Vigil Unites Catholic Traditions with Liturgies

By Smith, Peter | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), September 14, 2014 | Go to article overview

Vigil Unites Catholic Traditions with Liturgies


Smith, Peter, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


The afternoon sun streamed through the stained-glass windows at St. John Chrysostom Byzantine Catholic Church, illuminating the dozens of icons throughout the church. Spotlights from the soaring vault of the church formed columns of light through the rising clouds of incense. Choral singers began a series of robust anthems accompanied by trumpet and piano.

It was the start of what is believed to be an unprecedented gathering in the Pittsburgh area - 20 hours of prayers and liturgies continuing through the night and into this morning in which Catholics from a half-dozen traditions used ancient liturgies with roots from Rome to Ukraine to India.

It began Saturday afternoon with a Roman Catholic Mass presided over by Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik, with about 200 attending. As the afternoon light gave way to the more subdued lighting from dozens of votive candles, a smaller crowd came to chant a sparse penitential liturgy using the monotones and simple harmonies of Eastern Christian liturgy, then stayed to observe a service in the Syro-Malabar tradition from India.

And as the night moved on, more services were planned using the robust Byzantine and Ukrainian liturgies of Slavic origin and the Melkite, Maronite and Syrian rites of the Middle East. The services were scheduled to conclude at 10:30 this morning with a Divine Liturgy led by Archbishop William Skurla of the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Pittsburgh.

"This is as far as we know in Pittsburgh the first time the churches have come together in one place of worship in all of their varied rites and cultural expressions," said the Rev. Thomas Schaefer, pastor of St. John Chrysostom, a historic Greenfield parish whose floodlit spires are a landmark sight from the Parkway East.

The goal was "to give people the idea that people worship differently, and it's OK to have something different," he said, adding that many Catholics report they didn't even know many of these rites exist.

It also wasn't lost on participants that many of these rites are still practiced in regions of current distress - including Iraq and Syria, where Christians and other minorities have been violently driven from their homes by the extremist group Islamic State, and in Ukraine, the scene of clashes involving Russian separatists.

One of the prayers at the opening Mass was for "the church who suffers in the Middle East and Eastern Europe and any nation where there's a lack of freedom and justice. …

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