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Encyclopedia > Greek Catholic

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 Roman 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.

Care must be taken to distinguish between these two meanings of the word "rite". The one Byzantine liturgical rite is used by several distinct Eastern particular 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, the term "rite", in its liturgical sense, is now used of an earlier form of the Roman rite, when this is referred to as the Tridentine rite.

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, even at the regrettable cost of thus creating a division within the Church from which they sprang. The term Uniate is applied to such Churches, but not by the Churches themselves nor by the Holy See. On the other hand, the Maronite Church boasts of never having been separated from Rome, and has no counterpart Orthodox Church out of communion with the Pope. The Syro-Malabar Church was separated for only a short time, when Western missionaries attempted to impose on its members Latin Rite customs. It too has no out-of-communion counterpart. It is therefore tautological to speak of the "Maronite Catholic Church" or the "Syro-Malabar Catholic Church", and quite inaccurate to refer to them as "Uniate" Churches.

All Roman 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), and Ernakulam-Angalamaly (Malabars).

(Within the Latin Church, there are the titles of Patriarch of Jerusalem, Lisbon, Venice, East Indies and West Indies. All except the first 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-rite priests, as distinct from their bishops.

The canon law that the Eastern Catholic Churches have in common has been codified in the 1991 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.

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 Council’s 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 as Monophysite heretics those who rejected it. 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.

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. However, this policy of acceptance meant that the groups in question thereby created a schism within the Eastern Churches in question, with one Church in communion with Rome and another in disagreement. The Roman Catholic Church now recognizes that, at least in present circumstances, this is an incorrect way to act. It also recognizes that the communities that have in fact thus come into existence have the right to continue and to develop.

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 Roman Catholic Church, and less than 10 percent of all Eastern Christians.

List of Eastern Catholic Churches

See also

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