Sunday, May 29, 2016

Part II of Intro to Eastern Catholic Churches... Plus a Preview of Part III: The Alexandrian Rite

The second part of my essay series on the Eastern Catholic Churches is live over at This specific essay deals with the Armenian Rite which houses the Armenian Catholic Church. If you missed the first part of the series, which briefly went over the many different sui iuris Churches and rites, you can check that out HERE.

The third part of this series should be going live this coming week and will be on the Alexandrian Rite. This is a liturgical tradition many in the West might not have too much interaction with, outside of the occasional Coptic Orthodox Church, which dwarfs the Coptic Catholic Church in size. Here's a preview of that essay for you to check out now, and I'll post the link to the full article once it's live this coming week.

The universal Catholic Church has many different ways of expressing the fullness of the Truth handed down by Christ to His Apostles and their successors. We see these different ways of expressing our Catholic faith manifested in the Churches of the West and the East, in which, as the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council proclaimed, “exists an admirable bond of union, such that the variety within the Church in no way harms its unity; rather it manifests it, for it is the mind of the Catholic Church that each individual Church or Rite should retain its traditions whole and entire…”

As detailed in the first part of this series of essays, there are no less than six different ways of expressing the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic faith, and we call these expressions “Rites”, which are further subdivided into 24 sui iuris, or self-governing, Churches. All 24 of these sui iuris Churches are in communion with the Pope in Rome and recognize him as the Vicar of Christ. One of these six Rites is the Latin Rite of the West, which contains the Roman Catholic Church. The other five Rites are from the East, which contain the other 23 sui iuris Churches. In the second part of this series, we delved into the rich patrimony of the Armenian Rite, which houses the Armenian Catholic Church. In this essay, we will explore a part of the Church many in the West are not familiar with as most of these Catholics still reside in the Eastern part of Africa. We focus now on the Catholic Churches which express themselves according to the Alexandrian Rite. There are three Churches which use the Alexandrian Rite in their liturgies: the Coptic Catholic Church, the Ethiopian Catholic Church and the Eritrean Catholic Church. Sometimes, the Alexandrian Rite is also called the Ge’ez Rite when referring to the Ethiopian and Eritrean Catholic Churches, as these two Churches say the Divine Liturgy in the Ge’ez language, while the Coptic Catholic Church traditionally utilizes the Coptic language in its liturgies. We will briefly explore the traditions, history, liturgical practices and great figures of these three particular Churches so we may, as Pope St. John Paul II has exhorted us, “be familiar with that tradition [of the Eastern Churches], so as to be nourished by it…”

Coptic Catholic Church
According to tradition, the Alexandrian Church was founded by St. Mark the Evangelist. Most Coptic Christians today are members of the Coptic (Oriental) Orthodox Church of Alexandria, which broke away from the Catholic Church following the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon following disagreements on Christological doctrines. There were many Christians who remained in the Egyptian region that were never out of communion with the Catholic Church, as there were many Latin Catholic bishops who served over the region before full reunion was made. Over the centuries, there were some attempts at a restoration of communion with the Holy See which unfortunately produced few results. Most notable among these attempts, was the signing of the Cantate Domino by a delegation of Coptic Orthodox bishops at the Ecumenical Council of Florence in 1442, asking for communion with the pope in Rome. It wasn’t until the middle of the 18th century when reunion was officially recognized.

In 1741, Coptic bishop Anba Athanasius became Catholic, and in that same year he was appointed by Pope Benedict XIV as the Apostolic Vicar of the nearly 2,000 Coptic Catholics in the region. Bishop Athanasius later returned to the Coptic Orthodox after a few years, but a line of bishops succeeded him in his apostolic vicariate through the 19th century. In 1824, Pope Leo XII established the patriarchate of Alexandria (thus restoring one of the five original patriarchal episcopal sees that existed before the Great Schism in 1054) with Bishop Maximos Jouwed as Patriarch, but this basically only existed on paper as the Ottoman Empire did not allow the Coptic Catholic Church to even build churches until 1829. As the population of Coptic Catholics increased over the next few decades, Pope Leo XIII finally re-established the patriarchate by appointing Bishop Cyril Makarios as Coptic Catholic patriarch of Alexandria. After Patriarch Cyril’s resignation in 1908, the office of Patriarch remained vacant until 1947 when Bishop Markos II Khouzam was elected Patriarch.

Ethiopian Catholic Church
Tradition holds that the first people to spread the Gospel in the Ethiopian region were two of the Apostles, Ss. Matthew and Bartholomew. Like the Copts, most Ethiopian Christians today are Orthodox and belong to the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, which also broke from the Catholic Church following the Council of Chalcedon in the 5th century. And just like with the Coptic Catholic Church, there were many attempts at reconciliation between the Catholic and Orthodox Church in Ethiopia. In 1439, Pope Eugene IV tried to get through to the Ethiopian emperor, but his message fell on deaf ears. Nearly 100 years later, attacks from Muslim insurgents ravaged the region, and many Christians were being forced to decide between submission to Islam or death. The emperor appealed to Portugal for help, and with the navy came a swift defeat of the Muslim attackers, as well as Jesuit missionaries, hoping to unite the Orthodox and Catholic Churches. In 1622, their efforts seemed to find success when the Ethiopian emperor Susenyos converted and made Catholicism the state religion. However, trouble was soon on the horizon.

In 1623, Pope Gregory XV named Jesuit Afonso Mendes the Patriarch of the Ethiopian Church. Mendes’ episcopacy did not last long. He brought sweeping reforms to the Ethiopian Church, and imposed several Latinizations which angered the Christians there who had been following the Alexandrian Rite for several centuries beforehand. Mendes also imposed many Western customs on his flock, and changed the Ethiopian liturgical calendar to the Latin calendar. Emperor Susenyos implemented these Latinizations with force. Following this implementation, civil war broke out and lasted for around five years amidst much bloodshed, and in the end, Susenyos abdicated the throne, saying that both the Ethiopian Orthodox and Latin Catholic traditions would be tolerated. The next emperor, Susenyos’s son, dissolved the union between Rome and Ethiopia in 1636, and Mendes was expelled from the Ethiopian region, as were the rest of the missionaries that remained alive. Many missionaries were martyred and Catholic books and missals were burned following the Jesuit missionaries’ expulsion. 200 years would pass before any Catholic missionaries came back to the region.
Cardinal Berhaneyesus Demerew Souraphiel, Metropolitan of the Ethiopian Catholic Church 
In 1839, Italian Lazarist and Capuchin friars were allowed to come into the region on a limited basis. This time, the missionary envoy did much better. St. Justin de Jacobis led these efforts, and instead of imposing Latinizations, he adapted to the liturgical traditions of the Ethiopian Christians there, and won many converts from the Orthodox Church. St. Justin was ordained a bishop and was given the faculties to administer the sacraments in the Alexandrian Rite and in 1849 was named the Apostolic Vicar of Abyssinia, thus establishing the Ethiopian Catholic Church in full communion with Rome. In 1961, the Ethiopian Catholic Church was raised to a Metropolitanate when the city of Addis Abba became Metropolitan Archeparchy. A metropolitan sui iuris Church differs from a patriarchal sui iuris Church in that it is “presided over by the Metropolitan of a determined see who has been appointed by the Roman Pontiff and is assisted by a council of hierarchs according to the norm of law" (CCEO. 155§1). The Ethiopian Catholic Church is one of five Eastern Catholic Churches that are Metropolitan Churches.

Eritrean Catholic Church
The Eritrean Catholic Church is the newest sui iuris Church established. Pope Francis separated it from the Ethiopian Catholic Church in January 2015. This is a direct result of the Eritrean War of Independence which ended in 1991. In 1993, the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church was established, and it was only a matter of time until the same happened in the Catholic Church. This was foreseen when Pope St. John Paul II created two new eparchies in Keren and Barentu, Eritrea in 1993.

Therefore, the Eritrean Catholic Church shares much of its history with the Ethiopian Catholic Church. The current Archeparchy of Asmara was established in 1961.

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