Vatican facts & history in brief
The Vatican Hill
of the Vatican
Excerpted from Wikipedia,
the free encyclopaedia.
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 &
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.
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,
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.
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
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
(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
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)
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).
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.
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
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
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
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.
- Catechism of the Catholic Church -
English translation (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2000).
- H. W. Crocker III, Triumph - The Power and the Glory of the Catholic
Church: A 2,000-Year History (Prima Publishing, 2001).
- Eamon Duffy,
Saints and Sinners: A History
of the Popes (Yale N. B. 2002).
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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