The Maronite Rite is one of 22 rites within the one universal Catholic Church. A rite is a community of faith having a distinct tradition, theology, spirituality, liturgy, hierarchy, and canon law. At the same time, each rite enjoys an autonomy and independence from its sister churches. All of the rites are united in the same profession of Faith, in the same celebration of the Sacraments, and in the same hierarchal unity. The different rites evolved from five centers of Christianity where the apostles preached -- Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople, Rome and Jerusalem.
The Maronite Rite evolved from the Antiochene tradition. The first Maronites were direct descendants of the people who had received the Faith from the Apostle, Peter. They originated as an ecclesiastical grouping of Christians who assembled around the hermit monk Maron about the year 400 A.D. on the mountain slopes of Cyr, near Antioch, Syria. Born in the late fourth century, he became a priest and then a hermit, retiring to a mountain of Taurus near Antioch above the banks of the Orontes River.
Maron's life was one of piety and dedication to the simple life of prayer and meditation; his holiness attracted many persons to join him and to convert others to Christianity through the spreading of the Gospel. He converted an old pagan temple along the Orontes river into a monastery; Here, many disciples gathered around him and followed his rule. Some became monks and hermits themselves, while others spread the teachings of Christ, as missionaries, through Central and North Syria.
Much of the details of the life of St. Maron have been lost, but it is known that he performed many miracles of healing, as attested by his historian, Theodoret, the Bishop of Cyr. After Maron's death in the year 410 A.D., his disciples saved his remains and in spite of strong persecution, his tomb became a place of religious pilgrimage. St. John Maron, the first Patriarch of the Maronite people, was a monk of the monastery of St. Maron, who was elected by the religious community to secure the Apostolic succession to the See of Antioch. Accordingly, the Maronite Patriarchate was initiated by the election of John Maron in 686 A.D. and has continued, since his death in 707 A.D., to the present time. A total of 72 Patriarchs to the present successor, Mar Nasrallah Boutros Sfair, Patriarch of Antioch and the Entire East. Late in the seventh century, due to religious persecution and heresy, the Maronite monks became obliged to seek refuge in Lebanon, where St. Maron's relics were transferred to the Patriarchal residence in Kafarhai. In the year 1130, they were removed to Foligno, Italy, and placed in the Cathedral there.
The Maronite Rite was brought to the United States in the early 1900's with the immigration of many Maronites from Lebanon. The Maronites of the U.S.A. became an Exarchate in 1965, and in 1971 the Diocese of St. Maron was established with the See in Brooklyn. Since then the Diocese (Eparchy) of Our Lady of Lebanon has been established with its See in Los Angeles. There are over 54 Maronite parishes and several missions in the U.S.
The Maronite Church professes the same faith and beliefs of the One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. It also administers the 7 Sacraments instituted by Christ, and obeys all the rules and ordinances issued by our Holy Father the Pope, the successor of Saint Peter in the Vatican. The only difference between the Maronite Church and the Roman Church is in the Divine Liturgy. The liturgy, itself, is known as the Syriac liturgy of Antioch, ascribed to St. James the Less, "brother of the Lord", Apostle and first Bishop of Jerusalem.
The ritual formulation expresses the spirit of Eastern monasticism. The liturgical language used in the Maronite Mass is Syriac-Aramaic, the language spoken by Christ. Incense is used during the Liturgy to signify that our prayers go heavenward to God as the sweet-smelling smoke of incense rises up. This Rite is the only one in which the words of consecration are traditionally chanted in Aramaic, the same language our Lord spoke at the First Mass of the Last Supper. Before communion, the Celebrant touches the Holy Mysteries (Eucharist) and blesses the people signifying that the remission of sins is bestowed upon us through the Sacrifice of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Communion is received by the faithful in the mouth, after the priest dips the Host in the Chalice. This is the only form prescribed for reception of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Maronite Rite. Maronites cultivate profound adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, seeing in the Holy Eucharist the Risen Christ who sent to us the Sanctifying Spirit. They are also deeply devoted to Mary, The Mother of the Light, hailing her strength and fidelity in the title of "Cedar of Lebanon."
Source: Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon, Los Angeles, California