Many Catholics in the United States are not even aware that there are several distinct “rites” within the Catholic Church. The Roman or Western rite is what most people think of when they consider Catholicism, but there are also Eastern rites, which are in full communion with the Church of Rome but have their own traditions and liturgical practices. The Vatican II Fathers addressed Eastern rite Catholics in Orientalium Ecclesiarum or Decree on the Catholic Eastern Churches, assuring them of their equality in the Church and of the value and richness of their traditions.
Here's a sampling of the ideas and topics you'll find in Orientalium Ecclesiarum.
* The Eastern rite churches possess valuable liturgical rites, Christian disciplines, and ecclesiastical traditions that are part of the “divinely revealed, undivided heritage of the Universal Church.”
The Particular Churches or Rites
* A rich variety exists in the unity of the Catholic Church, the Mystical Body of Christ. The various rites within the Church exist in communion and are united in the Holy Spirit.
* The Eastern and Western rites are equal in rank, share the “same rights and obligations,” and are “under the direction of the Roman Pontiff.”
* Leaders in all rites must work together in unity with the Apostolic See to spread the Gospel.
Preservation of the Spiritual Heritage of the Eastern Churches
* The heritage of the Eastern Churches belongs to the whole Church of Christ and must be appreciated for its ancient depth and richness.
* The Eastern Churches “have the right and duty to govern themselves according to their own special disciplines.”
* Eastern liturgies and traditions must be preserved and fostered. Eastern rite Catholics should grow in knowledge of and love for their traditions. Other Catholics should learn about those Eastern traditions.
The Eastern Patriarchs
* Patriarchs are Eastern rite bishops who have jurisdiction over the clergy and faithful in a particular territory. They are subject to the pope but equal to each other.
* The honors, privileges, and rights of patriarchs must be protected and fostered in the Eastern Church.
* The council “confirms and approves” the sacramental rituals of the Eastern Church.
* Eastern rite priests may confer the sacrament of Confirmation.
* The faithful of all rites are obliged to attend Mass on Sundays and holy days. Saturday night Mass also fulfills the Sunday obligation. The faithful are encouraged to receive Holy Communion frequently.
* Priests of any rite may hear the confessions of the faithful of any rite in the territories in which they have such faculties.
* Universal feast days are set by the Apostolic See, but individual churches may set their own feast days.
* Easter should be celebrated by all Catholics on the same day.
* The faithful have the right to follow their own rite.
* Each rite should follow its own discipline for the Divine Office, and the faithful are encouraged to participate as much as possible.
* Eastern patriarchs and synods may regulate liturgical languages in their own territories.
Relations with the Brethren of the Separated Churches
* All Catholics must pray for the unity of all Christians.
* Christians of non-Catholic Eastern Churches may enter Eastern rite Catholic Churches through a “simple profession of the Catholic faith.”
* In some circumstances, Catholic and non-Catholic Eastern Churches may share in the sacraments, especially when the “need of salvation and the spiritual good of souls” are “prime considerations.”
* All Catholics, both Eastern and Western, must value the unity they possess and pray for the unity of all Christians.
The full text of Orientalium Ecclesiarum is available on the Vatican website.