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Truly we live in interesting times. This year two Eastern Catholic Patriarchs have visited the churches of their diaspora in Australia and their liturgies have been very well attended. Not only have these visits seen a revived participation among the large communities of Eastern Catholics in Australia, but also sparked the interest of many young Latin Catholics, who could be seen doing their best to follow the mysteriously foreign liturgies of the East.
What was the cause of their confusion? Naturally the unfamiliarity of the rites first comes to mind, but it wasn't just young 'Latins' who were having trouble. Many young Syriacs and Chaldeans were just as lost, perhaps because the majority of them actually attend Latin Rite Masses each week, if at all. Perhaps it was the degree to which the liturgies of the ancient Eastern Churches have suffered the same dumbing down as the Latin West?
As a young Latin hoping to see more richly the ancient universality of Catholicism, I was sorely disappointed by the karaoke music pumped through the cathedral's sound system (perhaps from a jewelled and begilt CD player in the sanctuary). It may have been the abandonment of the vestments and liturgical instruments traditional in the East, replaced as they were with Latin equivalents. How surreal it is that just as young Latins are rediscovering the formidable treasures of their own sacred traditions, the East seems to be raiding the West's storehouse of 1970s gimmicks.
Fortunately, the news is not all sad. Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III preached strongly on the witness of Christians suffering persecution in the (now majority Muslim) homelands, and the need to preserve their identity throughout the diaspora. It is not enough simply to self-identify as a Syriac or Chaldean Catholic in Australia. Rather, it is imperative to preserve the heart of these cultures and traditions.
We Latins are emerging from the dark times of the 20th century, and we are doing so by rediscovering our own liturgical heritage and artistic patrimony. If my Eastern friends are any fair measure, it is only a matter of time until they do the same. The preservation of Eastern Christianity will not be found in the St Louis Jesuits, but in a true revival of the Divine Liturgies of St Basil and St John Chrysostom.
Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 26 No 5 (June 2013), p. 16
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