Are Byzantine Catholics really Catholic?
Unequivocally, YES. We are Catholics in union with the Bishop of Rome (the Pope) whom we recognize as the visible Head of the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church is a communion of churches. It is composed of churches from the Eastern Tradition and Western Tradition, also known as Roman Catholic. The Eastern churches, also called Eastern rites, help to complete the fullness of the Catholic Church, both historically as the customs developed over centuries and theologically.
As Catholics, Eastern and Roman Catholics share the same faith and same sacraments; the way of expressing them differs. The difference is that we Eastern Catholics have a distinctive way or rite of expressing our faith in regards to Liturgy and customs.
There are many Eastern churches, each with their own heritage of theology, liturgy, and discipline developed with their own respective languages, and ecclesiastical organizations. They are identified by their national origin, such as Ruthenian and Ukrainian (those of eastern Slavic descent), Hungarian, Romanian, Armenian, Chaldean (Iraq), Maronite (Lebanon), and Syrian. The Ruthenian church is the largest Byzantine Jurisdiction, and has become a melting pot of different nationalities.
What is the Byzantine Catholic Church?
At the Last Supper, after Jesus changed bread and wine into His own Body and Blood, He told His disciples to "Do this in Memory of me." This they did. As the disciples brought the Gospel to different parts of the world, they adapted ceremonies of the Liturgy to the customs and music of that people. In the end, four great centers of Christianity emerged with distinctive Christian customs, but the same faith. These centers were located in the great cities of Jerusalem, Antioch, Rome and Alexandria. A couple of centuries later when the capital of the Roman Empire was moved to the Eastern city of Byzantium and renamed Constantinople, an adaptation of the Antiochian way of celebrating Liturgy was made. Thus a new center of Christianity arose in Constantinople and her ritual became known as the Byzantine Rite. From Constantinople the Slavic peoples of Eastern Europe were converted by Sts. Cyril and Methodius and naturally followed the Byzantine Rite.
Can Catholics attend a Byzantine Church to fulfill their Sunday obligation?
Sunday obligation is fulfilled by attending the Divine Liturgy in any Catholic Church of any tradition.
Can Catholics receive communion in a Byzantine Church?
All Catholic who are properly disposed and in the state of Grace are welcome to receive the Divine Eucharist.
How is communion given in a Byzantine Church?
In the Byzantine Catholic rite, the Holy Gifts are given under both forms of bread and wine by means of a golden spoon. When approaching to receive the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, fold your hands right over left on the breast in the form of Saint Andrew's cross; if unknown to the priest, in a low voice state your first name. As each communicant receives the sacred species the priest says: "(Name) servant of God receives the precious and all holy and most pure Body and Blood of our Lord and God, Jesus Christ for the remission of his sins and for life everlasting."
Tilt your head fully back and open your mouth (without extending the tongue). The priest then places the precious Body and Blood of Jesus into your mouth. Do not touch the spoon with your mouth or tongue, but close the mouth only after the spoon has been withdrawn. There is no response to the words of the priest as is the practice in the Roman Catholic Church.
How is the sign of the Cross made by Byzantine Catholics?
The Sign of the Cross is made with the right-hand, thumb and the first two fingers placed together proclaiming our belief in the Blessed Trinity. The remaining two fingers are put in the palm of the hand, indicating the two distinct natures of Jesus, Human and Divine. In the tradition of the Byzantine Rite, the forehead is touched first, followed by the chest, then the right shoulder followed by the left, confirming that we love God with all of our mind, heart, and strength. This way of blessing oneself is very ancient and was in use in the west until the middle ages.
What are additional differences between Byzantine and Roman Catholics?
Some of the Eastern liturgy distinctive characteristics are:
The Priest faces East towards the altar along with the people, rather than facing the people across the altar.
The Sign of the Cross is made many times during the Liturgy as a sign of our faith and the receiving and accepting of God's blessings.
Chanting or singing of all divine Services including the epistle and Gospel are sung to melodies passed down and preserved for generations. Byzantine liturgical tradition emphasizes that we offer ourselves to God as we are, bringing only ourselves and worship with our God-given voices. Therefore the use of musical instruments during the divine services is not permitted; all liturgical prayer is sung a capella (without accompaniment).
Incense is used throughout the Liturgy as a sign of reverence for the sacred place, the sacredness of the people who are made in God's image, and as a sign of preparing for something important about to happen in the Liturgy. It is our prayer ascending like the smoke of incense before the throne of God, recalling the Psalmist's words: Let my prayer arise like incense before you.
Icons (the Greek word icon means image), which are the distinctive art form for the Eastern Churches, are used in place of statues. Icons, which express the public teaching of the Church, radiate divine life by their tranquil brilliance and symbolize the human and divine aspects of Christ, His most Holy Mother, the Ever-Virgin Mary, important feast days, and the saints.
The Iconostasis: The most striking feature in a Byzantine church is the Icon Screen or Iconostasis, which divides the sanctuary, representing heaven, from the nave, representing the created, worshipping earth. The screen is seen as a symbol of joining the created with the Creator, a welcome into the mystery of God Himself by personal and public worship. The opening and closing of the Royal Doors repeatedly emphasizes our relationship with the Almighty.
The royal doors are flanked by the icons of Christ (on the right) and the Mother of God (with Christ) on the viewer's left. Generally, on the far right is the patronal icon of the parish, and in the far left is the patron saint of the Byzantine Church, St. Nicholas. Depending on tradition, other icons may also be on the iconostasis and other areas of the church.
Language: In the Byzantine Catholic Church in America, the liturgy was translated into English from Slavonic in the 1950s. Many churches continue to include some traditional Slavonic in worship, especially hymns and seasonal greetings.
The altar (holy table) is square in shape symbolizing the four corners of the world, where the apostles were sent to spread the Word. The ornate vestments worn by the priest date back to early Byzantine empire clothing.
Why is the Virgin Mary called "Theotokos"?
"Theotokos" is a Greek word meaning "God-bearer." It is a title that is commonly translated into English as "the Mother of God." Because of Mary's unique role and unique relationship with her Divine Son, she has a special place of honor in the Church. The Church is awed by the mystery that her womb contained the uncontainable God, and the hymns of the church proclaim Mary to be "higher in honor than the cherubim and beyond compare more glorious than the seraphim."
How is Fasting and Abstinence observed?
The law of simple abstinence forbids the use of meat, permitting the use of eggs and dairy products. All the faithful who receive the Eucharist are bound to abstain. Abstinence is obligatory on all Wednesdays and Fridays of the Great Fast.
The law of strict abstinence (fast) forbids the use of meat, eggs and dairy products. While they are permitted, facsimiles, substitutes, and synthetic derivatives violate the intention and spirit of the law of strict abstinence. All the faithful who receive the Eucharist are bound to observe strict abstinence. Strict abstinence (fast) is to be observed on Pure Monday, the first day of the Great Fast and on Great and Holy Friday.
What is the Great Fast?
The Great Fast in the Byzantine Catholic Church is the same as Lent in the Roman Catholic Church. The Great Fast begins on Pure Monday which is two days before the Roman Catholic Ash Wednesday.
What is the Presanctified Liturgy?
It is the Liturgical service for the distribution of communion celebrated on Wednesdays and Friday evenings of the Great Lenten Fast. It is also celebrated on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of Holy Week.
Do Byzantine Catholics genuflect and kneel?
No. When we enter our pew, we bow before our Lord (rather than genuflecting as in the Western tradition), ever present in His holy temple and on the Holy Table (altar). During the Divine Liturgy, as a sign of reverence and respect, Eastern Catholics do not kneel since Jesus Christ has released us from bondage and destroyed death. We come before Him, free and whole, yet in constant need of his grace and salvation. We stand before Him and submit ourselves to his Divine Mercy, as we will on the day we see Him face to face!
Is the Liturgy celebrated the way it was celebrated before Vatican II?
Yes. We use the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, which dates back to the 300's.