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Eastern Rite Catholics: What Are They?

Eastern Rite Catholics

What Are They?

Former Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali’s recent defection to Rome has highlighted earlier efforts of the Roman Catholic Church to bring other ecclesiastical jurisdictions into its orbit.  There are a total of twenty-three which have submitted to Rome, mostly after breaking with the Eastern Orthodox Churches. Two others have been formed for Anglicans defecting to Rome from within the US and the UK.

What are the Eastern Rite Catholic Churches?  Simply put, they are eastern ethnic churches that have submitted to the authority of the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church over the centuries.

They use four different liturgies but most are in the language of the ethnic group from whence their respective members originate.  According to official sources, there are twenty-three “sui iuris” jurisdictions which are in full communion with The Patriarchal Latin Catholic Church.

  1. Patriarchal Armenian Catholic Churches use the Armenian Rite and has a membership of almost 370,000.  Being isolated within Islamic territories, the Armenian Church “established union” with the Latin Crusader states in the years 1198 AD.  Pope Benedict XIV formally recognised the Catholic Patriarch of Cilicia in 1742 AD.  
  2. Patriarchal Coptic Catholic Church uses the Alexandrian Rite.  It traces its founding back to the Apostle Mark in the 63 AD.  There were attempts to reunite with Rome and the Coptic Catholic Church came into being in 1741 AD.  Pope Leo XIII re-established the Patriarchate of Alexandria in 1895.  There are more than 240,000 members.
  3. The Ethiopian Catholic Church uses a form of the Alexandrian Coptic Rite.  St Athanasius ordained the first bishops for the Ethiopian Church.  After earlier failed attempts, the Ethiopian Catholic Church was formed in 1961 AD.  It has almost 200,000 members.
  4. The Patriarchal Antiochian Syrian Maronite Church uses the West Syrian Maronite Rite in the Aramaic language.  This church never took part of the Great Schism nor broke away from the Eastern Orthodox.  It has over 3,100,000 members.
  5. The Patriarchal Chaldean Catholic Church uses the East Syrian Rite and has a membership of over 380,000.  It is also known as the Assyrian Church.  It suffered greatly during the Muslim conquest and unified with Rome during the time of Pope Julius III in 1553 AD.
  6. The Syro-Malabar Catholic Church uses the East Syrian Rite.  It is also known as the Mar Thoma Church as it was founded by the Apostle Thomas in what is now Kerala.  It has approximately 3,750,000 members.
  7. The Patriarchal Syrian Catholic Church uses the West Syrian Rite.  It is also known as the Antiochian Church.  There are nearly 125,000 members.
  8. The Syro-Malankara Catholic Church in India did not initially accept the Latinisation of the liturgy brought by Portuguese.  Relations were restored in 1926 AD.  It uses the Byzantine Rite  in the local language.  There are over 404,000 members.
  9. The Patriarchal Melkite Catholic Church uses the Byzantine Rite and has a membership of almost 1,341,000.  It claims it was founded by the Apostle Peter.  In 1724 AD, the pro-Roman Patriarch was recognised by Pope Benedict XIII.  
  10. The Italo-Albanian Catholic Church is centred in southern Italy and Sicily.  It uses the Byzantine Rite and has approximately 60,000 members.  It has always been in communion with Rome and has never officially broken with the Orthodox Church.
  11. The Ukrainian Catholic Church is also a Byzantine Rite church.  The Ukrainians were originally evangelised by missionaries from Constantinople.  It has approximately 4,322,000 members.  
  12. The Ruthenian Catholic Church is a Byzantine Rite church of almost 500,000.  The church formally united with Rome in 1646 AD.
  13. The Byzantine Catholic Church USA uses the Byzantine rite and has 100,000 members.  Members rebelled against clerical celibacy and did not join the Orthodox Church of America.
  14. The Romanian Catholic Church uses the Byzantine rite.  It has nearly 750,000 members located in Romania.
  15. The Greek Catholic Church of Greece is very small with 2,300 members.  It uses the Byzantine rite and is opposed by the Greek Orthodox Church.
  16. The Greek Catholic Church in former Yugoslavia has a membership of almost 77,000 and uses the Byzantine rite.  About half of the membership is ethnic Ruthenians.
  17. The Bulgarian Catholic Church uses the Byzantine rite and has about 10,000 members.  Reunited with Rome in 1861 AD.
  18. The Slovak Catholic Church uses the Byzantine rite.  Reunited with Rome after the Union of Uzhorod in 1646.  There are approximately 225,000 members in Eastern Slovakia.
  19. The Hungarian Catholic Church has about 267,000 members and uses the Byzantine rite.  Have used the Hungarian language with papal approval since 1900.
  20. The Russian Catholic Church has 20 parishes worldwide and uses the Byzantine rite. The church was persecuted heavily during the years of Communist rule.
  21. The Belarusian Catholic Church is a Byzantine rite church.  It came into being after the Union of Brest in 1596.  There are approximately 100,000 members.
  22. The Albanian Catholic Church dates back to the apostles.  Most Albanians converted to Islam but there are still 3,000 members.  It is a Byzantine rite church.
  23. The Georgian Catholic Church is a Byzantine rite church with about 7,000 members.

Data is provided from the Catholic Education Resource Center.

The Patriarchal Latin Catholic Church, most commonly called the Roman Catholic Church, claims 1,070,315,000 members and uses the Latin rite.

The Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham in England and Wales reports thirty-six parishes and fifty-seven congregations.  In 2019 there were 1,850 members and ninety-seven clergy. Parishes are allowed to use a liturgy with elements of the Book of Common Prayer.  The US & Canadian branch is called the Ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter.  It claims over 6,000 members in forty-one congregations.