Catholic 101

The Monstrance is carried through the streets during the 5th Annual Eucharistic Procession in Cincinnati Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019.

Lesson I: Church

Catholics are Christians. In fact, Catholics were the first Christians, tracing the origins of the Catholic Church to AD 33 when Jesus founded the Catholic Church on St. Peter the Rock. The word Catholic, derived from the Latin catholicus, comes from the Greek adjective καθολικός (katholikos) meaning “universal.” The word was first recorded, in relation to Christianity, by St. Ignatius of Antioch, who was ordained by St. John the Apostle. In AD 105, Ignatius used the word in a letter he wrote on his way to be martyred by lions at the Colosseum in Rome. It translates to the English word “universal” and comes from the Greek word meaning “on the whole, according to the whole, in general.” It’s how the ancient world would say “non-denominational, non-sectarian” and “non-ethnic.” In other words, that which is the norm everywhere. This word was used to distinguish Catholic Christianity from the Judaizers (those who said Christianity was just for Jews), and various heretics who started their own fake Christian denominations/cults in the ancient world. “Wherever the bishop appears, there let the people be; as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.” —  St. Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Smyrnaeans 8, AD 105, J.R. Willis translation.

Literally, everything we know about Jesus Christ comes to us from the Catholic Church. It was the Catholic Church that gave us the Bible (Old Testament and New Testament) in AD 400, after nearly a century of careful research and compiling of Christian and Jewish writings from antiquity. Without the Catholic Church, our knowledge of Jesus Christ, and the good news he preached, would be virtually non-existent today. 

The Church Jesus established is called “Catholic” because it was meant for all peoples of the world (not just the Jews), and is not limited to one way of doing things. While the teachings and sacraments of Christianity are the same everywhere (Catholic), that does not mean Christianity is a monolith, where everyone does everything the exact same way. The Catholic Church consists of many different rites and churches, all in communion with the pope, who is the successor of St. Peter. Currently, there are seven main rites in the Catholic Church, (a rite is a different way of doing worship), and twenty-four different juridic churches within the Catholic Church. There are also many sub-rites, forms and uses. In other words, the Catholic Church is open to a lot of diversity within a single standard of Faith. What unites Catholics is one standard of doctrine (teaching), seven sacraments, and communion with the pope.

There is no such thing as “Roman Catholic.” The term is colloquially used to describe Christians who are in communion with the pope, who happens to live in Rome, but this is not an official term within the Catholic Church. The term likely originated among Protestants five-hundred years ago, who wanted to keep calling themselves “catholic,” but who also wanted to distinguish themselves from actual Catholics in communion with the pope in Rome. So the terms “papist” and “Romanist” were originally used by Protestants in reference to actual Catholics. Later, the term “Roman Catholic” was born, and used in contrast to the word “catholic” among those Protestants who wanted to keep using the Apostles Creed and Nicene Creed, where the term is found at the end of both: “I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic church” — Nicene Creed. Even later, Catholics started using the term “Roman Catholic” in reference to themselves, adopting it as a badge of honor, in the same way Americans adopted the British insult “Yankee” in reference to the American colonists who rebelled in the eighteenth century.

The proper and official term for Catholics is “Latin Rite Catholic,” or “Latin Catholic,” in reference to the majority of Catholics in the West, who use the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church, or one of its many variants. Though, it should be pointed out, that there are also Byzantine Catholics, Syriac Catholics, Coptic Catholics and Armenian Catholics in the East, who are just as much “Catholic” as Latin Catholics, but are not “Latin.” The best way to refer to Catholics is to just use the word “Catholic” alone, or else “Catholic Christian,” but colloquially speaking, the terms Catholic and Christian are interchangeable, just as the terms Baptist and Christian are interchangeable, Lutheran and Christian are interchangeable, and Methodist and Christian are interchangeable.

The Catholic Church is the largest Christian church in the world, at 1.3 billion members globally. In the United States, the Catholic Church is also the largest Christian organization. Even though the United States is technically a Protestant nation, because there are far more Protestants than Catholics, these Protestants are divided among hundreds of different denominations and affiliations. The largest Protestant denomination in the United States is the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) at 13.6 million members, roughly four times smaller than the U.S. Catholic Church (USCCB) at 70.4 million members.

Membership in the Catholic Church is determined by Trinitarian baptism. That means if one is baptized “In the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” then one is baptismally a member of the Catholic Church. Now, that doesn’t mean that one is an official member though. To become an official member, so as to properly be called Catholic, one must actually join the Catholic Church officially. This means that all Christians (those with Trinitarian baptism) have at least some imperfect, baptismal membership in the Catholic Church, but many are not official members. This would include Protestants. The membership numbers cited above, at 1.3 billion worldwide and 70.4 million in the United States, are only counting official members of the Catholic Church. They do not count those who have imperfect, baptismal membership.

Lesson II: God

Catholics accept Jesus Christ as God’s only begotten Son, which means that he is God himself, made flesh and blood, both fully human and fully divine. This belief is called the Incarnation. Jesus Christ is the human-divine incarnation of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity.

The incarnation of God the Son, in Jesus Christ, happened through the Blessed Virgin Mary, using her genetic material alone, in a miraculous way, without any sexual activity on her part. Jesus Christ’s human father (St. Jospeh) was purely adoptive. Jesus had no earthy father. According to some ancient Christian traditions, St. Joseph was a widower who had children by a previous marriage. These were the so-called “brothers of Christ.” They were stepbrothers. Joseph’s arranged marriage to the Blessed Virgin Mary was setup by the Temple authorities to guard her virginity. According to that same tradition, Mary was a Temple virgin who served in the Temple since early childhood.

Jesus Christ’s actual “father” was God the Father, not in a carnal sense, but in the sense that his divine Person was begotten of the Father in eternity. His later conception in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary was the miraculous event that happened simply by the will of God when Mary verbally accepted her role, saying to the angel: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your word.”

Catholics believe in the Holy Trinity, which means that there is only one God, but that substance of God is eternally present in three divine Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Catholics believe the substance of God is the Holy Trinity, and the Name of the substance is יהוה (YHWH), according to the Hebrew expression, and is commonly expressed in English as Yahweh. 

Yahweh (God the Holy Trinity) created the universe and everything therein.

Yahweh (God the Holy Trinity) exists outside of the universe, and the creation is not to be confused with its Creator. God and the universe are two different things. The only physical connectivity that God himself has with the universe is Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, whose humanity is part of the universe. However, the divinity of Jesus Christ is still outside of the universe. The universe and God are intimately connected together only in Jesus Christ, one Person with two natures, one fully human and the other fully divine. This is why Jesus Christ is the only way to God.

The Holy Spirit is God.

The Holy Spirit is the Person of God who inspires and motivates people to move toward God. He is the Person of God who interacts with all human beings. He is a Person, not a “force” or some non-personal thing.

The Son is begotten of God the Father, and the Holy Spirit proceeds from God the Father and God the Son.

Lesson III: Mankind

Mankind was created by God, in the image of God, meaning that men and women (unlike animals) are able to have a relationship with God and they have free will. The natural processes that God used to create mankind are not totally known. We have scientific theories, from the natural world, showing that mankind is related to higher apes in physical characteristics, but the complete nature of that relationship is not fully known. From divine revelation (both Tradition and Scripture) we know that God created mankind separate from the animals and holds us to a much higher standard than the animals. Also from divine revelation we learn the mankind was created beneath the angels (spirit beings), who are of a much higher order in creation. It would appear, again from divine revelation, that God holds the angels to an even higher standard than mankind.

The Catholic Church does not reject science, but actually played a role in the creation of the scientific method, and encourages scientific study as a way that mankind can better understand God through the natural universe God created. The Catholic Church considers science to be a discipline, not a religion, that deals in the discovery of facts, not the formulation of truth. Facts and truth are considered to be two completely different things. Facts answer what it is. Truth answers why it is. This is why Catholics are free to believe in scientific theories, such as guided evolution for example, while at the same time accepting the Biblical and Traditional accounts of creation. Christians have never unanimously accepted that the universe was created in six, literal days. Most ancient Christians subscribed to the day-age theory, wherein each “day” of the Biblical creation-account was attributed to a long period of time. Today, the Catholic Church reminds us that the Bible is not a scientific textbook and was never meant to be. The three creation stories (Genesis 1, Genesis 2 and John 1) are meant to convey religious truths not scientific facts. The Christian faith is built on the four Gospels of the New Testament (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), not the first two chapters of Genesis.

Mankind’s creation in the image of God is evidenced by his ability to communicate in complicated language, manipulating the world around him, controlling his environment, and asserting dominance over other physical creatures (both plant and animal), as well as dominance over nature itself by building structures and vehicles for travel across the land, sea, sky and space. Mankind imitates the Creator by creating things, both practical things for the improvement of his quality of life, and artistic things for the enrichment of his life. Mankind also demonstrates his creation in the image of God through discipline, by depriving himself of immediate good for the benefit of long-term good, even to the point of depriving his animal instincts for the greater good of both himself and others. Mankind further demonstrates his likeness in the image of God by enforcing objective standards of right and wrong, that exceed even the comprehension of the highest animals. Finally, mankind demonstrates his image of God by seeking to have a relationship with God, something that is not evident in plants or animals.

Mankind was created by God in a state of innocence, meaning he had no knowledge of good and evil. Mankind was created without sin — immaculate. However, both Tradition and Scripture reveal that mankind, at the prompting of a fallen angel (Satan), chose to rebel against God, opting for the chance to become a god himself, deciding for himself what is good and evil. Satan’s temptation of mankind involves the first exploration of atheism — the idea of a universe without God — wherein mankind becomes his own god and determines his own morality apart from God. This rebellion against God was called “original sin,” and through it mankind introduced immeasurable hardship upon himself. The Christian Faith teaches that this was the beginning of mankind’s problems which threaten not only his wellbeing in this life, but also his eternal destiny. God will not force himself upon mankind against his will, and since God is the source of all happiness, an eternity without God is called hell. 

Mankind was in need of a Savior, who could undo the damage done by original sin, and simultaneously bridge the gap between mankind’s physical nature and God’s spiritual nature. This is why Yahweh sent himself as a Savior, with the Second Person of the Holy Trinity (the Son), taking upon himself humanity from the Virgin, in the form of Jesus Christ, the incarnate God-Man.

Lesson IV: Atonement

God did not delay in working his plan of atonement after the Fall of mankind into original sin. The Scriptures record that God immediately began the process of separating mankind from the enemy who deceived him (Satan), restraining that enemy, while teaching mankind that only through sacrificial death can atonement be made for their rebellion. The Scriptures teach us, through symbolic narrative, that God killed two animals, clothing our original parents with their skins, and then gave a prophecy that their redemption would come through one of their descendants. 

The Old Testament of the Bible records the long process God used to bring about his plan of atonement for mankind. It spanned many generations. In order to be saved, mankind must first be educated to understand what salvation is. God first taught our ancestors about conscience and consequence, then about sacrifice and covenant, then about law and worship, finally culminating in the prophecies and promises of the coming Savior. This is all recorded in the Old Testament history of the Hebrew people and the Nation of Israel.

In the fullness of time, when the world was at relative peace under the reign of the Roman Empire, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, God the Son, became incarnate (fully God and fully Man) through a Hebrew woman — the Blessed Virgin Mary — to work out his final plan. By entering the universe, God became united to our universe, in the physical matter of flesh and blood. The Creator became united with his creation, in the God-Man named Jesus of Nazareth.

The name “Jesus” is an English version of the Latin Iesus, which comes from the Greek Ἰησοῦς (Iesous), which comes from the Aramaic and Hebrew name ישוע (Y’shua or Yah-shua) meaning “Yahweh is salvation.”

The word “Christ” is from the Greek Χρίστος (Kristos), a transliteration of the Hebrew word “Messiah,” from the Hebrew המשיח (HaMashiach), which means “Anointed One” and it’s usually in reference to a savior-king. So to say “Jesus Christ” is to say “Jesus the Anointed One” or “Jesus the Anointed Savior-King” if you want to transliterate its full-intended meaning into English.

Jesus Christ came to bridge the gap between God and mankind. He did this in two ways. The first way was through his death. By dying, he paid the penalty for man’s sins, making it possible to restore the original relationship between God and man. The second was by rising from the dead. Through resurrection, he created the way human beings can live forever with God, obliterating the veil of separation between life and death. So that in Christ, even the dead now live fully restored to God in heaven. They are aware of everything in heaven and on earth, able to intercede to God on behalf of the living, until the end of time, when all will be resurrected physically (like Christ), and receive their eternal reward. Until then, the living on earth may even invoke the prayers of the living in heaven, asking for their intercession as prayer partners, while we all await the final resurrection at the end of the world. This is what is meant by prayer to the Saints. Jesus Christ, through his death and resurrection, atoned for our sins and fundamentally changed the natural order of life and death. Jesus Christ is God, and only God Himself could accomplish this task.

Anyone (regardless of race, nationality or station in life) can receive this gift of atonement, which is reconciliation with God and all that entails, by placing his trust in Jesus Christ and doing as he says. Jesus commanded anyone who follows him to repent of one’s sins, believe the good news, and be baptized. This leads to salvation.

For non-Catholics, this means repenting of sins, believing the gospel, and being baptized in the Name of the Holy Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit).


For Catholics, who are already baptized, this means returning to the Faith whenever mortal sin is committed.


Those who follow this pattern have reasonable hope of eternal salvation.

Lesson V: Kingdom

Jesus Christ is King. He is King of his people, the Hebrews (or Jews), even if not all Jews believe that right now. He is King of his Kingdom (the Church). He is King of all mankind, even if not all mankind believes that right now. He is King of the world. He is King of the universe. By taking on humanity, God elevated the nature of humanity above and beyond everything else in the universe. At the end of the world, this reality will become more clear and visible. Jesus Christ, the God-Man, is the supreme apex of the universe, the perfect union of the Creator and his creation, the King of everything.

The Kingdom of God is not some future event. It is right now. As Jesus said, it is like a mustard seed that starts as the smallest of seeds, but grows into the largest of plants (a tree). Currently, the Kingdom of God is manifested in the world as the Church, particularly the Catholic Church, but the Church has two other manifestations that cannot be seen. The Church Militant is what we see in the world, advancing against evil throughout history. The Church Suffering consists of departed souls on their way to heaven, which is called purgatory. The Church Triumphant is the largest, consisting of all departed souls now in heaven and able to intercede for those still on earth. 

The Kingdom of God is also Kingdom Israel, which is the fulfillment of Old Testament Israel. Kingdom Israel is exactly what it sounds like, where Jesus Christ is recognized as King, and his Kingdom (Church) consists of people of all races, nationalities and stations of life. At the end of the world, after passing through a time of extreme persecution and martyrdom, the Church Triumphant will victoriously return with Christ in the skies to fulfill its destiny. 

Since Jesus Christ is King, the pope functions as his Prime Minister on earth, representing him in that way. Everyone knows the Prime Minister is not the King, but everyone also knows that the Prime Minister occupies a position of authority given to him by the King. Until the King returns, at the end of the world, the Prime Minister (pope) occupies a position of administrative and pastoral authority over the worldwide Catholic Church.

All Christians, especially Catholics, should strive to make Jesus the King over their personal lives, their families, and as much as possible, their neighborhoods, communities, cities and states (countries). This means personally living by Christian teachings, creating homes with family rules and traditions that respect Christ as King, and as much as possible, helping with local charities, as well as seeking to enact ordinances and laws that bring glory to Christ. The Church is the Kingdom of God in present reality, and all things should be brought into subordination to the Kingdom. Subordination to the Kingdom is subordination to Jesus the King.

Lesson VI: Sacraments

The Kingdom of God (the visible Church) is manifest in the world in seven sacraments. A sacrament is a sign that God gives to make his grace visible. Jesus Christ instituted the sacraments within the Church. To be valid, a sacrament must have: matter, form and intent. If a sacrament is attempted, and does not contain the proper matter, form and intent, it is not valid. The seven sacraments are: (1) baptism, (2) confirmation, (3) eucharist, (4) healing, (5) confession, (6) matrimony and (7) orders.

Baptism is the visible means of entry into the Church (Kingdom). The matter is water, the form is the Trinitarian formula, the intent is self explanatory. All Trinitarian baptisms are valid, regardless of who performs them. Only those performed by a Catholic deacon, presbyter (priest) or bishop are licit (legal) unless there is danger of death. If the latter, anyone may licitly baptize.

Confirmation is the visible means of bestowing the Holy Spirit upon a Christian. The matter is the laying of hands, the form is the liturgical words, the intent is self explanatory. Only a Catholic bishop, or a presbyter (priest) with his permission, may validly bestow the sacrament of confirmation.

Eucharist comes from the Greek εὐχαριστία (eucharistia), meaning “thanksgiving,” and is the visible presence of Jesus Christ’s body, blood, soul and divinity under the mere appearance of bread and wine. Only a Catholic bishop or presbyter (priest) may validly confect the eucharist. When the eucharist is received by a Christian, this is called “holy communion,” wherein the Christian communes with God present in the eucharist under the mere appearance of bread and wine. To properly receive the eucharist, the Christian must confess and repent of all known mortal sin, and fast for one-hour prior to receiving. 

Healing is just as it sounds. It is the sacrament wherein the minister (bishop or presbyter) asks God to grant both physical and spiritual healing to the recipient. It is usually sought during a serious illness. The matter is the anointing with oil, the form is the liturgical words, the intent is self explanatory.

Confession is when a repentant sinner, who is already baptized, wishes to return to a state of full communion with the Church and a right state before God. This is done through a private confession of sins to the minister (bishop of presbyter), followed by the administration of absolution. The matter and form are the words of absolution. The intent is self explanatory.

Matrimony is when a Christian man and women seek to be married before God and within the Church. Jesus Christ elevated marriage to a the level of a sacrament for his followers (Christians) when he attended the wedding feast at Cana and performed his first miracle there, at the request of the Blessed Virgin Mary, as recorded in the Gospel of John. The ministers of Matrimony are the man and the woman. The bishop, presbyter (priest) or deacon preside as an official witness for the Church. The matter is the man and woman in the wedding ceremony. The form are the vows exchanged. The intent is self explanatory. 

Orders (or Holy Orders) is the ordination of a deacon, presbyter (priest) or bishop. Only a Catholic bishop can administer valid orders. The matter is the laying of a bishop’s hands upon a biological man, the form is the liturgy of ordination, the intent is self explanatory. The bishop must also have apostolic succession, meaning his own ordination can be traced back to an original Apostle of Jesus Christ. If it cannot, then its validity is in question. 

The presence of all seven sacraments within a church means the church is sacramentally Catholic. Some churches, not currently in full-communion with Rome, still have valid Catholic sacraments. Chief among these groups are the Eastern Orthodox Christians. Most Protestant churches, however, forfeited their apostolic succession centuries ago, and therefore their only valid sacraments (illicit but still valid) are baptism and matrimony. This means whenever a Protestant joins the Catholic Church, he will not be re-baptized, and his marriage (if one currently exists) will be recognized as valid, provided there are no prior marriages that need to be annulled first.

Lesson VII: Eternity

Mankind is destined to spend eternity with God. Human beings were made to be a hybrid creature, both physical and spiritual, made in the image of God, to show the glory of God in the physical universe. In some ways, mankind is to the physical world what angels are to the spiritual world. However, through the Fall and Rebellion against God by our first ancestors, many people no longer wish to be with God, and a growing number even doubt his existence. One thing all human rebels have in common is the desire to be one’s own god, choosing for self what is good an evil.

God will not force himself upon mankind. That’s not his way. Through the Holy Spirit, he calls mankind to repentance and communion with the Creator. Some will listen. Others will not. To each, he gives exactly what they want.

To those who refuse God, he will allow them to go their way. While some will suffer misfortune in this life, others might not. Nevertheless, all who reject God will know the consequence of their decision upon death. One death arrives, and the ability to change is no longer possible, the soul’s fate is sealed. Lifelong rejection of God results in eternity without God, and since God is the source of all joy and peace, eternity without him is an eternity without joy and peace. We call this eternal state “hell.”

Hell is forever. While Christian artists, throughout the ages, have tried to depict hell as a place of fiery torment, something like the inside of a volcano, this is just symbolic. Actual hell is a spiritual state of being, wherein the soul is deprived of the only thing that could ever make it happy — God. 

To those who seek God with sincerity, God will reveal himself through his Holy Spirit, drawing them to his Son Jesus Christ, the only Way through which eternal life is possible.

Heaven is forever. While Christian artists, throughout the ages, have tried to depict heaven as a place of white fluffy clouds, and angels playing harps, this is just symbolic. Actual heaven is somewhat incomprehensible to the human mind, but it is a place of joy and peace, because heaven is to be in the presence of God. 

When people die, their souls go to either heaven or hell. Where they go is determined at their particular judgement. Upon death, each human soul finds himself standing before God, to be judged either for faith or lack thereof. Those who have placed their trust in Christ can look forward to eternity in heaven. Those who have rejected Christ (who is God) will be sent directly to hell. This is not so much a punishment as it is giving the soul what it wants. For those who truly reject Christ will find him repulsive (terrifying) upon meeting him at death. They may not desire hell, but heaven is something they won’t want either. 

Not everyone who is judged eligible for heaven will go there right away. Some souls are in need of cleansing before they can enter heaven. Purgatory is a process, through which the soul is prepared for heaven. It is a purging of all venial sins (selfish attachments to this world, bad attitudes, tempers, etc.). Letting go of those things can be uncomfortable to the soul. So purgatory is a place of decreasing pain and increasing joy, as the soul moves closer to its heavenly state. It’s important to note, purgatory is not a “second chance” for the soul. It is rather the necessary process some souls need before entering heaven. All souls who go through purgatory are on their way to heaven, and heaven is guaranteed for them. 

Just as the Church Triumphant (Saints in heaven) can pray for souls on earth, so the saints on earth (Christians or Church Militant) can pray for the souls in purgatory (Church Suffering). It has always been customary for Christians to pray for the souls of their dead loved ones for a period of time after death. The prayers are for their trip to heaven, possibly through purgatory, to be as quick as possible. 

Making a good confession, with true repentance of sin, is the best way to insure one’s own quick trip to heaven upon death. 

Near the end of the world, a false savior (Antichrist) will appear, and lead many to believe they can have everything they want without Jesus Christ. Scripture and Tradition tell us this man will present himself as “God made flesh.” He will demand absolute obedience, and persecute Christians in the most extreme way. He will ultimately be destroyed when Jesus Christ returns at the end of the world.

At the end of the world, Jesus Christ will return with the Church Triumphant (Saints in heaven), to raise the dead, judge the nations, and bring his Kingdom into fullness. 

All mankind, throughout all of history, will be physically resurrected at the end of the world. Their souls will be reunited with their bodies, and their bodies will never again be able to age or die. The body that Jesus Christ has now, the glorified human body, is an example of what awaits all mankind at the end of the world.

Those who are still alive when Jesus Christ returns will simply be transformed into their glorified bodies and be brought to Jesus for judgement. 

Those who have faith in Christ will then spend eternity with him in resurrected and glorified bodies, presumably in some recreation of the physical universe where that is possible, without entropy or decay. 

Those who lack faith in Christ will spend eternity without him in resurrected and glorified bodies, presumably in some other universe more suited to them. The Bible refers to this place as a “lake of fire,” but again this is symbolic imagery. The gist of the message here is that wherever this is, it won’t be pleasant.


This short primer to the Catholic Christian Faith (Catholic 101) is merely an introduction and should not be thought of as a comprehensive catechism. It is not. A catechism is an official book that teaches the Catholic religion in a comprehensive and precise way. If you enjoyed this introduction to Catholicism (Catholic 101) then I encourage you to read the official Catechism of the Catholic Church for a more comprehensive and precise understanding. You can read the Catechism for free online here (online catechism), or you can purchase a paperback here (paperback catechism). A youth version of the same Catechism, designed for children, teens and young adults, is called YouCat and can be obtained here (YouCat website).