Byzantine Catholic Church in America: News
Ancient Byzantine Liturgy: Incense, chant, mystery

THE BOOK of the Gospels is brought forward in procession by Deacon Gregory Haddad. In the Byzantine Liturgy, only the clergy are permitted to enter the sanctuary, which serves as a true Holy of Holies. At Holy Name Church, the door to the sanctuary is delineated by the altar servers, who hold a pair of ripidions to create a sacred walkway.

DEACON Gregory Haddad, above, proclaims the Gospel in chant from the area in front of the sanctuary. Most of the Liturgy is chanted using repetitive sequences.


ORNATE OBJECTS and icons are commonplace in the Byzantine Liturgy. At left is a ripidion, which is raised by the altar servers during the “Little Entrance” and “Great Entrance” processions. The pair of ripidions represent the cherubim and the seraphim angels, which is why they accompany the priests in processions with the Gifts and the Book of Gospels. The gilded cover on the Book of Gospels depicts the four evangelists in the corners – St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. Luke and St. John – and the crucifixion of Jesus. At the beginning of the Byzantine Liturgy, the priest venerates icons of Jesus and Mary, which are located in front of the sanctuary. The sanctuary itself is a manifestation of heaven.


Jesuit Father Kirk Mansell, who directs retreats at Manresa, talks to first- and second-graders about Byzantine traditions. “The Book of Gospels is very important,” Father Mansell said. “That’s why we decorate it so pretty.” He added that people celebrate Mass in different ways. When we go to a Byzantine Mass, we always pull out our family pictures,” he said, referring to a portrait of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. Then pointing to the icons of Jesus and Mary at the front of the sanctuary, Father Mansell said, “We are holy by our actions, just as Jesus and Mary are.”

JESUIT FATHER Paul Patin, pastor of Holy Name of Jesus Church, kisses the bottom of the chalice after receiving the Precious Blood as a sign of reverence. During the Byzantine Divine Liturgy, the consecrated bread and wine are mixed together, along with hot water, so that the Eucharist is saturated. Communicants receive by tilting their heads backward and opening their mouths, allowing the priest to drop the Eucharist into their mouths with a spoon. At left is Marist Father Ellis DePriest, whose interest in teaching the Byzantine Liturgy to Notre dame Seminary students in the late 1970s eventually led to he establishment of the Byzantine Catholic Mission of St. Nicholas of Myra on South Carrollton Avenue in New Orleans.


A DAY before the Byzantine Liturgy, Jesuit Father Jim Deshotels, above right, explained to altar servers Jimmy Flotte, Ben Moseley, Pat Countiss and Chas Toth how to help out with Communion. The cloth is used to catch any crumbs that might fall from the Eucharist. Also helping out with the training were Holy Name of Jesus parish director of religious education Buddy Noel and Deacon Haddad.

DEACON HADDAD does a run-through with the altar servers in an empty church. There are approximately one million Eastern Catholics in the U.S. Eastern Catholics are in full communion with Rome but follow a special tradition of Catholicism and have special liturgy. The Byzantine rite is the best known of the Eastern rites and the Byzantine Catholic Church is the largest of the Eastern Catholic Churches with more than six million faithful worldwide. A family from Jackson, Miss., regularly travels to New Orleans to celebrate the Byzantine Liturgy.


Photos and text provided the Clarion Herald, official newspaper of the Archdiocese of New Orleans and are used with permission. Photos by Frank J. Methe, Text by Peter Finney, Jr. Original design by Florence Herman. Original publication date was February 26, 2003.