Central Characteristics of Roman Catholicism

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This handout from the Horizons senior high parish religious education program lists fifteen primary characteristics of Roman Catholicism. These come from a distinctly "inside Catholic" worldview that has a certain perspective on nature and the meaning of life. An ideal resource for the classroom, as well as faculty and staff formation.

Catholicism is a remarkably rich religion, characterized by a complex tapestry of beliefs, practices, values, rituals, traditions, and more. When viewed "from the outside"--that is, by those who do not share its communal life--Catholicism is probably most frequently identified by its most public expressions, such as its communal worship and the well-known and central role played by the pope.

The active Catholic, however, experiences the Catholic Church "from the inside" and takes on what could be called a particular Catholic worldview, a certain Catholic perspective on the nature and meaning of life. Here are some of the primary characteristics of that Catholic worldview:

1. Catholics believe that God is present to, in, and through all dimensions of existence--the natural world, persons, communities, historical events, natural objects--that is, in all creation.

2. Catholics are convinced that God uses all these elements of creation to communicate grace, that is, to reveal God's own nature and to enter into relationship with people.

3. Catholics have a profound sense of discovering, experiencing, and responding to God in union with other believers, that is, within community.

4. Catholicism is committed to proclaiming the message of Jesus to all people in all cultures and at all times.

5. Catholicism is open to all truth and to every good value, no matter what its origin.

6. Catholics, though diverse in terms of culture, are united in terms of faith, especially in the celebration of the Eucharist.

7. Catholicism is historically rooted in the experience and witness of the Apostles and in the life of the earliest community of believers, whose story is told in the Christian Scriptures.

8. The beliefs and practices of Catholicism are rooted in both the Scriptures and Tradition. Tradition refers to the teachings and practices that have emerged through the church's history under the guidance of the Spirit.

 9. Catholicism tries to take a position of "both-and" rather than "either-or" in regard to most matters.

10. Catholicism respects and embraces a wide variety of spiritualities and prayer forms.

11. Catholicism recognizes and respects the human capacity for rational thought as a profoundly important gift of God, and it urges its members to seek truth wherever it can be found.

12. Catholics recognize the authorized leadership role of the ordained minister and, in a special way, that of the bishops and the pope.

13. Catholics believe in the principle of shared leadership and the call to ministry of all believers.

14. Catholics honor and hold in particular esteem the great people of faith who have preceded them, the saints, and in a very special way, the mother of Jesus, Mary.

15. Catholics are committed to the transformation of the world through active engagement in the work of justice and peace.


Published January 1, 1996.