Hello Rosary Lovers! In this post I want to ask: What is a Roman Catholic?
There is a great deal of misunderstanding about Catholicism. Let’s see if we can understand it a bit better.
This post is going to address this question from a different angle. I hope you learn something about the Catholic Church from it.
A Roman Catholic is a member of the Latin Rite/Church
We are speaking here of a ‘Roman Catholic’, that is, what many understand as a Latin Catholic.
Did you know there are many different kinds of Catholics? They are all in the same universal Catholic Church, they are all under the same supreme Pontiff (the Pope). But they follow different rites.
This wonderful video will explain this.
There are many different rites in the Catholic Church, for instance:
- Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church
- Syro-Malabar Catholic Church
- Maronite Church
- Melkite Greek Catholic Church
- Russian Greek Catholic Church
- Chaldean Catholic Church
- and so on.
To see a full list, go here.
The Latin Church is merely ONE of these. It also happens to be BY FAR the largest, at around 1.3 billion members.
Many people confuse the Latin Church with the entire Catholic Church, but this is very mistaken. Not only is the Pope the head of the Latin Church, but he is also the head of these other Churches.
All of these Churches are in full communion with each other. See here for very interesting information on the Eastern Catholic Churches.
In fact, about 1.5% of Catholics in the world are members of Eastern Catholic Churches.
There are about 18 million Eastern Catholics in the world. I am one of them; I and my eldest son are official members of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.
Why is this important? Because we might say that a Roman Catholic is someone who is in the Latin Church, not in one of these Eastern Catholic Churches.
A Roman Catholic is a Latin Catholic who follows the Latin rite, the traditional Western rite of the Western world.
Protestant Christianity separated from the Latin Church, not really from the Eastern Catholic Churches.
Roman Catholics have very distinct traditions and ways of practicing the holy Catholic faith. Eastern Catholics have equally unique and distinctive ways of being Catholic.
For instance, Roman Catholics use a lot of statues, whereas Eastern Catholics use a lot of pictures and icons and hardly any statues.
Roman Catholics do the sign of the cross with the tips of their fingers, and from left to right. Many Eastern Catholics do the sign of the cross from right to left with the index finger, second finger, and thumb pressed together.
Roman Catholics have devotions to the sacred heart of Jesus and the immaculate heart of Mary; Eastern Catholics don’t tend to have devotions to these things.
Roman Catholics have Eucharistic adoration; Eastern Catholics don’t tend to do this.
Roman Catholics use instruments in worship, like organs; Eastern Catholics tend to just use vocals.
Roman Catholics pray the Rosary a lot whereas Eastern Catholics tend to focus on the Jesus Prayer.
And so on.
It’s important to appreciate all of this because to answer the question ‘What is a Roman Catholic?’, we need to see that a Roman Catholic is someone who is following a very specific form of Catholicism in the world.
Sure, it happens to be the largest form, but in the future it may not be, and in the past it wasn’t.
A Roman Catholic Has a Strong Connection to the Pope
The Pope is the Head of the Latin Church as well as the universal Head of all Catholic Churches. Because of this, Roman Catholics feel a closer connection to the Pontiff.
The Pope is both the chief Bishop in the Latin Church as well as the supreme Bishop over all Bishops all over the world, no matter what their rite. These are two different functions that the Pope performs within the Church, but in both of them he is immediately connected with Latin Catholics.
Eastern Catholics, by contrast, have their own Patriarchs and Major Archbishops. These Patriarchs are the heads of the individual Eastern Catholic Churches. Eastern Catholics feel mostly connected to these authoritites.
True, the Pope is also the head of the Eastern Catholic Hierarchs, but he is more distanced from the Eastern Catholic Churches generally. The Pope tends to stand back and let the Eastern Catholic Hierarchs govern their own Churches.
The Pope can intervene whenever he wishes, but he tends to focus his main attention on his own local Church, the Latin Church/rite.
Therefore, a Roman Catholic has the same sort of relationship to the Pope as an Eastern Catholic may have with their Patriarch.
This is why Roman Catholics are always talking about the Pope. Eastern Catholics don’t talk about the Pope or focus on the Pope so much.
Once a Roman Catholic, Always a Roman Catholic!
Roman Catholicism is very, very deeply ingrained in the Western world.
Even after 500 years of the Protestant Reformation and the Enlightenment, Nihilism and 2 World Wars, the Western world still is clearly built upon the ideas bequeathed to it by the Roman Catholic Church.
Most Roman Catholics feel this sort of thing within themselves. Roman Catholicism gets into one’s bones and is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to shake off.
A Roman Catholic who had returned to the Church once told me, ‘It never really leaves you.’
I recall Tuco from ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’, who even in all his sin and the ugly things he had done, still did the Roman Catholic sign of the cross throughout that film.
Even long after the French Revolution, France still remains deeply Catholic.
To the Western individual, Roman Catholicism has an extremely subtle and yet powerful lure. Even many who claim to hate Roman Catholicism cannot help visiting and being blow away by the great pieces of architecture constructed in the Middle Ages.
For these reasons, I suspect it is almost impossible for a Roman Catholic to ever really leave it. Or as one might say it: ‘A person can take themselves away from Roman Catholicism, but Roman Catholicism cannot be taken away from them.’
Even though I am not strictly speaking a Roman Catholic (a member of the Latin Church), I do love the Latin tradition. I love Roman Catholicism, and I love the traditions.
I myself have a special devotion to the Rosary and to the sorrowful and immaculate heart of Mary. I adore Eucharistic adoration. All of the saints I appeal to daily are Roman Catholics.
Roman Catholicism might have a bad name in the Western world, but let us not forget how incredibly influential it has been and how attractive it still is.
We have seen then that a Roman Catholic is someone who is a baptised and confirmed member of the Latin Church.
We have also seen that Roman Catholicism is only one form of Catholicism in the world. We have learned a thing or two about the Eastern Catholics and about the variety and diversity that exists in the Catholic Church.
Additionally, we have noted that Roman Catholics talk about the Pope so much because they are in a sense much more connected to him than the relationship that Eastern Catholics have with the Supreme Pontiff.
All Catholics however – Roman Catholic, Ukrainian Greek Catholic, Chaldean Catholic, and so on – are under the supreme headship of the Pope. It is by their ultimate connection with the Pope that Catholics are Catholic and can share the Eucharist together.
Lastly we spoke of how deeply Roman Catholicism is part of the DNA of every Roman Catholic, even if they have left the Church. This applies also to Western culture at large, which is still Roman Catholic in many ways.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this article, and if you wish to ask anything or comment, please add this below in the comments section.
As ever, God bless!