Catholics are those Christians who recognize the pope, the bishop of Rome, as the head of the Church. A bit over half of all Christians are Catholics. They are common in Europe, Latin America and parts of Africa. It is the form of Christianity that has most influenced the West.
The other two large branches of Christianity are the Protestants, a third of all Christians, and the Eastern Orthodox, who make up a ninth. The Orthodox broke away from the Catholic Church in the tenth century, the Protestants in the sixteenth.
Catholic ministers are called priests. Their holy book is the Bible. Their church service is called a mass.
Their leader is the pope, whom they see as succeeding St Peter as the head of the church that Jesus founded when he said in Matthew 16:18-19:
And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
The pope can, when he chooses, make a statement of doctrine that is without error. This is called papal infallibility. It is not lightly used.
Between the pope and the priests in power and rank are bishops. They are found in the largest cities.
A good Catholic:
- Follows the Ten Commandments, especially as expressed in the Golden Rule.
- Prays, especially the Our Father.
- Believes the Nicene Creed.
- Goes to church on Sunday and receives the holy Eucharist.
The Eucharist is the bread and wine that the priest blesses and becomes the body and blood of Christ. Believers eat and drink it to take part in the sacrifice of Christ when he died on the cross for our sins. It is spiritual food and drink, it is the way to heaven.
The Eucharist is one of seven sacraments:
- baptism – at birth or when you convert
- confirmation – confirm one’s baptism
- Eucharist – receive the body and blood of Christ
- confession – confess one’s sins
- ordination – becoming a priest
- matrimony – marriage
- last rites – just before death
Baptism is what makes you a Catholic. It is the doorway to the other sacraments. The priest pours water over you and all of your sins are forgiven.
Confession: If later you commit a mortal sin, one that can land you in hell, then you must confess your sin to a priest before you can receive the other sacraments again. He must keep what you told him a secret no matter how horrible it is.
Many fall into sin and fall away from the Church for years. They are still Catholics so long as they have not joined another church or told the Catholic Church that they are leaving it.