By EDWARD BOWRON
SOME years ago now 1 changed my rite. I was, of course, a Catholic of the Latin rite, but I was encouraged to pass to the Byzantine rite by the highest ecclesiastical authorities. The Apostolic Delegate in Palestine, the Latin Patriarch and the Archbishop of Galilee were instrumental in effecting this change and I presume that nobody will dare to say that these venerated bishops acted in an irregular manner. It certainly would be an impertinence to do that.
But now I find myself when in the society of English Catholics, regarded as only half Catholic, as if I had done something that I should be ashamed of. My Catholicity and devotion to the Church seems to be under some kind of suspicion. Of course there are exceptions to this, for there arc many who are very interested in Eastern affairs and realise that the Eastern rites are every bit as good and on entire equality with the Latin rite. This is the ruling of none other than the Pope himself.
These few people realise that we are not just to be tolerated but, quite on the contrary, to be encouraged and yet there is an enormous majority, and I regret to say that many priests and nuns are to be found .amongst them, who still consider that Eastern rites are something that are not quite Catholic. These persons I notice are always the first to lay down the law about such rrratters and they dm a great deal of harm, because the attitude which they have adopted is founded upon prejudiceagainst a matter which they have not thoroughly studied and about which they have not informed themselves.
There are numerous papal encyclicals issued by many Popes. There is the famous Oriental Institute in Rome and I am the only Englishman studying there. This was founded by Benedict XV for the express purpose of encouraging Latin Catholics to learn something about these ancient Eastern rites and to promote the re-union of Christendom.
A Good Example
Our non-Catholic brethren are at great pains and spare no effort to study the Christian East. It seems to me that it is a very great pity that more Catholics do not follow their good example. The contacts that exist between the Anglicans and the Orthodox are the result of the patience and tolerance exhibited by the former towards these ancient forms of Oriental Christianity, about which the average Englishman very naturally knows nothing. One should not condemn what one does not understand. The Anglicans have had an association to encourage the study of the East amongst them for some eighty years now and a mutual understanding is growing up as the fruit of their patient labours. Catholics as a rule are very much behind in such matters and this is all the more regrettable, because every encouragement has been given to them by the last four Popes.
I am bound to repeat that in the enormous majority, they give the impression, perhaps unthinkingly, of regarding their Eastern brethren as holding an inferior form of religion. In our great commonwealth of free peoples, into which come migrations from all over the world, there are quite a large number of Oriental Catholics and to our everlasting shame, this lack of interest and understanding on our part has resulted in large numbers of these being lost to the Church.
I have met in London several families who simply cannot understand how it is that nobody realises that they are Catholics born in the Faith with a glorious and wonderful history behind them. It is quite easy to see that the simpler and uneducated amongst these are unlikely to practice their religion according to the Latin rite, when nobody can appreciate their particular mentality. They are just as much as home in a Protestant church as they would be in a Catholic one, with the result that they drift into indifference and agnosticism.
Prejudice Based on Ignorance
Ir is a terrible thing to have to say that I have found prejudice based on ignorance in the Church which I so dearly love and which I exert all my efforts to serve, but there it is and it is no good attempting to hide the fact.
One of the results of this is a form of coercion employed by Latin Catholics, who are generally far better endowed with this world's goods than their Eastern brethren, which encourages Eastern Catholics to Latinise their ancient rites and not to perform them in their purity. Here again this is done in defiance of the directives from Rome and the express declarations of several Popes. How often, too, I hear it said. "Would it not he far better for all of you to be Latins? " Perhaps some English Catholics may think so, but that is certainly not the opinion of the highest ecclesiastical authorities in the Church to which they owe their allegiance. Here in Rome I have come to live and my reason for doing this is because it is possible to practice my rite in its purity. Here there are several churches of the Byzantine rite which arc a model for the whole Catholic world. It is delightful to be where one is understood and where my Catholicity is not doubted because I practice according to an Eastern rite. It is indeed in this, the centre of the Christian world, that one realises the greatness and the comprehensiveness of Catholicism. There is no place here for insularity and nationalism in religion.
Why should it be thought any less Catholic to practice according to the Byzantine rite than to follow the Roman? Both are recognised by the Church and both are expressions of the same faith. Why should there be prejudice against such things as the laity receiving Holy Communion under both kinds, married clergy and differences in liturgical ceremony? Simply because those Latins who "don't like it " have not sufficiently grasped their own theology which teaches that these things are merely disciplinary. And also the significance of Canon I of the Latin Codex which lays it down that Latin Canon Law does not apply to Eastern Catholics.
Every effort is being made to encourage Catholics to study their religion, There is also a great Liturgical Movement in the West which is rapidly growing. As the effect of this becomes more and more widespread I know that things will gradually right themselves. In the meantime I must wait with patience, but it is often hard to have to do so, when so much harm is being done by well-intentioned persons who should know better.