My senior year at Aquinas High School in Augusta, I visited Saint Ignatios of Antioch Melkite Church on Merry Street for the first time. My religion teacher, who was a parishioner of Saint Ignatios, invited us to attend the Divine Liturgy on Sunday morning. As an eighteen-year-old Catholic who had only entered a non-Catholic church twice in his life, I was stunned by the beauty of the quaint church. Every inch of its walls and ceiling was covered with icons. I was drawn into the mystery of the liturgy as Father Dan Munn chanted in tones I had never heard, and everyone responded loudly and joyfully. I recall putting the booklet with the prayers down to simply observe the mystery unfold before me.
During that Divine Liturgy, eleven years after my first communion, for the first time, I was struck with an unquestionable conviction that Jesus Christ truly is present in the bread and wine which become his body and blood. I had always believed it, but as we prayed together the prayer before communion of the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom, I had no doubt that the words of Jesus Christ were true, “this is my body… this is my blood.” This was the prayer:
“I believe and confess, Lord, that You are truly the Christ, the Son of the living God, who came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the first. Accept me this day, O Son of God, as a partaker of Your mystical Supper. I will not tell Your Mystery to Your enemies, nor will I give You a kiss as did Judas, but like the thief, I confess to you: Remember me, O Lord, when You come into Your Kingdom. May the partaking of Your Holy Mysteries, O Lord, be unto me not for judgement or condemnation, but for the healing of soul and body.”
Just as the glory of God is expressed in the diversity of creation, each creature revealing a unique aspect of who God is, the various rites of the Catholic Church are like the many colors of a spectrum that emerge from the refraction of a single ray of light through a prism. Each rite, rooted in Apostolic Tradition, oftentimes by way of the various Orthodox or Oriental Churches, captures a different aspect of the beauty of our one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. The Melkite Catholic Church traces its roots to the city of Antioch where Saint Peter founded a Christian community before going to Rome. It was in Antioch that disciples of Jesus were first called Christians, and its third bishop, Saint Ignatius, was the first to describe the Church with the word Catholic.
In 2006, I had an opportunity to spend the summer teaching English at the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, Ukraine. I knew very little about this country, yet I had a desire to spend time in a country that had once been part of the Soviet Union, and where the majority of Catholics belonged to a different rite from mine. Half of my students were seminarians, and we had extensive conversations about the differences which existed between the Ukrainian Catholic Church, also known as the Greek Catholic Church, and the Roman Church, yet unity in faith always prevailed. I once assigned my students to write on the topic of vocation. One of my female students wrote a beautiful paragraph on the vocation of a priest’s wife, a vocation to which she felt called. As a seminarian of the Latin Church, I was quite taken aback! The liturgy was beautiful, chanted every morning in Ukrainian – and when the bishop visited us, in Greek.
Most of us reading this article belong to the Latin, or Roman Rite of the Catholic Church. Since we are the vast majority of Catholics, we oftentimes mistakenly reduce the Catholic Church to the experience of our rite, and forget that the richness of our faith is expressed through a diversity in worship. Some rites have been suppressed; others disappeared due to their lack of use. In the end, it is our common faith in Christ that draws us together, rooted in the faith handed down to the apostles.
Picture of Saint Ignatios of Antioch, Augusta, Georgia. Taken from public Facebook Page.