Rorate Caeli

Is the Novus Ordo influencing even the Melkites? Just asking.

The Melkite Greek Catholic Eparchy of Newton (with jurisdiction over the Melkites of the United States) recently came up with a new official English translation of the Divine Liturgy. The following is an excerpt from an analysis of the translation, written by a Melkite priest. While there are positive aspects to the translation, according to this analysis, there are others that will cause disquiet not just for Eastern Catholics, but also for Roman Catholics who already know the damage caused by the liturgical reforms of our age, so profoundly distant from the liturgical spirit.

(The analysis refers to the translation as a "final draft"; since then it has been promulgated by the Melkite hierarchy as the sole official English translation of the Divine Liturgy in the Eparchy of Newton.)

Given recent signs that some in the Eastern Churches are influenced by contemporary "Roman" practice (the de facto adoption of ad populum by some jurisdictions, especially those of Syriac origin; the hybridized "Melkite Vespers" with Novus Ordo-style general intercessions celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI last year in Jordan, and the controversial "Revised Divine Liturgy" of the Byzantine Catholic Church in America, among others), and given the recent calls of some Eastern Catholic prelates for sweeping liturgical reforms (see this for example), surely our Eastern Catholic brothers will forgive a Latin Catholic blog such as ours, for the interest and concern with which it views some (and not necessarily all) of the liturgical developments in their Churches.

Those who think that our concerns on these matters are misplaced are invited to (charitably) explain why, in the combox.

Here is the excerpt:

This also brings to the fore the question of the legitimacy of some of the options themselves. Here and there options are presented that obviously reflect the spirit of the Roman Church's post-Vatican II ‘people’s participation’. For example, the Ektene after the homily presents an option in which ‘readers’ chosen from the laity stand in the “middle aisle” facing each other and offer petitions from a large collection at the end of the volume. (The text is silent whether additional ‘made up’ petitions are allowed.) In short, a practice is being introduced that is a direct copy of the Roman Novus Ordo practice of "general intercessions" after the homily – a practice that is, to my knowledge, without precedent in the Byzantine Tradition.

The directions for the litanies after the homily also are troublesome from a theological perspective. The Litany of the Catechumens is directed to be done only “if there are Catechumens” present, and only one of the Prayers of the Faithful is to be included “(for brevity)”. This emphasis on 'brevity' extends to the introduction to the Holy Creed, directing that “if” there are Catechumens the traditional exclamation, “The Doors! The Doors!” is to be used, but otherwise omitted. The problem here is that it is debatable whether the “The Doors! The Doors!” ever related to the catechumens, given that they presumably were dismissed earlier, before the Great Entrance. Rather the exclamation was a warning to ensure that non-Christians not be admitted to the celebration of the Eucharist and Holy Communion. Thus, the exclamation has traditionally served as a reminder to worshippers of times of past persecution and the superlative holiness of the liturgical actions that will follow.

As to the omission of the Litany of the Catechumens and editing of the two Litanies of the Faithful "for brevity", the time factor in their inclusion amounts to a mere two or three minutes. Also, one must consider the spiritual possibility that whether present or not, the Church should always offer prayers for catechumens, recognizing that there are perhaps many whom our Lord is leading to His Church who have yet to realize this and so have not yet participated in the Divine Services. Offering this litany confirms our prayers to strengthen those 'invisible catechumens' whom we may not even know but whom God will lead to join with us in the future. It also reminds us of our duty to proclaim the Gospel in our whole life, not just in church, and thus encourages us to give daily witness to the True Faith such that those invisible catechumens may be inspired to come forward. Reflecting on the call to evangelism, omitting the Litany of the Catechumens could be said to border on sacrilege.

When viewed together, it seems that the various optional directions in the Final Draft combine to promote a Liturgy significantly influenced by the current Roman Rite Mass. While a few of the options present legitimate variations in the customary practice of the Church, most have the effect of encouraging a ‘shortening’ of the Liturgy to suit modern sensibilities and convenience or to promote a more "people friendly" (to wit, emotionally moving rather than spiritually uplifting) experience. During the reception of Holy Communion by the laity, there is even a note allowing the singing of “spiritual hymns” after the singing of “Receive me now, O Son of God”. One shudders at the thought of chanters or a choir singing “And He Will Lift You Up on Eagles Wings” at this most sacred moment!


  1. I attend a Melkite parish.

    My instincts tell me that while a few parishes might try having lay readers offer petitions, it will justly die out very soon. I know it will never catch on in parishes with Deacons.

    The "spiritual songs" during Communion doubtless mean Psalms and stichera and other hymns from the Office of the Sunday or Feast, though the Ruthenians and Ukrainians have developed a large repertoire of what I call "spirituals" for lack of a better word.

    I would have preferred "ages of ages" to "forever and ever," but the explanation is that this is how English Bibles render "eis tous ainos ton aionon."

    I would suggest adding "and in the vastness of the heavens" to the petition for travelers. Those in the space station and future space missions are NOT traveling by air.

  2. I believe the author of this post has been confused by the title "Prayers of the Faithful" given to two silent prayers said by the priest prior to the Prayer of the Cherubikon, and has assumed that they are similar to the General Intercessions of the Roman Rite which are often (though incorrectly) referred to as the "prayers of the faithful." Whatever the Holy Father may have done in Jordan during Vespers with the Melkites I can't say; but there's certainly nothing resembling the general intercessions in any of our services.

    Finally, there is a code phrase in this post which I think explains everything: he refers to our new translation as "the controversial 'Revised Divine Liturgy' of the Byzantine Catholic Church in America." The RDL, which our Church promulgated in 2007, is not controversial except in the minds of those who prefer the Latinized "hodge-podge" that was used before it, and which varied from parish to parish because there was no book which contained it. Using an old English translation of the Divine Liturgy published in Rome in 1947, priests would add things like ringing hand bells at the consecration, and would omit certain things such as whole litanies after the Gospel or before Holy Communion, as well as the whole cycle of antiphons sung at the very beginning of the Liturgy which corresponds to the Penitential Rite of the Mass of the Roman Rite. The result was an abbreviated service that typically omitted about a third of the Divine Liturgy of John Chrysostom (including the Epiclesis), and which began almost immediately with the reading of the Epistle -- clearly an aberration. The RDL was a restoration of the Divine Liturgies of John Chrysostom and Basil the Great according to the most ancient texts available, and their translation into an intelligent form of English. It's only viewed as controversial by old-style Greek Catholics who have no sense of history, and who have come to believe that the "hodge-podge" cut-and-paste, semi-Roman service they grew up with was given by God directly to John Chrysostom. By the same token, they tend to view the Liturgies of Basil the Great and Gregory the Theologian, both of which now have been restored to extensive use in our Church during Lent, as innovations.

    With regard for the command "The doors, the doors!", I cannot comment: since the creation of the Ruthenian Recension of the Byzantine Rite was created in 1646, the Ruthenian Churches have always opened the Royal Doors after the initial incensation, and left them opened for the duration of the Divine Liturgy; thus, the commands regarding the doors present in other Liturgikons are obviously omitted in the RDL since they would serve no practical purpose. The doors are opened and closed during other services, however; so the command is present in our books for Vespers and other services. I am not aware of anything linking the command about the doors to the presence of catechumens; so I don't know where he's getting that from.

    The author of this post has obviously fallen under the influence of a small group of Byzantine Catholics who routinely post on a particular forum and who have been floating resistance to the RDL ever since it was promulgated. If you go there, you'll see they are often egged on in their discontent by Orthodox polemicists who never tire of trying to entice Byzantine Catholics into schism. It's disappointing that "rorate-caeli" has fallen into their trap and accepted their arguments.

  3. This is incredible, and incredibly disturbing. And the fact that the Melkites are implementing these changes, even with the benefit of seeing what has occurred in the Holy Roman Church these last four decades, totally boggles the mind and tempts one into the sin of despair. O Lord, save thy people!

  4. To correct some things said in the original posting, while the English version will be used primarily in the USA, it will also be for ALL Melkite Eparchies and parishes that use English liturgically.

    The quasi-Vespers celebrated when Pope Benedict visited the Melkite Cathedral in Amman did have some questionable things; it was not real Vespers. But probably these deviations were intended to accomodate those other Eastern Catholics, as well as Roman Catholics, who were there. It certainly does not represent how Vespers as celebrated at Melkite parishes.

    Finally, if you want to see the Liturgy version in question, please go to this site

    and compare it with any Orthodox version you like. It simply is not that different, with the exception of optional new petitions and prayers.

    But I wish they had included the changeable Ambon prayers.

  5. Anonymous4:10 AM

    The Melkite Church here in the San Fernando Valley has altar girls.
    The Ruthenian Church has removed the word "man" from the creed in deference to feminists.

  6. What several of the commentators of this blog's report of my critique have either misunderstood or chosen to ignore is the fact that it is troublesome for the "final draft" to present the various options at all. Secondly, the prohibitions against historic and important elements of the Liturgy (Litany of the Catechumens, Litany of the Faithful, "The Doors! The Doors!") are equally troublesome.

    To Jack: What is intended by "Spiritual Songs" 'no doubt' means whatever a particular parish considers it to mean. I am personally aware of at least one Melkite parish that think they are studying the ultimate in Eastern spirituality when reading the latest Scott Hahn release. This gives no confidence that the introduction of a "Hippie Hymn" is not just a hop, skip and a jump away.

    Priestly Pugilist should look at the Final Draft and its instructions before assuming a misunderstanding on the author's part. After the homily there are four Litanies: the Litany of Fervent Supplication; Litany of the Catechumen; and First and Second Litanies of the Faithful. Yes these include priestly prayers that may be said 'silently', but they also feature traditional litanical structures "All we faithful, again and again in peace let us pray to the Lord....".

    Further, "The Doors! The Doors!" have no bearing on the Royal Gate but on the entryways into the Nave of the Church. These were instructions to the Doorkeepers to close the door and admit no one during the Holy Anaphora and reception of Communion. It is base nonsense to assume that this exclamation had/has to do with whether the Royal Gate is open or closed. (In fact, in many Mediterranean tradition Churches, the Royal Gate is opened at the beginning of the Liturgy and not closed again until after "Through the prayers...".

    As to the "RDL", I have seen both the people's version and the priest's version, and can state plainly that if it is a step forward in reclaiming the Ruthenian Heritage, there is a long path still to tread before reaching the final destination.

    To Jack: Yes, I should have included that link in my original posting. But note: As I stated at the beginning it is in the 'options' that the whole issue is troublesome. The Constantinopolitan Liturgical Tradition does not admit the kind of optional choices found in the "final draft" and also so prevalent in the Novus Ordo. This is an aberration. In addition, as I note in my article and Rorate didn't include in his excerpts, the 'final draft' is devoid of true rubrics - with the exception of the prohibitions of the Litany of the Catechumens and instructions regarding the "The Doors! The Doors!". Rather it presents vague descriptions, helpful perhaps for the confused parishioner or visitor but useless for the clergy desiring to fully offer the Liturgy following the Tradition of the Church Fathers.

    To Anonymous: I can add that I have knowledge of Melkite priests celebrating the Divine Liturgy using Roman style unleavened hosts, with the full knowledge and tacit approval of the Eparch. This is totally contrary to and against the canons of the Melkite Church, yet is seem to be an acceptable variation.

    Finally, regarding the "for ever and ever", refer back to the original critique as I address this question and why it is part of a pattern that is foolish, betraying ignorance of Byzantine Liturgical theology, and therefore dangerous.

    To Rorate: Thanks for featuring my critique. I am humbly honored.

    The Byzantine Rambler.

  7. Anonymous2:50 PM

    From Priestly Pugilist:

    With regard for the command "The doors, the doors!", I cannot comment: since the creation of the Ruthenian Recension of the Byzantine Rite was created in 1646, the Ruthenian Churches have always opened the Royal Doors after the initial incensation, and left them opened for the duration of the Divine Liturgy; thus, the commands regarding the doors present in other Liturgikons are obviously omitted in the RDL since they would serve no practical purpose. The doors are opened and closed during other services, however; so the command is present in our books for Vespers and other services. I am not aware of anything linking the command about the doors to the presence of catechumens; so I don't know where he's getting that from.

    The doors of the iconostasis opened by the priest at the beginning of the liturgy are not the doors being spoken of in that sequence.

    Rather, the doors mentioned in "The doors, the doors, let us be attentive" are the doors traditionally at the side of the church through which the catechumens were dismissed at the end of the Mass of the Catechumens and before the Mass of the Faithful.

    I was a member of a Ruthenian parish for many years and then moved out of state, ending up in a Melkite parish (which now has the "Sign of Peace" handshake and women lectors). Recently we began going to the local Ruthenian parish and are surprised at the awful tones that are now in use.

    Why the tones had to change, I have no idea, but they are unsingable by the overwhelming majority of the parish, and the cantors can't do them either.

  8. Anonymous7:36 PM

    The text of Melkite Vespers celebrated by the Pope Benedict XVI in Amman, Jordan, was ultimately responsability of the Vatican, not from the Eparchy in Amman, who had wanted to do it traditionally.

    Philippe Gebara

  9. Zosima7:27 PM

    The current Melkite eparch has had some puzzling ideas about liturgy before.

    At a conference a few years ago, he expressed interest in Fr. Emmanuel McCarthy's suggestion to change the anaphora of the Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom and make it emphasize the concept of nonviolence more, by adding words to stress the defenseless self-surrender of Jesus.

    The expressions being suggested as possible changes were theologically unobjectionable in themselves, but they would be redundant, because the anaphora is already explicit about Jesus' voluntary self-surrender. The clergy at the conference were horrified at the idea of modifying the anaphora, and spoke openly about the lack of need for such changes.

    As for the new draft English translation, I hope that the Melkite synod will prevent any inappropriate additions.

    I have visited Melkite parishes off and on for a long time, and can say that non-Melkite music has not invaded the Divine Liturgy around here, though singing by priests, cantors, and choirs is often weak.

    As in the West, knowledge of the chant tradition has been lost.

  10. Anonymous6:17 PM

    I do not understand what is the problem of the abbreviation of the liturgy by itself. That was not what St. John Chrysostom did in his text of the Divine Liturgy, abbreviating St. Basil`s Liturgy; as well the same St. Basil, who abbreviated, in his turn, the St. James` Liturgy?

    I deeply expect an answer.


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