Great question! Let’s dive in and ask: What is the difference between a Catholic and a Christian?
What is a Christian?
Let us first say that a Christian is someone who believes in Jesus Christ and his glorious physical resurrection from the dead. Paul tells us in Romans: ‘If you believe in your heart that God has raised Jesus from the dead, you will be saved’. (Romans 10:9-10).
But Paul also says something else in that passage. He says: ‘If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord’ (Romans 10:9-10). ‘And whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved’ (Romans 10:13).
‘For with the heart we believe unto justification and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation’ (Romans 10:10).
So believing in one’s heart in Jesus is wonderful! But we also need to confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord.
What kind of confession is this? It is public confession that one believes in Jesus, in the context of baptism.
Baptism therefore officially makes someone a Christian.
Everyone who has been baptised in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit with water is a Christian.
Is any kind of baptism acceptable to make someone a Christian?
No. The Catholic Church only accepts one form of baptism (thankfully by far the most common form!). That is:
- There has to be water (so using another material makes the baptism invalid)
- There has to be the pronouncement of: ‘I baptise you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’
The water is the matter, and the words are the form. Matter and form. The physical communicating to our souls the spiritual power of salvation.
Someone who has not received this kind of baptism needs to be baptised properly for the first time.
Anyone who has received this kind of baptism is a Christian.
What about Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons?
Not to get controversial, but the Catholic Church does not accept the baptism of these groups, even though they use water and similar words. This is because they explicitly do not believe in the Catholic and Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity.
What is a Catholic?
A Catholic could be any of the following people:
- Someone who has been baptised as an infant by a Catholic priest. Even if this person never receives Catholic confirmation, they are still Catholic.
- Someone who has been both baptised and confirmed by a Catholic bishop or priest.
- Someone who has been legitimately baptised outside of the Catholic Church and has been later confirmed into the Catholic Church by a Catholic bishop or priest.
- An Orthodox Christian who has already received baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist from Orthodox priests/bishops, and who has entered the Catholic Church via Confession and a profession of the Catholic faith.
I trust I’ve not left anything out, but that seems to me to include the vast bulk of possibilities.
Isn’t a Catholic someone who believes in the Pope and Mary?
Well, in one sense of course this is true. The ideal Catholic – the faithful Catholic – will of course believe these things.
But as with every denomination and human group, there are the faithful and the not-so faithful.
There are Catholics who believe everything the holy Catholic Church teaches and there are and have always been (sadly) Catholics who do not.
However, even if a Catholic doesn’t believe a thing the Catholic Church teaches, they are still Catholic in body! They cannot ever get away from this.
This is because baptism (and confirmation, if they were confirmed) leaves a permanent mark on the soul and is irreversible, like a tattoo which will never come off.
This is why many Catholics who have left the Church surely feel a sense of missing something in their lives.
Many Catholics who have drifted away from the Church also still feel a sense of affinity with the Church. They may correct you if you bad mouth the Church, or they may get upset if someone says something mean about Catholics.
A Catholic who believes all the Church teaches is Catholic in body and in soul, whereas a Catholic who doesn’t is merely Catholic in body. And this won’t do them any good on Judgment Day before God.
What’s the need to be a Catholic if I’m a Christian already?
There are many, many reasons to become Catholic instead of just remaining ‘Christian’.
Of course, the Catholic Church believes herself to be the true Church of Christ in the world, and therefore that Catholicism = Christianity, and Christianity = Catholicism.
So the Catholic Church would argue that to be ‘Christian’ but not Catholic in a sense doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. In other words, a non-Catholic Christian is missing a lot that is pretty essential to the Christian experience and to Christianity.
Let’s give a list of why it is a good idea to seek to further one’s faith in Christ by becoming a Catholic.
1. Access to the Priesthood
It is an amazing privilege to have spiritual fathers all over the world, no matter where you live. Priests are there for us to call upon in any time of need. They are our spiritual doctors.
It’s not helpful to ‘go it alone’ and try to live the life of righteousness without a lot of help. We need loads of help and guidance.
Catholics don’t believe it’s enough for us to just have the Bible and perhaps a local pastor. We need the Church to help us interpret the divine guidance of the Bible, and we need a bishop/priest ordained in the line of the apostles.
The Bishop and the local priest is Christ’s presence among us to help guide us to heaven. If we don’t have this in our lives as Christians, we are at a very, very serious disadvantage.
Obviously this doesn’t include those individuals who long for a Catholic priest but only see one once in a blue moon. There are a lot of Catholics in the world in this situation, such as in the Amazon.
2. Access to the Sacraments.
What would our faith be without the most holy Body and Blood of Jesus Christ upon the Altar of Catholic Churches all over the world?
‘This is my Body’. ‘This Chalice/Cup is the new covenant.’ Our Lord really meant these words (I don’t know how he could be talking of a metaphorical cup/chalice!).
Christ has given us his holy sacraments to save us, to strengthen us and to bring us safely to heaven. To ensure we don’t make a huge mess of our lives on earth and ruin our eternity.
Baptism saves us. Confirmation strengthens us. Confession forgives and cleanses us (like a second baptism).
The Eucharist renews us and is the ‘medicine of immortality’ (St Ignatius of Antioch, c107 AD).
Marriage and marital sexual relations increase our holiness and chastity. And the anointing with oil gives us the strength to be prepared for our deaths and heaven.
To attempt to get to heaven without access to these sacraments again puts you at a very serious disadvantage, a disadvantage no human being needs to have because the Church calls all into her bosom.
3. The whole family of saints, especially Mary our most holy Mother
‘I believe in the communion of saints’ (Apostles Creed). Most Christians profess to believe in this, and that’s wonderful. But in the Catholic Church, we take it to mean that we can actually commune with the saints, here and now.
The Church on earth is utterly united to the Church in heaven. They are one cosmic Church, governed by Christ.
Mary is the mother of the Church, and is the Queen of saints who brings us most quickly to Christ. We can call upon her for anything at all, even just to tell her we love her. Often she says this back (in all sorts of ways) if we are listening!
4. Authoritative Teaching
I think it’s a real bummer that we have so many opinions flying around today. I wouldn’t know what to believe if I wasn’t Catholic.
If you think about it, you can argue for almost anything one way or the other. Nothing is certain (so it seems). Truth has become so relative.
In this context, the Catholic Church is such a glorious relief, like fresh water in the desert. The Church is quiet on things she has no judgment about, such as whether boxing is acceptable or not, or whether the earth orbits the sun or whether the sun and everything else orbits the earth.
The Church picks her fights carefully, but when she does speak with authority, I know I have specific guidance from God on a particular issue.
For instance, whether contraception is acceptable to use or not, or whether to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or not. The Church answers these questions, thankfully.
This isn’t being a blind follower of a religion. It’s having the humility to recognise that I am not the fount of all wisdom and wisdom wasn’t born with me.
My reason and mind and experience and so on are very limited and the Catholic Church is wiser than I am. I need her teaching to reach heaven because I cannot get myself there on my own with my own personal viewpoints about really important issues.
5. Brotherhood and family all over the world
For me, this was the main reason I became Catholic. When I had done all the study and research, the biggest reason I wanted to become Catholic was because … I really wanted to become a Catholic!
I really wanted to be part of this universal Church, this amazing People all over the world. I longed with all my heart to be one of them and to call myself a Catholic.
Now that I am one, I find I have a family everywhere in the world. 1.3 billion is a MASSIVE family!!
6. Catholicism, lived faithfully, makes us saints
Anyone who lives the Catholic faith correctly and with integrity (not necessarily perfectly) will become a saint.
‘A saint is not someone who does everything right all of the time; a saint is someone who does everything right most of the time.’ (St Frances de Sales).
The best reason to be Catholic, perhaps, is that it is the pathway to heaven and sainthood. It isn’t possible to fail to become a saint or to get to heaven if someone lives the Catholic faith properly.
It’s not even very hard to live the Catholic faith properly, if you have access to the priesthood, the sacraments, and Mary. The Rosary is especially powerful as making people saints.
At the end of the day, none of us really wants to go to hell if we think about it. We don’t want to be cut off from God forever, under his divine displeasure for all eternity. If there is a heaven, we want to be there.
There are obviously many more reasons we could give, but that’s a taster. I would love to hear what you have to offer! Please leave your thoughts in the comments below, and I will try to get back to you as soon as possible.