Intro Truths
Scripture Saints
Culture Worship

Liturgical Rites

What do we mean by 'Rites' and 'Liturgy'

The term Rite can be defined as a ritual, ceremony, or act of worship. For example, "Baptismal Rites", or "Rites of Matrimony". It can also be understood in a broader sense, as in a set of customs, traditions, ceremonies, prayers, and worship services characteristic of a particular Church, region, or community. For example, "Roman Rite", "Byzantine Rite", or "Benedictine Rite".

The term Liturgy refers specifically to established forms of public or common worship, as opposed to private prayers and devotions. In most cases liturgical prayers in the Catholic Church are led by priests, religious, or choirs rather than by uninstructed laymen, and follow specific forms. Forms of worship and ceremonies that are considered as the liturgy of the Catholic Church include:

  • Sacramental Rites or ceremonies associated with baptism, matrimony, holy orders, etc.
  • The Mass or Eucharistic Service, also known as in the Eastern Church as the Divine Liturgy.
  • The Divine Office, a set of established daily prayers said by communities of religious. It is also known as the Liturgy of the Hours or the Canonical Hours
  • Traditional Rites associated with Blessings, Exorcisms, and Consecration. They are similar to Sacramental Rites, but were instituted by the Church rather than by Christ.

The Mass of course is a sacramental rite, but it is so far predominant over all other forms of liturgy that many people consider the Catholic mass and liturgy as one and the same. In the Eastern Church, the mass is called the Divine Liturgy.

Existing Catholic Rites

Most Catholics are familiar mainly with the post-Vatican II Ordinary Form of Roman Rite. However, the Catholic Mass can be validly celebrated in several other forms. Catholic liturgies can be grouped into Western and Eastern Rites. Most Western rites are descended from the Roman Rite and were originally celebrated in Latin. Most Eastern rites are descended from the Byzantine Rite and were originally celebrated in Greek. A chart showing how most exising rites are related to the Parent Rites of the Eastern and Western Churches is provided below.

Western Rites (Latin)

There are several variations of the Roman rite celebrated in the Western Church, and several other rites that descended from the Gallican rite. a Latinized version of an ancient Eastern rite. The best known alternative to the modern Roman rite is the Tridentine Rite, or Traditional Latin Mass. The TLM is celebrated exclusively in traditionalist communities but can be offered in place of the modern rite by any priest who has been trained and is competent in Latin.

Most other alternative rites in the Western Church are permitted exclusively within selected Diocese or religious communities. These restricted versions of the Western rite include:

  • The Anglican Use, authorized since 1980 for Anglican converts to Catholicism within Anglican communities.
  • Liturgies based on the Roman rite, authorized for members of select Religious communities. These rites include prayers and feasts of special importance, and include rubrics for both mass and the Divine Office (canonical hours). The Benedictines, Carmelites, Dominicans, and Norbertine are some of the religious orders that have their own dedicated rites.
  • The Ambrosian Rite, based on the Gallican Rite, is celebrated in the Diocese of Milan
  • The Mozarabic Rite, also based on the Gallican Rite, is celebrated in various Diocese within Spain, especially Toledo.

Eastern Rites (Greek)

Eastern rite liturgies are more varied and historically complex that those in the West. All Eastern rite Churches together account for a small percentage of Catholics, but they include several of the oldest Christian Churches in continueous existance.

  • The Byzantine Rite, also known as the Greek Rite, traces is origen to the Catholic Church in Constantinople. It is the most common of the Eastern rites, and closely related to most East Orthodox rites. It descended from the Ancient Antiochene rite, as did most other Eastern liturgies.
  • The Maronite Rite (also known as Western Syriac Rite) has historically been used in the Holy Lands and in Christian Lebanon.
  • The Chaldean Rite Rite (also known as Eastern Syriac Rite) was the rite used by Nestorian Churches that reunited with Rome.
  • The Syro Malankara Rite is a version of the Syrian Rite that is historically used in Southern India.
  • The Syro Malabar Rite is a version of the Syrian Rite that is historically used in Southern India.
  • The Coptic Rite is descended from the ancient Alexandrian rite and is commonly used in Egypt and Ethiopia.
  • The Armenian Rite is an ancient rite used by the Armenian Church.

Parent Rites

Another way to organize the existing rites of the Church is to consider their relationship to the four Parent rites of the Church. In the Chart below, all existing rites, and several obsolete rites are organized according to their relationship to the earliest Patriarchates of the Church (Alexandria, Antioch, and Rome).

Parent Rites of the Eastern (Greek) Church

The two "Parent Rites" of the Eastern Church, from which almost all Eastern Orthodox rites, Eastern Catholic rites descend, are the "Antiochene" rite, based in the ancient Patriarchate of Antioch, and the "Alexandrian" rite, based on the ancient Patriarchate of Alexandria. Both were originally based on the Syria-Aramaic language common in the Near East.

The Armenian Rite is also an ancient and historic rite. It is not considere a "parent" right however, since it was based on the Armenian language, rather than on a lingua franca (common language), such as Aramaic, Kione Greek or Latin.

  • Antiochene Rite (Parent Rite of Antioch, Syro-Aramaic)
    • Western Syrian (Syria)
      • Syrian — Returnees from the Monophysites, Patriarch in Lebanon
      • Marionite — Never separated from Rome, Patriarch in Lebanon
      • Malankarese — South India, reunited with Rome 1930
    • Eastern Syria (Persia, India) —
      • Chaldean — Returnees from the Nestorian Rite
      • Syro-Malabarese — Southwest India, "Thomas Christians"
    • Byzantine (Constantinople, Greek) — The Byzantine Rite is the Parent rite of almost all Eastern Orthodox Churches, including those celebrated in Slavic or Magyar languages. Only those in Union with Rome are listed here:
      • Greek Byzantine — Based in Greece and Turkey
      • Melkite — Never separated from Rome, Patriarch in Damascus, Syria
      • Ruthenian — Russian, Hungarian, Croation churches in communion with Rome
  • Alexandrian Rite (Parent Rite of Alexandria, Kione Greek)
    • Coptic — Patriarch in Cairo, Egypt
    • Ethiopian — Abyssinian, Patriarch in Addis Abada, Ethiopia
  • Armenian Rite (Ancient Rite observed in Armenia, the near east)

Parent Rites of the Western (Latin) Church

  • Gallican Rite (based on the Antiochene rite, translated into Latin in the 2nd century) — Most of Western empire outside of Rome used local versions of the Gallican rite from 200-800 A.D.
    • Celtic Rites — Diverse set of rites, mixture of Gallican and Roman, celebrated in Ireland, Wales, Brittany, Roman-Britain, and Cornwall.
    • Mozarab Rite — Spanish Visigoth rite. Preserved by Cardinal Ximenes in 15th century. Still celebrated in Toledo.
    • Ambrosian Rite — Latinized rite based on Greek liturgy, still celebrated in Milan.
  • Roman Rite (Latin rite that developed organically in central Italy, spread throughout Western Europe in the 9th century)
    • Sarum Rite — Version of the Roman rite used in much of England before the Reformation.
    • Benedictine Rite/Dominican Rite — Version of the Roman rite adopted by Monks and other Religious orders.
    • Tridentine Rite — Version of the Roman rite promulgated by Pius V in 1570 following the Council of Trent.
    • Ordinary Form (Post Vatican II) — Version of the Roman rite promulgated by Paul VI in 1969 following Vatican II.
    • Extraordinary Form — Version of the Roman rite with slight modifications of Tridentine rite promulgated by John XXIII in 1962
    • Anglican Use — Version of the Protestant Anglican rite accepted by Benedict XVI to facilitate union between Anglicans and Catholics in 2009.