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Roman Catholicism
Excerpted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia.

Catholicism, from the Greek katholikos, meaning "general" or "universal", is a religious name applied to two strands of Christianity.
In its general sense it is used by mainstream Christians who believe that they can claim to be part of the "Apostolic Succession", in other words that they can claim a direct continuing link back to the early church of the Apostles.
In its narrower sense, it is used to refer to the Roman Catholic Church, the largest of the Christian denominations, whose members are in communion with the Pope, the Bishop of Rome and who accept his authority on matters of faith and morals.

The meaning of "Catholicism". The Creeds & Catholicism.
The word Catholic appears in the main Christian creeds (prayer-like definitions of belief), notably the Apostles' Creed or the Nicene Creed.
Christians of most denominations, including most Protestants, affirm their faith in "one holy catholic and apostolic Church."
This belief refers to their belief in the ultimate unity of all churches under one God and one Saviour.
However in this context the word Catholic is used by such believers in a definitionary sense (i.e. universal), not as the name of a religious body.
In this usage it is usually written with a lower-case c, while upper-case C refers to the sense discussed in this article.

The majority of Christian faiths do not describe themselves as "Catholic".
In Western Christianity the principal faiths who regard themselves as "Catholic", beside the Roman Catholic Church, are the Old Catholic Church, the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, and some elements of Anglicanism ("High Church Anglicans" or "Anglo-Catholics").
These groups hold beliefs and practice religious rituals similar to Roman Catholicism, but differ substantially from Roman Catholicism on the issue of the Bishop of Rome's status, power and influence.

The several churches of Eastern Orthodoxy and Oriental Orthodoxy consider themselves to be the catholic church, in the general, universal sense of the word.
The Orthodox churches generally see the Latin "Catholics" as being heretical schismatics who left the "true catholic and apostolic church" (See, Great Schism).
The patriarchs of Eastern Orthodoxy are autocephalous bishops, which roughly means that each of them is independent of the direct oversight of another bishop; or, put another way, these Christians are not in communion with the Pope and do not recognise his claim to be the head of the universal Church as an earthly institution.

There are also Eastern Rite Catholics whose liturgy is similar to that of the Orthodox, and also allow married men to be ordained as priests, but who recognise the Roman Pope as the head of their church.

Some groups call themselves Catholic but are questionably so: for instance the Liberal Catholic Church, which originated as a breakaway group from the Old Catholic Church, but incorporated so much theosophy that it had little doctrinally in common with Catholicism anymore.

Roman Catholicism
The main and largest Catholic denomination is the "Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church", more commonly known as the "Roman Catholic Church".
It is so named because its adherents are all in communion with the Pope and Bishop of Rome, and most parishes follow the Roman or Latin Rite in worship, although there are other rites.

In casual usage, when people speak of "Catholics" or "Catholicism," they usually but not always mean Roman Catholicism.

The Anglican Communion, though one church, is in practice divided into two wings, "High Church Anglicans" also called the Anglo-Catholics and "Low Church Anglicans" also known as the Evangelical wing.
Though all elements within the Anglican Communion recite the same creeds, Low Church Anglicans treat the word Catholic in the creed as a mere older word for universal, High Church Anglicans treat it as a name of Christ's church to which they, the Roman Catholic Church and others in the Apostolic Succession all belong.

Anglo-Catholicism holds beliefs and practice religious rituals similar to Roman Catholicism.
The similar elements include a belief in seven sacraments, Transubstantiation as opposed to Consubstantiation, devotion to the Virgin Mary and saints, the description of their ordained clergy as "priests" - addressed as "Father" - the wearing of vestments in church liturgy, sometimes even the description of their Eucharistic celebrations as Mass.
Their main source of difference with Roman Catholicism on the issue of the Bishop of Rome's status, power and influence.
The development of the Anglo-Catholic wing of Anglicanism occurred largely in the nineteenth century and is strongly associated with the Oxford Movement.
Two of its leading lights, John Henry Newman and Henry Edward Manning, both ordained Anglican clergymen, ended up joining the Roman Catholic Church, becoming cardinals.

Though Catholicism as a term is generally taken to mean Roman Catholic, many Anglo-Catholics use the term to refer to them also, as part of the general (and not just Roman) Catholic Church.
Indeed some Anglican churches, for example, St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin, the "National Cathedral" of the Anglican Church of Ireland, refers to itself as part of the "Catholic Communion" and as a "Catholic Church" in notices in and around it.

History and Influence
The early Christian church became organised under five patriarchs, the bishops of Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople and Rome.
The Bishop of Rome was recognised by the Patriarchs as "the first among equals," though his status and influence increased when Rome was the capital of the empire, with doctrinal or procedural disputes often referred to Rome for an opinion.
But when the capital moved to Constantinople, his influence dwindled.
While Rome claimed an authority descending from St. Peter (who died in Rome and was regarded as the first pope) and St. Paul, Constantinople had become the residence of the Emperor and the Senate.
A series of complex difficulties (the fact that the bishop of Rome did not accept the emperor's claim of supremacy in ecclesiastical matters, doctrinal disputes, disputed Councils, and the evolution of the separate rites) led to the split in 1054 which divided the Church into the Roman Catholic Church in the West and the Eastern Orthodox Church in the East (Greece, Russia and much of the Slavic lands, Anatolia, Syria, Egypt, etc.); this is called the Great Schism.
(Conversely, most Eastern Orthodox believe the split arose because the other patriarchs failed to recognise the supremacy of the Bishop of Rome in ecclesiastical matters, particularly regarding the addition of the filioque clause to the Nicene Creed.)

The next major split of the Catholic Church occurred in the 16th century with the Protestant Reformation, during which many of the Protestant (protesting) denominations were formed.

Structure and Practice of the Roman Catholic Church.
Organisation by Office.
Structurally Roman Catholicism is one of the world's most centralised religious faiths.
Its head, the Pope, a quasi-absolute monarch, rules for life from Vatican City, an independent state in the centre of Rome known also in international diplomacy as the Holy See.
He is selected by an elite group of Princes of the Church called Cardinals.
The Pope alone selects and appoints all clergymen in the Church above the rank of priest.
All members of the hierarchy are answerable to the Pope and to his papal court, called the Curia.
Popes exercise what is called Papal Infallibility, that is the right to define definitive statements of Roman Catholic teaching on matters of faith and morals.
In reality, since its declaration in the First Vatican Council in 1870, papal infallibility has only definitively been used once, by Pope Pius XII in the 1950s.

The Pope's authority is comes from the belief that he is the lineal successor of St. Peter, and as such the Vicar of Christ on earth.

The church has a hierarchical structure of offices or titles, in descending order:
Pope, which is the bishop of Rome and also Patriarch of the West.
Those who assist and advise him in leading the whole church are the Cardinals; Patriarchs are the heads of Catholic Churches other than the Latin Church.
Some senior Roman Catholic archbishops are also called Patriarchs; among those possessing the title are the Archbishop of Lisbon and the Archbishop of Venice.
Bishop (Archbishop and Suffragan Bishop): are the successors of the twelve apostles.
They have received the fullness of sacramental orders;
Priest (Monsignor is an honorary title for a priest, giving no extra sacramental powers); Initially there were no Priests per se.
This position evolved from the suburban Bishops who were charged with distributing the sacraments but without full jurisdiction over the faithful.
Deacon There are also several more minor offices: Lector, Acolytes (since the Second Vatican Council, the office of Sub-deacon no longer exists).
Religious orders have their own hierarchy and titles.
These offices taken together constitute the clergy, and in the Western rite can only normally be occupied by unmarried men.
However, in the Eastern rite married men are admitted as diocesan priests, but not as monastic priests or bishops; and on rare occasions married priests converting from other Christian groups have been permitted to be ordained in the Western rite.
The Pope is elected by the College of Cardinals (the process of election, held in Sistine Chapel, is called Conclave) and continues in office until death or until he resigns (which has happened only twice, and never since the Middle Ages).

The practice of the Catholic Church consists of seven sacraments:
Baptism, Confession, Eucharist, Confirmation, Holy Matrimony, Holy Orders, and Anointing of the Sick.

Within the Catholic faith, sacraments are gestures and words of Christ that impart sanctifying grace on the receiver.

Baptism is given to infants and to adult converts who have not previously been validly baptised (the baptism of most Christian denominations is accepted as valid by the Catholic Church since the effect is thought to come straight from God regardless of the personal faith, but not intention, of the minister).
Confession or reconciliation involves admitting sins to a priest and receiving penance (a task to complete in order to achieve absolution or forgiveness from God).

The Eucharist (Communion), is the sacrifice of Christ, marked by partaking in the Body of Christ and the Blood of Christ which are believed to replace in everything but appearance the bread and wine used in the ceremony.

The Roman Catholic belief that bread and wine are turned into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ is called transubstantiation.
In the sacrament of Confirmation, the gift of the Holy Spirit conferred in baptism is "strengthened and deepened" by the laying on of hands and anointing with oil.
In the majority Latin Rite church, this sacrament is presided over by a bishop, and takes place in early adulthood.

In the Eastern Catholic Churches (see below) the sacrament is called chrismation, and is ordinarily performed immediately after baptism by a priest.

Holy Orders is the entering into the priesthood and involves a vow of chastity; the sacrament of Holy Orders is given in three degrees: that of the deacon (since Vatican II a permanent deacon may be married before becoming a deacon), that of the priest, and that of the bishop.

Anointing of the Sick used to be known as "extreme unction" or the "last rites"; it involves the anointing of a sick person with a holy oil blessed specifically for that purpose and is no longer limited to the seriously ill or dying.

Rites The Catholic Church is actually a federation of 24 self-governing (sui juris) Churches in communion with each other under the leadership of the Pope.

By far the largest Church is the Latin Church, popularly called the Roman Catholic Church.
The other 23 Churches are in the collective called Eastern Catholic Churches.
Each Eastern Catholic Church is led by a Patriarch, Major Archbishop, or Metropolitan (a chief Archbishop who does not hold the rank of Major Archbishop or Patriarch).

The 24 Catholic Churches use among them six rites.
The Roman rite is used only by the Latin (Roman Catholic) Church, and is used by the vast majority of Catholics (98%).

There are also several Eastern Rites, which are used in parts of the Middle East and Eastern Europe, and by Catholic communities in other parts of the world that originate from there.
There are also two other small Western rites, other than the Latin rite, the Ambrosian rite and the Mozarabic rite, which are used in a few places in Europe.
In the Middle Ages there were many other Western rites, but almost all of them were replaced by the Latin rite by the Council of Trent.

The Eastern rites originated with groups that left Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches to join the Roman Catholic church, but retained their own rites and traditions.

A listing of rites, with the Churches that use it, follows:
Roman/Latin, Byzantine, Albanian (a.k.a. Italo-Greek), Belarussian, Bulgarian, Croatian, Georgian, Greek, Hungarian, Melkite, Romanian, Russian, Ruthenian, Slovak, Serbian, Ukrainian, Antiochene, Maronite, Malankarese, Syriac, Chaldean, Chaldean, Syro-Malabarese, Armenian, Armenian, Alexandrian Coptic, Ge'ez.

Historically, the church service in the Latin rite was conducted entirely in Latin, but local languages came into use with the Second Vatican Council (also called Vatican II), which occurred in 1962-5.
Eastern rite Catholicism uses various languages, depending on the particular rite involved:
Greek, Slavonic, Arabic, Romanian or Georgian in the Byzantine rite; Syriac in the Antiochene and Chaldean rites; Armenian in the Armenian rite; and Coptic or Ge'ez in the Alexandrian rite.

Organisation by Region
The fundamental geographical and organizational unit of the Catholic Church is the diocese (in the Eastern Catholic Churches, the equivalent unit is called an eparchy).
This is generally a defined geographical area, centred on a principal city, headed by a bishop.
The primary church of a diocese is known as a cathedral from the cathedra or chair of the bishop that is one of the main symbols of his office.
Within a diocese, a bishop exercises what is known as ordinary, or primary administrative authority.
(Houses of some religious orders are semi-independent of the dioceses they are in; the religious superior of that order exercises ordinary jurisdiction over them.)
While the Pope appoints bishops and reviews their performance, and a variety of other institutions govern or supervise certain activities, a bishop has a great deal of independence in administering a diocese.
Certain dioceses, generally centred around large and important cities, are called archdioceses and are headed by an archbishop.
In large dioceses and archdioceses, the bishop is often assisted by auxiliary bishops, full bishops and members of the College of Bishops who do not head a diocese of their own.
Archbishops, suffragan bishops (usually shortened to just "bishops"), and auxiliary bishops are equally bishops; the different titles indicate what type (if any) of ecclesiastical unit they head.
Many countries have vicariates that support their militaries (see military ordinariate).
Almost all dioceses were organise into groups known as provinces, each of which is headed by an archbishop.
While provinces still exist, their role has largely been replaced by conferences of bishops, generally made up of all the dioceses of a particular country or countries.
These groups handle a wide array of common functions, including supervision of liturgical texts and practices for the specific cultural and linguistic groups and relations with the governments in their area.
The authority of these conferences to bind the actions of individual bishops is limited (traditional theologians consider this authority ultimately non-binding), however.

Bishop's conferences started to appear early in the 20th century, and were officially recognised in the Second Vatican Council document Christus Dominus.

The College of Cardinals is the collection of Roman Catholic bishops who are special advisors to the Pope.
Any priest can be appointed Cardinal, provided he "excelled in believe, moral and piety".
If a cardinal is elected Pope who has not yet been ordained bishop he subsequently has to receive episcopal ordination.
(C.f. Apostolic Constitution Universi Dominici Gregis[1])
All cardinals under the age of 80 have the right to elect a new pope upon the a pope's death; the cardinals who may elect are almost always members of the clergy; however, the Pope has sometimes in the past awarded outstanding members of the Catholic laity (e.g., theologians) with membership in the College after they have passed electing age.
Each cardinal is given some church or chapel (thus, cardinal bishop, cardinal priest, and cardinal deacon) in Rome to make him a member of the clergy of Rome.
Many cardinals serve in the curia, which assists the Pope in Church administration.
All cardinals who are not resident in Rome are diocesan bishops.

Dioceses are divided into local districts called parishes.
All Catholics are expected to attend and support their local parish church.
While the Catholic Church has developed an elaborate system of global governance, day to day Catholicism is lived in the local community, tied together in worship in the local parish.
Local parishes are largely self supporting; a church, often in a growing or poor community, that is being supported by a diocese is known as a mission.

The Roman Catholic Church supports many orders (groups) of monks and nuns who are mainly non-priests living lives specially devoted to serving God.
These are people who have grouped together under a certain system for the purpose of the perfection of virtue.
This sometimes involves separation from the world for meditation and sometimes exceptional participation in the world, often in medical or educational work.
Almost universally the Monks and Nuns take vows of poverty (no or limited personal ownership of property and money), chastity (no use of the sexual mechanisms), and obedience (to the superiors).

Distinctive doctrines
Catholics believe in the Trinity of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the divinity of Jesus, and the salvation through faith in Jesus Christ and through loving God above all things.
Catholic views differ from Orthodox on several points, including the nature of the Petrine Ministry (the papacy), the nature of the Trinity and how that should be expressed in the Nicene Creed, and a juridical versus relational understanding of salvation and repentance.

Catholics differ from Protestants in several points, including the necessity of penance, the meaning of communion, the composition of the canon of scripture, purgatory, and the means of salvation:
Protestants believe that salvation is by faith alone (sola fide), while Catholics believe that faith is exhibited in good works.

Stereotypically, this has led to a conflict over the doctrine of justification (the Reformation taught that "we are justified by faith alone").
Modern ecumenical dialogue has led to a number of consensus statements on the doctrine of justification between Roman Catholics and Lutherans, Anglicans, and others.

Liturgy and worship
The most important act of worship in the Roman Catholic Church is the Eucharistic liturgy, usually called the Mass.
Mass is celebrated every Sunday morning in most Roman Catholic parishes;
Catholics can however fulfil their Sunday devotion by attending a Mass on Saturday night.
Catholics must also attend Mass on ten additional days every year, known as the Holy Day of Obligation.
Additional Masses can be celebrated on any day of the liturgical year except for Good Friday.
Most churches have daily Mass.
The contemporary Mass is composed of two major parts: the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
In the Liturgy of the Word, readings from the Bible are done; and a homily (like the Protestant sermon) is spoken.
At Masses on Sundays and feast days, the Nicene Creed, which states the orthodox beliefs of Catholicism, is professed by all Catholics present.
The Liturgy of the Eucharist includes the presentation of the gifts of bread and wine, the Eucharistic Prayer, during which the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ, and the communion procession.

The liturgical reform movement has been responsible over the past forty years for a significant convergence of Latin Rite worship practices with that of Protestant churches.
One feature of the new liturgical views has been a "return to the sources" (ressourcement), claimed as resulting from the rediscovery of ancient liturgical texts and practices, along with many new practices.
The post-conciliar (post-Vatican II) reforms of the liturgy included the use of the vernacular (local) language, a greater emphasis on the Liturgy of the Word, and the clarification of symbolism.
The most visible feature of the reforms is the posture of the priest.
In the past, the priest faced the altar, with his back to the congregation.
The reforms have turned the priest to face the people, with the altar between.
This symbolises the desire for the Mass to become more people centred.
Critics however have complained about the nature of the post-Vatican II Mass (known sometimes as the Novus Ordo Missae).
In 2003, it was revealed that the pre-Vatican II Tridentine Mass was again being celebrated in St. Peter's Basilica (though not on the main altar) and that Pope John Paul II had begun celebrating Tridentine Masses in his private chapel in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican.

Contemporary Catholicism The Catholic Church, like most Christian faiths, has experienced a steep decline in its worldwide influence in western society in the late 20th century; its exclusively male leadership structure and rigid doctrinal beliefs on matters to do with human sexuality have less appeal to a more secular western world where diversity in sexual practices and gender equality are the norm.
In places where it once played a primary role, such as Quebec, Ireland, and Spain, it holds only a fraction of its former influence.
At the same time, however, Roman Catholicism is experiencing a dramatic rise in membership in Africa and parts of Asia.
While western missionaries once served as priests in African churches, by the late 20th century a growing number of western nations began to recruit African priests to balance their dwindling numbers of local clergy.

Pressure on traditional morals and practices
Birth control & pre-marital chastity, homosexuality, celibacy of the ordained.

Ordination of women
As a result of feminism and other social and political movements that have removed barriers to the entry of women into professions that were traditionally male strongholds, in latter quarter of the twentieth century many women sought ordination into the Roman Catholic priesthood.

The traditionalist Roman Catholic position is that women cannot be priests or bishops, on account of the doctrine of apostolic succession.
Priests and bishops are successors to the Apostles, and because Jesus Christ chose only men to be the twelve apostles, only men can become priests and bishops.
On May 22, 1994, Pope John Paul II issued an apostolic letter, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (Priestly Ordination) which reaffirmed the traditionalist position, and concluded:
Although the teaching that priestly ordination is to be reserved to men alone has been preserved by the constant and universal Tradition of the Church and firmly taught by the Magisterium in its more recent documents, at the present time in some places it is nonetheless considered still open to debate, or the Church's judgement that women are not to be admitted to ordination is considered to have a merely disciplinary force.
Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church's divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Luke 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgement is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful.
Within Roman Catholicism itself, debate on the subject now focuses on whether this statement is meant to invoke papal infallibility and raise the rule that women cannot be Roman Catholic priests to the level of an irreformable dogma of the Roman Catholic Church.
That disagreement as to the status reached to the heart of the Church.
While some elements around Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger implied strongly that the statement had invoked infallibility, many other elements, notably the Vatican's own press office, explicitly stated it was not, and should not be seen as, an infallible statement.
(Disagreements between Ratzinger and official Vatican policy are a regular occurance.
His Dominus Iesus statement, for example, disagreed in tone and content with Pope John Paul II's own encyclical on ecumanism.
While it was stated that the Pope agreed with and approved Ratzinger's document, a dissenting senior Vatican official discovered on meeting the Pope that John Paul II had not fully read Ratzinger's document.
Critics accused some of those attached to Ratzinger's Congregation of trying to make the document sound infallible to try to kill off the debate, in effect spinning a fallible document as infallible.
Such an accusation has been made in the pact, notably Pope Paul's encyclical, Humanę Vitę about which one conservative curial cardinal stated "the Holy Father has spoken.
The issue is forever closed."
However the refusal of Pope John Paul's own press spokesman, himself a conservative, to describe the statement as "infallible" has led to a general though not universal presumption that the document is not so.
In addition, the Vatican itself formally states that since 1870, only one infallible teaching has been issued by a pope, namely Pope Pius XII's 1950 statement about the bodily assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven.
By implication, neither Humanę Vitę nor Ordinatio Sacerdotalis are infallible.
What is missed in the debate is that "what has always been taught" is as infallible as a solemn definition that springs from the Pope's Infallible Magisterium.
That which has always been taught by the Church is a part of its Universal Magisterium, which is as infallible as such solemn definitions as that used to define the Assumption of Mary.

Additional Reading

  • Catechism of the Catholic Church -
    English translation (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2000). ISBN 1574551108
  • H. W. Crocker III, Triumph - The Power and the Glory of the Catholic Church: A 2,000-Year History (Prima Publishing, 2001). ISBN 0761529241
  • Eamon Duffy,
    Saints and Sinners: A History of the Popes (Yale N. B. 2002). ISBN 0300091656

External links

All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.

This information correct in 2003. E. & O.E.

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