Catholicism 101

Understanding the Basics of Our Faith

Ever wonder why we Catholics do the things we do?  Here are some basic answers.

What do we believe about who is Jesus Christ?

He is God the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity. He is God for all eternity. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and was born of the Virgin Mary, without ceasing to be God. Jesus Christ is true God and true man, or God become flesh (the Incarnation, to become flesh). For our salvation, he was crucified, died, and was buried. He rose again on the third day. The name "Jesus" means "God saves." The title "Christ" means "anointed one."

What is Communion?

Communion (or Eucharist) is the centerpiece of the Catholic Mass. We believe Jesus instituted the first Communion with His apostles during the Last Supper, when He told His disciples to continue doing this "in memory of me" until He returns. Catholics believe that during the Eucharistic prayers, through the power of the Holy Spirit, the host becomes the body of Christ and the wine becomes the blood of Christ. It is not merely a symbol, but Christ’s true presence. When Catholics receive Communion, they receive Christ, who unites us to Himself so that by sharing in his Body and Blood we form a single body. The word Eucharist means thanksgiving.

What is the Mass?

The Catholic Mass -- also known as the Eucharist and the Eucharistic liturgy -- was first celebrated as the Last Supper. The Mass is a memorial of  Christ's suffering and death (by which He saved us from our sins) and His resurrection. At the Mass, Catholics:

  • pray for forgiveness of their sins
  • hear Bible passages and a reflection on what those readings mean
  • pray for others
  • celebrate and witness the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ
  • receive Christ in Communion
  • are sent forth to continue the work of Jesus in their daily lives.

The word Mass comes from the Latin phrase "Ite, Missa Est". Literally, "Go, it is dismissed". When Catholics celebrate the Eucharist they are gathered at both the altar of Christ's sacrifice and the table of the Lord. The Eucharist is both the source and summit of the Christian life.

What is a Sacrament?

Sacraments are outward signs of grace instituted by Christ to give us a share in God's own life and make us holy. Sacraments build up the Church and give worship to God. There are seven sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation and First Eucharist are Sacraments of Initiation. By Baptism we are born anew as adopted children of God. We are given a share of God's divine life, and all sins are forgiven. By Baptism we become members of the Church and are bonded to other Christians. Confirmation strengthens us in the Holy Spirit. In the Eucharist we receive the Body and Blood of Christ, the food of eternal life.

Penance (or Reconciliation) and the Anointing of the Sick are Sacraments of Healing. In Penance we receive forgiveness for our sins; the Anointing of the Sick strengthens the ill.

Holy Orders for ordained ministers (bishops, priests and deacons) and Marriage for a man and woman are Sacraments of Service to others.

Is God one person or three?

Catholics believe in the Trinity, or three persons in one God: Father, Son (Jesus) and Holy Spirit. The Trinity is the central mystery of the Catholic faith. It is classified as a mystery, which means that it is beyond human understanding.

What are Saints?

Saints are people who lived a holy life and after their death enjoy eternal life with God in heaven. However, saints aren't perfect. Some saints, such as Sts. Paul, Augustine and Ignatius of Loyola, did not lead model lives before their conversions. Saints are role models for Catholics, but Catholics don't worship saints. Instead, Catholics ask the saints to intercede on their behalf, just as we would ask any good friend to pray for us.

Why is Mary so significant in the Catholic faith?

Mary is the virgin mother of God -- our redeemer, Jesus Christ. Her life serves as an example of complete faith and trust in God. Mary, as Jesus' mother, plays an important role in the story of human redemption. Contrary to popular opinion, Catholics do not worship Mary as a god. Rather, we see her as a power intercessor (one who prays for us).

Please note: these are just basic statements of our faith, that have fuller, more comprehensive explanations on the based on Sacred Scripture and Tradition.