It is Father Khaled Anatolios’ first semester as a professor in the University of Notre Dame’s theology department, but he has already made a big impression on the South Bend, Ind., campus.

Ordained a Greek-Melkite Catholic priest in February, he has introduced the Eastern Catholic Divine Liturgy (Mass) to the well-known Catholic university — and the response has been surprising.

“The chapel was packed the first time and overflowing the next time,” said Father Anatolios. “There were about 20 people standing throughout the liturgy [in November]. I think everybody was caught off guard, including us.”

The Byzantine-Catholic Divine Liturgy is celebrated the first Sunday of the month in the 50-seat Chapel of Mary, Seat of Wisdom, in the university’s Malloy Hall, home to the theology department.

“People have been very exuberant in their enthusiasm,” added Father Anatolios. “It has been an incredible reception.”

 

Big in Tradition

It was Father Anatolios’ bishop, Bishop Nicholas Samra — the leader of the Eparchy of Newton, Mass., which encompasses all of the United States — who suggested that Father Anatolios investigate the possibility of celebrating the Divine Liturgy at Notre Dame.

“For him, it’s an expression of our missionary evangelical impulse to make the Byzantine liturgy available to the whole Catholic community,” explained Father Anatolios.

“What better place to do that than at the most prominent Catholic university in the United States?”

But as it turned out, Father Anatolios didn’t have to inquire about the possibility. When he met Notre Dame’s president, Father John Jenkins, the president waxed enthusiastic about the prospect of bringing the Eastern-Catholic tradition onto campus. Father Anatolios was quickly put in touch with Father Pete McCormick, director of campus ministry, and the wheels began turning.

“This is an excellent opportunity at a Catholic university to expose our students to a different rite and to give our Byzantine-Catholic students — and, frankly, our [Roman] Catholic students — an opportunity to experience their Catholic faith,” said Father McCormick.

“I think it’s important at a university, especially a Catholic one, to be able to expose our students to the varying aspects of our Catholic faith,” said Father McCormick.

That’s a stance that the Cardinal Newman Society, which promotes authentic Catholic identity on campus, stands firmly behind. “Reverent liturgical celebration, whether it be Latin or Eastern Catholic rites, should be at the heart of every Catholic university campus,” said spokesman Adam Wilson. “The Eastern-Catholic liturgies, celebrated well, can provide a new lens through which students on campus can rediscover the power and mystery of the paschal mysteries of our faith.”

Though the term “Roman Catholic” is sometimes used as a synonym for Catholic, in fact, there are more than 20 liturgical rites in the Catholic Church today: At a very basic level, there are the Roman (or Latin) family of rites and the Eastern rites, which have their own hierarchy and system of law.

In his apostolic letter Orientale Lumen, St. John Paul II wrote about the importance of the Eastern Catholic traditions, encouraging Roman Catholics to remain aware of them. He also famously commented that “the Church needs to learn to breathe again with its two lungs — its Eastern one and its Western one.”

“[Eastern Catholic Churches] may be smaller, but they are no less in dignity than the Latin rite. They’re all ancient and venerable,” pointed out Father Thomas Loya, an Eastern-rite priest from suburban Chicago, whose podcast, “Light of the East,”  strives to shine the spotlight on those Eastern Churches. “We enrich each other, but you have to know about each other and have it available.”

“Eastern Churches are very, very small in relation and population to the Latin rite in America. To have them poke their head up at a prominent venue like Notre Dame is very helpful for their exposure,” Father Loya added.

 

Fullness of Faith

Attendance at the Divine Liturgy has been a mix of Notre Dame students and faculty, as well as worshippers from the surrounding community, said Father Anatolios. “A lot of the people looked like they were familiar with the Byzantine liturgy, the way they were crossing themselves, bowing, singing along,” he added. But at the reception following the Divine Liturgy, some people introducing themselves to the priest told him they’d never been to a Byzantine liturgy before.

Among those new to the Byzantine liturgy is Notre Dame junior Jacob Lindle, 20, who was an altar server at the December Divine Liturgy. Lindle, who is studying philosophy, theology and medieval studies, first learned about the Eastern liturgy when he put up posters advertising it as part of his job in the theology department.

“Although I haven’t had experience with it [the Byzantine liturgy], I’ve heard the stories about the Russian emissaries to Greece, in the 10th century, and they attended a Greek-Orthodox Divine Liturgy, and they didn’t know if they were in heaven or on earth,” said Lindle. “That story has always captivated me.

“The Church has so much to offer that I’ve never experienced directly, through its various traditions. This was one opportunity [to experience another tradition].”

Unlike Lindle, Stephen Santos — who was an altar server at the November Divine Liturgy — had attended an Eastern-rite liturgy before, at a Maronite parish in his hometown of San Antonio. “It’s easy to forget the Catholic Church isn’t just the Roman Catholic Church,” pointed out Santos, 20, who is studying theology and medieval studies. “It’s important to remember the wide tradition.

“It’s our obligation to defend the liturgical patrimonies of the various Churches that are in communion with Rome.”

For China Wiese, 28, who is finishing her master’s degree in divinity at Notre Dame, the Eastern liturgy is an opportunity for her and her fiancé to worship in a tradition that they both love. Her fiancé is a Ruthenian Catholic; attending church with him as a Roman Catholic, Wiese has come to appreciate the Byzantine liturgy. Now the engaged couple attend the Divine Liturgy at Notre Dame together.

“[It’s] broadening ... my understanding of what it means to worship,” said Wiese.

“Learning more about the Eastern Catholic Churches is learning more about being Catholic.”

 

Elisabeth Deffner writes from Orange County, California.