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1990 Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches
“Canon 28 – A rite is the liturgical, theological, spiritual and disciplinary patrimony, culture and circumstances of history of a distinct people, by which its own manner of living the faith is manifested in each Church sui iuris.”
A rite is an expression of individuality, identity and heritage, the distinguishing characteristics of a country or people. It is a sacred link that joins a people with its ancestors.
A rite in the Catholic Church is therefore the expression of the one and same teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ, through the diverse liturgical rites and traditions of generations of Christians in their countries and places of origin.
A rite derives its sacredness and significance through the words and actions, performed by a priest when celebrating the liturgy or administering a sacrament.
The purpose of the Catholic Church is to, perfect and bless its people. The Church achieves this through religious expression―the celebration of the diverse rites of the liturgy and the sacraments.
The beauty of the Catholic Church is it is a permanent, living Church for all times and peoples―universal, catholic, and apostolic―because it embraces with equal love diverse peoples, cultures, civilisations, and traditions.
The Vatican II Council were faithfully obedient to tradition when they declared in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy No 4 and Decree on Eastern Catholic Churches No 3 that
The Byzantine Rite is Greek in origin. Its value is in the significance, richness, and majesty of its rites, which bear witness through the ages to the universality of the Church and of this we should be proud.
In our Byzantine Rite the Divine Liturgy is an expression and declaration of our faith. We prioritise ‘making heaven present’ through the presentation of icons, use of incense and repeating gestures at significant parts of the Divine Liturgy. There is more ceremony, singing and chanting compared to the Western liturgy. Nonetheless, East and West express their faith in worship, and our prayers reveal the Christian faith we all hold so firmly.
OUR RICH HERITAGE
People can be confused when we refer to being a Catholic of the Eastern Rite. Typically, when discussing being Catholic, most people are familiar with, being Roman Catholic or precisely a Catholic of the Roman Rite within the Latin Catholic Church.
The Catholic Church, however, is much more diverse and when you understand this diversity, you can appreciate the beautiful heritage of the Eastern Catholic Churches. Roman Catholics and others who have worshipped in our Melkite Catholic Church rejoice in the Byzantine Rite and know they are privileged to have experienced it.
Foremost, there is just the Catholic Church, and the Catholic Church is comprised of six different liturgical rites and within these six rites there are 24 Churches. These 24 Churches are, sui iuris, which means autonomous or self-governing and all are in communion with one another, all are within the Catholic Church, and all recognise the authority of the Pope.
A Catholic of a sui iuris Church may receive the sacraments and fulfil their obligations by attending Mass or Divine Liturgy, as it is called in the Eastern Rites, in any of the 24 Catholic Churches.
The Latin Catholic Church is the largest of the 24 Churches and is the only Western Church. The other 23 Catholic Churches are the Eastern Churches and have their own traditions and rites of liturgy but retain the basic liturgical structures and theology of the West.
The Byzantine Rite of Constantinople (Byzantium) is the largest in the Eastern Churches. Constantinople, home of the Imperial Court, granted special honours to the Patriarch of Constantinople. The Patriarch ranked second to the Pope of Rome, or even held at times, an apparent first. To this day, the liturgical pageantry are magnificently displayed in the hierarchical vestments, particularly at pontifical celebrations. The tradition of Byzantium is reflected in architecture, art, sacred, and theological writings.
Here are the six rites of the Catholic Church, and the 24 sui iuris Churches within them.
“Holy Mother Church holds all lawfully acknowledged rites to be of equal right and dignity; that she wishes to preserve them in the future and to foster them in every way.”
I. Latin (or Roman) Catholic Church
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