QUAERITUR: Are Orthodox “Masses” valid?

From a reader:

A friend of mine, who runs the R.C.I.A. program in my parish, recently told me that an Orthodox Mass is just as valid as a Catholic Mass. Is this true? (I thought that the fact that the Orthodox Church is in schism would suggest not.)

What you were told is correct in its essence, though we have to tweak a couple things.

First, the Eucharistic liturgy which the Orthodox celebrate is generally called the “Divine Liturgy” rather than Mass.  Furthermore, the Eastern Churches in union with Rome also called their “Mass” the “Divine Liturgy”.

Second, the issue of schism would not necessarily invalidate the consecration of the Eucharist.  For example, were the SSPX in schism, officially declared as such, their Masses would still be valid.  They have valid apostolic succession, valid Holy Orders, valid rites and matter and intention.

Third, you can fulfill your Sunday Mass obligation by attending Masses, Divine Liturgies, of the Eastern Catholic Churches, but not those of Orthodox Churches.  The Eastern Catholic  Churches are celebrating in a Catholic rite.  If you go to a Divine Liturgy of any Eastern Church in union with Rome, you may receive Holy Communion, which will be given under both kinds, Blood and Body together, directly in the mouth with a small spoon (don’t close your mouth on it).  You can fulfill your Mass obligation at a chapel of the SSPX as well, for they are using, obviously, a Catholic rite.  Their union with Rome is questionable in some respects, but the Holy See does not at this time say they are in schism.

I warmly recommend that you and all the readers at some time try to attend a Sunday Divine Liturgy in some Eastern Catholic Church.

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33 Responses to QUAERITUR: Are Orthodox “Masses” valid?

  1. Jack Hughes says:

    I remember going to a Ukranian Rite Divine Liturgy once, it was truely memorable. The people there truely love our Lord, no wacky stuff in the East

  2. jflare says:

    Interestingly, I’ve attended the Divine Liturgy 2 or 3 times at a Byzantine Catholic church, each while stationed in a place where the local Roman Catholic church..needed help.
    I remember being rather intrigued by it, because for starters, I’d never seen a church before in which the tabernacle, altar, and the rest of the sanctuary had been separated from the congregation by a wall with large curtains. They opened those curtains a few moments before the consecration, but it definitely aimed to emphasize the majesty of God. As I recall, the altar seemed quite beautiful.

    I remember being quite impressed by the liturgy itself, too. They did some things in a somewhat different order, but I was very impressed by the chanting of the readings. I also remember standing for quite some time. All in all, I thought it wonderful. When I arrived here in Omaha, I checked the phone book for a similar type church. I didn’t ultimately attend at the one I found, it didn’t look like it offered much parking and was somewhat tricky to find, but it might be interesting to try it once again.

    Anyway, I agree with Fr Z. Eastern liturgies that’re in communion with Rome may be quite beautiful and expand your horizons in a marvelous way.

  3. Marcin says:

    Third, you can fulfill your Sunday Mass obligation by attending Masses, Divine Liturgies, of the Eastern Catholic Churches, but not those of Orthodox Churches. The Eastern Catholic Churches are celebrating in a Catholic rite.
    [...]
    You can fulfill your Mass obligation at a chapel of the SSPX as well, for they are using, obviously, a Catholic rite. heir union with Rome is questionable in some respects, but the Holy See does not at this time say they are in schism.

    You write, Father, that attending DivLit of the Eastern Catholic Churches fulfills Sunday obligation, so does of the SSPX Mass. Is that by virtue of them being the Catholic rites, or of _not_ being in formal schism?

    The distinction is important, since Orthodox do celebrate in Catholic rites, even though they are in schism.

  4. Alice says:

    We went to Divine Liturgy about a month and a half ago. My toddler loved prostrating himself and kissing the Gospel. He begged to go back for a week or so.

  5. ReginaMarie says:

    Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen!
    It is sad to see how unaware most Catholics are of the Eastern Catholic Churches. The late Pope John Paul II encouraged Catholics to “breathe with both lungs, East and West” — and I concur! I would also encourage readers to attend the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom at an Eastern (Byzantine) Catholic Church in their area if at all possible. Attending the Divine Liturgy has been a tremendous blessing for our entire family. Once we first began going about 5 years ago, we were hooked, we knew we had found our spiritual home, and have since requested a formal transfer of ritual Church. I would also highly recommend reading Bl. John Paul II’s Orientale Lumen (Light of the East):
    http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_letters/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_02051995_orientale-lumen_en.html
    ICXC+NIKA

  6. ReginaMarie says:

    This post from New Advent gives a good explanation of the Eastern Catholic Churches:
    “It is a mistake (encouraged by Eastern schismatics and Anglicans) to look upon these Catholic Eastern Rites as a sort of compromise between Latin and other rites, or between Catholics and schismatics. Nor is it true that they are Catholics to whom grudging leave has been given to keep something of their national customs. Their position is quite simple and quite logical. They represent exactly the state of the Eastern Churches before the schisms. They are entirely and uncompromisingly Catholics in our strictest sense of the word, quite as much as Latins. They accept the whole Catholic Faith and the authority of the pope as visible head of the Catholic Church, as did St. Athanasius, St. Basil, St. John Chrysostom. They do not belong to the pope’s patriarchate, nor do they use his rite, any more than did the great saints of Eastern Christendom. They have their own rites and their own patriarchs, as had their fathers before the schism. Nor is there any idea of compromise or concession about this. The Catholic Church has never been identified with the Western patriarchate. The pope’s position as patriarch of the West is as distinct from his papal rights as is his authority as local Bishop of Rome. It is no more necessary to belong to his patriarchate in order to acknowledge his supreme jurisdiction that it is necessary to have him for diocesan bishop. The Eastern Catholic Churches in union with the West have always been as much the ideal of the Church Universal as the Latin Church. If some of those Eastern Churches fall into schism, that is a misfortune which does not affect the others who remain faithful. If all fall away, the Eastern half of the Church disappears for a time as an actual fact; it remains as a theory and an ideal to be realized again as soon as they, or some of them, come back to union with Rome.”

  7. Imrahil says:

    The question whether even the Sunday obligation can be fulfilled in the Separated Churches is at least as much as an interesting one. The law itself does not, as far as I see, decide it. They do celebrate Catholic rites, after all.

    My guess as a non-lawyer is that the answer is, as you said, no, unless no Catholic Mass available. Reasons: 1. To attend them was forbidden under the 1917 Code. 2. A fortiori, one couldn’t fulfil the obligation under 1917 Code. 3. When the forbidding ordinance was abolished, there happened just what the fact of abolishing indicated. Thus, while we can attend their Divine Liturgies, we can’t fulfil the Sunday obligation.

    But the question is at least as much as an interesting one.

  8. M. K. says:

    If you go to a Divine Liturgy of any Eastern Church in union with Rome, you may receive Holy Communion, which will be given under both kinds, Blood and Body together, directly in the mouth with a small spoon (don’t close your mouth on it).

    Small nitpick: This isn’t the case in “any” Eastern Church – Byzantines give communion this way, but some other Eastern Catholic churches, e.g. those in the Antiochene and West Syrian traditions (Chaldeans, Maronites, Syro-Malabar, etc.) use Roman-style hosts and do not give the Body and the Blood together. [Thanks for that.]

  9. The Orthodox Churches have valid Holy Orders and Apostolic succession, therefore valid Mysteries. It is a sad fact that, while the Catholic Church will permit Orthodox to approach for Communion, the Orthodox do not commune Catholics. A unity that would allow inter-Communion is something for which all Catholics should fervently pray.
    I should add also that in my experience (as a relatively new transfer from the Roman Church to the Ruthenian Byzantine) there is not so much of the sense of “obligation” to attend the Divine Liturgy in the East. We are taught that to assist at services is an outward expression of our love for God and evidence of how grateful we are for His Great and Infinite Mercy and Love for us, in providing for us a way in which we can receive Jesus personally in Holy Communion as often as we approach the chalice worthily.
    And Imrahil is correct, it is illicit to assist at an Orthodox Sunday Divine Liturgy unless there is no Catholic Mass or Divine Liturgy at all.

  10. Chrysologus says:

    Could you say more about going to Sunday Mass at an SSPX chapel? Does it fulfill our obligation? Even if it does so, is it morally right to attend? Aren’t we very strongly discouraged from attending by the Pope and bishops in communion with him?

  11. Dan says:

    On Sundays I serve Mass in the Extraordinary Form, and when I’m able to make it to Mass on weekdays I usually assist at Mass in the Ordinary Form, and every few months I go to a Sunday Divine Liturgy at the local Byzantine Catholic Church. Even though their liturgy is entirely in English, I find it to be so beautiful and captivating…it really lifts the whole person up to God. Part of this, in my opinion, has to do with the translation they use- it is a very elevated, and frankly, I can’t really think of any difference between my experience there and my experience at the all-Latin EF. Hopefully the corrected translation will help do the same for the OF.

    Also, the priest and deacon during the Byzantine Liturgy really appear to be “living” the mysteries they celebrate…their whole attention is on God and what’s taking place on the altar. As they pray, you can really tell that they are speaking TO God, not merely talking to people about God. It helps that the church is structured so that what is taking place mystically is represented materially by the seperation of the altar from the nave by the icon wall. This challenges us to see through the eyes of faith what is happening in the sanctuary. I don’t have a problem with Mass versus populum per se, but I think the effect of how it has been done over the past 40 years was to eleminate any suggestion of mystery that would require stepping outside the limitations of our human intellect to grasp the mystery of our redepmption. Kudos to the Byzantines for teaching us Latins how it’s done…

  12. shane says:

    The Orthodox boast of their ability to reconcile solemn and reverent ritual with active participation of the faithful. Did they ever have a liturgical movement of their own or has it always been like this? Does the old stereotype of Latin liturgy (ie. detatched spectators counting beads to mumbling priests) have any parallel in the East?

  13. Mother says:

    Thank you, Father, for this information.
    Deo Gratias!

  14. Luvadoxi says:

    Father, I’m going to Shanghai in a few weeks. What are my Sunday Mass obligations while there?

  15. JaneC says:

    Chrysologus, Fr. Z has addressed the issue of attending SSPX liturgies numerous times, in several contexts. I suggest that you click on the “SSPX” link in the “Tag Cloud” in the right-hand column of the blog to see some of those posts.

    Shane, Easterners/Orthodox may have different ideas of what constitutes “active participation.” I have attended Divine Liturgy in several traditions, at both Catholic and Orthodox parishes, and the amount of congregational singing (for example) varies considerably, not only from parish to parish but from feast day to feast day. People seem to remember the chants for Pascha and sing along with gusto. Other chants may not be well-remembered, and are left to the choir alone to sing. Some parishes provide books for people to follow along in, and others don’t–and when there are books, they may be difficult to follow and not very helpful to the newcomer. Some parishes place some emphasis on punctuality, and at others you’ll find people wandering in at any time during the first 45 minutes of the service. In some parishes, people stand in one place for most of the time, and in others they may move from their position to venerate icons around the perimeter of the building, light candles, etc. But nobody would say that this constituted an absence of active participation.

  16. Nathan says:

    I think it’s important for all of us to pray that God would pour out the Holy Spirit on us and on the Orthodox to re-establish communion. Not even taking into account Our Lord’s desire for unity, IMO the Catholics and Orthodox, given the situation they both face in many countries, really need each other.

    Surely the Orthodox could benefit from the moral leadership that the Catholic Church provides, having dealt more acutely with the loss of faith in the modern, Western world for much longer. Surely we Catholics could benefit from the liturgical continuity and from what we could learn to revitalize our monastic life from places such as Mount Athos.

    I don’t mean to in any way paper over the real differences we have with the Orthodox, and the real and painful history of injustices that we have, often in the pursuit of political aims, imposed on each other. While I’m no expert, it seems that language differences have played as much of a role in theological disagreements as the actual theology. I do hope, though, that through a combination of things (the Holy Father’s emphasis on patristic theology and sources, some conciliaitory statements on the part of the Orthodox Patriarchs of Moscow and Constantinople, a mutual recognition of the threats from a culturally agonstic or atheistic Europe) will help us.

    In the meantime, I’m tremendously grateful to our Eastern Rite Catholic bretheren for sharing their incredibly beautiful and rich Divine Liturgy with us, especially when they are the only ones around my area who actually keep feasts such as Ascension Thursday on, well, Thursday.

    In Christ,

  17. Elly says:

    Even though Father Z recommended attending an Eastern Rite Catholic Church, are Latin Rite Catholics discouraged from frequently attending? What if it was on a regular basis?

  18. Fr. Basil says:

    \\Did they ever have a liturgical movement of their own or has it always been like this? Does the old stereotype of Latin liturgy (ie. detatched spectators counting beads to mumbling priests) have any parallel in the East\\

    Timothy Ware (long since Metropolitan Kallistos Ware) touches on this issue in his book THE ORTHODOX CHURCH.

    Some Byzantine Catholic Churches, notably the Ukrainian, frequently leave the liturgical singing to a choir.

    I’m a strong believer in congregational singing in the services as much as possible, but a choir or cantors are still needed to take the lead and sing the propers as well as the more complex services, such as Holy Week offices or Matins.

  19. apagano says:

    Luvadoxi , if you do a google search for Catholic churches in Shanghai there are several. Now whether these are authentic Catholic churches or national churches, I am unaware.

  20. ReginaMarie says:

    Shane: JaneC addresses well the various forms of “active participation” of the faithful during the Divine Liturgy. The DL by nature is not a passive form of worship with the many times that the faithful chant the responses, bow (greater and lesser metany), make the Sign of the Cross, venerate (kiss) the Gospel, Crucifix and icons, and, according to the liturgical season, prostrate on the floor in prayer.

    Elly: Latin rite Catholics may attend the Divine Liturgy in an Eastern Catholic Church as often as they would like.

  21. Orthodox-Catholic reunion would be truly wonderful.

    The big problems/questions, I think, would be threefold:
    -the Petrine Ministry;
    -whether the dogmas on Original Sin (from Trent) and the Immaculate Conception can be expressed in Orthodox theological terminology without losing any of the infallible data;
    -practices on divorce (and contraception?)

    I think those are the only points of difference that genuinely touch on really de fide matters… and even those, I think, are resolvable given the right Pope running things (the East accepted some kind of Petrine Ministry in the first millennium) – I think Benedict XVI could navigate the deep theological waters around this and the matter of Original Sin; but few others could. So I hope the discussion comes soon…

  22. albinus1 says:

    When I lived in Philadelphia, I occasionally went to the Divine Liturgy at the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral. I noticed that when giving Communion, the priest would sometimes say the little versicle in English and sometimes in Ukrainian. I thought perhaps he said it in Ukrainian if he thought the communicant was a Ukrainian Catholic, and in English when he thought the communicant was a visiting Roman Cath0lic. I once decided to test this; before receiving Communion I crossed myself in the Byzantine fashion (right to left), and, as I expected, the priest said the versicle in Ukrainian. So if the communicant crossed himself or herself in the Latin fashion (left to right), the priest assumed that the communicant was a visiting Latin-rite Catholic and said it in English.

    When I moved back to Ohio, I occasionally went to Liturgy at one of several Eastern-rite Catholic churches in the area, if I couldn’t get to a traditional Latin Mass. One called itself Byzantine Catholic; ethnically it was Croatian, and parts of the Liturgy were sung in Slavonic, and Communion was administered with the spoon. Another was Melkite, where the Liturgy was essentially the same but largely in Arabic. Communion, however, was done by intinction.

    I once went to a local Maronite church as well. Unfortunately, the Maronites seem to have Novus-Ordo’d up their Liturgy. They even had guitars. Yuck.

  23. albinus1 says:

    It is a sad fact that, while the Catholic Church will permit Orthodox to approach for Communion

    I thought that this was permissible only in extremis, not as a routine thing.

  24. Father G says:

    Many may not have been aware that the former Ecumenical Directory of 1967 granted a privilege permitting Catholics to fulfill their Sunday and holy day obligation at the Divine Liturgy of an Eastern church separated from Rome. This privilege was suppressed in the 1993 Directory for the Application of the Principles and Norms on Ecumenism.

  25. Imrahil says:

    @Father G: That’s very interesting. Was it suppressed in explicit terms, or just left out? Because if the latter, I’d change my argument about the Sunday obligation and say that since these are Catholic rites and the obligation can be fulfilled with a Catholic rite, you can just go there.

    That being said, it is clear that the normal choice for Catholics is to attend Catholic Masses.

    By the way, it is also the normal choice for Latin Catholics (@elly) not to let completely drop their affiliation to the Latin Rite. But that’s a description and no demand, and we aren’t talking about a sin here. And even “Latinness” – which isn’t commanded under sin – isn’t hindered by frequency elsewhere.

  26. Parochus says:

    The 1993 Directory says: “Since the celebration of the Eucharist on the Lord’s Day is the foundation and centre of the whole liturgical year, Catholics—but those of Eastern Churches according to their own Law—are obliged to attend Mass on that day and on days of precept. It … must be remembered that even when Catholics participate in … services of other Churches and ecclesial Communities, the obligation of participating at Mass on these days remains.” The CLSA commentary on canon 1248 says that the privilege granted by the 1967 Directory was suppressed by the 1993 Directory, adding: “One could argue that the privilege had already been revoked in 1983 by this canon [1248] since it made no exception for the separated Eastern churches.”

  27. Fr. Basil says:

    \\Unfortunately, the Maronites seem to have Novus-Ordo’d up their Liturgy. They even had guitars. Yuck.\\

    The Maronites are in a unique position as they have no non-Catholic counterpart to see what their original practices were before the Latinization that all Eastern Catholic churches suffered to a greater of lesser extent.

    However, as far as I know, they have always allowed instruments, including plucked cordophones (guitar and oud among them) at the Liturgy.

  28. Dr. Eric says:

    I’m going to muddy the waters and state that the Orthodox do have Masses. There is a tiny Western Rite Orthodox group under the Antiochian Orthodox Diocese. They use the Divine Liturgy of St. Gregory Diologos (we call him St. Gregory the Great) which is the TLM in vernacular with certain additions by Patriarch Tikhon of Moscow. Also, Mt. Athos has always celebrated the Divine Liturgy of St. Peter (which is the TLM in the vernacular) probably with tiny additions and subtractions.

  29. JohnRoss says:

    M.K. is mistaken because the although the Catholics of the Antiochene tradition use Latin-style hosts, a serious Latinization, they give communion through intinction whereby the host is dipped into he precious blood and distributed on the tongue.

    This is also the norm in the Anglican use.

    The Eastern tradition teaches the Eucharist should be leavened because the emphasis in our liturgies is on the resurrection, and Christ is the new leaven. Not to mention, the Greek language of the Gospels uses the word artos, which means leavened bread rather than azymes, which means unleavened.

    Actually, the Western rites used leavened bread as well up until the 7th or 8th centuries.

    Only the Armenian tradition uses unleavened bread, and the hosts used among the Armenian Orthodox are more spongy.

  30. JohnRoss says:

    Dr. Eric,
    The Divine Liturgy of St. Peter hasn’t been used on Mount Athos since the Middle Ages when the Amalfion Monastery closed. Here’s the text of the Divine Liturgy of St. Peter courtesy of Bishop Jerome of Manhattan, a bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, who is a scholar of medieval Western liturgics. http://www.allmercifulsavior.com/Liturgy/Liturgy-Peter.html

    It’s a Byzantinized hybrid that uses prayers from the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom with the Roman canon attached.

    John

  31. JohnRoss says:

    The Maronites ought to look to the Syriac Orthodox for liturgical inspiration considering they come out of the same liturgical tradition, and reportedly they were very similar before the Jesuits came in and destroyed their liturgy in the 16th century.

  32. Dr. Eric says:

    Thanks for the correction, John Ross. I thought they were still using the Liturgy on Athos.

  33. “You write, Father, that attending DivLit of the Eastern Catholic Churches fulfills Sunday obligation, so does of the SSPX Mass. Is that by virtue of them being the Catholic rites, or of _not_ being in formal schism?

    “The distinction is important, since Orthodox do celebrate in Catholic rites, even though they are in schism.”

    Father, I do believe you have been asked this question before, as well as a similar one, more than once, which is how an unlawful means (in the case of Mass with the SSPX) can be used to accomplish a lawful end (fulfilling a Sunday obligation). It seems clear from all that has been addressed here, that a “Catholic rite” is not necessarily lawful (that is to say, licit). If you are going to deal with subject any number of times over the years, it would be very helpful if this particular distinction could be addressed, if you please.

    Just this once.