Eastern-Rite Catholics in the United States (National Institute)

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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course US: Religious Records - Part 2  by Beverly Whitaker, CG. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).


The Catholic Encyclopedia states a definition of an Eastern-Rite Catholic as: “A Christian of any Eastern rite in union with the Pope: i.e. a Catholic who belongs not to the Roman, but to an Eastern rite. They differ from other Eastern Christians in that they are in communion with Rome, and from Latins in that they have other rites.”

For a time, Eastern Catholic churches were referred to as “Uniate” churches, a term considered derogatory and therefore no longer used.

Brief History

The year 1054 marks the split between the Latin and Byzantine churches. Attempts at reunion took place in 1274 at the Second Council of Lyons and again in 1439 at the Council of Ferrara-Florence, but neither succeeded.

Subsequently, Roman Catholic theology emphasized the necessity of direct jurisdiction of the Pope over all local churches. By implication, churches not under the Pope’s jurisdiction were considered objects for missionary activity. Alternately, the notion of “rite” developed, by which groups of eastern Christians could come into union with Rome and would be absorbed into the single Church, but they could be allowed to maintain their own liturgical tradition and canonical discipline.

Pope Paul VI, in the document Orientalium Ecclesiarum, (November 21, 1964, Second Vatican Council) clearly and significantly affirmed the place of the Eastern churches with their distinctive rites and practices within the Roman Catholic Church.

The holy Catholic Church is made up of the faithful who although combined into different groups are held together by their hierarchy. They share the same faith, the same sacraments, and the same government. The document authorized groups to retain the traditions of each particular Church or rite and at the same time expressed the need to adapt its way of life to the needs of different times and places.
Each group was to be able to organize its own parishes and hierarchy. The Churches of both the East and the West have the right and duty to govern themselves according to their own special disciplines. Eastern Churches are able to preserve their own liturgical rites and ways of life, with changes to be made only in accordance with their own organic development.


The Eastern-Rite Catholics organized under the Congregation for the Eastern Catholic Churches (within the Roman curia). The Dictionary of Christianity in America (1990) on page 374, states, “In the U.S. there are Armenians, Chaldeans, Italo-Greeks, Maronites, Melkites, Romanians, Syrians, Russian and Ruthenian or Ukrainian Catholics. All but the Maronites have counterparts in Eastern Orthodoxy.”

Note the listing and statistics for world-wide groups of Eastern Catholics which appears in the Catholic Encyclopedia: Part II. Catalogue of the Eastern Churches. This online article on the New Advent website compares the Orthodox Schismatics to Eastern Catholics in much detail:

  • Byzantine Catholics [see the 7 sub-groups below]
  • Chaldean Catholics (estimates from 33,000 to 70,000)
  • Alexandrian Catholics (over 20,000)
  • Abyssinians
  • Syrians (25,000 families)
  • Uniat Church of Malabar (about 200,000)
  • Armenians (about 130,000)
  • Maronites

Within the above listing, it is pointed out that the Byzantine Catholics are those who correspond to the Orthodox, all using the same Byzantine Rite, but organized into seven groups:

1. The Melkites in Syria and Egypt (about 110,000 worldwide)
2. A few in Greece and Turkey
3. A Georgian congregation of Constantinople
4. The Ruthenians (nearly 4,000,000 in Austria-Hungary and Russia)
5. Bulgarian Catholics (about 13,000 worldwide)
6. Rumanian Catholics (about 1,500,000, in Rumania, chiefly in Transylvania)
7. Italo-Greeks (about 50,000, scattered about the Mediterranean)

The article from The Catholic Encyclopedia concludes with this statement:

Eastern Rite Catholics are true Catholics, and have as much right to be so treated as Latins. As far as faith and morals go they must be numbered with us; as far as the idea of an Eastern Church may now seem to connote schism or a state of opposition to the Holy See, they repudiate it as strongly as we do. Nevertheless, their position is very important as being the result of relations between Rome and the East, and as showing the terms on which reunion between East and West is possible.

The term “Eastern patriarch” signifies the bishop who has jurisdiction over all the bishops, clergy and people of his own territory or rite. This is to be in accordance with the rules of canon law. Special honor is to be given to the patriarchs of the Eastern Churches, while acknowledging the primacy of the Roman Pontiff.

Since a valid priesthood has been preserved among the Eastern Churches, their clerics who come to Catholic unity may exercise their own orders, in accordance with the regulations laid down by the competent authority.


Eastern worship rites oblige members to take part in the Divine Liturgy (called “The Mass” by the Roman Catholics) on Sundays and feast days, and to receive the Sacred Eucharist on at least these days, more frequently being recommended. Roman Catholics would see both differences and similarities in the Liturgy as practiced by Eastern Catholics. These are described in “What’s An Eastern Rite Catholic?” on the Catholic Information Network website.

The Sacraments of Penance, the Eucharist, and the anointing of the Sick can be shared with separated Eastern Christians and even from non-Catholic ministers in whose church there are valid sacraments, when access to a Catholic priest is physically or morally impossible.

Websites for Eastern-Rite Catholics

Al-Bushra -How much do you know about the Eastern Catholic Churches?

Catholic Information Network - Differences and Similarities

Catholic Information Network -Eastern Church

Catholic Information Network -Eastern Laws and Customs

Catholic Information Network - Introduction to the Eastern Rites of the Catholic Churchby Fr. Hal Stockert

Catholic Information Network - What’s An Eastern Rite Catholics?

CNEWA - The Catholic Eastern Churches

New Advent - Catholic Encyclopedia - Eastern Churches


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online courses US: Religious Records - Part 2 offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about these courses or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at wiki@genealogicalstudies.com

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