ONE CATHOLIC FAITH, MANY WAYS TO LIFE IN THE TRINITY
EASTERN CATHOLIC CHURCHES TODAY
The Catholic Church
The Catholic Church is made up of several autonomous Churches. These
range in size from the largest, the Roman, with over 700 million
members, to such small ones as the Coptic, with about 70,000. The
non-Roman Churches are usually called "Eastern Churches" or "Eastern
Rites." All of the Catholic Churches are equal within the One Church,
and all are entrusted to the pastor care of the Pope of Rome as
Successor of Saint Peter and the Vicar of Christ.
Early Christian Churches
All of the Churches trace their origin to Jerusalem, and from here to
one of these original Mother Churches descended from Jerusalem:
Alexandrian, Antiochene, Armenian, Byzantine, Roman. Within these five
original traditions, we find the modern autonomous Churches.
Each autonomous Church is heir to a particular spirituality, style of
worship, religious art, canon law, and unique history. All of these
combine so that each Church has a special way of leading people to a
closer union with God.
Diversity of Traditions
The Roman or Latin Rite Church became the dominant form of Catholic
worship in Western Europe, with only a few local exceptions. These did
not survive the Reformation save in Italy (Ambrosian Rite in Milan) and
Spain (Mozarabic Rite in Toledo) [sic., I believe in Lyons, France they
have maintained their particular rite: KRG), both of which were merely
different liturgical worship styles rather than autonomous Churches, and
the small Byzantine Catholic Church (Italo-Greek) in southern Italy.
Struggle for Union
Some of these Churches accepted different teachings about Christ over
the centuries, but all now teach the same as the Catholic Church. The
split most familiar to Americans was that between Rome and the Byzantine
Churches. These split into East and West; Catholic and Orthodox. Over
the centuries since the split in 1054 AD, parts of Orthodoxy have
decided to unite with Rome again. As early as the 1200's, this pattern
was followed by parts of other Eastern Christian Churches. These
communities form the eastern Catholic Churches.
Catholic Churches in the U.S.
In the United States there are seven autonomous Churches with dioceses
(eparchies) while every other Church has parishes or missions.
Since all are Catholic, each of these Churches (Armenian, Ethiopic,
Maronite, Malabar, Syrian) holds to the Catholic Faith in all its
fullness. Each celebrates the same seven Sacraments (Mysteries), and
each is centered around the Eucharist.
These Churches offer Catholics a wide variety of worship. The
celebration of the Eucharist (Mass or Divine Liturgy) is done with great
reverence. Parishes tend to be small and friendly communities where
customs unite parishioners while celebrating the Presence of God in
Tradition Is Alive and Well
In these parishes, Tradition is very much alive with the Holy Spirit
encouraging the faithful to spread the Good News while keeping faithful
to ancient practices. Prayer life is rich and the Churches are gradually
reaching out to the larger community, eager to share their faith.
Byzantine Catholic Churches
The most widespread of all the Eastern Catholic Churches in the United
States are the Byzantine churches. There are four jurisdictions in this
country: Melkite, Romanian, Ukrainian, and Ruthenian. Originally these
were based on ethnic membership, but today these Churches serve all
people in the name of Jesus Christ and His Church.
The Byzantine Church is usually identifiable from the outside by the
three-bar cross atop the steeple or dome. The three bars represent the
sign hung over Jesus' head, the crossbar for His arms, and the footrest.
The slant of the footrest stands for both the Cross of St. Andrew, and
to show that even in death, Jesus is the link between God and humanity.
Å Sorry for lack of slant here
Eastern Catholics and Orthodox place great emphasis on the sign of
the cross as a profession of faith in the three basic doctrines of
Christianity: The Holy Trinity, the double nature in Christ and the
mystery of redemption. This act of faith in the teachings of
Christianity is also an act of consecration to God of all human
activities; thoughts, affections and actions.
The interior of the church is dominated by the Iconostas or Icon
Screen. This is the wall of icons, literally, with a set of doors to be
used during the service. It designates the "Holy of Holies", the place
where heaven and earth meet. The icons are painted according to ancient
tradition and depict Our Lord, His Mother, events in their lives and
their friends and Saints. The icons provide channels of God's grace to
the world and give us "windows into heaven" when praying to God before
Behind the Iconostas is the altar, with the tabernacle containing the
consecrated bread, the Body of Christ. A sanctuary light is always
burning acknowledging Christ's Eucharist Presence. There are two
ornamental "fans" or Ripidia which represent the presence of the
heavenly angels, and are often carried in procession. There are two side
altars. One is the Altar of Preparation (Proskomedia) where the bread
and wine are made ready, and the other is the Vestment Altar, often
containing vestments, blessed oil, etc.