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Understanding Eastern Catholicism from a Maronite Point Of View
Loc: Las Vegas, NV
Since many Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox do not have a clear understanding of the nature of the Eastern Catholic Churches here are some points so that you all understand a little better. All that is posted below is reprinted with permission.
CYT refers to "Captivated by Your Teachings: a Resource for Adult Maronite Catholics," by Fr. Anthony Salim, Education Director for the Eparchy of Our Lady of Los Angeles. Page numbers in CYT are given at the end of each answer for those who would like to pursue the topic further.
Poosh BaShlomo Lkhoolkhoon,
What is catechesis?
Since this is a website of an office of religious education, it might be good to begin with a general question about this area.
Passing on the Catholic Faith in all its purity and with clarity and love is a central task of the mission of the Christian Church. For Catholics religious education has long played a key role in helping to pass on that Faith.
People in the field regularly make a distinction between catechesis, religious education and evangelization.
Catechesis comes from a Greek root: kata (“back”) and echo (“echo”). So catechesis is the process by which the Faith, proclaimed, shouted from the rooftops, is received and given back. It is a sort of dialog of faith. Over the centuries the Faith has been echoed back and shouted forward in the beautiful and enriching tradition of the Church. We recognize related words such as catechism, catechetical, or catechumen.
Catechesis is usually understood to be the more academic part of that process. Since we use our God-given minds at the service of the Faith, we do reflection on the content of revelation of truths given to us by our God.
Religious education, on the other hand, usually refers to the practical sharing of catechesis in many learning settings: adult discussion groups; sacramental preparation; the catechumenate; youth ministry, or elementary formation. Here, skill in the classroom and administrative expertise aid catechists and staffs to organize the learning process in an effective and faith-filled manner.
One area to be mentioned deals with the pre-catechetical mission of sharing the Good News of the Gospel. That is evangelization, as the Greek-based name implies. There are an increasing number of those who have never heard of Gospel or Church (the so-called “unChurched”) and those who have left the active practice of churchgoing (the “deChurched”). We must so positively represent the Christian Faith that others will be led to Christ and (back to) the Church.
What forms do catechesis and religious education take in the Eastern Catholic Churches in the United States?
Eastern Catholics in the United States do catechesis and religious education most properly on their own terms, i.e., according to their unique Traditions, yet also ways similar to the American approach that the US Roman Catholic Church also employs.
If you look at the ways in which the Faith is traditionally passed on in the East, you find that the things that are emphasized in Eastern Catholic catechesis and religious education are different from the West. Western Catholicism has had a long-standing emphasis on the rational and systematic ordering of Church beliefs. Since the Middle Ages the approach to theology has been described as “faith seeking understanding” (fides quaerens intellectum). Using certain categories such as “The Trinity,” “Grace,” “The Sacraments,” et al., has helped define these areas of belief rather strictly.
The Eastern Churches, however, have not usually been so similarly systematic. For us, all the truths of our Catholic heritage have been embodied and celebrated in a liturgical setting―icons, chant and more―and a rich prayer life. We have tended to sing our faith more than categorize it.
In his apostolic letter, Orientale Lumen, Pope John Paul II acknowledges that the East and West have used different methods and approaches in the study of revealed truth. He also expresses no surprise that one tradition may come
… nearer to a full appreciation of some aspects of a mystery of revelation than the other, or has expressed them better. In such cases, these various theological formulations are often to be considered complementary rather than conflicting. Indeed, in comparison to any other culture, the Christian East has a unique and privileged role as the original setting where the Church was born (¶5).
On the other hand, in these days, we see increasingly that a more systematic approach is needed for the East. Indeed, this is possible, just as the opposite is true: the West has increasingly begun to see how beneficial it is to concentrate more on the liturgical aspect of presenting the Faith.
(CYT, Introduction, pp. x-xi.)
How do Maronite Catholics pass on the Faith?
Maronite liturgy teaches. In the Qoorbono (“Service of the Holy Mysteries,” or “Divine Liturgy”) as well as in the Divine Office (Ramsho [Evening Prayer], Safro [Morning Prayer] and the other Hours) and the sacramental Mysteries, all we need to know about being a faithful Catholic, Maronite-style, is clearly expressed, if only we know how to look for it. All through the Liturgical Year, as we follow the life of Christ and of his Saints, we are reminded of all that God wants us to know for our salvation. The Church helps us to find its teachings through the Holy Scripture assigned for the days and feasts, accompanied by the prayers also assigned for the feast. These are found in the Readings from the Lectionary. In these Readings God still reveals today. In addition, the Syriac part of our Tradition gives us a clear guide to interpreting the Scriptures in a balanced and truly Catholic way by means of a special prayer of the Service of the Word called the Hoosoyo, or “prayer of forgiveness.” This prayer, peculiar to the Syriac Tradition, expresses the theme of worship for the day and helps to prepare us for hearing the Word of God more effectively. (CYT, Introduction, p. xi.)
How can Maronite Eastern Catholic students in the Third Millennium learn about their Faith today?
Since students in the US learn in specifically American ways in their schools, it makes sense that these methodologies would be used in Maronite catechetical materials. Of course, there are other ways of learning than the classroom setting. The Faith is passed on in and through the family. The liturgy and the pattern of the Liturgical Year in the lectionary teach. The bottom line, so to speak, is that the values of the Tradition be passed on.
What (Who) are the Eastern Catholic Churches?
As early as the beginning of the 2nd century A.D. the famous Syrian bishop, Ignatius of Antioch, called the Christian Church “Catholic,” meaning, “Universal.” This was because (as the Greek root of that word implies) Christians were in unity all over the then known world. This unity lasted until the heresies of the 4th and 5th centuries began ripping apart the fabric of the Church.
During her early missionary expansion around the Mediterranean and into Persia and even into China and India, the Church adapted to the languages, customs, thought patterns and spiritualities of the areas in which she took root. Thus, while the early Catholic Churches agreed on the set of beliefs stated in the Creeds and celebrated in her diverse liturgies, these Churches appeared different in their outward expressions. Christians in Antioch celebrated the faith differently from those in Rome, and these in turn differed from Christians in Alexandria and the Kerala Coast of India and other places. Yet all were Churches of the Universal Catholic Church, a “Communion” of Churches. By Communion is meant here the bonds of faith and Christian love and mutual respect.
The 5th century was not the only time that Christians separated from mutual communion. The 11th century saw the “last straw” in a separation between Latin West and Greek-Byzantine East. This estrangement preceded the watershed date of 1054 A.D., and its final effect took place well afterwards in the destruction of Constantinople, home of the Byzantine Church. “Orthodox” became a formal name of the majority of Eastern Christians.
Between the Syrian, Egyptian, Persian, Armenian and Indian Churches that separated in the 5th century and the Byzantines in the 11th, the Second Millennium was a time when the majority of the East was estranged from Rome.
The only exceptions are the Maronite Catholics of the Middle East and the Italo-Albanian Greek-Byzantine Catholics of southern Italy. Both Churches claim never to have broken their communion with the See of Rome.
Beginning in the 16th century and even into the 20th, and for various reasons, groups of these separated Christians decided to re-establish communion with Rome. They were certainly not the majority within their individual Churches, but they were significant. These are what are today known as the Eastern Catholic Churches. Thus, all but the Maronites and the Italo-Albanians have Orthodox counterpart Churches.
(See Chapter 7 of CYT, especially the diagrams on pp. 90 & 98.)
How can I learn more about the Eastern Catholic Churches?
Happily, there are many accurate and readable materials available today on the Eastern Churches in general and the Eastern Catholic Churches in particular.
One good place to begin is Chapter 7 of Captivated by Your Teachings: a Resource for Adult Maronite Catholics (E.T. Nedder Publications, Phoenix, AZ, or through this Religious Education Office.) There are helpful maps and diagrams, as well as helpful writing. (See website Home Page.)
One online source (or hard copy version, if you prefer) is the excellent monthly periodical from the Catholic Bishops' Conference (USCCB) subcommittee in Ecumenical and Interfaith Affairs, executive secretary: Fr. Ron Roberson. Please check this out at:
Edited by Ronald G. Roberson, CSP
Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs
3211 Fourth Street, NE
Washington, DC 20017-1194
Tel: (202) 541-3020 Fax: (202) 541-3183
The USCCB has also published a helpful document called Eastern Catholics in the United States of America. We stock it here in the Office; cost $2.00. Well done and clearly written.
A new publication, and to me the best of its kind, is a pamphlet entitled, “The One Church and the Communion of Churches,” by the Missionaries for the Faith (Fr. Tony Bakh, general editor). Its strong point is that it is readable and gives historical background concisely. It is available here also for $2.00.
In addition, the website of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association has an online version of Roberson essential book on the topic. Please visit CNEWA.org and click under “Resources.”
Then are the Eastern Catholic Churches a part of the Roman Catholic Church?
No. The Roman Catholic Church is the Western Church of the Latin Tradition. The 21 autonomous Eastern Catholic Churches have their diverse origins in five Traditions: Byzantine (the largest and most diverse, with 13 Churches); the Antiochene (3 Churches); the Alexandrine (2 Churches); the Assyrian-Chaldean Church of the East (2 Churches), and the Armenian Tradition. All these Catholic Churches of diverse Traditions are “in communion” with the Roman Catholic Church, not part of it. (CYT, p. 65)
Are the Eastern Catholic Churches “under the Pope?”
This question, often asked like this, is actually inaccurately phrased. The phrase, “under the Pope,” reflects a way of looking at the structure of the Catholic Church that can no longer be maintained. Understood incorrectly, the phrase, “under the Pope,” could imply a status for the Bishop of Rome that is almost like describing him as a king, which of course he is not. Yet, as some Christians, including some Catholics, use this phrase, their view is, maybe unconsciously, this.
As explained above, the Catholic Church now recognizes once more the view of the Church (i.e., “ecclesiology”) that was more common in the First Millennium, the Communion of Churches. In such a view each Church in communion with the Apostolic See of Rome has its own head, who cares for the members of that Particular Church.
So are we “under the Pope”? In this nuanced way, yes. The entire Catholic Church is under the pastoral care of the Bishop of Rome. Yet even John Paul II has publicly preferred the better phrase, “in communion.” (CYT, pp. 61-62)
What is the proper role (or function) of the Bishop of Rome?
Within the Communion of Churches, and from the earliest days of the Church’s life, the Bishop of Rome―because both Sts. Peter and Paul died there―held the first place of honor among the bishops of the Universal Church. He was looked to for primarily two things: 1) to be the principle of unity on the whole Catholic Church, and 2) to be the final word in doctrinal disputes. In our own day, the Pope of Rome, John Paul II, in his 1995 document, “That All May Be One” (Latin: Ut Unum Sint) referred to himself consistently as the “Bishop of Rome,” who acts as a principle of unity and as a “moderator” for Church teaching. (CYT, pp. 64-65)
Why are some Roman Catholics nervous in hearing that the Eastern Catholic Churches are not part of the Roman Catholic Church?
Some people get nervous over this idea because they incorrectly think that it is a denial of authentic Catholicism, which they mistakenly equate with Roman Catholicism. They are thinking that the Catholic norm, or standard, is Roman Catholicism. It is not. Catholic Identity is not monolithic in expression; it is pluralistic, and (as seen above) was so from the beginning.
What then is “Catholic Identity?”
Being a Catholic has basically two different faces: a common one and a plural one. There are fundamentally three things that make a Catholic a Catholic, namely:
An acceptance of an approved set of dogmas (truths revealed by God) proclaimed as such by the Bishop (Pope) of Rome in union with all his brother bishops in the Catholic world;
A realization that Catholic life is sacramental. This means that the created universe reflects and points back to the glory of the Creator and that God uses the things of the world as means to sanctify us (bread, wine, oil, water, prayers, etc.).
The Church of Christ is governed by a many-leveled system of authority, administration and ministries. This extends from the bishops chief of whom is the Bishop of Rome to the priests and deacons in a parish, with all of their helpers. The Church speaks of a “hierarchical structure.”
Beyond this common Catholic Identity, there are the many Catholic Identities of the 22 autonomous Catholic Churches, East and West, in the Catholic Communion. Within these is a vast array of customs, languages, theologies, spiritualities and disciplines that have characterized them from ancient times. All of these celebrate the one fundamental Catholic Identity in a marvelous pluralism.
What is the Maronite Catholic Church?
The Maronite Eastern Catholic Church, one of the five Syriac-speaking Churches within the Catholic Communion of Churches, is that Catholic Community that follows its own version of the Antiochene West Syriac Rite and lives out the message of the Gospel of Jesus in the spirit and memory of St. Maron, hermit and monk of the 4th/5th century A.D.
(CYT, Chapter 8)
What are the other four (of five) Syriac-speaking Churches?
Along with the Maronite Church the West Syriac Tradition includes the Syriac Catholic Church, whose non-Catholic counterpart is the Syrian Orthodox (Jacobite) Church; and the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church of the Kerala Coast of southern India, whose counterpart is the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church.
The East Syriac Tradition includes the Chaldean Catholic Church, whose counterpart is the Assyrian Church of the East (related to the Nestorian tradition), and the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church of Kerala, India, whose counterpart are the so-called “Thomas Christians”). (CYT, pp. 94-96)
What are the chief characteristics of the Maronite Catholic Church?
They are three:
The city of Antioch, in ancient Syria, third largest city in the Roman Empire, was a place of two cultures: the Hellenistic-Greek culture of Roman learning, commerce and government, and the Syriac culture of the surrounding areas. St. Maron withdrew from this “big city” culture to a place of hermitage on the Orontes River, the river that flowed through Antioch. From this source the Maronite Church reads the Bible with an eye to history and to the literal (but not literalistic, or fundamentalist) meaning of the sacred text as the starting point for interpretation. Also here is the source for the true appreciation of the human side of the Mystery of Jesus, at once human and divine.
The ancient Mesopotamian Christianity of Edessa and Nisibis. These cities were between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. Here developed the famous theological “Schools” of Edessa and Nisibis, and gave birth to Church Fathers such as St. Ephrem, “Harp of the Holy Spirit”; Aphrahat, the “Persian Sage,” and Jacob (James) of Sarug (i.e., Batnae). From this source the Maronite Church gets its soaring, poetical approach to liturgy and indeed the whole Tradition.
The spirit of monasticism, which had an early foothold in Syria, and is well exemplified by the Father of the Maronite Church, St. Maron. From this Maronites derive a respect for the practice of fasting and simplicity of living.
Who is the head of the Maronite Catholic Church?
Jesus Christ is the Head, not only of the Maronite Church, but also of the Catholic Church worldwide. On earth, the head of the Maronite Church is the Maronite Patriarch. Within his own Church the Maronite Patriarch is the Chief Bishop of the Maronite Synod of Bishops. (A synod is an assembly that functions as the governing and teaching body of a Particular Church. However, due to the individual histories and circumstances of the diverse Eastern Catholic Churches, not all have Patriarchs.) There are six Eastern Catholic Churches that are patriarchal (that is, headed by a patriarch), in order of size of population: the Maronite Catholic Church; the Melkite Greek Catholic Church; the Armenian Catholic Church; the Chaldean Catholic Church; the Coptic Catholic Church, and the Syriac Catholic Church.
(CYT, pp. 65, 90)
Can one become a member of the Maronite Catholic Church?
Yes. One can become a member of the Maronite Catholic Church in three basic ways: by baptism, by petition and by election.
Baptism. An infant becomes a member by baptism when the father is a Maronite Catholic. Also, if the father of the infant is a Catholic of another ritual Church (for example, a Melkite Catholic or a Latin Catholic) but the mother is Maronite, their children may be designated in the Maronite Church of the mother if: 1) both parents agree to it, and 2) if they clearly inform the Maronite pastor when they and the godparents are taking the pre-Jordan preparation classes or at least before the actual Baptism-Chrismation takes place. The pastor has the duty to note in the parish sacramental register that the child has been designated as a Maronite Catholic, and this designation is to be stated on any baptismal certificates issued at a later date. A catechumen (i.e., and adult who has never been baptized) has the freedom to choose the Maronite Church at baptism. (CYT, p. 340)
Petition. Any Catholic 14 years old or older wishing to change membership from one Catholic ritual Church to another (for example, from Armenian Catholic to Maronite Catholic) may do so by writing a letter of petition to the proper bishop and following the consequent procedure. After the transfer takes place, the pastor is to notify the parish of baptism of the one who has transferred for recording into the parish sacramental register. (CYT, p. 342)
Election. A non-Maronite Catholic spouse may elect to join the Maronite Catholic Church at the time of Crowning (Marriage). This option should have already been posed by the priest to the couple in their pre-Crowning preparation, and the proper details worked out before the day of Crowning. After the transfer has taken place, notification of the change of ritual Church membership must be sent to the parish of baptism of the spouse so transferred for recording into the parish sacramental register.
(CYT, p. 342)
Do I have to be of Middle Eastern ethnicity to be a Maronite Catholic?
By no means. (St. Maron himself wasn’t even a Lebanese.) All that is needed is that one desire to worship the Holy Trinity by living out the Gospel according to the Maronite Way.
What is the Maronite Rite?
Rite is prayer ritual, as in the rite of Baptism, or the Rite of the Washing of the Feet on Holy Thursday of Mysteries. Maronite Catholics are classified under the Antiochene (West) Syriac Tradition of the Catholic Communion of Churches, along with Syriac Catholics and the Syro-Malankar Catholics of India. All of these three Syriac Churches also use elements from the East Syriac Church Tradition.
However, over time the Maronite Catholic Church developed its own version of the Antiochene liturgical tradition. This includes the Eucharist (called in Syriac the Qoorbono), the seven sacramental Mysteries (such as Baptism, Crowning, etc.) and the Divine Office. This Maronite version of these prayer forms may collectively be designated as the Maronite Rite of the Antiochene liturgical Tradition.
(CYT, pp. 88-89)
What is the traditional language of the Maronite Rite?
The Maronite Rite (liturgical tradition) first used two languages: Syriac and Greek. This was because in the parent city of the Tradition, Antioch, those that followed the Hellenistic culture of the Roman Empire spoke Greek. Those from the areas east of Antioch used Syriac. An obvious remnant of this is found in the Divine Liturgy with the chanting of Kyrie, eleison (“Lord, have mercy!”) after the Epiklesis. Those who know something of Syriac also realize that the later development of the language adopted more Greek terms, incorporating them into the Syriac language. Proemion is a good example.
(CYT, p. 100)
What is Syriac?
Syriac (SEER ee ak) is a language closely related to Aramaic. Syriac is divided into two basic dialects: eastern (centered in ancient Nisibis and Edessa, in modern-day southern Turkey), and western (centered in Antioch and Palestine). Syriac survived as an academic language for several centuries, as many of the classics of Greek learning were translated into Syriac; and a whole body of original Syriac literature exists. It also served as a liturgical language in the Syriac Churches (of which the Maronite Church is one) even to this day. The metrical homilies of St. Ephrem are a good example of the use of Syriac.
(CYT, p. 405)
Do Maronites still use Syriac and Greek today?
Both Syriac and Greek were once the common languages of the Maronites (and other Christians too). The everyday language of a community is called the “vernacular.” As the centuries progressed and as other languages became the vernaculars of the Maronites in their homeland down through the ages; and as they moved to other parts of the world, the local vernacular was used in Maronite worship. However, since Syriac took on a certain priority of place in the liturgical tradition, Syriac has never ceased to be at least partially used. Today, the Patriarch has affirmed this use of the vernacular in the Introduction to the latest version of the Maronite Qoorbono (Divine Liturgy). But he has also mandated that at least the Hymn of the Trisagion (Liturgy of the Word) and the Words of the Institution of the Last Supper (in the Anaphora) be still the minimum that is to be chanted in Syriac. More may be used by the Celebrant and Congregation if desired.
If English is being used in Maronite parishes in the USA, why should I bother to go to the Maronite parish to worship? I can hear English in my local Latin Church.
Language is important. It conveys meaning. Even if a common vernacular of a country is used for worship, the prayer forms of each liturgical tradition are different. They express not only the “what” of the worship (adoring God’s majesty and thanking God for his blessings) but the “how” of worship. In the case of the Eastern Churches in general, and the Maronite Church in particular, worship language is full of poetry and deep symbolism, something that has been lost in the West. One can only learn this by fruitfully experiencing it firsthand, and for a sustained time. It is no wonder that an Eastern Church pastor frequently hears from his parishioners returning from vacation: “Well, Father, we went to “Mass,” but it just wasn’t the same. We really missed our Liturgy.”
Can one be or become a member of the Maronite Rite?
No, not of a rite. It should be clear from the above that one cannot be a member of a prayer ritual (a rite). One can only FOLLOW a Rite (Antiochene, Byzantine, Latin, Chaldean, Alexandrine, Armenian) or USE or PRAY a rite such as Baptism, Washing of the Feet, etc.).
Rather, it is more proper and accurate to speak of a Catholic being a member of a CHURCH, which Particular (sui iuris) Church thus follows a particular Rite.
For too long people were used to saying that they “belong” to this or that Rite. But that was an older and less precise use of terms that described the reality of the Universal Church. The reasons for this inaccuracy are many and not always enriching. For example, if one says that he or she is a member of a certain Rite of the Church, the implication is that there is only one Church, the Roman Catholic, and Eastern Christians are just persons who use a particular rite of the Roman Church. In fact, there are many Catholic Churches, different from the Roman Church, who follow their own proper Rites.
Since the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) the whole Church is being asked to return to an ancient and more correct way of thinking about Herself, the way of the first 1000 years of the Church’s life, namely the so-called “Communion of Churches.” That view respects the individuality, administration and gifts that each Particular Church in communion with the See of Rome brings the whole Catholic (Universal) Communion of Churches. For example, what do the members of the Maronite Catholic Church bring to the Catholic Church as a whole? Or the Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic Church? Or the Coptic Catholic Church? And so on. (CYT, pp. 88-89)
Why should I bother to learn a new way of speaking about being a “member of a Particular Church”?
First of all, education and learning are good in themselves. THIS, BY THE WAY, EXTENDS TO ALL SPEECH ABOUT EASTERN CATHOLICISM.
Second, if talk about the structure of the Church (ecclesiology) got off track over the centuries of the Second Millennium, as it did, we have a duty to reform, to correct our understanding and our speech.
Third, there is an important ecumenical dimension to this discussion. (By ecumenical we mean that which pertains to Christians of ALL Church communities, not only Catholics.) Today, some Orthodox have again talked about establishing communion with Rome, and the Vatican has in recent years shown an eagerness to be in communion with the Orthodox. However, before this can happen Eastern Catholics must return fully to their ancestral traditions before the Orthodox in turn can be confident enough to say that they will not in any way lose what is also rightfully theirs in re-establishing communion.
Although it takes an effort, Catholics should work at understanding their proper membership in the Catholic Church and try to speak in correct ways about that membership. (CYT, pp. 75-76)
What are some differences between the Maronite Catholic Church and the Latin (Roman Catholic) Church?
Once again, in a very real sense the question is not phrased correctly. First, the question is too limited. There are more than just these two great Churches. There are in fact 20 other Eastern Catholic Churches, and one might accurately ask, “What are the differences between the Maronite Church and these others as well. People generally ask the question in this way (Maronite or Latin) for very good reason: The Roman Catholic Church is quite obviously the largest Catholic Church in the Catholic Communion. Of the one billion Catholics on earth today Eastern Catholics make up only 2%, or 20 million. When people think of Catholic, they most likely think: Roman Catholic.
This brings up the added consideration. Namely, that since the Roman Catholic Church is the largest and the one that most people see, it is too easy to get the mistaken notion that the “normal” way of being Catholic is Roman Catholic. Of course this isn’t so. Eastern Catholics must learn how to promote themselves more effectively (one good example is this website). Latin Catholics must promise to learn more about the Eastern Traditions and to help in their way to promote them—in Churches, schools, parish schools of religion, the RCIA, etc.
Having said all this, some similarities and differences are:
Probably the best-known fact about the diversity within the Eastern Churches regards their liturgical traditions. This includes the form of the Eucharistic Service as well as those of the seven Mysteries and the Divine Office. There are many different traditional Eastern liturgical languages—such as Greek, Old Slavonic, Syriac, Ge’ez, Coptic, and Armenian—many of which are still used, even though most are no longer living vernaculars. Nevertheless, use of the vernacular has been and still is the rule.
Not unexpectedly, there are sacramental differences too. The forms of the seven sacramental Mysteries differ greatly. Also, the administration of some of the Holy Mysteries differs. One obvious example is with the Mysteries of Initiation. Baptism given to infants is immediately followed by the administration of Chrismation (West: “Confirmation”) in all the Eastern Catholic Churches.
Since Chrismation may only be given once, care must be taken that Eastern Catholic children in Roman Catholic settings (such as schools) do not receive Chrismation again. Roman Catholic pastors as well as those catechetical persons in charge of sacramental programs must take care to observe this.
In the Byzantine Churches Eucharist is also given to the infant, who afterwards may receive Holy Communion at any time. The Maronite Patriarchal Liturgical Commission has been studying the possibility of the Maronite Church returning to its proper tradition of Communion at Baptism as well.
While all live by the Word of God in the Scriptures, the lectionaries of the Churches differ, reflecting the genius, theology and liturgical understandings of the interpretation of the Word. Some Sundays accord in the Churches. For example on the Sunday after Pascha (Easter) the Gospel about (Believing!) Thomas is read. Christmas and Easter (therefore, Pentecost) are celebrated on the same days in the Catholic Churches, except where permission is given in some places to celebrate Orthodox Pascha with a contiguous Orthodox population. Also, not all holy days are the same in all the Churches.
Eastern Church theology differs from Western theology. Even among Eastern Traditions themselves there are differing theological differences. What is important to note here is that the elements of basic Catholic theology cannot contradict each other. Rather, what we are dealing with are particular emphases of theology that each Tradition embraced in its initial evangelizing and subsequent development. Everyone knows, for example, of the debates of the early Councils over questions of Christology. The liturgies, theologies and spiritualities that followed upon these emphases have perdured up to the present moment.
Eastern Christians favor the use of icons in sacred artistic expression. One may think of icons as theology in color. As with statues in the Western Church, it is not the image that is worshiped or venerated, rather it is the sacred persons they depict.
Customs differ quite widely. Perhaps more than much else, this area is the practical expression of one’s particular Catholic Identity. Whether it is a particular way to make the Sign of the Cross, or on what days water is blessed, or what foods are prepared or avoided on a certain feast day, particular customs are what distinguish one type of Catholic Christian from another.
Finally, the Eastern Churches have their own code of canons (i.e., laws), separate from that of the Western Church, to govern the faithful. The Eastern code serves general Eastern law, while at the same time allowing for the individual discipline of each Eastern Church. (CYT, Appendix I)
What must I do to be crowned (i.e., married) in the Maronite Catholic Church?
Perhaps in no other sacramental Mystery are the laws about receiving this Mystery so complex. For a Crowning to be recognized officially by the Church, these regulations must be observed. The reason for this is bound up with the very complex development of Crowning in the history of the Church, East and West. This section doesn’t pretend to present all the details. However, again, it is the responsibility of the witnessing minister to see to it that all conditions are fulfilled, particularly if the Crowning involves two parties of different ritual Catholic Churches; between a Catholic and a non-Catholic, or between a Catholic and a non-baptized person.
Is there any special ceremony for engagement?
A traditional Eastern Church practice that has fallen into disuse in some parts of the Maronite Church is the Rite of Betrothal, or formal engagement. As with many Christian customs, this ceremony has its roots in the Jewish practice of Jesus’ time (see Mt 1:18).
This ceremony is usually done in the home of the parents of the bride, but it may also be done in the parish church. It is a simple acknowledgment of the commitment of the couple, accompanied by the blessing of jewelry given to one or both of the couple. Some pastors recently have seen in this ceremony an opportunity to initiate the six-month Crowning preparation program.
How do I begin the process of preparing for my wedding?
Pastorally, it is important to recognize that in a day of lessened sense of community in the Church, and lessened sense about commitment among people in general, effective pastoral preparation is essential. Most jurisdictions demand a six-month preparation program, in which the couple are introduced to the life of the local parish community and are also tested and directed concerning the quality of their commitment. This preparation must not be seen as a period of delay before the wedding can take place, but rather (positively) as an opportunity to prepare to marry well. All Catholic Crownings require certain procedures to be
done, including necessary forms to be completed, before the wedding can take place. In addition to the requirements of the Church, the couple must also satisfy the demands of civil law as well; however, Crowning in the United States does not require a separate ceremony, as the State recognizes the authority of a Catholic minister in good standing to witness to the ceremony (in some states, the minister must register his ordination). One begins by making an appointment with the pastor or his delegated staff person.
In what ritual Church am I to be married?
In general, Church Law still starts with the ritual Church of the groom, if he is Catholic, or reverts to the bride, if she is the only Catholic partner. If the groom is Eastern, jurisdiction is generally simpler. Unlike the Latin Rite custom of marriage in the bride’s parish (if both are of the same ritual Church, e.g., two Byzantines, two Latins, two Maronites, etc.), in a mixed-Rite Catholic Crowning, the ceremony is expected to be in the parish of the groom. Dispensations for these and other details are possible (and usually easy), but must always go through the proper bishop’s office.
Marriage between Catholics and Christians of other Traditions is, of course, possible; and such marriages have increased significantly in the days of ecumenism after the Council. In addition, it is possible to contract marriage with persons of other faiths, as well as non-baptized persons. Certain rules govern these weddings as well. The ceremony is presumed to be completely in the Rite of the Catholic groom, and the prayers of the actual ceremony may not be changed, for example, to mix the prayers or gestures of another Tradition with the Maronite ritual, or to compose other words for the ceremony. The wedding ceremony in general should respect the proper Tradition, which includes the crowning–with flower crowns–of the bride and groom and witnesses; the placing of the rings on the fingers of the couple by the priest; the bride standing on the groom’s right (the guests are also seated appropriately), and music proper to the Maronite service is to be used. Of course, only the Service of the Word and Crowning Ceremony are necessary for the church ceremony; the Anaphora and Communion are at times prayed when both partners are Catholic, but this is a recent innovation. Celebrating the Crowning without the Anaphora and Communion Rite is more traditional and may be desirable especially if one partner is non-Catholic, since neither the non-Catholic spouse nor his or her family may receive Communion. This will require careful, pastoral preparation and explanation.
Every couple accepted for Crowning in the Catholic Church must answer questions from the Pre-nuptial Questionnaire. These are to be asked individually of the groom and the bride and under oath to ascertain the truth of the answers. The Questionnaire has three sections: First are questions about the identity and sacramental background of the person. They include: proper age for marriage; Baptism and Chrismation, as well as a determination of the proper Rite (so as to determine proper jurisdiction).
The second part seeks to determine whether there are any impediments to the marriage. These include previous marriages (this may necessitate an annulment process); the previous taking on of religious vows or ministerial ordination; emotional or psychological difficulties.
The third part seeks to clarify the intentions of the bride and groom for the marriage, namely, whether they intend to be married to one another till death; whether they intend to have children, and if they intend to be faithful to one another exclusively.
The Pre-nuptial Questionnaire is a great help in determining whether or not the Crowning may take place.
What happens if I am divorced?
There are usually three common concerns, among many: Can I still continue to receive Holy Communion? Can I remarry in the Church? What is the status of my children?
After the civil divorce is final, both parties may continue to receive Holy Communion as long as they are not cohabitating with someone other than their ex-spouse nor have remarried outside the Catholic Church. The reason is, of course, that the Church still considers the couple to be married, unless an annulment declares otherwise. The other consideration―as is the same for all Catholics―is that one is not in the state of serious sin.
Children of divorced Catholics parents are not considered illegitimate (i.e., bastards) because they were born when the couple were legally married under the civil laws of the land.
What about an annulment?
Sometimes, what appeared to be a valid marriage breaks down, ending in a civil divorce. The Catholic Church does not recognize the ending of a marriage relationship by divorce, even though it is clear that the relationship can no longer be reconciled. In such cases one of the parties may petition the marriage tribunal of the Eparchy for a so-called “declaration of nullity” (= annulment) of the bond. In other words, the tribunal will seek, through evidence submitted, whether there were grounds at the beginning of the marriage relationship that actually prevented a full Church marriage from occurring. If it can be proven that such grounds existed, the marriage may be declared null and void, and BOTH parties―the one petitioning (the “Petitioner”) and the other (the “Respondent”)―are free to be married in the Church. Usually the entire process takes about a year, and no date for a ceremony may be set until the declaration is actually in hand. The parish priest is usually the first person to turn to for assistance with an annulment case, though he may have other staff trained to handle cases.
The grounds for granting a declaration of nullity have been expanded in recent decades; thus, the chances for a positive judgment are greater than before. Tribunals try to treat the tragedy of divorce with a sense of compassion and no one should be afraid to try to seek an annulment.
What is the Divine Office, especially Ramsho and Safro?
The Divine Office is part of the official prayer of the Church, in all its traditions, Eastern and Western, that men and women religious that is, monks, nuns and brothers and eparchial/diocesan priests, deacons and subdeacons pray daily. The Divine Office in all Traditions is centered on the Psalms of the Old Testament.
Since these prayers are chanted throughout the whole day at certain designated hours of the day, it is known especially in the West as the “Liturgy of the Hours.” However, in Maronite Tradition it is called “Prayer of the Faithful” [Arabic: Salaat l’ Moo’men], because all believers are called to pray the “hours,” not only the religious. However, for laypersons it not obligatory as it is for women and men religious.
These prayers are collectively known as the “Divine Office.” Here, by office is meant set prayer forms that observe and help to sanctify a particular hour of the day, and, by extension, the whole day. Thus, one may speak of the whole collection as the Divine Office, or one may speak, for example, of the Office of Morning Prayer. While monks and nuns observe several hours throughout the day usually beginning very early in the day many religious orders, and priests and deacons usually observe only the offices of Morning and Evening Prayer.
Eastern liturgical law in general sees the beginning of the new day with the chanting of Evening Prayer. Thus, for example, Friday actually begins on Thursday evening.
The hours of the day have proper designations, both for the particular hour. The terms of course differ with each respective Tradition. In Maronite Tradition the new day begins with the Syriac term, Ramsho, or “Evening Prayer.” Morning Prayer is called Safro. Of course, the other hours of the Maronite Divine Office have their proper Syriac designations.
(See “Divine Office” in CYT General Index.)
#162592 - 09/22/03 01:22 AM
Re: Understanding Eastern Catholicism from a Maronite Point Of View
A great Maronite resource is the Glossary of Maronite terms (from _Captivated by Your Teachings_) at: http://www.johnmaron.org/glossary/glossary.html
There is also a wealth of info at the main site: http://www.johnmaron.org/
David Ignatius DTBrown@aol.com