The world’s Christians are spread across many countries and cultures, so it is not surprising that they are divided into different groups. The groups are called denominations, and the largest of them is the Roman Catholic Church. There are Roman Catholic Christians throughout the length and breadth of the planet.
The leader of the Roman Catholic Church is called the Pope. 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. He was the leader of the very first church, a role that was given to him by Jesus himself. 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 worldwide. In recent decades Roman Catholics have been encouraged also to read and learn from the Bible themselves.
Eating bread and drinking wine to remember Jesus is central to the life of a Roman Catholic Christian. The service is called the Mass. Faithful Roman Catholics attend Mass every Sunday and at major Christian festivals. For many centuries these services were in Latin, which meant that the words were exactly the same in every nation. Since the 1960s the service has been in the language of the country where it is taking place. This means it can be understood by more people (although some lament the loss of worldwide unity). Sometimes the Mass is celebrated simply and with quiet devotion. On other occasions it involves magnificent colour, music and incense.
Roman Catholic churches often have statues of Jesus, his mother Mary, and other saints. ‘Stations of the cross’ are a series of paintings which show the story of the last, terrible day of Jesus’ life. Actions play a significant part in Roman Catholic prayers. You might see Christians making the sign of the cross on their body, fingering a string of beads called a rosary to help focus on their prayers, lighting candles, or sinking reverently to one knee before the bread and wine (genuflecting).
Pursuing justice for the nation’s and the world’s poorest people features strongly in Roman Catholic life. There is a great deal of duty and devotion, particularly among priests who are all male and remain single.
Nearly five hundred years ago the Protestant churches separated from the Roman Catholic Church, creating many new denominations. You can read about this on the page about the history of Christianity of Christianity called 16th century: Reformation.
What the Bible says about it
An extract from the Bible:
Know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the Church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great:
Jesus appeared in a body,
was vindicated by the Spirit,
was seen by angels,
was preached among the nations,
was believed on in the world,
was taken up in glory.
Where to find it:
1 Timothy 3:15-16
About these words:
Writing to his young successor, Paul (one of the very first leaders of Christianity) writes about how important the Church is as a foundation for everything Christians believe.
And they said…
Pope Francis, leader of the world’s Roman Catholics:
I dream of a church that is a mother and a shepherdess … Oh how I would love a poor church. And a church for the poor.
Eric Gill, sculptor, 1882-1940:
I became a Catholic because I fell in love with the truth. And love is an experience. I saw. I heard. I felt. I tasted. I touched. And that is what lovers do.
Richard of Chichester, bishop and saint, 1197-1253:
O most merciful Redeemer, Friend and Brother, may I know thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, and follow thee more nearly, day by day.