Worship in the Eastern Catholic Church

The Eastern Catholic Worship is different! Some of the differences are quite obvious, while other become less noticeable over time. As I continued to attend the Eastern Catholic Liturgy, it became apparent that Eastern Catholic Christians worship with their whole being. Worship was not a passive event as in the Roman Catholic or other Western Christians churches. Sunday worship became alive to once again, as it did when I was a young child.

1. The entire person is involved in worship.

2. Standing and prostrations during the Holy Liturgy

3. The Sign of the Cross

4. The use of Candles

5. The use of Incense

6. The use of Icons

7. Singing the Holy Liturgy

1. The entire person is involved in worship


The Eastern Catholic Christians, of whom I am now one,
listen to the words and the music of the Holy Liturgy and the sounds of the liturgical action, speak and sing with our voices united, observe the liturgical actions, Icons, and vestments, etc. with our eyes, smell the incense, reverence and touch the icons, bible, cross, and other symbols of our faith , partake and taste the Body and the Blood of Christ in the Holy Elements of the Holy Communion, think with our minds, grow intellectually in the Holy Faith, respond from our hearts and participate with our bodies.

If you are coming from a western church background, all of this action may seem very strange and might make you feel uncomfortable at first. However, before long, you will begin to experience the awesome beauty of this way of worshipping, and the Holy Liturgy will draw you into the reverential and mystical worshipping God. There is only one Eucharistic service (Holy Liturgy) on Sunday. It is composed of two parts: the Liturgy of Preparation (preparing the Eucharistic elements) and the Divine and Holy Liturgy.

One of the first things you might notice when you enter the Eastern Catholic Churches is that there is a lot of joy evident in the congregation. Before he holy Liturgy, people walk up to the front of the church, praying in front of the Iconostasis (the standing icons in front of the altar), reverencing (kissing) the icons, lighting candles. The parish priest is hearing confessions before the Holy Tabernacle. Then approximately ten minutes before the Holy Liturgy is to start, a sudden hush comes over the entire congregation, as they prepare themselves to enter into the Holy Liturgy.

In the Eastern Catholic churches, the congregation does a lot of kissing: when they enter the church, they greet one another with the Kiss of Peace (a sign of mystical unity within the Body of Christ, reverence (kiss) the icons (Jesus on His feet, Saints on their hands), they kiss the chalice after they receive Holy Communion, at the end of the Holy Liturgy, the congregation approaches the priest and kiss the blessing cross and his right hand. The usual greeting during the Kiss of Peace is
“Christ is in our midst!” And the response is “He is shall always be us!” The usual custom is to kiss on bow cheeks; (two kisses ) Slavic people kiss three times (right cheek, left cheek, right cheek).

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2. Standing and prostrations during the Holy Liturgy.


In some Eastern Catholic churches thee are no pews there are a few chairs for the elderly and infirm to use. This is because, in this Christian tradition, standing is the most appropriate physical attitude for prayer and worship and because for us. Worship is not a “spectator sport.” Many Eastern Catholic churches have pews; even them the congregation stands during the reading of the Holy Gospel, the singing of the Creed, the Anaphora (the prayer of consecration) and singing of the Lord's Prayer. Many Eastern Christians prostrate (they kneel, place their hands on the floor, and touch their forehead down between our hands (similar to Mid-eastern worship as you have seen on television). One former Episcopal priest stated that seeing people prostate themselves before the Holy Tabernacle was one of the things that made him most eager to become an Eastern Christian; he stated, “This is how we should be before Almighty God!"

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3. The Sign of the Cross.



One of the first things you will see us do throughout the course of the Holy Liturgy is to make the sign of the cross.
The Sign of the Cross is an important expression of the Holy Faith. In fact, it has been said, that as long as the Eastern Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox Churches teach their members to properly make the sign of the cross, the Holy Faith will remain safe and secure.

The Sing of the Cross is made with the right hand. The thumb and the first two fingers are joined at the tip, symbolizing the Holy Trinity. The remaining two fingers are closed on the palm symbolizing the Eternal Word of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, entered time as the God-Man Jesus Christ. The sign of the cross begins and ends with the right hand touching the centre of the chest (heart), then the forehead, the centre of the chest (heart), then the right shoulder, then the left shoulder, and finally over the chest. The sign of the cross is typically made at the mention of the Blessed Trinity, when the priest blesses the congregation, at the beginning and ending of the Holy Gospel, and in response to the petitions in the litany, after the reception of Holy Communion.

Often a reverence or a bow, while making the sign of the cross, is frequently made when entering or leaving the church, passing in front of the Holy Tabernacle, Holy Altar, and holy icons. The bow is a sign of respect and submission to God (and to God's people) and sometimes as a symbol of repentance and forgiveness. During Lent, the bow begins with the right hand touching the floor before making the sign of the cross; sometimes, the members of the church make a full prostration.

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4. The use of Candles


You will also notice that there are a lot of candles: since Jesus Christ taught that He was the Light of the World
(John :12), our candles and lamps refer to His radiance, the Light of Christ illuminates all humanity and all of the world. The faithful light candles as a sign of their fervent prayer unto God. We light candles and lamps before icons, carry them in processions, and on the Holy Altar. The prayer is that any wickedness in us will vanish as the wax of the candle vanishes and is consumed by the flame.

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5. The use of Incense


You will also notice that incense is used throughout the Holy Liturgy. Psalm 141 declares: “let my prayer arise in Thy sight as incense; lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice.” Incense is linked to prayer; you see the New Testament connection to incense in the Book of Revelation 8: 1-5. You will notice that the Holy Altar (a sign of the throne of Christ), the Gospel Book ( a sign of the verbal image of Christ) upon the Holy Altar, the icons (representing the presence of the holy men and women and the events of the History of Salvation), and finally all the faithful people who have come to the church for worship are censed. We as human beings are made in the image and according to the likeness of God (Genesis 1:27)“ we are also icons.

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6. The use of Icons


The inside church are surrounded by Icons based upon Hebrews 12: 1-4: we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses (literally, the martyrs), who watch after us and urge us on in our race of faith towards Our Lord Jesus Christ. Eastern Christians quite often reverence (kiss) the Icons when they enter and depart from the church. This is due to the belief that human beings has a deep God-given need to express their love and what they feel inside when those feelings are good and pure. They have a great respect and veneration for the historical and biblical scenes which the icons represent, because they are a part of God’s plan for salvation for the life of the world. When they bow before and/or places a kiss upon an icon, the Altar Gospel Book, when they exchange the Kiss of Peace, it is a sign of humility and deep devotion before Almighty God Who acts through individuals, Holy Scriptures, the Eucharist, so that all of His people may be brought back into Paradise.

This is not idolatry as some Protestants have attempted, in their ignorance, to label the Eastern Christian Churches; are you worshipping your father, your mother, your spouse, son or daughter when you give that person a kiss? Of course not; it is our belief that the outward honour we pay to the material reality goes far beyond the prototype. There is a vast distinction between honour ( i.e.: veneration or respect) and worship. We worship God alone and may have no others before Him (Exodus 20).

The draperies on the wall behind the Holy Altar, the covering in front of the Altar of Prothesis, the covering before the Holy Altar and behind the Icons on the Iconostasis are all red, to remind us of the shed Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ which brought out the redemption of the world.

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7. Singing the Holy Liturgy.


The priest and the congregation with the choir sing the Holy Liturgy. The human voice is at its very best in worshipping songs. The human voice is a musical instrument which was created by God. The voice is one instrument which is the most fitting for the Praise of Almighty God and which every member of the church possess. Some parishes may utilize musical instruments but they are never to replace or drown our the congregation's singing the Holy Liturgy. Whether you attend the Holy Liturgy in the Traditional Setting or in the Charismatic setting, the congregation actively participates by singing the Holy Liturgy.


All of these elements bring to mind the Tabernacle Worship prescribed by God the Father and brought into completion by Our Lord Jesus Christ during the Last Supper and His life. By active participation, you grow not only in love with Our Saviour, with His Church and the local Body of Christ but also with the Holy Liturgy. So much so that you can not wait until its time to go to Liturgy once again.

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All rights are reserved. Last modified March 2010.