The Catholic Church is the largest Christian church in the world. Over 1 billion people are members of the Catholic Church. It is the world's second-largest religious group after Sunni Islam. It teaches that it is the same Church started by Jesus Christ and his former protege 2,000 years ago. The headquarters of the Catholic Church is in the Vatican City.
The word "catholic" comes from the Greek word "katholicos", which means "universal." It was first used in the Nicene Creed. Often, the word "Roman" is added because its headquarters is in Vatican City, a country which is located within the city of Rome, Italy. Typically, people who call themselves Catholics mean that they are members of the Catholic Church.
Almost half of all Catholics are in Latin America. The continent with the second largest number of Catholics is Europe. Millions of Catholics live in other places all over the world.
The Catholic Church is led by the Pope, the Bishop of Rome, who lives in Vatican City. According to Catholics, the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit who also guides the Pope. The Church teaches that when the Pope speaks officially on the subject of Catholic faith and morals, he cannot be wrong. The Popes have used this infallibility throughout history; some examples include the Tome of St. Leo, the declaration of the Immaculate Conception, and various anathemas (religious condemnations issued by the Popes against certain heresies).
Faith and morals
Catholics should follow the example of love Jesus Christ both teaches and gives: to love each other so much that one is even willing to die for another.
The leader of the Roman Catholic Church is called the Pope, which literally means "father". Catholics say Jesus Christ established the Catholic Church, and appointed the first Pope, a disciple of his named Saint Peter, to lead all Christians.
Over the last 2,000 years, different Popes have led the church. The current Pope is the 266th and is called Francis and he lives in the Vatican City, a very small country inside the city of Rome, Italy.
For centuries, Popes have not used their birth names, but instead use a regnal name. This custom started in the sixth century when a man named Mercury was elected Pope, it was seen as inappropriate to have a Pope named after a pagan god so he named himself John II, in honor of his predecessor, John I; it became customary in the tenth century. Since the death of Marcellus II 1555, every Pope has taken a Papal name.
The Catholic Church is made of 23 "particular churches", otherwise known as rites. As well as being head of the Latin Rite of the church (which is the largest with over 1 billion members), the Pope is ultimately the leader of 22 Eastern Catholic Churches, these churches are of the Orthodox tradition of Christianity and it is often the case that they have broken away from their Orthodox mother church to come into communion with (join) the Pope and submit to his authority as successor of St. Peter. The Eastern Catholic Churches are based all over the world, from the United States to the Middle East to India.
Catholics believe that some of the official statements that the Pope makes about faith and morals of their religion are true and cannot be proved incorrect, an idea called infallibility. Infallibility only occurs when the Pope speaks "Ex Cathedra" which is Latin for "from the chair" (of Saint Peter).
Their main form of worship is called the Mass. It is celebrated every day. Catholics are required to attend on Sunday and on a few Holy Days of obligation. In the United States, the Holy Days of Obligation are: Mary, Mother of God (January 1), The Assumption of Mary (August 15), The Immaculate Conception (of Mary) (December 8), The Ascension of Jesus (40 days after Easter), Christmas (December 25) and All Saints Day (November 1). These can be remembered by the following phrase: 3 for Mary, 2 for Jesus and 1 for all the saints.
While these are all practices of Roman Catholics, other Christian churches also use many or all of these same practices.
Catholics put more emphasis on the Virgin Mary (Jesus's mother) than many other Christians, calling her the "Mother of God," "The Queen of Heaven," and praying through her to her Son, Jesus, regularly, as "Mediatrix of graces" at a level higher than other saints.
The Catholic Church celebrates seven sacraments. A sacrament is "an outward sign instituted (started) by Christ to give grace" (a supernatural gift of God that someone did nothing to deserve).
The seven sacraments are: Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Reconciliation, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders and Holy Matrimony (marriage). The Holy Eucharist is the most important of the sacraments, because Catholics believe that Jesus Christ becomes truly present in the form of bread and wine. This happens through transubstantiation which takes place in the Mass.
Catholics interpret the Bible (God-given book) according to Tradition. Tradition is the transmission of the early church's life and teaching, as especially recorded in the writings of the Fathers of the Church who lived in the first centuries. At that time the holy books where accepted in the Bible, which is the collection of the books considered revealed.
A basic rule for Catholics is that "Truth cannot contradict truth". They translate the Bible with this in mind. No interpretation can be accepted if it contradicts another revealed truth.
"I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible. I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father. Through Him all things were made. For us men and our salvation He came down from heaven: and, by the Holy Spirit, was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man. For our sake, He was crucified under Pontius Pilate; He suffered death and was buried and rose again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures: He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and His kingdom will have no end. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, Who, with the Father and the Son, is adored and glorified, Who has spoken through the Prophets. I believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. I confess one baptism for the forgiveness of sins and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen."
Eastern Orthodox and Protestant people believe many of the same things. They sometime disagree on the role of Mary (the mother of Jesus) and other saints, on what a priest can do, and on how exactly God should be worshipped, among other things.
- "Vatican statistics report church growth remains steady worldwide". National Catholic Reporter. 2 May 2014. Retrieved 30 May 2014..
- Sandra Brenneman Oldendorf 2011. Religious diversity and children's literature: strategies and resources, p 156.
- Which Catholic Church?
- Nicene Creed, Catholic Prayers