|ROME, 22 SEPT. 2009 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father
Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum
Q: My [Latin rite] diocese coexists with the Syrian diocese as well.
As a child I used to attend the Syrian Mass; but when I want to
celebrate a Syrian Mass there, I was told that I need certain canonical
permission that is to be obtained from the Holy See. At the same time, I
find that the Syrian priests in so many Latin congregations have no
problem in celebrating in both rites. I approached many priests and
liturgists, but I did not get a satisfactory answer.
J.F., Kerala India
A: While I am not sure that I will be able to provide a satisfactory
answer, I will do my best.
The Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches sets some of the rules
regarding the participation of Latin-rite priests in Eastern
celebrations. We must first observe that not just priests, but also
members of the faithful, are ascribed to a specific rite. Canon 32.1 of
the Eastern Code says: "No one can validly transfer to another Church
sui iuris without the consent of the Holy See." Although the following
canons list some cases when this transfer is more or less automatic, the
underlying principle of permanence in one's own Church remains.
Ascription to a rite is different from attending the rite, and
Catholics can attend Mass in any Catholic rite.
If a lay Christian needs permission to transfer rites, then one can
understand that a priest who wishes to habitually serve in more than one
Church would have to receive a special permission.
Leeway is allowed, however. For example, Canon 701 allows the bishop
to permit priests from other rites to concelebrate. Canon 705 allows the
Divine Liturgy to be celebrated at the altar of any Catholic church,
while Canon 707 allows priests to use the Eucharistic elements and
vestments of another Church if one's own are not available.
Celebration in one rite or another is not quite the same as a Latin
priest celebrating in different languages or even celebrating both the
ordinary and extraordinary forms of the Roman rite. Celebrating in the
rite of an Eastern Church implies entering into a different canonical
discipline because each Church has its own rules that entail much more
than alternative ways of celebrating the Eucharist.
This might help explain why it is usually easier for an Eastern
priest to be allowed to celebrate in the Latin rite than a Latin in an
Eastern. Since the Latin rite is the most widespread of all Catholic
rites, it is more common that an Eastern priest will find himself in an
exclusively Latin environment than the opposite case. This often happens
in places such as Rome and Germany where many Eastern priests go for
postgraduate studies or to minister for a number of years. In such
cases, their bishop can give the necessary permission for the priest to
use the Latin rite during their stay.
It is also usually easier for an Eastern priest to learn the Latin
rite than the opposite case.
Our correspondent's situation of growing up in Kerala, where
Catholics from three rites frequently mingle, is rare although not
unique. It is also unusual that all three rites mostly use Malayalam,
the local language, in their respective liturgies. As we mentioned
above, in most cases a Latin priest with a good pastoral reason for
celebrating Mass according to an Eastern rite has to learn a series of
complex rituals, a new liturgical calendar, and a host of other details.
In some cases he also needs to learn a new language.
Likewise, the liturgy is not just a book with a set of instructions
but forms part of a living tradition. In order to effectively minister
to Eastern Church Catholics the Latin priest must also immerse himself
in that spiritual tradition so that, as far as possible, he moves from
within and not without.
These challenges are also faced by Eastern priests ministering to
Roman-rite Catholics, but Eastern seminarians have far more contact with
Latin theology and spiritually during their priestly training than their
Latin colleagues have of Eastern traditions.
I think that these are the principal reasons why the Church, before
allowing Latin priests to use both the Roman and an Eastern rite, seek
to verify both the pastoral necessity of the permission and the priest's
* * *
in an Eastern Rite [10-6-2009]
In our observations on Eastern priests celebrating in the Roman rite
(Sept. 22) we mentioned that the Eastern bishop could give permission
for one of his priests to celebrate in this rite. A reader pointed out:
"It is not the Syrian bishop who can allow his priests to celebrate Mass
in the Latin rite. It is the Latin bishop who can grant such
Our attentive correspondent is technically correct that this permission
would fall under the jurisdiction of the local Roman-rite bishop.
However, in practice it would appear that the habitual permission to
celebrate according to the Latin rite is often implied when an
Eastern-rite priest has been sent by his bishop to study or engage in
pastoral service in a Latin environment. That is, the Eastern priest
would ask the local Latin bishop for the usual faculties accorded to
priests residing in the diocese and would presume that permission to
celebrate according to the Latin rite would be included without seeing
the need to make a formal request to celebrate according to this rite.
This would be the case of some Eastern priests studying in Roman
colleges where most of the residents are Latin rite.
The situation would differ in the case of Eastern priests who are
incardinated in an Eastern diocese that overlaps or is coextensive with
a Roman diocese. In some Western countries such as the United States,
Australia and Canada, the Eastern eparchies often cover large swathes of
the country as their faithful are frequently scattered in small
communities. In this case a more formal permission would be needed from
the local Latin bishop if the priest needed to celebrate frequently in
the Roman rite.
Although very rare, there are some cases when an Eastern bishop does
give formal permission to celebrate according to the Latin rite. For
example, the Syro-Malabar Church, which is mostly based in southern
India, has several missionary dioceses in northern India. In this case
there is no corresponding Latin bishop as jurisdictions do not overlap.
There are, however, popular shrines which are frequented by both Eastern
and Latin faithful. In this case the Eastern bishop can grant his
priests permission to celebrate according to the Latin rite for the
pastoral benefit of the faithful.