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Archive of March 29, 2009

Byzantine singing compared to ‘conversation with God’

Anchorage, Alaska, Mar 29, 2009 (CNA) - For Byzantine Catholics, the chance to participate in liturgy is an opportunity to experience heaven on earth, according to John Michalski, the cantor at St. Nicholas of Myra Byzantine Catholic Church in Anchorage.

Because of the sacredness of the Mass, almost the entire liturgy in the Byzantine rite is sung or chanted.

"This is to set the tone and speed and create an atmosphere of prayer," Michalski explained to the Catholic Anchor. "When the priest chants the Gospel, it is meant to do it slower to communicate clearly the message of God to everyone."

For Doctor Ron Kichura, who cantors north of Anchorage at Blessed Theodore Romzha Mission in Wasilla, Byzantine rite music "moves like a conversation with God."

Chanted prayer, rich in prayer

To walk into a Byzantine church is to walk into a rich tradition, steeped in a sense of the sacred.

In the way that St. Gregory the Great influenced the Gregorian chant in the Western churches, the liturgy in the Eastern rites — including the Byzantine Catholic rite — is based primarily on the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chyrsostom throughout much of the year, and also on St. Basil’s.

"Right now as we move into the Great Fast (the Byzantine observance of Lent) our liturgy is based on St. Basil," Michalski explained. "That liturgy is a bit longer, more somber in tone and focused on prayer."

The more somber tone heard during the Great Fast of Lent is one of eight musical melodies that are used throughout the year, Michalski elaborated.

The melodies rise and fall in a chanting form, Kichura explained, and are sung either in monotone or with harmonization, depending on the church and the cantor. In keeping with the Byzantine tradition, the music is entirely vocal, with no musical instruments.

"We’ve had some requests (at Blessed Theodore) to do harminzations, but if we do, it’s more of an impromptu thing," Kichura said. "It’s all acappella, that’s just a tradition for Byzantine Catholics over the centuries."

Since the fourth century, the music has remained relatively unchanged, he added.

"Vatican II allowed the Byzantine rite to keep their liturgies and their traditions," he said. "The biggest change is that it switched over to the vernacular, instead of Old Slavonic."

In 2007, the Byzantine rite made some minor revisions to the translations again, releasing a new missal, Michalski said.

Apart from prayers for the Pope, the Byzantine metropolitan and the bishop of the local eparchy, the liturgy of the Byzantine rite is similar in form to what one might experience in other Eastern Christian traditions, such as the Russian or Greek Orthodox Church.

Everyone participates in music

Both Michalski and Kichura emphasize the importance of getting the entire congregation to participate in the liturgical music.

"There is less of an emphasis on a choir," Kichura said. "Rather, it is supposed to be music that everyone participates in, rather than having a choir where people don’t participate."

"When I teach (cantors) I tell them their role is not to be a soloist," Michalski said. "Rather, their goal is to set the tone to clearly communicate the message of God."

Both cantors said the music is organic; the congregation picks up the music by participating in the liturgy.

"We do it naturally, you hear it every Sunday and you just do it," Kichura said. "There is a reverence about it that people appreciate."

Music as a spiritual experience

Kichura has an undergraduate degree in music. For him, the goal of music — even secular — is something that should lead people to the ethereal.

"Music for me has always been a spiritual experience," he said. "It is something that should bring you closer to God."

Singing the liturgical prayers — especially in the slower chant form — helps people to meditate on what they are reading, Michalski said.

"It helps you really feel what you are singing," he said. "If you go slow and say the words distinctively and clearly, it helps you realize what you are here for."

Dr. Kichura would encourage people not familiar with the Byzantine rite to come and experience it for themselves.

"It is a resource that people can tap into, even if they go to a different church," he said. "They might find the style appealing, it may even (help) lead in their spiritual path."

Printed with permission from the Catholic Anchor, newspaper from the Diocese of Anchorage.

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Thirty U.S. dioceses now participating in clergy leadership program

Exton, Pa., Mar 29, 2009 (CNA) - The Catholic Leadership Institute has announced that its new partnership with the Diocese of Joliet, Illinois means that thirty U.S. dioceses have now partnered with the institute in its clergy leadership development program.

In 2006 the Catholic Leadership Institute (CLI) introduced nationally its Good Leaders, Good Shepherds program after a 2003-2005 pilot effort in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

According to a February CLI statement, the program uses Jesus Christ as the “ultimate shepherd” in a curriculum designed to help clergy overcome contemporary challenges such as a diminishing number of clergy and the “complex circumstances” of priestly ministry.

The program intends to help priests “minimize the frustration and energy” spent on administrative roles and maximize the “joy and time spent on the pastoral duties for which they were uniquely ordained.”

CLI hopes to bring the program to as many U.S. dioceses as possible.

“We are blessed to be ministering with so many dioceses throughout the country,” Fr. Bill Dickinson, CLI’s National Director of Leadership Development, said in a March 27 statement. “Our mission is to help shepherds recognize their God-given potential and develop their leadership skills so they can effectively and confidently lead their faith communities in carrying out the mission of Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church."

Over 800 priests from across the U.S. have enrolled in the program.

Bishop of Brooklyn, New York Nicholas DiMarzio has supported the program and some of his diocese’s priests have enrolled in it.

“There is no better program than Good Leaders, Good Shepherds to ensure that effective ongoing growth occurs in the life of a priest,” Bishop DiMarzio said, saying it has been a “true blessing” to have the program available to his diocese’s priests.

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Bishops’ new guidelines condemn Reiki therapy as ‘superstition’

Washington D.C., Mar 29, 2009 (CNA) -

The U.S. bishops have published a new evaluation of the Reiki therapy. Calling the Japanese form of alternative medicine comparable to “superstition,” the evaluation describes its practice as being without support in Christian belief, unscientific and inappropriate for Catholic institutions.

The document “Guidelines for Evaluating Reiki as an Alternative Therapy” contains guidelines developed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Doctrine, which is chaired by Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport, Connecticut.

According to a USCCB press release, the guidelines describe Reiki as a healing technique “invented in Japan in the late 1800s by Mikao Usui, who was studying Buddhist texts.”

It characterizes Reiki therapy as teaching that illness is caused by “some kind of disruption or imbalance in one’s ‘life energy.’”

A Reiki practitioner is believed to be able to effect healing by placing his or her hands in certain positions on a patient’s body to “facilitate the flow of Reiki, the ‘universal life energy,’ from the Reiki practitioner to the patient.”

“Reiki lacks scientific credibility,” the U.S. bishops’ guidelines state, adding that scientific and medical communities have not accepted it as “an effective therapy.”

“Reputable scientific studies attesting to the efficacy of Reiki are lacking, as is a plausible scientific explanation as to how it could possibly be efficacious,” the bishops’ guidelines add.

Examining descriptions of Reiki as a “spiritual” kind of healing, the guidelines say there is a radical difference between Reiki therapy and healing by divine power.

“For Christians the access to divine healing is by prayer to Christ as Lord and Savior, while the essence of Reiki is not a prayer but a technique that is passed down from the 'Reiki Master' to the pupil, a technique that once mastered will reliably produce the anticipated results.”

“For a Catholic to believe in Reiki therapy presents insoluble problems” the guidelines continue, saying that employing a technique that has no scientific support or plausibility is “generally not prudent.”

“Since Reiki therapy is not compatible with either Christian teaching or scientific evidence, it would be inappropriate for Catholic institutions, such as Catholic health care facilities and retreat centers, or persons representing the Church, such as Catholic chaplains, to promote or to provide support for Reiki therapy," the guidelines add.

The guidelines also warn of “important dangers” in Reiki practice because it implicitly accepts “central elements of a worldview that undergirds Reiki theory, elements that belong neither to Christian faith nor to natural science.”

A Catholic who trusts in Reiki “would be operating in the realm of superstition, the no-man's-land that is neither faith nor science.”

Superstition, the bishops’ guidelines say, “corrupts one’s worship of God by turning one’s religious feeling and practice in a false direction.”

“While sometimes people fall into superstition through ignorance, it is the responsibility of all who teach in the name of the Church to eliminate such ignorance as much as possible.”

The guidelines may be viewed at http://www.usccb.org/dpp/doctrine.htm

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Pope Benedict praises sacrifices of African missionaries

Vatican City, Mar 29, 2009 (CNA) - With thousands of faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the Angelus prayer on Sunday, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of the joy of the African Church he experienced during his recent trip to Cameroon and Angola. He expressed his thanks to God and to the Church in Africa, noting the fruitfulness of the work of missionaries who live in those lands.

“First of all,” Benedict XVI said, “I wish to the thank God and all those who in various ways worked for the success of the apostolic trip I undertook in recent days in Africa.”

”I call for the blessings of heaven to fall on the seeds scattered across this African land.”

The Pope also shared that he was impressed by the Africans sense of joy at being a part of the one family of God and their strong sense of the sacred.

Turning his attention to the Sunday Gospel, the Holy Father recalled Jesus’ words about the grain of wheat that dies and later bears great fruits. It is necessary for Jesus to die like a grain of wheat, he said, in order that “a new humanity develop and grow, free from the power of sin, but capable of living in brotherhood, like sons and daughters of the same Father who lives in heaven.”

“We saw this new humanity alive,” the Pontiff said, “albeit within its human limits, in the great celebration of faith we experienced together in Africa.

“Drawing a parallel between the Jesus’ parable and the efforts of missionaries in Africa, he said, “Wherever missionaries, like Jesus, spend their life for the Gospel, fruit is harvested in abundance.” “To them, whether women and men religious or lay men and women, I wish to express my special gratitude for the good they do,” Pope Benedict added. “ It was beautiful to see the fruit of their love for Christ and realize how deep the appreciation for them among Christians is.”

The Pope concluded, “Let us thank God and pray to Mary that Christ’s message of hope and love spreads across the entire world.”

After the Marian prayer, the Holy Father greeted hundreds of African residents of Rome, who showed up to support the Pope’s message on AIDS and condoms as well as the Pontiff’s proposals for fostering economic and spiritual renewal in Africa. Addressing the group led by the Secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, Archbishop Robert Sarah of Guinea, the Pope said, “You have come to express your joy and gratitude for my apostolic trip to Africa.” “I thank you wholeheartedly and pray for you, your families and your countries of origin. Thank you!”

Pope Benedict also urged young people in Rome to attend the Holy Mass he will celebrate on April 2 to mark the fourth anniversary of the death of John Paul II.

In his greeting to English-speaking pilgrims, Pope Benedict told them: “In these final weeks of Lent, let us intensify our prayer, fasting and almsgiving. In this way, we will prepare ourselves to meditate on Christ’s passion and death, so as to rejoice fully in the glory of his Resurrection. God bless you all!”

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