While the Roman Catholic Church is the largest branch of Christianity, many find it surprising that there are different Catholic denominations. These denominations are set apart by the liturgical rites followed. And to answer the question regarding how many Catholic Denominations there are, this post takes a keen look into the number and differences in the denominations.
The Catholic Church denominations aren’t church denominations per se, but Catholic churches that follow different liturgical rites from the Roman Catholic church. There are 6 varying liturgical rites, including 24 Catholic Church denominations.
But are these 24 actual different denominations from the Catholic Church? Do they follow similar rites? How were they formed? Are they recognized by Rome? Keep reading to learn more about the different Roman Catholic Denominations.
How many catholic denominations are there in the world?
There are 24 main catholic church denominations based on and following 6 main catholic liturgical rites. According to the Canon Laws, specifically under Canon 112, the Catholic Church recognizes the existence of autonomous rituals used to represent different Catholic Churches.
Note that the rites are defined as the Liturgical, spiritual, theological, and disciplinary patrimonies, as well as the circumstances and the cultures practiced by specific people or groups.
Before recognizing the 6 liturgical rites, the Roman Catholic Church was the primary religion for a few thousand years. No other denominations existed then; the Catholic Church was the only Holy Church founded. This declaration was made in 380AD by the Roman Empire. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, it is mentioned that only one type of Catholic Church exists. This is also believed to be backed by the Scripture as implied in Eph. 4:3-5 where it’s acknowledged that there is only one Church.
However, it is worth noting that despite the Catholic Church fostering this one belief system, it recognizes the diversity of its liturgical traditions. CCC 1201, the Catechism explains that because of the unfathomably rich mystery of Jesus Christ, it cannot be expressed through a single liturgical tradition. It means that the Roman Catholic Church recognizes its authority and position and acknowledges and supports the existence of different denominations based on liturgical differences.
What are the different Catholic denominations?
Today, the Catholic Church recognizes the existence of an expanded church community with varied liturgical expressions that culminate into 24 so-called primary churches or denominations, all within the Roman Catholic Church. These churches have unique traditions passed down through many centuries.
Many then wonder how this came to be accepted by the Church and how some liturgical rites were accepted over others. As expected of the Roman Catholic Church, the Catechism spells out how the 6 liturgical expressions were accepted only after they met set criteria. The criteria used had specifications that ensured that even with different liturgies, the ones agreed upon followed the apostolic traditions like communion in the Catholic Faith and receiving sacraments from apostles. Fidelity to these traditions represented and led to communions that would signify and guarantee apostolic succession.
The Liturgical rites and expressions that met the criteria above led to the diversity of the Catholic Church that has led to the most remarkable church community allowing local communities to easily incorporate the Messages about Jesus Christ into their lives and cultures.
6 Liturgical Rites & 24 Catholic Churches
Here is a list of the 6 liturgical rites acknowledged by the Catholic Church:
- Roman (Latin) Catholic Church
This is the oldest rite, also called the Roman Rite. The only Church that follows the Latin rites to the latter is the Roman (Latin) Catholic Church.
Three churches follow the Alexandrian Rites. These are:
- Eritrean Catholic Church
- Coptic Catholic Church
- Ethiopian Catholic Church
Under the Alexandrian Rites, there are 3 recognizable church names above. Although these three churches express and preserve the Catholic Church’s doctrines, they perform their liturgies differently from the Roman or Latin Catholic believers. These churches also consider themselves to be Oriental Catholics. Still, they also recognize the judicial obligations they have to fulfill rites in a way that is understood and recognized as their own theological, liturgical, disciplinary, and spiritual heritage.
Notably, these Catholic churches that follow the Alexandrian Rites can be grouped into two –
First, followers of the Coptic Rites – the Coptic Catholic Church. This Church uses the Coptic liturgical language and, on occasion, Arabic.
The other group follows the Ge’ez Rite. The catholic churches that follow these rituals belong to the Eritrean and the Ethiopian Catholic Churches. Note, however, that the Ethiopian Catholic Liturgy is originally Coptic and was primarily influenced by Syrian traditions. So, this liturgy has always been mainly celebrated ancient Ge’ez language. Therefore, this liturgy allows the Eritrean and Ethiopian Catholics to follow a seemingly similar liturgy seen and used by Latin Catholics.
It is also worth noting that these Catholic churches boast ancient traditions and origins. The Coptic Catholics, for instance, date back to St. Mark the Evangelist’s lineage. On the other hand, Ethiopian Catholics date to the times when Christianity was spread through Saints Batholomew and Matthew.
Antiochene or West Syrian Rite
Three catholic churches follow the Antiochene Liturgical Rites. These are:
- Maronite Catholic Church
- Syro-Malankara Catholic Church
- Syriac Catholic Church
Maronite Catholic Church
Like the Syriac Catholics, the Maronite Catholics trace their lineage back to St. Peter, way before he was appointed the Bishop of Rome. Before this, St. Peter was Antioch’s first bishop, which is why the Patriarchs of the Maronite and Syriac Catholic churches consider themselves the successors of St. Peter. In 2000, Pope St. John Paul II acknowledged the close relationship between Antioch and Rome after meeting clergy from different Maronite Catholic Churches.
It is worth noting that the exact roots of the Maronites is the great St. Maron from the 4th century. He was a monk, a contemporary, and a great friend to St. John Chrysostom; he followed the ascetic ways of the Desert Fathers. He also lived like a hermit in the mountains outside Antioch, and many were inspired by his example, following in his footsteps.
After he died in 410, Moranites became the Defenders of Orthodoxy. They held teaching under the Chalcedon council 451, stabilizing over 150 years, and finally retreating to Lebanon to escape persecution from the Arab Muslims. They rejoined and reaffirmed their union with Rome in 1182, and the first Maronite Catholic patriarch happened in the 4th Lateran Council in 1215.
The Syro-Malankara Church
Also on list of Catholic churches that observe the Antiochene or West Syrian Rite is the Syro-Malankara Church. Its history is similar to that of the Syriac and Maronite Catholics, but this Church is based in Eritrea. It was the latest Church to reunite with Rome after the Eritrean Catholic Church in 1930.
Interestingly, the Syro-Malankara Catholics have much in common with the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church. Though there were numerous divisions among the Indian Christians after Syro-Malabar Catholics’ reunion, these Christians didn’t reunite with the Roman Catholic Church but became the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church.
Syriac Catholic Church
Syriac Catholics also recognize St. Peter as the first patriarch, just like the Moranite Catholics. After the 451 Chalcedon Council and the fact that the Church of Syria couldn’t survive the watershed event, the schism meant reunification attempts by the Church of Syria with Rome. The reunion attempts occurred during the Crusades, then later in 1444 at the infamous Council of Florence.
However, it wasn’t until 1662 that the real reunion happened. This was made possible because the Syriac Orthodox Patriarchate fell vacant. Some years later, Capuchin and Jesuit missionaries started preaching in Aleppo, resulting in the growth of a pro-Catholic contingent, followed by the formation of the Church. After the death of the Syrian Orthodox Patriarch in 1781, Jarweh was selected to succeed him, and Pope Pius VI confirmed Jarweh’s election in 1783.
- Armenian Catholic Church
The only Church following this rite is the Armenian Catholic Church. This Church is set apart from other Catholic churches because the rite is only practiced by sui iuris Church. This Church is also led by a patriarch or bishop called the Catholicos-Patriarch of Cilicia of Armenian Catholics. Like the rest of the catholic churches, this Church was formally recognized many catholic decades after the Great Schism of the East and the West that took place in 1054.
East Syrian/ Chaldean Rite
Two main churches are recognized under this rite:
- Chaldean Catholic Church
- Syro-Malabar Catholic Church
The Chaldean and Syro-Malabar Catholic churches are guided by the East Syrian Rite, which follows that the blood shed by Martyrs represents the seed for the resultant Church. These Catholics heed the words and Teachings of Pope St. John Paul II and the Latin traditions which inform the Catholic churches in the East.
Both churches date back to the Apostle St. Thomas, and so they identify themselves as the St. Thomas Christians; and have settled in North America. Chaldean Catholics are recognized in a 1993 letter sent to Patriarch Raphael I Bidawid by St. John Paul, while the Syro-Malabar Catholics were recognized when St. John Paul II visited India in 2003.
Constantinopolitan (or Byzantine) Rite
The last Catholic Rite is the Byzantine Rite, which also consists of the most Catholic denominations listed below.
- Albanian Catholic Church
- Melkite-Greek Catholic Church
- Romanian Catholic Church
- Byzantine Church of Serbia, Montenegro, and Croatia (Križevci Catholic Church)
- Bulgarian-Greek Catholic Church
- Macedonian Catholic Church
- Russian Catholic Church
- Belarusian Catholic Church
- Greek-Byzantine Catholic Church
- Italo-Albanian Catholic Church
- Hungarian-Greek Catholic Church
- Ruthenian Catholic Church (Byzantine Catholic Church of America)
- Ukrainian-Greek Catholic Church
- Slovak Catholic Church
Like other Catholic churches, the Byzantine Rite Catholic churches were also persecuted. The Ukrainian Catholics are among those who suffered greatly, but they still overcame.
However, these Catholic denominations stand out because they make up the largest Eastern Catholic Churches. Additionally, these Byzantine Christians are renowned for their efforts that led them to reunite with Rome before Rome reunited with them. After this, they started focusing on the different liturgical rites that would suit them.
Today, there are many such dioceses or eparchies in Canada and the United States for Romanian, Ukrainian, Slovak, Melkite, and Ruthenian Catholics. Of all these churches, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church has over 4.5 million faithful worldwide.
The Byzantine and Latin Christians were historically united in Christianity’s first millennium. But even after the split, the Byzantine Christians were steadfast. However, they owe their success to the 9th-century saints Methodius and Cyril, who introduced the Byzantine rites to the Slaviks through missionary and apostolic zealousness.
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