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Lezlea Purcell wrote:

Hi, guys —

My name is Lezlea Purcell. I live in Nevada. My husband is a full time road musician and I travel with him. I am currently attending college online at the University of Phoenix majoring in accounting. I am 45 years old, I have three daughters, one granddaughter, one grandson, and another grandson due this December.

I was raised as a Southern Baptist; in fact, my father was a Southern Baptist minister. I am doing a paper on Catholicism as a final project for my World Religion class. I was not allowed to visit any other churches as a child and I have been curious about the Catholic Church since then. You know, the pull of the mysterious... I was wondering if I could get a few questions answered. I appreciate your attention and hope I can get a quick response.

Thanks very much. Below are the questions.

  1. What are the important holidays and traditions of Catholicism?
  2. How has Catholicism shaped your life?
  3. What are the challenges, if any, to practicing Catholics?
  4. What are the central beliefs of Catholicism?
  5. I am familiar with the Southern Baptist religion, what are the major differences between these two religions?
  6. What is the country of origin of Catholicism?
  7. What is the role of the Pope in Catholicism?
  8. What is the role of the priest in Catholicism?
  9. Are there any rituals that are performed regularly in the Catholic Church?
  10. Please list and describe any sacred writings or books that are used in Catholicism?
  11. Are there different branches of the Catholic religion and if so, what are the differences between these branches?

Have a wonderful day!!!

Lezlea

  { Can you answer a few questions for a curious Southern Baptist doing a paper on Catholicism? }

Eric replied:

Hi Lezlea,

Wow! That's a lot of questions! :-) Hopefully my colleagues can pitch in. I'll answer the first four.

  1. What are the important holidays and traditions of Catholicism?

    The chief holy day of Catholicism, as with all of Christianity, is Easter (or, in some quarters, Pascha). This of course celebrates the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ from the dead.

    The second most important holy day, again, as with all of Christendom, is Christmas.

    Other important holy days are:

    — Pentecost
    — the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God (January 1st);
    — the Solemnity of the Ascension (40 days after Easter);
    — the Solemnity of the Assumption (August 15th);
    — the Solemnity of All Saints (November 1st);
    — the Solemnity of All Souls (November 2nd); and
    — the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception (December 8th).

    As for important traditions, well, we have a lot of important traditions. Priestly celibacy is one.

    The Mass is another, although the essentials of the Mass (and much of its text) are from Scripture.

  2. How has Catholicism shaped your life?

    It's hard to explain how Catholicism has shaped my life because it's played such an essential role for so long. It was Catholicism that drew me to the Lord, though that was probably more the folk songs at Mass than anything theological. I wandered off into Evangelical Protestantism but was drawn back to the Catholic faith by a prayer community I encountered, and by reading the early Church Fathers. That radically changed the direction of my life. Perhaps the biggest way Catholicism has shaped my life is the Church's teaching on contraception and the doctrines that surround that. The Catholic teaching on human sexuality is beautiful, far more beautiful than its opponents give it credit for. Catholicism sees human sexuality as sacred, whereas the world sees it as profane and dirty.

    In general Catholicism has given me what I believe is a richer experience of Christianity than I would have had if I had left the Catholic Church for Evangelicalism. John Henry Cardinal Newman said that to be immersed in history is to cease to be Protestant. I've found that to be so true; it was discovering that history of the early Church that brought me back to Catholicism. Then there is the fact that with Catholicism, you can build on what others have done, instead of reinventing the wheel. What I mean is that I was always exhorted in my Evangelical days to go back to Scripture and prove things from Scripture. Supposedly this was good but what I eventually learned was that it meant that if you take it seriously, you have to go back to square one and build your own theology from scratch. It's a lot of work. With Catholicism, you start with what other people have built and get much further ahead.

  3. What are the challenges, if any, to practicing Catholics?

    The biggest challenge to practicing Catholics is the same as that of all practicing Christians: Secularization. The fact that you're being counter-cultural. It's a bit harder for Catholics owing to our much more conservative sexual ethics. I'd say that in our culture, if you are not seriously challenged, you are not living out Catholicism. Some examples are:

    • doctors who refuse to prescribe contraceptives or do immoral surgeries
    • pharmacists who refuse to fill contraceptive orders
    • parents of large families who get ugly comments from strangers
    • people with same sex attraction who try to follow the Church's teaching
    • parents of practicing gays and lesbians (not to mention co-habitating children)
    • the Church's teaching on divorce and remarriage, and
    • so forth.

  4. What are the central beliefs of Catholicism?

    It would be too much to enumerate here the central beliefs of Catholicism. I'd refer you to three or four sources. The chief expression of Catholic beliefs is the Nicene Creed; also the Apostle's Creed. Google for these if you wish, but they contain almost entirely beliefs that are generic Christian beliefs; in fact many other Christian churches use them, with the possible exception of:
    • the Communion of Saints, which only Catholics and Orthodox believe, and
    • "One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church" which everyone claims to believe but no one believes the way we do.

  5. I am familiar with the Southern Baptist religion, what are the major differences between these two religions?

    A good brief summary of what we believe containing much of what is unique to Catholicism is an elaboration of this creed known as the Credo of Paul VI:

      The Credo of the People of God - Pope Paul VI [Vatican]|[EWTN]

    Finally, the official details on what we believe is contained in the Catholic Catechism,
    a book you can peruse on the US bishops web site:

    <Catechism of the Catholic Church> or buy at any bookstore.

  6. What is the role of the priest in Catholicism?

    The chief role of the priest is to perform six of the seven sacraments:

    1. Eucharist
    2. Baptism
    3. Confirmation
    4. Matrimony
    5. Confession, and
    6. Anointing of the Sick

      Ordination is reserved to a bishop.

His special role is in offering the Eucharist. He also leads us in worship and pastors the parish.

The Eucharist is important because it is the way that we receive the shed blood of Jesus on the Cross and obtain forgiveness of our sins.

Protestants speak of claiming the blood of Jesus over my sins. The notion of claiming is not really a biblical one; we simply drink the blood of Jesus (and eat his body) which the priest has made present. That is why Jesus said:

"He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life".
(John 6:54)

It's as if we are mystically present at Calvary again and receive the fruits of that saving sacrifice. Only the priest or bishop has the ability to celebrate the Eucharist so that we receive the true Body and Blood of Christ.

Hope this helps. I hope someone else chips in with answers to your other questions.

Eric Ewanco

Mike replied:

Hi Lezlea,

Let me add on to Eric's fine replies and share some personal faith journey experiences.

  1. How has Catholicism shaped your life?

From CCD/Religious Education to about the late 70's, it really didn't shape my life; or it is better to say, I didn't allow it to shape my life. I was the un-catechized, working Catholic. In the 80's, through some third-order Benedictines, my younger brother introduced me the Catholic monastic life at St. Benedict's in Harvard, Mass. The Benedictine Fathers and brothers, by their witness and what they said, instilled a deep love and knowledge of the Church by what they said about the Eucharist, the Papacy, and Our devotion, not worship, of Our Blessed Mother Mary — three very unique Catholic teachings.

I learned over time that through Our Blessed Lord's institution of the Eucharist
we really partake in the Divine nature of Our Lord Himself and through this participation with Him and His Body, the Church and its members can be a great asset in the area of evangelization and apologetics to which I felt the Lord calling me, especially on the web.

Now that I am part of a team that answers questions on the web about the Church,
I strive to be prepared by learning more about Church teachings in areas I am not familiar with.

  1. What are the challenges, if any, to practicing Catholics?

    Eric's answer was on the nose. I would just add that the only way to fight secularization is by being a counter-culture leader, having a daily prayer life, and if possible, getting to daily Mass and going to Confession on a regular basis.

    As I have told my niece and my nephews, in today's culture, if you are not a leader,
    by default you are a follower.

  2. I am familiar with the Southern Baptist religion, what are the major differences between these two religions?

    John DiMascio, Bob Kirby, and I answered this question when the knowledge base first came on-line. It is the third most read web page on our site.

  3. What is the country of origin of Catholicism?

    My colleagues may differ with me, but I think any one of these answers
    is correct:

    • Bethlehem
    • Jerusalem
    • Caesarea Philippi, or
    • Rome

  4. What is the role of the Pope in Catholicism?

    This is from the Catechism:

    The episcopal college and its head, the Pope

    880 When Christ instituted the Twelve, "he constituted [them] in the form of a college or permanent assembly, at the head of which he placed Peter, chosen from among them." (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 19; cf. Matthew 16:13-20; Luke 6:13; John 21:15-17) Just as "by the Lord's institution, St. Peter and the rest of the apostles constitute a single apostolic college, so in like fashion the Roman Pontiff, Peter's successor, and the bishops, the successors of the apostles, are related with and united to one another." (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 22; cf. Code of Canon Law, canon 330)

    881 The Lord made Simon alone, whom he named Peter, the "rock" of his Church. He gave him the keys of his Church and instituted him shepherd of the whole flock. (cf. Matthew 16:18-19; John 21:15-17) "The office of binding and loosing which was given to Peter was also assigned to the college of apostles united to its head." (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 22 § 2) This pastoral office of Peter and the other apostles belongs to the Church's very foundation and is continued by the bishops under the primacy of the Pope.

    882 The Pope, Bishop of Rome and Peter's successor, "is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful." (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 23) "For the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered." (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 22; cf. Christus Dominus 2,9)

    883 "The college or body of bishops has no authority unless united with the Roman Pontiff, Peter's successor, as its head." As such, this college has "supreme and full authority over the universal Church; but this power cannot be exercised without the agreement of the Roman Pontiff." (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 22; cf. Code of Canon Law, can 336)

    884 "The college of bishops exercises power over the universal Church in a solemn manner in an ecumenical council." (Code of Canon Law, can. 337 § 1) But "there never is an ecumenical council which is not confirmed or at least recognized as such by Peter's successor." (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 22)

    885 "This college, in so far as it is composed of many members, is the expression of the variety and universality of the People of God; and of the unity of the flock of Christ, in so far as it is assembled under one head." (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 22)

    886 "The individual bishops are the visible source and foundation of unity in their own particular Churches." As such, they "exercise their pastoral office over the portion of the People of God assigned to them," (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 23) assisted by priests and deacons. But, as a member of the episcopal college, each bishop shares in the concern for all the Churches. (cf.Vatican II, Christus Dominus 3) The bishops exercise this care first "by ruling well their own Churches as portions of the universal Church," and so contributing "to the welfare of the whole Mystical Body, which, from another point of view, is a corporate body of Churches." (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 23) They extend it especially to the poor, (cf. Galatians 2:10) to those persecuted for the faith, as well as to missionaries who are working throughout the world.

    887 Neighboring particular Churches who share the same culture form ecclesiastical provinces or larger groupings called patriarchates or regions. (cf. Apostolic Constitutions 34) The bishops of these groupings can meet in synods or provincial councils. "In a like fashion, the episcopal conferences at the present time are in a position to contribute in many and fruitful ways to the concrete realization of the collegiate spirit." (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 23 § 3)

  5. Are there any rituals that are performed regularly in the Catholic Church?

Yes:

  • Holy Mass is celebrated daily in many places around the world besides on Sunday, and

  • Confession is also heard many places throughout the world — regularly on Saturday afternoons or by appointment with any priest.

These are two very key sacraments all practicing Catholics should be participating in on a regular basis.

  1. Please list and describe any sacred writings or books that are used in Catholicism?

    The five key ones off the top of my head are:

    1. The Catechism of the Catholic Church as well as previously approved Catechisms
    2. The Holy Bible
    3. The Writings of the Early Church Fathers
      Note: You have to be careful here because there are Protestant versions of the Early Church Fathers and they are obviously not going to be quoting what the first Christians said about the Papacy.

    • For the celebration of Holy Mass, the priest uses two very important books that have to be approved by the Vatican:
      1. the Sacramentary: instructions on how each Mass is to be said, and
      2. a Lectionary: the readings said at each Mass.
        There are anywhere from 3—4 readings read at any Mass, including the Psalms.

  2. Are there different branches of the Catholic religion and if so, what are the differences between these branches?

    I will let Eric speak to the various Rites within the Catholic Church and will comment on the various religious orders within the Roman Rite or Latin Church.

    Sometimes faith seekers new to the Church will mistake various religious orders within the Church for Protestant denominations.

    They are not! All Catholic religious orders believe in the same set of teachings that:

    • other Catholic religious orders do, as
    • lay Catholics in the pew do.

    We all believe in the same thing doctrinally with the exception being your scandalous religious orders who allow dissent from Church teachings.

    There are different Catholic religious orders in the Church because those called to the religious life believe they can best fulfill their calling and attain the highest level of holiness by following a special saint — one who followed the life of Jesus the best, like:

    • St. Francis (the Franciscans)
    • St. Benedict (the Benedictines), or
    • St. Dominic (the Dominicans)

    Again, because these saints were such great models of Our Blessed Lord, Catholic religious use these saints as paths to holiness. There are even religious orders named after:

    • our Blessed Lord: the Jesuits, and
    • Our Blessed Mother Mary, the Marists!

Hope this answers your questions.

You have a wonderful day too!

Mike

Eric followed-up:

Hi Lezlea,

I just wanted to follow-up on Mike's answers.

  1. Are there any rituals that are performed regularly in the Catholic Church?

    Well, the chief ritual is called the Mass (or in the East, the Divine Liturgy), a service that includes:

    • readings of Scripture
    • a consecration of the Eucharist, and
    • a distribution of Communion.

This is performed every day, though the faithful are obliged only to go on Sundays and certain holy days I mentioned earlier.

The Liturgy of the Hours is a personal prayer that is also prayed in community.
It consists of:

  • Morning Prayer
  • Daytime Prayer
  • Evening Prayer
  • Night Prayer, and
  • the Office of Readings.

Priests are obliged to pray all of these daily. In the U.S. though these are only rarely done as public services with the faithful.

The Rosary is the most popular prayer outside of Mass. It consists of meditations from Scripture together with praying the Lord's Prayer and the Hail Mary, a prayer where we ask Mary the Mother of Christ our God for her prayers. It consists of about 59 short prayers.

Adoration is a ritual that is often done. It's a bit hard to understand for
non-Catholics. First you have to know, which you may, that we consider the Eucharist (Communion) to be truly and literally the Body and Blood of Christ, in the sense that bread and wine cease to exist and only the Body and Blood of Christ exist, in a very special sacramental form we call the Real Presence. We say that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ our God. As such, we believe it is proper to actually worship the Eucharist. Adoration is a ritual specifically for prominently displaying the Eucharist so that people can worship Christ in the Eucharist.

  1. Please list and describe any sacred writings or books that are used in Catholicism?

    I'm sure these number in the hundreds of thousands, depending on what you mean by used in Catholicism. The one book that's considered inspired and inerrant is the Bible, with certain books your Bible doesn't have called the deuterocanonical books, sometimes called by Protestants apocryphal books, but this is misleading as there are other books that are apocryphal but aren't part of the deutero-canon.

    Everything else divinely revealed comes from Tradition. Tradition may be expressed in books but the books aren't considered special or authoritative of themselves as a whole. More important in Catholicism are various documents, which have varying levels of authority and force.

    These probably number in the tens of thousands, if not more, though the most important ones are fewer.

    The only other relevant book is the Catechism I mentioned earlier, which is a summary of what we believe. It's the closest thing we have to an authoritative book.

    Catholicism is not neat and tidy. There is not one inspired source of doctrine. Everything is strewn across two thousand years of history.

    Even if you find a specific statement that sounds authoritative, it has to be interpreted within a subtle context.

  2. Are there different branches of the Catholic religion and if so, what are the differences between these branches?

    Catholicism is really a communion of distinct churches, called particular churches or churches sui iuris (according to the law).

    These churches share the same essential beliefs and recognize each other's Eucharist (Communion). This means, for example, that any Catholic can receive Communion in any of the churches, while the same is not true of non-Catholic churches.

    The largest of these is the Roman (or Latin) church, and that's what most people refer to when they think of the Catholic Church. In addition to the Roman Church, there are Eastern churches. With the exception of one church, the Maronite Church, all of these churches are churches that separated in the schism with the Orthodox and reunited with us, hence if you study Eastern Orthodox belief, you'll get very much a flavor of Eastern Catholicism.

    I believe there are some 21 different Eastern churches, including:

    • the Ukrainian Church
    • the Melkite Church
    • the Syro-Malabar Church and Syro-Malankara Church (both from India)
    • the Italo-Greek Church
    • the Greek Church
    • the Russian Church
    • the Ruthenian Church
    • the Chaldean Church, and so forth.

They have their own bishops and are headed by a single bishop, often a patriarch, who answers only to the Pope. The Eastern churches use different liturgies and have different calendars and customs from the Roman Church. They also have a different approach to theology. Ultimately the essential beliefs are the same, but the way they explain them is different. There's a different emphasis.

For example, Eastern churches tend to emphasize the Resurrection more, and the Roman Church, the Passion and sacrificial death of Jesus. There is more of an emphasis on the Holy Spirit in the Eastern churches. There is more a belief that spiritual consequences are more natural consequences of things rather than a willful act of an offended God.

For example, one might look at the fact that one goes to Hell if one does not believe, and conclude either that this is due to a deprivation of spiritual life that comes from believing (think of the parable of the vine and the branches), or that one violated a divine law to believe and was punished as a result with damnation.

Also, while these are not really branches per se, there are different spiritualities within the Roman Rite. These are based on religious orders. For example, you have:

  • the Franciscans, who cultivate a very, very simple lifestyle and focus on apostolic work.
  • the Benedictines, who are more contemplative and have the charism of hospitality.

Sometimes these orders have their own churches, with their own bishops, and allow lay people to join.

Hope this helps,

Eric

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