By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
As voices rose to sing prayers and Scripture at a Byzantine Catholic retreat, Chloe Pechman of Iowa City couldn’t help but get a little choked up. “It’s so spiritual, so beautiful,” she said. “It makes me cry.”
She’s Roman Catholic, but loves to celebrate the Byzantine liturgy whenever possible. She is moved by the way the congregation passionately sings the liturgy, in addition to using incense and displaying 1,000-year-old Byzantine icons.
Eastern Catholics for Eastern Iowa hosted the “Experience the Byzantine Gospel” retreat June 3 at St. Wenceslaus Parish in Iowa City as a way to bring awareness to the fledgling Byzantine community and its liturgy and customs.
The Byzantine Catholic Church is one of 21 Eastern Catholic Churches in the world that are in communion with the Bishop of Rome, but differ in their celebration of liturgy, ecclesiastical discipline, Canon Law and spiritual traditions. Eastern Catholics can receive Communion at Western Catholic services, and vice versa.
The retreat featured presentations by clergy of the Homer Glen, Ill., parish about the Byzantine liturgy and customs. Participants also celebrated The Moleben Hymn liturgy and Great Vespers for Pentecost Sunday. Deacon John Evancho explained to the group that Byzantine Catholics sing the liturgy and use incense more often than Roman Catholics because of a different interpretation of scriptural guidelines for worship.
Roman Catholics Joe and Kathryn Amato participate in the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, which is celebrated in Latin, at St. Mary Parish in Davenport. They’ve attended Divine Liturgy at the Byzantine Catholic Outreach in West Liberty a few times and learned about the retreat from people there. The liturgy is held in St. Joseph Catholic Church.
Kathryn said, “We have found the small Eastern Iowa Byzantine community to be very welcoming, joyous and full of faith, so we were happy to have the chance to learn more about the rite that has given them their spiritual formation.”
Joe said the simple melodies and Scripture in English made it easy to follow along with the music. Vespers at the retreat was a highlight. “It was substantially similar to a Divine Liturgy (Mass) but without the consecration. I find the Byzantine rite to be very reverential.”
Since 2014, Byzantine families in Iowa have had the opportunity to worship as a community through the Eastern rite mission at St. Joseph’s in West Liberty. Though the mission is not part of the Diocese of Davenport, Bishop Martin Amos gave the mission permission to use the worship space. Six or so families celebrate prayer services three times a month and a visiting Byzantine priest comes in once a month to celebrate liturgy.
This has been a blessing to Byzantine Catholic Lynsey Kemner, her husband Adam and their eight children. The nearest Byzantine Catholic church is located in Homer Glen — more than three hours away from their home in Muscatine. They might be able to attend liturgy there once a year.
Still, she and the 40-50 active Byzantine Catholics in Iowa long to have a parish of their own, according to the mission’s celebrant, Father Andrew Summerson, who is affiliated with the Homer Glen parish. He said the group has been discerning whether God is calling them to plant a parish in Eastern Iowa. The Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Parma, Ohio (the governing body of the Byzantine Catholic parishes in the region) requires 25 families to start a parish, but this number is subjective, Fr. Summerson said. “A missionary once told me, ‘you don’t build a church for the people you have, but for the people that God wants to be there.’”
Fr. Summerson was pleased with the attendance at the retreat, which included at least as many Roman Catholics as Byzantine Catholics. “We found a warm, welcoming community in St. Wenceslaus, and because of their hospitality, people had a chance to be touched by the Gospel in its Byzantine expression. People were touched by God … isn’t that what it is all about? This is the first Eastern Catholic retreat ever in Iowa and it seems like God doesn’t want it to be the last. As the first Eastern Catholic presence in Iowa, we look forward to more opportunities to spread the Gospel and plant a solid foundation for a future Eastern Catholic Church here.”