Faith Forum: Diversity yet unity

Father Charles Bober

Faith Forum

Given the changes Pope Francis made recently in the Roman Rite, I got to wondering about other rites in the Catholic Church.  Just how many are there and how did they all come about?

There are 24 Rites within the Catholic Church.  Their origin can be found in the unity and diversity of the ancient Christian communities. 

Unity was derived from adherence to common beliefs in the Trinity, the divinity of Christ and living out one faith, one baptism and one life of charity.  Diversity was found in the vastly different “soils” where the Gospel took root (including Rome, Antioch, Alexandria, Syria, and Constantinople).  While these churches were united in faith, there was great variety in their languages, customs, rituals, spiritualties, and governance. 

From these metropolitan churches, missionaries were sent out to proclaim the Gospel.  They took with them not only the central truths of faith but also the liturgical customs and distinct spiritualties lived in those central communities.   Thus, from Rome, missionaries went out to England, France, and Germany.  Likewise, from Constantinople they went to the Slavic lands and from Alexandria they went to parts of northern Africa.

The customs in the newly founded churches were observed in the centers from which they originated.  It is from this process that a multiplicity of rites became a part of the universal Church.

Today, the Catholic Church throughout the world is a living heritage of this ancient process.  Essential to it is a unity of faith and communion with the worldwide college of bishops united to the chair of Peter. They also stand as a living example of the ancient principle that a unity in faith does not demand uniformity in all things.

Today, the universal Catholic Church consists of a communion of six ancient liturgical families (“Rites”).   A Rite is the liturgical, theological, spiritual, and organization patrimony as well as the life and culture of a unique people. 

Within those six “families” (Rites) there are 24 Particular Churches. A Particular Church is a group of Christian faithful united to a bishop who, according to Church law, has authority and responsibility within that Church. These 24 Churches are unique and internally self-governing while in communion with one another and with the See of Peter.  They recognize the unique ministry of the Pope as one of primacy and care for all the Churches.

Below are the six Rites of the Catholic Church and the Particular Churches traditionally associated with them:

Latin Rite-the Latin (or Roman) Catholic Church

Alexandrian Rite-the Coptic Catholic, Eritrean Catholic, and Ethiopian Catholic Churches

Armenian Rite– Armenian Catholic Church

West Syrian (or Antiochene) Rite– Maronite Catholic, Syriac Catholic and Syro-Malankara Catholic Churches

East Syrian (or Chaldean) Rite– Chaldean Catholic and Syro-Malabar Catholic Churches

Constantinopolitan (or Byzantine) Rite–  Albanian Catholic, Belarusian Catholic, Bulgarian Greek Catholic, Byzantine Catholic of Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro, Greek Byzantine, Hungarian Greek Catholic, Italo-Albanian Catholic, Macedonian Catholic, Melkite Greek Catholic, Romanian Catholic, Russian Catholic, Ruthenian Catholic (also known as the Byzantine Catholic in the United States), Slovak Catholic, and Ukrainian Greek Catholic Churches.

This treasure of unity and diversity is the product not of division, but of an organically, Spirit-filled growth.

Photo by Dena Koenig Photography