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What is Roman Catholicism?

By Wanda Albano
Updated May 17, 2024
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The word "Catholic" is derived from the Greek word for "universal." In its most basic form, to be Catholic means to belong to the universal church, which, in theory, encompasses all of Christianity. However, due to the many schisms that plagued the history of the Christian faith, Roman Catholicism has necessarily developed a more specific meaning.

Roman Catholicism has defined itself as the Christian Church in full communion with the Bishop of Rome, otherwise known as the Pope in the Vatican. It is one of the oldest Christian churches in existence, and currently the largest body of organized religion in the world. It traces its roots to the original church as founded by Jesus Christ.

Like most of Christendom, the cornerstone of Catholic Faith is the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The faithful believe that Christ rose from the dead on the third day of his death and ascended to heaven, body and soul. Roman Catholics believe that humanity's salvation was earned through the ultimate sacrifice of Christ, and that through the Resurrection and the Ascension, He opened the gates for humanity to enter heaven.

Perhaps the feature that separates Roman Catholicism from other denominations of the Christian faith is their belief that the Pope is an infallible leader, in direct line from Peter, the apostle Jesus called the "rock" on whom the Church would be built. Together with the pope, the Roman Catholic Church is governed by bishops in the College of Cardinals. Bishops or Cardinals are charged with the spiritual guidance of their communities and are spread out across the world. These communities are broken up into parishes, which are led by priests. Catholics believe that the bishops are successors of Jesus' twelve apostles.

Catholicism also calls for the belief in what it calls Divine Mysteries, some tenets of which are not accepted by other Christians. Divine Mysteries include the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, which states that there are three persons in one God - God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit or Holy Ghost. It also teaches that the Holy Eucharist is in fact the body of Christ, and not merely a symbol, the veneration of Mary as the Mother of God, the veneration of saints, and practice of the Sacraments or the Sacred Mysteries.

The Sacraments of Catholicism include Baptism, Confirmation, the Holy Eucharist (receiving the communion wafer), Penance (going to confession, Anointing of the Sick or Holy Unction, Holy Orders (entering the priesthood or becoming a nun), and Matrimony. It is commonly believed that the sacraments build on one another. For instance, the most basic sacrament of Catholicism is that of Baptism. Without it, one cannot be considered a Catholic at all and would not be able to proceed to the other sacraments.

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Discussion Comments

By anon310785 — On Dec 27, 2012

The sacraments as practiced by the Catholics are all taken from what are practiced by the characters in the Bible, as well as what Jesus did in His last hours on Earth. Catholics are practicing these acts not because they just go with the motion of what the Catholic Church has been doing for the past centuries, but because they believe that these are what Jesus established to bring graces to those who are participating in or receiving it. You cannot just generalize that Catholics do take the sacraments as truth over the Holy Bible. That may be the case for some, but obviously not to all. That would be absurd.

By serious — On Apr 29, 2010

@anon6784: Do you believe the sacraments are equal to the Holy Bible? I know most Catholics believe this and I know some who even take the sacraments as truth over the Holy Bible. What are your thoughts on this? If you don't mind.

By anon6784 — On Jan 09, 2008

In Roman Catholics, on the sacraments, you mentioned Penance, it would be more correct to call it the Sacrament of Reconciliation. And the site is good too, I've bookmarked it. Robin.

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