NOTE: Some of you may find this story interesting. It is actually longer to tell than I expected, so I am breaking it up into parts. What I have noticed is that many people in attendance at the Byzantine Catholic Church are actually Roman Catholics who attend out of love for the Liturgy. Recently, I wrote His Grace Bishop Dino a letter in hopes that I may make my membership in the Byzantine Catholic Church "official." Please pray for me.
I always drove past our local Byzantine Catholic parish with curiosity. Having converted to Roman Catholicism in August 2009, I remember calling Father James Barrand, the Byzantine priest, during Lent of the following year. I sat in my car in the parking lot on my cell phone and asked him when the daily Liturgy happened.
Father James responded, "During the Great Fast, we don't celebrate the Divine Liturgy during the week. We have the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts. So, we receive Holy Communion which was already consecrated on Sunday."
In that moment, I determined to go to Mass that day at a Roman Catholic parish, having the freedom to do so and not entirely sure about this "presanctified" concept, but Father and I continued to speak briefly. I can't remember why I didn't go inside. Perhaps it was particularly early. I remember calling and not expecting to hear a real person on the other end of the phone. This reluctance to consecrate the Eucharist during Lenten weekdays intrigued me.
Upon inquiring further, he explained, "The Divine Liturgy is so joyful that it is not considered appropriate in our tradition to celebrate it during the Lenten weekdays. But it is still important to receive Communion."
This was my first introduction to Byzantine Catholicism, mysterious and unfamiliar to my eyes at the time, with beautiful onion domes right in the middle of Anchorage. (For the record, this is actually an entirely normal occurrence in Alaska due to the historical presence of the Russian Orthodox.)
Time went on; our family continued to practice Roman Catholicism. My husband Alexander had returned to the Church at the same time I had converted. At some point, he mentioned to me that we should go to the Divine Liturgy at St. Nicholas (Fr. James' parish) because he was actually "technically" Byzantine Catholic, not Roman.
"What?!" I responded. Of course, once I thought about it, it made sense. His grandparents had emigrated as refugees from the Ukraine. I soon remembered that, when his grandmother had passed into eternal life, the funeral had been held at an eastern Catholic parish in California. However, our very young baby at the time had recently been released from the NICU; we had been told to avoid overexposing him to other peoples' germs, so I hadn't been in attendance at the Liturgy then. Plus, I wasn't Catholic at the time, so a lot of this simply wasn't on my radar.
Then, Alex and I attended the Divine Liturgy together for the first time. He immediately felt deeply and completely at home. Because he was. This was the tradition into which he had been born, having received Baptism, Chrismation, and Holy Communion shortly after birth. But his parents had raised him as Roman Catholic because of the geography of their hometown, and they only celebrated the Divine Liturgy for very special occasions.
As for me, I felt floored. The beauty, the joy, the reverence, everything about it pretty much blew my mind. I loved everything about it, loved Fr. James and his hard-hitting homily, and felt flabbergasted as to why Alex and his whole family would not desire to worship God in this way on a regular basis instead of only every once in awhile.
Alex agreed. His connection with the Byzantine Church ran deep in his soul, and he made a unilateral decision that we would adopt these traditions and begin attending Liturgy there each Sunday. Eventually, we had the children completely initiated into the Church, as we had not, in our ignorance, even thought to question how we were entering (or re-entering, in my husband's case) the Catholic Church through Roman doors.
To be continued...
If you are confused and don't understand what I am writing about, here is some basic information: The universal Catholic Church, rather than solely consisting of the Roman Catholic Church (if you are not Catholic, this is probably what you think of when you think "Catholic"), consists of 23 ritual churches which have their own liturgical traditions and exist in union with the See of Rome. Here is a link which explains this all with both sufficient detail and simplicity.