Letter to the Editor

Published: February 25, 2016

Commentary by
PROFESSOR STEVEN DOUGHERTY

Aquinas photo /  Catherine bombard  MEMBERS OF the faculty and student body are trying to save Ciszek Hall’s  chapel, which has housed Eastern Rite liturgies for more than 20 years.

AQUINAS PHOTO / CATHERINE BOMBARD / MEMBERS OF the faculty and student body are trying to save Ciszek Hall’s chapel, which has housed Eastern Rite liturgies for more than 20 years.

Saint John Paul II’s encyclical Orientale Lumen (The Light of the East ) begins with the following sentences: “The light of the East has illumined the universal Church, from the moment when ‘a rising sun’ appeared above us (Luke 1:78): Jesus Christ, our Lord, whom all Christians invoke as the Redeemer of man and the hope of the world. That light inspired my predecessor Pope Leo XIII to write the Apostolic Letter Orientalium Dignitas in which he sought to safeguard the significance of the Eastern traditions for the whole Church.”

Here at our university, we are trying to safeguard the Eastern traditions in the Catholic Church as well.

On our campus, we have a chapel for Eastern Rite liturgies located in Ciszek Hall on Mulberry Street.

The chapel has been there for over 20 years. During that time we have had weekly liturgies in that chapel including the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom and the Divine Liturgy of Presanctified Gifts, which are two of the central liturgies of the Byzantine Catholic Church. In this sense, we have been greatly blessed since it would be difficult to find these liturgies at any other Catholic university in the country.

For example, the University of Notre Dame has recently announced that it will begin to have the Divine Liturgy each week. Here in Scranton, we have already had regular Byzantine liturgies for over 20 years.

These services are a reflection of the rich ethnic diversity in Scranton. Within a 2 mile radius of our university, you can find Byzantine Catholic churches, a Ukrainian Catholic church, a Melkite Catholic church and a Maronite Catholic church.

The Byzantine Catholic churches and the Ukrainian Catholic church are churches founded in Eastern Europe and the Melkite and Maronite Catholic churches are churches founded in the Middle East.

It would be rare to find this liturgical diversity anywhere else in the world. These churches are all completely Catholic and have their own liturgical traditions. For example, the liturgies used by the Byzantine Churches (including Ukrainian and Melkite) date back to around the year 400 and the entire liturgy is sung. The Jesuit community has been involved in this community and, at present, two of these churches have a Jesuit pastor.

Our own Ciszek Hall is named for Father Walter Ciszek, a Jesuit and an Eastern Rite priest, who had local origins and spent many years imprisoned under horrific circumstances in the Soviet Union. Eventually he returned to the United States and penned two books about his experiences there. His cause for canonization is now under consideration. It is the hope of many here that we will eventually be able to name the chapel for him if his cause is successful.

Last August, Father Tom Sable, S.J., who had been saying the Byzantine liturgy at the Ciszek center and who was a friend to Father Ciszek, was moved from The University to Fordham University. Consequently, there is a great danger that the chapel may be permanently closed. At present, a group of faculty are gathering local eastern priests to continue to say the liturgies at the center. If we are fortunate to have the chapel remain open, we encourage students to attend the liturgy there so that they can experience the liturgical richness of the Christian East.

In his encyclical, “Et Unim Sint,” Saint John Paul II said, “The Church must breathe with her two lungs!” Likewise the church at The University needs to breathe with its two lungs as well, the Eastern and the Western lungs of the Catholic faith. For Saint John Paul II, the Eastern churches were particularly important, as he expressed in his encyclical, because of his own origins in Eastern Europe. He even said the Divine Liturgy at the Vatican while pope, and at his funeral a Byzantine service was held at the conclusion of his funeral mass.

During the first week of March, several of the local Eastern parishes are conducting a lenten mission.

On the fourth day of the mission, March 3, the service will be held in the chapel at Ciszek Hall.

If you are interested in experiencing a small part of the Eastern tradition and meeting local Eastern Catholics we invite you to come join us at 6:30 for a prayer service and a short talk afterwards.

A group of faculty has written a letter to be sent to the President of The University, the director of Campus Ministries and the Rector of the Jesuit Community to preserve this sacred space in Ciszek Hall and to continue to allow our church community to breathe with both its lungs.

We hope that anyone in our community who shares our desires to maintain the Eastern liturgical presence on our campus can join us in encouraging The University to keep the chapel open and functioning.

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