What is an Eastern Catholic Church?

An Eastern Catholic Church is a distinct community of faith in communion with the Pope, the bishop of Rome. Each Church shares with all other Catholic Churches the one profession of faith, celebrates the same sacraments (mysteries) and acknowledges the primacy of the Pope, the successor of Peter. It is in these three ways that the unity of the Catholic Church is expressed while the diversity, autonomy and independence of each of the Churches are maintained.

The various Catholic Churches were established by the apostles and their successors. The Eastern Catholic Churches are those particular Churches which are founded on one of the apostles – Peter, Mark or Andrew – and which trace their traditions to one of the ancient patriarchal sees of Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria or Constantinople.

While in communion with the Pope as the visible head of the Catholic Church, each particular Eastern Catholic Church has its own distinct theology, spirituality, liturgy and law. As well, each is characterised by its own linguistic and cultural influences which include history and cultural identity.
Eastern Catholic Churches, although embodying their own particular spirit and culture, share with one another many common elements, attitudes and emphases. Some examples of these are:

  • a love of tradition and the Eastern Fathers (tradition is honoured because it manifests the values of the past within the values of today);
  • an emphasis on interior or contemplative prayer. The ‘prayer of the heart’ is widely practised in the Christian East and focuses on the purification of the heart by acknowledging human ‘nothingness’ without the mercy of God;
  • the importance of Great Lent and the feast of the Resurrection. The Great Lent is the major liturgical event of the year. It is the central fasting period which moves into the joy and festivity of the Resurrection;
  • a sense of the sacred and transcendent in the celebration of the mysteries.