That’s what the U.S. bishops hope the next few months will bring. As the Church in America and the rest of the English-speaking world prepares for the new translation of the Roman Missal — the translation we’ll start hearing Nov. 27 — the bishops want Catholics to acquire more than simple knowledge of what we’ll say during the liturgy. They also want us to acquire a fuller understanding of why we’ll say it. They want us to appreciate the depths of meaning and history behind the smallest of gestures and the plainest of words.
Before we can do that, however, we have to take a step back and see the words we pray at Mass in context, as part of a larger tradition of Christian worship, a tradition that is as rich and diverse as the Body of Christ itself.
To worship according to the Roman Missal is, in fact, just one of the many ways Catholics worship. There isn’t just one rite in the Catholic Church. There is a multiplicity of rites, equally valid, equally beautiful, equally true. Together, these varied forms of the sacred liturgy bear witness to the universality of the Catholic faith. They remind us of the richness of our beliefs. They also remind us that what we believe may be reasonable, but it is also a mystery, a mystery that no one formula, phrase or creed can fully express.
The Church, as Blessed Pope John Paul II famously said, must breathe with two lungs, East and West, to truly be the witness Christ calls it to be. Accordingly, as part of Our Sunday Visitor’s ongoing series on the new translation of the Roman Missal, this installment shines the spotlight on the liturgical rites that won’t be changing, namely the rites of the Eastern churches.
Although most Catholics worship according to the Roman rite, there are millions who worship according to different rites. And the more we appreciate their worship, the more we can appreciate our own.
Chaldean: Largest concentration of Chaldean Catholics is in Iraq, but they can also be found in Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Israel, Egypt, France and the United States.
Syro-Malabar: Found mainly in Kerala, India, the rite was heavily Latinized, but efforts have been made to restore it based on East Syrian sources.
Armenian: Largest concentrations of Armenian Catholics are in Beirut, Lebanon, and Aleppo, Syria, but they can also be found in Iraq, Turkey, Egypt, Iran, the United States, Canada, Britain and Australia.
Coptic: Found mainly in Egypt, the Coptic Catholic Church has seven dioceses.
Ethiopian/Eritrean: About a quarter of a million Catholics celebrate in three dioceses in Ethiopia and three in Eritrea.
Syriac: Largely found in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq. The common language is Arabic, although Syriac is still spoken in a few villages in eastern Syria and northern Iraq.
Syro-Malankara: Found primarily in Kerala, India, the Church is served by 600 priests, 130 male religious and 1,740 women religious.
Maronite: Found in Lebanon, Syria, Cyprus, Egypt, Brazil, the United States, Canada and Australia, the Maronite liturgy is of West Syrian origin, but it has been influenced by the East Syrian and Latin traditions.
Italo-Albanian: More than 60,000 faithful celebrate in two dioceses in Southern Italy.
Melkite: Found mainly in Lebanon, Israel, Egypt, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, the Americas, Europe, Australia.
Ukrainian: Church suffered suppression under Soviet rule. Found in Ukraine, Poland, the United States, Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Australia, Western Europe.
Ruthenian: Originating in extreme western Ukraine, these Catholics prefer to be called Rusyns and can be found in Ukraine, the United States and Czech Republic.
Romanian: Greek Catholic Church in Romania suffered under communist rule, and it wasn’t until 1990 that Romanian Catholics could worship openly again. Found in Canada, the United States and Australia, in addition to Romania.
Greek: Formation of Byzantine Catholic community began in 1829, after restrictions were removed. Their presence aroused anger of local Orthodox hierarchy, but they persisted. Located in Greece and Turkey.
Bulgarian: Formed in the 1860s by influential Bulgarian Orthodox in Constantinople, the community suffered during the Balkan Wars of 1912-13 and was reorganized by the Holy See in 1926. Community later suffered under communist rule, but now may worship freely.
Slovak: Their history is intertwined largely with the Ruthenian Catholics, and they can be found in Slovakia and Canada.
Hungarian: Originally forced to celebrate in Greek, the Church struggled to be allowed to have their liturgies in Hungarian. By the 1940s, its churches had all begun to use Hungarian. There are now 175 Greek Catholic parishes in Hungary, served by 265 priests and 11 women religious.
Other communities: Georgian, Albanian, Russian, Belarusian, former Yugoslavia.
Source: Catholic Near East Welfare Association’s website (www.cnewa.org), based on “The Eastern Christian Churches – A Brief Survey (7th edition),” by Father Ronald Roberson.