Here’s a timely and, I think, inspiring reminder for us all from Aleteia’s John Burger, who says we can draw some lessons from our Eastern siblings in the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church who worshipped in secret for decades during the Soviet era:
do believe that the example of the faithful Catholics of Ukraine from 1946 until the Church was restored to legal status in 1989 can be a great inspiration to Catholics of America, as they try to discern what God is calling them to do in the present crisis.
In many cases, everyday Catholics did something that many Catholics are doing today. They had their own version of electronic technology: it was called shortwave radio. With that, they could tune into Vatican Radio, which broadcast a weekly Byzantine Divine Liturgy in Old Church Slavonic from the Vatican, with a sermon in the Ukrainian language.
…Listening to the Divine Liturgy this way “was an outstanding spiritual event,” recalled Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, patriarch of the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church, who was born in the western Ukrainian city of Stryi in 1970 and later studied for the priesthood in an underground seminary. Shevchuk told me about his experience when I was in Kyiv last year, doing research for a book about him. He recalls his elders “praying, kneeling, making a spiritual communion, listening to the homilist.”
“We were standing around, like in the Church, facing our icons and listening, chanting a little bit,” he said. The Vatican explicitly told the radio audience that if they were unable to attend Divine Liturgy in person, listening to it over shortwave would fulfill their Sunday obligation. “And we were aware that we were fulfilling our obligation not as a simple external obligation but as our spiritual need,” Shevchuk said.
As a priest could not be physically present to consecrate the bread and wine, members of the family learned to make a “spiritual communion” at the point in the Liturgy when they normally would be going up to receive the Body and Blood of Christ.
And in some places of persecution, of course, this kind of “underground” experience still goes on. Read more.
Significantly, the Ukrainian Catholic Church in the United States mentioned this recent history when the leaders decided to suspend all public liturgies earlier this week:
These times of trial are a unique opportunity to manifest our love for God and neighbor. Today, when we are limited in public liturgical practices, our life in Christ will be measured by the authentic quality of our personal relationship with God and neighbor: in private and family prayer and in works of charity. In the midst of today’s pandemic caring for one’s neighbor calls for clear and immediate expression.
The experience of our underground Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (1945–1989) is a source of inspiration and faith for us. In recent memory having been deprived of all of its church buildings and all other infrastructure, the Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine and elsewhere in the communist world was led by God to find creative ways to foster the spiritual life of its members for two generations. Through excruciating suffering and great losses, our Church was forged, cleansed, and prepared for a new life in a new millennium. Now is the time to prayerfully reflect upon this salvation history. The Lord will guide us again in fortitude and flexibility to praise Him and foster communion and solidarity among us.