Hello there Rosary lovers! This is a site about the Rosary and Catholicism, so it only makes sense for us to ask: What is Catholic Christianity?
With 2.5 billion Christians worldwide (a fast-growing number), there are thousands of denominations.
The Catholic Church is by a very long way the largest ‘denomination’, at an ever-growing 1.35 billion. This number was from 2019, so the Catholic Church is undoubtedly even bigger now.
I converted to the Catholic Church in 2019 after long consideration and after being Protestant for many years. You can read about my conversion here.
To be honest, a big pull for me was the enormous size of the Catholic Church, and how there are Catholics all over the world wherever you go. I eventually began to feel a very strong desire to be part of this ‘Group’.
In this article I will try to explain what Catholicism is. However, Catholicism is much better experienced than explained. Just keep this in mind. Happy reading!
The Basics of Catholic Christianity
The central claim of Catholicism is that it claims to be CHRISTIANITY, and nothing less.
Christianity = Catholicism; Catholicism = Christianity.
In other words, according to the Catholic Church, anyone who is Christian but not Catholic is settling for less of Christ and Christianity than could be quite easily attained.
Catholicism is based on the Incarnation of God the Son in human flesh, conceived of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the holy, ever-virgin Mary, Mother of God.
EVERYTHING the Catholic Church believes is based on this claim and belief.
Why does the Catholic Church have a Pope?
Because the Church is the Body of Christ.
Since the Body of Jesus is a real, physical and tangible Body, the Church has to be very physical and tangible. Hence, the Church needs a physical, visible Head on earth.
This is the Pope, the Bishop of Rome. Jesus said to St Peter: ‘You are Peter, and on this Rock I will build my Church.’ (Matthew 16:17-19). Peter was the first Head of the Church on earth, and Peter’s successors are the Popes throughout the ages.
Why does the Catholic Church have Sacraments? What is a sacrament?
A sacrament is a visible, physical thing that communicates the power and grace of God. It wouldn’t be entirely correct to think of a sacrament like a talisman, but it is not altogether entirely different either.
The sacraments of the Catholic Church are: Baptism, Confirmation, Confession, the Eucharist, Marriage, Orders and Healing/Anointing.
Each of these sacraments have a physical form. Baptism employs real water. Confirmation employs real oil. Confession uses the actual physical accusation of oneself to a priest, and the priest utters audible words of absolution.
The Eucharist is the supreme Sacrament, the Blessed and most Holy Sacrament of the Altar. It’s physical form is bread and wine, but in reality it is the very flesh and blood of Jesus Christ.
All of these physical things which bring the grace of God are physical because physical things are VERY GOOD (Genesis 1:31). God the Son became physical by becoming man, and therefore the created world is God’s greatest channel for grace to us.
What about Mary?
The supreme creature God has created is Mary. No-one else in all creation even comes close to Mary.
This is because of the Incarnation. God chose ONE person out of the entire human race to be his very own Mother whom he clung to, breastfed from, cried upon, hugged, kissed, adored with all of his heart.
That person is Mary, the Mother of the infinite God.
Catholics do what Jesus did. They cling to Mary, they love her, they call upon her, they would hug and kiss her if she were physically present still on earth.
The Origins of Catholic Christianity
The Catholic Church (along with the Orthodox Churches) is the oldest Church in the world.
The Orthodox and Catholic Churches were founded by the apostles, and their successors (Bishops) took over and their successors took over, and so on to the present day.
We call this the doctrine of Apostolic Succession. It helps protect the unity of the universal Church. The ultimate Bishop who protects the Church’s unity is the Pope.
All bishops in union with the Pope are Catholic Bishops. A Catholic can be under any Catholic Bishop and any priest who works for him.
The Spread of Catholic Christianity
With the possible exception of Islam, Catholicism has been far and away the most successful religion in the world in terms of spread.
Catholics are found everywhere. There don’t seem to be many nations where you won’t find a Catholic.
This link will show this impressive fact.
Moreover, Catholicism has had an enormous influence on the construction of Western culture. It could be argued that the Catholic Church largely built the Western world.
The West is still very Catholic in how it understands concepts like ‘human rights’, ‘freedom’, ‘justice’, ‘truth’, ‘law’, ‘beauty’, and many other elements.
These days, Catholicism has experienced a decrease in popularity in the West. This has been due to the Protestant Reformation, but also the widespread defascination with religion as a whole in the West which began with the Enlightenment.
This continued with the rise of Nihilism in the 19th and 20th centuries. No doubt the two great Wars played a significant part here.
Many in the Western world are still very interested in Catholicism. There are 55-70 million Catholics in the US for instance. The current President of the United States, Joe Biden, is a Catholic. The current Prime Minister of the UK is also Catholic.
Catholicism continues to experience huge popularity in the southern hemisphere.
The largest Catholic countries are:
- Brazil (170 million, though many not practicing)
- Mexico (117 million)
- Philippines (85 million)
- US (55-70 million)
- Italy (50 million)
The Bad Deeds of Some Catholic Christians
We have all heard of the bad things that have been done in the name of Catholicism. The Inquisition. The Crusades. The abuse scandals. And so on. If you look into Catholic history, you’ll find even more that makes one’s hair stand on end.
The Catholic Church has apologised for much of this under the Papacy of St John Paul II. The Church, like any organisation, seeks to learn from past faults.
The Catholic Church does not whitewash these incidents. They were wrong, and the Church condemns them herself in her teaching.
It’s often best to not judge Catholicism so much by what some bad people in authority have done, but to judge her by her official teachings and constitution.
Unfortunately, people – even Popes, Bishops and priests – are just as human as the rest of us and fall short of the ideals of Catholic teaching.
No matter how bad these things are in the Catholic Church’s history, there have usually been Catholics who have stood up against these evils committed by other Catholics.
The Holiness of Some Catholic Christians
One of the best ways to see what true Catholicism is is to look at those the Church has proclaimed as Saints.
We have many saints. St Mother Theresa, St David, St Patrick, and all the rest. The Church is constantly recognising new saints every year.
Reading the lives of these people makes for much more edifying reading that focusing on the sordid past of a good deal of Catholic history. To be fair, one needs to bring the wonderful lives of these people into the picture.
Saints are saints for good reason. They were almost always extraordinarily loving, merciful, gentle, kind, good. Often they had miraculous powers, such as the recent St Padre Pio.
Come and See!
This article is very far from comprehensive. It only just touches the surface of Catholicism. But hopefully it gives you a vague idea of what it’s all about.
By far and away the best way to be introduced to Catholicism is to get to know some Catholics! Do a Google search and find out where the nearest Catholic Church is and pop down when they’re open.
If you have any questions about this article, please get in touch: email me or leave a comment below! I’ll be very happy to get back to you asap.