Sunday, February 05, 2017

"Functionally biritual"?! How does that work?

Biritualism is officially a clergy thing. A Roman Rite priest can get permission from an Eastern Catholic church to serve in it if he knows the rite well enough, etc., so he can help out in a parish, for example. To pray specifically for the Russian Orthodox to return to the church and for Communism to end in Russia, Fulton Sheen got that from the Ruthenian Church. I'm just a layman, but with my background and with a Ukrainian Catholic parish now almost in my neighborhood, having moved from a dying city, I say I'm functionally biritual. Divine Liturgy once a month and prayers in the Byzantine Rite often daily at home in front of icons from a late Russian gentleman (half are medieval style, half 19th-century; all very tsarist).

So, since that and the traditional Roman Rite are often not in sync, how does that work for me? If you're not closely following the office/hours, it's not hard.

First, you have to pick the dates for Easter and Christmas (and other fixed-date feasts) to follow. Most people don't know that the Catholic Church has two Easters and two Christmases! (Alas, not double the presents.) No problem. It's not doctrine, not about two Christs; just commemorations. Easy to choose in America, where most Greek Catholic (Byzantine Rite Catholic) churches have adopted both the Western date for Easter and the Gregorian calendar for fixed-date feasts. Until the '50s they were old-calendar here; nothing to do with Vatican II. The Orthodox are mixed: here they all keep their old, usually later date for Easter, but most have gone with the Gregorian calendar, so they have two Christmases too. Why the two calendars? The Julian calendar from Roman times was falling behind, so in the late 1500s the Pope's astronomers corrected it. That affected the calculation of the date for Easter and of course fixed-date feasts. Anti-Catholic countries put off adopting the new calendar; England (and thus America) didn't until the mid-1700s and Russia didn't until 1918 (and then only for secular use)! There is no doctrinal reason to keep the old calendar; it's science, not theology. But the Orthodox want to spite the Catholic Church. To which the church says, "No matter. It's not de fide. Want to use the old dates? Fine with us." Catholics in the Ukraine do, for example, just like the Russians.

With more informal versions of the offices, having a foot in each rite is doable; for example, the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, sort of a quick tour of the Roman Breviary for laymen. Likewise, the Byzantine Rite has daily troparia and kontakia (equivalent to collects) that are tied to days of the week (the angels on Monday, St. John the Baptist on Tuesday, the cross on Wednesday and Friday, the apostles and St. Nicholas on Thursday, and all saints and the dead on Saturday; this includes the eves, the liturgical way). Just like the rosary is independent of the liturgical calendar.

So in Byzantine mode I follow the Gregorian calendar except for something big such as Russian Christmas, Jan. 7: troparion and kontakion of the day.

I keep Friday abstinence year round (that famous Catholic thing*) but not Wednesday, and the modern Roman Rite's fasting rules** but the traditional Roman and Orthodox midnight fast for Communion. Ideally I'd go to a friendly OCA (long story short, Russian Orthodox) parish for Saturday Vespers (since the Catholic parishes don't do it), part of the Russian discipline for receiving Communion, but my Saturday evenings aren't free. Don't worry; I wouldn't try to preach to anyone.

*You're supposed to pick an alternative self-discipline/self-denial/penance if you eat meat, but who does that? In practice the change was a sellout, a disparagement of fasting and a weakening of, yes, Catholic community. And by the way you don't have to eat fish; the story about Pope helping Italian fishermen's a joke.

**I can't do extreme fasting; deal with it. Thanks to "economy," many of the Orthodox don't do it either.


  1. "Are you a Byzantine Catholic?"

    Born Episcopalian turned very conservative Roman Riter.

    Chances are the born Byzantine Catholics don't sweat this stuff so if they do anything religious at home it's Roman Rite such as the rosary. It's outsiders like me who go all Eastern.

  2. A bit of background: when I came back to the church, after years of putting up with Orthocreeps saying my native tradition is crap, I didn't set foot in any Eastern-rite church for four years.

  3. Another thing is my spirituality if you can call it that is pretty generic, without much unique to either rite (such as hesychasm or Ignatian spirituality, for example). It's not extreme for its own sake: Christian basics (it's about Jesus) a traditional Lutheran or a traditional Anglican is fine with except for disputed points of ecclesiology and sacramentology. So it's not hard for my faith to wear the garb of either traditional rite. That faith: God, Christ, Trinity, hypostatic union, Mother of God, bishops, the Mass, and the option of using images. Icons are Byzantine of course, and I treat them the Byzantine way, not as decoration, but they're not out of place. I like the idea that icons are a quasi-sacramental presence, halfway between an ordinary image and a sacrament such as the Eucharist. I also like the one articulated by Ware that scripture is part of big-t Tradition, as in holy tradition (not the same as customs); not two sources of the faith but one, the exact opposite of what Protestants think. That and, like Anglican semi-congregationalism and for a similar reason, Orthodoxy's grassroots traditionalism always appeals to me. A small-t tradition, a culture, that has potential to reach the unchurched and lapsed uniquely because it doesn't have some of the West's cultural baggage, even though in America it isn't really happening (Catholics already have the true apostolic faith, and the Easterners, Catholic and Orthodox, lose their people to assimilation within three generations).

    There is an Orthodox tradition, not an Orthodox Church.

  4. John, you mention that you attend the Russian vespers because your parish does not do it; should not a traditional Roman-rite parish, as a minimum, have the Saturday first vespers and the Sunday second vespers of the Sunday, at least if the Sunday is a Double, followed by Benediction?

    1. The OCA parish is not really Russian; it's part of the OCA's slight majority, Ruthenians who left the Catholic Church 100 years ago, but the people there now (not many left) are nice. One older couple from upstate Pennsylvania has nothing but good to say about the Roman Rite priest in their town when they were young. I would attend if I were free on Saturday evenings and planning to go to Communion the next day at one of my Catholic parishes of course. But of course I was thinking it's especially fitting as part of my monthly Byzantine Rite Sunday and more frequent Byzantine Rite devotions (for example, canons) at home.

      Traditional Roman Rite parishes in full flower have Second Vespers; never heard of the parishes having First. At late as the 1800s Second Vespers was standard; then starting in the 1900s radio, movies, TV, and now this medium have killed Sunday-night church for all but some black Protestants. But on paper Second Vespers was still required of parishes in this archdiocese until about 10 years ago. There is a Novus Ordo convent downtown that has the new office open to the public.

      I got into the traditional Roman office, namely, Sunday Vespers and Little Office, thanks to the local Tridentine former Anglo-Papalist parish, St. Clement's, which by the 2000s had stopped doing Sunday Evensong and Benediction and started doing Breviary Vespers and Benediction in Anglican English. This later changed to Latin, but alas, the place has Episcopalianized its theology; I stopped going in 2010.

    2. Also, my parish isn't full-time traditional; it's conservative Novus Ordo with a Tridentine Sung Mass.

  5. "What about venerating post-schism Orthodox saints?"

    My Catholic practice isn't that saint-crazy anyway. As for these, the church gives them the benefit of the doubt so some "advanced high church" Byzantine Catholics do. So I don't mind if you do! I don't do it.

  6. I don't march through all the morning and evening prayers in the Orthodox prayer books; I read some of the morning ones for that trisagion. I do more of a quick tour of the hours: trisagion, a psalm or three (a morning favorite is Psalm 90/91), prayers from Matins or Vespers, maybe with stichera from the out-of-print Uniontown Byzantine Catholic office books (I'm blessed to have a set), and the daily troparia. The prayer often attributed to the Optina elders is a morning favorite.


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