Armenian Church and thus is not to be considered as a valid law for all the Eastern Churches.
The rite of Zeon (the supplemental addition of hot water in the cup before Communion), present in the Churches coming from the Constantinopolitan branch and unfortunately forsaken in some Greek Catholic Churches, should be recovered. The same applies for other numerous celebrative elements if they have fallen into disuse.
Regarding the preparation of the bread and the liturgical vestments, can. 707 § 2 states that “for a just cause and having removed any astonishment on the part of the Christian faithful, it is permissible to use the liturgical vestments and bread of another Church ” Two limits to this permission must be noted. The concession is granted so that the impossibility of procuring the bread or vestments should not impede the eucharistic celebration for the good of the faithful, which surpasses the necessary norms under normal circumstances. This permission should only be used in exceptional situations which cannot be generalized, such as the case of persecution and thus of clandestine celebration. It certainly does not dispense the obligation to do all that is possible so that such irregularity be avoided, and bread and vestments be according to the proper liturgical usage. It is meant even more for the case of the bread, in as much as the preparation of the bread for Eucharist is an integral part of the celebration and cannot be omitted without truly serious reasons. Therefore, excluding the Armenian liturgy, when prosphora is lacking, normal fermented bread is to be used in the exceptional cases mentioned.
The second constraint is for any astonishment to be removed on the part of the Christian faithful. It is necessary to avoid innovation which risks being misunderstood because of its contrast with the traditional use known by the faithful. Such attention extends also to the sensitivity of the non-Catholic faithful, in particular of those belonging to the same Tradition.
The whole of the prescriptions listed by can. 707 is relatively secondary with respect to the totality of the eucharistic sacrament. Nonetheless, it is laden with spiritual meanings belonging to a coherent system, enabling an optimal introduction to full knowledge of the eucharistic Mystery.
To remove some of these entails the risk of impoverishing the general framework. Their importance is reiterated in can. 713 § 2 which insists that “the Christian faithful are to observe faithfully the norms of the Church in which they are enrolled, not only within the territorial boundaries of the same Church, but, inasmuch as it is possible, everywhere.”
Note how can. 707 refers to the particular law of each Church , which must establish accurate norms concerning the eucharistic celebrations. This does not mean to belittle the importance, but to express the desire that the specificity and diversity of the different authentic traditions be protected. It is fitting that the particular liturgical law express and guarantee the proper physiognomy and authenticity of each particular liturgical family or tradition.