By Celine Klosterman
COLUMBUS JUNCTION – In hopes of exposing Roman Catholics to an Eastern rite of the Catholic Church, a Byzantine deacon invites all Catholics to a rare celebration in the Diocese of Davenport: a Byzantine Divine Liturgy.
Bishop Martin Amos and Father Joseph Sia, administrator of St. Joseph Church in Columbus Junction, will participate in the liturgy on Sept. 7 at 5 p.m. at St. Joseph’s. Deacon Sergio Ayala, chaplain at Tyson Foods in Columbus Junction and deacon for St. John the Baptist Melkite Greek Catholic Church in Northlake, Ill., will serve during the liturgy. Father Ezzat Batouche, the Byzantine church’s pastor, will preside.
“For me, this is a chance to share our traditions and history with fellow Catholics,” Deacon Ayala said.
He made a presentation about the Byzantine rite to diocesan deacon candidates this past spring. But, he said, “the best way to teach someone about a liturgy is for them to witness it.” So with Fr. Sia’s help, he received permission from Bishop Martin Amos to arrange a Divine Liturgy in the diocese.
“Pope John Paul II said the Church needs to learn to breathe with both lungs – the East and the West,” said Deacon Frank Agnoli, diocesan director of liturgy and deacon formation. Twenty-two Eastern churches are in communion with the Bishop of Rome. “The East has a lot to offer in terms of a great spirituality and prayer; there’s a real treasure that we have almost no understanding or appreciation of in the West.”
Roman Catholics will notice numerous differences between the Mass and the Divine Liturgy in Columbus Junction, which fulfills parishioners’ Sunday obligation:
• The Byzantine liturgy will be mostly chanted — by Protodeacon Antoine Shehata of St. John the Baptist Melkite Greek Catholic Church.
• The service will be celebrated primarily in English, with Spanish during the Litanies and the Gospel, and Greek and Arabic during the responses. Texts will be provided so the congregation can follow along.
• The priest or deacon will follow the Eucharistic practice of intinction – dipping the consecrated bread into the consecrated wine, then giving it to the faithful. Byzantines use leavened bread for Communion, which only ordained clergy may distribute.
• Congregants will not kneel, but often stand. Bells and other signs will indicate the proper posture throughout the liturgy.
• There will be more calls and responses for the congregation. “Lay people won’t go more than two minutes without having to say something, except during the reading of the epistle,” Deacon Ayala said.
• Incense – essential to a Divine Liturgy – will be used.
• Deacons – also vital to a Divine Liturgy – will announce instructions for the priests throughout the service.
• The liturgy will last 75 to 90 minutes.
The term “Divine Liturgy” reflects that “we are celebrating a celestial liturgy already taking place, with the altar being the throne of God,” Deacon Ayala said. Only the bishop – rather than priests, as in the Roman rite – is considered to be in persona Christi. Deacons and the congregation represent angels, Deacon Ayala said.
The service will be the first Byzantine liturgy to be celebrated in the diocese in years. Father Joe DeFrancisco, a bi-ritual priest and a professor of theology at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, celebrated Ruthenian/Slavonic Byzantine liturgies at the university in the 1990s. “We had a choir director at the time who was interested in and supportive of our Byzantine liturgy and spent extra time training the SAU choir to sing the entire liturgy. I must say, it was quite beautiful and very well sung,” Fr. DeFrancisco said. He once belonged to a Marian religious order that, because of its Lithuanian origins, prepared priests to serve in both Eastern and Latin rite communities.
The bishop of the Eparchy of Parma, Ohio, allowed a Byzantine mission church at St. Ambrose, but the community lasted only from 1992-95, Fr. DeFrancisco said. The 2006 redesign of the university chapel later made the idea of celebrating Byzantine liturgies there impractical, he added.
Deacons Ayala and Agnoli encourage parishioners to take advantage of the opportunity to participate in the Divine Liturgy in Columbus Junction. “It’s important for us to realize we’re not the only Catholics,” Deacon Agnoli said.
About Eastern Catholicism
According to the U.S. bishops:
The Catholic Church has traditionally been divided into East and West, referring to areas formerly part of the Western Roman Empire and Eastern Roman Empire. The Eastern traditions, or rites, are Antiochian, Alexandrian, Byzantine, Chaldean and Armenian, most of which include sub-churches corresponding to various ethnic and cultural communities. They differ in liturgy, ecclesiastical discipline and spiritual heritage.
All these churches hold equal dignity and must be protected and advanced, according to the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on the Catholic Churches of the Eastern Rite, Orientalium Ecclesiarum.
Eastern Catholicism exists in the United States thanks largely to the immigration of Eastern Europeans and Middle Eastern Catholics. But due to a lack of pastors and the scattered nature of where Eastern Catholics live, there have been relatively few opportunities to celebrate Eastern liturgies.
Next month’s Byzantine Divine Liturgy in the Diocese of Davenport will take place in a Roman Catholic church — St. Joseph in Columbus Junction. The website of the Byzantine Catholic Church in America, www.byzcath.org, lists no Byzantine churches in Iowa.
About Deacon Sergio Ayala
A native of Mexico and originally a Roman Catholic, Deacon Ayala spent eight years with the Conventual Franciscans in Chicago, Ill., but said he had a “change of heart” before taking solemn vows. He later married and began attending St. John the Baptist Melkite Greek Catholic Church in Northlake, Ill., near his home. He grew close to a spiritual mentor at the Byzantine church. “I just loved being there.”
So he petitioned the local Roman Catholic and Byzantine bishops to transfer to the Byzantine rite in 2007. That same year, he earned a master’s of divinity degree from Catholic Theological Union. In 2010, he finished a chaplain residency program and found work as chaplain of Tyson Foods in Columbus Junction. He was ordained a Byzantine deacon in 2011.
Deacon Ayala and his wife, Norma, live in Columbus Junction with their two daughters, ages 7 and 4. He makes a seven-hour round trip most Sundays to serve in Divine Liturgies at St. John the Baptist.