Let’s start our examination of the Decree on Eastern Rite Catholic Churches, Orientalium Ecclesiarum. This document was promulgated near the end of Vatican II’s third session, 21 November 1964. Let’s keep in mind we are not dealing with Orthodox Christianity as such, but with Eastern Churches who retained their union with Rome.
First, recall that conciliar reform of the liturgy was not intended to affect the Eastern traditions. Given the base of respect for Eastern Christian traditions, this preamble lays down the purpose for the decree:
The Catholic Church holds in high esteem the institutions, liturgical rites, ecclesiastical traditions and the established standards of the Christian life of the Eastern Churches, for in them, distinguished as they are for their venerable antiquity, there remains conspicuous the tradition that has been handed down from the Apostles through the Fathers (Leo XIII, Litt. Ap. Orientalium dignitas, 30 nov. 1894, in Leonis XIII Acta, vol. XIV, pp. 201-202.) and that forms part of the divinely revealed and undivided heritage of the universal Church. This Sacred Ecumenical Council, therefore, in its care for the Eastern Churches which bear living witness to this tradition, in order that they may flourish and with new apostolic vigor execute the task entrusted to them, has determined to lay down a number of principles, in addition to those which refer to the universal Church; all else is remitted to the care of the Eastern synods and of the Holy See.
Primarily, a wish for fruitfulness and that “new apostolic vigor,” but much is left to Rome and the Eastern bishops. Beyond the principles which we will examine over the next few weeks.