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Eastern Rite Catholic Churches
Eastern Rite Catholic Churches
I have been asked about the participation by members of the ‘Orthodox Church’ in the final commendation at the funeral Mass for John Paul II.
Those who led this rite were in fact members of the Catholic Church, and its ‘foreign’ nature demonstrates the great liturgical variety that exists within the Catholic family.
There is a general lack of awareness by Western Catholics that there are other branches of the Catholic Church apart from the Latin or Roman Rite. This is a pity, because it is the existence of these various traditions that makes the Church truly ‘catholic’ and enriches the Church with diversity.
Most of the Eastern rites include both Orthodox groups that are not in communion with Rome and Catholic groups that are. The latter are known as Eastern rite Catholic, or ‘Uniat’, Churches.
There are 4 rites of the Catholic Church: Roman, Antiochene, Alexandrian and Byzantine. After the Roman rite, the Byzantine is the largest, covering different churches in Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia, Russia, Ukraine and elsewhere. There are three Eastern rite bishops in Australia: Ukrainian, Melkite (both Byzantine tradition), and Maronite, which is Antiochene (Lebanese) tradition.
Because the Eastern Catholic Churches are in communion with Rome, their priests and bishops may concelebrate with Latin rite priests in the Eucharist and Catholics may receive communion at a celebration of the Eucharist at an Eastern Catholic Church. But this does not mean that there is no difference between the two.
The Eastern rite Churches have different emphases in theology. For example, they give greater importance to the Holy Spirit than we do in the West. They follow a different Canon Law, as demonstrated by the fact that their priests are allowed to marry.
They have different traditions and structures in their liturgy. One of the most obvious examples of this is in the area of initiation. Unlike the western Church, the Eastern rite Church has maintained the unity of the sacraments of initiation, and baptism, confirmation (or ‘chrismation’) and first communion are celebrated together for both adults and infants.
After a talk I gave recently to parents of children preparing for confirmation and first communion, I was approached by parents whose child had been baptised in a Ukrainian Rite Church in Sydney. The baptismal certificate, which they had with them, quite clearly indicated that the child had also been chrismated and received communion. They had come along to the preparation class because a Roman Catholic priest in another place had told them that these sacraments weren’t recognised and that their child would have to be confirmed and receive first communion in a Catholic Church.
The parents were delighted when I informed them that this was certainly not the case and that their child, as they had always understood, was in fact a fully initiated member of the Catholic Church and had been since he was a few months old.
I wonder how many other children from Eastern rite Churches have been ‘reconfirmed’ as the result of someone’s ignorance about who does belong to the Catholic Church family.
Roman Catholic practice and theology are not the Catholic practice and theology. There are other ways of being Catholic, as was so well illustrated by the vestments, chanting, small hand-held crosses, and other symbols and gestures used by His Beatitude Stephanos II Ghattas, the Coptic-Catholic Patriarch of Alexandria, His Holiness Gregory III Laham, the Melkite Catholic Patriarch of Antioch, and other Eastern rite Catholic clerics at the funeral of John Paul II.