Catholicism

Catholicism has much in common with the other Christian denominations, such as belief in the statements of the Apostles’ Creed (in the hierarchy of truths, these would be primary—see CCC#90).

     It also has beliefs and practices which distinguish it from other denominatins.  Perhaps the chief difference is that Catholicism sees itself as descended in an unbroken line, through the centuries, from the original twelve apostles, and thus from Jesus Christ.  Catholics are proud to profess, in addition to faith in one God, faith in “one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church.”  This Church is both a visible human organization and the mystical body of Christ.  As an organization, it has an hierarchical structure with the pope and theVaticanat its head and many dioceses with their own bishops and local churches.  As a mystical body it includes those who have died in the faith of Christ as well as the faithful who continue living in this world.

          Some particular Catholic beliefs and practices include:  acceptance of several Hebrew scriptures as the inspired Word of God which are not accepted by other Christians, and these are also called the deuterocanonical books;  belief in purgatory, which is a purging and sanctifying state through which the soul of a faithful Christian passes on its way to heaven;  seven sacraments;  a highly developed theology of the Eucharist, which is considered both a sacrifice and a meal, makes the body and blood of Christ really present, includes prayers for the dead, and unites heaven and earth;  and the communion of saints, which allows the faithful on earth to ask for the prayers of the faithful in heaven.  Mary is the pre-eminent saint, preserved from original sin, sinless and virgin her entire life, assumed into heaven, and mother of the Church.  Catholics pray in a variety of liturgical settings (see “Liturgy” above).

          The two books Catholics reference most are the Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC).  This reflects the Catholic practice of finding truth in both scripture and tradition (the latter includes pronouncements from church councils and venerated sayings of holy people).  Catholics find support for the notion of tradition as a source of truth in John 16:13.  It explains why Catholics hold some beliefs that are not explicitly stated in the Bible, such as the Immaculate Conception of Mary.  Among the various versions of the Bible, American Catholics hold the New American Bible in high regard, and they use the New Revised Standard Version in ecumenical settings.  The CCC was approved by Pope John Paul II in 1992.  The Second Vatican Council (1962-65), the most recent council in the Church, gave the Church much of the shape that it has today, including Mass in the vernacular (before that, Mass was in Latin).