|ROME, 21 JULY 2009 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father
Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum
Q1: Is there a real division/separation between Catholics of the Latin
rite and Catholics of Eastern rites? Is a Catholic of the Latin rite
debarred in anyway from participating in the liturgy of an Eastern-rite
Catholic church? Does a Latin-rite Catholic have to follow a procedure
before he can participate in the liturgy of an Eastern-rite Catholic
H.W., Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago
Q2: May a Catholic attend Mass in an Orthodox church? Is not the
Orthodox Church schismatic?
E.T., Mairé-L'Evescault, France
A: Since these two questions are related I will take them together.
First, there is no division or separation between the Latin rite and the
more than 20 Catholic Eastern Churches. There are, however, many
differences and distinctions.
These multiple distinctions give each Church its characteristic identity
within the one fold which is the Catholic Church.
The most obvious distinctions are external. Each Church uses a distinct
ritual for Mass, the sacraments and sacramentals.
For those Churches where there is a corresponding Orthodox Church (for
example, the several Byzantine or Melkite Churches, the Coptic, and the
Syro-Malankara), an outsider would be hard-put to distinguish between
the two celebrations. One key difference with the Orthodox: The
Eastern-rite Catholics mention the Pope in the anaphora, or Eucharistic
Compared to the Latin-rite Church, the Eastern-rite Churches differ in
their internal organization. This is evident, for example, in the
guiding role of the patriarch or major archbishop, the means of
selecting bishops, and in some cases the presence of married priests.
None of these differences, however, constitute a separation of faith or
of communion with the See of Peter.
Because of this, any Catholic may attend, receive Communion, and fulfill
the holy day precept at any Catholic rite.
There is no formal procedure required before attending, but the ancient
principle of "When in Rome, do as the Romans do" should be diligently
applied. Thus a Latin Catholic who wishes to attend one of these rites
should acquaint himself with the basic practices and demands of the rite
and adapt himself accordingly. For example, most Eastern rites remain
standing for most of the celebration and do not kneel for the
consecration; a Latin should respect this tradition. Some rites have
stricter fasting rules before receiving Communion, and as far as
possible a Latin should follow suit.
Frequency in attending an Eastern celebration does not inscribe a
Catholic to that rite, just as an Eastern Catholic who habitually
attends the Latin rite does not automatically become Latin. To formally
switch rites in a permanent manner requires a formal procedure.
The question is somewhat diverse for the case of Orthodox Churches,
which are not in full communion with Rome but which enjoy the apostolic
succession and all seven sacraments. While full communion is lacking,
the Catholic Church no longer considers these Churches as being in a
formal schism or as being excommunicated.
From the Catholic standpoint, a member of the faithful who is unable to
attend Mass because there is no Catholic celebration available, may, if
he so wishes, attend and receive Communion at an Orthodox Divine
Likewise, an Orthodox Christian in a similar situation is allowed to
receive Communion and some other sacraments in any Catholic rite. Such
an attendance is always optional and is never obligatory, not even in
order to fulfill a festive precept.
However, not all Orthodox Churches accept this, and some take a dim view
of any form of intercommunion. Once more it is incumbent upon Catholics
not to impinge on others' sensibilities and limit themselves to what is
acceptable to each particular Church.
* * *
Follow-up: Eastern Rites and Orthodox [8-18-2009]
With respect to our July 21 comments on attending Mass in Eastern
Catholic Churches, a question on file from a reader in New York raised
an interesting point.
Our correspondent wrote: "I want to ask a question about Catholics of
the Roman rite attending liturgies of the Eastern rites. I've noticed
that some committed, serious Catholics regularly attend other rites (Maronite
and Melkite, for example) for what it seems to me to be purely aesthetic
reasons. I'm sure it's uncharitable for me to be whining about such
people, and I'm not totally unsympathetic
we've all attended Masses that, while valid and licit, were not exactly
reverent and numinous. But it strikes me as odd to abandon 'your' rite
because you like the music and rituals of another. Is there anything
'wrong' with this?"
I would be hesitant to condemn such people, as each person's spiritual
journey can take many paths, some temporary and others permanent.
Attending another rite for aesthetic reasons might seem superficial, but
there is no way of knowing if that is not Providence's way of leading
someone toward a deeper understanding of the underlying mystery.
It is also true that experiencing other rites is usually a positive
experience. On the one hand it opens up the treasure trove of the
universal Church's unity-in-diversity. On the other hand it can also
lead to an appreciation of one's own rite when properly celebrated.
I believe this last point is important because there is sometimes a
hidden bias against the Roman rite, especially in its ordinary form
a bias that sees the venerable Eastern rites as being somehow
intrinsically more authentic, more reverent, and with a deeper sense of
This is most likely the case with aberrations of the Roman rite as
mentioned by our reader. It is also probably true that the inherent
flexibility of the Roman rite makes it more easily subject to
poor-quality celebrations than the relatively unchanging Eastern rites.
When the Roman rite is properly celebrated, however, it can be as
spiritual and as reverent as any Eastern rite. It will be briefer, to be
sure, and it will also be more sober in its expressions, but then
brevity and sobriety have always been characteristics of the Roman
I have met many Eastern Catholics who expressed great appreciation for
the Roman rite. Some esteem the sense of participation of the faithful,
which is less present in some Eastern rites. Others cherish the sublime
beauty and variety of the Gregorian chants for the ordinary of the Mass
compared to the relative invariability of their tones. Thus aesthetic
appreciation can run both ways.
Therefore it is not a case of one being better than the other but of
each one being a legitimate and holy effort to offer up a worthy
sacrifice to the Lord.