The Importance of Studying the Eastern Practice of This Sacrament

Why is it important for Roman Catholics to study the Eastern Catholic Church’s practice of this Sacrament?  (And for the primary readership of this blog– seminarians in St. Louis, Missouri– why must future Roman Catholic priests understand better the East?)

1)     they are our Catholic brothers and sisters.  We should know about our family.

2)     There are three Eastern Catholic Churches in St. Louis (not to mention the other dioceses represented in this seminary).  In St. Louis, these three are the Maronites, the Ukrainians, and the Byzantines.

3)     So many of the Eastern Catholics, many of whose church is not in St. Louis, find themselves going to a Roman Catholic Church.  We must be aware of this and become more sensitive to their needs (some grew up in the Eastern tradition, while some are Eastern in name only).

“… Vatican II said that ‘Provision must be made therefore everywhere in the world to protect and advance all these individual churches’” (OE §4, cit in (NCCB, p. 29, Eastern Catholics in the United States of America [ECUSA])

“Because of religious persecution, war and civil disorders, the twentieth century has witnessed an unprecedented emigration of Eastern Catholics from the lands of their origins.  the resulting situation is that the Eastern Churches have become everywhere a minority group, struggling to maintain their apostolic faith and traditions. … In the land of the ‘diaspora’ they are cultural and ecclesial minorities, stuggling to maintain their identity”(The New Latin code of Canon Law and Eastern Catholics (CCEC); cit in ECUSA p. 7)

“In his apostolic letter Orientale Lumen [OL] of May 2, 1995, Pope John Paul II said that a “conversion is … required of the Latin Church, that she may respect and fully appreciate the dignity of Eastern Christians, and accept gratefully the spiritual treasures of which the Eastern Catholic Churches are the bearers, to the benefit of the entire catholic Communion” (§21).  The pope called upon the Latin Church to “show concretely , far more than in the past, how much she esteems and admires the Christian East and how essential she considers its contribution to the full realization of the Church’s universality” (ibid)” (ECUSA, p. 5).

“Hence it is not merely a question of the preservation of the Eastern Churches just for their own sake.  The traditions and spiritual riches are not the exclusive possession of the Eastern Churches, for they form part of the patrimony of the entire Church of Christ.  The sharing of the riches of the faith and traditions of the East nurtures and strengthens the unity in diversity of the Church.” (ECUSA, pp.5-6).

“These elements are capable of giving a more complete Christian response to the expectations of the men and women of today.  Indeed, the comparison to any other culture, the Christian East has a unique and privileged role as the original setting where the Church was born” (OL §5).

“Where in the West there are no Eastern priests to look after the faithful of the Eastern Catholic Churches, Latin Ordinaries and their co-workers [that’s us] should see that those faithful grow in the awareness and knowledge of their own tradition, and they should be invited to co-operate actively in the growth of the Christian community by making their own particular contribution” (JPII, OL; quoted on p. 23 in ECUSA).

“Catholics may receive absolution from any priest belonging to either the Latin or the Eastern Churches provided he has the faculty to administer the Holy Mystery of Penance.  However, priests of the Latin Church hearing the confession of members of Eastern Churches should exercise particular care, as the perception of failing towards God and one’s neighbor is deeply formed, and expressed, in terms drawn from one’s own liturgical and religious experience.” (NCCB, ECUSA, p. 29)

Priests of the Latin Church need to be aware that the automatic penalties in the law of the Latin Church are not found in that of the Eastern Churches.  On the other hand, the practice of “reserved sins” is still retained in the Eastern Churches.

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5 Responses to The Importance of Studying the Eastern Practice of This Sacrament

  1. The following text was emphasized in this post: “priests of the Latin Church hearing the confession of members of Eastern Churches should exercise particular care, as the perception of failing towards God and one’s neighbor is deeply formed, and expressed, in terms drawn from one’s own liturgical and religious experience.”

    It might be helpful to expand on this a bit. How, as Roman Catholics who will some day hear the confessions of Eastern Catholics, must we exercise particular care? Are there areas of divergence between the East and West that might cause some special concern here? I saw the mention of automatic penalties not existing in the East. How would that affect our practice in the confessional, if at all?

    -Jason

    • ajgerber says:

      I looked back at the paragraph:

      “Priests of the Latin Church need to be aware that the automatic penalties in the law of the Latin Church are not found in that of the Eastern Churches. On the other hand, the practice of “reserved sins” is still retained in the Eastern Churches.”

      And I had found this somewhere, but (most embarrassingly) I did not provide the citation here. As of the presentation, I have still not found where it was I saw this.

      Regarding the other point, that about divergence in the East and West– I am not sure beyond that which I have provided here on the blog. How are Roman priests to exercise particular care? I think awareness is the first exercise: that Eastern Catholics may be in your parish and are looking for a home or feeling out of place, that they may be used to a different rite of the sacrament and so we need to exercise patience. How we might adapt and exercise pastoral charity beyond that, I leave for discussion here.

  2. Tim Foy says:

    I did not realize that Eastern Churches were so often the minority in their new homelands. I was also struck by the possibility of hearing confessions of Eastern Catholics, and I am intrigued by the statement that we would better understand the Eastern perception of sin through their liturgical experience. It would be interesting to hear more about this. Would you say examples of this in the West would be our use of the penitential rite and the “Lord, I am not worthy to receive You…” phrase?

    • ajgerber says:

      I was struck by that when I read it too, Tim. I think as we delve into the texts that are provided here, we see a greater “fear of the Lord” and sense of humility in the Eastern Churches. There is abundance of repetition in the liturgies of the East. I recall the verse in the Psalm that says, “my sin is always before me.”

      I do think that the examples you provided give insight into the Western perception of sin. Admittedly, I am not qualified to give any more of an in-depth look at the connection between liturgy and our churches’ senses of sin. However, the old adage does come into play: Lex Orandi Lex Credendi (the church prays what the church believes)

  3. Gallardo says:

    I guess such automatic penalties are the ones the CIC calls latae sententiae. If these penalties or any other are not found in that of the Eastern Churches; does it mean that the faults which deserve such a penalties are allowed in these churches? If so, how can be collated the tradition of these churches and what the CIC says, for instance in the cc 1324-1328 which refer those circumstances, such as ignorance, proper age, error, and so on, which do not exempt from the penalties. Moreover, Saint Paul wrote to the Romans that with law or without law a person will be judged. (Cfr Rm 2:12-24)

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