Questions about Church discipline, traditions, and Eastern Canon Law.

Eastern Catholics Attending Roman Catholic Parishes

I’m Eastern Catholic. I have practiced my whole life in both the Latin and Maronite rites, participating in sacraments and going to mass in both. When people ask me about my religion I just say that I’m Catholic, because if a person belongs to any of the rites in communion with the pope, he can practice the faith in any one of the other rites and fulfill sunday obligations in any rite, according to the catechism.

While this is technically accurate, Catholics have a certain obligation to participate normally in the sui iurus Church to which they belong (in your case the Maronite Church). Eastern Catholics in particular have a responsibility to maintain their unique Eastern identity by participating in their Eastern parishes and cherishing their traditions.

Here in North America it is particularly important that Eastern Catholics participate regularly in their Eastern parishes. In the 1950’s it was commonly taught that “Catholic is Catholic,” and that it was perfectly fine for Eastern Catholics to join any Catholic parish. The result was that millions of Eastern Catholics began joining Roman Catholic parishes because they offered more convenient Mass times and were sometimes geographically closer. The end result was a drastic loss in membership, with many parishes closing.

It is important to remember that the Eastern Catholic Churches play a very important role in the Catholic Church, and that if they were to vanish it would be a profound loss for the entire Catholic Church.

Oikonomia (economy)

I have a quick question about the Eastern Orthodox concept of ‘Oikonomia’ or ‘economia’ (I hope I am spelling this correctly). Basically, my questions are these: what in the world is this concept? I know we have dispensations in the Latin Rite (for example, a bishop will grant all of his diocese a dispensation from Sunday obligations in the event of inclement weather). Is this the same concept? If so, I am confused. I have seen examples of Orthodox using this concept to justify things such as divorce and remarriage, birth control, etc.

Eastern Church law has traditionally followed the principle of “economy,” whereby the Church does not always follow the very letter of the law, but attempts to follow its spirit. This is a particular approach to the entire question of canon law. Applying the principle of oikonomia, the canons of ecclesiastical law are not always necessarily binding, and can be ignored by the Church if it is for the benefit of souls. Therefore, bishops can choose to be more lenient or possibly stricter than the canons prescribe in dealing with matters of discipline.

Eastern Christianity has traditionally seen canon law as being a general guide to be followed, but not as a binding juridical force.

Married Priests

Are priests in the Eastern Catholic Churches permitted to marry?

No, priests are not permitted to get married. But married men may be ordained as priests. There’s a big difference.

In all but two of the Eastern Catholic Churches, married men may be ordained to the priesthood.

I understand that in Eastern Churches, married men can become priests. In these cases, do the married cupples practice celibacy, living as brother and sister?

No, they continue to live as husband and wife.

Why does the Eastern Church allow for married clergy? How can the priest lay down his for his spouse and then lay down his life for the Church?

There is a difference in how the Eastern and Western Churches understand the role of a priest. In the East the priest is first and foremost a minister of the Holy Mysteries. He is not considered to be “outside of the world,” but is a part of it along with his parishioners.

However, there are individuals in the Eastern Churches whose lives are eschatoligical signs, who in a sense do live “outside of the world.” These are the monks. Both men and women can be monks in the Eastern Churches, and they are the ones who most fully “lay down their lives for the Church.”

In the Latin Church the role of the priest has become somewhat fused with the role of the monk. In a very real sense Latin Catholics look at their priests in the same way that we Easterners look at our monks.

I don’t see this difference in discipline as being at all problematic. We just need to respect each other’s legitimate disciplines.

Doesn’t the existence of married Eastern Catholic priests undermine the valuable discipline of celibacy in the Latin Church? Isn’t the Latin discipline the superior one?

I believe that it is possible to defend the Western discipline without denigrating the Eastern discipline. Likewise, I believe that it is possible to defend the Eastern tradition of a married priesthood without denigrating or undermining the Western tradition of a celibate priesthood.

Between the Eastern and Western Churches there is not only a difference in liturgy, but also a difference in “ethos.” Our Eastern and Western Churches have distinct characters, and for this reason different disciplines suit our situations better. So, I would venture to say that mandatory clerical celibacy is better suited for the Latin Church, and that optional clerical celibacy (allowing for a married priesthood) is better suited for the Eastern Churches.

This understanding is reinforced by the Second Vatican Council:

“…the Churches of the East, as much as those of the West, have a full right and are in duty bound to rule themselves, each in accordance with its own established disciplines, since all these are praiseworthy by reason of their venerable antiquity, more harmonious with the character of their faithful and more suited to the promotion of the good of souls,” (Orientalium Ecclesiarum, no. 5).

I would definitely say that our tradition of a married priesthood is “more harmonious with the character of our faithful.” However, this does not mean that it is at all harmonious with the character of the Latin faithful.

I’m not sure I quite understand how Easterns developed a tradition of married clergy since early times. My difficulty is, canon 3 of the Council of Nicaea reads:

“The great Synod has stringently forbidden any bishop, presbyter, deacon, or any one of the clergy whatever, to have a subintroducta dwelling with him, except only a mother, or sister, or aunt, or such persons only as are beyond all suspicion.”

This particular canon was introduced to prevent clerics from engaging in scandalous activities. The very term “subintroducta” indicates a woman who is living as his personal disciple, under the pretense of piety. Apparently some clerics would bring these young women into their homes, and mentor them in something other than the Christian faith.

I completed an extensive study of clerical celibacy in the ancient Church, which was published in Eastern Churches Journal. My findings conclusively demonstrate that at that the time of the Council of Nicea most of the clerics in both the Eastern and Western Churches were married men. However, a movement began in the Western Church during the fourth century to promote clerical celibacy, beginning with a canon ascribed to Council of Eliva. But it took many centuries for this to become the norm in the West. In the East no such legislation was ever promulgated, although the Council in Trullo did eventually legislate mandatory celibacy for bishops.

Of course ultimately this question is a moot point. What matters is the current legislation in the Catholic Church. Pope John Paul II has laid down the law for Eastern Catholics, so we can hardly be considered disobedient:

373. Clerical celibacy chosen for the sake of the kingdom of heaven and suited to the priesthood is to be greatly esteemed everywhere, as supported by the tradition of the whole Church; likewise, the hallowed practice of married clerics in the primitive Church and in the tradition of the Eastern Churches throughout the ages is to be held in honor. (Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches)

Do you agree that priestly celibacy more perfectly conforms the priest to the person of Christ?

The Eastern Churches have always seen celibacy as being a special, high calling for those who have this gift. While we ordain married men to the priesthood, we also recognize that those who have the gift of celibacy should be encouraged to foster this gift.

But for us Eastern Christians the person that is most perfectly configured to the person of Christ is not the priest, but the monk. It is the monastic life that is the highest possible vocation in our theology, and an important component of the monastic calling is the gift of celibacy. Thus, in its essence I must agree with Father Echert’s statement. For Eastern Christians I would phrase it differently, however: “celibacy more perfectly conforms the monk to the celibacy of Christ.”

A big part of the underlying psychology between the Eastern and Western Churches is that Roman Catholics see their priests in the same light that we Eastern Christians see our monks.

Wasn’t celibacy the norm for the priests in the early Church? Is the married priesthood a later development?

A married priesthood was the norm in the early Church, although there were always men who chose to live celibate lives. Beginning in the fourth century in the West there was a movement to encourage married priests to live in continence, abtaining from sex with their wives. This movement never caught on in the East.

During the Arian crisis, in which many bishops and priests embraced the heresy of denying Christ’s divinity, the Church was saved by monks. It was the celibate monks who preserved the true doctrine, and the Church was extremely grateful. Thus, in the West many local councils began to legislate clerical celibacy, holding up the monastic vocation as an ideal for all priests. During this time bishops such as St. Augustine required their priests to live in community with them.

In the East the response was somewhat different. Rather than requiring all priests to be celibate, the Eastern Churches at the Council in Trullo (692) required all bishops to be monks. This has been the law for the Eatern Churches ever since.

Roman Catholics becoming Eastern Catholic

I would like to change rites from the Latin Rite to the Byzantine Rite. How does one go about this, and is it a hard process?

To change from the Latin Church to the Byzantine Church, you must first be involved in a Byzantine parish for at least a year. You need this time to become acquainted with Byzantine spirituality and liturgical life. You should then discus the matter with the Byzantine pastor. He will then guide you in writing a letter to the Byzantine bishop, asking to join his eparchy. The Byzantine bishop will then contact the Latin bishop, who will investigate the matter. If you are cleared, the Latin bishop will turn you over to the care of the Byzantine bishop, and you will officially become Byzantine Catholic. The entire process only takes a few months.

You will only be refused if one of the bishops suspects that you have the wrong motivation. If you want to transfer because you are attracted to the spirituality of the Byzantine Church, your request will almost always be granted. But if you want to transfer because you don’t like the Latin Church, and you say this in your letter, your request will be refused.

This is a big step to take, and should be treated with great seriousness.  But if you find yourself falling in love with the Byzantine Church, and begin to think of it as home, then go for it.

Roman Catholics Attending Eastern Parishes

Several parishioners from our church regularly attend a Maronite church. They are Roman Catholic. Are our obligations for Mass met while attending Divine Liturgy at this church? Also are we restricted in any way from participation e.i. receiving the Holy Eucharist or having our children baptized in this rite?

Any Catholic can receive the Eucharist at any Catholic parish, whether it be an Eastern or Western parish. Thus, Roman Catholics can fulfill their Sunday obligation by attending an Eastern Catholic parish. They are also welcome to go to confession, and receive the annointing of the sick in an Eastern parish. However, they must have their kids baptized in a Roman Catholic parish. Children must always be baptized according to the Rite of the parents, unless absolute necessity dictates otherwise. If they are very attached to the Maronite Church, and wish to have their children raised as Maronites, the parents would have to obtain a formal change of Ritual Church for themselves. At that point they would cease to be Roman Catholic, and would be Maronite.