The Latin Church, sometimes called the Western Church, is the largest particular church sui iuris in full communion with the Pope and the rest of the Catholic Church, tracing its history to the earliest days of Christianity. Employing the Latin liturgical rites, with 1.255 billion members (2015), the Latin Church is the original and still major part of Western Christianity,[2] in contrast to the Eastern Catholic churches. It is headquartered in the Vatican City, enclaved in Rome, Italy.

Historically, the leadership of the Latin Church, i.e., the Holy See, has been viewed as one of the five patriarchates of the Pentarchy of early Christianity, along with the patriarchates of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem. Due to geographic and cultural considerations, the latter patriarchates developed into churches with distinct Eastern Christian traditions. The majority of Eastern Christian churches broke full communion with the bishop of Rome and the Latin Church, following various theological and leadership disputes in the centuries following the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD. These included notably the Nestorian Schism (Church of the East), Chalcedonian Schism (Oriental Orthodoxy), and the East-West Schism (Eastern Orthodoxy).[3] The Protestant Reformation of the 16th century saw an analogous schism. Until 2005, the Pope claimed the title "Patriarch of the West"; Pope Benedict XVI lifted this title for ecumenical purposes while continuing to exercise a direct patriarchal role over the Latin Church.

The Latin Church is notable within Western Christianity for its sacred tradition and seven sacraments. In the Catholic Church, in addition to the Latin Church directly headed by the Pope as Latin patriarch, there are 23 Eastern Catholic Churches, self-governing particular churches sui iuris with their own hierarchies. These churches trace their origins to the other four patriarchates of the ancient pentarchy, but either never historically broke full communion or returned to it with the Papacy at some time. These differ from each other in liturgical rite (ceremonies, vestments, chants, language), devotional traditions, theology, canon law, and clergy, but all maintain the same faith, and all see full communion with the Pope, as Bishop of Rome, as essential to being Catholic as well as part of the one true church as defined by the Four Marks of the Church in Catholic ecclesiology.

The approximately 13 million Eastern Catholics represent a minority of Christians in communion with the Pope, compared to more than 1 billion Latin Catholics. Additionally, there are roughly 250 million Eastern Orthodox and 86 million Oriental Orthodox around the world. Unlike the Latin Church, the Pope does not exercise a direct patriarchal role over the Eastern Catholic churches and their faithful, instead encouring their internal hierarchies separate from that of the Latin Church, analogous to the traditions shared with the corresponding Eastern Christian churches in Eastern and Oriental Orthodoxy.[3]


The church is called the Latin Church in most available sources, albeit some sources indicate that is occasionally referred to as the "Roman Catholic Church", for instance by some Eastern Catholics.[4] In an historical context, it is sometimes also referred to as the Western Church.

"Church" and "rite"

The 1990 Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches defines the use within that code of the words "church" and "rite".[5][6] In accordance with these definitions of usage within the code that governs the Eastern Catholic churches, the Latin Church is one such group of Christian faithful united by a hierarchy and recognized by the supreme authority of the Catholic Church as a sui iuris particular church. The Latin rite is the whole of the patrimony of that distinct particular church, by which it manifests its own manner of living the faith, including its own liturgy, its theology, its spiritual practices and traditions and its canon law. A person is a member of or belongs to a particular church. A person also inherits, or "is of",[7] a particular patrimony or rite. Since the rite has liturgical, theological, spiritual and disciplinary elements, a person is also to worship, to be catechized, to pray and to be governed according to a particular rite.

Particular churches that inherit and perpetuate a particular patrimony are identified by metonymy with that patrimony. Accordingly, "rite" has been defined as "a division of the Christian church using a distinctive liturgy",[8] or simply as "a Christian Church".[9] In this sense, "rite" and "church" are treated as synonymous, as in the glossary prepared by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and revised in 1999, which states that each "Eastern-rite (Oriental) Church ... is considered equal to the Latin rite within the Church".[10] The Second Vatican Council likewise stated that "it is the mind of the Catholic Church that each individual Church or Rite should retain its traditions whole and entire and likewise that it should adapt its way of life to the different needs of time and place"[11] and spoke of patriarchs and of "major archbishops, who rule the whole of some individual church or rite".[12] It thus used the word "rite" as "a technical designation of what may now be called a particular church".[13] "Church or rite" is also used as a single heading in the United States Library of Congress classification of works.[14]

Distinguishing characteristics

Liturgical patrimony

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) described the Latin liturgical rites in 24 October 1998:[15]

Several forms of the Latin rite have always existed, and were only slowly withdrawn, as a result of the coming together of the different parts of Europe. Before the Council there existed side by side with the Roman rite, the Ambrosian rite, the Mozarabic rite of Toledo, the rite of Braga, the Carthusian rite, the Carmelite rite, and best known of all, the Dominican rite, and perhaps still other rites of which I am not aware.

Today, the most common Latin liturgical rites are the Roman Rite (either in its ordinary form, the post-Vatican II Mass of Pope Paul VI officially authorized for present-day use, or in an extraordinary form such as the Tridentine Mass); the Ambrosian Rite; the Mozarabic Rite; and variations of the Roman Rite (such as the Anglican Use). The 23 Eastern Catholic Churches share five families of liturgical rites. The Latin liturgical rites, like the Armenian, are used only in a single sui iuris particular church.

Disciplinary patrimony

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Canon law for the Latin Church is codified in the Code of Canon Law, of which there have been two codifications, the first promulgated by Pope Benedict XV in 1917, and the second by Pope John Paul II in 1983.[16]

In the Latin Church, the norm for administration of confirmation is that, except when in danger of death, the person to be confirmed should "have the use of reason, be suitably instructed, properly disposed, and able to renew the baptismal promises",[17] and "the administration of the Most Holy Eucharist to children requires that they have sufficient knowledge and careful preparation so that they understand the mystery of Christ according to their capacity and are able to receive the body of Christ with faith and devotion."[18] In the Eastern Churches these sacraments are usually administered immediately after baptism, even for an infant.[19]

Celibacy, as a consequence of the duty to observe perfect continence, is obligatory for priests in the Latin Church.[20] Rare exceptions are permitted for men who, after ministering as clergy in other churches, join the Catholic Church.[21] This contrasts with the discipline in most Eastern Catholic Churches. In the Latin Church, a married man may not be admitted even to the diaconate unless he is legitimately destined to remain a deacon and not become a priest.[22] Marriage after ordination is not possible, and attempting it can result in canonical penalties.[23]

At the present time, Bishops in the Latin Church are generally appointed by the Pope on the advice of the various dicasteries of the Roman Curia, specifically the Congregation for Bishops, the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples (for countries in its care), the Section for Relations with States of the Secretariat of State (for appointments that require the consent or prior notification of civil governments), and the Congregation for the Oriental Churches (in the areas in its charge, even for the appointment of Latin bishops). The Congregations generally work from a "terna" or list of three names advanced to them by the local church most often through the Apostolic Nuncio or the Cathedral Chapter in those places where the Chapter retains the right to nominate bishops.[citation needed]

See also


  1. ^ Marshall, Thomas William (1844). Notes of the Episcopal Polity of the Holy Catholic Church. London: Levey, Rossen and Franklin. 
  2. ^ http://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/en/bollettino/pubblico/2017/04/06/170406e.html
  3. ^ a b  Fortescue, Adrian (1913). "Latin Church". In Herbermann, Charles. Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton. 
  4. ^ "Catholic Churches". Melkite Greek Catholic Church Information Center. 8 August 2009. Retrieved 12 October 2017. 
  5. ^ CCEO, canon 27
  6. ^ CCEO, canon 28 §1
  7. ^ Code of Canon Law, canons 383 §2, 450 §1, 476, 479 §2, 1021
  8. ^ Rite, Merriam Webster Dictionary 
  9. ^ Rite, Collins English Dictionary 
  10. ^ Glossary of Church Terms
  11. ^ Decree on the Eastern Rite Orientalium Ecclesiarum, 2
  12. ^ Orientalium Ecclesiarum, 10
  13. ^ William W. Bassett, The Determination of Rite, an Historical and Juridical Study (Gregorian University Bookshop, 1967 ISBN 978-88-7652129-4), p. 73
  14. ^ Library of Congress Classification - KBS Table 2
  15. ^ Rowland, Tracey (2008). Ratzinger's Faith: The Theology of Pope Benedict XVI. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 24 November 2017. 
  16. ^ Codes of Canon Law
  17. ^ Code of Canon Law, canon 889 §2
  18. ^ Code of Canon Law, canon 913 §1
  19. ^ Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, canons 695 §1 and 710
  20. ^ Code of Canon Law, canon 277 §1
  21. ^ Anglicanorum coetibus, VI §§1-2
  22. ^ Code of Canon Law, canon 1042
  23. ^ Code of Canon Law, canon 1087

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