The Divine Liturgies

By Galadza, Peter | Pastoral Music, April/May 2007 | Go to article overview
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The Divine Liturgies

Galadza, Peter, Pastoral Music

Books The Divine Liturgies The Byzantine Catholic Metropolitan Church Sui Iuris of Pittsburgh, The Divine Liturgies of our Holy Fathers John Chrysostom and Basil the Great: Responses and Hymns Set to Carpathian Plainchant. 467+ pages, hardcover. ISBN 0-9774069-3-8. Byzantine Catholic Metropolitan Church, 2006. Available from Byzantine Seminary Press. $15.00.

The Byzantine Catholic Church of the USA ("Pittsburgh Metropolia") has taken an epochal step toward the renewal and adaptation of its liturgical tradition in America. In January 2007, its Council of Hierarchs (the near-equivalent of a synod) published The Divine Liturgies. This pew book is accompanied by a seven-CD instructional recording by the renowned Schola Cantorum of St. Peter the Apostle, directed by its founder, J. Michael Thompson, who is also director of the Metropolitan Cantor Institute of Saints Cyril and Methodius Byzantine Catholic Seminary in Pittsburgh.

Years in the making, this book is epochal because its translation of the Chrysostom and Basil formularies and propers corrects many of the mistakes (both semantic and stylistic) found in the Byzantine Catholic Church's first pew book (1978). Equally-if not more important-it "rationalizes" the musical setting.

As pioneers in the use of English in Catholic liturgy, the Byzantine Catholics were limited by the scholarly resources available in the 1960s and '70s when they produced their first official texts. To the great credit of the Council of Hierarchs, they were willing to revisit their Church's work in spite of the fact that a generation of faithful has already memorized the (flawed) text. The hierarchs also realized that the previous setting of Carpathian plainchant ("prostopinije") sometimes displayed a collision of musical and textual accentuation. In other words, the cadences of the English translation frequently conflicted with the cadences of the plainchant. This is a common occurrence when those who know a chant in one language (e.g., Slavonic) are suddenly required to transpose that chant's melody and rhythm to a text for which that melody and rhythm were never intended. Musically, the equivalent is "broken English." To the extent possible, the new pew book corrects this flaw. There remain instances when this has not proved possible because of the nature of the chant and the requirements of accuracy and consistency in translation. However, the pew book provides so many options for the ordinary of the Divine Liturgy that one need not use the more cumbersome settings.

A final reason why the new book is epochal is that its production was thoroughly collaborative and official. In other words, this was the effort of a Church guided by its chief shepherds. Anyone familiar with Eastern Christianity realizes how significant this is. Thousands of resources for Eastern Christian worship exist in English, but only a handful express the consensus of a Church's leadership, thus facilitating liturgical unity. Of course, as might be expected, the jettisoning of the previous translation and pew book has spawned a "cyber revolution," but as anyone with experience in "liturgical transition" knows, twelve to eighteen months usually suffices for congregations to adapt to the textual and musical changes, and once they have done so they find it hard to believe that they ever used the previous version. The fact that the Council of Hierarchs stands unanimously behind this change guarantees that the transition will be crowned with success (cyber revolutions notwithstanding).

Turning to the actual contents of the pew book, one finds that in addition to music for the congregation for the Chrysostom and Basil formularies, the book also includes several prayers of preparation for Holy Communion as well as the vesperal ordinary for Saturday vigil liturgies. This is followed by all of the propers generally needed for parish worship as well as the short memorial service (panachida) and general moleben ("rogation" service) frequently appended to Eucharistic liturgies.

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