The Uniate Church, Defined
Often referred to as the Eastern Catholic Church, the Uniate is comprised by several smaller rites and churches. Uniate Churches are autonomous churches that are self-ruling, yet still belong to the Roman Catholic faith. These Eastern churches also recognize the Holy See (the Papal Church in the Vatican as its mother church, although Uniate churches have their own canonical, liturgical, and spiritual traditions. The 16th Century saw the beginning of the development of the Eastern churches. Two Ukrainian Orthodox bishops of the Brest-Litovsk Union in 1596 established a union with the Vatican recognizing papal primacy. Encouraged by this support, other independent Eastern Churches soon followed suit. Included among them were the Melkites in 1724, the Ruthenians in 1592, the Chaldeans in 1681, and the Romanian Greek-Catholic Church in 1698.
Today, Uniate Churches count among their following around 20 million members. These can be divided into the Byzantine, Armenian, Alexandrian, Chaldean, and Antiochene families that form its five major member churches. A Patriarch is responsible for each member church. and over its own set of bishops, clergy, and congregations. The Congregation for the Oriental Churches counts all the Patriarchs as members, and is responsible for the Vatican's communication with the Uniate Churches. The Ukrainian Catholic Church with about 5 million members, and is the largest in the union of the Uniate Churches. It was formed in 1596. The Maronites of Lebanon is also one of the larger group members, and established its own connection with the Vatican in the 12th Century. In 1700, the Habsburgs authorized the formation of the Romanian Eastern Rite Church.
The 23 particular churches of the Uniate follow their own, yet similar, liturgies, which are derived from different traditions which are synonymous with the respective Armenian, Antiochian, Alexandrian, East Syrian, and Byzantine rites. Although these 23 churches are still under the juridical power of the Papal See, in essence the Uniate is looked after by the Congregation for the Oriental Churches which maintains communication between the Eastern Churches and the Vatican. The Pope appoints, for a five year period, the members of the congregation. This congregation is headed by the Cardinal Prefect, with 27 member cardinals, four bishops, one archbishop, and the Prefect's secretary. The Eastern Churches also are represented in the congregation by its Patriarchs. Eastern Europe counts as having the largest Uniate membership counts of any region of the globe.
The year 1054 was the year of the Great Schism of the Catholic Church, which created the fracture that led to the separation of the Eastern Orthodox Church from the Catholic Church, although there had long already deep-seated differences that ultimately led to the 1054 event. Among these differences were the use of leavened or unleavened bread at the Eucharist. Another was the Vatican's universal claim to overall jurisdiction superseding all Catholic Churches. The year 1053 saw the start of the Great Schism when Michael I Cerularius, who was then Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, instructed the shutdown of all Latin churches in the city. This was in direct response to the closure of all Greek Churches in Southern Italy at the order of the Roman Church. The Vatican then sent a papal legation to Constantinople that would remove Michael I Cerularius's title if he did not recognize Pope Leo IX's authority. Cerularius refused, and the Great Schism occurred, and the two bodies have remained separate since. The Eastern Orthodox Church eventually lost some of its member churches that defected, and several of these and their derivatives later formed the Uniate Churches alongside other independent Eastern Christian churches.