Who are the Maronites?
The Church takes its name from St. Maron, a Syrian hermit who lived in the 4th Century. His life of poverty, fasting, holiness, and prayer, along with his ability to heal illnesses, inspired many followers.
After his death, a monastery was founded in the valley of the Orontes River, which soon developed into a booming religious center of substantial magnitude and affluence.
During the Council of Chalcedon (451) the Syriac Church, along with the Alexandrian and Armenian Churches, disagreed with the decisions of the Council Fathers and broke communion with Rome.
Those monks, along with many of their followers, refused to follow the Syriac Church into heresy and remained loyal to the Catholic faith. In time they became known as Maronites.
The Maronites have never in their history broken communion with the Pope.
Are Maronites Roman Catholic?
The simple answer to that question is NO. Maronites are not Roman Catholic but Maronite Catholic.
The Catholic Church to which we all belong is actually a communion of 22 autonomous or self-governing churches. We say self-governing (sui iuris) because while remaining in union with the Pope of Rome, each Catholic Church has its own hierarchy and clergy, generally headed by a Patriarch or Metropolitan, and separate ecclesiastical jurisdictions called dioceses in the West, or eparchies in the East.
All Catholics share the same faith, partake of the same Eucharist, and receive the same seven Sacraments.
No Catholic is more Catholic than another and it cannot be stressed too highly that all churches are of equal rank and dignity.
Roman Catholics comprise the largest of these churches now numbering over one billion members, but like the Maronites, there are some 20 million other Christians worldwide who live out their faith as Eastern Catholics.
How did these churches develop?
The Early Church was centered in Jerusalem and since the first followers of Our Lord were Jewish, the liturgical practices and pious customs of the Jerusalem Church were patterned after those found in the Temple and synagogues.
But in an effort to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles, the Apostles and Evangelists left Jerusalem and journeyed to the principal cities of the Roman Empire, Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch.
Each metropolitan area developed its own unique way of liturgical worship and of expressing its own theological ideas. We call these Traditions. While there are several accepted ways of naming them, the most common is the Roman (Latin) also called by some Western, Byzantine (Constantinopolitan), Alexandrian, Armenian, Antiochene (West Syriac), and Chaldean (East Syriac). Roman Catholics come from the Roman or Latin Tradition and Maronites come from the West Syriac Tradition.
Does attending Mass at an Eastern Catholic Church fulfill my Sunday obligation and may I receive Holy Communion?
All Catholics may attend services at any Catholic Church or register in any parish, be it Eastern or Western. That said, Maronites have a moral responsibility to support their Church and attend services at a Maronite parish if at all possible.
Maronites generally refer to the Mass as the Divine Liturgy or Qoorbono, which means offering in Syriac. Syriac is the liturgical language of the Maronite Church, much like Latin is for the Roman Church.
If I am a Roman Catholic what differences might I see between the Roman and the Maronite Mass?
A careful viewer will notice that Maronites do not genuflect but like all Eastern Christians, bow profoundly to the Tabernacle when entering or leaving the church.
Every Sunday incense is used extensively throughout the service.
The vestments of the priest are in the Eastern, Syriac fashion and a small hand cross is carried by the celebrant, used in blessing the congregation.
At the Words of Institution (when the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ) the priest sings the same words, spoken in the same language, Aramaic, as Our Lord, thus recreating exactly the Last Supper.
During this time we do not kneel, but stand ready to greet our Savior when He comes again. We kneel only on Pentecost Sunday during the Kneeling Ritual, and at the Great Matany on Great Friday.
One receives Holy Communion by intinction meaning that the Sacred Host is dipped into the Precious Blood and given to the communicant on the tongue, never on the hand.