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The Hidden Treasures of Byzantine Catholicism

"CELEBRANT-PROOF" LITURGY

By Christopher Beiting | September 2002
Christopher Beiting is a professor at the new Ave Maria College in Ypsilanti, Michigan, where he teaches humanities and history, and acts as the faculty librarian. He is married and has four children.

It’s said that if something happens once, it’s an accident; twice, it’s coincidence; and three times, it’s significant.

The February 2001 NEW OXFORD REVIEW had one article about Byzantine Catholicism, “Confessions of a Patchwork Catholic,” followed by a second, “A Tale of Two St. Mary’s Churches.” Two days after I read these, I got a copy of Faith, the diocesan magazine for Lansing, Michigan, which had a cover story on Byzantine Catholicism.

What’s going on here? Three times in less than a week is no accident or coincidence. Something must be afoot. Allow me to tell my own Byzantine story. My background is somewhat similar to that of Teresa Manidis, author of “Confessions of a Patchwork Catholic.” I was born at the end of the Second Vatican Council, and like Mrs. Manidis, I was part of the generation that got experimented on after the Council. I’m sure many NOR readers will have experienced similar things: radical liturgies, experiments with the sacraments, fuzzy catechetics, etc. The experience left me with a particular aversion to Jesus Christ, Superstar, which was played to my class every Easter from fifth grade onward, as a way of “getting through” to “the younger generation.” My parents were neither reactionaries nor loonies. We attended no clandestine Tridentine liturgies, nor did we go to any wacko clown Masses. My parents were and are fairly middle-of-the-road Catholics, but more active than most: people very committed to their faith and involved in parish activities, who made great sacrifices to send their kids to Catholic schools. The only unusual thing about their worship was that they were involved in the charismatic renewal back in the 1970s — until their prayer group dissolved. I grew up an active, reasonably sound Catholic, having attended Catholic grade and high schools.

Things changed greatly for me in college. I went to a nominally Baptist college with a good academic reputation, but no real religious component. For my spiritual needs and obligations, the kind of Catholicism I grew up with was readily available from any of several nearby parishes. But I discovered something when I found myself majoring in history. As I began to study European history in depth, I became aware of the great intellectual tradition of the Church. I never lacked faith or piety, but I came to realize, “Hey, the Church has a brain!” I never knew this. I had not been taught it. My Catholic teachers had instilled in me that “being a good person” was the key thing about being a Catholic, but I discovered that this view is rather shallow when seen from the perspective of Catholic history and theology.

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