By Jonathan Lynch
I was surprised by how much I’ve gotten the question, not just during my summer of Totus Tuus, but other places as well: “Are other Rites really Catholic?” or “How can there be more than one true Church?”
I for myself have always thought that the 24 different Rites of the Church were awesome – there is something amazing in having a small local Church that is part of the bigger, universal Church. And it shouldn’t be a foreign concept to any of us, since it is something that we see under a different form in our many parishes and dioceses.
And, as a matter of fact, I have come across an analogy that fits the situation quite neatly. And it should appeal to all of you as well. I mean, seriously, who doesn’t like apple pie?
We’ll begin with the basics: if you wanna have apple pie, you need ingredients, and you need a recipe. If you try to replace the crust with raw elephant meat, you’ll end up with something, but it won’t be apple pie. If you think you’re gonna bake the thing at 3,000°F, you will get results, but it won’t be something you’d want on your plate. In short, to have the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, you need to meet some requirements, otherwise, it will very simply be something else. First, let’s look at the ingredients. You need true doctrine. There are 255 dogmas that define the essential beliefs of the Catholic Church. You need to believe in the Holy Trinity – that there are three persons in one God. Otherwise, you are not a Catholic! This is not an instance of vindictiveness or exclusion; it is an objective observation of fact. For instance, if you look at a jug of molasses, you can truly say, “That is not a rocket ship. It may be good to some degree or another, but it is still not a rocket ship.” This is exactly the same approach that we must take. Other faiths may be good to the extent that they are true, and no further, but they simply are not Catholic. They do not have the fullness of the Faith. In short, they may be fudge brownies, or macaroons, or pumpkin pie. But they are not apple pie, and there is no getting around the fact.
Now we come to an important point. All of the Rites of the Catholic Church believe these 255 dogmas. All of them. This is why we can call them all Catholic. To use my analogy, all of these different rites have the correct list of ingredients. All of these rites have sugar, and flour, and apples and cinnamon, and butter (or lard, as the case may be). If you ask a Maronite Catholic, he will tell you that Jesus Christ is truly present in the Holy Eucharist. If you ask a Syro-Malabar Catholic, he will tell you that Mary was conceived without original sin. If you ask a Latin Rite Catholic (that’s all of us in the Diocese of Superior under Bishop James Powers), he will tell you that Jesus is true God and true Man. The same cannot be said of any other religion.
The next aspect – the recipe – is where most people get hung up on the matter. The reason is fairly simple. It can be difficult to see that there is often more than one right answer. There are lots of “correct” recipes out there, in addition to the wrong ones. For instance, your Grammy’s recipe may call for a lattice top, and an oven temperature of 350° while your Aunty’s recipe calls for a glazed top with an oven temperature of 400° and a shorter baking time. Both of these recipes are correct – that is to say, they achieve the desired goal. On the other hand, Uncle Ben’s recipe that calls for crude oil and a blowtorch… Well, let’s not even go there.
So what does the recipe correspond to? Tradition. An identity that is handed on from one generation to another. This is where we see many of the differences between the other rites and our own. Many of the Eastern Rites administer Holy Communion and Confirmation at a very, very young age. Different languages are used in the Sacred Liturgies. Different prayers are used in Holy Mass. But despite these differences, they all believe the same things. And there is another critical, unifying aspect: the priesthood. All of the different rites have a valid Sacramental Priesthood, passed on through the centuries through the Sacrament of Holy Orders, all the way back to the twelve Apostles, who received their priesthood from Jesus Christ himself.
Many of the other Christian traditions resemble Catholicism to some degree or another, but unlike the Catholic Rites, they are something quite distinct. Many non-denominational establishments accept some of the dogmas and pitch the rest – and the similarities end there. Protestants such as the Lutherans have kept some vestiges of the liturgical traditions, but have lost the priesthood, and only accept some of the dogmas. Then there are churches, like the Orthodox Churches, who have kept the priesthood, and the liturgies, and hold most of the dogmas, but deny only a few. But all of the Catholic Rites hold the fulness of the truth revealed by God, and the Sacred Liturgies, and the Holy Priesthood. That is why they are truly Catholic, no more or less than you and I.
As an interesting side note, there are six different Catholic Rites represented in the State of Wisconsin, with most of the Eastern churches being in the Milwaukee area. One notable exception is Holy Resurrection Monastery about an hour south of Green Bay. They make good coffee, and I want to go there someday.
With that in mind, take care folks, and may Christ be with you always!
All for Thee, Sweet Jesus,
Through the Immaculate Heart of Mary,
For the glory of God
And the salvation of souls!
All images from the creative commons or public domain, used with permission: