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Holy Spirit Interactive: Vatican II: A Walk-Through - Decree on the Eastern Churches

Vatican II: A Walk-Through - Decree on the Eastern Churches

At the close of the thirds session, the Vatican Council gave overwhelming approval to the Decree on the Eastern Churches.

  1. The Catholic Church reveres these Eastern Churches, which are "living witnesses to the tradition which has been handed down from the apostles through the Fathers." The whole Church of Christ is made up of a number of particular Churches or rites; many of these Eastern Churches are joined in full communion with the Apostolic See.

  2. The traditions of each Church should be preserved intact, while adapting itself to the different necessities of time and place. Each Church has the duty and the right to govern itself according to its traditional discipline. In each Church the rights and privileges of patriarchs must be preserved and, where necessary, restored. But all Churches are entrusted tot he supreme pastoral care of the Roman Pontiff as the successor of Saint Peter.

  3. All Eastern Catholic Christians must follow the rite, as well as the discipline, of their respective Churches. In many places, Catholics of different rites are intermingled. in those places, priests should have faculties for hearing confession may absolve the faithful who belong to other rites. In certain circumstances Baptism and Confirmation may be administered to people of other rites, and marriages contracted between Christians of different rites may also be valid, when the marriage contract is made in the presence of a sacred minister. Similarly, the Council recognizes the validity of Holy Orders conferred in the Eastern Churches, and permits Catholics to receive Holy Communion and the Anointing of the Sick from priests of other rites, when the need arises and when no Catholic priest is available. These permissions express the desire of the Catholic Church to promote union with the Eastern churches which are separated from Catholic unity.

The importance which the Holy See attaches to the Eastern Churches, and the great desire for reunion, were evident throughout the sessions of the Council. Apart from the Greek Orthodox Church, all the separated Eastern Churches sent observers to the Council. Patriarchs of Eastern Catholic Churches were given a special place of honour, and some took a prominent part in Council debates. The Consistory held in February 1965 for the creation of new cardinals, raised the number of cardinals of Eastern rites to six. The Eastern patriarchs ranks as cardinal bishops.

Unlike other cardinals, they are not allotted titular churches in Rome, nor are they given titular sees in the province of Rome; instead, they retain the title of their patriarchal sees. This compromise has not been welcomed by every Eastern Catholic; for, in the hierarchy of the Church, a patriarch possesses the highest authority, to which the cardinalate can add nothing.

Similarly, the decree on the Eastern Churches has been criticized on the grounds that, while it is ostensibly addressed to the Churches which are in full communion with the Holy See, in reality it is directed to the Orthodox Churches whose members consider that the Eastern catholic Churches are obstacles to reunion.

Next: Decree on Ecumenism

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