The Maronites, also known as the Maronite Church, are a unique religious group mostly found in the Middle East. While the Maronites profess belief in the same fundamental theology as Roman Catholicism and submit leadership decisions to the pope, they otherwise operate as an independent denomination. This makes the Maronites one of several churches sui juris, independent congregations under the umbrella of Catholicism and loyal to the pope. This means that Maronites, according to Roman Catholicism, are part of the “true church,” and so their rites and sacraments are valid.
The Maronites trace their founding to the 5th century when a monk named Maron founded a monastery in modern-day Lebanon. In response to persecution, his followers retreated into the mountains and lost most contact with the rest of the Christian church. It wasn’t until several centuries later that communication was restored between the Maronites and Rome.
The Maronite Church has retained a much stronger flavor of Judaism than other Catholic denominations. Their liturgical language is Aramaic, though many congregations have used Arabic due to cultural needs. Maronite churches are patterned after ancient Jewish synagogues. The flow of Maronite services follows a pattern markedly different from that of a Roman Catholic Mass.
A notable difference between Roman Catholic and Maronite practice regards celibacy. Maronites do not require their priests to remain unmarried. In practice, Maronite priests serving in areas mostly served by celibate priesthoods usually maintain celibacy, too. However, not all do, and Maronite priests in the Middle East generally do not shun marriage.