Visiting a Byzantine Catholic Church

A short guide for your first visit

FAQs

  • What language is the liturgy in?

    At St. Michael's all of our liturgies are in English. You'll hear some Church Slavonic, but it's never more than a few lines in a hymn. It's like when you hear an "agnus Dei" or a "kyrie eleison" during a Roman rite liturgy.

  • Am I late?

    Even if you arrive on time to a Divine Liturgy, it's likely that something has already taken place. For instance, we might have just prayed one of our many prayer services. In short, don't worry if it already smells like incense you're three minutes early but something's already happening!

  • (For Roman Catholics) Does attending a Divine Liturgy fulfill my Sunday obligation.

    Yes. See this Catholic Answers post for more information.

  • Why isn't there kneeling?

    We keep the ancient tradition of standing during the Divine liturgy from Canon 20 of the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea which states that on Sundays and during the Paschal season prayer should be said standing. Since Sundays are not penitential days, we rarely kneel during Divine Liturgy on these days.

  • What kind of music will I hear?

    We use no musical instruments other than our voice. We have a cantor who guides the congregation. Most of the liturgy is sung and relies on our voices!

Setting expectations

It would be wonderful to arrive at your first Divine Liturgy knowing exactly what to do and looking like you've done this a thousand times. But familiarity may only be purchased by repeated experience.

It is humbling to feel new and out of place. You may feel like you don't belong here and that everyone is judging you for not knowing what to do. In reality, a lot of our congregation was raised in the Roman rite and were in your position not long ago. All our parishioners and our pastor are delighted to see you here. In fact, we hope you will join us forever.

Sometime soon, we will have an in-depth walkthrough of the Divine Liturgy. But if you're visiting for the first time, it suffices to mention some things to look out for.

The End Goal

Amidst the excitement, curiosity, and disorientation, it might be difficult to remember that the end goal of the Divine Liturgy, and the Christian way of life, is communion with God.

The final goal of man is communion with God. The path to this communion has been precisely defined: faith, and walking in the Commandments with the help of God's grace.- Saint Theophan the Recluse

Following Along

Posture

The only thing you have to know is that there is no genuflecting and (probably) no kneeling. We stand and sit during the Divine Liturgy. Kneeling and genuflecting are great, but they are (rarely) a part of Sunday liturgies.

It will be too much to tell you when to stand and sit. Just find someone who looks like they're doing and do your best!

Books and Texts

Attending an unfamiliar liturgy is overwhelming. For your first visit, your goal should take the pressure off and simply open your eyes, ears, and heart to the strangeness. If it helps you be attentive, there is a book in our pews which looks like this:

A book
This booklet can be found in your pew

You can read along if you'd like. The liturgy will also include some texts which are contained in a booklet at the back of the church. It looks like this (an example from mid-Pentecost):

In summary, if you want to try reading along, grab the the booklet found at the back of the church and check out the dark green book in the pews.

Making the Sign of the Cross

An easy way to participate in the liturgy is to make the sign of the cross. Whenever we say the three persons of the trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) we make the sign of the cross. Whenever Father blesses us, we receive it with a sign of the cross.

Byzantine churches make the sign this way:

World renowned Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic making the sign of the cross.
The sign of the cross being made by world renowned Serbian tennis champion, Novak Djokovic.

How to form your hand when making the sign of the cross

Sign of the cross fingers

Our sign of the cross is made by:

  • Touching the tips of the thumb, index and middle finger of your right hand (symbolizing the Holy Trinity)
  • Tucking the ring and pinky finger into your palm (symbolizing Jesus’ two natures, Divine and human)
  • Reverently touching your forehead while referencing the Father, your chest while reverencing the Son, and then your right shoulder, then left shoulder respectively while referencing the Holy Spirit.

When to make the sign of the cross

Don't worry about knowing every time to make the sign of the cross. For your first visit, you can try to keep these cues in mind.

Whenever the priest blesses you

Excerpt from Liturgy
You'll hear this bit several times during the liturgy. At each time, you receive the blessing given to you by the priest by making the sign of the cross.

When we invoke the Holy Trinity

Excerpt from the Liturgy
☝️ Make the sign of the cross

Singing

As a first-time visitor, you may notice that "Lord, have mercy" is sung a lot. Here's an example from the Litany of Peace. There are two melodic variations of "Lord, have mercy" which are chanted in alternation.

An excerpt from the Liturgy book

Communion (Holy Gifts to Holy People)

If you’re Catholic, you'll want to know that communion is distributed from a spoon. Leavened bread is used for the Eucharist. This is an ancient tradition.

If you’re not Catholic, then you should talk to our pastor (after liturgy) about becoming Catholic 😀.

Good form

A little girl receiving Holy Communion

When receiving communion:

  • Cross your hands over your heart
  • Tilt your head back
  • Open your mouth
  • Keep your tongue back your mouth
  • Don’t close your mouth over the spoon