The Roman Liturgical Tradition

07-18-2021Weekly Reflection

Tradition with a capital “T” is aptly defined by St. Paul in his first Letter to the Corinthians 11:23: For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you. Tradition is the handing over from generation to generation what was received from Jesus through His Apostles later called the deposit of Faith. Everyone in the Church is bound by this Tradition which is both written and oral. St. Paul also remarks in 2 Thessalonians 2:15: So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter. One of the great sources of Tradition is the liturgy and sacraments. Below is an interview with an Orthodox priest, Fr. Vasilios Koutsouras, from Greece about the antiquity of the Roman liturgy. Notes are added to explain some terms used by Father Koutsouras in the interview.

I, an Orthodox Christian say: “Catholics, keep the Roman liturgical tradition.”
Interview with Reverend Vasilios Koutsouras, protopresbyter of the Orthodox Church of Greece: "The value of the liturgical tradition of the West testified by the countless crowds of Saints who sanctified themselves with it". In 2007, the patriarch of Moscow Alexis II congratulated Pope Benedict XVI for the promulgation of the motu proprio that liberalized the pre-conciliar Mass.
Note: The equivalent of the office of protopresbyter in the Latin Church is the archpriest or dean. He has special authority and duties in a given area of the church with respect to other clergy and laity. Each Orthodox Church is autocephalous, that is, to say self-governing usually related to specific countries. The orthodox churches look to the Patriarch of Constantinople as having a primacy of honor but not jurisdiction. The Orthodox churches are the only Christian traditions recognized by the Catholic Church as sister churches because they have maintained the succession of Holy Orders from the Apostles and the integrity of the sacraments. All other separated Christians are called Christian communions and not churches in the strict sense. See the instruction from the Holy See called Dominus Iesus.

Reverend, the Mass in Latin in the rite preceding the liturgical Reform of Paul VI is generally referred to as the Tridentine Mass, or of St. Pius V, from the name of the pope who in 1570 extended it to the Christian West. This rite is actually anterior and dates back, in its essential formulas, to the patristic age. Is this liturgical form esteemed in the Orthodox East?
"In fact, the rite of the Roman Church dates back to the era of the great Fathers of the Church and is considered one of the oldest rites of the universal Church. We can also say that the Roman Eucharistic Anaphora (the Roman Canon) is among the most ancient anaphoras and, most likely, it is older than the "Byzantine" anaphoras of St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil the Great still in use today in the Orthodox Church. It is also true that little is known about the Roman liturgical tradition in the East; it is usually ignored by scholars, with rare exceptions, such as, for example, the great Greek liturgist Panghiotis Trembelas who studied the Roman rite in detail in his various works Liturgical Rites of the West and Protestants; the question of genuflection; the Roman liturgical movement and the practice of the East, etc. While, in the Byzantine era, the great Hesychast theologian Nicola Kavasilas and the Byzantine liturgist par excellence St. Simeon, archbishop of Thessalonica, dealt with the Roman rite, especially with regard to the controversy about the function of the epiclesis in the transformation of the Holy Gifts. Both spoke and treated the text of the Roman Canon with great respect. ”

Note: The Anaphora is the most solemn part of the Divine Liturgy, or the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, during which the offerings of bread and wine are consecrated as the body and blood of Christ. This is the usual name for this part of the Liturgy in Greek-speaking Eastern Christianity. In western Christian traditions which have a comparable rite, the Anaphora is more often called the Canon of the Mass or Eucharistic Prayer. "Anaphora" is a Greek word in the liturgy meaning a "carrying up", an "offering"[1] (hence its use in reference to the offering of sacrifice to God). In the sacrificial language of the Greek version of the Old Testament known as the Septuagint, a Greek word is used for the offerer's bringing the victim to the altar, and offering up is used for the priest's offering up the selected portion upon the altar (See, for instance, Leviticus 2:14, 2:16, 3:1, 3:5). A “Hesychast” refers to a member of a movement dedicated to contemplation, originating among the Orthodox monks of Mount Athos in the 14th century.

When in 2007, Pope Benedict XVI promulgated the motu proprio "Summorum Pontificum", which gave priests the freedom to celebrate the Eucharistic Sacrifice in the ancient Roman Rite, the Orthodox patriarch of Moscow Alexis II expressed his congratulations to the bishop of Rome: « The recovery and enhancement of the ancient liturgical tradition is a fact that we welcome positively. We care very much about tradition, "declared the patriarch on the occasion. In his opinion, what repercussions would the withdrawal of Pope Ratzinger’s provision have in the Orthodox East? Could there be repercussions in ecumenical dialogue?

"As an Orthodox cleric, I believe that the ecumenical dialogue, which is already taking place between the two Churches, must be based and founded on the ancient dogmatic, patristic and liturgical texts, especially those of the first millennium during which the Christian East walked together with Latin Christianity. In fact, in these texts one can find the foundations for a journey towards Christian unity and for a spirit of mutual respect for the particular tradition of each Church. Especially the Roman liturgical tradition and consequently its revaluation by the Roman-Catholic Church would be of great help in the path of dialogue both for the sacredness and respect it emanates as well as for the antiquity of the texts. Certainly the modern liturgical developments in the Christian West are faced with profound perplexity and perhaps even with suspicion by the Eastern Church both as regards the authorship and value of the new liturgical rites as well as how effective and fruitful they are in the pastoral and in the catechesis of Christians today. The countless tragicomic cases (known as liturgical abuses) that can be seen on the internet and that come from the circles of "liturgical renewal" confirm the perplexity and skepticism with which most Orthodox today observe these developments in the liturgical life of the West and the consequences they have in the spiritual life of the faithful.”

Note: The Orthodox churches see in the Pope, the Bishop of Rome only a primacy of honor, first among equals whereas the Catholic Church teaches the Pope has a primacy of honor, authority and jurisdiction as the successor of St. Peter, while recognizing the distinct liturgical and disciplinary traditions in the Catholic Eastern Churches or rites. These churches recognize the authority of the Pope over the whole Church and as the center of unity in the Catholic Church. There are twenty-three eastern Catholic churches in union with the Pope, the Bishop of Rome. The largest churches based on membership are: the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) (Byzantine Rite), the Syro-Malabar Church (East Syriac Rite), the Maronite Church (West Syriac Rite), the Melkite Greek Catholic Church (Byzantine Rite), the Chaldean Catholic Church (East Syriac Rite), Ruthenian Greek Catholic Church.

In your opinion, can such an ancient rite, which has deeply nourished the spirituality of so many saints throughout history, be suppressed or simply downsized by top figures in the religious hierarchy

"In my humble opinion, the liturgical tradition of the West constitutes a great spiritual, cultural and religious treasure. From a spiritual point of view, the value and strength of the Western liturgical tradition are witnessed by the countless crowds of saints who lived and sanctified themselves with it. His contribution to European culture is confirmed in every city and every country, in every church and museum of the West, where all things radiate and confess the greatness of the liturgical richness of the Roman Church. We cannot deny the impulse, the inspiration, the dynamism given by the Holy Mass to all forms of art (music, painting, sculpture, architecture, literature, miniature). The religious life of Europeans and all Western Christians has been indelibly marked by the devotion, profound faith and sacredness that the Mass inspired them and through which the daily life of countless generations was formed. Therefore any change or development should be implemented with great attention and the utmost respect as it is a truly vital sector for the spiritual life of billions of faithful. For example, the need to use contemporary languages in addition to Latin was something necessary as well as, perhaps, the removal of some exaggerated forms of devotion that do not suit modern man. However, the rite and the sacred texts must remain as they were formed and have resisted through the centuries and must also constitute the center of the liturgical life and catechesis of the Roman Catholic faithful. In fact, modern man by now secularized needs the presence of the sacred in his life. That is, of the presence of God. The ancient Roman liturgical tradition succeeded in the best and most effective way! He helped men to adore the Lord of glory together with the angels and saints and, at the same time, he initiated them to the great mysteries of the Christian faith ». (This interview was reported in the blog of Italian author Aldo Maria Valli)