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The Variety Of Cultural Traditions In The Catholic Church

Studying the different cultures within the liturgical traditions of the Catholic Church can be a rich and fascinating school or homeschool project. It is important to teach your kids that not all Catholics are Roman.You may be a Roman Catholic but there are many other Catholic churches often overlooked because they are small in size. You may wonder why I often publish Orthodox materials here. Our family belongs to the Ruthenian Catholic Church of the Byzantine liturgical tradition. The Greek and Russian Orthodox churches also belong to this tradition. We share the same church architecture, vestments, liturgical prayers, icons and feasts. In fact, the only way to tell that you are in a Byzantine Catholic Church rather than a Byzantine Orthodox Church is usually a photograph of the Pope. Yes, we are Catholic in communion with the Pope. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: "The liturgical traditions or rites presently in use in the Church are the Latin (principally the Roman rite, but also the rites of certain local churches, such as the Ambrosian rite, or those of certain religious orders) and the Byzantine, Alexandrian or Coptic, Syriac, Armenian, Maronite and Chaldean rites. In "faithful obedience to tradition, the sacred Council declares that Holy Mother Church holds all lawfully recognized rites to be of equal right and dignity, and that she wishes to preserve them in the future and to foster them in every way."1203

The liturgical traditions of the Eastern Catholic churches are more ancient than the Roman and were formed by the different cultures of the ancient Mediterranean world and beyond. Look at the chart below this article.

A good way to teach your children about all the wonderful cultural variety in the Church, is to read books about the saints:

Even though Ireland lies in the extreme west of Europe, the Roman Rite was not celebrated there until the twelfth century when it replaced the Irish Rite. It is interesting to keep that in mind when reading Tomie De Paola's Patrick, Patron Saint of Ireland and other books about early Irish saints.

Here is another book about an early Irish saint: Saint Modomnoc, the Saint of the Bees, beautifully illustrated by Claire Brandenburg: The Saint and his Bees.

Alyosha's Apple: A Tale of Old Russia by Alvin Alexis Currier has all the familiar elements of the Russian tradition: a hermit saint who communes with wild animals, a beautiful onion dome church, way side shrines and icons. All these images are lovingly presented by illustrator Nadja Glaazunova. This and the following are Orthodox books.

North Star: St. Herman of Alaska by Dorrie Papademetriou tells the story of one of the Russian missionaries to the Aleuts, Father Herman, who became Saint Herman of Alaska. This is how the Russian Byzantine Rite came to Alaska and is now considered part of their tradition by the Aleut people.

The Ethiopian tradition is one of the most ancient in Christianity. A Saint and His Lion by Elaine Murray, illustrated by Cecile Sharrat tells the story of Saint Tekla, a crippled boy who befriends a lion. Our kids loved the colorful splendor of the Ethiopian angel's costume and Tekla's gorgeous cross.

St. Charbel Maklouf by James Mulligan talks about a Lebanese saint canonized in 1977. St.Charbel is a representative of the Maronite Church, one of the Catholic churches struggling for survival in the Middle East. This book was not written for children but I added it to show the liturgical tradition St. Charbel is a member of.

The same is true for Our Martyred Bishop Romzha by A. Pekhar, O.S.B.M., a biography of a holy Ruthenian bishop who was martyred under the Communists. Our family has a special affection for Blessed Theodore Rhomzha because we belong to the Ruthenian Greek Catholic Church which is called Byzantine Catholic Church in the United States - yes, it is confusing.

Here is a picture of Blessed Theodore Romzha, martyred bishop of the Eparchy of Mukhacheve, Ukraine.

Unfortunately, I have not been able to locate any children's books about St. Charbel or St. Theodore or of any of the saints of the smaller Catholic churches. Please submit if you know of any.

Unit Study: Liturgical Traditions in the Catholic Church:

- Word Study

Look at some of the the synonyms for "catholic" I found on comprehensive, universal, eclectic, cosmopolitan, whole, all-inclusive, broad-minded, charitable, cosmic, diffuse, ecumenical, extensive, global, inclusive, open-minded. There are more. Look up "diversity", too. Make sure your kids understand that "catholic" is always "diverse". There is a place for everybody in the Church.


Read the books above.

- Geography/History:

Study the traditions.

This chart is published on the website of Holy Annunciation Byzantine Catholic Church in Phoenix, Arizona:

Draw a map including the churches above .If you need outline maps, try your local library website. They are sure to have a map reference database like A-Z Maps. Ask your librarian!

Orthodox artist Jonathan Pageau has posted a beautiful photo gallery of his trip to Ethiopia on his facebook page.

- Theology

Saint Pope John Paul the Great was very concerned about the preservation and revival of the Eastern Catholic churches and their ancient traditions. He wrote an encyclical about them. Read Orientale Lumen or The Light of the East.

Study the documents of the Vatican Congregation for the Oriental Churches.

Elementary students: Look at and draw icons of liturgical feasts/ bible stories.

- Art

Paint an icon of your patron saint or another favorite saint or a biblical scene. There are many icons available on google images which you can copy.

Paint an Ethiopian angel (the one in The Saint and His Lion is beautiful) or an icon. Copy the Dormition (Assumption) icon or follow the link for more icons on this page.

- Field Trip:

Visit an Eastern Catholic Church near you (or an Orthodox church, the corresponding liturgy will be the same, most will not allow you to receive communion).

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