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Questions and Answers about the Divine Liturgy #3– Liturgy of the Catechumens

February 19th, 2009 by Fr. Vasile

gospel_book_11. What are the catechumens?

The catechumens are those that are preparing to become Christians.

2. Why during the first centuries the catechumens could not participate in the whole liturgy?

St. Cyril of Jerusalem explains the situations of the catechumens: „the divine words echoed outside of him; […] he was a listener of the Christian teachings but they were not penetrating into his soul; were not understood and just echoed around him[1] Therefore a long period of instruction  was deemed necessary so when a catechumen receives Baptism he/she is ready to receive sanctifying grace that is imparted through the holy Sacraments. Plus the Liturgical Sacrifice is offered by the Church for the Church and the catechumens are not yet part of the Church.

3. What is the purpose of the Liturgy of the Catechumens?

The Liturgy of the catechumens has mainly a teaching character. It contains the readings from the Gospel and the Epistles and of course the Homily usually immediately following the Gospel.

4. What is the structure of the Liturgy of the Catachumens?

a.       Introductory part (The three prostrations in front of the Holy Table and the Invocation of the Holy Spirit The Great Blessing The Great Litany The Antiphons and the Small Litanies)

b.       The Small Entrance or the Entrance with the Gospel

c.       The Trisagion (Holy God Holy Mighty Holy Immortal…)

d.       The Biblical Readings (Epistles Gospel and the Homily)

e.       The prayers after the Gospel (the Trice Litany The Prayer of the Fervent Supplication the opening of the Holy Antimension and the Litany of the Catechumens.)

5. Why the Liturgy does starts with the Blessing?

Like any service the Liturgy starts with glorifying God: Blessed is the kingdom of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. After St. Nicholas Cabasillas any prayer should have 4 parts: first we give glory to God second we thank Him for His great gifts he is bestowing on us third we recognize our sinfulness and only then we can ask Him what we think we need.[2]

6. What are the Litanies?

The Litanies are a series of prayers through which the Church mediates for Her members. The litanies are said by the deacon in the middle of the Church or by the Priest in front of the Holy Table. After each supplication the people acknowledge by saying Lord have mercy or Amen. In this way the whole Church prays to God the mediator toward God being the Priest. The deacon sits in the middle of the Church because He represents the united voice of the faithful in prayer.

Lord have mercy has a double meaning according to St. Nicholas Cabasillas: „Is the prayer of the people that recognize how great is the goodness of the Supreme Judge ad how grave is their guilt. This means it is in the same time confession and acknowledgement.

7. What are the Antiphons?

The Antiphons are parts of the messianic psalms prophesizing the coming of Christ. They represent the period when Christ was in the world but was still unknown. The antiphons represent the period until St. john the Baptist when the world needed prophets to announce the coming of Christ. The third antiphon is generally linked with the ecclesiastical season by the singing of the festal troparia or the reading of the Beatitudes.

8. What is the symbolism of the reading of the Beatitudes?

The Beatitudes are part of the Sermon of the Mountain the first public teaching of the Savior. They represent the beginning of the public mission of Jesus Christ. [3]

9. What represents the Little Entrance with the Gospel?

The little Entrance represents the Epiphany of the Lord or His entry into the world. The Gospel that contains the Word of God represents Christ himself. This is why the people chant Let us come and worship and bow down to Christ. The candles before the Gospel represent the spiritual light brought by Christ into the world through His teachings. The candle holders are the prophets that have prophesized the coming of Christ. The words Wisdom. Let us stand right! are meant to notify the people to acknowledge the presence of Christ in the Church. They are repeated for the same purpose before the reading from the Gospel.

10. Why do we sing the Trisagion?

This hymn is borrowed from the singing of the angels The word Holy sung trice is the hymn of the Seraphim[4]. Through this the Church recognizes the One God in His Trinity and also acknowledges that the angels together with the people are united in one Church through the coming of Christ. [5] He Who is above the Heavens and in the same time on earth.[6]

11. What is the Epistle reading?

The Epistle reading is the sending into the world of the Apostles. The censing during the Alleluia it is done in honor of the Gospel to be read and represent the fragrance of Christs teaching that spread into the whole Church through the Holy Apostles

1. What is the Gospel reading?

The Gospel reading represents the full manifestation of Christ into the world; it is Christ himself teaching to the people. This is why before and after the faithful say Glory to you our God glory to You!

1. What represent the last acts of the Liturgy of the Catechumens?

The opening of the Holy Antimension represents the digging of Christs grave; the gathering of the particles on the Antimension with the sponge represents the future union of the catechumens with the Church. The words all catechumens depart represent the exit of the catechumens and also the last judgment when after the proclamation of the Gospel to the whole world  the people will be split into two parts in front of Jesus Christ: the righteous and the sinful.

[1] Sf. Chiril al Ierusalinului Cateheze Ed. IBMBOR 2004 p. 8

[2] Sf. Nicolae Cabasila Tâlcuirea Dumnezeie?tii Liturghii Editura Arhiepiscopiei Bucure?tilor 1989

[3] Pr. Prof. Ene Brani?te Liturgica Special? Ed Nemira 200 p. 239

[4] Vezi Isaia VI 1-3. Cf. si Aproc. IV 8.

[5] „Spre iconomia plinirii vremilor ca toate s? fie iar?i unite în Hristos cele din ceruri ?i cele de pe p?mânt – toate întru El  Cf. Efeseni I 10.

[6] Sf. Nicolae Cabasilla op.cit.

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