Question: Why is there more than one
Rite? Do we need 20+ different Rites?
Answer: Our Lord only gave us the essential
elements of the Divine Liturgy, the Sacraments, etc.: not specifics on
their practice or celebration. The essence of matter, form, and intention
(found in every Sacrament) is drawn by the Magisterium from Divine Revelation
in Sacred Tradition and Scripture. These essentials are not changeable
by the Church. However, when the Apostles of Jesus’ time brought the Gospel
to major cities, they inculturated the essentials of the above (Liturgy,
fasting, etc.) into the culture of the area. The tradition of a particular
area/manner of celebrating a Sacrament is called a "Rite". The original
Rites had three major groupings: the Roman, the Antiochian (in Syria),
and the Alexandrain (in Egypt). In the 4th century, under the influence
of St. Basil and St. John Chrysostom, the Byzantine Rite derived from the
Antiochian. These 4 main Rites then created the over 20 Liturgical Rites
present today in the one, Holy, catholic and Apostolic Church.
This might bring to mind the question "But
isn’t this being "too" diverse? Isn’t this going to cause disunity among
Since the early days of Christianity, there
has been a problem of "universalism" vs. "particularism"/"diversity vs.
Not the easiest to see that only through the
variety and diversity of Rites can the Catholic Church realize her "universalness"
in the fullest sense;
St. Paul was one of the first to help us realize
this. The Popes have repeatedly noted the importance of diversity in Rites
in the Church. "Perhaps nothing, in fact, better proves the note of Catholicity
in the Church of God than the singular homage paid by ceremonies (rites)
which vary in form, which are celebrated in languages venerable by their
antiquity, and which are still further hallowed by the use that has been
made of them by the Apostles and Fathers of the Church" (Pope Leo XIII,
Orientalium Dignitas, Nov. 30, 1894).
A Church is the assembly of the faithful,
hierarchically ordered, both in the entire world (Catholic Church) or in
a certain territory (particular Church). To be a sign of the Mystical Body
of Christ, a Church must have both head and members. The Head of the Mystical
Body is the sacred hierarchy (the bishops, priests and deacons) fulfilling
their duties of teaching, sanctifying, and governing. The Mystical Body
of Christ is the laity--the flock of Christ. Therefore, the Church of Christ
is fully present sacramentally (by way of a sign) wherever there is a chief
shepherd (a bishop and those who assist him) and Christian people entrusted
to his care. The Head of the Mystical Body of Christ is also present sacramentally
in ritual Churches. They are organized under a Patriarch who--with the
priests--represent Christ the Head to the people of that tradition/Rite.
A Rite can have a celebration of the Eucharist
which is unique to that Church (such as the Maronite Church), or it can
be common among various Churches in one Rite (such as the Byzantine Rite).
To be Catholic, particular Churches and ritual Churches must be in communion
with the Successor of St. Peter, just as the other Apostles were in communion
with him in establishing Churches in areas which they evangelized.
The Five Main Rites of the One, Holy, Catholic,
and Apostolic Church:
|(aka. the "Western Church")
The "Eastern Churches" (IN COMMUNION with
Rome; NOT to be confused with the Orthodox church)
During the first 300 years when the Rites
Tiara which the Pope used to wear (Pope Paul VI gave it to the Shrine
of the Immaculate Conception in D.C. after Vatican II) represents the three
"hats" that the Holy Father wears (literal, not figurative, hats):
Most Ceremonies were of Eastern Origin
Greek, not Latin, was the predominate language
used in Liturgies and documents (reason why priests sometimes take courses
in Greek as well as Latin in the seminary).
In the 3rd century, Latin began to be used
in Rome, and flowed outward from there to the rest of the Western Church.
Bishop of Rome - Not personally involved in
day-to-day events, but the Pope does take an active role as Archbishop
Patriarch of the West - Head of the Roman
Rite, similar to the heads/Patriarchs of the other 3 main Rites
Capacity as Pope - Equal pastor of all Catholics
of all of the Rites (in a sense, an "equal" member of all Rites in this
A recent surge in interest in the different
Rites of the Catholic Church was caused by the near-election of the
successor to Pope Pius XII. John XXIII was elected by a narrow margin
over the Armenian Patriarch, Cardinal Gregory Peter Agajanian XV. Also,
Pope Paul VI (successor to John XXIII) was a member of the Ambrosian Rite
of the Roman Rite, so not all Popes are members of the Latin Rite, or of
the Roman/Western Church.
Rites and Church
The Church of Rome is the Primal See of
the world and the Patriarchal See of Western Christianity. Founded by St.
Peter in 42 it was consecrated by the blood of Sts. Peter and Paul during
the persecution of Nero (63-67 AD). It has maintained a continual existence
since then and is the source of a family of Rites in the West. While the
origin of the current Rite, even in the reform of Vatican II, can be directly
traced to only the 4th century, these connections point to an ancient apostolic
tradition brought to that city that was decidedly Jewish in origin.
After the Council of Trent (1560) it was
necessary to consolidate liturgical doctrine and practice in the face of
the Protestant Revolt. Thus, Pope St. Pius V imposed the Rite of Rome on
the Latin Church (the Rites subject to him in his capacity as Patriarch
of the West), allowing only smaller Western Rites with hundreds of years
of history to remain. Many younger Rites of particular dioceses or regions
ceased to exist. So, the term "Roman" Rite wasn’t created until the 1500s.
Rite of an overwhelming majority of Roman
Catholics, and majority of Catholics in general.
Named because of the use of Latin in the Liturgy,
and is still part of Canon Law: "The eucharistic celebration is to be carried
out either in the Latin language or in another language, provided the liturgical
texts have been lawfully approved." (Cannon 928, 1983 Code)
The Rite of the Archdiocese of Milan, Italy
Thought to be of an early origin; probably
consolidated, but not originated, by St. Ambrose in the 4th century.
Rite of the Archdiocese of Braga, the Primal
See of Portugal, it is only occasionally used.
Derives from the 12th century or earlier.
Confined to the Rite of the Iberian peninsula-specifically,
the Cathedral of the Archdiocese of Toledo, Spain, and 6 of its parishes.
Known to exist from at least the 6th century,
but probably with roots to the original evangelization.
Beginning in the 11th century it was generally
replaced by the Roman Rite, although it has remained in the locations listed
above. Its celebration today is generally semi-private.
Rite of the Order of Friars Preacher (OP),
founded by St. Dominic in 1215.
Rite of the Order of Carmel, whose modern
foundation was by St. Berthold c.1154.
Rite of the Cathusian Order founded by St.
Bruno in 1084.
Rites and Churches
They have their own hierarchy distinct
from the Latin Rite, system of governance (synods) and general law (the
Code of Canons for the Eastern Churches). The Supreme Pontiff exercises
his authority over them through the Congregation for the Eastern Churches.
The Church of Antioch in Syria (on the
Mediterranean coast) is considered an apostolic see by virtue of having
been founded by St. Peter. It was one of the ancient centers of the Church,
as the New Testament attests, and is the source of a family of similar
Rites using the ancient Syriac language (the Semitic dialect used in Jesus'
time and better known as Aramaic). Its Liturgy is attributed to St. James
and the Church of Jerusalem. It is divided up into two main areas: the
Eastern Syrian Church, and the Western Syrian Church.
1. EAST SYRIAN
Following Arian heresy in 4th century (Christ
was a perfect creature, but not Divine), Nestorius of Constantinople taught
that Christ was Divine and human—because Christ was "2 persons".
As the Council of Nicea (431) corrected this
error, Nestorious and his followers fled to Persia and other parts of the
Some gradually (and slowly) returned to the
Church in 1692.
Part of the defectors that followed Nestorius,
they settled in South India, and continued their use of the East Syriac
With the help of Jesuit missionaries, they
returned to communion with Rome in the 16th century.
2. WEST SYRIAN
Syrian Christians who retired into the mountains
of Lebanon for protection against political and religious enemies.
When the Crusaders ‘ran into them’ in the
12th century, they immediately proclaimed their unity with the Catholic
Church, and they still pride themselves to this day that they have never
formally separated themselves from it.
Because they have never left communion with
Rome, they are one of the few Rites that has no non-Catholic counterpart,
e.g. there are no Orthodox or Monophysite Maronites--the only Maronites
20 years after Nestorius’ preached his heresy,
the Monophysite heresy taught that Christ was indeed 1 person--with just
one nature (Divine). (Monophysite means "one-natured)
The Council of Chalcedon (451) corrected this,
but many Syrians and Egyptians followed this teaching out of the Church
(many in Egypt still hold this view to this day).
They eventually grew into the Pure Syrian
Rite, and many returned to Rome in 1781.
Another group of Catholics in South India,
they were originally evangelized by St. Thomas but later left the Church
during a heresy.
Eventually reunited with Rome in 1930 under
the guidance of their charismatic leader Mar Ivanios.
The Church of Alexandria in Egypt was one
of the original centers of Christianity, since like Rome and Antioch it
had a large Jewish population, which was the initial object of apostolic
evangelization. Its Liturgy is attributed to St. Mark the evangelist, and
shows the later influence of the Byzantine Liturgy, in addition to its
Due to their dependence on Egypt, many Coptic
Catholics in Ethiopia/other parts of Africa followed the Monophysite heresy
in the 5th.
A small minority of Coptics returned to the
fullness of the Faith in 1741, and retained the customs they had for the
prior 12 centuries.
A majority of Copts/Coptics in the world are
not Catholics, and elect their own "pope" in Alexandria. They are often
lumped together with the Orthodox Church (much to the Orthodox’s dismay,
since they also view them as "heretics").
Coptic Christians in Ethiopia who returned
to Rome in 1846.
The Church of Constantinople became the
political and religious center of the eastern Roman Empire after the Emperor
Constantine built a new capital there (324-330) on the site of the ancient
town of Byzantium. Constantinople developed its own liturgical rite from
the Liturgy of St. James, in one form as modified by St. Basil, and in
a more commonly used form, as modified by St. John Chrysostom. After 1054,
except for brief periods of reunion, most Byzantine Christians have not
been in communion with Rome. They make up the Orthodox Churches of the
East, whose titular head is the Patriarch of Constantinople. The Orthodox
Churches are mostly self-headed, united to each other by communion with
Constantinople, which exercises no real authority over them. They are typically
divided into Churches along national lines (such as the Russian Orthodox
Church, Greek Orthodox Church, etc.). Those that have returned to communion
with the Holy See are represented among the Eastern Churches and Eastern
Rites of the Catholic Church. The two main Churches in the Byzantine Catholic
Church are the Armenian and the Byzantine.
It is considered either its own Rite or an
older version of the Byzantine, although its exact liturgical form is not
used by any other Byzantine Rite.
Composed of Catholics from the first people
to convert as a nation, the Armenian Rite was developed under the guidance
of St. Gregory the Illuminator before the Great councils in the 4th century.
The Armenians sided with the Monophysites
and left the Church in 451, but many returned during the Crusades. Most
of the Armenians in the world are members of the Orthodox Church and are
not in union with Rome.
Even though the Polish, Czech, Slovenian,
most of Slovak and Croatian people now belong to the Roman Rite, originally
they did not and were ‘pushed’ under the authority of German bishops as
the Carolingian military began to subdue these areas. The majority of those
who practice the Byzantine Rite (often popularly called "Greek Catholics"
or "Greek Rite") are not, in fact, Greek at all, but Slavs. The
Slavic language is still maintained in use within the liturgy because it
is still a 'vernacular' language within the liturgical meaning of the term
as people still speak it in their homes. The Romanians and Hungarians do
not use Slavonic, however, but their own languages, and those of Italy
and Sicily use Greek rather than Slavonic, Italian or Latin. The use of
English is widespread in the United States in all usages of the Byzantine
Albanian Christians, numbering only 1400 today,
who resumed communion with Rome in 1628.
Unknown number of Belarussians who returned
to Rome in the 17th century.
Some of the Bulgarian Christians left the
Orthodox Church and returned to Rome in 1861.
The Czech Rite was recently organized into
a jurisdiction in 1996.
Croatian Catholics of Byzantine Rite who resumed
communion with Rome in 1611. Most Croatians are Roman Rite.
Comprised of Greek Christians who returned
to Rome in 1829, there are only 2,500 Greek Catholics in Greece, Asia Minor
(Turkey) and Europe.
Descendants of Ruthenians who returned to
Rome in 1646.
Never separated from Rome, these 60,000 Byzantine
Rite Catholics are found in Italy, Sicily and the Americas.
Catholics from among those separated from
Rome in Syria and Egypt who resumed Communion with Rome at the time of
the Crusades, although definitive union only came in the 18th century.
"Melk" in Syriac means "king", and they were
known as "the King’s Men" because the minority of Melkites in Egypt frequently
turned to the Emperor in Constantinople for assistance during their persecution.
Their customs gradually slipped into disuse
over time, and eventually adopted the Byzantium customs held to this day.
Romanians who returned to Rome in 1697, most
Romanian Christians are Romanian Orthodox.
Russians who returned to communion with Rome
in 1905; the vast majority of Christians in Russia are Russian Orthodox.
Catholics from among those separated from
Rome in Russia, Hungary and Croatia who reunited with Rome in 1596 (Brest-Litovsk)
and 1646 (Uzhorod).
Byzantine Rite Catholics of Slovakian origin
numbering 225,000 and found in Slovakia and Canada.
Catholics from among those separated from
Rome by the Greek Schism and reunited about 1595.
During the Soviet era, Ukrainian Catholics
were violently forced to join the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Their hierarchy,
which continued to exist outside of Russia, has since be re-established
in the Ukraine.
Some Differences Between the
Western and Eastern Churches
Eastern Catholic Churches administer the Sacrament
of Confirmation at Baptism
The Western Church confirms its members at
various ages (commonly between the ages of 12-15)
Holy Days / Feast Days Held in Importance
in the Eastern Churches
Lent begins on the Monday of the week of Ash
Wednesday, not Ash Wednesday itself
St. George the Martyr - April 23
Protection of Our Lady - October 1
St. Nicholas - December 6
Mosaics and icons are the common adornment
to Churches and homes in the Eastern Church, while the Western Church has
preferred the usage of statues.
Western Church Fathers focused and speculated
on ethical problems, sin, free will, grace, satisfaction and justification
Eastern Church Fathers only used philosophy
when revealed truths were attacked from within in heresy/error, or from
outside in dealing with pagan philosophy. Occasionally used rules of deductive
reasoning but always stressed Faith, which was considered the highest philosophy.
Western Church uses single horizontal bar
to symbolize the Cross Christ was crucified on
Eastern Church uses three horizontal bars
(longest in the middle) to symbolize:
Top bar: Plate hung by Pilate reading INRI
("Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews") in Latin, Greek and Hebrew
Middle bar: The wood of the Cross carried
Lower bar: Footrest on a cross (which only
causes more pain when used by one who is crucified); later slanted
Use of the three-barrred Cross is very ancient,
appearing in an icon of Our Lady of the Passion (one of the oldest icons)
In the West:
In the East:
Form of fasting was typically reducing amount
of food consumed, due to bland, non-varied meals from day to day.
Normal day in the West was having two full
meals; fasting days had one full meal and one lighter meal.
For a majority of Western Church members,
meat (and even fish) was not common to see on the dinner plate.
Abstain from meat every Friday during the
Fast (depending on your normal meals) on Ash
Wednesday and Good Friday
Form was actually an "abstinence" from favorite
kinds foods, since the Eastern economy was much wealthier and had a larger
variety of foods.
Abstain from certain foods every Friday during
the year (similar to the Roman Church)
Strict Fast on first Monday of Lent, Good
Friday and Holy Saturday (no foods that contain animal products OR come
from animals, such as eggs, milk, cheese and butter)
Not a single 'practicing' priest in the
Church has EVER married; there have only been instances of married men
who later became ordained. If a priest were to leave the Priesthood and
later married, it is a different situation since the priest has had his
faculties (ability to administer sacraments) suspended by the Church when
he left the Priesthood.
In the West:
Due to various reasons, the Western Church
instituted the discipline of only unmarried men being ordained (except
for some Protestants who have entered the Church in recent years)
In the early years of the Church, it was difficult
to find a single man in his 40-50s who would make a good Bishop: therefore,
some married men were consecrated Bishops. However, married clergy in both
Rites have always followed guidelines concerning conjugal relations between
themselves and their spouses and the celebration of the Mass, etc. In addition,
both Rites have always mandated that if a married priest is consecrated
a Bishop, he must live like "brother and sister" with his wife.
In the East:
Except for the decision of the Holy Father
for only unmarried men to be ordained in the Eastern Catholic Church in
the US and Canada, the Eastern Church has always allowed the possibility
of married men being ordained to the Priesthood.
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