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.)?
GUEST RESPONSE FROM: Fr. Tim Ferguson
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.