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Different Rites of the
One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church

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The Rites:


Question: Why is there more than one Rite? Do we need 20+ different Rites? 

Answer: Our Lord only gave us the essential elements of the Divine Liturgy, the Sacraments, etc.: not specifics on their practice or celebration. The essence of matter, form, and intention (found in every Sacrament) is drawn by the Magisterium from Divine Revelation in Sacred Tradition and Scripture. These essentials are not changeable by the Church. However, when the Apostles of Jesus’ time brought the Gospel to major cities, they inculturated the essentials of the above (Liturgy, fasting, etc.) into the culture of the area. The tradition of a particular area/manner of celebrating a Sacrament is called a "Rite". The original Rites had three major groupings: the Roman, the Antiochian (in Syria), and the Alexandrain (in Egypt). In the 4th century, under the influence of St. Basil and St. John Chrysostom, the Byzantine Rite derived from the Antiochian. These 4 main Rites then created the over 20 Liturgical Rites present today in the one, Holy, catholic and Apostolic Church.

This might bring to mind the question "But isn’t this being "too" diverse? Isn’t this going to cause disunity among the Church? 

Since the early days of Christianity, there has been a problem of "universalism" vs. "particularism"/"diversity vs. uniformity. 

  • Not the easiest to see that only through the variety and diversity of Rites can the Catholic Church realize her "universalness" in the fullest sense; 
  • St. Paul was one of the first to help us realize this. The Popes have repeatedly noted the importance of diversity in Rites in the Church. "Perhaps nothing, in fact, better proves the note of Catholicity in the Church of God than the singular homage paid by ceremonies (rites) which vary in form, which are celebrated in languages venerable by their antiquity, and which are still further hallowed by the use that has been made of them by the Apostles and Fathers of the Church" (Pope Leo XIII, Orientalium Dignitas, Nov. 30, 1894).

A Church is the assembly of the faithful, hierarchically ordered, both in the entire world (Catholic Church) or in a certain territory (particular Church). To be a sign of the Mystical Body of Christ, a Church must have both head and members. The Head of the Mystical Body is the sacred hierarchy (the bishops, priests and deacons) fulfilling their duties of teaching, sanctifying, and governing. The Mystical Body of Christ is the laity--the flock of Christ. Therefore, the Church of Christ is fully present sacramentally (by way of a sign) wherever there is a chief shepherd (a bishop and those who assist him) and Christian people entrusted to his care. The Head of the Mystical Body of Christ is also present sacramentally in ritual Churches. They are organized under a Patriarch who--with the priests--represent Christ the Head to the people of that tradition/Rite. 

A Rite can have a celebration of the Eucharist which is unique to that Church (such as the Maronite Church), or it can be common among various Churches in one Rite (such as the Byzantine Rite). To be Catholic, particular Churches and ritual Churches must be in communion with the Successor of St. Peter, just as the other Apostles were in communion with him in establishing Churches in areas which they evangelized.

The Five Main Rites of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church:

  • Roman/Latin Rite

  • Antioch
  • Alexandrian
  • Byzantine
  • Armenian
(aka. the "Western Church")

The "Eastern Churches" (IN COMMUNION with Rome; NOT to be confused with the Orthodox church)

During the first 300 years when the Rites were forming:

  • Most Ceremonies were of Eastern Origin
  • Greek, not Latin, was the predominate language used in Liturgies and documents (reason why priests sometimes take courses in Greek as well as Latin in the seminary). 
  • In the 3rd century, Latin began to be used in Rome, and flowed outward from there to the rest of the Western Church.
The Triple Tiara which the Pope used to wear (Pope Paul VI gave it to the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in D.C. after Vatican II) represents the three "hats" that the Holy Father wears (literal, not figurative, hats):
  • Bishop of Rome - Not personally involved in day-to-day events, but the Pope does take an active role as Archbishop of Rome 
  • Patriarch of the West - Head of the Roman Rite, similar to the heads/Patriarchs of the other 3 main Rites
  • Capacity as Pope - Equal pastor of all Catholics of all of the Rites (in a sense, an "equal" member of all Rites in this capacity)

A recent surge in interest in the different Rites of the Catholic Church was caused  by the near-election of the successor to Pope Pius  XII. John XXIII was elected by a narrow margin over the Armenian Patriarch, Cardinal Gregory Peter Agajanian XV. Also, Pope Paul VI (successor to John XXIII) was a member of the Ambrosian Rite of the Roman Rite, so not all Popes are members of the Latin Rite, or of the Roman/Western Church.

Western Rites and Church


The Church of Rome is the Primal See of the world and the Patriarchal See of Western Christianity. Founded by St. Peter in 42 it was consecrated by the blood of Sts. Peter and Paul during the persecution of Nero (63-67 AD). It has maintained a continual existence since then and is the source of a family of Rites in the West. While the origin of the current Rite, even in the reform of Vatican II, can be directly traced to only the 4th century, these connections point to an ancient apostolic tradition brought to that city that was decidedly Jewish in origin. 
After the Council of Trent (1560) it was necessary to consolidate liturgical doctrine and practice in the face of the Protestant Revolt. Thus, Pope St. Pius V imposed the Rite of Rome on the Latin Church (the Rites subject to him in his capacity as Patriarch of the West), allowing only smaller Western Rites with hundreds of years of history to remain. Many younger Rites of particular dioceses or regions ceased to exist. So, the term "Roman" Rite wasn’t created until the 1500s.


  • Rite of an overwhelming majority of Roman Catholics, and majority of Catholics in general.
  • Named because of the use of Latin in the Liturgy, and is still part of Canon Law: "The eucharistic celebration is to be carried out either in the Latin language or in another language, provided the liturgical texts have been lawfully approved." (Cannon 928, 1983 Code)
  • The Rite of the Archdiocese of Milan, Italy
  • Thought to be of an early origin; probably consolidated, but not originated, by St. Ambrose in the 4th century. 
  • Rite of the Archdiocese of Braga, the Primal See of Portugal, it is only occasionally used. 
  • Derives from the 12th century or earlier.
  • Confined to the Rite of the Iberian peninsula-specifically, the Cathedral of the Archdiocese of Toledo, Spain, and 6 of its parishes. 
  • Known to exist from at least the 6th century, but probably with roots to the original evangelization. 
  • Beginning in the 11th century it was generally replaced by the Roman Rite, although it has remained in the locations listed above. Its celebration today is generally semi-private.
  • Rite of the Order of Friars Preacher (OP), founded by St. Dominic in 1215.
  • Rite of the Order of Carmel, whose modern foundation was by St. Berthold c.1154.
  • Rite of the Cathusian Order founded by St. Bruno in 1084.

Eastern Rites and Churches

They have their own hierarchy distinct from the Latin Rite, system of governance (synods) and general law (the Code of Canons for the Eastern Churches). The Supreme Pontiff exercises his authority over them through the Congregation for the Eastern Churches. 


The Church of Antioch in Syria (on the Mediterranean coast) is considered an apostolic see by virtue of having been founded by St. Peter. It was one of the ancient centers of the Church, as the New Testament attests, and is the source of a family of similar Rites using the ancient Syriac language (the Semitic dialect used in Jesus' time and better known as Aramaic). Its Liturgy is attributed to St. James and the Church of Jerusalem. It is divided up into two main areas: the Eastern Syrian Church, and the Western Syrian Church.



  • Following Arian heresy in 4th century (Christ was a perfect creature, but not Divine), Nestorius of Constantinople taught that Christ was Divine and human—because Christ was "2 persons".
  • As the Council of Nicea (431) corrected this error, Nestorious and his followers fled to Persia and other parts of the world
  • Some gradually (and slowly) returned to the Church in 1692.
  • Part of the defectors that followed Nestorius, they settled in South India, and continued their use of the East Syriac liturgy.
  • With the help of Jesuit missionaries, they returned to communion with Rome in the 16th century. 



  • Syrian Christians who retired into the mountains of Lebanon for protection against political and religious enemies.
  • When the Crusaders ‘ran into them’ in the 12th century, they immediately proclaimed their unity with the Catholic Church, and they still pride themselves to this day that they have never formally separated themselves from it. 
  • Because they have never left communion with Rome, they are one of the few Rites that has no non-Catholic counterpart, e.g. there are no Orthodox or Monophysite Maronites--the only Maronites are Catholics. 
  • 20 years after Nestorius’ preached his heresy, the Monophysite heresy taught that Christ was indeed 1 person--with just one nature (Divine). (Monophysite means "one-natured) 
  • The Council of Chalcedon (451) corrected this, but many Syrians and Egyptians followed this teaching out of the Church (many in Egypt still hold this view to this day). 
  • They eventually grew into the Pure Syrian Rite, and many returned to Rome in 1781. 
  • Another group of Catholics in South India, they were originally evangelized by St. Thomas but later left the Church during a heresy. 
  • Eventually reunited with Rome in 1930 under the guidance of their charismatic leader Mar Ivanios.



The Church of Alexandria in Egypt was one of the original centers of Christianity, since like Rome and Antioch it had a large Jewish population, which was the initial object of apostolic evangelization. Its Liturgy is attributed to St. Mark the evangelist, and shows the later influence of the Byzantine Liturgy, in addition to its unique elements.


  • Due to their dependence on Egypt, many Coptic Catholics in Ethiopia/other parts of Africa followed the Monophysite heresy in the 5th. 
  • A small minority of Coptics returned to the fullness of the Faith in 1741, and retained the customs they had for the prior 12 centuries. 
  • A majority of Copts/Coptics in the world are not Catholics, and elect their own "pope" in Alexandria. They are often lumped together with the Orthodox Church (much to the Orthodox’s dismay, since they also view them as "heretics").
  • Coptic Christians in Ethiopia who returned to Rome in 1846. 


The Church of Constantinople became the political and religious center of the eastern Roman Empire after the Emperor Constantine built a new capital there (324-330) on the site of the ancient town of Byzantium. Constantinople developed its own liturgical rite from the Liturgy of St. James, in one form as modified by St. Basil, and in a more commonly used form, as modified by St. John Chrysostom. After 1054, except for brief periods of reunion, most Byzantine Christians have not been in communion with Rome. They make up the Orthodox Churches of the East, whose titular head is the Patriarch of Constantinople. The Orthodox Churches are mostly self-headed, united to each other by communion with Constantinople, which exercises no real authority over them. They are typically divided into Churches along national lines (such as the Russian Orthodox Church, Greek Orthodox Church, etc.). Those that have returned to communion with the Holy See are represented among the Eastern Churches and Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church. The two main Churches in the Byzantine Catholic Church are the Armenian and the Byzantine.


  • It is considered either its own Rite or an older version of the Byzantine, although its exact liturgical form is not used by any other Byzantine Rite. 
  • Composed of Catholics from the first people to convert as a nation, the Armenian Rite was developed under the guidance of St. Gregory the Illuminator before the Great councils in the 4th century. 
  • The Armenians sided with the Monophysites and left the Church in 451, but many returned during the Crusades. Most of the Armenians in the world are members of the Orthodox Church and are not in union with Rome.


Even though the Polish, Czech, Slovenian, most of Slovak and Croatian people now belong to the Roman Rite, originally they did not and were ‘pushed’ under the authority of German bishops as the Carolingian military began to subdue these areas. The majority of those who practice the Byzantine Rite (often popularly called "Greek Catholics" or "Greek Rite") are not, in fact, Greek at all, but Slavs. The Slavic language is still maintained in use within the liturgy because it is still a 'vernacular' language within the liturgical meaning of the term as people still speak it in their homes. The Romanians and Hungarians do not use Slavonic, however, but their own languages, and those of Italy and Sicily use Greek rather than Slavonic, Italian or Latin. The use of English is widespread in the United States in all usages of the Byzantine Rite.


  • Albanian Christians, numbering only 1400 today, who resumed communion with Rome in 1628.
  • Unknown number of Belarussians who returned to Rome in the 17th century. 
  • Some of the Bulgarian Christians left the Orthodox Church and returned to Rome in 1861. 
  • The Czech Rite was recently organized into a jurisdiction in 1996.
  • Croatian Catholics of Byzantine Rite who resumed communion with Rome in 1611. Most Croatians are Roman Rite. 
  • Comprised of Greek Christians who returned to Rome in 1829, there are only 2,500 Greek Catholics in Greece, Asia Minor (Turkey) and Europe. 
  • Descendants of Ruthenians who returned to Rome in 1646. 
  • Never separated from Rome, these 60,000 Byzantine Rite Catholics are found in Italy, Sicily and the Americas. 
  • Catholics from among those separated from Rome in Syria and Egypt who resumed Communion with Rome at the time of the Crusades, although definitive union only came in the 18th century. 
  • "Melk" in Syriac means "king", and they were known as "the King’s Men" because the minority of Melkites in Egypt frequently turned to the Emperor in Constantinople for assistance during their persecution. 
  • Their customs gradually slipped into disuse over time, and eventually adopted the Byzantium customs held to this day.
  • Romanians who returned to Rome in 1697, most Romanian Christians are Romanian Orthodox. 
  • Russians who returned to communion with Rome in 1905; the vast majority of Christians in Russia are Russian Orthodox.
  • Catholics from among those separated from Rome in Russia, Hungary and Croatia who reunited with Rome in 1596 (Brest-Litovsk) and 1646 (Uzhorod).
  • Byzantine Rite Catholics of Slovakian origin numbering 225,000 and found in Slovakia and Canada.
  • Catholics from among those separated from Rome by the Greek Schism and reunited about 1595.
  • During the Soviet era, Ukrainian Catholics were violently forced to join the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Their hierarchy, which continued to exist outside of Russia, has since be re-established in the Ukraine.

Some Differences Between the
Western and Eastern Churches


  • Eastern Catholic Churches administer the Sacrament of Confirmation at Baptism
  • The Western Church confirms its members at various ages (commonly between the ages of 12-15)

Holy Days / Feast Days Held in Importance in the Eastern Churches

  • Lent begins on the Monday of the week of Ash Wednesday, not Ash Wednesday itself
  • St. George the Martyr - April 23
  • Protection of Our Lady - October 1 
  • St. Nicholas - December 6

Religious Symbols

  • Mosaics and icons are the common adornment to Churches and homes in the Eastern Church, while the Western Church has preferred the usage of statues.


  • Western Church Fathers focused and speculated on ethical problems, sin, free will, grace, satisfaction and justification
  • Eastern Church Fathers only used philosophy when revealed truths were attacked from within in heresy/error, or from outside in dealing with pagan philosophy. Occasionally used rules of deductive reasoning but always stressed Faith, which was considered the highest philosophy.

The Cross

  • Western Church uses single horizontal bar to symbolize the Cross Christ was crucified on
  • Eastern Church uses three horizontal bars (longest in the middle) to symbolize:
    • Top bar: Plate hung by Pilate reading INRI ("Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews") in Latin, Greek and Hebrew
    • Middle bar: The wood of the Cross carried by Christ
    • Lower bar: Footrest on a cross (which only causes more pain when used by one who is crucified); later slanted
  • Use of the three-barrred Cross is very ancient, appearing in an icon of Our Lady of the Passion (one of the oldest icons) 


In the West:

  • Form of fasting was typically reducing amount of food consumed, due to bland, non-varied meals from day to day. 
  • Normal day in the West was having two full meals; fasting days had one full meal and one lighter meal.
  • For a majority of Western Church members, meat (and even fish) was not common to see on the dinner plate.
  • Abstain from meat every Friday during the year.
  • Fast (depending on your normal meals) on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday
 In the East:
  • Form was actually an "abstinence" from favorite kinds foods, since the Eastern economy was much wealthier and had a larger variety of foods. 
  • Abstain from certain foods every Friday during the year (similar to the Roman Church) 
  • Strict Fast on first Monday of Lent, Good Friday and Holy Saturday (no foods that contain animal products OR come from animals, such as eggs, milk, cheese and butter)

Married Clergy:

Not a single 'practicing' priest in the Church has EVER married; there have only been instances of married men who later became ordained. If a priest were to leave the Priesthood and later married, it is a different situation since the priest has had his faculties (ability to administer sacraments) suspended by the Church when he left the Priesthood.

In the West:

  • Due to various reasons, the Western Church instituted the discipline of only unmarried men being ordained (except for some Protestants who have entered the Church in recent years)
  • In the early years of the Church, it was difficult to find a single man in his 40-50s who would make a good Bishop: therefore, some married men were consecrated Bishops. However, married clergy in both Rites have always followed guidelines concerning conjugal relations between themselves and their spouses and the celebration of the Mass, etc. In addition, both Rites have always mandated that if a married priest is consecrated a Bishop, he must live like "brother and sister" with his wife.

In the East:

  • Except for the decision of the Holy Father for only unmarried men to be ordained in the Eastern Catholic Church in the US and Canada, the Eastern Church has always allowed the possibility of married men being ordained to the Priesthood.



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