Monday, September 17, 2012

What's Byzantine Catholic? FAQs answered by St Michael's FYI

First and foremost, Yes: we are Catholics in union with the Bishop of Rome (the Pope) whom we recognize as the visible Head of the Catholic Church. We are recognized as being "Catholic" by the local Roman Catholic Bishops and the Bishops of the United States of America and the whole world. Having said that we are "Catholics", we must now state that we are not Roman-rite Catholics, but Catholics who are identified as being Eastern Catholics. As Catholics, we Eastern and Roman Catholics share the same faith and have the same seven sacraments. The difference is that we Eastern Catholics have a distinctive way or 'rite' of expressing our faith in regards to Liturgy and customs. 
At the Last Supper, after Jesus changed bread and wine into His own Body and Blood, He told His disciples to "Do this in Memory of me." This they did. As the disciples brought the Gospel to different parts of the world, they adapted ceremonies of the Liturgy to the customs and music of that people. In the end, four great centers of Christianity emerged with distinctive Christian customs, but the same faith. These centers were located in the great cities of Jerusalem, Antioch, Rome and Alexandria. A couple of centuries later when the capital of the Roman empire was moved to the Eastern city of Byzantium and renamed Constantinople, an adaptation of the Antioch way of celebrating Liturgy was made. Thus a new center of Christianity arose in Constantinople and her ritual became known as the Byzantine Rite. From Constantinople the Slavic peoples of Eastern Europe were converted by Sts. Cyril and Methodius and naturally followed the Byzantine Rite. 

What is a Byzantine Catholic?
The Byzantine Catholic Church is a branch of the Catholic Church. 
The Byzantine Catholic Church is in full communion with the Pope of Rome. 
Byzantine Catholics hold the same beliefs as Roman Catholics, but often have different emphases. 
Byzantine Catholics have different customs and traditions that date back to the early centuries of the church. 

Are Roman/Latin Catholics of the Byzantine Rite?
No, Byzantines are their own separate church. "Sui Juris" is often the term used to describe this state. 
Basically, although the Byzantine Church falls under the authority of the Pope, it is governed by its own rules. 
In Northwest Ohio, Roman Catholic Parishes are part of the Catholic Dioceses of Toledo.
St. Michael Byzantine Catholic Church is part of the Eparchy of Parma (Ruthenian).

Can Roman Catholics attend a Byzantine Church to fulfill their Sunday obligation?
Yes! Any Catholic can attend any other Catholic Church to fulfill their obligation.

Can Roman Catholics receive communion in a Byzantine Church?
Yes, any Catholic can receive communion in any Catholic Church, whether it is Eastern or Western.

How is communion given in a Byzantine Church?
During communion, both the Body and Blood of Christ are given to the person. 
Rather than wafers, the Byzantine Catholics use little chunks of bread cut from a loaf, which is usually baked by some of the parishioners. 
The bread is put in the chalice with the wine and is gently placed into the person's mouth with a gold spoon. 
Unlike Roman/Latin Catholic Churches, Byzantine Catholics do not say, “Amen” after receiving Communion.

Should we genuflect on entering a Byzantine Church?
No, the genuflection is of purely Roman/Latin origin.
Instead, we make a “metany” by bowing and making the sign of the cross as our sign of reverence.

Why is everyone making the Sign of the Cross opposite than I? How should the sign of the cross be made in a Byzantine Catholic Church?
It is made by holding the thumb and first two fingers of the right hand together and with them making the sign of the cross from the forehead to the breast, to the right shoulder and then the left shoulder. The three fingers are held together as an act of faith in the Trinity, while the two remaining fingers remind us of the two natures of Christ. This way of blessing oneself is very ancient and was in use in the west until the middle ages.

Why is the Virgin Mary called "Theotokos"?
"Theotokos" is a Greek word meaning "God-bearer." It is a title that is commonly translated into English as "the Mother of God." 
Because of Mary’s unique role and unique relationship with her Divine Son, she has a special place of honor in the Church.
The Church is awed by the mystery that her womb contained the uncontainable God, and the hymns of the church proclaim Mary to be "higher in honor than the cherubim and more glorious beyond compare than the seraphim.
I've heard the term Greek Catholic. What is that?
Historically the Byzantine Catholic Church used to be known as the Greek Catholic Church. 
The usage of the word Byzantine became popular, because it helped remove the ethnic stigma that was associated with the term "Greek." 
In Europe, the term Greek Catholic is still the norm. 
St. Michael Byzantine Catholic Church used to be known as St. Michael Greek Catholic Church.

What are some differences between Byzantines and Roman Catholics?
The Liturgy (Mass) is almost completely chanted (song) and is different than the Roman Mass. 
Communion is given out to standing communicants, who receive both the precious Body and Blood. (The priest uses a gold spoon to drop the bread/wine into their mouth.) 
Icons are used instead of statues. 
Incense is used throughout the Liturgy. 
Byzantine Churches have large Icon Screens which separate the Altar area from the rest of the church. 
It is proper to stand during the Byzantine Liturgy as opposed to kneeling in the Roman Mass.

Do you celebrate mass the way it was celebrated before Vatican II? (Tridentine)
No. We use the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, which dates back to the 300's.

I've heard the terms Melkite Byzantine, Ruthenian Byzantine, and Ukrainian Byzantine uses. What's the difference between them?
In essence, there is little difference. The main difference is their ethnicities. These sub-branches of the Byzantine Catholic Church are known as Jurisdictions. 
Ruthenians are from the Hungarian and Slovakian regions of Eastern Europe. St. Michael Parish is of the Ruthenian Byzantine Rite. 
In the USA, the Ruthenians' church is the largest Byzantine Jurisdiction and has become a melting pot of different nationalities. 
Melkites are made up of Arab ethnicities. 
Ukrainians are from the Ukraine. In Canada, the Ukrainians have a strong presence. 

I'd like to become a Byzantine Catholic. I'm currently a Roman Catholic. How do I do it?
To attend a Byzantine Catholic Church on a regular basis, you don't have to do anything special if you are already a Catholic. Simply go. 
Some people find that they are spiritually fulfilled at a Byzantine Church, and in order to bring closure to their spiritual journey, they would like to be officially recognized as a Byzantine Catholic. This process is known as changing rites. 
Basically, the process goes like this: After discussing this with your priest, you write a letter to your Roman Catholic Bishop and the Byzantine Catholic Bishop. In the letter you state spiritual reasons why you want to change rites. At that point they will begin to process the paperwork and will get back to you. 
Note that you are not converting. You are simply changing rites. 


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  2. Good FAQ! We're blessed to have a Byzantine Catholic parish just up the road from my school (University of Dallas). Lots of students find their way over there at some point or another. As an aside, I thought the Ukrainians had the edge in numbers these days. I'd believe I was wrong though. Keep up the good blog!

    1. Ukrainian Catholics are definitely that biggest jurisdiction in Canada and the US. Ruthenian Catholics have an advantage,,however, but being more pan-cultural- hopefully to 'catch' some non-ethnic converts- but ALL Eastern Catholic churches are SMALL compared to the Roman-rite

  3. Loving your refresher posts; they're great reminders :)


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