Friday, January 8, 2010

Christmas in Florence

Not only have I kept Epiphany twice (in Oxford and Edinburgh), but yesterday I celebrated Christmas again, courtesy of the Ukrainian Catholic community here in Florence!

I was simply looking for Vivoli Gelateria, and on a whim turned up a side alley, ending up at a church which I decided to investigate (I missed and walked right past the gelateria, which I later found to be closed at this season anyway) - when I came in to SS Simon and Jude, I found myself in a packed congregation, all standing, and the priest facing east at the altar, about to start the Insistent Litany after the Gospel (which I recognized by the threefold Gospodi pomilui - "Lord, have mercy").

Thanks be to God, I have sufficient familiarity with the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, albeit not with Ukrainian, that I was able to pray the Mass.  I must admit, the Byzantine Rite leaves the West for dead (and I'd been at a lovely Missa Cantata for the Epiphany the night before!): the beautiful singing, the sweeping sacred Action, carries one along into the heavenly places.

(As a friend once put it, the Roman Mass, solemn and sober, is precisely ordered and structured, able to be analysed into successive parts, expressive of the Western discursive mind; the Byzantine Divine Liturgy rather is all one great unfolding irruption of the Sacred, a form of contemplation rather than of meditation if you will.)

BTW, it was evident this was a Catholic not an Orthodox service, since the congregants nearly all knelt for the Sanctus and Consecration (not for the Epiclesis), and again at the Sancta Sanctis and response - "One is Holy, One is Lord: Jesus Christ, in the glory of God the Father".

Only a minority (the more fervent one assumes, standing up the front) communicated, and late that I was and not quite certain in myself, I refrained.  But to-day at 2.30 pm there will be Divine Liturgy for the Synaxis of the Soprasanta Theotokos, so I've been to confession at the Duomo and will keep a third feast, of Mary the Mother of God (whose memory the West keeps on the Octave Day of Christmas as its liturgy old and new indicates, whatever of the Circumcision), for the second time!

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