RITES AND CHURCHES
having been lifted up from the earth has drawn all men to Himself.
Rising from the dead He sent His life–giving Spirit upon His
disciples and through Him has established His Body which is the
Church as the universal sacrament of salvation. Sitting at the
right hand of the Father, He is continually active in the world
that He might lead men to the Church and through it join them to
Himself and that He might make them partakers of His glorious life
by nourishing them with His own Body and Blood. [Vatican Council
II, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen gentium 48]
A Rite represents
an ecclesiastical, or church, tradition about how the sacraments are to be celebrated. Each of the
sacraments has at its core an essential nature which must be satisfied for the
sacrament to be confected or realized. This essence – of matter, form and intention
from the divinely revealed nature of the particular sacrament. It cannot
by the Church. Scripture and Sacred Tradition, as interpreted by the Magisterium, tells us
what is essential in each of the sacraments (2 Thes. 2:15).
When the apostles brought the
Gospel to the
major cultural centers of their day the essential elements of religious
practice were inculturated
into those cultures. This means that the essential elements were clothed in the symbols and trappings
of the particular people, so that the rituals conveyed the desired
spiritual meaning to that culture. In this way the Church becomes all
things to all men that some might be saved (1 Cor. 9:22).
There are three major
groupings of Rites based on this initial transmission of the faith, the Roman, the Antiochian (Syria) and the Alexandrian (Egypt). Later on the Byzantine derived as a major Rite from the Antiochian, under the influence of
St. Basil and St. John
Chrysostom. From these four derive the over 20 liturgical Rites present in the Church
A Church is an assembly of the faithful, hierarchically ordered, both in the entire
world – the Catholic Church, or in a certain territory
– a particular Church. To be a sacrament (a sign) of the Mystical Body of Christ in the world, a Church must have
both a head and members (Col. 1:18). The sacramental sign of Christ the Head
sacred hierarchy – the bishops, priests and deacons (Eph. 2:19–22). More specifically, it is the
with his priests and deacons gathered around and assisting him in his office of teaching,
sanctifying and governing (Mt. 28:19–20; Titus 1:4–9). The sacramental sign of the Mystical Body is the
Christian faithful. Thus the Church of Christ is fully present sacramentally (by way of a
sign) wherever there is a sign of Christ the Head, a bishop and those who assist
him, and a sign of Christ's Body, Christian faithful. Each diocese is
therefore a particular Church.
The Church of Christ is also present sacramentally in ritual Churches that represent an ecclesiastical tradition of celebrating the sacraments.
They are generally organized under a Patriarch, who together with the
bishops and other clergy of that ritual Church represent Christ the Head
to the people of that tradition. In some cases a Rite is
completely coincident with a Church. For example, the Maronite Church
with its Patriarch has a Rite not found in any other Church. In other cases, such as the Byzantine
Rite, several Churches use the same or a very similar liturgical Rite. For example, the
Ukrainian Catholic Church uses the Byzantine Rite, but this Rite is also found in other
Catholic Churches, as well as the Eastern Orthodox Churches not in union with Rome.
Finally, the Church of Christ is sacramentally present in the Universal or Catholic Church spread over the entire world.
It is identified by the sign of Christ our Rock, the Bishop of Rome,
Successor of St. Peter (Mt. 16:18). To be Catholic particular Churches and ritual Churches must
be in communion with this Head, just as the other apostles, and the
Churches they founded, were in
communion with Peter (Gal. 1:18). Through this communion with Peter and
his successors the Church becomes a universal sacrament of
salvation in all times and places, even to the end of the age (Mt. 28:20).
Western Rites and Churches
Immediately subject to the Bishop of Rome, the Supreme
Pontiff, who exercises his authority over the liturgy through the
Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.
ROMAN/LATIN FAMILY OF LITURGICAL RITES
The Church of Rome is the Primatial See of the world and one of the five
Patriarchal Sees of the early Church (Rome,
Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem). Founded by St. Peter in 42 AD it was consecrated by the blood of Sts. Peter
and Paul during the persecution of Nero (63–67 AD). It has maintained a continual
existence since then and is the source of a family of Rites in the West. Considerable
scholarship (such as that of Fr. Louis Boyer in Eucharist) suggests the close
affinity of the Roman Rite proper with the Jewish prayers of the synagogue, which also
accompanied the Temple sacrifices. While the origin of the current Rite, even in the
reform of Vatican II, can be traced directly only to the 4th century, these connections
point to an ancient apostolic tradition brought to that city that was decidedly Jewish in
- After the Council of Trent it was necessary to consolidate liturgical doctrine and
practice in the face of the Reformation. Thus, Pope St. Pius V imposed the Rite of Rome on
the Latin Church (that subject to him in his capacity as Patriarch of the West), allowing
only smaller Western Rites with hundreds of years of history to remain.
of particular dioceses or regions ceased to exist.
As a consequence of the Second Vatican Council's
Dogmatic Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy,
Pope Paul VI
undertook a reform of the Mass of the Roman Rite, promulgating a
revised rite with the Missal of 1970. This Missal has since been
modified twice (1975 and 2002). Mass celebrated in accordance with
this missal is the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite.
At the time of the revised Missal's promulgation in
1970 almost all Catholics assumed that the previous rite, that of
the Missal of 1962, had been abolished. By decision of the Supreme
Pontiff Benedict XVI this general assumption has been declared false
and the right of Latin Rite priests to celebrate Mass according to
the former missal has been affirmed (Apostolic Letter Summorum
Pontificum, 7 July 2007). Mass celebrated in accordance with the
Missal of 1962 constitutes the Extraordinary Form of the
• Roman – The overwhelming majority of Latin
Catholics and of Catholics in general.
– Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite. Mass
celebrated in accordance with the Missale Romanum of 1970,
promulgated by Pope Paul VI, currently in its third edition (2002). The vernacular editions of this
Missal, as well as the rites of the other sacraments, are translated from
the Latin typical editions revised after the Second Vatican
– Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. Mass
celebrated in accordance with the Missale Romanum of 1962,
promulgated by Blessed Pope John XXIII. The other sacraments are
celebrated according to the Roman Ritual in force at the time of the
Second Vatican Council. The Extraordinary Form is most notable for
being almost entirely in Latin. In addition to institutes
have the faculty to celebrate the Extraordinary Form routinely, such as the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter
and the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, any Latin
Rite priest may now offer the Mass and other sacraments in
accordance with norms of Summorum Pontificum.
– Anglican Use. Since the 1980s the Holy See has granted
some former Anglican and Episcopal clergy converting with their
parishes the faculty of celebrating the sacramental rites according
to Anglican forms, doctrinally corrected.
• Mozarabic – The Rite of the Iberian peninsula (Spain and Portugal)
known from at least the 6th century, but probably with roots to the original
evangelization. Beginning in the 11th century it was generally replaced by the Roman Rite,
although it has remained the Rite of the Cathedral of the Archdiocese of Toledo, Spain,
and six parishes which sought permission to adhere to it. Its celebration today is
• Ambrosian – The Rite of the Archdiocese of Milan, Italy, thought to be
of early origin and probably consolidated, but not originated, by St. Ambrose. Pope Paul
VI was from this Roman Rite. It continues to be celebrated in Milan, though not by all
• Bragan – Rite of the Archdiocese of Braga, the Primatial See of
Portugal, it derives from the 12th century or earlier. It continues to be of occasional
• Dominican – Rite of the Order of Friars Preacher (OP), founded by St.
Dominic in 1215.
• Carmelite – Rite of the Order of Carmel, whose modern foundation was by
St. Berthold c.1154.
• Carthusian – Rite of the Carthusian Order founded by St. Bruno in 1084.
Eastern Rites and Churches
The Eastern Catholic Churches have their own hierarchy, system of governance
(synods) and general law, the Code of Canons for the Eastern Churches. The
Supreme Pontiff exercises his primacy over them through the Congregation for the Eastern
ANTIOCHIAN FAMILY OF LITURGICAL RITES
The Church of Antioch in Syria (the ancient Roman Province of Syria) is considered an apostolic
by virtue of having been founded by St. Peter. It was one of the ancient centers of the
Church, as the New Testament attests, and is the source of a family of similar Rites using
the ancient Syriac language (the Semitic dialect used in Jesus' time and better known as
Aramaic). Its Liturgy is attributed to St. James and the Church of Jerusalem.
1. WEST SYRIAC
• Maronite – Never separated from Rome. Maronite Patriarch of Antioch.
The liturgical language is Aramaic. The 3 million Maronites are found in Lebanon
(origin), Cyprus, Egypt, Syria, Israel, Canada, US, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina and
• Syriac – Syriac Catholics who returned to Rome in 1781 from the monophysite heresy. Syriac Patriarch of Antioch. The 110,000 Syriac Catholics are found in
Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, Canada and the US.
• Malankarese – Catholics from the South of India evangelized by St.
Thomas, uses the West Syriac liturgy. Reunited with Rome in 1930. Liturgical languages
today are West Syriac and Malayalam. The 350,000 Malankarese Catholics are found in India
and North America.
2. EAST SYRIAC
• Chaldean – Babylonian Catholics returned to Rome in 1692 from the
Nestorian heresy. Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans. Liturgical languages are Syriac
and Arabic. The 310,000 Chaldean Catholics are found in Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt,
Turkey and the US.
• Syro–Malabarese – Catholics from Southern India using the East Syriac
liturgy. Returned to Rome in the 16th century from the Nestorian heresy. Liturgical
languages are Syriac and Malayalam. Over 3 million Syro–Malabarese Catholics can be found
in the state of Kerela, in SW India.
BYZANTINE FAMILY OF LITURGICAL RITES
The Church of Constantinople became the political and religious center of the eastern
Roman Empire after the Emperor Constantine built a new capital there (324–330) on the site
of the ancient town of Byzantium. Constantinople developed its own liturgical rite from
the Liturgy of St. James, in one form as modified by St. Basil, and in a more commonly
used form, as modified by St. John Chrysostom. After 1054, except for brief periods of
reunion, most Byzantine Christians have not been in communion with Rome.
They make up the
Orthodox Churches of the East, whose titular head is the Patriarch of Constantinople. The
Orthodox Churches are mostly auto–cephalous, meaning self–headed, united to each other by
communion with Constantinople, which exercises no real authority over them. They are
typically divided into Churches along nation lines. Those that have returned to communion
with the Holy See are represented among the Eastern Churches and Rites of the Catholic
Considered either its own Rite or an older version of the Byzantine. Its exact form is not
used by any other Byzantine Rite. It is composed of Catholics from the first people to
convert as a nation, the Armenians (N.E. of Turkey), and who returned to Rome at the
time of the Crusades. Patriarch of Cilicia of the Armenians. The liturgical language is
classical Armenian. The 350,000 Armenian Catholics are found in Armenia, Syria, Iran,
Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt, Greece, Ukraine, France, Romania, United States and
Argentina. Most Armenians are Orthodox, not in union with Rome.
• Albanian – Albanian Christians, numbering only 1400 today, who resumed
communion with Rome in 1628. Liturgical language is Albanian. Most Albanian Christians are
• Belarussian/Byelorussian – Unknown number of Belarussians who returned
to Rome in the 17th century. The liturgical language is Old Slavonic. The faithful can be
found in Belarus, as well as Europe, the Americas and Australia.
• Bulgarian – Bulgarians who returned to Rome in 1861. Liturgical
language is Old Slavonic. The 20,000 faithful can be found in Bulgaria. Most Bulgarian
Christians are Bulgarian Orthodox.
• Czech – Czech Catholics of Byzantine Rite organized into a jurisdiction
• Krizevci – Croatian Catholics of Byzantine Rite who resumed communion
with Rome in 1611. The liturgical language is Old Slavonic. The 50,000 faithful can
be found in Croatia and the Americas. Most Croatians are Roman (Rite) Catholics.
• Greek – Greek Christians who returned to Rome in 1829. The liturgical
language is Greek. Only 2500 faithful in Greece, Asia Minor (Turkey) and Europe. Greek
Christians are almost all Orthodox, whose Patriarch is the Orthodox Patriarch of
• Hungarian – Descendants of Ruthenians who returned to Rome in 1646. The
liturgical languages are Greek, Hungarian and English. The 300,000 faithful are found in
Hungary, Europe and the Americas.
• Italo–Albanian – Never separated from Rome, these 60,000 Byzantine Rite
Catholics are found in Italy, Sicily and the Americas. The liturgical languages are Greek
• Melkite – Catholics from among those separated from Rome in Syria and
Egypt who resumed Communion with Rome at the time of the Crusades. However, definitive
union only came in the 18th century. Melkite Greek Patriarch of Damascus. Liturgical
languages are Greek, Arabic, English, Portuguese and Spanish. The over 1 million Melkite
Catholics can be found in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Canada, US, Mexico, Brazil,
Venezuela, Argentina and Australia.
• Romanian – Romanians who returned to Rome in 1697. The liturgical
language is Romanian. There are over 1 million Romanian Catholics in Romania, Europe and
the Americas. Most Romanian Christians are Romanian Orthodox.
• Russian – Russians who returned to communion with Rome in 1905. The
liturgical language is Old Slavonic. An unknown number of the faithful in Russia, China,
the Americas and Australia. Most Russian Christians are Russian
Orthodox, whose Patriarch
is the Orthodox Patriarch of Moscow.
• Ruthenian – Catholics from among those separated from Rome in Russia,
Hungary and Croatia who reunited with Rome in 1596 (Brest–Litovsk) and 1646
• Slovak – Byzantine Rite Catholics of Slovakian origin numbering 225,000
and found in Slovakia and Canada.
• Ukrainian – Catholics from among those separated from Rome by the Greek
Schism and reunited about 1595. Patriarch or Metropolitan of Lviv. Liturgical languages are Old Slavonic
and the vernacular. The 5.5 million Ukrainian Catholics can be found in Ukraine, Poland,
England, Germany, France, Canada, US, Brazil, Argentina and Australia. During the Soviet
era Ukrainian Catholics were violently forced to join the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Their
hierarchy, which continued to exist outside the homeland, has since been re–established in
ALEXANDRIAN FAMILY OF LITURGICAL RITES
The Church of Alexandria in Egypt was one of the original centers of
Christianity, since like Rome and Antioch it had a large Jewish population which was the
initial object of apostolic evangelization. Its Liturgy is attributed to St. Mark the
Evangelist, and shows the later influence of the Byzantine Liturgy, in addition to its
• Coptic – Egyptian Catholics who returned to communion with Rome in
1741. The Patriarch of Alexandria leads the 200,000 faithful of this ritual Church spread
throughout Egypt and the Near East. The liturgical languages are Coptic (Egyptian)
and Arabic. Most Copts are not Catholics.
• Ethiopian/Abyssinian – Ethiopian Coptic Christians who returned to
Rome in 1846. The liturgical language is Geez. The 200,000 faithful are found in Ethiopia,
Eritrea, Somalia, and Jerusalem.
revised 22 August 2007
Answered by Colin B. Donovan, STL