Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Rites of the Church

Most Catholics are only familiar with the Latin, or Roman, rite of the Church, either as practiced in the Extraordinary Form or the Ordinary Form; however, liturgical uniformity is not a hallmark of the Church. The Church has always had unity within diversity, in many ways: "there are many gifts, but the same Spirit"; "though we are many members, we are yet one Body." The basics of the Eucharistic liturgy have always been the same: prayers to the Lord, Scriptural readings, the consecration of the Eucharist, and the distribution. These essentials combine aspects of the liturgy of the synagogues with the Last Supper, where Christ instituted the Eucharist. We see many early examples of these essentials, such as accounts by St. Justin Martyr, St. Hippolytus of Rome, and St. Cyril of Jerusalem. Yet the way these essentials became expanded in larger Eucharistic liturgies in different areas and traditions widely varied. Both the East and the West saw many forms of the Eucharistic liturgy and other aspects of the liturgy (that is, the official prayer of the Church, such as in the rites of the other Sacraments and in the Liturgy of the Hours) throughout history, which became formed into rites, that is "the liturgical, theological, spiritual and disciplinary patrimony, culture and circumstances of history of a distinct people, by which its own manner of living the faith is manifested in each Church" (Code of Canons of Eastern Churches, c. 28 §1), with examples that are no longer practiced being the rites in Jerusalem and in Gaul (Gallican Rite). In the East, the rites boiled down to five: "the Alexandrian, Antiochene, Armenian, Chaldean, and Constantinopolitan [Byzantine] traditions" (Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, c. 28 §2). In the West, the Roman rite is almost universal, though the Mozarabic and Ambrosian are still practiced in particular circumstances, as is the Dominican rite.

Let's go over a brief history of each rite. The Alexandrian is rooted in Alexandria, Egypt; it is practiced now by the Coptic churches and, in a more modified form, by the Ethiopian churches. The Antiochene (or West Syriac) is rooted in Antioch in Syria; besides the Antiochian Orthodox, this is also the rite used by the Maronite church, who have been in union with the Pope since their formation in the 5th century in Lebanon by St. Maron and his followers, as well as by the Syro-Malabar churches in India. The Chaldean (or East Syriac) is rooted in the area of Iraq, and it is used by the Chaldean Catholics, the Assyrian Church of the East, and the Syro-Malankara churches in India. The Constantionpolitan (or Byzantine) is based in Constantinople (formerly Byzantium, currently Istanbul) in Turkey; it is the most prevalent of the Eastern rites, used by the majority of Orthodox and Eastern Catholic churches, and it comes in two main flavors: the Greek (or Byzantine) and the Slavic traditions. The Armenian rite is based in Armenian, the first Christian nation (they became Christian about 15 years before the Edict of Milan); it is a combination of elements of the Antiochene and Byzantine rites with its own local twist.

The Roman in the Extraordinary Form was solidified at the Council of Trent, after combining elements from various Western rites, with the majority being taken from the rite proper to Rome itself; the Ordinary Form, based in the principles of the Second Vatican Council, drew from ancient liturgical sources and incorporated those into the Roman rite used from Trent. The Mozarabic is based in Toledo, Spain, with some influence from the Arabic invaders of Spain. The Ambrosian (Milanese) is based in Milan, Italy, with some particular traditions that it has retained throughout the years, even when they differ from those of the Roman (even St. Ambrose himself wrote of these differences). The Dominican is one of the many rites that different religious orders had which were variations on the Roman rite (other rites that are less practiced today or are not practiced at all include the Carthusian and Carmelite). Another honorable mention is the Sarum rite, not practiced on its own today; however, much of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer is rooted in the Sarum rite, and this has influenced the Anglican Use of the Roman rite, as used by the Anglican Ordinariate.

This is just a brief rundown of the many rites of the Church, and even just those that are currently practiced, not to mention the many that are now only historical. Though they show a wide variety of differences, they are still all united into one Church, and they are all of the same dignity. As the Second Vatican Council declared, all the churches (self-governing Christian communities with their own hierarchies and traditions that are still in union with and under the ultimate governance of the Pope of Rome) "are of equal rank, so that none of them is superior to the others because of its rite" (Orientalium Ecclesiarum §3). So we should recognize the many ways in which different cultures and communities have learned to live the life of the Lord, and we should treat with them with the respect they deserve, realizing they are all make up the coat of many colors that is the one Church and that all nations of every tongue are called to praise and serve the Lord.

Clarificatory Appendix:

Though it was discussed in the article, the definition between rite and church can bear some further clarification. "Rite" is a broader term, describing a family of liturgical traditions (including the Eucharistic liturgy, the rites of the other Sacraments, the Liturgy of the Hours, the fasts and feasts on the Church calendar, often common prayers, etc.). For example, the "Roman rite," in addition to just the Mass, would include, among others, the Rite of Baptism, the Rite of Ordination, the Divine Office, the Feast of Christ the King, the Ember days (in the Extraordinary Form), and even, in a more general way, the Stations of the Cross and the Rosary. Likewise, the "Byzantine rite" would include the Liturgies of St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil, the Rite of Crowning (Marriage), the Horologion (Book of the Hours), the Apostles' Fast (leading up to the feast day of Sts. Peter and Paul), and the Akathist (an 9th-century hymn to Mary), among other traditions. Thus it encompasses, as the Eastern code of canon law says, "the liturgical, spiritual, theological and disciplinary patrimony," along with the culture, of a specific tradition based in a specific group of people.

The term "church," on the other hand, is more narrow: it describes a particular Christian community that is sui iuris (self-governing), that is, having its own hierarchy, that also has its own unique traditions. There is currently no Western church besides the Roman Catholic church (though, in the past, there have been self-governing missionary churches); in the East, however, there are a plethora of churches, including 22 Catholic churches. The "self-governing" does not mean they are independent from the rest of the Church or even necessarily from the governance of the Pope of Rome; it means that the church is independent in the administrative factors of the ecclesial life. There are multiple churches that share most rites: for instance, the Greek Orthodox, Bulgarian Orthodox, and Ukrainian Catholic churches share the Byzantine rite, the Coptic Catholics and Ethiopian Orthodox (Tewahedo) churches share the Alexandrian rite, the Chaldean Catholic church and the Assyrian Church of the East share the Chaldean rite, etc.

In short, a rite refers to a broad collection of connected liturgical, spiritual, and theological traditions; a church refers to a particular administratively independent Christian community that partakes of one of the rites. The key to always remember, though, is that an individual church is never fully independent: it is always connected with the rest of the Church as being a member of the Mystical Body of Christ, with varying degrees of communion with the other churches (although, someday, we hope that all the churches are in full communion once again); in addition, the other churches can intervene in the affairs of a particular church when necessary, either through the authority of the Pope or the authority of a council.

Nota Bene: For another, and probably clearer than mine, discussion of rites and churches, see the Second Vatican Council's Decree on the Catholic Eastern Churches (Orientalium Ecclesiarum) §2-3.

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