Saturday, May 7, 2016

Primer on the Eastern Catholic Churches

Being part Ukrainian, and being Catholic, I've always had the best of both worlds: being able to take part in the great patrimony and traditions of the Latin and Byzantine Churches, that is, the Churches of the East and West. Many Roman Catholics, though, don't have this opportunity, and often are left scratching their heads asking, "what ARE the Eastern Catholic Churches?" In the first of a series of essays, I give an introduction to the various Eastern Catholic Churches, with each future essay going into each particular liturgical tradition, or rite, of the Catholic Church. I hope to have my next article on the Armenian Catholic Church up soon. You can check out the full article over on, but here's a snippet from the article:

If you are reading this, chances are that you are a Roman Catholic. Or, to put it more officially, you are a Catholic of the Roman Rite within the Latin Catholic Church. Sounds a little confusing, doesn’t it? What’s the purpose then of having such a long description for someone most people will call simply “a Roman Catholic”? That’s because not every Catholic is Latin. This is something many Latin Catholics are not aware of. I know one priest who describes himself this way: “Oh, I’m a Catholic all right, just not a Roman or Latin Catholic.” So what exactly is he talking about then? Well, it turns out that this man is what we call an Eastern Catholic, and belongs to one of 23 Eastern Catholic Churches. This essay will serve as an introduction for those Roman Catholics who are not very familiar with the Eastern Catholic Churches.

Oftentimes, when one passes one of these churches, you’ll hear the comment “Wait, it doesn’t say ‘Roman’ Catholic… Are they really Catholic?” To be sure, some churches call themselves “Catholic” (e.g., the Old Catholic Church, the Polish National Catholic Church), and are in fact not in communion with the Catholic Church. However, this article is not dealing with such organizations, and instead is focusing on those Churches that are truly Catholic. Unfortunately, some people are very weary of, or sometimes, even show a hostility towards these true Churches (including people I have known) when they are unfamiliar with them. But once these people get the real story, and are able to appreciate the beautiful patrimony and treasure of the Eastern Catholic Churches, it’s obvious that you don’t have to be “Roman” to be fully Catholic.

Before we go any further, let’s first define terms. Many people misunderstand what the Catholic Church is in relation to the Eastern Churches. Now, we have the Catholic Church. No prefixes, no other labels, nothing else. We just have the Catholic Church, or if one wants to, we can refer to this as the Universal Catholic Church.

As it turns out, there are 24 sui iuris (autonomous or self-governing) Churches within the Catholic Church. These 24 Churches are all in communion with one another and all recognize the primacy of the Pope in Rome.

The Latin (or Roman, but we’ll continue to refer to it as “Latin” from now on) Catholic Church is the largest of these 24 Churches, and is the only Western Church. The other 23 Catholic Churches are all referred to as Eastern Churches and have their own traditions and forms of Liturgy that at many times are quite different from the Latin Church’s traditions and Liturgies, while almost paradoxically, retain the same basic liturgical structures and theology as seen in the West. Usually, in the media and in other places throughout our daily lives, the entire Catholic Church is commonly referred to as the Roman Catholic Church. Obviously that's not correct, and lots of Catholics get confused by that too. It's just a common mistake. It’s one we really shouldn’t be making any more, though. Sometimes it surprises me to see that so many people are completely ignorant, or know very little of the Eastern Catholic Churches. Many Popes over the last few hundred years have sought to safeguard the significance of the Eastern Churches, and bring Latin Catholics to a greater knowledge of their Catholic brothers and sisters. It’s amazing how much time we seem to spend in ecumenism between other non-Catholic Christians, yet we forget that we have Eastern Catholic brothers and sisters that we remain ignorant about, and fail to learn from their rich patrimony.

You can read the rest HERE.

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