Every Sunday in Mishawaka, a Mass is celebrated at a church where the congregation’s view of the altar is mostly obscured by a screen of colorful iconography; the readings are spoken from the back of the church; and the body and blood of Christ are mixed together and administered on a spoon. Although quite different from the Mass that most of the faithful within the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend celebrate each weekend and Holy Day of Obligation, this Mass is nonetheless Catholic.
St. Michael Ukrainian Byzantine Catholic Church was established on the west side of Mishawaka in 1916 and has cared for the spiritual life of Eastern Rite Catholics ever since.
The first thing one who walks into St. Michael is likely to notice is the vibrant iconography painted onto the Iconostasis, or wall of icons and religious paintings, near the altar. The prominent yellow, red and blue colors stick out; as do the doors leading to the altar, which only the priest may use. The embellished images of Jesus, Mary, and several saints may lead one to incorrectly assume that St. Michael is an Orthodox Church.
“Any Catholic can come to St. Michael and receive Communion and attend the Divine Liturgy,” said Rev. George Kuzara CPPS, the parish’s pastor. Attending Mass at St. Michael on Sunday fulfills a Roman Catholic’s Sunday obligation.
St. Michael is part of the Ukrainian Byzantine Catholic Church, one of the 22 Eastern Catholic churches. Together with the Roman Catholic Church, they make up the one universal church.
“It’s important to understand the Eastern churches because of what Pope John Paul II said about how the church ‘breathes with both lungs.’ It doesn’t have one lung,” said Rev. Kuzara. “It has both the Eastern and Roman Catholic churches.”
The Ukrainian Byzantine Catholic Church is the largest of the Eastern churches, with roughly 5.3 million members. Ukrainian Byzantine churches separated from Rome during the Great Schism in the year 1054 and were reunited with it in 1595. Due to significant immigration over the past century, Ukrainian Byzantine Catholic churches, as well as other churches of the Byzantine Rite, were established in the West.
“Most people in the U.S. only know the Roman Rite,” said Brett Perkins, who was baptized Roman Catholic but frequently attends Mass at St. Michael. “For the size of the South Bend/Mishawaka area, it’s surprising that we’d even have an Eastern Catholic Church.”
Both rites were developed based on how the Gospels were expressed and presented to different cultures. The Byzantine Rite originates from the act of the Apostle St. Andrew when he brought Christianity to the village of Byzantium, where Constantine later built his new capital, Constantinople. There, the region’s own liturgical rite was developed from the Liturgy of St. James (Jerusalem) and later modified by St. Basil the Great and St. John Chrysostom. Then the Great Schism and other cultural differences had an influence on the Eastern church.
Because of the liturgical and developmental variations of Eastern Catholic churches, several aspects of the Mass and faith are noticeably different and dependent on the varying rituals.
A Roman Catholic attending St. Michael may notice several differences, including the manner of administration of the Body and Blood of Christ, the position from which the first and second readings are proclaimed and the Iconostasis that obstructs the view of the altar. Other variances include music being performed in a capella; the sign of the cross done from right to left; and the priest facing the altar, with his back to the congregation, when he is speaking to God.
Outside of the Mass, the Ukrainian Byzantine Catholic Church utilizes different terminology than the Roman Catholic Church during Lent. Liturgical seasons takes place on different dates, confession does not take place in a confessional and the priest can be married, as long as his holy union began before he was ordained.
Additionally, St. Michael, though located in Mishawaka, is not part of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend. Instead, it is part of the Eparchy of Chicago, which consists of Indiana, Michigan, and every state to the west, including Alaska and Hawaii. Currently, the Eparchy — a term many Eastern Churches use to mean “jurisdiction” or “diocese” — does not have a bishop. The Most Reverend Bishop Richard Seminack passed away in August and has yet to be replaced.
The new bishop will be assigned by Sviatoslav Shevchuk, the patriarch and major archbishop of the Ukrainian Byzantine Catholic Church, who resides in Ukraine.
This type of process is typical, even though Eastern Catholic Churches are in full communion with Pope Francis and the Roman Catholic Church, because they are allowed to operate under maximum independence.
“The other reason it makes sense is for ecumenical purposes,” said Perkins.
“The Eastern Catholic churches, with an exception of one, have a corresponding Orthodox church; the Orthodox are not in communion with Rome.
“Most Catholics don’t know that the Eastern Rite Catholic churches exist,” said Andrew Oross, a theology teacher as Saint Joseph High School, South Bend, who has taken ecclesiology students on a field trip to St. Michael each of the past two years.
The visit is beneficial to students because the best way to comprehend and retain information regarding an Eastern Catholic church is to experience it first-hand; and St. Michael Ukrainian Catholic Church is very accepting of visitors.
“They’re always welcome, and we want them to come so that they know who we are,” said Rev. Kuzara.
The University of Notre Dame also currently offers a Byzantine Rite Mass. One of its professors is a Melkite Byzantine Catholic Priest originally from Egypt, who celebrates the Byzantine Divine Liturgy every other Sunday during the academic year in the Chapel of Mary, Seat of Wisdom, in Malloy Hall.
Additionally, there are numerous Eastern Catholic Churches throughout the world: People just have to keep an eye out for them.
“You can always tell which church is Catholic because it will have ‘Catholic’ in the name,” said Rev. Kuzara, “like we do at St. Michael Ukrainian Catholic Church.”
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