Fr. Richard Janowicz sits in front of the icon screen, or iconostasis, at Nativity of the Mother of God Ukrainian Parish in Springfield. The priest founded the Byzantine parish in 1981. “The liturgy draws people,” he says. (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)
Fr. Richard Janowicz sits in front of the icon screen, or iconostasis, at Nativity of the Mother of God Ukrainian Parish in Springfield. The priest founded the Byzantine parish in 1981. “The liturgy draws people,” he says. (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)

For a Roman Catholic at an Eastern-rite liturgy, there can be some confusion. At its core, the Divine Liturgy is just like its Roman counterpart, the Mass. There are prayers, hymns, psalms, readings, a homily and Communion. But none of these parts look or sound much like a Roman Mass. There are 24 different rites in the Catholic Church, 23 of which include local churches born throughout Eastern Europe and the Middle East.  The Eastern Catholic Churches, as they’re often called, generally date back centuries to missionaries who brought Catholicism to the areas. The Roman, also called the Latin rite, Catholic Church is now the biggest because it spread throughout western Europe and then grew further with Western missionary work and European imperialism.

Still, the ancient Eastern churches have not gone away. They have moved out of their native lands and spread throughout the world, including to the Archdiocese of Portland. There are two Byzantine Catholic parishes and one Maronite. The Byzantine churches more closely resembles Orthodox Christianity than the Roman Catholic Church. The Maronite Catholic Church, which dates back to the fourth century, has a few more similarities to the Latin rite, but is still distinct. Both rites are in full communion with the Holy See.  

Father Joseph Hutsko was baptized as an infant into the Byzantine Catholic Church in his hometown of Hammond, Indiana, 65 years ago. The Midwest native was ordained in 1979.

While he was taking care of the Byzantine community at St. Irene in Portland for a time, he lived at the rectory at St. Rose of Lima Parish. Shortly before leaving his post in Portland to return to his home in Pheonix, the priest wanted to thank the community at St. Rose of Lima by celebrating a Byzantine Divine Liturgy at the Northeast Portland church.

“I think it’s good for people of the Roman rite to understand the [Byzantine] Church is Catholic but it’s got different components,” said Father Hutsko.

“It’s the Catholic Church, but I belong to the Byzantine Catholic part of it,” he added. “It’s good to experience what the other part of the church does.”

During the Byzantine Divine Liturgy at St. Rose of Lima, Father Matt Libra, pastor of the parish, assisted Father Hutsko in the celebration.

“We’re all different,” said Father Libra. “Even in the Latin-rite Catholic Church, some people want to focus on liturgy and some people want to focus on social justice. Some people want to focus on pregnant mothers. Some people want to focus on feeding the poor.

“The truth is all of it is good, and it’s OK to be different in our differences. We’re not against each other, we’re for each other. And this is a great lesson for that.”

Father Hutsko has been authorized to celebrate Roman Masses as well. One key difference he points out is how Communion is taken. The Roman rite uses hosts and the precious blood is drunk from a chalice. The Byzantine-rite liturgies drop pieces of leavened bread into a chalice of the precious blood. They then use a spoon to drop the body and blood  into a person’s mouth.

Another key difference: Byzantine-rite priests are allowed to be married. There are rules that have to be followed — the man must be married before he can be ordained; when his wife dies, he cannot remarry; and married priests cannot go into church leadership positions.

Despite the differences, Father Hutsko sees more similarities.

“The sacraments are our unity,” said the priest. The Eastern and Western rites use the same dogma, mostly the same theology, the same canon law but with an additional canon law in the East.

Father Richard Janowicz is longtime pastor of Nativity of the Mother of God Ukrainian Parish in Springfield. The parish, which has about 130 regular parishioners, was once predominantly ethnically Ukrainian. That’s no longer the case.

“Now we’re a group of many different people from many different backgrounds,” said Father Janowicz, who founded the parish in 1981.

“The liturgy draws people,” he said.

The Byzantine liturgy celebrated at the church is Catholic but distinct from the Roman-rite liturgy celebrated in most Catholic churches in the United States.

It’s not only the liturgy that brings people into Nativity. It’s also the sense of community.

These are “people who [want to] share their lives with each other, which isn’t possible many times at a big parish,” said the priest.

At a Byzantine liturgy, the congregation participates fully in the celebration, creating a constant flow of chant back and forth with the priest celebrant. And sitting is nearly non-existent.

“People don’t come to sit, they come to pray,” said Father Janowicz.

The Divine Liturgy at the parish is said almost entirely in English. Still, Ukrainian folk customs and music bring the distinct flavor of the history of the community.

“The church and the culture go together here. They’re not separate,” he said.

The church, though small, is steeped in beauty with a large screen of icons separating the altar from the congregation.

“Even though we’re a small church, we try to have beauty,” said Father Janowicz. “We want to lift up our hearts and minds to God and to do that, beauty is a great aid.”

The priest sees the tradition of the liturgy as part of that beauty.

“Some people think variety is best — to have something new or different all the time, and there can be a benefit to that.

But there’s a benefit to the sameness, said Father Janowicz.

“To know what to expect, to have that tradition that’s the same frees you from having to worry about ‘what should we do today or what should we do next time or how did that go?’

“It’s the same. We have the same services, the same calendar, the same readings, the same Sundays. It’s something that people can rely on.

“And that repetition is a beautiful thing, so we don’t have to worry about how to do this or what to sing or what text to use today. It’s been laid out centuries ago and it frees us from having to reinvent the wheel,” said Father Janowicz.

Father Christopher Fabre, or abouna, as he’s called by his Middle Eastern congregation at St. Sharbel Parish in Portland, grew up in a Roman Catholic family. But he found his calling to the priesthood while attending a Maronite church.

The Maronite rite is ancient, originating in Lebanon and Syria and the rest of the area north of the Holy Land. St. Sharbel has become a home not just for those who grew up in the Maronite tradition, but for all of those from Middle Eastern Catholic traditions that don’t have churches in Portland. The importance of hospitality in Middle Eastern cultures is represented in the liturgy and the way parishioners treat other people. Many Roman Catholics find a home at St. Sharbel.

For a cradle Roman Catholic, Father Fabre is most drawn to the use of Syriac Aramaic during the consecration of the Eucharist. The language is very close to the language that Christ would have used during the time of his ministry.

The priest identifies the beauty in the diversity of liturgies not as experiences that the different rites can share but in the simple fact that they exist. Jesus told his disciples to preach the Gospel to all nations and that has happened.

“It represents these people in different places and their natural way of praising God,” said Father Fabre.

Still, the Eastern and Western churches can learn from each other. The Western rites teach order, discipline and uniformity, said the priest. The East, meanwhile, points back to traditions that have been lost in the West.