May Catholics pray with the Orthodox?
There are a number of Orthodox churches by my house, and they have matins and vespers services. Would it be sinful for me to attend as more than a mere observer, i.e. to pray with them? If it were Protestants I think it would be a non issue, but is it orthodox to associate with the Orthodox? Thanks
It is forbidden to pray with schismatics and heretics.
As neel said, the Orthodox are very much akin to the Protestants in that they reject the authority of the Roman Pontiff, and by extension, the papal infallibility.  They also do not formally recognize dogmas such as the Immaculate Conception (even if some Orthodox believe it, their refusal to recognize it as de fide is an error).

The Orthodox are both schismatics and heretics.
A pre-Vatican II discussion on whether communicatio in sacris is wrong in itself, or only because it was prohibited by law:

Canon E.J. Mahoney, Priests’ Problems, 1957.



The recent papal instruction on the Oecumenical Movement permits a “Pater Noster” to be recited together by Catholics and non- Catholics before and after a joint conference, whereas in this country at least the view has been widely held, up to the time of the papal pronouncement, that common prayer of this kind is not permitted. What is the explanation?

S. Off., 20 December, 1949, Instructio ad locorum Ordinarios, “De Motione Oecumenica”, ad. V: Quamquam in omnibus hisce conventibus et collationibus quaelibet in sacris communicatio est devitarida, tamen non reprobatur communis recitatio Orationis Dominicae vel precationis ab Ecclesia Catholica approbatae, qua iidem conventus aperiantur ei concludantur.

[Translation: Although in all such meetings and discussions any communication in sacred things (i.e. common worship) is to be avoided, nevertheless, common recitation of the Lord’s Prayer or of a prayer approved by the Church, to open or close these meetings, is not forbidden.]

The fringes of the law codified in canon 1258 have always been subject to a varied casuistical interpretation, both in the replies of the Roman Congregations and in the solutions given by theologians. Assuming that there is no scandal, no danger of perversion, and that an orthodox prayer formula is being recited in common, and putting aside all irrelevant circumstances, it will he found that conflicting opinions ultimately turn on whether communicatio in sacris is to he considered wrong in itself or merely prohibited by positive law.

i. Cardinal d’Annibale, a moral theologian and canonist still in great repute and often quoted in documents issued from the Roman Curia, is the best representative of the view that, with the above limitations, the practice is not wrong in itself. [Theologia Moralis, 1908, I, §110 n. 11.] “An liceat cum eis communicare . . . in divinis, nempe quae obeunt more et ritu plane catholico; nam in his quae redolent haeresim non licet omnino; plerique affirmant, quippe, aiunt, ab eis quasi ab excommunicatis prohibemur; alii negant, quia arcemur ab eis tanquam ad haereticis. . . . (What follows is in a footnote.) Dicam plane, in re tam salebrosa, quod sentio. Communicatio in divinis non suapte natura illicita est (alias nefas esset mixta, quae vocant, matrimonia permittere), sed quia aut adhaesionis damnatae sectae speciem praesefert; aut fovet indifferentismum, quae aetatis nostrae contagiosa lues est; uno verbo, propter ipsius catholicae religionis periculum. Ubi igitur huiusmodi periculum cessat, recidimus in legem ecclesiasticum, cui derogare fas est, cum longe plus incommodi quam commodi habet.” This view amply and clearly explains the recently granted permission for united prayer.

ii. The more common view, in this country at least, has regarded communicatio in sacris, even with the above limitations and safeguards, as wrong in itself, because there is always implied in the action, it would seem, at least an external approval of heretical worship; [Prümmer, Theol. Moralis, 1, §526; Wouters, I, §500.] or because prayer presupposes or expresses belief, and cannot rightly be recited in common except by those professing the same faith.[Cardinal Bourne, Lent Pastoral, 1924; Bishop Beck, The Times, 15 November, 1949; Bonnar, The Tablet, 1949, 194, p. 396.] If prayer with heretics is ever permitted, it will be on a principle of toleration, or by arguing that heretics are praying with us, not we with them, or even by relying on the axiom de minimis non curat lex, if the prayer is so short as to be negligible. The instructions of the Holy Office and Propaganda on the subject, some of them extremely difficult to explain on any other principle,[Cf. e.g. The Clergy Review, 1948, XXX, p. 200.] have led one to believe that, for all practical purposes, this outlook has so far been favoured by the Holy See.[D’Annibale, loc. cit. footnote 9; Benedict XIV, De Synodo, VI, v. 2.] Moreover, notwithstanding certain casuistical evasions, it is a view of the matter which vastly strengthens the law of canon 1258, and makes it easier to prevent abuses; for, as we all know, a positive ecclesiastical law is subject to a customary interpretation, to dispensations, to epikeia, to non-observance when there is a grave incommodum and so on and so forth. Accordingly in The Clergy Review the solutions offered so far have been based on the view that a united prayer is wrong of its nature.[E.g. 1944, XXIV, p. 185.]

iii. The recent instruction of the Holy Office could be explained, indeed, by one of the considerations mentioned in (ii), but we think any of these casuistical devices unworthy of the gravity of the whole document, and that its explanation is to be sought in the view given under (i). It must follow that those amongst us who have held that a united prayer with heretics, even with the limitations and safeguards assumed throughout this note, is always of its nature wrong, have been defending a too rigorous interpretation of the law in canon 1258, an outlook due to our conditions in this country, to the traditions received from our forefathers, and to the necessity, as we conceived it, of discouraging the faithful from any religious contact whatever with non-Catholics.

iv. There remains a verbal difficulty in the reply of the Holy Office, which by asserting, firstly, that any kind of communicatio in sacris must be avoided at these meetings, and, secondly, that a Pater Noster or a prayer approved by the Church is not forbidden, appears to teach that reciting the latter is not communicatio in sacris. Prayer, however, is obviously a sacred thing, and the Pater Noster the most sacred of all prayers, and therefore it would seem that a joint Pater Noster, if words have any meaning, must he communicatio in sacris. We cannot, at the moment, find any perfectly satisfactory solution of this verbal difficulty. The meaning may be that, the law of canon 1258 being (with the limits explained above) a positive law, the Holy Office in given circumstances permits one derogation from it whilst insisting that the law must otherwise be observed. Moreover, the prayer permitted is something incidental and accessory to the purpose of the gathering, which is not a prayer meeting but a discussion or exposition. Whatever the true explanation may be, we all welcome a decision which makes our contacts with non-Catholics much more agreeable, and settles a little difference of opinion which has existed for the last few years amongst Catholics in this country.

So, apparently there were differing views. A history of communicatio in sacris with Eastern non-Catholics is here:

Communicatio in Sacris

An Historical Study of the Problem of Liturgical Services in Common with Eastern Christians Separated from Rome

Wilhelm De Vries, S.J.

“Communicatio in Sacris” by Wilhem de Vries, S.J., Translated by James F. McCue, pages 18-40,
Copyright 1965 by Paulist Fathers, Inc. and Stichting Concilium , Paulist Press, Inc., NY/Mahwah, N.J.

Used with permission of Paulist Press.

It is most encouraging that Vatican Council II has taken up the problem of communicatio in sacris in such a bold and constructive way. In the Near East especially, the hitherto very negative legislation concerning common liturgical services1 has been considered a serious obstacle to progress toward reunion.

To come to an understanding of the present state of the question, one could proceed from theological premises to their practical conclusions. However, it is also possible to treat the entire problem historically and to consider what stand the Holy See has taken on this matter through the centuries. The Holy See's stand must be taken as an expression of tradition, and tradition will always have a significance that is not to be underestimated in coming to a decision on theological questions.


To understand and to evaluate the Holy See's generally negative position on this matter, one must first examine its theoretical basis. This is to be found in the Catholic Church's understanding of itself, in the constant and deep conviction that it is the one and only true Church of Jesus Christ. (The question of the extent to which Church- constitutive elements could be present in other communities - a question more clearly posed today - was, of course, not explicitly considered in all this.) A great abundance of material from the documents of the Holy See can be adduced as evidence of this conviction;2 so great is the abundance that it is difficult. to avoid the conclusion that what is involved here is indeed a matter of faith that cannot be altered. The one true Church of Christ, and it alone, has the right to honor God through the public worship willed by him. The worship of other communities may be good in itself, but to the extent that it is the worship of a community that does not belong to the true Church of Christ, it is not as it should be. In addition, only the Churches that are in ecclesiastical communion with the Bishop of Rome, whom Christ has made head of the entire Church, can be considered authentic parts of the universal Church in the full theological sense of the word. Participation in a Church's public worship, especially in its eucharistic celebration, is a decisive sign of unity with that Church. It signifies a recognition of this particular Church as the Church in the full sense of the word. Ludwig Hertling has written a highly informative study3 in which he shows, on the basis of the witness of the early centuries, that the eucharistic celebration is an essential mark of ecclesiastical community. An example will make this clear. The Monophysite Church historian, John of Ephesus (6th century), tells how the adherents of the Council of Chalcedon, in order to bring Monophysites into communion with themselves, forced the consecrated bread into their mouths. In this way they would automatically be considered to belong to the same Church as did the adherents of Chalcedon.4

From this basic idea, which can be found in many papal documents, one might conclude: therefore participation, at least active participation, in the liturgical services of non- Catholics is absolutely forbidden. However, one must beware of an all too simple "either- or", that is, either common liturgical services are neither good nor bad in themselves and therefore ordinarily allowed, or else they are in themselves reprehensible and are in all circumstances prohibited.

There is a middle way between this either- or, and an investigation of the practice of the Holy See will help us find it. This practice was not always the same. It has its history, a history that developed not always in a straight line but in tortuous and not easily describable ways.


In the Middle Ages the problem was of practical importance primarily in those regions that were under Latin rule: the crusade cities, the Latin Empire of Constantinople, the Venetian possessions, the Island of Cyprus, etc. Here were many Greeks, some though not all of whom were considered Catholics if their bishop had sworn obedience to the pope. However, in these regions there were also Monophysites and Nestorians, who were without doubt considered heretics. Moreover, the popes sent their legates and missionaries to peoples who were not under Latin rule, to the Mongols in the Far East, for example, in whose kingdom there were many Nestorians. At the time of Innocent IV (124354), Albert, Bishop of Prussia, was sent by the pope to the Ukranian King Daniel. Thus there were some contacts with nonCatholics, and the problem of sharing with them in liturgical services was inescapably posed.

The attitude of the popes toward this problem was basically negative, an attitude based on their strict condemnation of schism. Innocent IV, for example, spoke of the "accursed Eastern Schism", from which the Greeks had to be led back to Catholic unity5. It followed logically that liturgical services in common with the adherents of this "accursed schism" were not to be allowed. In a letter of March 22, 1253, innocent also complained about the fact that Latin Catholics on the island of Milos allowed their children to be baptized by schismatic Greek priests, and themselves received the sacraments from these priests. As a result, "harm was done to the faith of the Church". Of course, the pope tolerated this practice, though in itself it was objectionable because of the exigencies of the situation6.

John XXII, in a letter of October 11, 1322, to the Latin Patriarch of Constantinople, condemned a practice prevalent in Akhaia. Latin Catholics were going to the schismatics' mass and were there receiving the sacraments; and in turn they were admitting non- Catholics to the services in the Catholic churches. This involved danger to souls, the divine majesty was offended and considerable harm was done to the Christian religion. Therefore, under threat of ecclesiastical penalties, this practice was to be strictly forbidden.7

Urban V (1362-1370) required under threat of excommunication that the Archbishop of Cyprus root out similar abuses.8 The same pope forbade a converted Greek priest in Crete to continue to celebrate the liturgy with the schismatics. One would be immediately excommunicated for doing this.9

However, it would be erroneous to conclude from these condemnations that the medieval popes considered shared liturgical services to be absolutely wrong. The strict prohibition was because of the concomitant danger to the faith; and where this danger did not exist and there were compelling reasons for allowing Catholic participation in non-Catholic services, these same popes showed themselves remarkably flexible. This was the case in what concerned the apostolate among non-Catholics, aimed at bringing these back to unity with Rome. For this apostolate it could be useful if the legates and religious sent out by the pope could conduct services for the schismatics whom they were supposed to win over. The medieval popes permitted this without hesitation, proof that they did not consider common services objectively wrong. The concession to the legates and missionaries to associate with schismatics and heretics even "in officio" or "in divinis" became a stereotyped formula that recurred constantly in the letters of commission sent them by the popes. It was an altogether common concession, therefore, requiring no explanation.

In 1244, for example, Innocent IV allowed the Dominicans whom he was sending to separated Eastern Christians such as the Jacobites and Nestorians to share with them "in verbis, officio et cibo".10 The next year he gave the same permission to Franciscans.11 It is altogether clear from the context that "in officio" is equivalent to "in sacris". The passage deals with excommunicated priests who "divina celebrarunt officia", and who must, because of this, be freed from irregularity. Nicholas IV (1288 ), John XXII (1316-34), and Benedict XII (1334-42) gave the missionaries the same permission.12

However, it was often emphasized that this required special permission, and that the missionaries must not go beyond the limits set by this permission. Urban V (1362-70) permitted the Dominican superiors working in the East to free their subordinates from the excommunications they had unwittingly incurred because they had too freely interpreted the permission granted them earlier by John XXII to share "in officio" with the excommunicated.13 The same pope gave his legate in the East, Peter, Latin Patriarch of Constantinople, permission to share with non-Catholics "in divinis", with this limitation, that the permission did not extend to those excommunicated by name. 14

The popes were thus well aware that liturgical services in common with non-Catholics were in themselves not proper, and that special permission was required for them. Within certain limits, however, they were prepared to give this permission if it would help toward the salvation of souls. Clement VI (1342-1352), for example, gave a very general permission to Armenian priests who had returned to the Catholic Church: these he permitted to administer the sacraments among the schismatics, not in approval of their schism, - this is stated - but to lead them back to obedience to the true Church.15

There is considerable dispute about the nature of the concession made by Martin V to the "German nation" in the decree "Ad evitanda scandala". The decree gives permission, "in order to avoid scandal and to give peace to delicate consciences", to share "in divinis" with the excommunicated, provided that this does not involve individuals who have been explicitly and publicly excommunicated.16 The decree is not speaking here explicitly about heretics and schismatics. These, however, are not excluded, and the rest of the document makes clear that they too must be included. The decree was first issued only for the "German nation", but it was accepted by the University of Paris and was taken to be ordinarily and generally valid.17 Defenders of common liturgical services constantly referred back to this decree. However, the Holy See did not accept this interpretation in its decisions.


In modern times the Holy Sees position on this problem underwent basic change. The Holy See was now no longer ready to grant general concessions, but only much more precisely defined and greatly restricted permissions for specific cases. The basic reasons against common liturgical services were further developed in the papal documents of the time. However, and this must be stressed, even when the opposition was strongest it was never asserted that liturgical services in common with nonCatholics were in themselves, in all circumstances, wrong and to be rejected.

The question became a burning one when, after the establishment of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, Latin religious in large number were sent to the Near East to win back the separated Eastern Christians for the Catholic Church. Their work for unity took place primarily in the Ottoman Empire. In the empire at that time there was only one Catholic community of importance recognized by the State, the Maronites. They had their own churches, and in these the missionaries could preach. However, there were not Maronites everywhere, and where there were none there were no Catholic churches for the missionaries to use. Thus, they found that because of practical considerations they had to preach in the churches of non-Catholics; and so from the beginning they were faced with the problem of whether and in what circumstances they could administer the sacraments - especially the sacrament of penance - to non-Catholics. Slowly they succeeded in winning a certain number of hitherto separated Eastern Christians for the Catholic Church.

Then they were faced with the question whether they could leave these in non-Catholic communities and allow them to continue as before to receive the sacraments in non-Catholic churches. As we said before, the Latin religious did not possess churches of their own in which they could have administered the sacraments. They could not admit the native Christians to their private chapels or to the chapels of the foreign consulates. It was most difficult for the Catholics of the slowly growing Eastern communities to obtain official recognition from the Turkish regime. But without such recognition, liturgical ceremonies having civic consequences were not recognized as valid by the State. Only if a person were baptized by an officially recognized priest i.e., by a priest of an authorized community, did he have the to live as a Christian. Children who had been baptized by an unauthorized priest could be compelled to change over to Islam. The State would consider a marriage valid only if it were contracted before a priest recognized by the State. Other unions counted simply as concubinage. A burial was an officially recognized certification of death only if an approved priest officiated. Out of this legal situation in the Ottoman Empire there arose the practical necessity of permitting, for baptism, marriage, and burial, participation in non-Catholic liturgical services.

Early in the 18th century the Latin religious began to enjoy some success in their efforts to establish their own churches. Thus, the problem of common liturgical services lost something of its acuity; the problem was not yet solved, however, since for baptism, marriage and burial the old difficulties remained until 1830, when for the first time State recognition was given to the Eastern Catholic communities.

The position taken by the Holy See was generally quite negative from the outset, despite the most serious reasons to the contrary. The missionaries did not miss an opportunity to inform Rome of the difficulties of the situation, and energetically stressed the necessity of concessions if work toward reunion was to progress. In general the Latin religious were, at the beginning of their work, in favor of a flexible disposition of the problem. Only later did a vigorous controversy over the question develop among them. This controversy, as we shall see, was partially the cause of the Holy See's subsequent strict and general prohibition.

Even in the earlier period there were occasional differences of opinion among the religious; indeed, these disagreements were the occasion for interventions by Rome. About 1630 a dispute developed between the Guardian of the Franciscans in Jerusalem, Paul of Lodi, and one of his subordinates, Vincent of Gallicano. Paul allowed the converts to continue to receive the sacraments in Orthodox churches because he saw no other practical possibility. Father Vincent took offense at what his Superior was doing and wrote about it to Rome. Propaganda (the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith) dealt with the matter on December 10, 1635. The fact that the hearing took place in the presence of Pope Urban VIII shows how important the matter was regarded in Rome. The Roman congregation decided against the Guardian, and called his views false.18 The Holy See was not unaware of the great advantages that could result from the more flexible practice of the Guardian. Father Vincent, in reporting the Guardian to Rome, referred to these himself when he wrote: "If the opinion of the above mentioned Father Paul were true, the Apostolic See would have every reason to rejoice, because practically all these Eastern nations would then be reconciled with the holy Roman Church."19

Rome's negative decision must have caused some commotion among the Latin religious in the East, and many experienced missionaries must have shaken their heads over the matter. The astonishment is audible in a detailed memorandum written soon thereafter by a Capuchin, Agathangelus of Vendome (July 6, 1637): "It seems to me that one must leave the decision in this matter to the missionaries, who have long been of the opinion that one ought not to forbid such common services. The opposite view destroys every possibility and all hope of doing any good in this mission, and has many intolerable consequences." 20 This Capuchin, who, incidentally, later died as a martyr in Ethiopia and was recently beatified, energetically defended the thesis that a flexible position on common liturgical services was an indispensable prerequisite for fruitful work for unity. Given the situation, if one were to be rigid in this matter then simply nothing could be done.

The question arises: What were the basic factors that led the Holy See to take a stand that was in the main so negative, when the necessities of the situation were clearly known in Rome? In the Middle Ages the popes had shown themselves far less rigid. The subsequent rigidity must be understood as an expression of the spirit of the age. It was the age of the Counter-Reformation, following the Council of Trent, an age characterized by a special rigorism toward heretics and schismatics.

Pius IV had already abrogated the decrees of the Renaissance Pope, Leo X (1513-1521), which had been favorable to the Greeks. 21 The pope clearly had a tendency to make the Eastern rites, suspect because in use among schismatics and heretics, as much like the Latin model as possible.22 The concessions in theological terminology made to the Greeks at the Council of Florence (1439) were dropped in the age of the Counter-Reformation. The confessions of faith imposed upon Greeks who were ready for conversion contained the Latin formulas.23 It is true that Propaganda argued for the preservation of the Eastern rites; but basically this was only opportunism, and was not done because of any real appreciation of their value.24 It is typical of the attitude of Roman prelates toward the Eastern rites at the time of the foundation of Propaganda that Ludovico Ludovisi, Cardinal Secretary of State under Gregory XV (1621-1623), in a letter to the papal nuntio in Venice, speaks of the "damned Greek rites.25

The attitude of Propaganda toward the question of liturgical services in common with the separated Eastern Christians is thus, in keeping with the spirit of the age, basically negative. The ultimate reason was that the liturgical services of nonCatholics were considered illegitimate, since the Eastern Churches were not the true Church of Christ, nor were they a part of this Church. To take part in the liturgical services of the separated Christians would mean that one recognized the priests of the separated communities as legitimate ministers of the sacraments. This reason was initially only hinted at in the decisions of Propaganda, but subsequently it was stated more clearly. However, it was never maintained that common liturgical services were in themselves reprehensible. Propaganda made concessions too, even though it did this but rarely, with reluctance, and when driven to it by necessity. In the 17th century we have a series of mainly negative responses to questions dealing with particular cases; no general prohibition, however. It was the unpleasant dispute that developed among the missionaries at the beginning of the 18th century that occasioned the general and absolute prohibition of 1729.

Let us consider some concrete examples. As early as 1625, the then secretary of Propaganda, Ingoli, examined our problem in a memorandum written for the prefect, Cardinal Bandini, about the eventual union with Theophanes, the Greek Patriarch of Jerusalem, and his Church. Ingoli referred to the difficulty that, in the event of a union, one would have to commemorate heretical patriarchs in the liturgy. This would be "communicare in sacris", to which the Roman Church had always been averse. It would be to say yes to schism. Ingoli proposed the following solution: the patriarchs would be commemorated in general without being named, so that one could be thinking of the Latin patriarchs.26

In 1627, Propaganda forbade missionaries to celebrate the holy sacrifice in the churches of the heretics, where these performed their "profana et sacrilega exercitia."27 This manner of expression is regrettable, and betrays the spirit of the age. Today, thank God, such a manner of speech would be impossible in a papal document. What is intended is clearly this: the worship of non-Catholics is illegitimate because they do not belong to the true Church.

Characteristic of the spirit of the age is the denial of the permission sought by the Carmelites in Persia to celebrate the Roman Mass in Armenian. The reason given: such a practice would greatly hinder union with the Roman Church.28 Here again we see the constantly and firmly held ideal: complete uniformity in everything.

Propaganda clearly expressed the basic reason for the rejection of common liturgical services in a letter to Andreas Akhigan, the Syrian- Catholic Archbishop of Aleppo. The letter forbade "every positive act of participation in the rites of the heretics", because such an act would signify "the approval of their errors and of their sacrifice", the recognition, that is, of the legitimacy of their worship. Such acts would be the burial of heretics or the blessing of incense in their churches.29 Andreas was bishop of the entire "Syrian nation" in Aleppo, including the non-Catholics. He found himself in an awkward situation. He could hardly avoid participation in the liturgical ceremonies of the nonCatholic priests under him. Nonetheless, Rome insisted on the prohibition.

The reason for the prohibition was subsequently further elaborated. In the extremely strict decree of 1729, about which we will have more to say, it was stated that participation in nonCatholic liturgical services was not permitted even to avoid persecution, since such persecution was equivalent to an "interrogatio fidei". In other words, the heretics wanted to force Catholics to take part in their liturgy in order to be recognized by them as "performing true rites, serving the true faith and the true Church".30 But these were rather "pseudoministri", even if they did administer the sacraments validly." They were not legitimate priests because they did not belong to the true Church. The decree was plainly exaggerating when it said that practically all the rites of non- Catholics were infected by errors of faith. 32

To participate in such rites would be objectively wrong. The authors of the decree perhaps had in mind something like the practice among the non-Catholic Armenians of cursing on certain days the Council of Chalcedon and the "Tomus Leonis". There were such rites, and they did conflict with the faith. But by far the greater number of the rites of the Eastern non- Catholic Christians contained nothing that was against Catholic belief.

Prescinding from such cases, even this severe prohibition of 1729 did not claim that participation in the liturgical services of non-Catholics was intrinsically wrong. It was not allowed because it almost always (and this, too, is an exaggeration) entailed danger to the faith or the danger of scandal or of religious indifference. Because of these dangers- thus the decree-participation in the liturgical services of non- Catholics was "generally forbidden in practice, by natural and divine law". And no authority could dispense from this prohibition.33

In keeping with this decree, one cannot conclude, from the fact that participation in the services of non-Catholics is not objectively reprehensible, that the Church is altogether free to allow it and to declare that in general it is permitted.

A decree of the Holy Office of June 22, 1859, cites another reason, one to which we have already referred: liturgical rites are by their very nature a sign of ecclesiastical community, and thus one ought not to celebrate them with heretics and schismatics, who stand outside this community.34 The decree of the Holy Office of June 19, 1889, describes the worship of the heretics as a "cultus falsus", that is, as illegitimate worship.35 Leo XIII expressly approved this decree.

The negative position of the Holy See thus has its basic source in the conviction of the Catholic Church that it is the only true Church of Christ, and expresses the logical consequence of this conviction. It is from this vantage point that we are to understand the often obviously exaggerated (in any event, hardly irenic) manner of expression of the decrees of the Holy See, decrees that often contain many judgments about matters of fact that are simply erroneous. It follows from this that the Church cannot simply say that participation in the liturgical services of non-Catholics is an indifferent matter and is generally permitted. However, neither does it follow that the Church cannot, for special reasons, allow such participation, supposing that it is not a question of an act that is contrary to faith, e.g., the condemnation of the Council of Chalcedon mentioned above.


Actually, even in modern times the Holy See has made concessions in particular cases in this matter of common liturgical services. In the 19th and 20th centuries, the tendency has even been in the direction of a certain relaxation of the older, strict prohibitions.

The first concessions concerned the hearing of confessions of members of the separated Eastern Churches. Many Latin religious working in the Near East preached in the churches of nonCatholics and even conducted popular missions there. NonCatholics who were moved by the Catholic priests' preaching on confession would want to make their confession to them and to receive absolution from them. Many religious, Jesuits and Capuchins especially, gave them absolution after a more or less explicit profession of faith, which was a part of confession itself. This was done without a formal conversion to the Catholic Church. If the penitents were simple people, many Jesuits would ask in confession only if they believed all that the holy Fathers had taught. Naturally the people would say that they did without difficulty, and thereupon the fathers gave them absolution.36 St. Robert Bellarmine approved of this practice as at least apparently and thus practically permissible: "If the penitents say that they know nothing of the controversies, and if they really appear to be totally uneducated, then perhaps one can hear their confession and leave them in their ignorance. 37

For a while at least the Holy See permitted this practice. In 1561, Pius IV granted permission to Christopher Rodriguez, a Jesuit whom he had sent to Egypt, to give absolution after a merely private renunciation, that is, even if this took place only in confession.38 In 1643, Propaganda answered a related question of Sylvester of St. Aignan, a Capuchin, saying that he could continue in his practice of granting absolution after a general profession of faith made in confession.39 However, by 1665 the Holy Office prescribed as condition for absolution the recital of the profession of faith of Urban VIII, and required that this take place publicly, apart from confession. 40

There were other particular points on which the Holy See also granted some concessions during the 17th century. In 1639, the Holy Office gave permission for Catholics on the islands of Greece to be married by schismatic bishops, who were termed "excommunicati tolerati".41 However, just thirty years later the same Holy Office declared that such a marriage was valid but illicit.42 Shortly thereafter (1671), the same supreme religious tribunal declared that only in cases of extreme necessity, when no Catholic person was available, was it permitted to have a child baptized by a schismatic priest.43 In one particular case, the Holy Office (1683) granted the request of Francis of Salem, a Reformed Franciscan working in Egypt for the reunion of the Copts, when he asked permission to visit the churches of the non- Catholics.44 What missionaries did quite without second thoughts in the 16th century and also at least during the first half of the 17th, is here allowed only in case of difficulty and as an exception made for a particular case.


Further development in the 18th century led first to an extremely strict and quite general prohibition, the one of 1729. Previous prohibitions had only been for specific cases. The decree of 1729 must be understood in light of the situation in the Near East at that time. The situation of Catholics was at that time somewhat improved, since at least in many places the Latin religious had succeeded in erecting their own churches. Participation in the liturgy of separated Christians was consequently no longer as necessary as it had been. This circumstance, as well as the tendency of the age toward rigorism (this was the age of Jansenism and of the struggle against the probabilism of the Jesuits), led to heated arguments among the missionaries about whether or not liturgical services in common with schismatics and heretics were allowed. Missionaries of different orders often were not in agreement even about simple matters of fact. Thus, at a conference held in 1723 in the Jesuit house in Aleppo, there were some who maintained that if Catholics attended the non- Catholics' mass they would be constrained to say "Amen" to the anathema against the Council of Chalcedon and against Pope Leo; others denied this vigorously.45

To escape this scandalous confusion of opinions, many missionaries sought a general prohibition from the Holy See. In 1711, for example, the Franciscan Custodian in the Holy Land, Lorenzo Cozza, requested that Propaganda issue a strong decree against participation in the services of non- Catholics, along with a threat of severe penalties for any offenders.46 The Holy See did not immediately give in to these pressures. On several occasions the Holy Office gave evasive answers to requests from the Near East, referring the missionaries to "trustworthy authors" and to "upright and learned priests who had worked long in those missions" (1719 and 1723) . In other words: Decide the matter yourselves. You know the situation out there better than we do here in Rome! All that was required was that acts be omitted that would have to be interpreted as "protestativi falsae sectae" (explicit approval of the non-Catholic communities), and that scandal be avoided.47

However, Propaganda saw clearly that in the long run such answers would not solve the problem, precisely because of the deplorable contentiousness among the missionaries. In the proceedings of its 1729 sessions devoted to the affairs of the Melchites, we read: "Since the entire dispute arises from the differences of opinion among the missionaries, a recommendation to consult them in matters having to do with common liturgical services will not do away with the confusion. It will only make matters worse." 48

In 1720 Propaganda had already sent a letter around to all the missionary superiors in the Near East, seeking definite information about the problem. The replies were passed on to the Holy Office,49 and therefore must be in the unfortunately inaccessible archives of this congregation. Only a single answer remained, through a fortunate accident, in the archives of Propaganda, that of the superior of the Reformed Franciscans in Egypt, Benedict of Teano. The letter, written in Italian, is dated July 25, 1721. Several years ago we published it together with a German translation. 50

The Franciscan superior was a vigorous opponent of Catholic participation in the services of non-Catholics, and emphatically denied that this was necessary to avoid persecution. In 1725, however, Claude Sicard, a Jesuit working in Cairo, still vigorously defended common liturgical services, and in fact did this in a brochure which he published simultaneously in French and in Arabic.51 He declared that in itself it was good to participate in the liturgy and the sacraments of separated Eastern Christians and showed that thus far the Holy See had issued no general prohibition. He concluded his discussion with the following: "If the door of heaven is indeed narrow, then our severity ought not make it any narrower."

This brochure met with vigorous contradiction and was reported to the Holy Office. At last the Holy See saw no way out other than an absolute prohibition of any kind of liturgical services in common with non-Catholics. Not even merely passive participation was allowed. This is the historical background of the famous decree issued by Propaganda on July 5, 1729. Thus it is clear that this decree, since it developed out of a quite limited situation, can have no eternal and unlimited value. Of course it is true that in 1880 the Holy Office, in response to a request of the then Apostolic Delegate in Syria, Msgr. Piavi, still declared that the instruction of 1729 remained in effect.52 But another 84 years have passed since then.

Even the very severe instruction of 1729 at least theoretically leaves the possibility open that purely passive participation in the religious services of non-Catholics could be permitted. No less a personage than Pope Benedict XIV once came out openly against an absolute rigorism on the question of common liturgical services. In the February 24, 1752, session of the Holy Office, he declared: "Communicationem in divinis cum haereticis non posse nec debere tam facile ac tam generaliter pronuntiari in omni penitus circumstantia de iure vetitam." As part of the evidence for this, the pope referred to the fact that the Church permitted mixed marriages. In these, one partner administers the sacrament to the other and receives it from him.53

The Holy Office published a new general prohibition on May 10, 1753.54 It speaks of the discussion of the question among theologians - the discussion was still going on, therefore who cited the decree of Martin V, Ad evitanda (1418) , the one that permitted services in common with those who were excommunicated but not by name. However, says the decree of 1753, after Paul V's 1606 prohibition forbidding the English to take part in the services of heretics, this earlier permission must be understood to refer to merely civic cooperation.

Actually, the Holy See did not succeed, not even with its strict prohibitions, in suppressing common services with separated Christians; Rome found itself compelled to make concessions again. The practical necessities were too great. Propaganda closely supervised the execution of its directives. We still have numerous reports of ecclesiastical visitors and of Franciscan superiors in the Holy Land, written in answer to a questionnaire of Propaganda. The questionnaire asked about liturgical worship in common with the separated Christians.55 These reports show that participation in the services of non-Catholics could not be so easily eliminated. A Carmelite, Emmanuel of St. Albert, wrote resignedly at the end of his report of December 18, 1753: "Surdis cano et pervicacibus." 56

Quite soon after the publication of the strict prohibition of 1729, the Holy See found itself compelled to make exceptions again. In 1737-38 there were in Egypt 38 converted Coptic priests who kept their conversion secret and consequently continued to conduct liturgical services for non-Catholics. The Jesuits who tolerated this situation justified their action by referring to an instruction received from the Holy See concerning the Coptic Patriarch. According to this instruction, if the Patriarch should be converted he could keep his conversion secret. In that case, of course, he could not avoid taking part in the services of nonCatholics.57

In an instruction of August 6, 1764, Propaganda authorized the Apostolic Vicar of Aleppo to allow the faithful, if otherwise there would be danger of serious persecution, to have their children baptized by schismatic or heretical priests, to marry before a non- Catholic pastor, and to have him bury their dead.58 This instruction referred to a similar one of Benedict XIV, sent in 1754 to the Vicar Patriarch of Constantinople, though that had dealt only with the case of marriage.59

In its instruction of 1744, Propaganda merely repeated what the Holy Office had already conceded to the Armenians in 1719; and it did this under pressure from Abbott Mekhitar, founder of the Mekhitarists. The decree of the Holy Office also dealt with baptism, marriage and burial.60 These involved the greatest difficulties, owing to the Turkish legislation mentioned above.

On December 15, 1764, Propaganda allowed the faithful of the island of Khios to visit the churches of non-Catholics simply out of curiosity, though without taking part in the liturgical services.61


Often in the 19th and even in the 20th century the Holy See reiterated the older prohibitions. The problem remained acute, therefore. However, as we have already indicated, a certain relaxation in practice slowly began to develop. A series of examples can be adduced to show that the Holy See later modified, indeed revoked, some severe measures. In 1803 Propaganda forbade Catholics to act as witnesses at the weddings of non-Catholics.62 In 1859, however, the Holy Office expressly allowed this,and on the grounds that to act as a witness was not the same as to participate in a liturgical service.63 In 1805 the Holy Office forbade Ethiopian Catholics even to enter the churches of separated Christians.64 Thirteen years later, the same high tribunal gave an altogether general permission to visit non- Catholic churches, even out of mere curiosity. Of course this could take place only when no services were in progress.65 In 1898 the Holy Office dropped the restriction which in 1864 it had placed on allowing dying non- Catholics to receive absolution. The restriction was that the non-Catholic had in some way to express a desire to join the Catholic Church.66 In 1906, the same congregation reversed the explicit prohibition of 1889 and permitted nonCatholic girls to sing for Catholic services.67 In 1882 the Holy Office still required that if non-Catholic students under fourteen were to be admitted to the sacraments in Catholic schools they must make an explicit profession of faith.

In 1957, on the contrary, nuntios and apostolic delegates in the Near East were given far- reaching powers to admit such students to the sacraments in the Catholic schools, and this without any age limit without an explicit profession of faith being required. The students had only to declare their readiness to recognize the pope as the head of the Church, and there had to exist a reasonable hope that later they would also explicitly join the Catholic Church.68 These students were looked upon as Catholic, since by baptism they became members of the Catholic Church, and remained such as long as they did not explicitly join the non- Catholic community. Thus, here it was not a question of admitting non- Catholics to the sacraments of the Catholic Church. Pius X, in 1908, gave to the Ukranian Metropolitan, Andreas Szeptyckyj, very broad powers to give Catholics permission to receive the sacraments from non- Catholics in cases of necessity. These faculties were never made public.69

We witnessed the most recent case of liturgical services in common with non-Catholics on the occasion of the trip of the reigning pope, Paul VI, to the Holy Land in January, 1964, and of his meeting with Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople. The pope gave the patriarch a chalice for the holy sacrifice. In doing this he was acknowledging the eucharistic celebration of the separated Eastern Christians as in itself good and paid no attention to the view that the separated Churches do not celebrate the holy sacrifice legitimately. Many stricter moralists had previously declared this to be absolutely inadmissible. Now that the pope himself has done it, no one will henceforth have the hardiness to maintain this view.

In conclusion, we must once again note that the position of the Holy See on the question of liturgical services in common with non- Catholics has its history, and that in the course of time there have been many oscillations. Still, with all these fluctuations, there are certain fixed points that remain always the same. Among them is the theoretical basis for the practical procedures, which is to be looked for in the firm conviction of the Catholic Church that it is the one and only true Church of Christ, and that it alone has the right to offer legitimate public worship to God. In addition, the Church has never said that liturgical services in common with non-Catholics are necessarily and intrinsically morally reprehensible. On this point, too, the Church remained true to itself through the centuries. Thus, the Church has the power to permit participation in the liturgical services of non- Catholics where it finds that there are good reasons for doing this, especially when the salvation of souls requires that it be done. At different times and in varying degrees the Church has made use of this power. The circumstances and the tendencies of the times have played a role in this. In the Middle Ages the popes were quite flexible. At the time of the Counter-Reformation, there reigned at Rome a certain narrowness with regard to relationns with non-Catholic, a narrowness that issued in strict prohibitions. The high point of this severity was the decree of 1729, but this is to be explained in light of the particular situation then existing in the Near East.

During the past and in the present century, there has developed a more flexible practice. For the Church the highes law has always been the salvation of souls. And the conciliar discussion has shown that for new legislation on the entire question it is not missionary tactics that are the basic consideration, as has often been the case in the past. What is basic is the ecumenical understanding, growing out of genuine Christian love. This understanding and love does not merely accord to the churches separated from Rome the title “church”. This has always been done. It goes beyond this and tries, theoretically and practically, to take this title seriously.

1 Codex luris Canonici: active participation in the services of nonCatholics prohibited (Can. 1258); administration of sacraments to nonCatholics prohibited (Can. 713 § 2).

2 Cf. W. de Vries, Rom and die Patriarchate des Ostens (Freiburg, 1963), pp. 328ff.

3 L. Hertling, "Communio and Primat," in Miscellanea Historiae Pontificae, V11 (1943), pp. 3- 48.

4 Cf. W. de Vries, Sakramententheologie bei den syrischen Monophysiten (Rome, 1940).

5 Codificazione Canonica Orientale, Fonti, Serie 111 (Vatican, 1943),

Vol. IV, 1, p. 130, n. 276.

6 Ibid., p. 149, nn. 338- 339.

7 Ibid., Vol. VII, 2, pp. 120- 1, n. 204.

8 Ibid., Vol. XI, pp. 232- 3, nn. 498, 490.

9 Ibid., p. 252, nn. 543, 546, 547.

10 Ibid., Vol. IV, 1, p. 11, nn. 25- 27.

11 Ibid., p. 37, n. 72.

12 Ibid., Vol. V, 2, p. 142, n. 300; VII, 1, p. 26, n. 69; VII, 2, p. 22, n. 27, p. 95, n. 155, p. 151, n. 252, p. 173, n. 289; VIII, p. 62, n. 154; and elsewhere.

13 Ibid., Vol. XI, p. 113, nn. 246- 247.

14 Ibid., p. 106, n. 234.

15 Ibid., Vol., IX, p. 150, n. 309.

16 Mansi, Collectio amplissima, XXVII, Col. 1192; C. J. Hefele, H. Leclercq, Histoire des Conciles (Paris, 1907), VII, 1, p. 540.

17 Hefele, op, cit., n. 2.

18 G. Golubovich, Biblioteca Bio- Bibliografica della Terra Santa e dell' ordine Francescano, Nuova Serie (Quaracchi, 1906), Vol. I, p. 89, n. 76.

19 Ibid.

20 Ignazio da Seggiano, Documenti inediti sull' apostolato dei Minori Cappuccini nel Vicino Oriente 1623- 1683 (Rome, 1954), p. 27.

21 Bullarium Romanum (Turin, 1857), VII, pp. 271- 3.

22 W. de Vries, op. cit., pp. 195ff.

23 Ibid., pp. 307ff.

24 Ibid., pp. 203ff.

25 Archiv. Vat., Fondo Borghese, Serie 11, Vol. 479, Pt. 2.

26 G. Hofmann, "Griechische Patriarchen and Romische Papste," in Orientalia Christiana, XXX, 1, p. 32.

27 Collectanea S. Congregationis de Propaganda Fide, Vol. I (Rome, 1907), p. 11, n. 34.

28 Ibid. n. 33.

29 Archives of Propaganda, Lettere, Vol. 44, fol. 275v.

30 Collectanea S. Congregationis de Propaganda Fide, Vol. I, pp. 100- 1, n. 311.

31 Ibid., p. 100.

32 Ibid.

33 Ibid., p. 99.

34 Ibid., p. 642, n. 1176

35 Ibid., Vol. II, p. 240, n. 1713.

36 H. Musset, Histoire du Christianisme, specialment en Orient, Vol. II (Harissa, 1948), pp. 131ff.

37 G. Hofmann, "Il Beato Bellarmino a gli Orientali," in Orientalia Christiana, VIII, 6, n. 33 (Rome, 1927), p. 270.

38 A. Rabbath Documents inedits pour servir d 1'histoire du christianisme en Orient, Vol. I, (Paris, 1905), p. 219.

39 Archives of Propaganda, Lettere, Vol. 21, fol. 323v.

40 The decree is mentioned in the 1755 constitution "Allatae sunt" of Benedict XIV. Cf. Collectanea, I, p. 238, n. 17.

41 R. De Martinis, luris Pontificii de Propaganda Fide, Pars 11 (Rome, 1909), p. 83, n. 158, 5.

42 Collectanea, Vol. I, p. 53, n. 164.

43 Ibid., p. 69, n. 198.

44 J. P. Trossen, Les relations du patriarche copte lean XVI avec Rome, 1676- 1718 (Luxemburg, 1948), p. 26, n. 85.

45 Mansi, op. cit., Vol. XLVI, col. 21- 22.

46 Golubovich, op. cit., Vol. IV, p. 119.

47 Mansi, op. cit, Vol. XLVI, col. 109- 110.

48 Ibid., col. 20.

49 Ibid.

50 “Eine Denkschrift zur Frage der 'communicatio in sacris cum dissidentibus' aus deco Jahre 1721," in Ostkirchliche Studien, VII (1958), pp. 253- 66.

51 For the text see Mansi, op. cit., XLVI, col. 169- 176.

52 Verbali delle Conferenze Patriarcali sullo stato delle Chiese Orientali e delle adunanze della Commissione Cardinalizia per promuovere la riunione delle chiese dissidenti, tenute alla presenza del S.P. Leone XIII (1894- 1902), published facsimile of the manuscript (Vatican, 1943: S. Congregazione per la Chiesa Orientale), p. 626.

53 De Martinis, op. cit., p. 324.

54 Ibid., pp. 325- 7.

55 Golubovich, op. cit., Vol. II, pp. 175ff.; G. Hofmann, "Vescovadi Cattolici della Grecia," in Orientalia Christiana Analecta, CXII, p. 129; CXXX, pp. 117, 128.

56 Ambrosius a S. Theresia, Hierarchia Carmelitana, Fasc. 11, de Praesulibus Ecclesiae Babyloniensis (Rome, 1934), p. 76.

57 A. Colombo, Le origini della gerarchia della Chiesa copta cattolica nel Secolo XVIII (Rome, 1953), p. 57, and n. 3.

58 De Martinis, op. cit., p. 342, n. 615.

59 Ibid., n. 2.

60 Mansi, op. cit., XLVI, col. 109- 110.

61 Codificazione . . . Fonti, II, p. 107.

62 De Martinis, op. cit., p. 438, n. 741.

63 Collectanea S. Congregationis de Propagande Fide, Vol. I, p. 642, n. 1176.

64 De Martinis, op. cit. p. 439, n. 745.

65 Ibid., p. 452, n. 765.

66 Collectanea S. Congregationis de Propagande Fide, Vol. I, p. 693, n. 1257 ad 6; p. 281, n. 439.

67 Ibid., 11, pp. 467- 8, n. 2227; p. 236, n. 1703.

68 Ibid., p. 157, n. 1566. The 1957 decree of the Holy Office has not been published.

69 See footnote 52, p. 637.

Quaesumus Wrote:There are a number of Orthodox churches by my house, and they have matins and vespers services. Would it be sinful for me to attend as more than a mere observer, i.e. to pray with them? If it were Protestants I think it would be a non issue, but is it orthodox to associate with the Orthodox? Thanks

Depending on the particular Orthodox jurisdiction involved, you might encounter a certain amount of hostility if they find out you are a Catholic. In addition, you should know that it would be difficult for you to participate actively because everything will be sung, and you do not know the melodies. 

I'd suggest going to an Eastern Catholic church instead but, unfortunately, not many of them have vespers or matins.

spasiisochrani Wrote:
Quaesumus Wrote:There are a number of Orthodox churches by my house, and they have matins and vespers services. Would it be sinful for me to attend as more than a mere observer, i.e. to pray with them? If it were Protestants I think it would be a non issue, but is it orthodox to associate with the Orthodox? Thanks

Depending on the particular Orthodox jurisdiction involved, you might encounter a certain amount of hostility if they find out you are a Catholic. In addition, you should know that it would be difficult for you to participate actively because everything will be sung, and you do not know the melodies. 

I'd suggest going to an Eastern Catholic church instead but, unfortunately, not many of them have vespers or matins.

Thanks for the information gents.

I'm pretty familiar with the eastern churches because it was interest in them that originally brought me back to the Church a couple of years ago. I've continued to attend my local Byzantine Catholic parish, but like you said, they don't have matins or vespers.
Quaesumus Wrote:I'm pretty familiar with the eastern churches because it was interest in them that originally brought me back to the Church a couple of years ago. I've continued to attend my local Byzantine Catholic parish, but like you said, they don't have matins or vespers.

Why don't you ask the priest whether he's be willing to start having vespers and/or matins?  If you can find some people who are willing to show up and sing, he might go for it. 
Quote:Originally Posted by Quaesumus
"There are a number of Orthodox churches by my house, and they have matins and vespers services. Would it be sinful for me to attend as more than a mere observer, i.e. to pray with them? If it were Protestants I think it would be a non issue, but is it orthodox to associate with the Orthodox? Thanks"The long-standing schism of the Orthodox is, indeed a tragedy. In many ways, they have more in common with us than the Novus Ordo do: They have, (albeit, an incomplete one) a great devotion to Our Lady, Their views on the veneration of relics is very similar to ours. They have retained a valid apostolic succession and valid sacraments., Their services our beautiful and very reverent.

But, as others in this thread have pointed out, they are schismatics. and as such we cannot participate in their recitation of the Divine Office. 

Quaesumus Wrote:There are a number of Orthodox churches by my house, and they have matins and vespers services. Would it be sinful for me to attend as more than a mere observer, i.e. to pray with them?
Yes, active participation in schismatic liturgical prayer is a sin. I wouldn't.

Quote:If it were Protestants I think it would be a non issue, but is it orthodox to associate with the Orthodox?
Ask yourself: are they orthodox? Are they Catholic?
  just  a suggestion: Can we please not post whole ddocuments?... A reference to the specific doccument or a link is far more polite in chatting(?). Many of us dont have time to read the whole thing at one sitting.

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