Reflecting on My Maronite Identity

By Kathy Homsy (A young adult from the Eparchy in Syndney. She is pictured above at the tomb of St. Rafka.)
Whenever I get asked by a Westerner about my religious beliefs I am forced to think about my answer before I reply. If I come out and say that I am Catholic, I would not be revealing my true identity; yet if I say that I am Maronite, I may be perceived as a non-Catholic. Therefore, my answer is never a simple one. It requires a long and informative explanation which will no doubt provoke many questions in order to be properly understood.

"Catholic" means universal and the Church has used this term since the beginning to refer to the universality and diversity of believers who profess the same true Faith albeit belonging to different traditions which are commonly known as Western Rites and Eastern Rites. The late pope, John Paul II expressed the Church's life and strength in a profound way when he stated that she breathes with two lungs - East and West alike. Due to a mass migration of Christians from the Middle East to the Western World, there is no longer, strictly speaking, a homogenous Catholic population in any western society. Catholics of all rites are now coexisting side by side and are struggling to educate their fellow brothers and sisters of the uniqueness and richness of their perspective Catholic traditions in the hope of gaining a deeper love and appreciation of the Faith.

I often joke around and tell Latin Rite Catholics that Maronite Catholics are the radical, fundamental and extreme members of the Church. I go on to brag about how we, Maronites, tend to be twice as pious in our everyday lives, twice as devotional to Our Lady and the Saints, twice as fervent in our prayers and hymns, and twice as willing to respond to God's call to religious life as other Catholics are. I guess Maronite pride is a result of the constant trials and tribulations experienced by our ancestors at the hands of Christian persecutors. I believe it is a miracle in itself that the Maronite tradition still exists today, and I thank God everyday for all the martyrs and steadfast preachers who were committed to preserving the Faith in the Holy Land of Lebanon, despite efforts by many to destroy it and wipe us out once and for all.

There are differences between the Maronite and Roman Catholic traditions. Adherents of both share the core beliefs and dogmatic teachings of Catholicism; however ecclesiastical law and practices differ. Although Maronites subject themselves to the supremacy of the Bishop of Rome, we answer to the Patriarch of Antioch, who is the head of all Maronites around the globe, and to his fellow bishops who are appointed to lead and guide the faithful in Maronite Eparchys worldwide.

Another difference has to do with the Seven Mysteries (sacraments). Priests administer the mysteries of Baptism and Chrismation (Confirmation) to Maronites at the same time whereas Roman Catholics usually receive Baptism as infants and Confirmation once they have reached the age of reason. Maronite men who are called to the priesthood have an option to marry before their ordination, however, Latin Rite men are strictly forbidden to become married priests. During the celebration of Holy Matrimony, Maronite spouses partake in a crowning ceremony which is omitted in the Latin tradition. The Eucharistic celebration in the Maronite Church is exceptional and is often compared to a High Mass in the Latin Rite. The frequent use of incense, the powerful prayers and exaltations contained in the anaphoras, and the Eucharistic narrative which is recited in Aramaic, combine to bring the worship of the early Church and ancient liturgical practices of Jews in the Old Testament to life. A unique aspect of the Maronite tradition - and perhaps my favorite - is the Prayer of the Faithful (Divine Office) chanted by our monks every morning and evening while the congregation joins in. This form of prayer is often preceded by the "Oum Allah" ("Mother of God") hymn and followed by the Holy Sacrifice. It truly is heaven on earth!

Lastly, the liturgical calendar, seasons, Gospel readings, and feast days vary between the two traditions. There is no ordinary time in the Maronite tradition, instead there are seven seasons that make up one liturgical year: Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Passion Week, Resurrection, Pentecost, and Holy Cross. The readings during Divine Liturgy include passages from one of the New Testament letters, followed by the Good News taken from one of the four Gospels, which is welcomed by the acclamation of a Psalm. There is no reading from the Old Testament in a Maronite Liturgy.

Being a Maronite Catholic is a gift and a blessing. My role models are definitely the three glorious Maronite saints of Lebanon: St. Charbel, St. Rafqa, and St. Nemetallah, not to mention the extraordinary founder of the Maronite Church, St. Maroun. All four led a holy life and dedicated themselves to Christ and His Body, the Church. The best way for me to inform others of the rich Maronite Catholic heritage and portray the endless beauty of the Maronite tradition is to emulate the saints and martyrs who are a true imitation of Jesus and His Blessed Mother.

It is important for me to remain true to who I am. I was born a Maronite Catholic and I will die a Maronite Catholic. I am indebted to the Maronite Church and to the saints and martyrs who made countless sacrifices and offered numerous prayers to keep the flames of the Holy Spirit burning in the East. My mission is to light the same fire in the West, after all, Maronites are universal (Catholics).