The Ukrainian Catholic Liturgy is celebrated properly with extreme awe and reverence. Regular worshippers and visitors should have a sensory experience when they come to church.
There are processions, gestures, incense, banners, ornate vestments, beautiful voices, candles, worshippers repeatedly prostrating themselves, kissing of icons, beautifully decorated books, the sign of the Cross, semi professional choirs, colour, frescoes and smells are a necessary part of our beautiful liturgy. They all contribute to the “heaven on earth” effect of the Byzantine Liturgy, reported by the envoys of Prince Wolodymyr, after returning from St Sophia’s inConstantinople.
All this has become deeply embedded in the life and worship of Ukrainian people. When understood in the context of faith and history, the liturgy celebrated fully, leads to the enrichment of the faithful.
When we pray, our whole body prays. The Church Fathers constantly reminded us that whatever the body does affects the soul. The posture of the body sends a powerful message to the mind. Some of the Church Fathers said that if the body is not praying, then the whole person is not praying. God is worshipped with one’s whole being; mind, heart, soul and body are to seek union with God. In other words we, in our church, do not come to church to hear “Mass”, we come to take an active part in the Divine Liturgy. There should be no such thing as a passive observer at our church services.
During our liturgy we have various bodily postures, for example, standing, kneeling, lifting up of our hands, lifting the head, bowing the head. St John Climacus wrote, “the Soul indeed is moulded by the doings of the body, conforming to and taking shape from what it does”.
It is in this context that the holding of church banners established itself in our church worship, especially inUkraine. Most churches inUkrainehave young men and women who hold church banners throughout the liturgy. When they bow their heads and banners on 18 different occasions, they unite and lead the faithful in a form of deep piety and reverence. This practice must be understood in this context because it certainly is an important part of our liturgical life.
These church banners hold icons of our Saviour and His Blessed Mother. A church is not just supposed to have them, they are meant to be used. When our grandparents made them for our churches in our Eparchy, they did so because they were also present in their home parishes back inUkraine. For the most part these banners have become possessions of the church. They were made to be used. It is our intention to re-introduce their use in our Eparchy.
The banners and young people who hold them are very important to our church. They teach us to pray. They show us when to bow our heads and shoulders so that we can all act together as one church body. They are not just symbols; they are actually our leaders in prayer, as are the priest, the choir, the servers and all others who lead us in prayer. OurUkrainianChurchprayer is by nature, complex. It is beautiful; it is truly one “total” experience.
Instructions on banner holding have recently arrived in the Eparchy fromUkraine. They point out that in our liturgy there are 18 holy and very intimate moments of encounter with Jesus Christ directly blesses us, teaches us and comes to us in the chalice and paten. These are very sacred moments. When the banner holders bow, the whole congregation bows or crosses itself and remembers that these are moments of direct grace.
The purpose of our liturgy is to become one with Our Lord. Banner holders lead us in this prayer or catechesis. They actually teach us to pray, to concentrate and to honour God because at Holy Communion we all partake in the Holy Eucharist and we become one with the Divine.
I call on all Priests, Deacons and Sisters in the Eparchy to, first of all, explain this beautiful element of our ritual and introduce it into all our parishes.