WORSHIP & DIVINE LITURGY: 11
In college you may have joined a fraternity or sorority. Even now some of us belong to fraternal organizations such as the AHEPA or Daughters of Penelope. Part of the initiation process and the ongoing meetings are secret rituals. Only members or those preparing to become members are allowed to see and participate in these rituals. This practice highlighted the unique, special aspect of membership and the knowledge required to become a member. It also weeded out those who were involved for the wrong reasons.
For many centuries, the Christian Church implemented a similar practice. In our series on the Divine Liturgy, our journey has brought us from the Synaxis to the Enarxis, through the Antiphons, Small Entrance and Trisagion Hymn to the Scripture Readings and Homily. As mentioned earlier, this first part is called the Liturgy of the Word. It was open to everyone who wished to attend. However, after the sermon, those who were not baptized or chrismated in the Church were dismissed. What followed, the Liturgy of the Eucharist, was open only to baptized or chrismated Christians.
Immediately following the homily, the Litany of Fervant Supplication was intoned by the deacon as the Royal Doors (not the Holy Gate) would be closed. Many of the petitions are repeated from earlier ones with an insistent quality demonstrated by the word “again” (Greek ‘eti’). Unfortunately, this litany as fallen out of use in most Orthodox churches.
When the Fervant Litany was completed, it was customary to ask the unbaptised to depart from the assembly. The Liturgy of the Word was open to all and intended to primarily teach and instruct the people. The Eucharistic Mystery was considered so sacred that it was reverently and jealously guarded. Only full members of the Church (baptized, chrismated and not under penance or anathema) were allowed to be present at or receive the Body and Blood of Christ. Those who were learning in order to join the faith were called Catechumens and were dismissed at this point.
This dismissal practice has lapsed, but presently, non-Orthodox are still prohibited from receiving Communion in the Church. Before the catechumens were dismissed, a special Litany and Prayer were said for them. Currently, the priest prays these inaudibly during the Liturgy. Let me share them with you now.
Litany for the Catechumens
“Pray to the Lord you catechumens. Let us the faithful pray for the catechumens that the Lord will have mercy upon them. That He will teach them the word of truth. That He will reveal to them the gospel of righteousness. That he will unite them to His holy, catholic and apostolic Church. Save them, have mercy upon them, help them and keep them O God by Your grace.”
Prayer of the Catechumens
O Lord our God, who dwells on high and regards the humble, who has sent forth, as the salvation of the race of men, Your only-begotten Son and God, our Lord Jesus Christ: Look down upon Your servants the catechumens who have bowed their necks before You; make them worthy at the appropriate time of the lave of regeneration, the forgiveness of sins and the robe of incorruption. Unite them to Your holy, catholic and apostolic Church and number them with Your elect flock. That with us they may glorify Your all-honorable and majestic name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages.”
Deacon- Dismissal of Catechumens
“As many as are catechumens, depart. Depart catechumens. As many as are catechumens, depart. Let none of the catechumens remain. Again in peace, let us pray to the Lord. Help us, save us, have mercy on us and protect us O God by Your grace. Wisdom!”
It is important for us to remember the Catechumenate or the Order of Catechumens. The Liturgy of the Word highlights the absolute necessity of instruction in the life of the Church. Education is an indispensable ministry of the Body of Christ to pass on wisdom and knowledge. Before one can partake of the Mysteries/Sacraments of Christ, most importantly Holy Communion, a Christian must have a basic knowledge of God, humanity, and creation; their relationship to each other, the process of salvation, the Person of Jesus; the Saints and last but not least—how to live a moral/ethical life according to God’s commandments.
In addition, there would be no catechumenate if there were no evangelism. Therefore, sharing the Faith with those outside the Church is an absolutely essential activity of the Church and her members. As we approach the Feast of Christmas, the season of gift-giving, we must realize the greatest gift we have received is Jesus Christ, born in the flesh in order to save us from sin and death. And this gift cannot be fully received unless it is also shared with those around us, especially those who really need some Good News, that God loves us, and He is the source of life and salvation. Thus, each one of us have a duty to personally share the Good News with our family, friends, workmates, schoolmates and all we encounter. And we as the local manifestation of the Body of Christ in this neighborhood of St. Paul Minnesota, have a duty to share the Good News through our ministries and programs.
However, if our personal faith is ignorant and lukewarm, what do we really have to share. Often, we think that the Catechumenate or Catechism is only for those preparing to convert and forget that Christian “Catechisis” (learning/instruction) is an ongoing life-long process for everyone. If it were not, why would we read over and over, year after year, the same epistle and gospel passages, sing the same hymns, do the same Liturgy? Repetition! Repetition is the mother of all learning. The priest teaches the people, the parents teach their children, hopefully the children teach each other, and in some measure, teach the adults too with their innocent sense of curiosity, wonder and excitement. As we teach, we learn and understand, and we grow into the image and likeness of God so we can enter more deeply into His Mysteries.
As we close today, let us remember that the central Mystery of our Faith is the Eucharist, celebrated in the context of Divine Liturgy. It is analogized in today’s Gospel reading from the 11th Sunday of Luke (14:16-24) in which Jesus Himself speaks of a Great Banquet or Supper. He notes the invitees who make excuses not to come because of seemly good things like work, property and family (v.17-20). Jesus says the master sent his servants out again to bring in the poor, maimed, lame and blind (v.21). When there is still room at the banquet table, the master tells his servants to compel people to come in (.24). The master of course is God, we are His obedient servants. God is commanding us to invite people to the banquet of the Eucharist in the Liturgy. When there is still room, and there is because we are not full, God is telling us to step up our efforts to literally bring others in and to make an insistent case in order to compel them to come in. We certainly cannot sit back and do nothing or expect others to do it for us. God wants more catechumens but He is not going to do all the work for us. We, meaning our parish, needs more faithful, knowledgeable, obedient and evangelical servants to bring people in so that God’s house may be full. Amen!