New Eastern Catholic community celebrates liturgy on campus
Of the 150+ Masses celebrated weekly on campus, one is distinct. Since the fall of 2022, the Blessed Massabki Martyrs Catholic Mission has celebrated the Maronite Divine Liturgy on a weekly basis in the St. Thomas More Chapel of Notre Dame Law School.
The Maronite Church, named for the fourth-century Syrian hermit St. Maron, is one of the twenty-four sui iuris (self-governing) Churches which collectively constitute the Catholic Church. Twenty-three of these are Eastern Catholic Churches, headed by their own patriarch or bishop who is, in turn, in full communion with the bishop of the 24th sui iuris Latin Church: the Roman Pontiff.
Today, the Maronites are most commonly associated with Lebanon since their leader, the Patriarch of Antoich, resides in Bkerke. St. Peter, the first Pope and Patriarch of the Latin Church, was also the first Patriarch of Antioch.
Fr. John Paul Kimes, a professor in the law school and Maronite priest, celebrates the liturgy for the Maronite community on campus. He told the Rover: “The Maronite tradition developed in the Syriac world, particularly between the cities of Edessa and Antioch. Today, there are many Maronites who are not of Middle Eastern origin, but rather have come to find their faith in Jesus Christ through the liturgical and catechetical efforts of the Maronites in different parts of the world.”
This liturgy, also known as the “Qurbono,” is notable for its liturgical language: “Our liturgical language is Syriac, a dialect of Aramaic, which is the language of our Lord,” said Fr. Michael Shami, the administrator of the Mission, who is also a student at Notre Dame.
This past fall, the community went through a change when “Bishop Elias Zaidan officially established the Mission of the Blessed Massabki Brothers, naming as patrons of this community three brothers who were killed by the Ottomans because they would not renounce their faith in Jesus Christ,” said Fr. Kimes.
“A mission is a sort of stepping stone towards a parish—it’s less formal than a parish, but the Bishop has acknowledged us as a fixed community that meets and prays together regularly. The mission is to gather Maronites together so that we might worship God together in the context of our own liturgical and spiritual tradition, observing our own particular practices (like much stricter fasting customs), and having our sacraments administered according to our tradition—in March we have the joyous occasion of our first baptism and chrismation” said Fr. Shami.
Paul Elhallal, a Maronite and Ph.D. student in theology at Notre Dame, was among the first members of the community with his wife and children. He told the Rover: “Before the mission was established, we would periodically travel almost two hours each way to get to the nearest Maronite parish, which was just outside of Chicago. But when Fr. John Paul Kimes was given a faculty position at the law school … a few Maronite students and I asked him to celebrate a liturgy for us. For the first year, we had a Maronite liturgy about once a month. It was not a frequent or publicized thing: it was word of mouth … friends inviting friends.”
With the establishment of the mission this fall, the community has been able to gather more regularly: “It has been a great blessing. We are now able to raise our children in this tradition with a sense of continuity,” noted Elhallal, who has recently entered the eparchy’s priestly formation program.
Michael Urban, a freshman and Maronite, told the Rover: “It wasn’t until a month into the semester that I realized there was a regular Maronite liturgy here on campus. I’m so blessed to be able to live out the full richness of my faith here at Notre Dame by staying connected to my Maronite roots.”
In addition to Maronites, the mission also welcomes Roman Catholics to attend liturgies. Evan Bursch, a Roman Catholic junior, appreciates the use of Syriac in the Maronite tradition: “The tie to what Jesus actually spoke on a daily basis adds a transcendental quality that aids the worship and focus on God.” Bursch continued: “Having been to Maronite liturgies, I am much more aware of the different rites and their similarities and differences as well as the vibrancy that they add to the life of the universal church.”
The Divine Liturgy is celebrated every Sunday at 11am in the St. Thomas More chapel in the Law School, followed by a coffee and breakfast social. More information can be found at the mission’s website.
John Paul Butrus is a junior from Birmingham, Alabama, studying Civil Engineering and Theology. When he’s not playing Super Smash Bros. in the 2B slounge or explaining why Alabama has the best barbecue, you can find him on the second floor of Fitz or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo Credit: Fr. Michael Shami. Picture from the website of the Mission of the Massabki Martyrs
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