Eastern Rite

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The term Eastern Rites may refer to the liturgical rites used by many ancient Christian Churches of Eastern Europe and the Middle East that, while being part of the Catholic Church, are distinct from the Latin Rite or Western Church. Or it may apply to these particular Churches themselves, known also as Eastern Catholic Churches.


Eastern and Western (Latin) Catholics

Care must be taken to distinguish between the two meanings of the word "rite". The one Byzantine liturgical rite is used by several distinct Eastern Churches or Rites. On the other hand, in the Western Church or Latin Rite (in the sense of particular Church), more than one Latin liturgical rite have been and are used. They include the Ambrosian and the Mozarabic rites, as well as the Roman rite. By extension, some use the term "rite" (in its liturgical sense) to refer to one particular earlier form of the Roman rite, calling it "the Tridentine rite".

By the term Roman Catholic, some mean Latin-Rite Catholic, and by Roman Catholic Church the Latin Catholic Church (which, as has just been said, practises not only the Roman liturgical rite but also others, such as the Ambrosian and the Mozarabic). When Roman Catholic is used in this sense, Eastern Catholics are not "Roman Catholics", and the Eastern Catholic Churches are not part of the "Roman Catholic Church". However, the designation "Roman Catholic" is also used of the whole "Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him" (Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, 8), a usage found, for example, in the documents concerning dialogue between the Catholic Church as a whole and other Christian Churches and ecclesial communities. The First Vatican Council too referred to the whole Catholic Church as the "Holy Catholic Apostolic Roman Church" (Session III, Dogmatic Constitution de fide catholica), because of the central position of the Bishop of Rome.

Most Eastern Catholic Churches arose when a group within an ancient Christian Church that was in disagreement with the see of Rome chose to enter into full communion with that see. However, the Maronite Church boasts of never having been separated from Rome, and has no counterpart Orthodox Church out of communion with the Pope. It is therefore inaccurate to refer to it as a "Uniate" Church. The Syro-Malankara Church can make a somewhat similar claim.

All Catholics are subject to the bishop of the eparchy or diocese to which they belong. They are also subject directly to the Pope, as is stated in canon 43 of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches and canon 331 of the Code of Canon Law. Most Eastern Catholics are also directly subject to a patriarch or major archbishop, who has authority for all the bishops and the other faithful of his rite or particular Church (canons 56 and 151 of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches).

These patriarchs and major archbishops derive their titles from the sees of Alexandria (Copts), Antioch (Syrians, Melkites, Maronites), Babylonia (Chaldaeans), Cilicia (Armenians), Lviv (Ukrainians), Ernakulam-Angamaly (Malabars), and Trivandrum (Syro-Malankaras).

(Within the Latin Church, there are the titles of Patriarch of Jerusalem, Lisbon, Venice, East Indies and West Indies. All except the first – theLatin Patriarch of Jerusalem – are merely honorary titles, and the last has fallen into disuse. They are irrelevant to the subject matter of this article.)

The Eastern Catholic Churches are in full communion of faith and of acceptance of authority with the see of Rome, but retain their distinctive liturgical rites, laws and customs, and traditional devotions. Terminology may vary: for instance, "diocese" and "eparchy", "vicar general" and "protosyncellus", "confirmation" and "chrismation" are respectively Western and Eastern terms for the same realities. Clerical celibacy is not obligatory for Eastern Catholic priests, as distinct from their bishops, but is in fact practised by many of them, particularly those who live according to monastic tradition. Those who wish to marry must do so before, not after, they are ordained. The sacraments of baptism and chrismation however are practiced according to the ancient tradition of the Church (as witnessed by Hippolytus of Rome, for instance) which permits infant baptism and chrismation. Both sacraments are performed together, one after the other.

The canon law that the Eastern Catholic Churches have in common has been codified in the 1990 Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, while the Western or Latin particular Church is governed by the Code of Canon Law, a second edition of which was issued in 1983.

External link:Code of Canons of the Oriental Churches

Historical background

Communion between Christian Churches has been broken over matters of faith, when each side accused the other of heresy or departure from the true faith (orthodoxy). Communion has been broken also because of disputes that do not involve matters of faith, as when there is disagreement about questions of authority or the legitimacy of the election of a particular bishop. In these latter cases, each side accuses the other of schism, but not of heresy.

Major breaches of communion:

1. The Churches that accepted the teaching of the Council of Ephesus (431), which condemned the views of Nestorius, classified those who rejected the Councils teaching as heretics. Those who accepted it lived mostly in the Roman empire and classified themselves as orthodox; they considered the others, who lived mainly under Persian rule, as Nestorian heretics. These had a period of great expansion in Asia. Monuments of their presence still exist in China. Now they are relatively few in numbers and are divided into three Churches, of which the Chaldaean Church, which is in communion with Rome, is the most numerous, while the others have recently split between the Assyrian Church of the East and the Ancient Church of the East.

2. Those who accepted the Council of Chalcedon 451 similarly classified those who rejected it as Monophysite heretics. The Churches that refused to accept it considered, of course, that it was they who were orthodox. The six present-day Churches that continue their tradition reject the description "Monophysite". They are often called, in English, Oriental Orthodox Churches, to distinguish them from the Eastern Orthodox Churches. This distinction, by which the words "oriental" and "eastern" are used as labels for two different realities, is impossible in most other languages and is not universally accepted even in English. These churches are also be referred to as non-Chalcedonian or, more positively, as pre-Chalcedonian.

3. The East-West Schism between Rome and "New Rome" (Constantinople) arose over questions of authority, and was led up to by rivalry and by cultural differences (Greek was scarcely known any longer in the West and Latin in the East), not questions of doctrine, though controversy later arose over several matters such as the Western insertion of the Filioque clause in the Nicene Creed, the use of leavened or unleavened bread for the Eucharist, and discipline concerning marriage/divorce. Each side considered that the other no longer belonged to the Church that was orthodox and catholic. But with the passage of centuries, it became customary to refer to the Eastern side as the Orthodox Church and the Western as the Catholic Church, without either side thereby renouncing its claim to be the truly orthodox or the truly catholic Church. The Churches that sided with Constantinople are known collectively as the Eastern Orthodox Churches.

In each Church whose communion with the Church of Rome was broken by these three divisions, there arose, at various times, a group that considered it important to restore that communion. The see of Rome accepted them as they were: there was no question of requiring them to adopt the customs of the Latin Church. At a meeting in Balamand, Lebanon in June 1993, the Joint International Commission for the Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church declared that what has been called "uniatism" "can no longer be accepted either as a method to be followed nor as a model of the unity our Churches are seeking."[1]

At the same time, the Commission stated that "[t]he Oriental Catholic Churches who have desired to re-establish full communion with the See of Rome and have remained faithful to it, have the rights and obligations which are connected with this communion"; and that they "have the right to exist and to act in answer to the spiritual needs of their faithful."

As remarked earlier, the identity of the Maronite Church and of the Syro-Malabar Church is due to no such division within an Eastern Church.

Eastern Catholic Churches make up 2 percent of the membership of the Catholic Church, and less than 10 percent of all Eastern Christians.

The term Uniat[e]


The term Uniat or Uniate is applied to Eastern Catholics primarily by Eastern Orthodox, who sometimes give it pejorative overtones, but was also historically used but less frequently, by Catholics. Eastern Catholics of the current period generally regard the term negatively, and so its use is often avoided, especially in ecumenical contexts. Eastern Orthodox Professor John Erickson of St Vladimir's Theological Seminary explained in a lecture given in 2001:

“The term ‘uniate’ itself, once used with pride in the Roman communion, had long since come to be considered as pejorative. ‘Eastern Rite Catholic’ also was no longer in vogue because it might suggest that the Catholics in question differed from Latins only in the externals of worship. The council affirmed rather that Eastern Catholics constituted churches, whose vocation was to provide a bridge to the separated churches of the East…”[2]

The historical origin of the term is unknown and it is not clear if the term originated with those Eastern Christians who sought union with Rome or was coined by Orthodox. It has been used historically by the Vatican (e.g., in the Ex Quo of Pope Benedict XIV)[3]. Additionally, Volume VI of the Catholic Encyclopedia (1909) consistently uses the term "Uniat" to refer to Eastern Catholics[4]: "The Uniat Church is therefore really synonymous with Eastern Churches united to Rome, and Uniats is synonymous with Eastern Christians united with Rome" (emphasis in original).[5] Additionally, the term can be found on the website of the Catholic television network EWTN, especially when quoting older documents.[6]Because of the earlier popular usage of the term, it still appears occasionally in the Catholic press but official Catholic documents no longer use the term due to its perceived negative history.

Historically, the term has seen use in America, as on the cornerstone of Ss. Peter and Paul Ukrainian Catholic Church in Simpson, Pennsylvania, adorned with a Russian-style cross, which reads (in Russian) "Russian Gr. Cath. Church / of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul", followed (in English) by "MAY 7, 1905 / RUSSIAN GR. CATH. CHURCH / SIMPSON, PA. UNIAT" (see photo at right).

Catholics usually prefer terms such as Byzantine Catholic, Greek Catholic (applicable only to Byzantine-rite Catholics, including those who are not Greek-speaking), or Oriental Catholic or Eastern Catholic (covering also Catholics with no historical link to Eastern Orthodoxy).

List of Eastern Catholic churches

See also

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