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Ruthenian Rite

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There is, properly speaking, no separate and distinct rite for the Ruthenians, but inasmuch as the name is often used for the modifications which the Ruthenians have introduced in the Byzantine or Greek Rite as used by them, a brief description is proper. These modifications have come about in two ways. In the first place, the ancient Slavonic missals used in Russia and in Little Russia (Ruthenia) differed in many instances from the Greek as used at Constantinople, and the correction of these differences by the Patriarch Nikon gave rise to the Old Ritualists (see RASKOLNIKS). When, therefore, the Ruthenians came into union with the Holy See in 1595, they brought with them in their liturgical books several of the usages and formulae which Nikon afterwards corrected at Moscow in the Orthodox Church. Where these differences presented no denial or contradiction of the faith the Holy See allowed them to remain, just as they have allowed the rites of many religious orders. In the second place, after the union had become a fixed fact, numbers of the Polish Latin clergy and laity seemed to find in the Greek ceremonies and forms of language some apparent contradictions of the faith as more fully elaborated in the Roman Rite. This seemed to them to indicate a lack of unity of the faith, and the Greek Ruthenian clergy in the Synod of Zamosc (1720) made a number of changes in the Byzantine Rite, particularly that of the Mass, so as more clearly to express the unity and identity of their faith with that of their brethren of the Roman Rite. These changes are sometimes bitterly spoken of by Russian authors as "latinizing", and the majority of them were probably unnecessary. When we consider that the Melchites, Rumanians, and Italo-Greeks have kept the old forms thus unchanged, it does not seem that they were required in order to express the complete unity of the faith. Nevertheless they were sufficient to cause them to be spoken of as the Ruthenian Rite, as distinguished from the older form of the Byzantine Rite (See RITE OF CONSTANTINOPLE; GREEK CATHOLICS IN AMERICA; GREEK CHURCH).

The chief modifications introduced were the addition of the Filioque (i ot Syna) to the Creed, and the commemoration of "the holy universal Chief Bishop N. the Pope of Rome", in the Ektene and in the general commemoration at the Great Entrance; while the emphasis laid on the Epiklesis (invocation) may be said to also constitute a difference from the Orthodox Rite. The addition of the Filioque is not required even in Italy, for at Rome the Creed is still said in Greek without it; but there it is simply an ancient custom and no indication of any difference in doctrine. As to the prayers for the pope, the various Orthodox Churches of Russia and Eastern Europe have never hesitated to change the Byzantine liturgy in order to insert prayers for the Holy Synod, imperial family, etc., even carrying them out to great length. The Ruthenians however differ from the other Greek Catholic nationalities and from the Orthodox churches in many other peculiarities of rite.

In the Proskomide of the Divine Liturgy the Ruthenians are allowed to prepare for Mass with one altar-bread (prosphora) or with three, or even with the dry Agnetz (the square Greek host) if no prosphorae can be had, instead of requiring five prosphorae. Then too the Ruthenian priest may omit the full number of particles to be placed on the paten, and may place only one for the various ranks he is required to commemorate, or in exceptional cases where there are no particles "the priest may celebrate with the Agnetz alone" (Decretum Syn. Leopoliensis, p. 83). The number of the saints to be commemorated has also been cut down to a few principal names. When the Mass of the Catechumens or public part of the Divine Liturgy begins, the Royal Doors of the Iconostasis are thrown wide open and continue so during the entire Mass. There are no rubrics directing them to be open and shut during the service, nor is there any veil to be drawn. Formerly this was the practise in the old Slavonic Churches and Missals, and is still followed in the Court Church until after the Great Entrance is completed. The custom of reverencing during the singing of the Edinorodny Syne (Filius unigenitus) and the Creed at the word voheloviechshasia (Homo factus est) and the addition of the i ot Syna (Filioque) were adopted to conform to the practice of the Roman Rite. The same may be said of the practice of covering the chalice while on the altar, and this in turn has made the ripidia or fans disappear as altar utensils. In the prayer of contrition before communion the Ruthenian priest strikes his breast three times as in the Roman Rite. Among the special modifications in the Liturgy by the Ruthenians is the order of the antiphons. The three week-day antiphons, Psalms xci, xcii, xciv, are introduced directly into the text of the Missal, while on Sundays in their stead (when there is no feast-day having special antiphons) Psalms lxv, lxvi, and xciv take their place. The Typika, Psalms cii and cxlv, as well as the Blazhenni (beatitudes) are not said except in monasteries and monastic churches. At the recital of the Creed the priest holds up the aër without moving it to and fro. Just before the ante-communion prayer the priest performs an ablution of the tips of his fingers. The Ruthenians do not add hot water to the chalice after the Fraction, as all other Greeks do, for this was abolished by the Synod of Zamosc (tit. iii, sec. iv). They have also abolished the use of the sponge in purifying the paten and chalice, and use instead the finger for the paten and a veil on the chalice. A final ablution is introduced, and the holy vessels remain on the altar until the Mass is finished, instead of being carried to the side altar (prothesis) as in the Byzantine Rite. The absence of the deacon or deacons in the Ruthenian Mass will be particularly noticed, for that is the rule except in cases of cathedral Masses or pontifical Masses, corresponding to the usages of the Roman solemn high Mass, and then the deacon is usually a priest who reverts to his former order. The diaconate among the Ruthenians is now chiefly a grade to the priesthood, and not a permanent order for parochial work. There is no distribution of the antidoron or blessed bread at the end of Mass in the Ruthenian Rite. Nor do they have the custom of giving communion (by a tiny drop from the chalice) to infants and children under four years, as in the Russian Orthodox Church. The clergy among the Ruthenians usually follow the Roman rule and are shaven, unlike the general rule among the Greek clergy of other countries, whether Catholic or Orthodox. They do not wear the kamilafka or straight cylindrical Greek biretta, but have invented for themselves a round headpiece or crown, something like the mitre of a Greek bishop, and they also wear the close-fitting cassock of the Roman Rite, instead of the loose robe with flowing sleeves used by the Greeks of other countries.


BOCIAN, "De modificationibus apud Ruthenos subintroductis" in "Chrysostomika" (Rome, 1908); 929-69; KHOINATSKI, "Zapadno-Russkaya Tserkovnaya Unia v yeya Bogosluzhenii i Obriadakh" (Kieff, 1871); PELESZ, "Geschicte der Union", II (Vienna, 1880); Liturgia Sv. Ioanna Zlatoustaho" (Zolkeieff, 1906).

About this page

APA citation. Shipman, A. (1912). Ruthenian Rite. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Shipman, Andrew. "Ruthenian Rite." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 13. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by John Looby.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. February 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, D.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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