QUAERITUR: A Latin among Easterners: what gives?

Another question from e-mail:

First allow me to say how much I, as a young convert, have enjoyed and learned a great deal from your blog.  My question is, what is the status on Latin Rite Catholics participating in Masses according to the forms of other Catholic rites.  For example, there is a Byzantine Rite parish not to far from where I live and I would like to go there one Sunday and see what it is like.  I assume that I am allowed to receive communion but does it also count as my Sunday obligation?  This is probably a very stupid question and my gut reaction is that it is acceptable to do so.  However, I don’t want to commit a blunder through ignorance.

Also, while discussing Eastern Rites.  When at an Eastern Orthodox church (say on a tour or something), should I still genuflect to the altar?  It is, of course, Christ within but I don’t know if that is acceptable form in Eastern Rite churches.

First, I should say that I, too, am a convert.  And when I started exploring the Church I also was interested in the Eastern Rites and sought them out.  Happily, in my home town the main Churches were represented.  It was fascinating.  Also, for a couple summers I live with Ukrainian Catholics in Rome on the Aventine Hill and got to know their Divine Liturgy quite well.  They liked me: I have a big bass voice and there was plenty to do with it.

Yes, as a Catholic you can go to Mass or Divine Liturgy at any of those Eastern Catholic Churches with their own Rites.  You can participate in the proper ways (you are a baptized Christian and a Catholic, after all) and receive Holy Communion.

Also, according to the 1983 Code of Canon for Latin Church Catholics you fulfill your Sunday or Holy Day obligations by attending the Divine Liturgy because they are also celebrating, obviously, in Catholic Rite.

Remember that they will have their own customs.  You want to be respectful and careful.  I don’t think anyone would look at you cross-eyed if you genuflected: that’s how we Latins do it, after all.  If you prefer, you could bow deeply as the Easterners tend to do.  As you please.

Sometimes their Divine Liturgies can be rather long, so figure that into your morning.

BTW… when you receive Communion, you will probably receive under both kinds administered by the priest with a small spoon.  Small pieces of the Host, sometimes like little "croutons" will be in the chalice with the Precious Blood.  The priest will put a small amount of the Precious Blood into your mouth together with Eucharistic Body.   If this is how you see Communion is being distributed, just tilt your head back with your mouth open, the priest will do the rest.  Do NOT close your mouth around the spoon, as some Latins do the first time.

I suggest that you go to participate in as many different Catholic Churches as possible, noting the similarities and differences.  They will only help you understand better your own Latin Catholic heritage.

If after Mass you talk to the priest, feel free to ask him questions.  Sometimes they will use terms you are not familiar with, but they are familiar enough with dealing with Latins to know how to put things.

So, go and breath from both your Catholic lungs, Eastern and Western.  And enjoy the incense.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in ASK FATHER Question Box, SESSIUNCULA. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Padre Steve says:

    Wow, I often forget that you were a convert! Let’s pray that more and more will soon swim the Tiber!

  2. mpm says:


    “Throughout the almost two hours of celebration the clergy and laity do
    enough moving to merit applause from the US Gymnastics team.”

    Thanks for the reference, which is both instructive and funny!

  3. Arieh says:

    My family is Latin Rite and yet we attend a Ruthenian Rite parish nearly every Sunday. The parishioners and priest have always been warm and inviting, and their Divine Liturgy is beautiful.

  4. Great counsel, Fr.Z!

    Yes – the more Latins experience the beauty of the Eastern Churches, the more they will appreciate the richness and joy of being CATHOLIC. This was what John Paul the Great desired when he wrote “Orientale Lumen”.

    As far as how to engage in worship, my advice is: “When in East Rome, do as the East Romans do!”

    I have a number of links on my website that may be of use to those who wish to learn more.


    God bless!

    In ICXC,

    Fr. Deacon Daniel

  5. Joe says:

    good answer. The e-mailer mentioned visiting an Eastern Orthodox Church: he or she should know that while from the Catholic perspective we may receive Communion from the Orthodox, from the Orthodox perspective we are generally not welcome to do so.

  6. Joe,

    The conditions for receiving the Holy Gifts (the Eucharist) at an Orthodox not-in-communion with Rome CHurch are very specific. Since I am currently traveling, I do not have access to my library. Can anyone provide the relavant canons?

    An Orthodox priest friend of mine said to me once regarding intercommunion:

    “I think our Lord permits us to suffer by not receiving in order to help spur us on to a greater desire and to greater action towards unity.”

    That has stayed with me for years now.

    In ICXC,

    Fr. Deacon Daniel

  7. Carolyn says:

    Thank you, Father Z, for your excellent response to this question. As a Latin Rite Catholic practicing my faith in a Maronite Catholic Church, I can attest to all that you have already written.

    Although it is not widely known in our Western world, the Catholic Church is actually a communion of Churches. According to the Constitution on the Church of the Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium, the Catholic Church is understood to be “a corporate body of Churches,” united with the Pope of Rome, who serves as the guardian of unity (LG, no. 23). At present there are 22 Churches that comprise the Catholic Church. The new Code of Canon Law, promulgated by Pope John Paul II, uses the phrase “autonomous ritual Churches” to describe these various Churches (canon 112). Each Church has its own hierarchy, spirituality, and theological perspective. Because of the particularities of history, there is only one Western Catholic Church, while there are 21 Eastern Catholic Churches. The Western Church, known officially as the Latin Church, is the largest of the Catholic Churches. It is immediately subject to the Roman Pontiff as Patriarch of the West. The Eastern Catholic Churches are each led by a Patriarch, Major Archbishop, or Metropolitan, who governs their Church together with a synod of bishops. Through the Congregation for Oriental Churches, the Roman Pontiff works to assure the health and well-being of the Eastern Catholic Churches.

    While this diversity within the one Catholic Church can appear confusing at first, it in no way compromises the Church’s unity. In a certain sense, it is a reflection of the mystery of the Trinity. Just as God is three Persons, yet one God, so the Church is 22 Churches, yet one Church.

    The Catechism of the Catholic Church summarizes this nicely:

    “From the beginning, this one Church has been marked by a great diversity which comes from both the variety of God’s gifts and the diversity of those who receive them… Holding a rightful place in the communion of the Church there are also particular Churches that retain their own traditions. The great richness of such diversity is not opposed to the Church’s unity” (CCC no. 814).

    Although there are 22 Churches, there are only eight “Rites” that are used among them. A Rite is a “liturgical, theological, spiritual and disciplinary patrimony,” (Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, canon 28). “Rite” best refers to the liturgical and disciplinary traditions used in celebrating the sacraments. Many Eastern Catholic Churches use the same Rite, although they are distinct autonomous Churches. For example, the Ukrainian Catholic Church and the Melkite Catholic Church are distinct Churches with their own hierarchies. Yet they both use the Byzantine Rite.

    To learn more about the “two lungs” of the Catholic Church, visit thisEWTN link:

    http://www.ewtn.com/expert/answers/catholic_rites_and_churches.htm – CATHOLIC RITES AND CHURCHES

    The Vatican II Council declared that “all should realize it is of supreme importance to understand, venerate, preserve, and foster the exceedingly rich liturgical and spiritual heritage of the Eastern churches, in order faithfully to preserve the fullness of Christian tradition” (Unitatis Redintegrato, 15).

    A Roman rite Catholic may attend any Eastern Catholic Liturgy and fulfill his of her obligations at any Eastern Catholic Parish. A Roman rite Catholic may join any Eastern Catholic Parish and receive any sacrament from an Eastern Catholic priest, since all belong to the Catholic Church as a whole. I am a Roman Catholic practicing my faith at a Maronite Catholic Church. Like the Chaldeans, the Maronites retain Aramaic for the Consecration. To hear the priest chant the words of Jesus Christ in Aramaic, is as close as one comes to being at the Last Supper.

    It is commensurate upon all of us to ensure that these great treasures of the Catholic Church are not lost. The Maronite Catholic Church traces its origins to the Church at Antioch where St. Peter served as bishop before proceeding to Rome. Archaeologists unearthing old Maronite Churches have found them built on the foundations of formerly Jewish Synagogues. To this day, the Maronite Church retains the “bema” in the design of its Sacristy.

  8. Deusdonat says:

    FR Z – that post was HILLARIOUS! I especially liked Do NOT close your mouth around the spoon, as some Latins do the first time. LOL!!! I can only imagine them saying, “mmmmm-MMM! Good to the last drop!” after licking the spoon!

    I would like to add that probably the most “potent” wine I have ever partaken during an Eastern liturgy would have to be at the Ethiopian rite. I’m glad I only got a spoon full, cuz that’s all my gullet could handle. They (as well as the Copts) have a glass of water standing by so you can chug it immediately afterwards. It’s that strong.

  9. Joe from Pittsburgh says:

    It’s good to see a question about the Eastern Churches here. Many Latin Catholics don’t even know they exist. Where I grew up in Ohio, there wasn’t one for miles around – heck, I did not know they existed at the time.

    Within 15 minutes of my home, there are two Ukrainian Catholic churches, a Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic church and a Maronite Catholic church, where I avail myself of weekly Eucharistic Adoration. On the other side of Pittsburgh there is a Romanian Catholic church. The Byzantine Rite churches do not have adoration.

    It is altogether good and fitting for more Latin Catholics to become knowledgeable about the Catholic East. The Chaldean Catholics, who are numerous around Detroit, are suffering greatly in Iraq and the American government has done virtually nothing for them. The Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankar Catholics in India face persecution by radical Hindus (as do the Latin Catholic there) in certain areas. The Maronites face obvious turmoil in Lebanon.

    My rambling is over – go and find out more about the East. As learning Latin teaches one a lot about English (as almost half of English words come from Latin) learning about the Catholic East will teach one much about the West.

  10. Aelric says:

    To follow up Carolyn’s fine post, I give a (hopefully not too lengthy) quotation from http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_28051992_communionis-notio_en.html

    I post this because it is important to note that the ONE Catholic Church is prior, both ontologically and temporally, to any and all of the “particular” churches. This topic formed the basis of the so-called Ratzinger-Kasper debate.



    7. The Church of Christ, which we profess in the Creed to be one, holy, catholic and apostolic, is the universal Church, that is, the worldwide community of the disciples of the Lord(31), which is present and active amid the particular characteristics and the diversity of persons, groups, times and places. Among these manifold particular expressions of the saving presence of the one Church of Christ, there are to be found, from the times of the Apostles on, those entities which are in themselves Churches(32), because, although they are particular, the universal Church becomes present in them with all its essential elements(33). They are therefore constituted “after the model of the universal Church”(34), and each of them is “a portion of the People of God entrusted to a bishop to be guided by him with the assistance of his clergy”(35).

    8. The universal Church is therefore the Body of the Churches(36). Hence it is possible to apply the concept of communion in analogous fashion to the union existing among particular Churches, and to see the universal Church as a Communion of Churches. Sometimes, however, the idea of a “communion of particular Churches” is presented in such a way as to weaken the concept of the unity of the Church at the visible and institutional level. Thus it is asserted that every particular Church is a subject complete in itself, and that the universal Church is the result of a reciprocal recognition on the part of the particular Churches. This ecclesiological unilateralism, which impoverishes not only the concept of the universal Church but also that of the particular Church, betrays an insufficient understanding of the concept of communion. As history shows, when a particular Church has sought to become self-sufficient, and has weakened its real communion with the universal Church and with its living and visible centre, its internal unity suffers too, and it finds itself in danger of losing its own freedom in the face of the various forces of slavery and exploitation(37).

    9. In order to grasp the true meaning of the analogical application of the term communion to the particular Churches taken as a whole, one must bear in mind above all that the particular Churches, insofar as they are “part of the one Church of Christ”(38), have a special relationship of “mutual interiority”(39) with the whole, that is, with the universal Church, because in every particular Church “the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church of Christ is truly present and active”(40). For this reason, “the universal Church cannot be conceived as the sum of the particular Churches, or as a federation of particular Churches”(41). It is not the result of the communion of the Churches, but, in its essential mystery, it is a reality ontologically and temporally prior to every individual particular Church.

    Indeed, according to the Fathers, ontologically, the Church-mystery, the Church that is one and unique, precedes creation(42), and gives birth to the particular Churches as her daughters. She expresses herself in them; she is the mother and not the product of the particular Churches. Furthermore, the Church is manifested, temporally, on the day of Pentecost in the community of the one hundred and twenty gathered around Mary and the twelve Apostles, the representatives of the one unique Church and the founders-to-be of the local Churches, who have a mission directed to the world: from the first the Church speaks all languages(43).

    From the Church, which in its origins and its first manifestation is universal, have arisen the different local Churches, as particular expressions of the one unique Church of Jesus Christ. Arising within and out of the universal Church, they have their ecclesiality in it and from it. Hence the formula of the Second Vatican Council: The Church in and formed out of the Churches (Ecclesia in et ex Ecclesiis)(44), is inseparable from this other formula: The Churches in and formed out of the Church (Ecclesia in et ex Ecclesiis)(45). Clearly the relationship between the universal Church and the particular Churches is a mystery, and cannot be compared to that which exists between the whole and the parts in a purely human group or society.

  11. John Enright says:

    “I suggest that you go to participate in as many different Catholic Churches as possible.” Great advice. I’ve been going to various Eastern and Oriental Catholic Churches for years. While the Liturgy appears different at first glance, I’ve always been struck by just how similar the different rites are to each other in actuality.

  12. Former Altar Boy says:

    One correction — at the Maronite Rite Mass, the communicants receive both Species by intinction.

  13. dark_coven says:

    I really envy you guys, from where I am, there are no Eastern Catholic Churches near my area (or none anywhere in my country i.e. Philippines). I hope some of our Eastern Catholic brethren would establish a mission center, or at least one Church for us to appreciate this so-called “Catholic-lungs”.

    Instavrare Omnia In Christo,

  14. Joe says:

    Fr Deacon Daniel, you are correct; I intended to point out that the teaching and practice of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches are not reciprocal.

    Carolyn, there are a few caveats on “A Roman rite Catholic may join any Eastern Catholic Parish and receive any sacrament from an Eastern Catholic priest, since all belong to the Catholic Church as a whole.” A Roman rite Catholic may join any Catholic parish in a way, but does not change rites thereby. For instance, if a Roman (rite) Catholic man regularly attends a Greek Catholic parish, he would need permission from the Roman (rite) Catholic Church to marry or be ordained. I don’t know about ‘joining’ a parish (i.e. what the canonical legalities are) but to change rites and become a full member of another ritual Church requires paperwork that goes to Rome. This is sometimes a surprise for baptised members of an Eastern Catholic Church who are brought up as Roman Catholics and discover when they need their baptismal certificate for something that it gets a bit complicated.

  15. Steve K. says:

    When I go up to Williamsburg to visit my folks, we often go to Mass at Ascension of Our Lord Byzantine Catholic Church. My father converted from Eastern Orthodoxy as a young man when he married my mother, so he likes to go there because the Mass is so familiar from his childhood. The liturgy is beautiful and the priest is a good and holy man.

    My first time receiving Eucharist there was a little clumsy, it takes getting used to for a Latin.

  16. Jason Keener says:

    This is one of my favorite web sites:


    Dr. Anthony Dragani answers all sorts of questions about Eastern Catholic Churches. Be sure to check out the FAQ section.

    Also, do treat yourself to an Eastern Catholic Divine Liturgy. You won’t be disappointed.

  17. Flabellum says:

    When travelling abroad or otherwise visitng Eastern Orthodox churches it is best to adopt local custom and reverence with a profound bow. As Catholics we acknowledge that their sacraments are valid, even though eucharistic hospitality is usually out of the question.

  18. Michael says:

    Aelric, I am concerned that in your, otherwise, excellent contribution, the phrase “ONE Catholic Church is prior, both ontologically and temporally, to any and all of the ‘particular’ churches”, although correct in itself, can be misunderstood by an ordinary Western Rite Catholic, a bishop included, who thinks in terms of the Roman, Latin Church as the “ONE Catholic Church” in exclusive terms. Here is what the Coptic Catholic Archbishop Ghattas said in one of the Vatican II sessions:

    “It would seem that for the many Council Fathers the Universal Church is the Latin Church, which…concedes so-called privileges to a minority group, the Eastern Churches”. Many churchmen of the Latin Church, he said, looked upon the Eastern Churches… “as ecclesiastical oddities or exotic creations”, instead of “as sister Churches which together with the Latin-rite Church make up the Universal Church,”

    The rank of eastern patriarchs is above that of the cardinals. Yet, during the Vatican I and the first session of Vatican II, they were seated after the cardinals. The Melchite Patriarch Maximos IV had described it as “a regrettable anti-Eastern mentality which at the time dominated certain elements of the Roman Curia.”

  19. Susan says:

    I attended DIvine Liturgy a few weeks ago and couldn’t help but notice the word “ineffable.” The word was used near or during the time of the Eucharistic Prayer, of course! I have been to many Divine Liturgies (thanks be to God) and I wonder if we Romans couldn’t learn a bit from our Eastern brethren about translating into the vernacular. The prayers are truly glorious!

  20. Carolyn says:

    Thank you Joe for the clarification on Latin Rite Catholics becoming active members in Eastern Catholic Traditions. A canonical switch of rite is especially appropriate for young families planning to have children. This eases the confusion of locating birth certificates later in life. Personally, this is a non issue ;-) If anything, my Maronite parish is quite small and in great need of assistance. Since joining, I have been asked to serve as lector, join the women’s auxiliary, the parish council and be director for religious education. This parish community has been a tremendous blessing.

    As for the liturgy, communion is by intinction and on the tongue. There is no communion in the hand nor are there any EMHCs.

    The sign of peace is also more reverent. The priest places his hands over the offerings and then passes the peace to an acolyte who passes it to two young children waiting at the foot of the Sanctuary. These children carry the peace to the first person in each pew. No back slapping or high fives – just a reverent sharing of God’s peace from the altar.

    For anyone contemplating a visit to an Eastern Catholic Church, plan on attending 3 weeks in a row. Like anything else – tasting a new flavor of ice cream for the first time, for example – you can’t get the full understanding until you have experienced it a few times. It takes several visits before you can begin to worship our Lord which is what brought you there in the first place.

  21. Charles R. Williams says:

    I am a Latin Rite member of a Byzantine Rite (Ruthenian) parish. There is no need to change rites unless one is interested in Ordination. Practically speaking, the only obligations I have that are specific to my Latin Rite status are to attend mass on Jan 1, Dec 8 and Nov 1 and the Ash Wednesday fast. As a member of the parish I voluntarily assume the disciplines of the Byzantine Rite, which are on the whole more rigorous.

    The people in my parish are most welcoming to anyone who shares a love for their traditions and is willing to leave his baggage behind.

  22. cathomommy says:

    Joe, you said, “I don’t know about ‘joining’ a parish (i.e. what the canonical legalities are) but to change rites and become a full member of another ritual Church requires paperwork that goes to Rome.”
    I don’t think it actually has to go all the way up to Rome as such; I believe that the bishop of your diocese and the bishop/patriarch of the Eastern Rite church which ou are joining generally exchange letters and work it out so it’s official. My husband was raised Latin Rite, and after experiencing the beauty of the Melkite Divine Liturgy, he officially changed rites in that manner. I was also raised in the Latin Rite, and when I married my husband, I did not need to formally change rites; the Melkite priest said that when one marries someone of the Melkite Rite, you automatically become a member of that rite.
    Of course, things get more complicated; the cities in which we have been living for the past 7 years have not had a Melkite church, so we have been attending the TLM. We did make the effort to travel to Melkite parishes for our children to receive their Sacraments of Initiation, since in the Melkite Rite infants receive Baptism, First Eucharist, and Charismation (Confirmation) all at the same time. Now THAT’S a big day in their lives!


  23. Michael says:

    Fr. Deacon Daniel, in response to Joe’s comment that “from the Catholic perspective we may receive Communion from the Orthodox, from the Orthodox perspective we are generally not welcome to do so”, asks “Can anyone provide the relevant canons?”

    Here they are: Latin Canon Law, can. 844/2,3; and Oriental Canons Law, can 671/2”, as summarised in the Directory…on Ecumenism, 1993, No. 123. In my own words:

    A Catholic must meet the following conditions:
    – necessity or genuine spiritual advantage
    – error of indifferentism must be avoided
    – a physical or moral impossibility to receive Communion from a Catholic minister
    – avoid scandal and suspicion among the Orthodox through not following the Eastern usage (confession, fast)
    – respect the Orthodox discipline as much as possible
    – refrain from receiving if the Orthodox Church restricts communion to its own members.

    The Orthodox position, as in the book The Orthodox Church, by Timothy Ware, now Metropolitan Kallistos, Greek jurisdiction, UK:

    One must be “entirely cut off from the ministration of” his “own Church”, and have a “special permission …form an Orthodox priest” (p.319, 1972). Orthodox faithful are “forbidden to receive…from any but a priest of their own Church.” (ibid.)

    A Catholic priest, however, may give to the Orthodox faithful if they “ask…of their own free will and are properly disposed “, and subject to “consideration to be given to the discipline of Eastern Churches” and “any suggestion of proselytism should be avoided.”

  24. Michael says:

    I apologize: the Directory Numbers are 123,124,125, not 123 only.

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