Exchanging the Rosary for the Akathist (and Vespers over a Vigil Divine Liturgy)-Perspective from Pope Benedict XVI

At the risk of sounding repetitive, I would like to offer a closer look at the citations offered in the reflection on Fr. Florovsky’s neo-patristic synthesis, as it relates to Eastern Catholics growing in their love of their own patrimony and perspective. Our rhythm of prayer and its unique genius is something that has been weakened with time to an extent. To dwell on the reasons why is less helpful than to stand up and continue again and again in peace, prayer, and repentance.

To that end, and to be sure that my own writing is put into the context of our Holy Father Benedict, Pope of Rome’s writings, I offer these citations from Verbum Domini, the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on the Word of God. The entire document is well worth one’s time, but it is quite a large read. So my goal in this present post is to focus on two key passages as they relate to issues that Eastern Catholics face in living out our life of prayer.

First, as I mentioned that praying Vespers offers an important means to usher in a liturgy on the following morning and to walk with the Fathers, I cited Verbum Domini paragraph 62. It states:

Among the forms of prayer which emphasize sacred Scripture, the Liturgy of the Hours has an undoubted place. The Synod Fathers called it “a privileged form of hearing the word of God, inasmuch as it brings the faithful into contact with Scripture and the living Tradition of the Church”.[221] Above all, we should reflect on the profound theological and ecclesial dignity of this prayer. “In the Liturgy of the Hours, the Church, exercising the priestly office of her Head, offers ‘incessantly’ (1 Th 5:17) to God the sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name (cf. Heb 13:15). This prayer is ‘the voice of a bride speaking to her bridegroom, it is the very prayer that Christ himself, together with his Body, addressed to the Father’”.[222] The Second Vatican Council stated in this regard that “all who take part in this prayer not only fulfil a duty of the Church, but also share in the high honour of the spouse of Christ; for by celebrating the praises of God, they stand before his throne in the name of the Church, their Mother”.[223]The Liturgy of the Hours, as the public prayer of the Church, sets forth the Christian ideal of the sanctification of the entire day, marked by the rhythm of hearing the word of God and praying the Psalms; in this way every activity can find its point of reference in the praise offered to God.

Those who by virtue of their state in life are obliged to pray the Liturgy of the Hours should carry out this duty faithfully for the benefit of the whole Church. Bishops, priests and deacons aspiring to the priesthood, all of whom have been charged by the Church to celebrate this liturgy, are obliged to pray all the Hours daily.[224] As for the obligation of celebrating this liturgy in the Eastern Catholic Churches sui iuris, the prescriptions of their proper law are to be followed.[225] I also encourage communities of consecrated life to be exemplary in the celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours, and thus to become a point of reference and an inspiration for the spiritual and pastoral life of the whole Church.

The Synod asked that this prayer become more widespread among the People of God, particularly the recitation of Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer. This could only lead to greater familiarity with the word of God on the part of the faithful. Emphasis should also be placed on the value of the Liturgy of the Hours for the First Vespers of Sundays and Solemnities, particularly in the Eastern Catholic Churches. To this end I recommend that, wherever possible, parishes and religious communities promote this prayer with the participation of the lay faithful. (Emphasis added)

In Verbum Domini, our regular praying of Vespers is tied to our knowledge of the Word of God, and our entire life of prayer. At a time when so many people are wandering without direction in this life, we as Eastern Catholics have something wonderful to offer to the world, and it is something that will nourish our own souls if we have the voices to sing these services, and the ears to hear.

Secondly, there is the general subject of Marian prayer, and the specific issue of praying the Akathist. Paragraph 88 of Verbum Domini is cited in its entirety, as it emphasizes both the Rosary and the Akathist (in addition to the Angelus and Paraklesis services) in the prayer life of the entire Catholic Church.

Mindful of the inseparable bond between the word of God and Mary of Nazareth, along with the Synod Fathers I urge that Marian prayer be encouraged among the faithful, above all in life of families, since it is an aid to meditating on the holy mysteries found in the Scriptures. A most helpful aid, for example, is the individual or communal recitation of the Holy Rosary,[302]which ponders the mysteries of Christ’s life in union with Mary,[303] and which Pope John Paul II wished to enrich with the mysteries of light.[304] It is fitting that the announcement of each mystery be accompanied by a brief biblical text pertinent to that mystery, so as to encourage the memorization of brief biblical passages relevant to the mysteries of Christ’s life.

The Synod also recommended that the faithful be encouraged to pray the Angelus. This prayer, simple yet profound, allows us “to commemorate daily the mystery of the Incarnate Word”.[305]It is only right that the People of God, families and communities of consecrated persons, be faithful to this Marian prayer traditionally recited at sunrise, midday and sunset. In the Angeluswe ask God to grant that, through Mary’s intercession, we may imitate her in doing his will and in welcoming his word into our lives. This practice can help us to grow in an authentic love for the mystery of the incarnation.

The ancient prayers of the Christian East which contemplate the entire history of salvation in the light of the Theotokos, the Mother of God, are likewise worthy of being known, appreciated and widely used. Here particular mention can be made of the Akathist and Paraklesis prayers. These hymns of praise, chanted in the form of a litany and steeped in the faith of the Church and in references to the Bible, help the faithful to meditate on the mysteries of Christ in union with Mary. In particular, the venerable Akathist hymn to the Mother of God – so-called because it is sung while standing – represents one of the highest expressions of the Marian piety of the Byzantine tradition.[306] Praying with these words opens wide the heart and disposes it to the peace that is from above, from God, to that peace which is Christ himself, born of Mary for our salvation. (Emphasis added)

Again, it is wonderful to read that the Holy Father is encouraging Marian devotion by encouraging several forms of Marian prayers, which reflects the diversity of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. In his writings, the Eastern Christian prayer life is not considered something that can be disposed of when the Rosary (or any other prayer) is prayed in regularity. Rather, he argues that our Byzantine spiritual heritage is likewise worthy of being known and venerated by all.

The question then immediately arises: if we who are Eastern Catholics do not know and venerate these prayers as Eastern Christians, how can our Western Brethren know and venerate them? It is well and good if we can hold to some Western devotions, as long as we also are able to live out our own traditions of prayer and devotion. That is why I did not title this post “Exchanging the Rosary…” to imply that the Rosary should be exchanged for the Akathist in a necessary and literal sense for all Byzantine Catholics. But if there is a lack of  fervent devotion to the Akathist and the Paraklesis in our parishes, we can hardly expect people in Roman Catholic parishes to love and pray these services on their own. And then it will not only be we who suffer through a lack of these prayers, but all Christians, Eastern and Western. And if we feel unable to pray both the Akathist and the Rosary at our parishes, then perhaps an exchange should be considered, not to neglect the Rosary out of disdain or some sort of anti-Western sentiment, but out of our love and devotion to the Theotokos and to the Akathist, which declares that love and devotion in a beautiful and poetic manner. On the other hand, if our prayer service books do nothing but collect dust in our choir lofts, all of the Church will be weakened.

O Most Holy Theotokos, Save Us!

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s