I wish not merely to be called Christian, but also to be Christian

Whether you’re a non-Catholic, a Catholic who is perhaps hearing the call of the Faith again, or a practising Catholic who would like to brush up on the basics, you’ve come to the right place!

Catholic means “universal”, and that means it’s for everyone. It’s not an exclusive club or society, and neither is it a badge or hat we wear. It’s an all-consuming passion, a way of not just living but an entire way of being. It is both a journey and an end unto itself. Catholicism is not necessarily an easy road – it involves self-sacrifice and a willingness to accept that we have a flawed nature, but one which can be healed and fulfilled in humility in accordance to what God intends for us.

With that said, we all slip and fall along the way, every one of us, which is why the Church is best and most often described as a hospital, to help us get back on our feet, onto the right road and continuing our progress towards the light.

As the saying goes, every Saint has a past and every sinner has a future – a Saint is a sinner who didn’t stop trying.

And there’s great truth in that.

Most especially welcome are those who might feel their lifestyle isn’t what some might call “respectable” or conservative. Catholicism is and always has been the only true counterculture, ever ancient, ever new, in the world but not of the world. Bring your tattoos and your piercings, bring your undercuts and ripped jeans, your place is right here in the Church.

Joining the Church without a Valid Baptism

This would apply to those who are over the age of seven and who have not been validly baptised. Please don’t feel as though this is a terribly intimidating process, help is there in abundance. Preparation for reception into the Church begins with the inquiry stage, in which the unbaptised person begins to learn about the Catholic faith and decide whether to embrace it.

The first formal step to becoming Catholic begins with the rite of reception into the order of catechumens, in which the unbaptised express their desire and intention to become Christians. Catechumen is a term the early Christians used to refer to those preparing to be baptised and become Christians.

The period of the catechumenate varies depending on how much the catechumen has learned and how ready he feels to take the step of becoming a Christian. However, the catechumenate typically lasts less than a year.

Preparation for reception into the Church begins with the inquiry stage, in which the unbaptised person begins to learn about the Catholic faith and decide whether to embrace it.

The first formal step to becoming Catholic begins with the rite of reception into the order of catechumens, in which the unbaptised express their desire and intention to become Christians. Catechumen is a term the early Christians used to refer to those preparing to be baptised and become Christians.

The period of the catechumenate varies depending on how much the catechumen has learned and how ready he feels to take the step of becoming a Christian. However, the catechumenate typically lasts less than a year.

The catechumenate’s purpose is to provide the catechumens with a thorough background in Christian teaching. The catechumenate also is intended to give the catechumens the opportunity to reflect upon and become firm in their desire to become Catholic.

The second formal step is taken with the rite of election, in which the catechumens’ names are written in a book of those who will receive the sacraments of initiation. At the rite of election, the catechumen again expresses the desire and intention to become a Christian, and the Church judges that the catechumen is ready to take this step.

Normally, the rite of election occurs on the first Sunday of Lent, the forty-day period of preparation for Easter.

After the rite of election, the candidates undergo a period of more intense reflection, purification, and enlightenment, in which they deepen their commitment to repentance and conversion. During this period the catechumens, now known as the elect, participate in several further rituals.

The three chief rituals, known as scrutinies, are normally celebrated at Mass on the third, fourth, and fifth Sundays of Lent. The scrutinies are rites for self-searching and repentance. They are meant to bring out the qualities of the catechumen’s soul, to heal those qualities that are weak or sinful, and to strengthen those that are positive and good.

During this period, the catechumens are formally presented with the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer, which they will recite on the night they are initiated.

The initiation itself usually occurs on the Easter Vigil, the evening before Easter Day. That evening a special Mass is celebrated at which the catechumens are baptised, then given confirmation, and finally receive the Holy Eucharist. At this point the catechumens become Catholics and are received into full communion with the Church.

Ideally the bishop oversees the Easter Vigil service and confers confirmation upon the catechumens, but often — due to large distances or numbers of catechumens — a local parish priest will perform the rites.

The final state of Christian initiation is known as mystagogy, in which the new Christians are strengthened in the faith by further instruction and become more deeply rooted in the local Catholic community. The period of mystagogy normally lasts throughout the Easter season, the fifty days between Easter and Pentecost Sunday, and technically it could be said to last throughout the life of every Catholic.

For the first year of their life as Christians, those who have been received are known as neophytes or “new Christians.”

Joining the Church with a Valid Baptism

Those who have been validly baptised outside the Church become Catholics by making a profession of the Catholic faith and being formally received into the Church. This is normally followed immediately by confirmation and the Eucharist.

Because they have already been baptised, they are already Christians. They are, therefore, not catechumens. Because of their status as Christians, the Church is concerned that they not be confused with those who are in the process of becoming Christians.

For those who were baptised but who have never been instructed in the Christian faith or lived as Christians, it is appropriate for them to receive much of the same instruction in the faith as catechumens, but they are still not catechumens and are not to be referred to or examined as such.

For those who have been instructed in the Christian faith and have lived as Christians, the situation is different. Those baptised persons who have lived as Christians and need only instruction in the Catholic tradition and a degree of probation within the Catholic community. They should not be asked to undergo a full program parallel to the catechumenate.

The timing of their reception into the Church also is different. It is preferable that reception into full communion not take place at the Easter Vigil lest there be any confusion of such baptised Christians with the candidates for baptism, possible misunderstanding of or even reflection upon the sacrament of baptism celebrated in another church or ecclesial community.

Rather than being received on Easter Vigil, the reception of candidates into the communion of the Catholic Church should ordinarily take place at the Sunday Eucharist of the parish community.

The sacrament of baptism removes all sins committed prior to it, but since Christians have already been baptised, it is necessary for them to confess mortal sins committed since baptism before receiving confirmation and the Eucharist.

In some cases, this can be difficult due to a large number of years between the Christian’s baptism and reception into the Catholic Church. In such cases, the candidate should confess the mortal sins he can remember by kind and, to the extent possible, indicate how often such sins were committed. As always with the sacrament of reconciliation, the absolution covers any mortal sins that could not be remembered, so long as the recipient intended to repent of all mortal sins.

The Christian fully enters the Church by profession of faith and formal reception.

Reception in Special Cases

In some situations, there may be doubts whether a person’s baptism was valid. All baptisms are assumed valid, regardless of denomination, unless after serious investigation there is reason to doubt that the candidate was baptised with water and the Trinitarian formula (“... in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”), or that the minister or recipient of baptism did not intend it to be an actual baptism.

If there are doubts about the validity of a person’s baptism (or whether the person was baptised at all), then the candidate will be given a conditional baptism (one with the form “... if you are not already baptised, I baptise you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”).

Another special case concerns those who have been baptised as Catholics but who were not brought up in the faith or who have not received the sacraments of confirmation and the Eucharist. Although baptised adult Catholics who have never received catechetical instruction or been admitted to the sacraments of confirmation and Eucharist are not catechumens, some elements of the usual catechumenal formation are appropriate to their preparation for the sacraments, in accord with the norms of the ritual, Preparation of Uncatechised Adults for Confirmation and Eucharist.

With thanks to Catholic Answers.

The Fundamentals

Here we take a look at some of the fundamentals involved in Catholicism and being Catholic. This section may be useful and interesting to Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

Catechisation and the Catechism

Catechisation means to provide systematic instruction, especially by questions, answers, explanations, and corrections, and usually means religious instruction. The central source of Catholic catechisation is the Catechism of the Catholic Church, all of which is freely available online, but is perhaps more digestible in printed book format.

Ireland is, at least on paper, an overwhelmingly Catholic country, and yet despite over 90% of primary schools and 50% of secondary schools being under Catholic patronage and religious education being allocated 2½ hours a week in Irish primary schools, almost as much as history, geography and science, many Irish Catholics really don’t know much about their own religion.

A recent survey revealed that

So it’s clear that Catholics in Ireland could benefit from religious instruction in the faith of countless generations of Irish people who came before them! Almost all of the answers a Catholic might need about the Church, her teachings, sacraments, rituals and beliefs can be found in the Catechism, so it’s a good investment.

For those interested in a more approachable and shorter version of the Catechism, the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church is recommended.

How to Read and Understand the Scriptures

The first and perhaps most important thing to remember about the Bible is that the Scriptures only form one of the three “legs” of the Church. The other two are Sacred Tradition and the Magisterium, which is the hierarchy of the Church. It’s worth keeping in mind that the Catholic Church collected and compiled the Bible as we have it today – apostles, leaders, oral tradition and ritual practices existed before we strictly speaking had the New Testament!

Catholics are not at liberty to interpret Scripture however they see fit, but must conform their understanding to that of the scholarship of the Catholic Church. This scholarship was developed through exegesis, which means a critical analysis of the Scriptures, putting them into historical and other contexts in order to explain them fully.

This is in opposition to the protestant practise which is often based on eisegesis, the process of interpreting text in such a way as to introduce one's own presuppositions, agendas or biases. Many terrible tragedies and atrocities have arisen from mistaken protestant “personal interpretations”.

As such it’s a great idea to get an approved study Bible, such as the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, which contains commentaries and explanations of the various passages, in order to understand each part, its history and implications.

Scripture is to be read and studied in four different ways:

As the medieval couplet puts it, “The Letter speaks of deeds; Allegory to faith; The Moral how to act; Anagogy our destiny.”

From these four senses it can be seen that the Bible isn’t just about information, it’s about transformation.

How to Pray

Prayer is a crucial part of being a Catholic and helps us to stay in touch with the Divine will of God and on the true path. Prayer can be formal or informal, verbal or nonverbal, active or contemplative.  Prayer is "the raising of one's mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God." It is an act of the moral virtue of religion.

So how do we engage with this essential part of Catholicism?

“Pray as though it was your last day!”

Pope Saint John Paul II warned against "mechanical prayer" and mentioned the need for self-reflection before prayer. In his message for the 42nd World Day of Prayer he said:

"We have to learn to pray: as it were learning this art ever anew from the lips of the Divine Master himself, like the first disciples: 'Lord, teach us to pray!' (Luke 11:1)."

Prayer should be approached with passion and spirit, joy and fascination, not as a duty or an obligation to be fulfilled. We should be fully aware of what we are doing, and how we are placing ourselves before the Divine when we pray.

There are five main types of prayer in Catholicism.

Adoration and Blessing

Because God blesses, the human heart can in return bless the One who is the source of every blessing.

Two fundamental forms express this movement: our prayer ascends in the Holy Spirit through Christ to the Father - we bless him for having blessed us; it implores the grace of the Holy Spirit that descends through Christ from the Father - he blesses us.

The prayer of blessing expresses praise and honour to God and is man's response to God's gifts. As the Psalmist wrote, "I will bless the Lord at all times; praise shall be always in my mouth."

Adoration is the first attitude of man acknowledging that he is a creature before his Creator. It exalts the greatness of the Lord who made us and the almighty power of the Saviour who sets us free from evil. Adoration is homage of the spirit to the "King of Glory,"

The Prayer of Petition

By prayer of petition we express awareness of our relationship with God. We are creatures who are not our own beginning, not the masters of adversity, not our own last end. We are sinners who as Christians know that we have turned away from our Father. Our petition is already a turning back to him.

The New Testament contains scarcely any prayers of lamentation, unlike the Old Testament. In the risen Christ the Church's petition is buoyed by hope, even if we still wait in a state of expectation and must be converted anew every day.

The first movement of the prayer of petition is asking forgiveness, like the tax collector in the parable: "God, be merciful to me a sinner!" It is a prerequisite for righteous and pure prayer. A trusting humility brings us back into the light of communion between the Father and his Son Jesus Christ and with one another, so that "we receive from him whatever we ask."

Christian petition is centred on the desire and search for the Kingdom to come, in keeping with the teaching of Christ. There is a hierarchy in these petitions: we pray first for the Kingdom, then for what is necessary to welcome it and cooperate with its coming. By prayer every baptised person works for the coming of the Kingdom.

When we share in God's saving love, we understand that every need can become the object of petition. Christ, who assumed all things in order to redeem all things, is glorified by what we ask the Father in his name. It is with this confidence that St. James and St. Paul exhort us to pray at all times.

The Prayer of Intercession

Intercession is a prayer of petition which leads us to pray as Jesus did. He is the one intercessor with the Father on behalf of all men, especially sinners. He is "able for all time to save those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them."

Since Abraham, intercession - asking on behalf of another has been characteristic of a heart attuned to God's mercy. In intercession, he who prays looks "not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others," even to the point of praying for those who do him harm.

The intercession of Christians recognises no boundaries: "for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions," for persecutors, for the salvation of those who reject the Gospel.

The Prayer of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is part of the prayer of the Church which, in celebrating the Eucharist, reveals and becomes more fully what she is.

As in the prayer of petition, every event and need can become an offering of thanksgiving. The letters of St. Paul often begin and end with thanksgiving, and the Lord Jesus is always present in it: "Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you"; "Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving."

The Prayer of Praise

Praise is the proper response of a created being standing before God. Praise is the form of prayer which recognises most immediately that God is God. It lauds God for His own sake and gives Him glory, simply because He is.

The prayer of praise shares in the happiness of those who love God in faith before seeing Him in reality. By praise, the Spirit is joined to our spirits to bear witness that we are children of God, testifying to the only Son in whom we are adopted and by whom we glorify the Father.

Confession, the Sacrament of Reconciliation

This sacrament merits its own section when we speak about the fundamentals of being a Catholic in Ireland, not only because it is so often neglected but because of its tremendous importance.

Confession is not a pleasant experience for the one who confesses or the one who listens to their confession. It’s painful to admit we have done wrong, it’s painful to admit we have done evil things, especially to a person who has committed their life on a very deep level to doing the right thing. A good confession is accompanied by a sense of shame.

And it should be, for if we don’t reflect on our mistakes how are we to avoid repeating them? But of course confession isn’t just an ordeal, it is a ritual cleansing. After a good confession we can walk with our heads held high, perhaps not entirely forgetting our past transgressions, but knowing that they have been made as though they never happened at all.

This is the true wonder of the sacrament of reconciliation and a true mark of God’s eternal love for us. It’s also vital that we engage in this sacrament before partaking in the Eucharist, since to eat or drink unworthily is to eat or drink vengeance upon ourselves, a dreadful sin in and of itself. Confession should be viewed as a key step on the road to Heaven.

So how do we engage in a good confession?

A good confession arises from a heart that wants to change. This is the very core of a good confession – firm purpose of amendment.

Next, make a good examination of conscience. There are many formulas for an examination of conscience, found in missals and prayerbooks, websites and mobile apps.

Always approach the examination of conscience in prayer, and allow sufficient time for God to walk you through your sins, shedding His light on the roots of your sinful behaviours. Ask God to show you your motivations, the desire to sin, the reasons you make the choices that lead up to sin. It is one thing to ask God to show you your sins, but quite another to reach into the roots of your sins and eradicate the roots instead of the weeds.

With this list of sins and with a confident trust in God’s goodness, an understanding of the motivations and causes of the inclination to sin, and better knowing how the path leads from temptation to sin, you can now enter the confessional with an open heart, soul and mind.

Pay absolutely no heed to instincts or thoughts which diminish your resolve to make a good confession. All of your sins must be spoken, deliberately omitting any not only invalidates the confession, but adds a new sin to confess the next time!

Don’t worry about the priest’s opinion, whatever you have to say he has almost certainly heard worse. The source of such doubts and fretting is not your friend. If you forget the words, the priest will help you along.

The priest is acting in persona Christi, “in the person of Christ”. Speak to Christ himself, baring your soul without fear of judgment, but instead with a hunger for mercy and grace. The priest is bound by the seal of the sacrament, so that nothing you say can be spoken of outside the confessional. No priest thinks less of a sinner who repents, but rather thinks highly of a person who simply trusts in God’s mercy.

Finally, take to heart the advice of the priest and accept the penance he offers. He will invite you to express your contrition, then absolve you from your sins in the name of the Church. With a lighter heart, walk out of the confessional with all your sins forgiven, a child of God whose soul is a weedless garden of delight.

With thanks for this section to Simply Catholic.

General Questions and Answers

Below can be found some general questions and answers, in no particular order.

What are the virtues and vices?

The human virtues can be grouped around the four cardinal virtues: prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance.

The moral virtues grow through education, deliberate acts, and perseverance in struggle. Divine grace purifies and elevates them.

The theological virtues have God for their origin, their motive, and their object - God known by faith, God hoped in and loved for his own sake. There are three theological virtues: faith, hope, and charity. They inform all the moral virtues and give life to them.

Sin is an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law. It is an offence against God. It rises up against God in a disobedience contrary to the obedience of Christ. Sin is an act contrary to reason. It wounds man's nature and injures human solidarity. The root of all sins lies in man's heart and mind - there was never a sin that wasn't previouslyt formed in the mind. The kinds and the importance of sins are determined principally by what they affect.

To choose deliberately - that is, both knowing it and willing it - something gravely contrary to the divine law and to the ultimate end of man is to commit a mortal sin. This destroys in us the charity without which eternal beatitude is impossible. Unrepented, it brings eternal death.

Venial sin constitutes a moral disorder that is reparable by charity, which it allows to subsist in us. The repetition of sins - even venial ones - engenders vices, among which are the capital sins.

Vices are called "capital" because they cause other sins, other vices. They are

Why is Charity so important?

When we hear the word “charity” these days it usually means giving to some charitable organisation, putting money in the poor box, generally offering material help and support. However in the Catholic sense it means much more.

Saint Thomas Aquinas esteemed charity as “the most excellent of the virtues,” the most important of them all. It means respect for the dignity of our fellow human beings.

So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13

Charity in its purest sense means love and encompasses our love for God and our love for our fellow people. Thomas Aquinas said, “the habit of charity extends not only to the love of god but also the love of our neighbour.” These two kinds of love are closely tied to one another.

The Church upholds charity as the greatest of the three theological virtues which includes faith and hope. According to moral theology, charity is a divinely infused virtue which lets us cherish God above all things for His own sake and to cherish man for the sake of God.

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection.  Colossians 3:12-14

Charity is the ultimate perfection of the human spirit since it is a reflection and glorification of God’s nature. It binds all virtues together in perfect harmony. It also purifies and uplifts human love to the perfection of God’s love.

As members of the Catholic Faith we are encouraged to practice charity in different ways. Since the apostolic age, Christians were taught to not just give but to give from the heart to everyone in need regardless of their race or religion because “Christ is all and in all.”

Charity teaches us to have a Christ-like love for our neighbours and even those who might be considered enemies. This kind of love is unconditional and by it we are able to reach out to our brothers and sisters and help relieve any physical, mental, moral or spiritual needs they may have.

The simplest way we can express charity is to speak, act and think with love. We must keep in mind that charity is all about love and as it says in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.

With this Bible verse in mind, let us remember to always treat others with compassion. When we have love in our hearts and minds, it is easy for us to put the needs of others first. We act without self-interest and always with the goal of helping others out.

What are the Gifts of the Holy Spirit?

The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit bestowed upon Christians are

What are the seven sacraments of the Church?

Sacraments are gifts of grace, granted to us by Christ and entrusted to the Church so that we may enjoy eternal life. There are seven Sacraments:

Holy water, Relics and Sacramentals

As well as the sacraments, the Church also has sacramentals, which are often derived from the sacraments. In essence a sacramental is an item which has been appropriately blessed. A rosary is not in and of itself a sacramental, but after blessing, it is. Holy or blessed water is another example of a sacramental. Catholics are generally advised to make plentiful use of sacramentals.

Not all blessings for sacramentals need be granted by a priest. They derive from the baptismal priesthood, so every baptised person is called to be a ‘blessing,' and to bless, so lay people may preside at certain blessings. The more a blessing concerns ecclesial and sacramental life, the more is its administration reserved to the clergy.

The sacraments were instituted by Jesus, while most sacramentals were instituted by the Church. Sacraments give grace by themselves but sacramentals do not.

Not all sacramentals are physical items as such, they can also be non-physical, including music, gestures such as genuflecting and making the sign of the cross, and novenas and other devotional prayers. An exorcism is a sacramental. Some sacramentals are exclusively part of official Church rituals – such as sacred oils – while others are commonly used in parishioners’ private lives – such as candles and rosaries.

These are not magical items or lucky charms, they don’t compel God to take any action. Their use depends on God, who established their efficacy, so their effects are divine, not natural, in their origin.

Certain non-Catholics have expressed concern that the use of sacramentals amounts to the elevation of mere matter to a higher spiritual plane – this stems from age-old heresies known as Dualism, Marcionism, and Manichaeism. Marcion in particular taught that the God of the Old Testament was evil in creating matter, but the God of the New Testament is a different and good God, who raises us to the level of spirit. The less one is entrapped by matter, the closer one is to God. Needless to say, this does not fit well with the sacraments – or with the Incarnation!

Relics are, for example, a body part of a saint, such as bone, blood, or flesh. Second class relics are possessions that a saint owned, and third class relics are objects that have been touched to a first or second class relic or the saint has touched him or herself, with the intention of creating a relic.

Underneath every Catholic altar is a Saint’s relic, usually a bone.

Sacraments work ex opere operato, by the work done – it doesn't matter who does them, as long as the doer has authority, the sacrament is effective.

Sacramentals work ex opere operantis, by the work of the doer, and praesertim operante Ecclesia, especially working through the Church, so a blessing upon a sacramental from an apostate priest would be of less benefit, while a blessing from a very holy person would have greater value.

Sacramentals are generally considered less holy than relics, although their degree of holiness varies depending on who created them.

St. Teresa of Avila extolled the importance of holy water:

"From long experience I have learned that there is nothing like holy water to put devils to flight and prevent them from coming back again. They also flee from the Cross, but return; so holy water must have great virtue. For my own part, whenever I take it, my soul feels a particular and most notable consolation."

Different Rites

The Catholic Church is most properly known as such – “Roman Catholic” is actually a protestant slur. Within the Catholic or universal Church there are twenty three different rites. They are all in full communion with one another, meaning they are not in schism, or separated, like Orthodox or Protestant denominations.

A Catholic may attend any of their liturgies and participate in the Holy Eucharist and other Sacraments offered. While liturgical traditions may look differently among these Catholic rites, based on their location and language, they retain a similar structure with readings from Scripture and the Consecration of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ.

In addition, all of these churches submit to all Catholic doctrines and dogmas defined by the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. Lastly, all churches recognise the primacy of the Pope, who is the patriarch over all the various rites within the Catholic Church.

Latin Rite

The Latin (or Roman) Rite is the largest rite and the only Western Church. It is expressed within three liturgies: Tridentine (Traditional Latin Mass), Novus Ordo (post-Vatican II Mass said in the vernacular), and Anglican Use.

Under the Western Catholic Church, there are other liturgical rites that date from before the mid-1500s:

Byzantine Rite

When most people think of Eastern Catholicism, they think of the Byzantine tradition. It comprises of fourteen unique churches:

Byzantine Liturgical Traditions

Byzantine divine liturgies were written by fourth-century Saints John Chrysostom and Basil the Great.

The Byzantine Rite uses leavened (instead of unleavened) bread for the Eucharist, and small pieces of the Host are placed into the chalice with the Precious Blood. Then, the laity receive the Body and Blood of Christ utilising a small liturgical spoon.

Another distinction between Latin and Byzantine Catholics revolves around veneration. While Latin Catholics venerate the wood of the Cross on Good Friday, Byzantine Catholics venerate Christ’s burial shroud. In addition, Latin Catholics tend to venerate statues, while icons are venerated in the Byzantine tradition.

Alexandrian Rite

The Alexandrian Rite consists of two subgroups: Coptic and Ge’ez rites. Within these subgroups are three churches:

The Coptic Catholic Church traces its lineage back to Saint Mark the Evangelist, while Ethiopians claim that Saints Matthew and Bartholomew spread Christianity to their area.

Alexandrian Liturgical Traditions

The main distinction between the Coptic and Ge’ez rites is language. The Coptic Catholic Church uses Coptic and occasionally Arabic, while the Eritrean and Ethiopian Catholic Churches use Ge’ez.

One unique attribute to the Alexandrian Rite is when the liturgical year begins. Instead of Advent, it begins in late September with the Feast of the Cross. This feast commemorates Saint Helen’s finding of the True Cross.

Antiochene Rite (West Syria)

The ancient rite that blooms from West Syria, or Antioch, includes three churches:

Antiochene Catholics trace their foundation to Saint Peter, who was Bishop of Antioch before he was Bishop of Rome. Therefore, patriarchs of the Maronite (which never split from Rome) and Syriac Churches are considered successors of Saint Peter, similar to bishops in the Latin Rite.
Antiochene Liturgical Traditions

All three of these churches use the West Syrian Rite in their liturgies. What differentiates them is language:

The Mass, or liturgy, is called the Holy Qurbana, which translates to “holy sacrifice.” It is rich in symbolism, as well as symbolic gestures and language.

Armenian Rite

The only church within the Armenian Rite is the Armenian Catholic Church. It dates back to the fourth century, when Armenia was the first country to adopt Christianity as their state religion.

Armenian Liturgical Traditions

The Armenian Catholic Church uses the liturgy of Saint Gregory the Illuminator. He lived in the fourth century and first composed the Divine Liturgy (what Latin Catholics refer to as the Mass) in Syriac.

Similar to the Byzantines, when Armenians have an excess of bread that is not consecrated during the Divine Liturgy, this “blessed bread” (or antidoron) is given to the people after as a sign of fellowship.

Within the liturgical calendar, there are slightly different seasons. For example, the season equivalent to Advent is called Aratchavorats, which begins on the Feast of Christ the King and lasts six to eight weeks.

Chaldean Rite (East Syria)

The Chaldean Rite traces its origins back to Saint Thomas the Apostle, and they are endearingly called “Saint Thomas Christians.” Within this rite are two churches:

While Chaldean Catholics have made their home in North America, they originally hail from India, Iraq, and other Middle Eastern countries.

Chaldean Liturgical Traditions

What sets the Chaldean Catholic churches apart is a red curtain that shrouds the sanctuary. Its significance traces back to the Jewish tradition of the Holy of Holies being separated by a veil, which was only accessed by the High Priest. The Chaldean curtain is similar to the iconostasis (screen of icons) in the Byzantine Rite and the communion rail in the Latin Rite.

All Eastern Churches refer to the Eucharistic Prayer as the anaphora, and the Chaldean Rite uses the oldest ones in the Catholic Church (Liturgy of Mar Addai and Mar Mari), which date back to the third century. The vernacular language is typically used in the anaphora, but Aramaic—the language of Jesus Christ—is also used.

Within the Chaldean liturgical calendar, there are nine seasons. They do not have Ordinary Time. However, they have Advent and the Great Fast (Lent). They honour the Feast of Saint Thomas the Apostle as a Holy Day of Obligation.

Churches Militant, Penitent, and Triumphant

The visible Church on earth is only one part of a much larger reality. In fact the Church is much bigger than you might imagine.

When Catholics say “the Church,” the phrase typically refers to one of three things: a visible house of worship, the hierarchy who lead the religious organisation, or the 1.3 billion members living on earth. However, these definitions of the Catholic Church, while each having their own value, are only part of the picture. There is much more to the Church than meets the eye.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains how there are “three states of the Church … at the present time some of his disciples are pilgrims on earth. Others have died and are being purified, while still others are in glory, contemplating ‘in full light, God himself triune and one, exactly as he is'” (CCC 954).

Traditionally these three states have been referred to as the Church Militant, Church Penitent (also known as Church Suffering or Church Expectant) and Church Triumphant. Together, these three make up the Communion of Saints we confess in the Creed.

Church Militant

While the word “militant” may appear to suggest that the Church on earth is to take up arms in a violent way, the phase refers to our task of being “soldiers of Christ” in the spiritual realm. This concerns our need to battle our sinful passions as well as the spiritual presence of evil in the world. As St. Ignatius of Loyola put it, we need to choose which army we belong to; either that of Christ or that of the World.

Church Penitent

After having struggled on earth to follow Christ’s army, those in need of further purification before entering Heavenly bliss make up the Church Penitent. This stage of further purification is more commonly known as Purgatory and is the “washroom of Heaven” (as C.S. Lewis put it), which cleanses any sins or earthly attachments before the soul embraces the joys of Heaven. The members of the Church Penitent rely heavily on the prayers of the Church Militant so that they may proceed to their eternal embrace with Our Lord.

Church Triumphant

The Church Triumphant are those people who have “run the race” and are crowned with glory in Heaven, the saints. Even though we do not inhabit the same physical space anymore, we are intimately united with them in a spiritual way beyond understanding. Their intercession is vital to our own sanctification and they continually cheer us on as we “fight the good fight” in hopes of joining them one day in the future.

With thanks to Aleteia.

The Duty to Teach

All Catholics have a duty to teach and evangelise, whether by word or by action. Living a good Catholic life can be truly effective evangelisation but for many it often seems the evangelical spirit is missing.

The church exists in large part to evangelise – to proclaim Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit so that people in our times will open their hearts to him and find in the Lord and in his church salvation from their sins and the path to authentic holiness. This mission is directed toward those who have not yet heard the Good News but it is also directed toward those who no longer practice their faith.

Evangelisation was central to the papacy of St. John Paul II. He called for a “new evangelisation” – not new in content, but new “in its ardour, methods and expression.” He reaffirmed the church’s mission to proclaim the Gospel to those who have never heard it but also stressed the obligation of the church to evangelise those whose faith had grown cold and to re-evangelise nations where formerly the faith was strong but now is fading.

Pope Benedict XVI, like his predecessors, emphasised that evangelisation is not merely a programme but also an opening of the heart. It involves our being agents of the Holy Spirit in helping people have a profound experience of Jesus and his love, a love that opens them to the Word of God, the sacraments, to virtuous living and ultimately to their vocation to holiness.

We all have an obligation to teach. Let us fulfill that duty.

The Obligation to Learn

We are all obliged to learn about our faith – simply saying “nobody taught me” or “I was taught poorly” is no excuse, especially in this, the information age. The obligation to learn isn’t confined to learning about Catholicism, it’s also an obligation to properly form our consciences. Conscience is not a matter of preference.

“Conscience must be informed and moral judgment enlightened. A well-formed conscience is upright and truthful. It formulates its judgments according to reason, in conformity with the true good willed by the wisdom of the Creator. The education of conscience is indispensable for human beings who are subjected to negative influence and tempted by sin to prefer their own judgment and to reject authoritative teachings.” (CCC, 1783)

Duties and Rights We Have As Catholics

1. To maintain communion with the Church and fulfil our Christian duties. (209)
2. To seek the truth about God and the Church; to embrace that truth and keep it. (748)
3. To obey Church authority. (212)
4. To express to Church authorities our viewpoint on matters which affect the Church. (212)
5. To lead a holy life. (210)
6. To assist at Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation; to abstain from work or business that inhibits worship, celebration or relaxation on those days. (1247)
7. To take an active part in the celebration of Mass and to receive Communion frequently. (898)
8. To receive Communion at least once a year, during the Easter season. (920)
9. To abstain from food and drink (other than water) one hour before receiving Communion. (919)
10. To refrain from receiving Communion if under the penalty of excommunication, interdict, or grave sin. (915, 916)
11. To make an individual and complete confession of all grave sins, unless physically or morally unable to do so.  (960)
12. To confess grave sins by kind and number at least once a year. (988, 989)
13. To be Confirmed at the proper time. (890)
14. To be married in the presence of a priest (or a lay person designated by the bishop) and two witnesses. (1108, 1112, 1119)
15. To do penance and observe special days of penance established by the Church (such as the Fridays and the season of Lent). (1250)
16. To fast and abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. (1251)
17. To proclaim the Gospel and give witness to Christian faith by our activity in the world. (211, 225)
18. To reject doctrines contrary to the teaching of the Scriptures or those proposed as divinely revealed by the Church. (750)
19. To give "religious submission of intellect and will" to doctrines declared to be matters of faith and morals by the Church. (752)
20. To adhere with a "religious submission of mind" to the authentic teachings of the bishops. (753)
21. To observe other decrees which Church authorities issue to define doctrine or erroneous opinions. (754)
22. To fulfil the responsibilities to one's spouse and family incurred by marriage. (1134, 1135)
23. To build up the family of God through our marriage and family. (226)
24. To baptise our children and raise them in the Catholic faith. (867, 1366)
25. To provide for the religious education of our children. (226, 774)
26. To establish, promote and maintain Catholic schools. (800)
27. To promote social justice according to the Church's teaching. (222)
28. To care for the needs of the poor. (222)
29. To support the church financially. (222, 1262)

Rights We Have As Catholics

1. To be recognised as fundamentally equal with all other Christians. (208)
2. To be free from being forced to embrace the Catholic faith against our conscience. (748)
3. To cooperate in building up the Body of Christ and spreading the Gospel. (208, 211, 225)
4. To make our spiritual needs known to our pastors. (212)
5. To express our opinion to Church authorities concerning what is good for the Church. (212)
6. To choose our vocation or state in life. (219)
7. To worship according to our own rite and to follow our own form of spirituality. (214)
8. To hear the Word of God and receive the sacraments. (213, 843)
9. To receive Holy Communion if we have sufficient understanding and are not forbidden to do so by Church law. (912, 913)
10. To have our confession heard by a priest who is suitably prepared. (970)
11. To confess to a priest of our own choice. (991)
12. To be granted absolution without delay if there is no doubt about the sincerity of our confession. (980)
13. To have our confession treated in absolute confidentiality; to be protected from having information we confess revealed in any way, for any reason. (983, 984)
14. To marry, unless prohibited by law from doing so. (1058)
15. To be supported by the Church in preserving and strengthening our marriage. (1063)
16. To marry a non-Catholic, with the permission of the bishop, under the procedures established by Church law. (1124, 1125)
17. To be separated from a spouse who creates grave danger of soul or body to oneself or our children, or who otherwise makes common life difficult. (1153)
18. To receive a Church funeral and be buried in a Church cemetery (unless we are judged to be notorious apostates, heretics, schismatics, or a sinner whose burial in the Church would cause public scandal). (1176, 1180, 1184)
19. To be cremated (unless done for reasons contrary to Christian teaching). (1180)
20. To have Christian teaching explained in a manner that is suited to our condition in life and the circumstances of the times. (769)
21. To associate with others and to hold meetings for charitable reasons and for reasons related to our vocation in life. (215)
22. To engage in apostolic action, according to our state in life and appropriate preparation. (216)
23. To receive a Christian education, study theology, and research theological issues. (217, 218, 229)
24. To choose the means which can best promote the education of our children and to seek the assistance of civil society in the education of our children. (793)
25. To have our good name and reputation protected. (220)
26. To have our privacy respected. (220)
27. To be protected from unnecessary or unfair penalties and the arbitrary imposition of penalties not specifically required by Church law. (221, 1316, 1319)
28. To be protected from penalties imposed for violations resulting from ignorance or misunderstanding and from penalties imposed without warning. (1321, 1323, 1339, 1341)
29. To vindicate our rights in a church court when they have been violated. (221)
30. To hold certain offices in the Church for which we are qualified. (228, 230, 766, 776, 910, 1112)
31. To receive a just wage if we are employed by the Church. (231)
32. To exercise the rights guaranteed to us as citizens by civil law. (227)

Traditional Precepts of the Church

According to the traditional “Precepts of the Church” or “Laws of the Church” Catholics have an obligation:

[cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1994 (#2041-2043).]

With thanks to Waterloo Catholics.

Obedience to Civil Authority?

While Catholics are for the most part bound to obey civil authorities, pay their taxes and so forth, authority does not derive its moral legitimacy from itself. It must not behave in a despotic manner, but must act for the common good as a moral force based on freedom and a sense of responsibility: A human law has the character of law to the extent that it accords with right reason, and thus derives from the eternal law. Insofar as it falls short of right reason it is said to be an unjust law, and thus has not so much the nature of law as of a kind of violence. (CCC 1902)

Authority is exercised legitimately only when it seeks the common good of the group concerned and if it employs morally licit means to attain it. If rulers were to enact unjust laws or take measures contrary to the moral order, such arrangements would not be binding in conscience. In such a case, authority breaks down completely and results in shameful abuse. (CCC 1903)

Our duty in such cases is explained in the Catechism:

The citizen is obliged in conscience not to follow the directives of civil authorities when they are contrary to the demands of the moral order, to the fundamental rights of persons or the teachings of the Gospel. Refusing obedience to civil authorities, when their demands are contrary to those of an upright conscience, finds its justification in the distinction between serving God and serving the political community. “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” “We must obey God rather than men”:

When citizens are under the oppression of a public authority which oversteps its competence, they should still not refuse to give or to do what is objectively demanded of them by the common good; but it is legitimate for them to defend their own rights and those of their fellow citizens against the abuse of this authority within the limits of the natural law and the law of the gospel. (CCC 2242)

The Four Last Things

In Catholic teachings, the Four Last Things are Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell, the four final stages of the soul in life and the afterlife.


Martin of Cochem explains that "there are three principal reasons why all sensible people fear death so much: First, because the love of life, the dread of death is inherent in human nature. Secondly, because every rational being is well aware that death is bitter, and the separation of soul and body cannot take place without inexpressible suffering. Thirdly, because no one knows whither he will go after death, or how he will stand in the Day of Judgment."

Or as Alphonsus Liguori wrote in his meditations: "We must die: how awful is the decree! We must die. The sentence is passed: It is appointed for all men once to die. Heb. 9:27"

The Last Judgment

Of the final judgment, Alphonsus Liguori writes that, "the last day is called in Scripture a day of wrath and misery; and such it will be for all those unhappy beings who shall have died in mortal sin; for on that day their most secret crimes will be made manifest to the whole world, and themselves separated from the company of the saints, and condemned to the eternal prison of hell, where they will suffer all the agonies of ever dying yet always remaining alive."


Of heaven, Richard Challoner in his famous work Think Well On't writes, " Consider, that if God's justice is so terrible in regard to his enemies, how much more will his mercy, his goodness, his bounty declare itself in favour of his friends! Mercy and goodness are his favourite attributes, in which he most delights: his tender mercies says the royal prophet, Ps. 144. are over all his works.


Luis de la Puente writes concerning The nature of hell: "Hell is a perpetual prison, full of fire and of innumerable and very terrible torments, to chastise perpetually such as die in mortal sin. Or, again, hell is an eternal state, wherein sinners, for the punishment of their sins, want all that good which they may desire for their content, and endure all kinds of evils which they may fear for their torment. So that in hell is joined together the privation of all that good which men enjoy in this life and angels in the other, and the presence of all those evils which afflict men in this life and the devils in the other."

Reading and Daily Routine

Both as part of our obligation to educate ourselves about Catholicism and as part of our daily routine, there are many helpful books available. Some of these are listed below:

Good Habits:

Make prayer part of your everyday routine. Say a prayer in the morning, a quick prayer before meals, and a prayer before you go to sleep at night. These don’t have to be the full formal and elaborate prayers you might find in some books, but even a quick Our Father will see you right.

It’s also worth thinking about doing an examination of conscience each night to help spot patterns of sin, figure out where you went wrong, and think about ways to overcome those bad patches. In particular pay attention to occasions of sin, situations where you might be tempted to anger, greed or other vices purely because of the circumstances, and ways they might be avoided.

Live a full Catholic life. Smile, try to see the good in people, be kind to others. If you see an opportunity to to good, go ahead and do it. Connect with people on social media to build friendships and generally defuse the swirling vortex of negativity that is social media with positive and beautiful posts. Forgive and forget, don't become grim or bitter.

Don’t let a day go by in which you did not do something for someone else. Consider getting involved in your community, helping out with a charity, maybe some voluntary work once a week - it doesn't need to be earthshaking, just lend a hand where you can. People spend their whole lives searching for God and all they had to do to find Him was look at the poor and the downtrodden.

Normal work you do can also be offered up to God, particularly if it’s difficult or complicated work. Even washing the dishes can become a positive experience!

It would do no harm to make the sign of the cross and bless yourself when passing a church or graveyard too. In the former case, it is out of respect for the Eucharist which resides in Catholic churches, a sign of awe and reverence. In the latter case, it is out of respect for the dead.

Remember that growing in these daily habits, just like taking on a diet or a physical exercise program, is a gradual work in progress. You may slip, fall or backslide - don't worry, pick yourself up and keep going, God has great patience with those who earnestly try.

If you can, also remember your day can be spiritually enriched with Mass or by Eucharistic adoration for a while, allowing you to contemplate your relationship with Jesus.

A bit of spiritual reading is a great balm – works like Butler’s Lives of the Saints make for not only interesting study, but allow us to connect with the lives of those who came before us. The Saints were people just like you and me, and we can ask for their intercession through prayer. Who knows, we may even find they walked a path we might want to follow! Develop a relationship with the Saints, the benefits can be immense. Important Catholic works like The City of God by Saint Augustine make for a remarkable learning experience too.

Lastly, learning the calendar of the Church, the feast days and holy days, when to fast and abstain, as well as trying keep a spiritual element in Christmas and Easter time are all key parts of being Catholic.

Charity may be a very short word, but with its tremendous meaning of pure love, it sums up man's entire relation to God and to his neighbour.

- St Aelred of Rievaulx

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The road must be trod

“The road must be trod, but it will be very hard. And neither strength nor wisdom will carry us far upon it. This quest may be attempted by the weak with as much hope as the strong. Yet it is oft the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world: Small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere.”

The greatest adventure is what lies ahead.
Today and tomorrow are yet to be said.
The chances, the changes are all yours to make.
The mold of your life is in your hands to break.

― J.R.R. Tolkien


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