Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
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Pastor of Byzantine Catholic parish will present catechetical evening March 23 at IHRC
by Mitch Finley, Inland Register staff
(From the March 18, 2010 edition of the Inland Register)
Father William O’Brien (IR photo courtesy of Immaculate Heart Retreat Center)
Father William C. O’Brien, pastor of Spokane’s SS. Cyril & Methodius Byzantine Catholic Parish, will present a catechetical evening of prayer Tuesday, March 23, at Immaculate Heart Retreat Center, from 5-9 p.m.
Father O’Brien grew up in New Jersey as a Roman Catholic. In California, he discovered the Byzantine Catholic Church. He was ordained a priest more than 20 years ago.
“The Byzantine Church has been back in union with the Holy See in Rome since 1646,” he said. “With all of the East, we were separated from Rome in the great schism of 1054. It was kind of an economic thing when we came back into union with Rome. In those days, where our church was, in what today is Slovakia, the Ukraine, and the Carpathian Mountains, it was all part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire under the monarchy of the Hapsburgs who, of course, were Roman Catholic. In a monarchy, if you’re not of the same religion as the monarch you’re a kind of second-class citizen. So the Byzantine Catholics were living in poverty, and eventually the priests said, ‘Well, wait a minute. Maybe we can strike a deal with Rome to be reunited and still maintain who we are, and then as Catholics we would be entitled to the perks that other Catholics get from living under a Roman Catholic monarch.’ So that’s what they did. We became united with Rome, but we maintained our identity as a church and our own divine liturgy, and the way we celebrate the sacraments. This has worked very well for us. I am a Catholic priest just as much as any priest of the Diocese of Spokane.”
Father O’Brien said that his presentation is being called a “catechetical evening of prayer” because it is intended to give those attending a better understanding of their faith that will nourish a spirit of prayer. He will give two conferences based on material from Chapters 7-9 of the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults. These chapters focus on understanding Jesus, and Father O’Brien will also draw upon insights from the writings of the Eastern Fathers of the Church. “I like to think people will learn something about Jesus that they didn’t know before,” Father O’Brien said. “Prayer and catechetics are closely related.”
The evening will conclude with Father O’Brien presiding at a Byzantine Eucharistic Liturgy. “The big difference that people will see,” he said, “is that our entire liturgy is chanted. We never turned the altar around, as the Roman Church did following Vatican II (in the mid-1960s). We see that as the priest leading the people in the worship of God. In our theology, we see the holy table, the altar, as the visual representation of the throne of God in heaven. Therefore, the priest and people are all standing facing east, the direction of light (because the sun comes up in the east). We don’t see it in terms of the priest turning his back to the people; rather, everybody is facing the same way, toward the light, if you will.”
The Byzantine liturgy, he said, is somewhat more formal than the Roman liturgy. “But the essence is the same. “It’s different, but the same. The music, the melodies we use are quite simple. So that’s what people will see. It’s a liturgy that developed over the centuries, originally in Constantinople, what today is Istanbul, Turkey. We do celebrate in English, and there will be cantors there to lead the singing.
“The process of learning about our faith never ends,” he said. “There is always more to learn, there is always more to be absorbed, so it’s always worthwhile to take a little time to do something like this.”
(For more information or to register for this Catechetical Evening of Prayer, call Immaculate Heart Retreat Center, (509) 448-1224. Registration is $35 per person, which includes dinner.)