Eastern Worship v. Western? Fair and unfair comparisons.

I ran into a couple videos online, one entirely unfair but mildly amusing and infuriating, the other more edifying and instructive.

They both make a “comparison”, though shallow, of Orthodox and Catholic liturgical worship.

First, infuriating and amusing and unfair.

I’m sure many of you have seen the horrific video of the liturgical horror show horribly perpetrated in Brazil. That is NOT representative of what Catholics do in true sacred liturgical worship. To juxtapose it with the best of what Russians do on a great feast is entirely unfair. STILL, it is useful in several respects, which you will surely be able to enunciate on your own.

Next, edifying and instructive.

This makes a much fairer comparison of the Orthodox and the Roman Rites. For a truer comparison, we have to place the Pontifical Divine Liturgy of the Orthodox side by side with the Pontifical Solemn Mass of the Romans, especially in an environment that is commensurate with the Orthodox cathedral.

It would be a great project for someone out there – perhaps for a student project? – to compare, alternating, snips from Bp Slattery’s tremendous Mass at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception…

… and the Russian Orthodox celebration of Christmas in the Cathedral of Moscow.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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24 Responses to Eastern Worship v. Western? Fair and unfair comparisons.

  1. Mike of Arkansas says:

    Perhaps we Traditionalists can learn from the Brazillian model. It seems to me that for a Requiem Mass, the solemn and severe text of the Dies Irae fits the ethereal beatuty of Einzug der Gladiatoren rather well.

    A joke, of course. I enjoyed the second clip. Unfortunately, the first clip far better represents typical RCC practice in the last fifty years than does the second.

  2. Mathieu says:

    Great comparison in the second video. I might be biased, but I greatly prefer the Catholic to the Orthodox, there is more contemplative silence.

  3. sarto2010 says:

    And compare the solemn entry of Bishop Slattery, hands joined, eyes downcast, fixed of the awfulness of his duties with the entry of Cardinal Dolan at any Mass, laughing, talking, pointing, smiling, high-fiving all and sundry …

  4. ChesterFrank says:

    Might the RC’s “team Brazil” be trying to emulate the splendor of the Olympic Games opening ceremony?

  5. Mike of Arkansas said:

    Unfortunately, the first clip far better represents typical RCC practice in the last fifty years than does the second.

    Forgive me, but that’s not only not fair, it also misses the mark in an unhelpful way. The problem in the Latin Rite over the past fifty years is not typified by the grotesque behaviors in that video, but rather by a drastic impoverishment of the liturgy that then created an opening for the things showcased in that first video. It’s important to understand why people introduced dancing girls and circus acts, and you can see it in architectural changes. First the churches were stripped of beauty; and then the faithful, gaping upon the resulting barrenness, began filling it up again with all manner of banners and plants and other pious brikabrak.

    What you saw in the first video is not what most parishes experience; they experience barrenness, with a succession of attempts to dress it up.

  6. Qwikness says:

    Orthodox Liturgies have that thing where people do the sign of the cross almost whenever they want. And that incessant droning of the chorus in the background makes my ears just want a rest.
    I do like the DL’s though. I have heard Orthodoxy is the largest growing faiths. I wonder if it is because of a desire for something real and something ancient. In other words, what we threw away.

  7. danielinnola says:

    Well i love our EF mass the sunday solemn high Mass is done well and beautifully. On occassion i make a Sunday Low Mass in a chapel offered by the SSPX.. i love the silence, even tho i had an Orthodox Priest tell me our low Mass in the west was a Medieval aberration..he wasnt criticizing mind you, we were just talking about the differences.. the Orthodox only have DL in the Monasterys because it has to be done with chant and deacons.. not possible in a Parish setting on a daily basis. Sometimes i will go to the Orthodox Liturgy, Greek, and Antiochian. I love the prostrations, the crontinual crossings and if your lucky enough to go to a Russian church that uses Old Church Slavonic, you might hear the agni Parthene chanted at the antidoron.. its hauntingly beautiful

  8. ce lathrop says:

    Orthodox deacon here. Obviously I’m biased in the Eastern direction. But it’s regrettable that these videos were made, because they are something of a hatchet job and definitely are judgmental. At the same time, Orthodox might wonder at how the RC church, with its apparent advantage of a unitary and top-down chain of command (an ecclesial model we obviously consider unacceptable) can allow some of the nonsense that we see here, while Orthodoxy, for all our seeming disorganization and lack of a Pope, doesn’t have this sort of thing. Not that we haven’t made a mess of things liturgically (cf. Fr. Robert Taft’s work). A better comparison would be between the liturgies at typical parishes, in my opinion.

  9. katholos says:

    Orthodox Christians as well as Eastern Catholics generally make the Sign of the Cross whenever the Holy Trinity is invoked and Orthodox choirs can be quite beautiful. That being said I have no intentions of letting the liturgical hooligans drive me out of the Roman Rite and will stand with those who are working to restore our beautiful liturgical patrimony.

  10. DcnJohnSaturus says:

    Unfair, yes. But the Sunday Liturgy at an average Orthodox parish, I think, is closer to the Orthodox ideal, than an average Roman Catholic parish comes to the Roman Catholic ideal.

  11. J Kusske says:

    I’ve been taking part in the Divine Liturgy in Beijing at the Russian church (Dormition of the Most Blessed Theotokos) the past few years as a member of the choir, the only man usually, and I’ve visited Orthodox churches elsewhere, nearly all Russian practice. In the normal parish setting having a 20-voice multipart choir is a distant dream, four parts is the ideal and often with men being scarce only three or even fewer are practicable, but singers are very experienced and can jump in to fill parts as needed. (Women even do bass lines at times, in the absence of men.) There is much less variety in the tones: there is a strict scheme of the Eight Tones for the Troparions of the day etc, but once you learn those tones you can jump in to any new text and sing it well, language questions aside. For the Song of the Cherubim, Milost Mira / Sviat Sviat Sviat, etc. a much greater variety of settings are available, though some are more common than others, and experienced parishoners know them. I am partial to a few myself and can jump in easily from memory! I’m lucky as a bass I can get away with half pronouncing the Slavonic words and by doing beginnings and cadences convincingly I fit in with the upper voice native speakers covering me. By now I also know the most common phrases intuitively. Another style of traditional chant employs one line of chant and a drone, or “ison”, notably Valaam chant in Russian practice, and Serbian and Greek chant. It is easy for the bass but deceptively so as one has to change the harmonic ground as appropriate. One’s mind can never wander–nor should it! It is certainly true there is much less silence in the Divine Liturgy, as the choir is singing whenever the priest and deacons aren’t, as an integral part of the liturgical action, even during reception of Holy Communion (we chant Telo Christovo in a repeating loop) and some of a Western sensibility find it disconcerting, but I find it hauntingly beautiful. The normal parish setting is much closer to the ideal than the average modern Catholic parish is to its ideal, too. I’m very grateful I’ve been graced with joining the Russian church in Beijing, and hope we Latins can gain from what Eastern Christians are doing!

  12. J Kusske says:

    Another profitable comparison would be the Easter Vigil and the Pascha Divine Liturgy. Both are the high point of the liturgical year and all the bells and whistles are in use. The special Pascha chants are lovely, and the constant call and response of “Christ is risen!” “He is risen indeed!” very joyous in a spontaneous kind of way. We have a big feast afterwards of all the non-fasting food people have not been eating for all of Lent (meat, dairy, eggs) and only finish as morning is drawing on… And since the Pascha liturgy starts at midnight sharp, with the canonical hours perhaps half an hour or 40 minutes previous, there is plenty of time to get in both in years when Easter is the same East and West.

  13. Spade says:

    Father Fox said, “What you saw in the first video is not what most parishes experience; they experience barrenness, with a succession of attempts to dress it up.”

    My wife and I were discussing Fr Fox’s statement on that, and we’ve been in a lot of barren and ugly churches, but we were reminded of the Church where we got married. It was an older church that used to be the cathedral for a bit and mostly survived Vatican II unscathed (except for the rail, and the altar’s kinda lame, but so it goes). We originally didn’t want to get flowers for the wedding because, as we said, the Church didn’t need them. Our current church, well, the past few priests have done what they can to a 1970’s brick thing. The previous pastor renovated it a bit (couldn’t get permission to just tear it down) partly because he was so irritated that there wasn’t a single curved line in the place.

    “But it’s regrettable that these videos were made, because they are something of a hatchet job and definitely are judgmental”

    Yeah, well, sometimes people need to see things starkly to see clearly.

  14. Grumpy Beggar says:

    I remember the nausea factor being pretty intense first time I saw that video from the National Shrine of Our Lady of Aparacida in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

    . . . did some reading around: Some say that particular shrine is being “held hostage by liberals” . One person opined that some of the footage might actually disgust even clown Mass protagonists.

    Whatever the case, the real shocking stuff we were subjected to seems to have taken place during the Solemn Novena to Our Lady of Aparacida.

    If you want to see what a Solemn Mass looks like in the same Church – which would be a “fairer” comparison, click HERE and scroll from about 1:33:30 to 1:40:00 and you can see it from roughly the epiclesis through to the per ipsum and the grand Amen.

    Even though the presider and concelebrants appear to be piously celebrating the (OF) Mass, I still find some of the music to be a little brash. But it’s still far different from that Barnum & Bailey procession that we all saw rolling up to the edge of the sanctuary.

  15. Cantor says:

    Sadly, the most striking thing to me was the apparent age of the churchgoers. Based on these views, the Orthodox community has priests to spare and a dying group of parishioners whilst the Catholics lack the reverence but might have hope for a future.

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  17. Felipe says:

    Thank you Pope Benedict XVI for Summorum Pontificum. I pray that more Bishops will celebrate Pontifical Solemn High Masses. I love the Roman Rite, in my opinion it is the greatest Rite. The Novus Ordo can be celebrated reverently, tragically that usually isn’t the case.

  18. Imrahil says:

    Dear ce lanthrop,

    at the same time, Orthodox might wonder at how the RC church, with its apparent advantage of a unitary and top-down chain of command (an ecclesial model we obviously consider unacceptable) can allow some of the nonsense that we see here, while Orthodoxy, for all our seeming disorganization and lack of a Pope, doesn’t have this sort of thing.

    Setting the question why you consider unacceptable, and obviously at that, an organization structure that our Lord obviously Himself wanted His Church to have –

    the answer to your implied question is, I think, obvious.

    We may deplore the effects in the one or the other case such as the Gospel introduction here or so; and I might get back to that when I should write a real comment on the article here. But all in all, the reason that a great variety (including even things like this) appears in the Catholic Church is that we, so to say, can afford it.

    Think about it in terms of politics. Say we have a monarch. (And let’s not disturb ourselves by wrongly assuming monarchs and 20th century dictators the same thing.) Say, to quote a German schlager, “when Bohemia was still Aus-tri-an”. There you have a monarch, in the fact a not very far from absolute monarch, and actually, as his subjects, Czechs, Germans, Jews and the other nationalities of the Empire which may have settled in Prague (for instance) live together in peace. Then the Republic comes, and it soon becomes clear that the mixture is unsupportable. The Germans have to go; whether their land goes with them, or they are expelled as losers of a war, is still an open question, but in any case the inhomogeneity of the populace can no longer be tolerated. Why? Because it can no longer be said, “we are all subjects of the same Emperor and King”. In a republic, people are subjects of The People, so it is very important who The People is. Precisely because the monarch was in ultimate charge, he needed not use it.

    And so it is in the Church: if you don’t have a Pope, you’re pressed to enforce uniformity under the age-old (pardon the word: philistine) principle best expressed in the Bavarian “da kànnt ja a jeda kemma”, “but then evryone could come and do what liked, that can’t be tolerated!” – which, correct me if I’m wrong, seems to be a basic principle of Eastern Orthodoxy, be it liturgy, be it icon-painting (isn’t it true that only copying existing icons is allowed?), be it theology (by which I do not mean the repudiation of errors, which is of course quite right, but a certain willingness to consider everything hitherto unthought as an error without further ado).

    This, as it were, used to be also a Protestant principle until comparatively recently, though our present image of Protestantism (where evryone did come and did what he liked, in the last decades) may confuse our vision.

    Not so in Catholicism. We have a Pope; which means that we can do what we like, because if it’s really wrong, then there is still a Pope to hold us in check [*].

    Which is why there is so great liberty of attitude wherever Catholicism is alive; and almost only there.

    [* Actually, the attitude would be “do everything that Christ allows”, of course. The Pope does not hear about most things we do. Mediated by the conscience, chiefly. But the point is here, first, that Conscience itself is formed by the recourse to the Church’s magisterium at the head of which is the Pope, and so is not in danger to fall into entire subjectivity. Second, that even Conscience may be biased in favor of the things we like; knowing that, we trust it the more if there’s an objective correction from outside. Third, sometimes public order does get affected if everyone does the things he likes even though they be in themselves sinless, and spontaneity in the liturgy is a good example; in which case Conscience, standing alone, would allow them, and it is actually the Pope, or those who exercise jurisdiction under him of course, who can order us to hold our rank.]

  19. Dixibehr says:

    There are Eastern Catholic Churches that use one of the several recensions (Russian, Ruthenian, Greek, et al) of the Byzantine Rite. (Please don’t call these churches “Eastern Rites” The Melkites, for example, are the Melkite Catholic Church, NOT “the Melkite rite.”_

    But you are quite right. The best of one should not be compared with the worst of another. I’ve been to a few Liturgies of St. John Chrysostom where the celebrant, servers, and singers seemed to be stumbling through something brand new.

  20. Fr-Bill says:

    I am a Priest in the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. The liturgy I use is ROCOR’s Western Rite, which is the liturgy of Gregory the Great. It is in English and almost identical to the Pre-Vatican II liturgy.
    Occasionally I have con celebrated or just attended an eastern Rite liturgy. Depending on the laguage used, it can be confusing. However, I find the Eastern Rite to be quite appropriate if one considers we are there to worship our Creator.
    I guess it all falls back on what we prefer, and don’t get me started on guitars.

  21. Ages says:

    I would not by any means say these are fair comparisons in these videos, being apples and oranges.

    However, the kinds of liturgical abuse that we see in the Roman Church—even if extremely rarely—, you simply never see in the Eastern Church—be it Orthodox or Eastern Catholic. The people wouldn’t stand for it; I am aware of a situation where a priest (I think in Romania) attempted to serve the Divine Liturgy versus populum, and the people literally rushed the altar and threw the priest out of the church. Why do the people stand there and watch the roller-skating angels? THAT is the real problem.

    To address someone who remarked about Eastern choirs “droning on,” context is also necessary. I’m not sure the audio is always synched to the video in some of these clips. It’s also worth noting that the ways and means of the Divine Liturgy are different from those of Matins and Vespers. So again, we need to compare apples and oranges.

  22. Ave Crux says:

    Father Z: “That is NOT representative of what Catholics do in true sacred liturgical worship. To juxtapose it with the best of what Russians do on a great feast is entirely unfair.”

    However, with all due respect to you as a wonderful, indefatigable defender of the sacred, isn’t one of the tragic points about this comparison the fact that:

    1) When an Archbishop is present and enters a Cathedral with an entire retinue of priests, it SHOULD have been done as “true sacred liturgical worship”, regardless of the occasion and whether it was a major feast; and yet, it WAS NOT.

    Here we see a multitude of the “Alter Christus” along with their Chief Shepherd entering a Cathedral where the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity — God Incarnate — is present in the Holy Eucharist, presumably to celebrate the Sacred Liturgy, and they entered as if it were a home game and they were being greeted by their fans!!

    This is part and parcel of the spirit made possible and perpetuated by the Novus Ordo.

    THAT is the point….any liturgy taking place in a Cathedral in this manner REQUIRES solemnity and an absolute ambiance of the sacral. We cannot — and should not — turn it on and off like a faucet. The fact that they did IS the point.

    Our demeanor before God — most especially in public worship with the Archbishop and countless of his priests present — should be one of profound seriousness and reverence. This is about God! And if they were really cognizant of that, that fact alone should suffice to dictate the same spirit as we saw in the Orthodox liturgy. It is only because they treat God now as a “pal” that they do not enter a cathedral shot through with a supernatural spirit.

    In fact, I saw this transcendence regularly in the Byzantine Rite just at daily Mass, day in and day out! It was always sacred.

    What is lacking is precisely the transcendence evident in the Orthodox Liturgy that should be present in all such liturgical celebrations, especially those of such magnitude.

    2) What is even worse, the entrance of the Roman Rite Archbishop was all about THEM!!

    Everywhere along the procession as they entered, one can see priests greeting people on the aisle, big smiles and acknowledgements everywhere, all eyes on one another in greeting — NO eyes or seeming reverence on/for the God Who is there to be worshiped with our total abasement of self.

    It seems the comparison is very apt, telling and appropriate.

  23. katholos says:

    @Ages, you are quite right. From time to time I have attended the Divine Liturgy at a Byzantine Catholic parish and the liturgy has that timeless quality that the Novus Ordo no longer has; that does seem to curb the abuses in that crop up in the Novus Ordo.

  24. JamesA says:

    Not a fan of Cardinal Backslap for numerous reasons.