Divine Liturgy

'This is not a drill': The Washington Post pays attention after nuclear threat interrupts the Mass

'This is not a drill': The Washington Post pays attention after nuclear threat interrupts the Mass

Please allow me to flash back, for a moment, to a major national and international story from a week or so ago. I am referring to that stunning false alarm in Hawaii about an incoming ballistic missile.

For those of us who grew up during the Cold War era (I spent part of my childhood across town from an Air Force base full of B-52 bombers and their nuclear payloads), it is hard to image any message more terrifying than, "This is not a drill."

Lots of journalists and commentators asked a logical question: If you saw this message flash across your smartphone screen, what would you do?

I wondered, at the time, if many journalists considered pursuing religion-angle stories linked to that question. This is, after all, kind of the secular flip side of that question the Rev. Billy Graham and other evangelists have been asking for ages: If you died today, do you know where you would spend eternity?

However, The Washington Post picked up -- in a piece mixing aggregation with some new reporting -- a fascinating piece out of Hawaii that looked at this question from a Catholic point of view, focusing on some very interesting liturgical questions.

Journalists: Here is the crucial point to remember. While skeptics may scoff, for believers in liturgical churches, nothing that is happening in the world, at any given moment in time, is more important than the mysteries that are taking place on an altar during Mass (or in Eastern churches, the Divine Liturgy). Thus, here is the top of that Post piece, which opens with a priest distributing Holy Communion in a Mass at a Diocese of Honolulu chapel:

Suddenly, a deacon interrupted him and held up a cellphone showing the incoming missile alert that went out shortly after 8 a.m. It urged people to seek immediate shelter. ...
Despite the possibility of impending doom, the Rev. Mark Gantley, who was leading the Mass, didn’t mention the alert to worshipers or stop the service. But he did forgo the closing song.

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Wine? Juice? Water? Wheat bread? What should be served at Holy Eucharist?

Wine? Juice? Water? Wheat bread? What should be served at Holy Eucharist?

GORDON’S QUESTION:

Why do some Christians use (unfermented) grape juice or leavened bread in Communion since what was on the table at the Last Supper was almost certainly unleavened bread and fermented wine?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

The Bible records that on the night of Jesus’ arrest he blessed and distributed bread saying “take; this is my body,”  and shared a cup saying “this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” He concluded with “do this in remembrance of me,” and billions of Christians have done just that across the centuries in rites known as Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper, Mass, Holy Eucharist or Divine Liturgy.

Historians assume that, yes, Jesus’ “Last Supper” would have consisted of commonplace fermented wine, not fresh and non-alcoholic grape juice, and bread without leavening since this occurred during Jewish Passover. Modern Christians differ on the elements they serve, as we’ll see, but there’s a limit. Believers were offended by a TV ad produced for the 2011 Super Bowl (but never aired) with a pastor boosting church attendance by providing sacramental Doritos and Pepsi.

Roman Catholic canon law is precise about using the literal elements from the Last Supper at daily Masses.

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A great loss for old New Yorkers; a greater loss for Serbian Orthodox believers at Pascha

A great loss for old New Yorkers; a greater loss for Serbian Orthodox believers at Pascha

If you have seen images of the fire that gutted the Serbian Orthodox Cathedral of St. Sava in New York City -- with the flames blasting through the rose window -- then you know why onlookers described this as a scene from hell.

In terms of the news coverage, this was a pretty straightforward story that metro-desk journalists know how to cover. You get quotes from eyewitnesses, you nail down the details from the proper city authorities and that is pretty much that.

A reader asked for my reactions and, frankly, I didn't think there would be much that was worthy of comment, in terms of journalism. I could offer my reactions as an Orthodox believer, of course.

This morning, however, I saw the two-story package in The New York Times and there are several points I would like to make -- about the bad and the good.

As you would expect, the Times team made it very clear this building was a historic and beloved landmark in the city, offering an entire sidebar on the sanctuary's history -- stressing that it once was an Episcopal chapel created by the historic Trinity Church congregation in lower Manhattan. In other words, this wasn't just a New York landmark. This was a landmark of "old" money New York. In the past, this was a church that really mattered.

But the coverage did not slight the Serbians who have called the church their spiritual home for decades. However, there is evidence in the main report that some members of the Times team may not have understood all of the details provided by the Orthodox witnesses.

Here is the my main point: The story does not include details of the Easter -- the Orthodox call this greatest of all feasts "Pascha" -- services that took place in the hours before the blaze.

Why is this crucial? To be blunt, the church would have been full of hundreds of people with candles.

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Hey AP: Did you really mean to state, citing no source, that the Holy Fire rite is a fraud?

Hey AP: Did you really mean to state, citing no source, that the Holy Fire rite is a fraud?

The world's Eastern Orthodox Christians celebrated Pascha (Easter) this weekend, a full month later than Western churches this year. This is one of those exotic dates on the calendar that usually draws a little bit of coverage in the mainstream press.

At the very least, journalists spend a few lines trying to explain the mysteries of the ancient Julian calendar and why all those people with candles were marching around in the middle of the night singing (in the haunting Byzantine chant tone 6) the following, in English or the language of a particular parish's ethnic roots:

Thy Resurrection, O Christ Our Savior, the Angels in Heaven sing.
Enable us on Earth to Glorify Thee in Purity of Heart.

In recent years, there has been a growing news-media awareness of the ancient "Holy Fire" rites in Jerusalem, which offers journalists an annual chance to wrestle with claims of the miraculous. My theory is that this news story has, in part, been gaining some traction because of smartphone videos being posted on YouTube each year.

So here is the top of a typical short Associated Press report this time around, with one line that jumped out at me. See if you can spot it.

JERUSALEM (AP) -- Thousands of Christians have gathered in Jerusalem for an ancient fire ceremony that celebrates Jesus’ resurrection.

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One more time: Which church is above the traditional site of the birth of Jesus?

One more time: Which church is above the traditional site of the birth of Jesus?

Trust me, I know that I just dealt with this issue in a pre-Christmas post about an error in a Bethlehem dateline story in The Washington Post.

It appears that there is still confusion, out there in major newsrooms, about which church is which on Manger Square in Bethlehem. That earlier Post advance report -- which has not been corrected -- stated:

There will be a Christmas Eve Mass at the Church of the Nativity, the 1,700-year-old basilica built above the grotto where tradition says Jesus was born and visited by Bethlehem shepherds.

Alas, the Associated Press story covering Christmas events in Bethlehem -- the story that will be read in the vast majority of American newspapers -- has repeated the same error that was in the Post report. Read carefully and see if you spot the overlap:

Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal led a procession from his Jerusalem headquarters into Bethlehem, passing through a military checkpoint and past Israel's concrete separation barrier, which surrounds much of the town. ...
Twal led worshippers in a Midnight Mass at the Church of the Nativity, built atop the spot where Christians believe Jesus was born.
In his homily, Twal expressed sympathy for the plight of Palestinians, Syrian refugees and "victims of all forms of terrorism everywhere," according to a transcript issued by his office. He wished "all inhabitants of the Holy Land" a happy and healthy new year.

Yes, the Post reference was more specific -- making the error more obvious.

Now, let's follow the logic here.

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Divine Liturgy alongside the pope of Rome or in presence of pope? (updated)

Divine Liturgy alongside the pope of Rome or in presence of pope? (updated)

Any list of the defining moments of Christian history -- if not the history of religion on Planet Earth, period -- would have to include the Great Schism of 1054.

That's the split, of course, between the Orthodox East and the Catholic West and there is hardly anything that you can say about the who, what, when, where, why and how of that schism that will not lead to a millennium or two of debate. It's complicated. 

However, it's pretty easy to understand that the Church of Rome and the churches of Eastern Orthodoxy are not in full Communion -- with a big "C" -- with one another. The primary symbol, and reality, that demonstrates this is that their clergy cannot celebrate the Eucharist together.

Now, with that prologue, let's flash back to the recent meetings in Istanbul between Pope Francis and the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. Since I am Orthodox, lots of people have asked me what I thought about their latest statements on their desire for full unity, meaning Communion. My question, in response, was: Yes, the pope asked Bartholomew to bless him, but did either man kiss the other man's hand? There was also quite a bit of confusion about the rite they took part in at the Phanar.

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News flash! AP ends the Great Schism of 1054!

Many moons ago — just under a quarter of a century — I covered a major ecumenical event in the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado. I believe it was a festive Divine Eucharist marking the departure of Bishop William C. Frey, as he exited to serve as dean and president of the Trinity School for Ministry. One of the honored participants in the service was Denver Archbishop J. Francis Stafford, who was a national level figure in Catholic ecumenical efforts (and today is a cardinal serving at the Vatican). It was natural for Stafford to be there, in large part because he had a positive working relationship with the charismatic Frey, who was a traditionalist on key doctrinal issues that affected ecumenical work in public life.

Stafford took part in the first half of the service, but did not formally vest to take part in the Holy Eucharist itself. As the rite moved into the sacramental prayers of the Mass, the Catholic archbishop moved to the side of the auditorium — where a prie dieu had been placed, allowing him to respectfully kneel in solitary prayer.

The symbolism was important: Stafford was there in prayer, but because the Catholic and Anglican churches are not in Communion, with a large “C,” he could not take part in the celebration of the Mass (with female priests, for example) or receive Communion. Stafford was there as a show of unity, to the degree allowed by the doctrines of the two churches.

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A boring, non-sacramental Christmas in Syria

I hope all of our readers who celebrate Christmas are having a blessed one. As I prepared for my church’s Lessons and Carols service on Christmas Eve (where the youngest Hemingway made her choir debut), my thoughts turned to Christians elsewhere in the world where Christmas is not just a time to celebrate God made flesh but also a time to fear bombings or violence. This Reuters piece headlined “Christmas brings fear of church bombs in Nigeria” begins:

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