There are 1.3 billion Catholics in the world, and that number is growing all the time. Though these are all true Catholics, not all of these are practicing Catholics.
In this post, we will ask: what is a practicing Catholic?
What is a Catholic?
A Catholic is very simply defined as someone who has been baptised in the Catholic Church, or someone who has been validly baptised in another church but who has later joined the Catholic Church via confirmation.
A valid baptism is a baptism with water, and in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Someone who has been baptised in another denomination alone, without confirmation in the Catholic Church, is not fully Catholic. This is true even though the Catholic Church accepts baptism from most other denominations.
Babies who have been baptised into the Catholic Church, but who grow up and never get confirmed, are still Catholic.
Perhaps a simpler way to think of this is that anyone who has been legitimately baptised in any denomination is in some sense already Catholic.
The official numbers however of Catholics in the world – currently over 1.3 billion – refer to those who have been either baptised by the Catholic Church, or those who have been baptised in other denominations and have later joined the Catholic Church via confirmation.
In other words, all that is needed to make someone a Catholic is water baptism in the name of the Trinity by a Catholic priest, or confirmation by a Catholic priest if your baptism was in another denomination.
Everyone who sits in either of these categories is a Catholic, and a real Catholic.
This is by virtue of the power of the sacraments. The sacraments always work. Catholic baptism makes someone a Catholic. Catholic Confirmation makes a non-Catholic a Catholic.
If someone decides to completely leave the Catholic Church and never practices this faith, they are still Catholic from the Church’s viewpoint.
This is because baptism, by the power of God, leaves a permanent mark on the soul. It can never be taken away.
Confirmation is the same. This is why baptism and confirmation can only be performed once.
This is also why a valid baptism outside of the Catholic Church counts as a real baptism. The Catholic Church would never rebaptise those who have been baptised validly outside of the Catholic Church.
I have been Confirmed by a Protestant Church. Am I Fully Catholic?
No. The Catholic Church does not accept confirmation from the Protestant communion.
If you want to become Catholic, you’ll need to visit a Catholic priest and tell him that you’re interested in getting confirmed.
Orthodox confirmation however (often called Chrismation) is accepted by the Catholic Church. An Orthodox Christian wanting to become Catholic will not be reconfirmed or rebaptised.
So What is a Practicing Catholic?
There is a difference between someone who is merely Catholic, and someone who is a practicing Catholic.
Someone who is simply a Catholic fulfils the definitions above. But someone who is a practicing Catholic will have more to their life than merely this.
A practicing Catholic is someone who is in full communion with the Catholic Church. To be in full communion with the Church, one needs to fulfil some basic requirements. These requirements are called the Precepts of the Church.
First, a practicing Catholic must attend Mass at least once a week on Sundays (or Saturday night for Vigil Mass). They must also attend Mass on Holy Days of Obligation, such as the Assumption of Mary (15th August).
There are rare exceptions to this rule, such as needing to look after children, or through sickness, but the rule should be taken at face value.
Someone who refuses to make time to go to Mass each week is not a practicing Catholic. Someone who wants to go, but simply cannot, is still a practicing Catholic.
Second, a practicing Catholic must rest from ‘servile labour’ on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation. This means not doing anything that would jeopardise a true sanctification of these days.
This does not include refusing to play sport, or have fun. Unnecessary shopping is more controversial.
The main thing is to seek to rest the mind and body and to try to give your attention to family and spiritual things, like acts of love.
Work seems to be only permitted if it cannot be helped working on these days, which applies to a lot of people in the modern age.
Third, a practicing Catholic goes to Confession at least once a year.
Fourth, a practicing Catholic receives the Eucharist from the Catholic Church at least once a year, at Easter if possible.
Fifth, a practicing Catholic must obey the Church’s directives regarding fasting and abstinence. Usually this means abstaining from meat (not including fish) on Fridays and Ash Wednesday, and only having one main meal on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
Sixth, a practicing Catholic must help provide for the material needs of the Church, according to their ability and circumstances.
Usually this seems to mean financial contributions, but if one is unable to do this they can offer other things like a more active involvement in the local Church, their time to visiting, etc.
And That’s It!
So there it is. Any Catholic who fulfils these precepts is in full communion with the Catholic Church.
This includes even those who struggle to obey the Church’s moral teachings, and mess up often. We all mess up, but this doesn’t necessarily mean we fall out of communion with the Church.
So long as we are genuinely seeking to obey the Church’s teachings, even if we find them challenging, we are on the right path.
But the starting point is obeying these Precepts above. By following these, we prepare ourselves for being the best Catholics we can be.
In essence, then, it’s very basic to be a Catholic (baptism, confirmation). It’s also pretty basic to be a practicing Catholic.
Beyond these basics, we spend our lives working on the rest of our spiritual growth in charity/love.
It’s a wonderful thing to be a Catholic and many Catholics don’t seem to realise the privilege this is. It’s even more wonderful to be a practicing Catholic, and as we’ve seen, it isn’t hard to be one.
If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments below or get in touch via email.