Fast or Slow … er



Regular readers of this blog may have noticed that the Liturgy is one of my favourite topics. That’s probably because the liturgy is actually one of my favourite things in life. I hope you won’t feel offended, but during most of the liturgy I do my level best to pretend you’re not there. The most profoundly moving experiences I have had during a liturgy all happened when I had forgotten that there was anyone else in the Church apart from me and the crucified Lord of the universe on the altar.

What a feeling!

The heart and soul are laid bare before the all-piercing gaze of the Creator Incarnate. There is no hiding, neither from Him, nor from myself. My carefully constructed facades crumble away and all those comfortable little lies with which I’ve been salving my conscience evaporate into the air, an air reverberating with the awful words of what He did for me. Who could resist being touched to the depths of their soul?

And yet, I do remember a time in my youth when the liturgy was anything BUT engrossing. I recall liturgies (mostly in Arabic) as a teenager where the main focus of my contemplation was the pain in my feet and back, and whether some old ‘ummo would get me in trouble if I sat down just now. One of the first things I memorised about the liturgy was exactly when we got to bow down; eagerly anticipated moments!

It took a long time to get into the Coptic Liturgy. It also took a degree of effort on my part: asking questions and reading books. One book that was a turning point for me in my experience of the liturgy was Christ in the Eucharist by Fr Tadros Yacoub Malaty (you can download this book from I consider this book one of the true classics of modern Coptic literature and one that will withstand the test of time. In it, Fr Tadros traces the symbolism and Biblical references of the words and the rites and rubrics of the liturgy. Abounding in ancient quotes from the Fathers of the Church, he explains this divinely inspired rite from a surprisingly personal perspective that serves to help open the flood gates of individual prayer in response to the ancient text and tunes of the liturgy.

I have never looked back since reading that book. My love for the liturgy certainly took on a new dimension when I was ordained a priest, but those earlier quiet, private spiritual epiphanies are forever engraved upon my memory. Which leads me mourn the fact that there still remain people in our congregation for whom the liturgy is a chore or duty, or even merely an act of mere habit.

 I enjoyed reading the comments people posted to my last blog. There is always a variety of views on the liturgy, and how it could be ‘done’ better. No doubt we can do it better, and I agree that participation by the congregation is the key. The fact remains that in the liturgy book, it says: “CONGREGATION:” All too often the deacons hijack a hymn or response all for themselves, instead of simply leading the congregation. The ideal situation is where the voices of the congregation drown out, or rather, unite harmoniously with, those of the deacons’ choir, so that the two are no longer distinguishable. Those are the moments when one feels the roof of the Church is about to be blasted away by this angelic praising, opening a conduit to unite heaven and earth! OK, I’m waxing a bit lyrical here, but such moments do genuinely make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

 Perhaps more lessons are needed to teach EVERYONE the complex Coptic tunes? Nowadays of course, we are blessed to have sites like where one can find audio of virtually any Coptic tune that ever existed. I believe there are Coptic churches in America now, who have choirs of females singing antiphonically with the deacons, complete with their own ‘tunias’. When I put that suggestion to some of the young ladies to at our Church, they thought it was a horrible idea, but I wonder if that will change with the years?

 I’d be interested in reading your thoughts on how we can get people to participate more fully in the liturgy. Not saying I’ll agree with all of them, but if you come up with something that is likely to work, we might just go ahead and try it!

 Fr Ant

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6 Replies to “Fast or Slow … er”

  1. Hey abouna, i’ve just read your latest articles on the litury and i reckon the legth of it isn’t the problem, most people i hang aorund with (teenagers) hardly know why anything is done in the mass, not even why we do the sign of the cross when we say words like worship and holy in the liturgy. someting i’ve also noticed most people enjoy or are more focused during parts where the dialogue between the priest and congregation is how you would call it “snappy” is the word i think, and also where the priest goes into the fraction, the words in it seem to me as if they grip people to an extend much greater than the rest of the mass.
    i think people just need to be educated on why and how things are done in the mass after all most it happens in the sanctuary, maybe the best time to explain things like this might be the sermon since that seems to be the time when the church is filling up (unfortunately!) and its also where parents and children are both present, sometimes i ask my parents why somethings happen in the mass andthey can’t answer me.
    anyways thats just a few thoughts.
    P.S. i’m in love with the litury of st Gregory, i reckon we should pray it at least once every week, i’d cancel everything to attend, but i’m sure the priests wouldn’t have time but i thought i’d make a suggestion.

    God bless!

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  2. You know, I think Abram has just hit something spot on here..

    We have three different and equally beautiful liturgies, and yet we only ever pray one of them (the Liturgy of St Gregory only being prayed on the major holidays).

    If you want to keep people interested, I think a good way to do it is to alternate the liturgies every week. I, for one have unfortunately never heard the Liturgy of St Mark (Cyril) prayed, and I would love to! (I believe there is a parish in our diocese which dedicates one liturgy a week to praying that of St Mark (Cyril)).

    We should do that on Sunday’s at our parish; the first two Sunday’s can be dedicated to praying as we were taught by St Basil (as usual), the third and fourth Sunday’s can then be dedicated to praying the Ligurgies of Sts Gregory and Mark (Cyri). That way almost every week is different.

    I understand the Litugy of St Gregory is a long one, and we may not necessarily want to hold people back at the service for too long a time, so perhaps on the week that this particular liturgy is prayed, it can be prayed just up to the initial short litanies after the epiclesis (I quite like these), and then the litanies of St Basil can be continued to the end of the liturgy. That will make the liturgy not too lengthy.

    That’s my suggestion…

    And just one other note…my favourite part of the litugy is the end (from ‘the Holies are for the holy’, through the thrice declaration of the Holy Body and Precious Blood, to the final Confession)…unfortunately I’ve noticed that more often than not this part of the liturgy is rushed, and when it is I always leave the liturgy unsatisfied…so please don’t 🙂

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  3. Hi Abouna,

    As always, thank you for these blogs that continue to raise questions in our heads. I am a long time reader, first time responder 🙂

    One thing that stuck out on this blog is the female choirs. This is something that i, personally would not be interested in at all. However, i am sure there are some ladies who would appreciate that gladly.

    But, may i make a suggestion? Our deacons at St Mary & St Stephens church are outstanding. They know what to say, how to say it and when to say it. It is lovely to hear the boys all singing with one voice, leading the congregation. Their voices are angelic.

    I have to agree with Abram when he says people need to be educated on why we do certain things in the mass. However, being a female, we do not get to see much of what happens in the altar (boys consider yourselves SUPER lucky)

    Maybe a way of educating can be to teach the congregation the hymns and Alhan, which the deacons know so very well. Alhan classes may be a little hard, but we would LOVE a CD or a few CD’s on the Alhan said during certain times of the mass.

    Personally, i would like something nice to listen to in my car. I would like to know background on things we say. EG why we say certain things at certain times of the year.

    When it says CONGREGATION in the liturgy books most people don’t actually know how to say it. Especially if the deacons decide to say it in Coptic. I am very PRO-COPTIC but i want to learn it first. So that when the deacons take the microphone and start singing, i can join them!! I want to join them and i want to be taught.

    Maybe then, it will feel like the whole church is getting involved. Maybe then it will feel as if the Deacons are not just saying on their own, but they will truly be leading the congregation.

    Just a thought.

    Thanks Abouna PPFM and i love these blogs more and more!!

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  4. Well, since you asked Abouna, I have two comments……. 🙂

    The first is: We have fabulous deacons in our church. (Thank you fabulous deacons). I think their voices are great without the use of the microphones. Personally, I feel the lack of mic’s create a more natural, Angelic sound that encourages me to get involved in the praising as we sound more in sync as a ‘congregation.’ The use of the mic’s will always give the impression that someONE is leading so there is no need for me to get involved. (And yes, my answer is slightly biased towards my dislike of mic’s so forgive me!)
    The second is re Nathan’s comments. Great suggestion Nathan. I’m sure many people enjoy certain liturgies that we do not pray often, like the Gregorian mass. My only suggestion, is if you do change the liturgy to kindly make it clear to the congregation when this will happen and what will be prayed. I am one who finds it hard to follow something I am not familiar with so will need a bit of warning to prepare myself.

    Thanks for the blogs Abouna!

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  5. Hey Mona. Thanks for writing. It gives me, a guy, perspective of what some women would find helpful.

    To get any hymns you can go to or . There are a lot of “Alhans” by various Cantors. Further, learning Coptic: perhaps try “So, you want to learn Coptic” found in the Library. You can probably just keep struggling to follow the deacons when they speak Coptic in the Liturgy book, and you will recognise some letters and you can then figure out the remaining letters.

    Those are some suggestions. Hope they help 🙂 GB

    And thanks Abouna. Please pray for us.

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  6. Hi Tony.

    Thanks for that info. I will have a deeper look at those suggested websites.

    I have the book “so you want to learn coptic” Excellent book i might add. I must admit, my ability to read coptic is a little rusty. So hopefully this book will help me spice it up a little!!

    But, Sorry St Stephen deacons, this does not let you off the hook! Make your congregation a CD!!! English and Coptic!!! Pretty Please…. 🙂

    PPFM Abouna!!

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