Celebrating Pentecost With the Ukrainian Catholics

iconostas3Last Saturday evening I had the privilege of celebrating the Solemnity of Pentecost at Presentation of Our Lord Ukrainian Catholic Church in Lansdale, PA. I had been invited by Father Vasil Bunik to give a presentation on St. Therese after the 4:00PM Divine Liturgy. Or so I thought…

I arrived at the church at around 3:40PM excited to participate in my first Ukrainian Catholic Divine Liturgy. I found a place in a rear pew and began to pray and to prepare myself mentally for my presentation. I saw a priest coming down the aisle toward me who I surmised must br Fr. Vasil. He waved me out to the vestibule and greeted me warmly. I thanked him for inviting me to speak to his parishioners about St. Therese.

After exchanging pleasantries, I tried to ascertain the logistics of my talk as I understood them – a 45 minute talk on “St. Therese and the Year of Faith” to be given at the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy. Fr. Vasil shot me a quizzical look and said, “Oh, no! You will speak in the middle of the Divine Liturgy after the readings. No more than 10 minutes.” I was flabbergasted. Just a little communication glitch! I now had justs moments to pare my presentation down from 45 to 10 minutes. Needless to say I was a bit frazzled!

I went back to my pew and scrambled feverishly to concoct something valuable and coherent to say in a 10 minute talk. I found what I thought was a winning formula just as the mass started – a funny story, followed by a brief explanation of the Year of Faith, followed by an overview of St. Therese and why she was so important for Catholics to learn about. Whew!

The beauty and novelty of the Ukrainian Catholic Liturgy almost made me forget about my situation. For anyone used to the Latin Rite mass, the Eastern Catholic masses can seem a bit strange at first. There are many more responses given by the people than in a Latin Rite mass. The sign of the cross is performed using three fingers and crossing from right to left instead of vice versa. This is done countless times during the Liturgy. The first reading was read by a young man who remained in his pew instead of reading from the lectern. Lastly, and most strikingly, the priest consecrated the Eucharist facing away from the congregation like in the Tridentine Mass.

After Fr. Vasil read the Gospel, he gave me a brief introduction and then called me to the front to speak about St. Therese. Before beginning I surveyed the faces in the crowd and was pleased to see many attentive expressions that seemed to say, “Who is this very un-Ukrainian-looking man and what is he going to say to us?” I didn’t leave them in suspense. I gave my teaching about St. Therese for what I estimated was about 10 minutes. I looked down at Fr. Vasil sitting in the front row and said, “I guess my time is about up so I will conclude.” He responded, “You can keep going.” I went from paring down to filling out my comments very quickly!

I concluded by inviting all to venerate the First Class Relic of St. Therese after the Divine Liturgy. Fr. Vasil annointed our foreheads with Holy Oil for Pentecost. Many people came up and reverently venerated the relic and some intoduced themselves and welcomed me to the parish. One woman stayed to speak with me after mass and gave me a veritable teaching on Ukrainian Catholic traditions and identified and explained every icon in the church. She and Fr. Vasil thanked me for coming, bade me farewell, and invited me to come back to worship with them some other time. I will certainly do just that.

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