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New bishop is 'bi-ritual', a rare practice in church

By KATHRYN MARCHOCKI
New Hampshire Union Leader

December 10. 2011 8:35PM



Bishop Peter A. Libasci is permitted to celebrate the Divine Liturgy and administer the sacraments in both the Roman Catholic church and Byzantine Ruthenian Catholic church, a practice known as being bi-ritual.

The Byzantine Ruthenian Catholic church is one of many Eastern Catholic churches that are in full communion with the Roman Catholic church and recognize the Pope, the Rev. Thomas P. Steinmetz, pastor of Our Lady of the Cedars Melkite Catholic Church in Manchester, said.

Other Eastern Catholic - or Byzantine Catholic - churches include Melkites, Maronites, Chaldeans, Coptic Christians, Armenian Catholics and Ukrainian Catholics.

In a recent interview, Libasci explained he was granted an indult by the Vatican 18 years ago to celebrate the Divine Liturgy and administer the sacraments in the Byzantine Catholic Ruthenian Eparchy of Passaic, N.J.

The Passaic eparchy is the equivalent of a Roman Catholic diocese and draws most of its parishioners from the New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania area, said Diane Rabiej, executive administrator and communications director for the eparchy based in Woodland Park, N.J.

The Byzantine Ruthenian Catholic church had its roots in the northeast section of the former Austro Hungarian empire in what is now present-day Ukraine, she said.

Libasci said his relatives are not Byzantine Ruthenians, although his mother's family comes from the Slovak Republic near the Ukraine border. He said he agreed to learn to celebrate the Byzantine Ruthenian Catholic liturgy when asked to help minister to the many Ruthenian Catholics in metropolitan New York.

Roman Catholics and Byzantine Ruthenian Catholics have similar liturgies and the same sacraments, Rabiej said. But there are differences in how they celebrate them. Byzantine Ruthenian Catholic clergy, for instance, turn their backs to the congregation when leading them in prayer at Mass, she said. They also distribute the consecrated bread in cubes, which is dipped in consecrated wine, then placed on the communicant's tongue with a spoon.

Some Eastern Catholic churches, such as Melkites and Ukrainian Catholics, allow clergy to marry, Rabiej said. Byzantine Ruthenian clergy cannot marry in the United States, she said.

'Finding a bi-ritual bishop is fairly rare,' Rabiej said. The only other bi-ritual bishop Rabiej said she has known of was the late Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, who was known for his popular radio and television shows.

There is a Melkite Catholic church and Ukrainian Catholic church in Manchester and a Maronite Catholic church in Dover, but there are no Byzantine Ruthenian Catholic churches in New Hampshire, clergy said. Libasci said he is only authorized to minister to Byzantine Ruthenian Catholics, though he looks forward to visiting all parishes in the state.

'We and our congregation welcome him ... and look forward to praying with him in the future,' Steinmetz said.


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