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.

Conflicts with the Latin Church

While I am currently Byzantine Catholic, I am about to become Orthodox. Historically the Latin Church has treated the Eastern Catholics very badly, and they continue to do so. I can’t take it any more, so I am leaving. Eastern Catholicism is a failed experiment. How can you remain Byzantine Catholic when you know the history???

The Byzantine Catholic Church is in communion with Rome, despite our differences. Nor are the differences as great as you seem to think. Unity does not have to equal uniformity. Indeed, this fact is expressed in the reality of the Trinity. God is three distinct persons, yet one God. In the same way, there can be great diversity within the Catholic communion of Churches.

You raise the history of the Latin Church being abusive to the Eastern Catholic Churches. Historically, there is truth to this claim. Throughout much of our history, many members of the Latin Church have attempted to remove our traditions, and turn us into Latin Catholics. At times, they have even used connections in the Roman Curia to accomplish this goal. But things are changing, and have changed significantly already! At Vatican II the Catholic Church officially recognized our traditions, disciplines, liturgy, and theology as being equal to that of the Latin Church. Since then, a great deal of energy has been spent restoring us to our original traditions. Much of the damage has been undone, and more is yet to be fixed. In fact, it is amazing how much progress has been made in less than fifty years!!!

Also, many of our Western Catholic brothers and sisters have developed a great respect for us. Many of them are very eager to learn about us, as is demonstrated daily on this new forum. We aren’t living in the 1920’s, my friend.

The biggest hindrance in our progress is ourselves. First of all, many of our priests were trained in the pre-Vatican II mentality that the Latin way is superior. Many of our older priests, and perhaps even some bishops, are convinced that we must become as much like the Latin Church as possible in order to be “fully Catholic.” Such clergy are a vanishing breed, and they will soon be replaced entirely with younger priests who are extremely eastern. Rome is very eager for us to restore our Eastern heritage, and is intervening when necessary to assure this. I even have it on good authority that Rome no longer opposes our restoration of a married priesthood in North America.

The second problem that is holding us back is our own bitterness! Yes, the Latin Church has been uncharitable with us in the past. But holding on to this bitterness, and even nursing it, is only harming ourselves. Resentment has a way of poisoning a person, and even paralyzing them. As long as we nurse bitterness and resentment against the Latins, and against Rome, we will assuredly destroy ourselves. Today, we are the masters of our own fate, and can determine whether or not we grow and flourish. We do not require a fiat from Rome or anyone else to do this. Likewise, we primarily have ourselves to blame for our failures.

In conclusion, I believe that the Eastern Catholic Churches exist for a reason. When you consider the major historical obstacles that we have faced, it is truly amazing that we even exist today. Surely God has preserved us, and has something magnificient in store for us. We have suffered intensely for the sake of Christian unity, and this has not gone unnoticed by Jesus. In the decades to come, the Eastern Catholic Churches have an opportunity to be a model of “Orthodoxy in communion with Rome.” With much help from the Holy Spirit, we can prove to the world that it IS possible to be in communion with Rome without having to abandon our Eastern Christian heritage. However, we must be willing to cooperate with God to make this happen.

Did Archbishop John Ireland have a prejudice against Eastern Catholics?

Yes, it is well known that Archbishop John Ireland had no tolerance for Eastern Catholics. You can read about his unrelenting persecution of Byzantine Catholics in a book entitled “Before the Birth of Ecumenism.” It is published by Byzantine Seminary Press.

For the record, in 1999 at the 75th anniversary celebration of the Byzantine Church in America, Cardinal William Keeler delivered the keynote address. On behalf of the Latin hierarchy, Cardinal Keeler apologized for the inexcusable actions of Archbishop Ireland. I was present at this event, and the apology was very warmly received.

Why does there seem to be so much hostility toward Latin Catholics by SOME Byzantines?

What you are referring to is what I call “Byzantine Bitterness.” Some Byzantine Catholics have a great deal of resentment towards the Latin Church. This isn’t very widespread, but it does exist in some quarters.

To understand the source of this hostility, it is necessary to look at history. First, you will only find such bitterness in North America. This is because of the very real abuse that Byzantine Catholics suffered when they arrived here. Allow me to give you some historical background.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries large waves of immigrants came to the United States. Among these immigrants were numerous Latin and Byzantine Catholics. The only bishops established in the country were Latin bishops, most of whom were of Irish background. These bishops had never even heard of Byzantine Catholics before, and were shocked by our differences. They were especially revolted by our tradition of married priests, which they considered an abomination.

As more Byzantine Catholics arrived, we began building parishes and recruiting priests from Europe. Most of the priests that we were sent were married with families. This greatly angered the Latin bishops, especially the famous Archbishop John Ireland. The Latin bishops began a vigorous campaign to have our married priests expelled from the continent, and sent back to Europe. The Latin bishops had many friends and contacts in the Vatican. At the time, we Byzantine Catholics had no one in the Vatican to present our side of the dispute. Eventually, the Latin bishops managed to obtain a Vatican ruling that banned married Eastern priests in North America.

At this point all heck broke loose. Almost all of our parishes were served by married priests, and if they had to leave we would have had no priests. All of our parishes would have closed. Some of the Latin bishops proposed a solution: they would loan us Latin priests who would celebrate the Roman Mass in our parishes. Eventually, we would be fully assimilated into the Latin Church.

As you could imagine, this option was considered unacceptable. We Byzantine Catholics have a great love for our liturgy and traditions, and would rather die than part with them. For these immigrants especially, the Byzantine tradition was the only connection that they had maintained with their roots.

At this time the Russian Orthodox Church entered the picture. The Russian Orthodox were sympathetic to our sufferings, and offered to help. They would provide our parishes with priests, and life would continue as before. All of our Byzantine traditions would remain fully intact. The only catch was that these parishes would henceforth be considered Russian Orthodox, not Byzantine Catholic.

A large number of Byzantine Catholics took this option. Feeling deeply betrayed by Rome, and not wanting to be coerced into the Latin Church, they became Russian Orthodox. The majority of Byzantine Catholics in the United States became Russian Orthodox during this time. Only a minority were left in the Byzantine Catholic Church.

The large numbers leaving our Byzantine Church caught the attention of Rome. They realized that something had to be done fast. Thus, the Pope established a Byzantine Catholic hierarchy of bishops in North America. This angered many of the Latin bishops beyond belief. They were furious that they had to share America with Eastern Bishops. With our own bishops serving us, Byzantine Catholicism in the New World became more stable and secure. Nonetheless, the damage was already done. Families were painfully divided between Orthodox and Catholic lines. Legal disputes over parish property flooded the courts. And worst of all, we lost so many members that our Church became a gaunt shadow of its former self. Almost all of the Russian Orthodox and OCA Christians in North America today are descended from Byzantine Catholics.

Because of this horrible travesty, a great deal of animosity remained between Latin and Byzantine Catholics. This animosity lingered well into the 1960s. As recently as at Vatican II, a group of American Latin bishops attempted to have Eastern Catholicism banned in North America. Of course this attempt was quickly squashed. Instead, Vatican II went on to affirm the equal rights and dignitiy of the Eastern Catholic Churches. Since then things have dramatically improved.

Today the relationship between Latin Catholics and Byzantine Catholics is far better. Our bishops have a good working relationship. Unfortunately, a great deal of hurt feelings still remain.

In 1999 Cardinal William Keeler, on behalf of the Latin hierarchy, apologized to the Byzantine Catholic Church for the abuse we had suffered. This apology was very warmly received. Likewise, the current Archbishop of Minneapolis expressly apologized for the actions of his predecessor, Archbishop John Ireland.

Let us pray that all of the residual wounds from this dispute are soon healed. Some Byzantine Catholics are having a hard time forgiving. Instead, they are paralyzed with bitterness. It is my fervent hope that they will eventually learn to forgive.


Are Eastern churches still pretty much divided along ethnic lines? Why don’t they evangelize like Roman Catholics to other ethnic groups?

Most unfortunately, many Eastern Catholic Churches are still divided along ethnic lines. This results in a lack of evangelization, and the stagnation of parishes. This is changing, thankfully. Many Eastern Catholic Churches have been making a serious effort to reach people from all backgrounds. We now have members from all ethnic and racial backgrounds.

Maronite Catholic Church

We visited a Maronite Rite church and will attend the Divine Liturgy this weekend. Can you tell us a bit more about this rite, it’s history and what we may expect?

The Maronite Catholic Church was founded in the Fourth century by St. Maron, an influential monastic leader. The Eucharistic Liturgy is a variation of the Liturgy of St. James, with some Latin traditions mixed in. In the twelfth century the Maronites came into contact with French crusaders, and as a result many Latin customs and traditions became incorporated into their worship. Since Vatican II, much of the original Syriac tradition has been restored to the Liturgy.

You will not find an iconostasis, as that is a Byzantine usage. Instead, you will find a very intricate but beautiful liturgy, which makes much use of the poetry of St. Ephraim. The Eucharistic prayer (anaphora) is said in Aramaic, which is the language spoken by Jesus! Communion is distributed by dipping the Body into the Precious Bloood, and placing it on the communicants tongue by hand. I hope that you have a wonderful visit.

What is the Maronite Divine Office like? Is is much like the Latin Liturgy of the Hours?

There is a considerable difference between the Maronite Divine Office and the Latin Liturgy of the Hours. Although I have never prayed the Maronite Divine Office, I hear that it is extremely beautiful. In the Maronite Church Vespers is called “Ramsho” and Matins is called “Safro.”

My question concerns ecclesiastical titles in the Maronite Church. What are the various offices and ranks of this Church and what are the titles to both verbally address (e.g. Your Excellency) and to address in writing (e.g. Most Reverend)

The head of the Maronite Catholic Church is a Patriarch. The current leader is Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir, who has reigned since 1986. He is addressed as “Your Beatitude.”

The Maronite Church also has chorbishops. Here is what Fr. Deacon Lance Weakland says about chorbishops:

“In regards to chorbishops what you wrote was true, chorbishops were the equivalent of a Latin auxillary bishop with the appointment of episcopal vicar. However, in current Eastern Catholic practice, the office of chorbishop is much like our office of archimandrite and does not include episcopal consecration. It is conferred during the liturgy and the recipient is given use of some pontifical insignia like the gold pectoral cross, ring, crosier, and masnaphtho (amice-like hood). He may or may not have added office or jurisdiction like protosyncellus (vicar general) or syncellus (episcopal vicar). Currently this title is used among the Maronites, Syrians, Malankars, and Chaldeans.”

I believe that otherwise the Maronites use the same titles that are found in the Latin Church.

Of all the Eastern Churches, why is it that the Maronite Church hasn’t produced as may icons as the Byzantine or Melkite Churches?

Actually, the Maronite Church does have its own distinctive style of iconography. Unfortunately, because of the Crusades and the resulting influence of French culture in Lebanon, much of the Maronite iconographic tradition was lost and replaced with Western statues. Thus, today many Maronite Churches have no iconography and only use statues.

The Second Vatican Council requires all Eastern Catholic Churches to recapture their authentic traditions, even those that have apparently been lost. For the Maronite Church this includes recapturing its tradition of iconography. I have heard of some places where this is occuring, but progress is slow. Hopefully more young Maronites will come to realize the value of this tradition, and will take steps to restore it.