At Our Lady of the Sign, we strive to be a welcoming and active community. In addition to our weekly Liturgy (Mass), we hold several parish gatherings throughout the year.
If this is your first time attending a Byzantine Catholic Church, you will notice some aspects of our Liturgy are very different than what you are used to in a Roman Catholic Church.
We are Catholic!
Eastern Catholics are "under" the Pope of Rome.
A Roman Catholic fulfills his/her Sunday and Sacramental obligation at an Eastern Catholic Church.
Eastern Catholics share the same Bible, Sacraments, Faith teaching and elements of Liturgy with Roman Catholics.
A visitor will experience a feast for the soul and senses. Icons and incense, Golden Gospel Book, bows and blessings, and Holy Communion of the bread and wine in the mistery of the sung Liturgy.
For Roman Catholics, to step into an Eastern Church is to enter the past. The medieval-looking icons adorning the walls, the celebrants' rich robes, the ornate gold work, and the wafting incense -- all recall a time long ago, a time before Vatican II swept the Western Church clean of such trappings. Yet for Eastern-rite worshipers, neither theirs nor ours is a dead and dusty past. Those following the Byzantine rite, in fact, enjoy a liturgical tradition established by the early Church in Constantinople, and it is this tradition that is followed by the majority of Orthodox and Eastern-rite Catholics even today.
In Canada and the United States, for instance, Ukrainians, Ruthenians, Slovaks, Romanians, and Melkites all follow the Byzantine rite.
The Eastern Churches in union with Rome have the same basic beliefs as Roman Catholics. They show it, however, in a fashion shaped by a different culture, language, and history.
According to the Byzantine tradition, God is at the center of all things while human beings are on the periphery. Added to this emphasis is a strong link with the founders of the Church. The Eastern faithful have retained a more visible evidence of their religious progress through the ages, reminding them that they are only the latest chapter in the story of creation.
Eastern Churches also have retained a mystical bent. A stronger tradition of monasticism and contemplative life, for example, has provided the East with a vigorous spirituality. These factors add up to a distinctive expression of faith in God. And this distinctiveness is apparent as soon as one approaches a Byzantine church.
According to a book authored by the Canadian Catholic bishops called The Byzantine Ukrainian Rite, the architecture of the church building tries to recreate, albeit in imperfect human fashion, a bit of heaven on earth. Its opulent, other-worldly style is an attempt to take parishioners away from their earthly cares and give them an experience of being with God
Inside, the Byzantine churches, like the Roman Catholic ones, are divided into three areas. But there are obvious differences. For Eastern-rite Catholics, the vestibule represents a connection to the outer world. In the early churches, catechumens (those preparing to become Christians) were instructed here.
The sanctuary will bring back memories for those Roman Catholics old enough to recall the Church prior to Vatican II. Here, the priest faces the altar, his back to the congregation.
The most notable difference between a Roman Catholic sanctuary and an Eastern one is the iconostasis. The royal doors symbolize the gates of heaven.
They invite us to enter more deeply into the Kingdom of God. They encourage us discover Him as the Source of Eternal Life.
The icons arranged upon the iconostasis appear in a hierarchical order, with Christ in the center leading up to God. As a result, they tell much about the relationship of the Trinity to the saints and Church founders. Of all the icons, those of the Mother of God, the Theotokos (God-bearer), are especially revered in the Eastern Churches. Though human, Mary's physical closeness to God lifts her above normal existence. Often, the Theotokos is depicted as the Mother of God of Tenderness, holding the Christ Child cheek-to-cheek.
On the iconastasis at Our Lady of the Sign Church, the Mother of God is pictured praying and offering to the world its Savior, Jesus Christ
Though the sacraments are inherently the same in both the West and the East, notable differences in timing and expression are evident. For instance, the sacraments of initiation (Baptism, First Communion, and Confirmation) are -- in the Eastern-rite Churches -- performed simultaneously.
The Divine Liturgy itself, or Mass in latin parlance, brings together Byzantine beauty, solemnity, and joy in the celebration of the Eucharist. To be sure, Roman Catholics will recognize its resemblance to their own liturgy.The priest begins with the preparation of the gifts, which includes an incensing of the altar. This takes place prior to the public part of the Mass, which features what is known as the Little Entrance, a procession around the altar with the Gospel book to start the Liturgy of the Word.
The Liturgy of the Eucharist has its own procession as well, called the Great Entrance, in which the gifts are brought to the altar. Holy Communion is received under both species, with small cubes of consecrated Bread commingled with the consecrated Wine and placed into the mouth of each communicant with a small spoon.