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  • Writer's pictureMonica Montanari

Catholic 101

Okay, first of all, my patience was MAJORLY tested while writing this post. I had one, beautiful, almost complete post done that took me like a half-an-hour to write, and it got deleted. You could say I'm SLIGHTLY annoyed. But hey, nothing stops a good disciple from carrying out the word of our faith. So- screw you Satan, here I come again, but BETTER.

Anyway, it's no secret that I'm a devout Roman-Catholic. I'm very proud of my religion and my relationship with God, and love teaching people more about this slightly misunderstood religion. A lot of people hear "Catholic" and are immediately shut off. All they can think of is the recent news about a select group of horrible priests who did some unspeakable things- who now, apparently, are all people think about when they hear about us. Thanks.

Religion is a terribly confusing topic once you delve deep into it. There are a lot of confusing parts to it- so the very first, most important question that you are probably wondering is:

What's the difference between Catholics and Christians?

The Identity

So- first let me confuse you with some logic. Not all Christians are Catholic. But all Catholics are Christians.

Think of Christianity as the larger umbrella under which all the denominations fall. Christian literally means "follower of Christ", so whether you're Catholic, Protestant, Episcopalian, Adventist, Nondenominational, or some other denomination, you're still a part of that more general term if you believe that Jesus was the Son of God. For some reason, a lot of other denominations just respond with "Christian" when someone asks what their beliefs are. Just to give you a brief, general idea, Christianity looks like this:

For whatever reason, Catholics like to refer to themselves as Catholics- and surprisingly, there are a lot of them. For how many different denominations there are, it's interesting that around 60% of Christians identify as Catholic. I don't know why. It could be that our beliefs are so different that we barely consider ourselves affiliated anymore, but either way we believe in Christ, so whatever. A lot of Catholics view their denomination as the "real" Christianity. That's obviously an opinion, but definitely a point of differentiation. It's not as open and welcoming as some other denominations can be (usually- but that differs from church to church).

The Worship

Christians believe that wherever two or more are gathered in God's name (Matthew 18:20), that's a sacred space- whether it's a grand cathedral or your basement. They keep religious images to a minimum, usually, instead electing to focus on the spirituality within, in the hopes of not worshipping false idols.

Catholics believe that there's kind-of a "holy hierarchy" of places to worship. This is a loosely-held belief, so don't assume all Catholics believe this- but to me, the holiest of places to worship are those that have a direct connection to Jesus' life- I'll call them "Jesus Places" (i.e. the tomb where His body was buried, the Garden of Gethsemane, etc.), followed by the

Vatican (the center of the Catholic world), basilicas (some of which are in our first category, "Jesus places"), cathedrals, churches, and then chapels. Catholics are not shy about religious images- we love them. So it's no surprise that many of the paintings and sculptures of religious moments were commissioned by Catholics or the churches themselves (for example, Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper was a commissioned piece, as was the Sistine Chapel). The Catholic Church is well-known for its wealth, which contributes to the ornate, expensive nature of its churches. It's probably the only denomination in Christianity that covers places from head-to-toe in paintings and gold (on occasion).

The Creed

Catholics, during each mass, recite a four-part creed that summarizes the beliefs of the religion. It was formed during the Council of Nicaea in 325, and had remained fundamentally the same since then:

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 for 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.

Christians don't. Simple.

The Hierarchy

The Catholic church operates through an organized hierarchy. We believe that when Jesus told his apostle Peter that he was "Rock I will build my Church" on in Matthew 16:18, he literally meant that Peter would become the foundation of the Church. Peter was the first pope (before the title of Pope existed). So, it makes sense how some Catholics could believe that their religion is the "real Christianity". I'm not stating my beliefs there. The Pope, in our eyes, is pretty much the closest human to God on Earth. He has a special relationship with God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit- and through him, we can see how God wants us to interpret the bible and Jesus' teachings. He makes laws occasionally, too. The Pope is the head of the Catholic Church. He is elected from the College of Cardinals (no, not a school, that's what they're called), and serves a life term usually. This is why when Pope Benedict XVI resigned it was a shock to the world- and the first time it has happened in six centuries. Below the Cardinals are the Archbishops, who serve above the Bishops. There are Monsignors (honored priests), Priests, Deacons, and then the Catholics. Monks and Nuns are in that hierarchy as well, but their position within it, so to say, is debatable- though usually placed somewhere between Monsignors and Deacons.

Christians don't believe in a strict hierarchy. They believe in the Pope (like, as a human being), but don't believe that he has any special direct line to God or anything. They believe that we are all equal in God's eyes. And to some extent, Catholics believe the same thing- but only about each other.

The Saints

By the same token, Christians may honor Saints, but don't revere them the way that Catholics do. They appreciate them.

Catholics revere saints, often praying directly to the saints to intercede their prayers for them (basically, "can you make sure God gets around to this one, please? I know you're pretty close with Him.") Saints have specific topics for which they are the "patron Saint". For example, the Patron Saint of protection against dizziness or vertigo is Saint Ulric.

The Path to Heaven

Christians believe that all people, if they believe in The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit, will be sent to Heaven.

Catholics believe that, yes, that's part of it, but they also believe that what you do in your life contributes to God's decision about where you'll spend the rest of eternity.


The Bible, the Mass, and the Eucharist add three more topics to the seemingly never ending list- but those ones start to get a little complicated. So I think for today we'll just leave it here. Let me know: do you want to hear more? Are there other topics with religion you'd like to hear my perspectives on?

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