Not many people in the West seem to know about the Eastern Rite Catholic Churches. These are ancient Christian Churches of Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and India that, while being part of the Catholic Church in full communion with Rome, are distinct from the Latin Rite or Western Church. Ignorance of these churches is probably related to the fact that they make up only 2% of the membership of the Catholic Church.
Most Eastern Catholic Churches arose when a group within an ancient Christian Church that was in disagreement with the see of Rome chose to rejoin into full communion with that see. The Maronite Church, however, boasts of never having been separated from Rome.
I learned about these churches myself from a Keralan colleague working in Bangalore who belonged to the similarly constituted Syro-Malabar church. Both the Maronite and Syro-Malabar churches consider that they were cut off from Rome by accidents of war, politics, and history and then - in a sense - rediscovered.
There is quite a good Wikipedia article on the Maronite Church.
A couple of nuggets:
- Clerical celibacy is not, on the level of principle, obligatory for Eastern Catholic priests but, among the Maronites for example, monks must remain celibate, as must bishops who are normally selected from the monasteries.
- Bishops and priests of the Eastern Catholic Chuches celebrate the sacraments according to their own rites and Latin rite laity can recieve the sacraments in Eastern Catholic Rite form. Some priests may also have the permission to celebrate some or all of the liturgy of another rite. Thus some priests of one Eastern Rite may also occasionally say Mass according to another Eastern Rite or the Roman Rite, and some Roman Rite priests may occasionally say Mass according to one of the Eastern Rites. Biritual permission, when given, is usually limited to one specific rite in addition to the priest's native rite. The Pope, as head of all the Churches, can say Mass according to any rite.
I wish Benedict would do something more than just mouthing platitudes at Castel Gandolfo. He does "have a dog in that fight" to contradict the first Bush's Secretary of State's vulgar reaction to an earlier blood feud.