ASK FATHER: Must a Latin Church Catholic going to an Eastern Church still obey Latin laws?

From a reader…


Is a Latin Rite Catholic who is married to an Eastern Rite Catholic, has Eastern Rite children, attends an Eastern Rite parish, but has not been canonically transferred still obliged to follow the precepts of the Latin Rite (Holy Days of Obligation, fasting and abstinence, etc.)?


Ritual Church ascription is an odd thing, which is made more complex by our modern, mobile society. Our ancient ancestors had little trouble with the notion that, if you lived in Diocese X, you followed the liturgical books of Diocese X. By the Middle Ages, some exceptions started to develop. The legates of the Pope to the Byzantine Emperor worshiped, in Constantinople, according to the Roman books, and the legates of the Emperor to the Pope worshiped, in Rome, according to the Constantinopolitan books. Some merchant colonies started springing up, and some would bring priests from their homeland rather than mix in with local hoi polloi. As the Muslims started conquering large swaths of African and Asian Christendom, refugees from those formerly Catholic lands came to Europe, some bringing with them their priests and their liturgical customs. By the middle of the second millennium of Christianity, we had the beginnings of our current situation where, especially in metropolitan areas, you might have Catholic Churches offering the Holy Sacrifice using several different liturgical books, all in unity with the Bishop of Rome.

So, here we are now, and in some places, there are multiple parishes adhering to multiple rites, and the chances of folks intermarrying, or drifting from one ritual Church to another increase.

Canon law maintains the principle that your ritual Church identity is more or less set at the time of your baptism. If Mom and Dad are of the same ritual Church, then little Buster is too. If Mom is Maronite and Dad is Ethiopian Coptic Catholic, then little George will ordinarily be Ethiopian Coptic, but Mom and Dad can make a specific choice to have him be Maronite. If Mom is Ukrainian Catholic and Dad is Finnish Orthodox, then little Petra is Ukrainian Catholic. It gets more complicated, but let’s not get into that here – specific cases should be referred to your local, friendly chancery office for help in clarifying things.

Now, in the Latin Code, canon 112 gives Latin Catholics the ability to transfer to another ritual Church under two headings. Firstly, by requesting this permission directly from the Holy See. Secondly, by marrying a Catholic of another ritual Church. Marriage does not automatically bring about a change in ritual Church, but it provides the Latin Catholic with the ability to make that choice. He would need to do so publicly – before the Eastern Church pastor, and in writing, in the presence of witnesses. This declaration will then be communicated to his parish of baptism, so that it can be duly noted in the baptismal register.

Mere attendance, no matter how long of a duration, at a parish of another ritual Church does not make one a member of that ritual Church. A Latin Catholic who goes to St. Charbel’s Maronite Church for 50 years is still a Latin Catholic, and a Italo-Albanian Catholic who goes through 12 years of school at St. Waldburga’s Very Proper Latin School, attending Mass there daily, remains an Italo-Albanian. One’s rights and obligations follow from one’s ritual Church ascription, not from one’s parish of attendance. Hence, a Slovak Byzantine Catholic who goes to a Latin Catholic parish is still bound by the Slovak Byzantine laws on fast and abstinence, and a Latin Catholic who worships at a Malabar parish is still bound by the Latin Catholic laws on holy days of obligation.

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  1. I thought that canon only gave the wife had the ability to transfer churches with marriage and the husband did not have that option. The other half of that canon states that upon death of the husband, the wife has the choice of staying in the church she transferred into or going back to her original church.

  2. iamlucky13 says:

    Very informative question and answer that covers a few details I had been wondering about since first attending a Byzantine Rite liturgy. I’m not planning to change Rites, but I was still curious what is entailed in doing so, and hadn’t thought about the different obligations under each Rite.

  3. Nan says:

    And then you come to St Paul where, contra Canon Law, the policy is that Eastern Catholics are unable to change rites except upon marriage or joining a religious order. That’s the party line anyway, although when I pointed out that because I was raised in the Latin Rite, when we went to church, I’m held to traditions I don’t know and to require that I follow them and learn a whole new church, it would be like converting. At that point, Fr MJ conceded that was a good enough reason for the Holy See, nevertheless advising me to remain as I am, active in one church but bound to another.

    I’m told that I have it east because men sometimes attempt entering the seminary and learn that they don’t belong in that seminary and aren’t allowed to convert.

    A priest from another jurisdiction has offered to write a letter for me, telling me that because my dad was straight up raised in the Latin Rite, it should be easy to get the change approved.

  4. AMS says:

    Nan, I was actually able to transfer ritual churches fairly easily. Although technically Slovak Greek Catholic and falling under the care of the Byzantine Catholic Church (Passaic Eparchy) my siblings, father, grand-father, and I were all raised Latin. When I requested a transfer to the Latin Church I was told by the Byzantine priest who assisted me and was responsible for my transfer that I had the only real reason one should be able to transfer. I should point out that as a woman it is much easier to transfer than it is for a man, unless one is transferring from the Latin Church to one of the Eastern Churches which, in that case, men and women seem to have the same likelihood of the transfer being accepted.

    In any event, regardless of which direction someone transfers, it should not be done without a great deal of prayerful consideration.

  5. pitkiwi says:

    Question for a real life friend:

    What if someone is baptized in a Protestant Church (Lutheran), converts to Eastern Orthodoxy and is Chrismated in that Church, but then converts to Roman Catholicism (and marries a Roman Catholic and baptized his son in the Latin church).

    His baptism was “western” but not in a Church proper. His entry into a True church was Eastern.

    His reception into the Catholic Church, in communion with Rome, was western.

    Is he Roman or is he Melkite? What about his son? (Mom is Latin).

  6. hwriggles4 says:

    A good priest to ask would be the recently ordained Fr. Stephen Casmus, who was ordained last year in the Byzantine Rite, and serves in the Eparchy of Phoenix (his parish is close to Las Vegas). Fr. Casmus was raised in the Latin Rite and became one of the first permanent deacons in the Byzantine Rite circa 1990s. Not long after his wife died from cancer, Deacon Casmus left his 9 to 5 job not long after his bishop approved him to enter the Byzantine seminary in Pittsburgh. He is about 60 years old, and is not only a good priest, but also a retired naval officer. I know two of his brothers because we attended the same Latin Rite parish in the 70s (I was a little kid then).

  7. Nan says:

    AMS, thanks for that. I’m Eparcjy of Parma, Westernmost outpost thereof. One of the things stopping me is that the previous Byzantine-Ruthenian priest, who has since run off to the military archdiocese, told me that I did more good for the Church from the outside, as I’m able to explain a bit about the Church, although I laughed at a fellow pilgrim, who asked in Jerusalem if I was Roman Catholic or Greek Orthodox. The answer to that is no. But that happens when people don’t know Greek Catholic is an option.

    Another is that when the Church was built, my family donated a window and grandpa’s name is on it.

    My lapsed Catholic mom reconciled with the Church and had her funeral at this church.

    I follow a mixed bag of rules, not eating meat MWF, year round but not following the real fasting rules. I make rosaries, paint icons and have an Adoration hour.

  8. cwillia1 says:

    For a married Latin Rite layman who has no interest in ordination, there is little inconvenience in living out one’s spiritual life in an Eastern Catholic parish. Nov 1, Dec 8 and Jan 1 are holy days for the Latins. Ash Wednesday has slightly different rules than Clean Monday, and that’s about it. The question one should ask oneself is this: is your spirituality Eastern? If your children grow up and you become widowed would you choose the Divine Liturgy over the Mass and if the answer to both questions is yes, it is time to change rites.

    Changing rites is a straightforward matter if the two ordinaries are open to these things. You write a letter and your Eastern Catholic pastor writes a letter and then you wait for a while. But you should be very clear in your own mind and in what you write that this is a permanent move done for positive reasons.

    It also seems to me that a Latin Rite pastor could dispense a Latin Rite parishioner from any distinctive Latin Rite obligations, substituting the corresponding Eastern Catholic practices – if he chose to.

  9. ASPM Sem says:

    @Nan I’d imagine the over-sensitivity to Easterns becoming Latins in the ArchSPM is because of the whole Archbishop Ireland “founder of the Orthodox Church in America” fiasco. Don’t want to scare even more Eastern Catholics over to the Orthodox than we already have, and Latins “stealing” Eastern Catholics might be seen as confrontational.

  10. Fr. Timothy Ferguson says:

    pitkiwi, It’s not generally a good idea to ask a question on a comment thread like this, since there will be lots of conflicting information, and it’s a question that really should be asked by the person directly affected. There could be nuances, including the ancestry of the man in question, the specifics about the Orthodox Church in which he was chrismated (was it the Syrian Orthodox Church, the Antiochian Orthodox Church – what was the specific jurisdiction and what is their practice?)

    I’d encourage your friend, if there is doubt (and it probably should have been addressed at the time of his reception into the Catholic Church) to talk to someone in his local diocesan chancery.

  11. Matthew Gaul says:

    Forgive me, I don’t know where Providence is sending any given soul, but I am always sorrowful when an Eastern Catholic goes West.

    I am a born Latin who may have very well been lost to hell without the Eastern churches, and there are more like me I am sure … and the Eastern churches are so endangered that every member is precious.

    No given individual Eastern Catholic has that responsibility to people he’s never met (or maybe in a spiritual way, he does), but my heart weeps every time I see an Eastern go Latin.

    If the Eastern Catholic Churches go extinct, even in a given area, I promise you that souls will go unserved and be damned because of it. I promise you.

    We need all these expressions of the faith. Please consider your calling seriously. As a member of a minority church, and I extend this to the Ordinariate and similar structures, do you have a responsibility to your tradition greater than the majority does? That’s for me to ask you, but not to answer.

    Every time an Eastern Catholic leaves, I am heartbroken.

  12. Nan says:

    ASPM Sem, I know that’s the problem. It was the Orthodox Cathedral that was meant to be my parish church. Father Toth, now St Alexis of Wilkes-Barre, brought 300k souls to Orthodoxy, beginning with the parish.

    My Russian Orthodox priest friend once told me that families are split between Orthodox and Catholic and nobody knows why. I know why. He’s from Ohio so didn’t realize that his parish was the seat of the controversy. People at his parish assume I belong because my name is familiar to them. The Croatian girl in my class in Bethlehem wondered how I’m not Orthodox with my name.

    Is it stealing to go where my heart is?

  13. benedetta says:

    I think Father’s answer very concise, however I think the practical effects of all of this on the believer worth considering a bit more. It would seem that some of the practical rationale for this would be to maintain a certain status quo of numbers of people in each Rite. Parents present their children for baptism as Catholics; I’m not sure that they at that time have every possibility and eventuality worked out in advance as to how they will continue or whether it makes that much sense given the communion of Rites within the Church that this should be the be all and end all in practical terms for their lives of faith on this earth from that moment forward. I think a mature independent believer making his own decisions in life and discerning God’s path for him is a different picture than the newborn presented for the sacrament.

    Also I think there are real concerns given Eastern Catholic diaspora, and the tyrannies of secularism in certain parts of the world which have overtaken the culture generally as well as Latin church. In that sense of course it is not so much a loss to Latins but a boon for the communion of the Church in a very real sense to permit the choosing of one’s Rite of attachment a bit more freely and with encouragement with the broader goal of working out one’s salvation in daily life to be the heart of the matter and less so protecting a kind of artificial territory or percentage or numbers for all time.

    Another practical issue has to do with the requirement that one continue on as a Latin who is bound to the precepts and holy days of obligation while attending an Eastern Catholic church. Again this seems a bit narrow given that the Latin side itself may not be holding up its end of the bargain there. These are some reciprocal obligations or responsibilities, born out through relationship, and if the Latin side is simply not there for its flock in one sense or another in serious terms then it would seem more than a little arbitrary and artificially imposed to expect the Latin-born believer this degree of being bound for all times absent a “letter to the Pope” with a very slow if ever response.

  14. byzantinesteve says:

    My (Latin rite) wife observes all of the eastern holy days of obligation despite the fact the local bishop has transferred them to the nearest Sunday. She also observes the eastern tradition of abstinence on Wed and Fri during lent as well as the strict fast on Good Friday and the first day of lent.

    Maybe now that she’s armed with this information, she’ll rub it in that she only needs to go meatless 1x/week during lent.

  15. bourgja says:

    Maybe I missed something but I don’t think that the original question was answered.

  16. bourgja says:

    Oops, scratch that last comment. I see that it was answered in the very last sentence of the article.

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  18. Elizium23 says:

    It is important to note here the distinction between Church and Rite, which is admittedly an evolving distinction.

    Properly speaking, a Rite is a deposit of liturgical and doctrinal patrimony, such as the Roman Rite or Byzantine Rite. A Rite is not a Church in itself, it is a vestment which a Church wears in her life of faith.

    A Church is the appropriately constituted body of faithful governed by e.g. a Major Archbishop or Patriarch. The Catholic Church consists of 24 sui iuris (self-governing) particular Churches. Each of these Churches uses at least one Rite. The largest Church, the Latin one, uses a plethora of Rites, while each of the 23 Eastern Churches uses exactly one Rite, be it Byzantine, East Syrian, or Armenian, etc.

    So all that to say, one does not “switch Rites” but one changes canonical ascription to a Ritual Church. Naturally, this often involves switching Rites incidentally, but it might not: imagine a Byzantine Ruthenian Catholic transferring to the Ukranian Catholic Church.

    It is common in outmoded descriptions to find a conflation of “Rite” as meaning “Church” but this meaning is deprecated and the Church is generally moving toward a more nuanced understanding of each term in its own right. (pun intended)

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