Who are the Maronites?


Maronites are members of the Eastern Catholic Church who practice their truly Catholic faith in the West Syriac Antiochene Tradition, a Tradition that is as ancient as Christianity itself. 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. It soon developed into a booming religious center of substantial magnitude and affluence.
During the Council of Chalcedon (451 AD), the Syriac Church, along with the Alexandrian and Armenian Churches, disagreed with the decisions of the Council Fathers and broke communion with Rome. The monks of the monastery of St. Maron, along with many of their supporters, refused the decision of the Syriac Church, considering it to be heresy, and remained loyal to the Catholic faith. In time these people became known as Maronites. The Maronites have never in their history broken communion with the Pope.




Are Maronites Roman Catholic?


The Catholic Church is 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. No Catholic church is more Catholic than another and it cannot be stressed too highly that all churches are of equal rank and dignity. Maronites follow the leadership of the Pope of Rome. We are not Roman Catholic but Maronite Catholic. Roman Catholics are the largest of the 22 self-governing churches with over one billion members, but like the Maronites, there are some 20 million other Christians worldwide that live out their faith as Eastern Catholics. All Catholics share the same faith, partake of the same Eucharist, and receive the same seven Sacraments.




How did the different Catholic churches develop?


The Early Church was centered in Jerusalem. 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. 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 theological ideas. We call these Traditions. While there are several accepted ways of naming the traditions, 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 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 Sign of Peace is exchanged prior to the start of the Anaphora (Eucharist Prayer) so that we may be reconciled with our brothers and sisters before we approach the Altar of our Lord. 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 the Last Supper in the language that it was spoken. 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.