What place does Mary occupy in the Eastern Church?
In the Holy Land, the Byzantine rite is generally used, both in the Catholic and in the Orthodox Church. Working in the Byzantine church we have discovered that Mary occupies a very important place in the liturgy. Her degree of importance is second only to her son’s. She is constantly referred to as: “the Mother of God” – and as “the holiest among the saints”. And we sing it with all our heart and strength in the important church feasts.
The Eucharistic offering is made of bread rather than hosts. The Byzantine priest is the one who breaks the bread into different pieces. These remind us of all humanity beginning with the most important person, Jesus Christ. The first and the largest piece is a square that will become the Lamb of God. The second is a triangle that refers to the Mother of God, virgin before, during and after childbirth. The other pieces represent the saints and the faithful, both living and dead. Every time I come to receive communion it fills me with great joy when the priest gives me the triangle. It is the joy of receiving Jesus and our Mother with Him. She is our constant friend and companion and she understands us in our humanity.
Mary is the Mother who always leads us to Jesus and we see that reflected in the Byzantine Marian icon where she holds the Child in her arms.
We experience that the liturgy introduces us into a filial relationship where we come closer to our Mother. She is the intercessor in many liturgical petitions and as her children we experience that she is the Good Mother in whom we can trust in all stages of life, “now and at the hour of our death”.