MY CATHOLIC FAITH
LV. The Catholic Eastern Church; Rites
The essential acts of the Liturgy are three: the prayers of the priesthood in the Divine Office (represented by the first angel), the Mass (represented by the second angel), and the sacraments (represented by the third angel). The term “rite” is sometimes used to refer to the liturgy according to some definite custom and language. “Rite” may also designate in a narrow sense some particular liturgical ceremony; in this way we have the “rite of Baptism”, etc.
What is the Catholic Eastern Church? –It is that part of the Church in the East which, although using liturgies and rites differing from those of the Latin (or Western) Church centered at Rome, subscribe to the same doctrines, and recognize the same Sovereign Pontiff, thus belonging to the same Universal and True Church.
The Catholic Eastern Church includes the following: Byzantines, Syrians, Copts, Ethiopians, Chaldeans, Armenians, Malabarese, and Maronites.
At the beginning of the fourth century there was one Church, one in doctrine as well as in obedience to the Sovereign Pontiff, the Bishop of Rome. Even then, however, there was no uniformity in observances, ceremonies, rites.
Our Lord had sent the Apostles to different parts, and their followers had stuck to the doctrines, but had varied the observances and rites, in accordance with the particular inclinations of the people in the region. The languages used were naturally extremely varied; the Mass was the same Sacrifice instituted by Our Lord (in Aramaic), but it must have been said in quite a variety of languages.
Then political dissension within the Roman Empire led to its division into East and West. Religious organization, following political developments, led to the separation of first the Greek, then the Russian Orthodox Church. (See Chapter 71 on Schism and Heresy)
These schismatical churches denied the authority of the Pope, who lived in the West as Bishop of Rome. Otherwise they continued to practice the True Religion just as Christ and the Apostles had taught. They administered the sacraments, celebrated Mass, and followed other observances.
Within the Catholic Eastern Church, only the Maronite Church has never been in schism. With the passing of the centuries, those in schism divided and subdivided. Then, chiefly since the 16th and, 17th centuries, most of them returned to the unity of the True Church.
The Catholic Eastern Church continues to use different rites and observances, some of which even antedated those of Rome, as having been there, long before the schisms. Thus today the groups in the Eastern Church have their own discipline and customs, the most notable of which is that with them Mass (called “Holy Liturgy”) is said in the language peculiar to the church in which it is being said: whether Slavonic, Rumanian, Syriac, Arabic, Armenian, Greek, Coptic, Ethiopic, or Georgian.
Other differences of practice are: administration of the Holy Eucharist to the faithful in both forms of bread and wine, the use of leavened bread for Holy Mass, Baptism by immersion, bowing from the waist with a sweep of the arm instead of a genuflection before the Blessed Sacrament.
Groups in the Eastern Church are chiefly those under the jurisdiction of the Patriarchs of Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Constantinople. In the fifth century there were five patriarchates: these four composing the Eastern Church, and the Patriarchate of Rome alone in the West.
In those days there were clear-cut geographical divisions of patriarchates; an Eastern Catholic was born within the limits of his patriarchate. Today one belongs to his rite wherever he goes, and his children inherit his rite. In the United States there are two dioceses of Eastern Catholics: one of Philadelphia (Ukranian Greek) to which some 316,800 Catholics belong; and another of Pittsburgh (composed of Russians, Hungars, and Croats) , to which some 315,200 Catholics belong. If Canada is included, almost a million among us are of the Eastern Church.
The Catholic Eastern Church is a living proof of the universality of the Catholic Church. The matter (including the doctrines, faith and morals) is unchanging; but the manner (including rubrics and rites, custom and practice, the externals) may change. The Church organization is malleable; but the fundamentals and essentials, the doctrines, are unchanging anywhere.
Thus Catholics under the Patriarchate of Rome in the United States have only six holydays of obligation; the Ukranian Catholic here has to observe twenty holydays of obligation. His Christmas, though also December 25th, falls on our January 7th, because he uses a different calendar. In the Eastern Churches, the married clergy can be found as often as the celibate, because married men can be ordained and retain their wives. If the wife of a married priest dies, he cannot remarry; a bachelor who is ordained cannot marry later. Bishops are required to be either widowers or single.
Unity of religion does not mean uniformity of rite. Even in the Latin Church under the Patriarch of Rome, there are variations, all dating no later than the fourteenth century. As Pope Benedict XIV said: “Eastern Christians should be Catholics; they do not need to become Latins.” Externals may vary; but the core is one.
What is liturgy, and what is rite? –Liturgy comprises a public act intended for the worship of God; rite is the manner of observing the act.
At present, however, the two terms are used indiscriminately and interchangeably. Strictly speaking, “liturgy” now refers to the rite of Holy Mass.
The Roman Rite is for all practical purposes the universal rite used in the Western Church. In it Latin is used.
During the period of persecutions, and on account of the difficulty of communication, variety in practices was the natural and common thing. When the Church became better organized, practices became more uniform. In the Latin Church rites practically became uniform in 1570 with the publication of the Roman Missal; even today a few variations remain.
The Byzantine Rite, after the Roman, is the most widely-used in the Church, being found in Russia, Greece, the Balkans, and south Italy. Greek is the language principally employed, but Georgian, Slavonic, and Roumanian are likewise used.
The Orthodox Eastern Church belongs to this rite. Originally, it was of Constantinople; it is based on the rite of St. James of Jerusalem, and was reformed by St. Basil and St. John Chrysostom. Modified for use in Russia, this Rite is termed Ruthenian.
Other Asian Rites are: the Antiochean, Chaldean, and Armenian; in their entirety or modified, they are employed in the East.
The Antiochean Rite is the source of many derived rites; it traces its origin to St. James of Jerusalem. The Syrians, Chaldeans, Malabarese, and Maronites use derivations. The Chaldean Rite is used by the Chaldeans and Malabarese. Syriac is the principal language used in both these rites. The Armenian Rite is in use among Armenians, found in the Levant, Italy, and Austria. The Armenian tongue is used. It is the Greek Liturgy of St. Basil.
In African Catholic churches, the principal rite used is the Alexandrian. This is called the “Liturgy of St. Mark”; but the original has been greatly modified. The Coptic and Ethiopian Churches use it.
The Catholic Copts are under the Patriarch of Alexandria, living in Cairo. Old Coptic and Arabic are the languages used in their liturgy: The Ethiopian Church uses a version of the Liturgy of St. Mark; it is as a whole the same as that of the Copts.
The ceremonies of these Rites may indeed seem strange to us of the Latin Rite. But the bishops and priests are real bishops and priests, though vested differently; the Mass and Sacraments are genuine, though performed with an unknown ritual. The Church in the East is the same Church in the West, the same founded by Jesus Christ, the One True Catholic Church.