Frequently Asked Questions
About the Byzantine Catholic Churches

The Different Rites in the Catholic Church
When the Apostles began to spread out to share the Gospel, the way that Christianity developed in each geographical place was influenced by many different factors, including the culture and history of the people becoming Christian. God works through our humanity to build the Church, and that resulted in a wealth of diversity! All of these peoples received the same Faith from the Apostles, but they each have their own spirituality, approach to theology, and liturgy, which led to the development of unique rites.

What is a rite within the Catholic Church, and why are there different rites?
A rite is sort of like a family of churches within the family of the whole Catholic Church. In the early Church, there were five sees based in the most significant cities in the ancient world, each with apostolic origin:
Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, Rome, Constantinople
Today, there are a total of 24 self-governing sui juris churches that make up the Universal Catholic Church as a whole. These churches fall into the six different rites:
  • Latin, or Roman Rite
  • Byzantine
  • Armenian
  • West Syriac (Maronite and Syro-Malankar)
  • East Syriac (Chaldean and Syro-Malabar)
  • Alexandrian (Coptic and Ethiopian).
The Byzantine, Armenian, and Syriac rites all grew out of the See of Antioch.
The most common Byzantine Catholic churches in the United States are Byzantine Ruthenian, Melkite (Byzantines from the Middle East), Ukrainian, and Romanian. There are a few Russian Catholic and Italo-Albanian parishes or missions.

So are all Eastern Catholic rites in line with the Magisterium and in communion with Rome?
All Eastern Catholic churches are in communion with the Apostolic See of Rome, and as such also the Pope as he is the Bishop of Rome. The Bishop of Rome is understood as having a certain primacy as first among equals, like the eldest among brothers. Each bishop, however is the primary guardian of the faithful in his church.
What is the history behind the Byzantine Catholic rite, and what are the hallmarks of the Byzantine tradition? How is the Divine Liturgy different from the Mass?
The Byzantine Rite is a family of churches that grew out of the See of Constantinople, which grew out of the ancient see of Antioch. Collectively, they are sometimes called “Greek Catholics” as opposed to “Roman Catholics.” But they're not necessarily ethnically Greek, just like Roman Catholics aren’t necessarily Italian. They all primarily celebrate the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom as a primary form of worship. The basic structure of the Divine Liturgy is very similar to the Mass. The first half consists of the proclamation of Scripture, followed by the celebration of the Eucharist. There will be lots of incense!
The Divine Liturgy is entirely sung to help everyone in the congregation to participate in singing. Translations vary  but for the most part, the calendars and lectionary are the same and the Divine Liturgy is fundamentally the same in any church of the Byzantine rite.
How can I tell the difference between an Eastern Catholic church and an Eastern Orthodox church?
Ideally, just the name on the door! It is important to remember that the various particular churches developed their diversity long before they split, and they all came back into communion at different points in history, in different circumstances. Their theology, spirituality, and traditions were not meant to change.  However, many of the Eastern churches have experienced some Latinization—the adoption of traditions of the West. An Eastern Catholic church (in communion with the Pope and the Magisterium) is likely to have more Latinizations than an Eastern Orthodox church (churches not Catholic or faithful to the Pope).
I’m Roman Catholic. Can I attend the liturgy of an Eastern Catholic rite  to fulfill my Sunday obligation and what should I know before I visit?
Absolutely! You can always attend any Catholic church of any rite. And you are always welcome to receive the Eucharist in any Catholic Church as long as you are properly prepared and disposed.
You can also go to Confession to the priest there if you like. In the Byzantine rite, the priest usually hears confessions standing in front of an Icon. He will also use a different prayer of absolution according to his rite.
What is it like receiving the Eucharist in an Eastern Rite church?
One thing to be aware of when visiting a for Divine Liturgy is that the Eastern Churches use leavened bread for the Eucharist. This symbolizes that the Lord is alive and has risen. The yeast is likened to the Holy Spirit filling the Church after Pentecost. It is alive, and because Christ is risen the East has always seen leavened bread as fitting for the Eucharist.
In the majority of Eastern churches, the Eucharist is dipped into the chalice, and then given to the faithful from a spoon or by hand where the priest will dip the Eucharist in the chalice and then place it in the mouth of the communicant. The priest might ask your name as you come up, as he says a short prayer that usually includes your name. Otherwise he will say “the servant of God….”

May I receive Communion?
If you are a practicing and communing Catholic in good standing with the Church (confessed recently, kept the appropriate Communion fast, married in the church if applicable, etc... all the usual stuff) then you are welcome and encouraged to approach to receive the Holy Eucharist. Those who belong to the Eastern Orthodox (Greek, Russian, Antiochian, Serbian, etc) and Oriental Orthodox Churches (the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch, the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church, and the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church) and the Assyrian Church of the East (Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church, the Chaldean Syrian Church of India) are urged to follow their own church’s guidelines; however our church does not object to them receiving communion if they present themselves in good faith. 
Assuming you may receive communion  the next concern many people have is how.
  • We don’t bow or make the sign of the cross as we approach the chalice, but cross our arms over our chest in an X to keep them out of the way. (We don’t want to accidentally send the chalice flying)
  • If you want to, you may tell the priest your Christian/Baptismal name as you approach.
  • Look up toward the ceiling and open your mouth like a baby bird. Don’t stick your tongue out. (Very important).
  • We don’t say anything after we’ve received. We’re really serious about that whole being careful with the Eucharist bit, so we try not to create opportunities for accidents to occur.
What are the differences in the celebration of the Sacraments in Byzantine and Roman traditions?
The Sacraments (often called Mysteries in the East) of initiation—Baptism, Chrismation (or Confirmation), and Eucharist—are received all together in the East. The idea that the Eucharist or Chrismation should be postponed until the Sacraments were understood never developed in the East. We recognize that we can never fully understand them. The sacraments, in fact, are what form our understanding of the grace of God. Holy Communion and the grace of Chrismation nurture the divine life placed in us at Baptism and understanding follows from that.
regarding Ordination, there are also married priests in the Byzantine Rite. Priestly celibacy is a discipline, not a doctrine. St. Peter himself was married! The Church, both East and West, has ordained married men to the diaconate and the priesthood at different points from the earliest days, although a man may not later marry after being ordained. For many centuries, however, bishops have always been chosen from among celibate clergy, normally monastics. The families of priests add a wonderful element to community life of a parish, lending stability both to the community and in the priest’s life. He brings his experience of natural fatherhood and being a husband to being a spiritual father and understanding to the experiences of the laity. There is an important place for both in the Church!