As you may have already heard, all Catholics are Christians but not all Christians are Catholics. But did you know that all Roman Catholics are Catholics, but not all Catholics are Roman Catholics? Sounds pretty confusing, right? So as a Roman Catholic myself, let me clear this out and explain what the Roman Catholic Church is and how it’s different from other Catholic churches.
A Roman Catholic is a Catholic in the Roman rite, which is the largest church in communion with the Pope. With over 1.3 billion members worldwide, it’s also the largest branch of Christianity. That said, Roman Catholics follow the life, death, and teachings of Jesus Christ with the Pope as the head.
The Roman Catholic Church only makes up 1 of the 24 churches in the Catholic Church. What does this mean, and how is being a Roman Catholic different from these other churches? Continue reading to know more.
What does Roman Catholic Means?
As mentioned above, a Roman Catholic means an individual is a Catholic in the Roman rite. See, early Christians first came together in three communities: Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch. While the faith was the same in these locations, their ways of expressing their liturgies were different. So from there, several “rites” – or ecclesiastical traditions on how the same Catholic sacraments are celebrated – came to be.
There are seven rites within the Catholic Church according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#1203). These are the Latin or Roman rite, Byzantine, Alexandrian or Coptic, Syriac, Armenian, Maronite, and Chaldean rites. As declared by the sacred Council, these recognized rites are “of equal right and dignity”.
Within these rites, there are now 24 autonomous and self-governing churches. Each one of these churches has its traditions and forms of liturgy or worship. However, they all follow the same Catholic faith and basic liturgical structures and submit to the same dogmas and doctrines. Most of all, they are in communion with the Bishop of Rome, the Pope.
The Roman or Latin church is the largest of these 24 churches. It’s also the only church in the West. On the other hand, all the other 23 churches are referred to as “Eastern Catholic Churches”.
Now, you might be wondering why the Catholic Church is so diverse. Well, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#1201) states that: “The mystery of Christ is so unfathomably rich that it cannot be exhausted by its expression in any single liturgical tradition.” In #1202, it also says that: “The diverse liturgical traditions have arisen by very reason of the Church’s mission.”
So if you think about it, the Catholic Church is truly the universal church as it unites many different cultures, practices, and traditions yet share the same faith.
What Does Roman Catholic Believe In?
The Roman Catholic Church is a branch of Christianity. Thus, it follows the life, death, and teachings of Jesus Christ. And because it is one of the churches of Catholicism, it shares the same central belief as other Catholics, which is:
“The Church is one: she acknowledges one Lord, confesses one faith, is born of one Baptism, forms only one Body, is given life by the one Spirit, for the sake of one hope (cf. Eph 4: 3-5), at whose fulfillment all divisions will be overcome.” Catechism of the Catholic Church #866
So as Roman Catholics, we believe that there is only one God manifested in three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We also believe that God sent his only Son, Jesus Christ, from heaven to save us from our sins. Most of all, we try to live according to the Word of God and Jesus’ teachings, which in its simplest form is to love God and love our neighbor.
What is the Difference Between a Roman Catholic and a Catholic?
With many different Catholic churches, how is being a Roman Catholic different? Well, it’s all about traditions. Now, this is different from the “Traditions” of the Catholic Church, which entails the seven sacraments, the authority of the Pope, and all the Catholic dogmas and doctrines. By traditions, I mean the “smaller” practices and beliefs like the following:
Priests and Marriage
As Roman Catholics, we are taught that priests should not be married and that they should live a celibate life. However, for Eastern Catholic Churches, married men can become priests and deacons.
This can be seen in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#1579), which states that: “All the ordained ministers of the Latin Church, with the exception of permanent deacons, are normally chosen from among men of faith who live a celibate life and who intend to remain celibate…” This is to ensure that those who will receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders or those who will become priests can “give themselves entirely to God and to men”.
But in the same text, the Church tells us that: “In the Eastern Churches a different discipline has been in force for many centuries: while bishops are chosen solely from among celibates, married men can be ordained as deacons and priests. This practice has long been considered legitimate”.
It should be said, however, that in both Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Catholic Church, a man who has already received the sacrament of Holy Orders can no longer marry.
For Roman Catholics, we call our liturgical service a Mass. In the East, they call it the Divine Liturgy. In both services, the Consecration of the Eucharist is valid. So a Roman Catholic can attend a Divine Liturgy and receive communion without a problem. An Eastern Catholic can also attend Mass and receive holy communion in a Roman Catholic Church. In both cases, this will fulfill one’s Sunday or Holy Day obligation.
Another significant difference between Roman Catholics and other Catholics is that we celebrate the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and the Holy Eucharist at different times, depending on the age and readiness of the individual to receive them. For most Eastern Catholic Churches, however, they administer Baptism, Chrismation (their term for Confirmation), and the Holy Eucharist at the same time to infants. All these sacraments come one after the other.
In the Roman Catholic Church, we have statues of people that we honor. Now, this does not mean that we idolize them as we worship God alone. But we have them because they make us remember what they’ve done and fill our hearts with love. It’s just like keeping photos of your loved ones in your home.
Now, in the Eastern Catholic Churches, they use something quite similar. But instead of statues, they have icons, which are sacred images of holy people or events.
One of the practices known to the Roman Catholic Church is praying the rosary. This allows us to encounter the Mother of Jesus, Mary, and enter His mysteries. But for some Eastern Catholic Churches, they don’t do such a practice.
Moreover, most Eastern Catholic Churches often don’t have musical instruments in their parishes. So don’t expect to hear any organs during their Divine Liturgy.