Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 17, 2002
One Church, different traditions
Ukrainian, Roman Catholics have one faith, but express it in different ways
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
WCR Staff Writer
Ukrainian Catholics are Catholics with a difference. They are not Roman Catholics but Eastern Catholics with their own distinctive liturgical and legal system as well as their own theology.
They have the same faith as Roman Catholics, but they express it differently.
The Ukrainian Catholic Church is one of 22 Eastern churches in the Catholic communion, each of which enjoys the same dignity, rights and obligations as the Latin or Roman Church.
From a historical perspective, the 22 Eastern churches are usually divided into five families or groups - the Byzantine, Alexandrian, Armenian, Antiochene and Chaldean.
Ukrainian Catholics, along with 13 other Eastern Catholic churches, celebrate the Divine Liturgy in the Byzantine or Constantinopolian tradition.
Eastern Catholics worldwide number more than 12 million, including about seven million Ukrainian Catholics. There are about 128,000 Ukrainian Catholics across Canada, 26,000 in Alberta.
The Roman Catholic Church has more than a billion members worldwide.
Ukrainian Catholics have been in full communion with the pope since the 1596 Union of Brest-Litovsk. However, the synod of bishops which produced that union also created a split in the Ukrainian Church - Orthodox bishops did not rejoin the Catholic Church and are not in union with Rome.
Ukrainian and Roman Catholics can receive Communion at each other's liturgies and priests of either Church can celebrate the liturgy in the other one.
While accepting the primacy of the pope, Ukrainian Catholics are governed by their own synod of bishops. They also retain their own traditions in both liturgy and Church discipline.
However, they also want greater recognition of their traditions by Rome. For example, Ukrainian Catholics want their leader to be recognized as a patriarch with rights such as the power to convoke synods of bishops.
For its part, the Vatican has urged Eastern churches to restore some ancient liturgical practices, such as giving infants First Communion immediately after Baptism and Chrismation (Confirmation).
One area of some controversy is the ordination of married men.
The Eastern churches admit married men to the priesthood in their regions of origin but do not permit marriage after ordination. Neither do they permit the priest to remarry if his wife should die.
Outside their regions of origin, Eastern Catholics have not been able to ordain married men. A 1929 Vatican instruction prohibits the ordination of married Ukrainian Catholic priests in the United States. A similar ban was instituted in Canada in 1930.
Ukrainian bishops in Canada have gotten around this decree by sending married men to Ukraine for ordination; however, some Ukrainian Catholic bishops have ordained married men in Canada arguing they had as much right to do so as bishops in Ukraine.
"If they can ordain married men, then so can I," the now-retired Bishop Basil Filevich of Saskatoon said in 1994.
There is also controversy over whether the 1929 prohibition still applies. Some canon law experts maintain that since the 1990 Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches did not mention the ban, it is no longer in effect. Other experts disagree.
Married priests, moreover, are not eligible to be bishops in the Eastern churches. In the Western Church, married men can only be ordained deacons.
Further, most celibate priests in the Ukrainian Catholic Church are members of religious orders. The result is that most bishops are religious and few are drawn from the diocesan clergy.
The worship service in the Ukrainian Church and in most Eastern churches is called the Divine Liturgy, not the Mass. During the celebration, the priest stands facing the altar along with the people. In the Roman Catholic Church, during most celebrations, the priest faces the congregation.
While Ukrainian remains the official language of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, in Canada, many Church members are no longer familiar with that language. Thus, in recent years, there has been a great increase in the amount of English in the liturgy.
Communion in the Eastern churches ordinarily is given under both forms, and ordinarily leavened bread is used.
The sacraments of Baptism and Chrismation are now administered together in infancy. Until the 18th century, First Communion was also administered to newly-baptized infants.
Now, as in the Roman Church, First Communion is administered at about age seven, although since the Second Vatican Council many Ukrainian priests give the three sacraments of initiation together at infancy.
In the Ukrainian Catholic Church, it is the priest who is the ordinary minister of the sacrament of Chrismation. In the Roman Church, the bishop is the ordinary minister of Confirmation, while priests may be allowed to do so in special circumstances.
The different approach to theology in the East is linked with a different approach to the sacraments.
Baptism is one example. As in many other circumstances, the Ukrainian priest takes the role of mediator in the ceremony, calling upon God to baptize the child. When pouring the water, he says "The servant of God is baptized . . .". In the Western Church, the priest says, "I baptize you . . .".
(This article originally appeared in the March 31, 1997 WCR. Information for it was gleaned from WCR files and from a primer prepared for Edmonton Catholic Schools.)