Sunday, August 03, 2008

Different "Forms" of Catholicism

Recently, I began a Catholic Q&A in the bulletin for my parish. I think that offering my knowledge in this way is very helpful because, a lot of times, the reason people leave the Church is because there was no one there to answer their questions. I want to resolve any confusion that might be out there and help my parish to see what a blessing it is to be Catholic.

For the first two Sundays, I drew from my blog. After all, I've answered around 150 questions since I started this blog two years ago. But, I am now receiving questions from the parishioners! Praise God!! This really excites me and I hope it continues.

Here is one of the questions I received, via email:

What is the difference between "Roman Catholic" and "Catholic”? What sets the Eastern Orthodox Catholics apart from us? Are there several different forms of Catholic faith?
This can get complicated, and I am certainly not an expert, so I hope you all will bear with me.

Now, before we begin, it will be helpful to define what a “rite” is. In this context, a “rite” is a family of Catholic liturgical, ecclesiastical, and theological traditions. The Catechism of the Catholic Church lists seven such rites: Latin (principally the Roman rite, but also the rites of certain local churches, such as the Ambrosian rite, or those of certain religious orders), Byzantine, Alexandrian (or Coptic), Syriac, Armenian, Maronite and Chaldean (see no. 1203).

The reason there are different rites in the one Catholic Church is because, as the apostles and their successors brought the teachings of Christ to the different major cultural centers of their day, it was often necessary to take the essential elements of the faith and “clothe them,” so to speak, in the symbols and language of the particular people, so that the liturgy would convey the desired spiritual meaning to that culture. The result is a different way of celebrating the sacraments and a different way of expressing the one, true faith.

Knowing this, we can now address your questions. Usually when people use the phrase “Roman Catholic,” they are using it in an informal manner to refer to the one, universal Catholic Church. In that sense, the phrases “Roman Catholic” and “Catholic” mean the same thing. But, when speaking precisely, or in a theological context, the phrase “Roman Catholic” refers specifically to those Catholics of the Latin Rite who follow the liturgical and theological traditions of Rome. The vast majority of Catholics in the Western Hemisphere and in Western Europe are Roman Catholics of the Latin Rite. Our parish is a Latin Rite parish.

Catholics who do not follow the traditions of the Latin Rite are called “Eastern Rite Catholics.” These Catholics live predominantly in lands that were once part of the Eastern Roman Empire, which was centered in Constantinople. However, there are Eastern Catholics in the West as well, mostly due to the migration of Eastern peoples fleeing religious or ethnic persecution. The Eastern rites are the remaining six rites that were listed above from the Catechism.

That said, note that there is a distinct difference between Catholics of the Eastern rites and the Eastern Orthodox. It is very important not to confuse the two. The Eastern Orthodox, while they share many liturgical and theological traditions with Eastern Catholics and even have all seven Sacraments, do not acknowledge the authority of the Pope. They differ with the Catholic Church on a few doctrinal matters as well. Thus, they cannot be considered “Catholic” as such. However, the Christians in the East who do acknowledge the Pope are truly Catholic and their rites have the same dignity as those of the West.

Together, these seven Rites give witness to the truly “catholic” or “universal” nature of the Church. In Her is room for a wide variety of cultures, languages, and peoples. Praise be to God!

Pax Christi,


  1. This bulletin board sounds like a great idea! How did you get one started? Let us know how it does.

  2. My Dad left the Catholic church because when he went to his parish for answers regarding his parents' divorce, he felt rejected and overlooked...

    Thanks for the post. I often get confused between Catholic, Roman Catholic, Irish Catholic, Eastern Catholic, etc... lol.


  3. christina.......It's not a bulletin "board", it's the church bulletin, ya know, that thing you get at the end of mass that has the mass times, and information that the parishioners need to know, and stuff like that.

    alycin........I can't tell you how many stories I've heard that I just like what happened to your dad. It's about time we did something about it.

  4. A great way for the parish to get to know a little about you and also a great way to gain a little respect from those that might not come in contact with you. Good Luck. You will do great.

  5. Just stumbled across your site on DDN - started to reply, but site went blank - hope this doesn't show-up as duplicate.
    Firstly, let me commend you for educating Catholics about their own Faith/Church; as an Eastern Catholic in the Dayton area (Ruthenian Byzantine - made up mostly of Ukrainians, Slovaks, Romanians, Greeks)we are used to the fact that most Latin Catholics in N. America think they are the only Catholics, when, in fact, there are approx. 26 "Catholic Churches" in the world. (By-the-way- "Rite" is somewhat outmoded - as is another term we used to be known as = "Greek Catholics", & "Uniates")
    There are two Eastern Catholic Parishes in Dayton - us - St. Barbara Byzantine Catholic
    Church - sharing facilities w/ St. Stephen Latin Catholic Church 1114 Troy St. Dayton, OH 45404 223-8306 w/resident, full time Priest - Rev. Fr. John Kapitan. Services @ 6 p.m. each Thursday - third Thurs. each month, "Respect for Life" Liturgy; and every Saturday # 5 p.m.
    We are "Ruthenian Byzantine" - w/ethnic background mostly Ukrainian, Slovak,Greek, Romanian, along w/ some Latin Catholics who appreciate the fact that we have changed nothing over the centuries. Vatican II had no effect upon us. Sorry, no women on the alter; no choir - Church Fathers felt it would detract from solemnity - Parishoners & Priest both face East during services - toward Jerusalem. No one "assists" in distribution of Holy Communion - Priest distributes w/Golden spoon under both species - wine & bread. And yes, sorry for the Latins - we do have a married Priesthood.The other Byzantine Parish in Dayton area is a Maronite Parish - from Lebanon - same Liturgy, but w/Arabic flavor.
    We do practice an Orthodox "Divine Liturgy" (vs. "Mass" - Western term) and haven't changed anything. Services may seem longer, 1hr., 11/2 - 1/3/4 hr. depending, and we stand vs. kneeling, all is chanted, w/incense, bowing vs. genuflecting, we don't use choir, the Parishioners sing all responses.
    Side note - We (Rome & Constantinople) excommunicated each other for about 500yrs. until Rome agreed we could keep our traditions and Liturgy.
    Our Metropolitan Archbishop (more authority & autonomy than Latin "Archbishop" is seated in Pittsburgh. Our local Bishop is seated in Parma (Cleve area)
    All are welcomed for services - Communion is valid for all Catholics including children - "The East" has always distributed the Eucharist to children vs. the West's practice of only after "1stCommunion" instruction,

    Come see us - as your Catholic Brethren of a different, unchanging, faithful, prayerful, community of "The Light of The East" in S.W. Ohio.

  6. I just stumbled onto your site and it is very refreshing! I am so very new and technologically challenged but I am learning! I like what I have read thus far! Keep up the good work!

  7. Anonymous is right on this. There are about 26 or so Eastern Catholic Churches. Phatcatholic is thinking of the seven liturgical rites (i.e., liturgies other than the Roman Rites employed by these 26 Eastern Catholics or Orthodox, so to speak).

    Interestingly, all but one of these Eastern Catholic Churches has an Orthodox (i.e., not in communion with Rome) counterpart. The Maronite Catholics have no Orthodox counterpart. There's no such thing as a Maronite Orthodox.

    For historical reasons, they had been isolated from the rest of Christianity and Europe from the 7th to the 12th century. When they were rediscovered by the Crusaders in the early 12th century, and were asked if they were in union with the pope, they responded "Of course." They had no idea of the schism of 1054!!

  8. Nicholas,

    I am glad that "anonymous" and "bro. thomas" corrected one of your two major mistakes -- namely, the fact that you mistakenly used the word, "rite," when you should have used the word, "church." For many years, "rite" was misused in the way you did, but (at the Eastern churches' request) the Holy See now properly uses the word, "church." You can verify this by looking at documents -- for example, the Canon Law Code used by the Eastern churches. The word, "rite," refers not to bodies of people, but to liturgical celebrations.

    The second major mistake that you made was to say/imply that the term "Roman Catholic" is an official, legitimate term that is used to refer to the whole Catholic Church or to the Latin/Western Catholic church. In fact, it is NOT an official and legitimate term.

    The phrase, "Roman Catholic," is NOT used on much of planet Earth. It is a pejorative term coined in 16th- or 17th-Century England to label genuine Catholics as being treasonous subjects of a foreign (Roman) prince. Nowadays, you will find the term CONFUSINGLY being used by SOME English-speaking people in the two ways that you mentioned. In my long life, I have found that, if a Western Catholic uses it, he almost always is referring to the ENTIRE Church; and I have found that, if an Eastern Catholic used it, he ALWAYS is referring to the Latin Church.

    In fact, however, you can SCOUR the entire text of the following, and you will NOT find the phrase, "Roman Catholic:"
    1. documents of Vatican II
    2. Codes of Canon Law (West and East)
    3. papal documents of your lifetime
    4. Catechism of the Catholic Church.

    For many years, I have been urging Catholics NOT to refer to themselves or others as "Roman Catholics," an illegitimate term that makes Hank VIII and/or Liz I giggle in their graves.

  9. I forgot to "sign" the above comment (made on 8/8/08 at 3:11). I also forgot to mention that the term, "Roman Church" (or "Holy Roman Church" or "Holy Roman and Apostolic Church") is NOT synonymous with "Catholic Church" nor with "Roman Catholic Church." Instead, "Roman Church" (with or without the other adjectives) refers to the DIOCESE of Rome, the local church of which the pope is the Bishop. MANY people misunderstand this when they read (especially old) Catholic Church documents.

  10. AnUnSi,

    I was just trying to use the word "rite" as the Catechism uses it. I may have misapplied the term in a few instances, but my intentions were good. I never meant to disparage the Church in the East.

    As for my second "major mistake," in no way did I assert that "Catholic" and "Roman Catholic" mean the same thing. I said that most people use the phrases interchangeable in their every-day language. But, I never said that made it correct. I know for a fact that they do not mean the same thing, and I pointed that out when I mentioned their precise meanings.

    I can tell that this is a very sensitive subject for you, and I'm sorry I ruffled your feathers. I said in the very beginning that I'm not an expert at this stuff. Try to go easy on guys like me.

    Pax Christi,

  11. Thank you for this most helpful and informative article. I was just reading a discussion at Catholic Answers Forums on the difference between the Orthodox and Eastern Catholics - I always thought they were the same...

    Thanks for helping to sort it out!

  12. God bless you for teaching the Truth of our Faith!!! It's certainly not easy being Catholic, and even harder when you are the one having to defend the answers!

    God Bless,


    Fearlessly exploring mainstream media from a Catholic view

  13. I enjoy your blog. Here's my Catholic blog:

    I'm still working on the looks, and it is my more serious side but I hope you enjoy it.

  14. Hey, Phatcatholic, long time, no posting... how's it going?


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