What it means to be Catholic

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Attending Mass is just one part of being Catholic
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Some insight on what it means to be Catholic to billions of faithful followers

With the discussions about religion that took place during the last presidential election and the questions being pondered about the effects of the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, many people are asking what it means to be  Catholic.

I'm not a theologian and, even as a lifelong Catholic, I don't have all of the answers. It's a question that can't be answered in a simple article, but here are some points about what it means to be Catholic that most people agree upon.

First and foremost, Catholics are Christians. They believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and as part of the Holy Trinity or three divine persons in one God: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This belief is reiterated as part of every Catholic Mass in profession of faith known as the Nicene Creed. Catholics read the Bible and parts of it are read in every Catholic Mass in the Epistle and the Gospel.

Catholics believe that the Catholic Church dates back directly to the Apostle Peter, whom Jesus designated as its first leader, a position now called pope. Catholics believe that the doctrines and items of faith of their church are infallible or without question, which includes those made by the pope when concerning the church. 

Catholic ministers are called priests and are ordained by bishops whose lineage goes back directly to the Apostles. Through their ordination, priests are designated as the only Catholics who can perform the ritual known as the Mass, during which Catholics believe that transubstantiation occurs. This means the bread (usually in the form of a wafer) and the wine consecrated by the priest become the actual Body and Blood of Jesus Christ to be shared with other Catholics during communion.

Communion, or the Eucharist, is one of the seven sacraments administered to Catholics by priests. The sacraments are Baptism, which initiates a person into the church; Holy Communion or the Eucharist, which means sharing the Body and Blood of Christ; Confirmation, which is a deeper affirmation of faith; Penance or Confession, during which sins are forgiven; Holy Matrimony, the sacrament of marriage; Holy Orders, the sacrament which bestows priesthood; and Anointing of the Sick, a healing sacrament.

When discussing the physical church where Catholics gather, questions often arise about the statues, relics and other icons found in them. Catholics worship God and venerate the saints and the Blessed Mother, meaning that they recognize them as holy people with a close connection to God.

Some are designated by canonization as saints after it is proven that veneration of them has resulted in at least two miracles. Catholics use the statues, candles, incense, rosaries, crucifixes, relics of the saints and other items as tools to aid them in prayer and worship.

Outside of sacraments and worship, to be Catholic also means to take responsibly for caring for the poor, the sick and the needy through works of mercy and to spread the Gospel to others through these works, through education and through medical care.

These points on what it means to be Catholic are meant to be just an introduction. For more information, visit a Catholic church and talk to a priest who can offer greater detail and recommend readings.

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