Here is a clip that is circulating on Catholic Twitter. This is the actor Shia LeBeouf, who has recently converted or returned to the practice of Catholicism. In this interview with Bishop Robert Barron, LeBoeuf talks about why he fell in love with the Latin Mass. He says: “The Latin Mass has a profound effect on me. Deep”. Bishop Barron asks why. LeBeouf says, “Because I don’t think they’re selling me a car.” Watch:
In my thirteen years of being a Catholic, I never attended a Latin Mass. Although I visited some of them, and although I was ideologically predisposed to the Latin Mass, it never made my heart sing. I have always supported the availability of the Latin Mass because, damn it, why not? I can’t understand why Pope Francis is so determined to crush this venerable rite of the Catholic Church. Anyway, as a Catholic, I understood in my mind why this affects people so much, and I wanted them to have access to it. But for some reason I felt cold.
For me, attending my first Orthodox Divine Liturgy was of such significance. As the actor said later in an interview, it’s not like a performance meant to convince you to believe; it’s more like being let into something special. I can easily admit that some Catholics are right about the Latin Mass (and not the modern Novus Ordo Mass), because after sixteen years of Orthodox Christianity I feel the same way about the Divine Liturgy. When I started attending Divine Liturgy, I soon realized that this sense of liturgical beauty and spiritual transcendence was what I thought I would get when I converted to Catholicism in my early twenties.
It’s something deep deep – as opposed to conventional worship in today’s world. In most Orthodox churches, Divine Liturgy is celebrated in the local language. You can sometimes find it in Greek or Slavonic in the US because these congregations cater to immigrant communities, but most of the liturgy is in English. But the translations, in my experience, are not bad, and not “flat”, like the modern Catholic mass Novus Ordo. At the first liturgies, I hardly understood what was happening. It usually follows the traditional liturgical scheme of the ancient churches: the liturgy of the Word and then the Eucharist. But it differs enough from the Western model to be confusing.
This is fine. Actually it is strength. The Divine Liturgy in its present form has existed for many centuries. It is called the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom”, because it was specified and defined in Constantinople under the patriarchal leadership of Chrysostom at the beginning of the fifth century. This is a thing of great antiquity. You don’t mess with it. He doesn’t try to fit in with you, but encourages you to get out of yourself, encourages you to mold yourself around him – and therefore let him mold you. Why is this strength? Because we live in a world where everyone is trying to sell you something, everyone, including too many churches, is trying to make it easy for you to sign a contract so they can make a sale. Liturgy says: This Christian life is hard, but beautiful and a pearl of great price. If you give yourself to Christ, as this community has worshiped Him for over a thousand years, you will be taken to places you could hardly have imagined. Join us – leave yourself and ascend to heaven.
Seriously, it is. It is not easy to get used to the Divine Liturgy, but once you “understand” you wonder how you can worship in a different way, if this is the Christian worship. Prayers, chants, prostrations, incense, candles – they all work together to bring the soul closer to the presence of God. Liturgy is not of this world. I want to invite everyone I know to come and see for themselves what it’s like. However, be careful: once you see it, you will not be able to unsee it, and it will be difficult for many people to return to their modern worship elsewhere.
Here, in Romanian, an Orthodox bishop sings the epiclesa, part of the liturgy in which the priest invokes the Holy Spirit to transform bread and wine. In the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, the priest here prays with these words:
Again we bring you this prudent and bloodless worship, and we ask you, and we implore you, and we implore you: send down on us and on these gifts Your Holy One.
And make this bread the precious Body of Thy Christ. (Amen)
And what’s in this cup is the precious Blood of Thy Christ. (Amen)
Making changes by the Holy Spirit. (Amen, amen, amen)
May these gifts be given to those who partake for the purification of the soul, for the remission of sins, for the communion of the Holy Spirit, for the fulfillment of the Kingdom of Heaven; for boldness towards You, and not for judgment or condemnation.
Here is a Romanian bishop saying these words in his own language:
This is what happens in every Orthodox church every Sunday. Again, this Romanian bishop has an unusually beautiful voice, and this is not heard in all churches. But it gives you a real sense of the holiness that is present in Orthodox worship.
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Here is a famous Aramaic rendition of Psalm 52, given as a gift to Pope Francis when he visited Georgia a few years ago. This is not a liturgical moment, but this is the true sound of the Eastern Church. What a gift to the universal Church! Be aware that this choir is made up of Syrian and Iraqi Christians who are refugees from the war.
Liturgy matters! How we pray matters! God accepts all sincere prayer, but the liturgy (meaning: work) is an offering that we bring to the All-Holy One. It must be beautiful. Through it, the Almighty transforms not only bread and wine, but also us.