By Phillip Rolfes
“Phillip. When are you going to attend a Sunday Divine Liturgy at Sacred Heart?”
Fr. Joseph Marquis—pastor of Sacred Heart Byzantine Catholic Church in Livonia, MI.—had been asking me this same question every Saturday for several months as he browsed through the Catholic bookstore where I was working. My response was always the same:
“I’m waiting for my wife to come with me.”
Then one Sunday morning the opportunity presented itself. My bride was ill and in bed, and probably wasn’t going to wake up until sometime in the afternoon. So, with her permission I made the 45-minute drive from Ann Arbor to Livonia (a suburb of Detroit) and attended my first Byzantine Catholic Liturgy—the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.
Coming home for the first time…
From the moment I set foot in the church, I was flooded with this peaceful “at home” feeling—you know, that feeling you get when you set foot in your childhood home after being away for several years. It felt as though I’d been there before; like I’d grown up there. Like I was coming back to where I belonged.
And the strange thing was, that feeling only intensified once the Divine Liturgy began.
The deacon moved out of the sanctuary and stood in front of the central doors of the icon screen, then sang out, “Reverend father, give the blessing.” At that invitation, Fr. Joseph’s voice boomed like the voice of God out of the sanctuary as he intoned, “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and forever.”
I don’t remember much of my first Divine Liturgy. Only impressions. Honestly, I was completely lost the whole time. Although I was sitting with the deacon’s son—who was a friend of mine—mimicking him and trying to follow along in the green Liturgy book, I eventually had to just close the book and try to absorb what was going on around me.
For me it was a truly life-changing experience. And I’ve been on a mission to mine the riches of the Christian East ever since.
That was over a decade ago.
Why am I telling you this?
I honestly believe that most Catholics aren’t aware of just how big the Catholic Church is—of how rich our tradition is.
Since, here in the U.S., the majority of Catholics are Roman Catholic, it’s easy for us to assume that the only way to really be Catholic is the Roman Catholic way. Sure we may pay lip-service to Pope St. John Paul II’s “two lung” theory—that the Church is made up of a Western “lung” and an Eastern “lung,” and that we must learn to “breathe with both lungs”—but when it comes down to it, how many of us are willing to experience that theory lived in the concrete realities of ecclesial life?
But if we are to be fully Catholic—i.e. universal or according to the whole—then it’s absolutely essential for Roman Catholics to rediscover the rich theological, liturgical, and spiritual heritage of the Christian East.
My goal is simply to help this process along. No, I’m not trying to “convert” you to Eastern Catholicism (although we’d certainly welcome you). It’s my hope that in discovering the riches of the “Eastern lung” of the Catholic Church, you’ll come to a deeper appreciation of your own tradition. After all, as Vatican II reminds us:
“It must be remembered that, from their very origins, the churches of the east have had a treasury from which the church of the west has drawn… Nor must we underestimate the fact that the basic dogmas of the Christian faith concerning the Trinity and the Word of God made flesh from the Virgin Mary were defined in ecumenical councils held in the east” (Decree on Ecumenism, 14, emphasis added).
In these blog posts I invite you to journey together with me to the “light of the East” and mine deeply the “treasury” from which the Church of the West has drawn. God willing this journey will help you appreciate your own Western traditions all the more.
Phillip Rolfes is That Eastern Catholic Guy. A “canonical convert” from Roman Catholicism to Maronite Catholicism, Phillip loves researching and sharing the rich traditions of the Christian East. He lives in Cincinnati, OH. with his wife and four children, and is parishioner at St. Anthony of Padua Maronite Catholic Church.