The Universality of Our Catholic Church

The following was originally printed in the Dec. 16 parish bulletin

Last Sunday it was a big surprise that the winter storm got more and more severe as the hours passed! On Friday the newspaper forecast for Sunday was for one to three inches of snow, but we had more than ten inches. I know the early part of the week was awful for drivers, but the landscape is beautiful now. Most people had already decided to come to Mass, I think, and were delayed but not deterred by the weather. We had 190 people for the 5:00 Mass on Saturday, 300 on Sunday at 9:00, and exactly 183 at 11:00, by the ushers’ count. I presume that count was taken after dozens of people filtered in during Mass. I hope no one did anything risky to be present for Mass, as you can consider your obligation lifted if the weather or your health prevents you from coming to church. I headed to a penance service that Sunday afternoon, and the driving conditions were pretty bad. Thanks to all who came to lead Confirmation classes (and attend them), and to lead the Children’s Liturgy of the Word.

I would like to remind you that our parish penance service is coming up on Thursday, December 20 at 7:00 in the evening. While some parishes have already had their penance services, some neighboring parishes have penance services scheduled at these times:

Sunday, December 16 at 2:00 PM – St. John the Baptist in Savage

Sunday, December 16 at 3:00 PM – Holy Spirit in St. Paul

Sunday, December 16 at 3:00 PM – St. John Neumann in Eagan

Thursday, December 19 at 7:00 PM – St. Thomas Becket in Eagan

Saturday, December 22 at 9:00 AM – Mary, Mother of the Church in Burnsville.

You have probably heard the term “Roman Catholic Church.” You might have the impression that it is the official name of the Church to which we belong. But are you a “Roman Catholic”? It might surprise you to learn that nowhere does our Church refer to herself as the “Roman Catholic Church.” I hope you have a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church somewhere in your house. A quick glance at the cover and title page will tell you that it refers to the “Catholic Church” and not to the “Roman Catholic Church.” If the word “Roman” were in the title, it would be too limiting for a Catechism that is meant to be for all Catholics. I have come to believe that the term “Roman Catholic” was created by members of the Church of England to describe Christians who maintain ties to the Pope. But we are members of the whole Catholic Church first, and more specifically, members of the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church.

Christianity can be described as an umbrella under which there are three groups: the Catholic Church, the Orthodox Churches, and the ecclesial communities that have their origin in the Protestant Reformation.  But Christianity can also be described as having two main parts, East and West – when Blessed John Paul II was Pope he often described these as two “lungs” with which Catholics breathe. The Orthodox Churches are all Eastern.  The Protestant communities are all Western.  The Catholic Church is a mixture of East and West.  There are 23 rites of the Catholic Church, and they all recognize the authority of the Pope, the Bishop of Rome.  One of the 23 rites is Western, and it is vastly larger than all of the rest.  That is the Latin Rite (imprecisely known as the “Roman Catholic Church”), with a more than a billion members.  The other 22 rites of the Catholic Church are all Eastern, and have a total membership of around 15 million.

The Eastern Catholic Churches are grouped in five different traditions: East Syrian (Chaldean), West Syrian (Antiochian), Constantinopolitan (Byzantine), Alexandrian, and Armenian. Within each tradition are various rites, ranging in number of members from 2300 members to 5.3 million members. In the West Syrian tradition one of these rites is the Maronite Church, with 3.1 million members worldwide. These are the Christian people of Lebanon, who have always maintained their unity with the Bishop of Rome (the Pope). Our nearest Catholic neighbor, Holy Family Church at Lexington and 110, is a Maronite parish. It belongs to the Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon, headquartered in St. Louis, in the same way we belong to the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, headquartered in St. Paul. In the United States there are around 200,000 Maronite Catholics, including 110 priests, in 59 parishes and 21 missions. Holy Family’s pastor is Abouna (Father) Rodrigue Constantin, who was kind enough to share with me that the Maronite Divine Liturgy as celebrated in that parish is mostly in English, but about 10% is in Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke. Latin Rite Catholics like us can go there and participate fully in the liturgy, including receiving Communion, and it certainly fulfills the obligation to participate in Sunday Mass. I am sure some St. Peter’s parishioners have done that. We certainly benefit from the Maronite people’s hospitality at their festival in the summer and at the meatless dinners they serve on Lenten Fridays. I wished Abouna Rodrigue a happy Advent before I thought to ask whether Maronites observe Advent. They do not. They are now in a season that will include the Nativity of the Lord, which Maronites observe on December 25 as we do, but they do not call the season Advent.

This lesson about our nearest Catholic neighbors was prompted by a question someone asked me, as well as a chance encounter with someone working at a restaurant who asked me where I served as a priest. She knew very well where St. Peter’s is because she goes to Holy Family. I hope you have enjoyed a chance to think about the universality of our beloved Catholic Church, especially as we draw so near to Christmas!


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