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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Ten Questions and Answers about Eastern Catholicism for Roman Catholics

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it"
    --George Santayana

In our history of Catholicism, this quot is certainly true. Contrary to popular belief, the term "Catholic Church" is not synonymous with the term "Roman Catholic Church". If you are a cradle Catholic or a recent convert to Catholicism, you might be surprised to know that there is a whole other side to Catholicism that you might have heard little to nothing about in your catechism classes. Yes, I am talking about the Eastern Catholic Churches. In the past, ignorance of Eastern Catholicism by Roman Catholics has lead to persecution that could have been easily avoided. To close this gap on the modern generation of people, I have made a simple Q&A which answers some popular questions about Eastern Catholicism.

  1. What is Eastern Catholicism?

    Eastern Catholicism refers to the churches (in the East) which are autonomous, but are in full communion with Rome. Each Catholic Church has its own patriarch (the pope is considered the patriarch for the western church) which manages that Catholic Church, the pope is considered to be the first among equals. Even though Western Catholicism and Eastern Catholicism do have different aspects, they are still catholic in that both share in the same beliefs, professed in the Nicene Creed and the Apostle's Creed. However, the ways in which those beliefs are expressed differ in the East.
  2. I am a Roman Catholic. Can I still fulfill my Sunday obligation by attending Mass at an Eastern Rite Church?

    Yes, any Catholic can fulfill his or here Sunday obligation by attending Mass at any Catholic Church in communion with Rome regardless of rite. This being said, we are still bound to mainly participate in the rite in which we belong (if you are a Roman Catholic, even though you may attend Mass many times at an Eastern Catholic Church, you are still a Roman Catholic). If, for some reason, you feel called by God to change the rite in which you belong to and are serious about it, it is possible. If you want me to explain more about the process of changing rites, please indicate so in the comment box below, and I will address it in my next article.

    There are also rites other than the Roman Catholic Church which exist in the Western church as well, but the explanation of those is not the purpose of this article.
  3. Isn't Eastern Orthodox (or Oriental Orthodox) the same as Eastern Catholic?

    Not quite. Many people think of the Catholic Church being, on one side, the Roman Catholics, and on the other side, all of the Eastern Christians are grouped into the Eastern/Oriental Orthodox, which are apart from Rome due to schism. This thought is categorization is false. It is true that the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox have the same beliefs, liturgy, and teachings as their Catholic counterparts, but the main difference is that Eastern Catholics are in communion with Rome and Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox are not. Except for one case, each Eastern Catholic Church has an Eastern/Oriental Orthodox counterpart. The exception to this is the Maronite Catholic Church, which has never separated from Rome.

    It is because of the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox not being in communion with Rome that Catholics (whether western or eastern) cannot attend an Orthodox Divine Liturgy as the Sunday obligation.
  4. If I attend Mass at a Catholic church which is a different rite from which I belong to, do I have to observe the Eucharistic fast for that rite in order to receive communion?

    No, each Catholic is bound to observe the Eucharistic fasting time (in order to receive the Eucharist) which his or her respective rite has set fourth. In other words, Roman Catholics still observe the 1 hour fast before communion. For Eastern Catholics, even though you may attend Mass at a Roman Rite Church, you must still observe the fasting time set forth by your respective rite. However, if the rite of the church in which you are going to for Mass has a longer fasting period than your own rite does, there is nothing to stop you from matching that amount of time you must fast before receiving the Eucharist.
  5. Do I receive communion in an Eastern Catholic Mass the same way that I receive communion at a Roman Catholic Mass?

    No. All of the Eastern Catholic rites in existence do not have communion in the hand. In contrast to Roman Catholics, where the norm for receiving communion is on the tongue while you are kneeling, the norm for receiving communion in the Eastern rites is by intinction while you are standing.
  6. Why do Eastern Catholics use leavened bread instead of unleavened bread for the Eucharist?

    This is a matter of tradition. Traditionally, the western church has used unleavened bread and the eastern church has used leavened bread. Both are considered valid matter for confecting the Eucharist. The exception to this is the Maronite Rite, which still uses intinction for distributing communion, but uses unleavened bread (like the Roman Rite) instead of leavened bread.
  7. Will I do much singing if I go to an Eastern Catholic Mass?

    Yes, you will. The Eastern rites do not have a history of using instruments to accompany the people singing. In fact, the Eastern rites have much more singing in the Mass than the Western rites do (almost everything is chanted, including the readings). If you are not good at singing, still put your heart and soul into your singing, as you are probably not the only one in this situation.
  8. As a Roman Catholic, can I go to an Eastern Catholic priest for the sacrament of Confession?

    Yes, you can. As long as the priest has faculties to hear confessions, any Catholic priest (in communion with Rome) may hear your confession and grant you absolution.
  9. Do the Eastern Catholics recognize the same saints as Roman Catholics?

    The answer to this question is "partially". Both westerners and easterners recognize the same saints up until the time of the great schism in 1054 (if I am wrong about this, please let me know so I can correct this). After the schism, there was a divide in which saints were recognized as saints in the East and in the West. As part of the reconciliation between Rome and those in the Eastern rites which wanted to be in communion with Rome again, the Eastern Catholic Churches recognize the same saints in which the Roman Catholic Church does. However, the reverse is not true. There are some people recognized as saints by the Orthodox churches, but not by the Roman Catholic Church, which got "imported" as saints for the respective church's calendar when that Eastern church reunited with Rome. An example of this would be Saint Gregory Palamas, which the Eastern Orthodox churches recognize as a saint (and the Byzantine Catholic churches also recognize by extension), but the Roman Catholic Church does not recognize as a saint.
  10. Are Eastern Catholic priest bound to celibacy like Roman Catholic priests are?

    This may surprise some, but the answer to this question is also "partially". The Eastern Catholic Churches do have a history of a married priesthood. This means that married men (in those rites) are allowed to be ordained priests, but priests cannot marry. A married priest has as much power as a celibate priest does, so he can do things like confect a valid Eucharist and hear confessions just as well as a celibate priest can. If a priest is married and his wife dies, the priest cannot marry again and is then bound to celibacy for the rest of his life. This said, celibacy, even though it may be optional in the Eastern rites, is still strongly emphasized as an ideal for priests. This is manifested in the fact that, even though married men can be ordained priests, the bishops in the Eastern rites MUST be celibate. Deacons in the Eastern churches, like in the Roman Catholic Church, may either be celibate or married.

    As far as the Eastern rites and the married priesthood goes, things are a bit different here in the United States. In the US, a married priest still has all rights and responsibilities granted to him as his celibate counterparts. However, due to conflicts in the early part of Eastern Catholic history here in the US between Eastern Catholics and Roman Catholic bishops, the married priesthood is not fully recognized in the US. During the conflict, some Roman Catholic bishops offered no aid to Eastern Catholics and did things like denying faculties to Eastern Catholic priests to offer Mass in their dioceses. As a result of this conflict, the Holy See made a decree that stated that only celibate or widowed Eastern Catholic priests are allowed in the US (and all married priest should be recalled). As time went on, this was softened (as in married priests being allowed to live and work as priests in the US), but the fact still remains that only celibate men may be ordained as priests in the Eastern Rite churches here in the United States. Some Eastern Catholic bishops have gone around this by sending (married) priesthood candidates back to the "old country" (the land they were in before coming to the United States) to be ordained, and then bring them back to the United States, but this behavior is unusual.

    As a further note, there are a few Eastern Catholic Churches, such as the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, which has opted to give up its historical right to have married priests.
 I will end by saying that the number of Catholics Churches does not equal the number of Catholic rites in existence. The Roman Rite is spread out all across the world, but it is still considered one church. In the East, in some instances, you have "national" churches. These churches may share the same rite, but they are considered separate Catholic Churches. An example of this can be found in the Ruthenian Catholic Church and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, which both use the Byzantine Rite.

I hope this has sparked your curiosity to learn more about our faith and about the other rites of the Church. Maybe, instead of going to the Catholic Church you usually attend on Sunday, try attending an Eastern Catholic church in your area one time. The USCCB is gracious enough to provide a list of eparchies (the Eastern Catholic equivalent of a diocese) here in the US, and from there you can use it to find the closest Eastern Catholic Church to you. If you have thoughts or more questions about Eastern Catholicism, please post them in the comment box below, and I will address them in a future article.

link to list of eparchies:

Let us also not forget to pray for unity between the Eastern and Western churches, so that we may (truly) be "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church".

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