Rites and Churches
A Rite represents
an ecclesiastical tradition about how the sacraments are to be celebrated. Each of the
sacraments have as their core an essential nature which must be satisfied for the
sacrament to be confected or realized. This essence of matter, form and intention derives
from the divinely revealed nature of the particular sacrament and, thus, is not changeable
by the Church. Scripture and Sacred Tradition, as interpreted by the Magisterium, tells us
what is essential in each of the sacraments. When the apostles brought the gospel to the
major cultural centers of their day the essential practices of the faith were inculturated
in them, the essential was clothed in the symbols and trappings which conveyed the desired
spiritual meaning to that culture. This included the sacraments. 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
Group of Rites from the Antiochian, under the influence of the St. Basil and St. John
Chrysostom. From these four derive the over 20 liturgical Rites present in the Church
A Church is the assembly of the faithful, hierarchically ordered, both in the entire
world (Catholic Church) or in a certain territory (particular Church).
To be a sacrament (sign) of the Mystical Body of Christ in the world a Church must have
both head and members. The sacramental sign of Christ the Head of the Mystical Body is the
sacred hierarchy, the bishops, priests and deacons. More specifically, it is the bishop,
with his priests and deacons gathered around and assisting him in his office of teaching,
sanctifying and governing. The sacramental sign of the Mystical Body is the laity, the
flock of Christ. Thus the Church of Christ is fully present sacramentally (by way of a
sign) wherever there is a chief shepherd (a bishop and those who assist him) and Christian
people entrusted to his care. The Diocese of Birmingham, for example, is a particular
The Church of Christ is also fully present sacramentally in ritual Churches
that represent an ecclesiastical tradition of celebrating the sacraments and which are
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 under their
Patriarch has a Rite not found in any other Church. In other cases, such as the Byzantine
Rite, several Churches use the same or 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 Catholic (universal)
Church spread over the entire world and united to the Supreme Pastor of Christ's
Church, the Bishop of Rome. To be Catholic, particular Churches and ritual Churches must
be in communion with the Successor of St. Peter, just as the other apostles were in
communion with him in establishing Churches in areas which they evangelized.
The Various Rites and Churches of the Catholic Church
Western Rites and Churches
Immediately subject to the Supreme Pontiff as Patriarch of the
ROMAN (also called Latin)
The Church of Rome is the Primatial See of the world and the Patriarchal See of Western
Christianity. 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. Many younger Rites
of particular dioceses or regions ceased to exist.
• Roman - The overwhelming majority of Latin Catholics and of
Catholics in general. Patriarch of this and the other Roman Rites is the Bishop of Rome.
• 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
- They have their own hierarchy distinct from the Latin Rite, system of governance
(synods) and general law, the Code of Canons for the Eastern Churches. The
Supreme Pontiff exercises his authority over them through the Congregation for the Eastern
The Church of Antioch in Syria (on the Mediterranean coast) is considered an apostolic see
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 SYRIAN
• 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 - Syrian Catholics who returned to Rome in 1781 from the
monophysite heresy. Syriac Patriarch of Antioch. The 110,000 Syrian 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 SYRIAN
• 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.
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. It's 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. Their 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 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. Their 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 of Lvov. Liturgical languages are Old Slavonic
and Ukrainian. 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 be re-established in
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.
Answered by Colin B. Donovan, STL
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