Rite (tradition)

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A rite ( Latin , rite , sacred custom) contains the ecclesiastical traditions and customs of a specific community of believers in liturgy , theology , spirituality and canon law , as well as their historical origin and development. In the history of Christianity , different rites and ritual variants have developed from the practice of the early church in the various churches and communities , each of which describes its own way of practicing faith.

In Roman Catholic canon law, independent sui iuris particular churches are referred to as ritual churches . However, a rite is not to be equated with a church, but in a church and its members one or more rarely several rites are in use. Some rites are also used in several churches or communities.

The differences between the rites are particularly evident in the liturgy, but all other elements of church life are also influenced. In the liturgy the form and order of the processes, actions and texts are given by the rite and are laid down in liturgical books , prayer books and forms of a church. These include missal , rituals and breviary .

Rite groups

The approximately fifty pre-Reformation churches can be assigned to six rite groups or liturgical families:

Rite group Churches Liturgical languages
West Latin Church Latin , national languages
Byzantine Orthodox churches , Eastern Catholic churches Greek , Georgian , Church Slavonic , national languages
West Syriac (Antiochene) Syrian , Malankar and Maronite churches Syriac-Aramaic , Arabic , Malayalam
Alexandrian Coptic Church , Ethiopian Church , Ethiopian Catholic Church , Eritrean Catholic Church Coptic , Old Ethiopian , national languages
Armenian Armenian Apostolic Church , Armenian Catholic Church Old Armenian
East Syriac (Chaldean) Nestorian , Chaldean and Malabar churches Syriac Aramaic , Malayalam

historical development

In early Christianity , fixed processes for the celebration of various liturgies were already established in the congregations, which were based on the Jewish services and provided with Christian elements.

The church traditions have developed differently and can basically be divided into Eastern and Western rites. This classification goes back to the origins in early Christianity and has not been strictly geographical since at least the Middle Ages. The Western rites developed in the tradition of the Western Roman Empire , the Byzantine in the Eastern Roman Empire and the other Eastern Church rites in the churches outside the Empire or the ecumenical movement of the Imperial Church.

Eastern rites

The rites of the Eastern Churches go back to the important early Christian patriarchates of Antioch and Alexandria . The Byzantine rite developed in the Eastern Roman Empire , which is used in different variants in the Orthodox and some Catholic Eastern Churches, has found the most widespread use. It developed in Byzantium and was first brought into solid form in the 4th century; the essential elements have remained unchanged since the 8th century. Through missionary activity it spread in the Slavic region in the 9th and 10th centuries. From the beginning, the national languages ​​were used as liturgical language, some of which have been preserved in their original form as liturgical languages such as Church Slavonic .

The other ritual groups arose in the traditions of the ancient oriental churches , which were regional churches outside the Roman Empire or were split off from the imperial church after the councils of Ephesus (431) and Chalcedon (451) due to the teachings of Monophysitism and Nestorianism (Eastern Syriac) .

Liturgy Association of Antioch
Extended Western Antiochene liturgy family
Syrian-Antiochene liturgy family
Armenian liturgy family
Byzantine liturgy family
Ostantiochene extended liturgy family
Assyrian-Chaldean liturgy family
Assyrian-Chaldean-North Indian liturgy family
Liturgy Association of Alexandria
Large extended liturgy family in Northern Alexandria
South Alexandrian-Ethiopian liturgy extended family

Western rites

In the Western Church, the primacy of the Bishop of Rome stands out for the Roman rite , which has spread throughout the Latin Church. The rites of the Reformed churches also derive from the Roman rite.

From the second or third century, Latin came into use as the liturgical language of the Roman Church , and in 380 the prayer, the Canon Missae, was translated into Latin. Through missionary work, it spread in the following centuries in Western and Central Europe and North Africa. Diverse variants of the Roman and Gallican rites also developed. The liturgical rites of the Latin Church were standardized and also incorporated elements of the Gallic-Frankish liturgy. From the early Middle Ages onwards, a uniform liturgy was celebrated throughout the church; only individual dioceses or religious orders have independent rites.

In response to the liturgical grievances that occurred during the Reformation , a binding liturgical order was adopted at the Council of Trent and published in the Missale Romanum , first published in 1570 . In order to go back to the old form of the liturgy, the oldest available books were taken as a basis. In the centuries that followed, there were repeated revisions but no major changes to the liturgy.

With the liturgical reform after the Second Vatican Council , on the other hand, some innovations were implemented, for example the use of the national language as the liturgical language and the greater involvement of lay people in worship.

In addition to the Roman one, other rites and rite variants of the Latin Church are in use, the differences of which are mainly limited to minor changes in the liturgy.

Western Liturgy Association
Large Gallic liturgy family
Celtic-Irish-Anglo-Saxon liturgy family

Celtic peoples in the British Isles. Influences on the Anglican Book of Common Prayer

Gallic-Franconian liturgy family

Was used in Gaul and Franconia , was lost due to Carolingian reforms, but had an impact on Roman liturgy.

Spanish-Visigoth-Mozarabic liturgical family

Iberian Peninsula

Milan liturgy family
Large Roman liturgy family
North African liturgy family

perished by the migration of peoples and Islamization

Roman liturgy family
  • City Roman liturgy branch
  • Roman-part church liturgy branches: rite variations of individual churches, dioceses and religious orders
Reformed Western Liturgy Association
Extended Lutheran liturgy family
Large Reformed Liturgy Family
Extended Anglican liturgy family
Extended liturgy family of the Free Church Reformation


  • Karl-Heinrich Bieritz: Liturgy. de Gruyter, Berlin a. a. 2004, ISBN 3-11-017957-1 ( limited preview at google books ).
  • B. Botte: Rites and liturgical families. In: Aimé-Georges Martimort (Ed.): Handbook of liturgical science. Vol. 1, Herder, Freiburg i. Br. 1963, pp. 16-35.
  • I.-H. Dalmais: The liturgy of the Eastern Churches. Pattloch, Aschaffenburg 1960 (French original: Liturgies d'Orient. Du Cerf, Paris 1980).
  • JM Sauget: Bibliography des liturgies orientales (1900-1960). Pont. Inst. Orient. Stud., Roma 1962.
  • S. Janeras: Bibliografia sulle liturgie orientali (1961–1967). Pont. Inst. Liturg. Anselmianum, Roma 1967.
  • Heinzgerd Brakmann: The divine service of the eastern churches. Part I. In: Archive for Liturgy Science 53 (2011 [2013]) pp. 138–270 (literature review).

Individual evidence

  1. can. 28 § 1 CCEO