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Robert Taft S. J.

The Evolution of the Byzantine “Divine Liturgy”

Orientalia Christiana Periodica XLIII, Roma 1977, p. 8-30

The Dismissal

The conclusion of the liturgy is clear enough. It goes as follows:

"Let us depart in peace".
"In the name of the Lord".
Prayer Behind the Ambo
Ps. 112:2 ("Blessed be the name of the Lord...") thrice.
Prayer in the Skeuophylakion

The original final blessing prayer, the so-called "Prayer behind the Ambo" (ὀπισθάμβωνος), was probably said from the great ambo in the center of the nave as the clergy processed down the solea or processional path on their way out of the church to the skeuophylakion at the end of the service. One more prayer, the "Prayer in the Skeuophylakion", was said in the skeuophylakion at the consummation of the left-over gifts, thus rounding off the liturgy just as it began, with a prayer over the gifts in the sacristy.

What follows this prayer in today's rite is the traditional ending of the Byzantine monastic office, which was added to the mass as a second conclusion, in the middle ages, because of a more recent tendancy in Byzantine liturgical development to shape all the services so that their beginning and end look more or less alike. The Romans are doing somewhat the same thing today. The only difference is that they have chosen as their model the Liturgy of the Word, whereas the Byzantines, under monastic influence, opted for the Palestinian monastic office that came to hold sway throughout the Byzantine East after the fall of Constantinople to the Latins in the Fourth Crusade (1204).

By way of conclusion, let me anticipate a typical question: "We have been observing the evolution of the most complex ritual in Christendom. Who legislated it all?" The answer, of course, is no one. The Eastern solution to the Western dilemma of rubricism or anarchy is not canon law, nor the liturgical commission, nor the Congregation of Rites, but the supple continuity of a living tradition. There may be a message here for us all.

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