Lenten practices differ for Byzantine Catholics
By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T
All Churches in full communion with the Holy See observe Lent, but not all observe it in exactly the same way as do Roman Catholics. For example, did you know that in the Byzantine Ukrainian Ritual Church they often bless not only palm on Palm Sunday but also pussy willows?
“That is because in Ukraine we couldn’t get palm,” explained Msgr. Peter D. Waslo, chancellor and communications director for the Metropolitan Archeparchy of Philadelphia for Byzantine Ukrainian Catholics. The pussy willow was substituted because it was the first blossoming plant of spring.
Although it has similarities in ritual to Orthodox Christian services, the Byzantine Ukrainian rite uses the same Gregorian calendar as the Roman Catholic rite, celebrating Easter on the same date but with variations. “For us, Lent ends the Friday before Palm Sunday,” Msgr. Waslo said.
On Palm Sunday, in addition to receiving blessed palm and pussy willows, worshipers are anointed on their forehead with oil. They do not received blessed ashes on Ash Wednesday because in the Byzantine Ukrainian Church, Lent begins two days earlier, on Monday, and ashes are not part of their ancient tradition.
Msgr. Waslo recalls that when he was young Stations of the Cross were sometimes observed in their churches during Lent, but as part of the Vatican II reforms, Eastern Catholic Churches returned to their own traditions in such matters and the ceremony was eliminated.
There are other differences. In the Roman tradition, penitents observe fasting and abstinence during Lent; fasting having to do with the quantity of food and abstinence with the type of food – no meat or meat products.
The Ukrainian fast does not specify any amount of food, but it eliminates meat and all dairy products, and the fast is only mandated for the first Monday of Lent and Good Friday, although some people adhere to a traditional fast all through Holy Week, Msgr. Waslo said.
Vesper services have much greater prominence in the Eastern Catholic Churches than in the Roman rite. In Ukrainian Catholics churches, liturgies with the consecration of the Eucharist are not celebrated at all on weekdays during Lent, even for such solemn events as funerals.
However, on Lenten Wednesdays and Fridays, there are Liturgies of the Presanctified at which pre-consecrated hosts are distributed, similar to the Roman Catholic Good Friday discipline.
Liturgies of the Presanctified are also celebrated Monday through Wednesday of Holy Week; these are the “Bridegroom Services” which follow the life of Christ during this crucial week and anticipate His coming as the Bridegroom on Easter.
One thing Byzantine Ukrainian Catholics will notice is slightly longer Sunday liturgies during Lent. That is because the liturgy of St. Basil the Great is celebrated, instead of the shorter liturgy of St. John Chrysostom celebrated the rest of the year.
Just as in Roman Catholicism prior to Vatican II, the Scripture readings are on a one-year cycle, rather than today’s three-year cycle observed by Roman Catholicism and several Protestant denominations. An Old Testament reading is never part of the Eucharistic liturgy but is part of the vesper services.
The three-part focus of Byzantine Ukrainian Catholics during Lent is “almsgiving, fasting and prayer,” Msgr. Waslo said.
Chrism will be blessed on Holy Thursday, there will be no Eucharist on Good Friday, but at the vesper service a shroud will be placed in a tomb in front of the screen which is an integral part of the sanctuary in Eastern Churches.
At the Saturday vigil when new Christians are baptized, the priest will begin the liturgy robed in red vestments. Just before the Gospel, as the people sing the joyful “Rise O Lord, Rise,” he will change to celebratory white vestments.
“For us,” Msgr. Waslo said, “Lent is not about the suffering of Jesus, it is about His resurrection and renewal of our baptismal vows.”
Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.