Who They Are and Why They Are Called our "Separated Brethren"

As millions watched the funeral for John Paul II, many were confused by the concluding Panakhyda celebrated not in Latin, but in Greek and Arabic by hierarchs in black hoods, turbans, crowns, and unusual vestments. Were those clerics Catholic?

The answer is -as Catholics themselves are generally unaware- that they have millions of co-religionists who are not themselves part of the Roman Catholic Church. So who are these "other" Catholics? They have their own hierarchies and liturgies, as well as their own distinct apostolic lineages, but they recognize the pope of Rome as the head of the visible Church on earth and have suffered for the cause of that unity. This month’s issue of Documentation Service looks on the matter: Oriental Catholic Churches (Eastern Rite Churches) (Who They Are and Why They are Called our “Separated Brethren”).

“These individual Churches, whether of the East or the West, although they differ somewhat among themselves in rite (to use the current phrase), that is, in liturgy, ecclesiastical discipline, and spiritual heritage, are, nevertheless, each as much as the others, entrusted to the pastoral government of the Roman Pontiff, the divinely appointed successor of St. Peter in primacy over the universal Church,” the Decree on The Catholic Churches of the Eastern Rite (Orientalium Ecclesiarum) declared. Similar documents explain this “unity in diversity” as put together in the Magisterium section.

Several articles in the Features section explain who they are and what caused the division. This is indeed one of the most tragic divisions within Christianity.

So we may appreciate “the whole picture”, the Roman Catholic Church comprises 22 individual or sui juris Churches, all in full communion with the Church of Rome, forming the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. There is the Latin Church, and 21 Oriental Churches. The Oriental Catholic Churches are also known as Eastern Rite Catholic Churches. Each of these 21 Oriental Churches (Rites) has its own hierarchy, traditions, and practices. “The Eastern Catholic Churches refer to those Churches that developed in the eastern half of the Roman Empire, including those communities that derived from them, and are in communion with Rome. They are characterized by a rich heritage with Apostolic origin, and are treasured by the universal Church, for the region was the home of Jesus Christ our Redeemer.”

John Paul II had spoken of “making the Church of Christ breathe more deeply with both her lungs.” This refers to the Churches of the West and of the East, “which for one millennium developed and expressed their great living traditions together,” and may now “draw closer and closer to the full communion that the historical circumstances of the second millennium undermined.” Let us pray that in this third millennium, this full communion between the separated churches may be finally consummated.