Learning to breathe with both lungs

The war for Catholic culture will be won by winning the battle for Catholic education, where three strategies are indispensable. First, students must be challenged to a deeper discovery of reality, to encounter familiar things in an unfamiliar way. Second, the renewal of Catholic culture involves making Catholic culture new again to young Catholics. Third, the life of learning must incorporate the poetry and pedagogy of Catholic liturgy.

Though uncommon in practice, an education surrounding a bi-ritual experience of Catholic liturgy can prove helpful and healthy in converting young souls to Christ. Such an educational atmosphere that celebrates both Western and Eastern liturgy allows students to contemplate the essentials of the highest form of worship in the expressions of two cultures and become educated in the universal culture of the Catholic Faith.

Just as the Divine Liturgy is the source and summit of the life of the Church, so it should be for the life of a school. The rhythms of a rightly ordered education are complemented and completed by liturgy, for both measure the interplay of God and man, body and soul, mind and heart. The end of education is to free people from the ostensible urgency and finality of earthly ends so that they may pursue beatitude. Thus, liturgy should have an irreplaceable centrality in a school since only the liturgy can open the school to the eternal world and shield it from the ephemeral world that ever diverts.

Exposing young, ordinary Catholics to ancient, extraordinary forms of the liturgy broadens the life of the Church for them, which is vital in making the Faith an integral aspect of education. The broader this vision, the broader the Church’s purpose will appear, and the greater the grasp of truth will become.

A liturgical participation in the two main traditions of the Church which balances both East and West in a formative harmony can set the stage for all three of the aforesaid strategies for educational restoration. When students sing, serve, and are reared in both the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite and the Byzantine Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, the liturgical cooperation of East and West takes on a dramatic and didactic role. They work together to raise souls and minds to the praise and contemplation of the Divine in a way that communicates the vast scope and purpose of liturgy—and thus the scope and purpose of life. The results of this liturgical approach can be striking, with students growing in knowledge and appreciation of the Mass and the mission of the Church at a time when many struggle with misconceptions about the reality of the Mass and the Church.

The Latin rite evokes the Lord’s Supper in a down-to-earth, philosophic atmosphere, economic on symbolism and song, and beatific in its reverent simplicity. The Byzantine rite reflects a heavenly celebration of cosmic mystery and awe, where the subconscious and the senses unite in a poetic and dynamic pageantry.

Many find that there is a lively comparison and correlation to be made in the liturgies of East and West to body and soul—the Divine Liturgy being, to some, more earthy and the Tridentine Mass being more ethereal. Others, on the other hand, characterize the Latin liturgy as more incarnational, as spare, sober, and restrained as the Latin language itself; whereas the Byzantine liturgies of the East are perceived as transcendent, even exuberant. In short, as even this brief comparison shows, dual celebration can enliven and enrich the spirituality of young people by giving them a taste of and for something beyond the pale of a common liturgical experience, providing new platforms and perspectives that enhance and focuses education.

Some may recall Pope St. John Paul II’s words from Ut Unum Sint (1995): “The Church must breathe with her two lungs”—its Eastern one and its Western one. In writing this, the Holy Father was not exhorting individual Catholics to become bi-ritual. His encyclical calling for a balanced resuscitation and cooperation between the main traditions of the Church arose from a predominance of the Latin tradition while the Eastern tradition became more obscure. In the effort of achieving this balance, it can fall to priests and teachers to open the minds and hearts of Catholics to liturgies with which they are not familiar. With this knowledge, the Church herself might begin to breathe more fully. It is to this end that a bi-ritual experience, in the context of education, can help further this holy objective by making the world of liturgy full and fulfilling, to the benefit of both Church and faithful.

Familiarization with the too-often unfamiliar richness of Catholic liturgy gives students a fresh and even fantastic understanding of the nature of the universal Church. It provides an experience of the modes of worship and a revelation of the Church’s versatility and wisdom in giving her children different avenues to grace. What is more, these liturgies are beautifully complementary, being two rites and two traditions presenting the single reality of salvation.

Though a bi-ritual approach in education is no easy arrangement, Catholic priests and teachers should at least remain aware of the potential spiritual fortification that a collaborative exposure to these liturgies can afford to those who are learning to find their place before God and within His Church.

It is an education in and of itself to learn to breathe with both liturgical lungs, especially in these suffocating times, and those who learn to do so will be more empowered to combat the snares of secularism and to help the Church grow in cultural, intellectual, and spiritual strength.

SEAN FITZPATRICK is a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College and serves as the headmaster of Gregory the Great Academy in Elmhurst, Pa. He also serves on the Advisory Council for Sophia Institute for Teachers. His writings on education, literature and culture have appeared in Crisis Magazine, The Imaginative Conservative, and Catholic Exchange.

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