There are more than two billion Christians around the world, divided into different groups or denominations. The largest of these is the Roman Catholic Church. There are Roman Catholic Christians all over the world. Christians in all these churches share core beliefs centred on the teachings of Jesus Christ and the importance of his life, death and resurrection for humanity. But there are differences in some aspects of their beliefs and also some practices – for example, the way they are governed and the style and content of their church services.
The leader of the Roman Catholic Church is called the Pope. He lives in the Vatican in Rome and his authority holds the church together. The Pope is recognised as being the latest of an unbroken line of leaders that stretches back to Jesus’ friend Peter. Peter was the leader of the very first church, a role that was given to him by Jesus himself. In the Bible book, Matthew, Jesus says ‘You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church.’
The Pope regularly offers new insights into the teaching which has sustained the Church through the centuries. These are called encyclicals, or papal bulls and they have authority in the Roman Catholic Church.
The leader of the Roman Catholic Church is called the Pope.
RomanCatholic church services
The service of Mass is central to the spiritual life of Roman Catholic Christians. During Mass, everyone shares bread and wine to remember the sacrifice made by Jesus Christ when he died on the cross. In doing so, Christians are following the instruction of Jesus who initiated the ceremony on the night before he died. In other denominations this is known as Holy Communion or the Eucharist. Roman Catholic Christians believe that the bread and wine actually become Jesus’ body and blood during the service.
Church services will also include prayers and readings from the Bible. The priest will give a short talk or homily and those present might sing some hymns. Sometimes Mass is a quiet and simple service; on other occasions incense might be lit to create sweet-smelling smoke. For centuries Mass was conducted in Latin so that the words of the service were the same all over the world. But since the 1960s, Mass has usually been conducted the language of the country where it is taking place. Sometimes the service might be in another language for the benefit of migrant communities.
Jesus’ mother, Mary, is venerated by Roman Catholics Christians as the most important of the saints. They believe that she intercedes on their behalf when they pray – in other words, she speaks to God on their behalf.
Roman Catholics might use a rosary to help them pray. This is a string of beads which helps them to focus on special prayers.
Roman Catholic churches often have statues of Jesus, Mary and other saints or early leaders of the Church, such as Peter. They might also have paintings of the ‘Stations of the Cross’. These depict significant moments in Jesus’ final day before he was crucified. Roman Catholic Christians often make the sign of the cross when they first enter a church building and when they pray. They might also light candles as part of their prayers.
All priests in the Roman Catholic Church are male and must remain unmarried.