Notre Dame Looks East: University Begins Regular Byzantine Liturgy

Serving a growing international community in South Bend, a Melkite priest brings ancient traditions

Students and faculty at the University of Notre Dame who go to the university’s chapel on Sundays may be hearing something different from the usual Mass opening of “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

“Blessed is the kingdom of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and always and forever and ever,” Father Khaled Anatolios recently chanted, as he made the sign of the cross with the book of the Gospels lifted high above the altar.

He faced the altar, away from the congregation, and there were icons on either side. Those in the congregation sang “amen” in response.

The first Byzantine liturgy on Notre Dame’s campus had begun, and once a month, at least in the beginning, those who are from Eastern Christian traditions and those who are just curious will have a chance to participate.

Father Anatolios is a newly ordained priest of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, one of twenty-two Eastern churches in communion with Rome. When his bishop knew that he was going to be moving to South Bend, Indiana, to teach theology, he asked if there could be “a Byzantine Catholic presence on the campus of the most prominent Catholic university in America,” Father Anatolios told the Notre Dame Observer.

It’s not that the Byzantine liturgy is unknown on college campuses. There are Orthodox campus ministies, and there’s a Byzantine Catholic Mission at Penn State, with a liturgy offered every Sunday. And near the campus of the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, there is a Ukrainian shrine, with divine liturgy offered on Sundays. But Notre Dame seems to be the first Catholic university in the United States where an Eastern liturgy will be celebrated on campus on a regular basis.

With a growing international student body at Notre Dame, there has been an increasing need to serve Eastern Christians. There is a Melkite church nearby, but lately there has not been a priest there. And there is a Ukrainian Catholic parish in Mishawaka, but for many in the Notre Dame community, the distance makes it somewhat inaccessible.

Mourad Takawi, a doctoral student in theology, is a Coptic Catholic from Egypt. He’s been at Notre Dame for four years and only recently got a car, so he had little choice but to attend the Roman Catholic Mass on campus.

“It’s really a blessing, especially for international students who don’t have cars or other means of transportation,” he said in an interview this week.

The Melkite church—like the Ukrainian and other Catholic churches, as well as several Orthodox churches—uses the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, which dates to the fourth century. St. John Chrysostom was archbishop of Constantinople before the Great Schism. Since the city was known previously as Byzantium, the liturgy is called Byzantine.

With its heavy use of icons, singing, incense, and endless beseeching of “Lord have mercy,” the liturgy will a very different atmosphere to the Notre Dame chapel, which is more accustomed to the much simpler Roman Mass. It also exposes students to a different side of the Church, with traditions that are still carried on by many Catholics and Orthodox around the world.

Plus, it helps put American students better in touch with the suffering Church in the Middle East and places like Ukraine, where the Byzantine liturgy and other liturgical forms are more prominent.

Hannah Naguib also has an Egyptian background, but she was born in the states and is Coptic Orthodox. The sophomore chemistry-classics double major said she has “always enjoyed participating in liturgies of many backgrounds [Coptic, Russian, Greek, American, etc.] and have been curious to see how each one incorporates the core essences of the Christian faith.

“Having this monthly liturgy is an amazing opportunity for me,” she said. “Over the past year or so I have loved experiencing Roman Catholic Masses, but after a while I really began to miss the liturgies I have grown up with. Although there are many similarities between the Roman Catholic Masses and the Orthodox liturgies, there is still something about St. Chrysostom’s liturgy that really speaks to me as an Orthodox Christian.”

“It is wonderful how diversity of rites enriches us, just as diversity of cultures expands our thinking and brings surprises to our human experience,” said Christine Cervenak, associate director of the Notre Dame Center for Civil and Human Rights, who was baptized and reared in the Russian Greek Catholic Church. “Encounters with the Eastern Rite Catholic churches help our collective spiritual imagination, as to how much diversity and tolerance is possible within our Church.”

Added Holy Cross Father Pete McCormick, director of campus ministry, “I’m grateful to Father Khaled for his ministry to the Byzantine Catholics at the University of Notre Dame. His witness to the Catholic faith, through the Byzantine Rite, serves as an important reminder to students, staff and faculty of the Catholic Church’s universality.”

John Burger is news editor for Aleteia’s English edition.