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Catholicism is the largest denomination of Christianity. All other Christian churches are known as Protestant (this includes denominations like Methodists, Baptists, Lutherans, and so on). Unlike Protestant churches, the Catholic Church claims to never have split and today is larger than any Protestant denomination.


  • The Trinity:  Catholics believe that there is one God, and they also believe in the trinity – or God as one in three (God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son of God, and the Holy Spirit). The best analogy for understanding the trilogy is water: Water can be in the form of ice, water, or vapor, but all three are water. With regard to Jesus, Catholics believe that Jesus Christ was God and that he rose from the dead (known as “the resurrection). Catholics believe Jesus died so the sins of mankind could be forgiven by God.
  • The Pope: The Pope is the person with the most authority in the Catholic Church and is elected to his position. Before Jesus died, he told his disciple Peter to build His Church (the people who would keep the tradition going after his death). Since Peter’s time, the Catholic Church claims to have had a person in his position who speaks with the authority of Christ and guides Catholics throughout the world.
  • Priests: Priests are in the line of the other disciples of Jesus and must go through a process of education and discipline before they can lead a church. They are given the power of Christ to forgive sins, to preach, and to oversee sacraments (see “Sacraments” below). It is tradition that priests do not marry, and women cannot yet become priests.
  • Monks and Nuns: Monks and nuns are men and women who may live separate from the rest of society or who may remain active in the community (as with monks who run hospitals or nuns who teach in schools). They are religious orders and must follow a strict set of rules, including remaining free from marriage and wearing specific clothing (like the “habit” for nuns).
  • Mary and Saints: Mary was the mother of Jesus. Catholics do not worship Mary. Rather, they honor her for her purity, her motherhood, and her closeness to Jesus. Similarly, saints are honored for the good lives they led and for miracles associated with them. Catholics may ask Mary or the saints to pray with them or for them, as they are closer to God and may plead with those in need.


  • The Bible: The main sacred text used by Catholics is The Bible. The Catholic Bible includes 73 books, while Protestant denominations use a Bible with 66 books. (When the Protestant churches broke away from the Catholic Church in the 16th century, they decided some of those books were of lesser importance and did not need to be included).
  • Icons: Icons may be pictures, statues, and other objects that show images of Christianity. Catholics do not worship icons, nor do they pray to the icons. Rather, icons are meant to remind people about God and the stories of Jesus.
  • Holy Water: Holy water can be found in a large font, or bowl, at the entrance of a church or at the front of the church. Catholics may dip their hands in the water as they enter the church to cleanse themselves of sins and impure thoughts before they begin worship. It is also used in blessings and some sacraments (see “Sacraments” below).


  • Mass: Mass is the name for the Catholic worship service. During mass, Catholics pray, priests give a homily (sermon) and receive the Eucharist (or communion, see “Eucharist”).
  • Sign of the Cross: Typically before prayer and upon entering a church, Catholics “cross themselves,” or make the motion of tracing a cross in the air. This is called the sign of the cross and, like icons, helps Catholics focus on Jesus and his death on a cross.
  • Sacraments: Sacraments are rituals or events that mark a step in life. In Catholicism, there are seven: Baptism (becoming a child of God), the Eucharist (see “Eucharist”), Confirmation (at age 12, committing oneself to the church), Marriage, Holy Orders (becoming a priest), Anointing of the Sick (praying for healing or praying before someone’s death), and Penance (confessing sins to a priest and asking for forgiveness).
  • Eucharist: The Eucharist, also sometimes called “communion,” traces its roots to the Last Supper. There, Jesus said that bread and wine were his body and blood and that, after his death, people should celebrate that meal together to remember Him. Catholics believe the bread and wine actually become Jesus Christ’s body and blood. When Catholics eat the bread and drink the wine, they become one with Jesus and as a Church. As such, it is considered the central ritual in Catholicism.

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Created by Religion Transcends, 2009. Portions of this overview are taken from an article written by Religion Transcends writer Jackie Walker for Relate magazine. Most information is general knowledge. You must seek permission to reuse this wording.

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