Catholicism is the predominant religion in many countries. A Pew Research study in 2010 found that Catholics numbered over 1 billion, making up over half of the world's Christians. While every culture and country has unique ways of celebrating their faith, Catholics around the world share certain forms of worship.
Catholics live by a seven-fold system of "sacred signs," or sacraments, which they believe will earn them a closer place with God and invite God's grace and blessings on them. The first of these is baptism, being bathed by a priest in holy water to symbolize commitment to the faith. Baptism can occur at any time in a person's life but often occurs in infancy. The Eucharist, or communion, involves drinking wine and eating bread symbolizing the blood and body of Christ. The third sacrament, reconciliation or penance, involves confessing your sins in order to receive God's forgiveness and grace and to pass that forgiveness on to others. Confirmation is the sacrament by which mature Catholics recommit their faith in front of family and friends. Marriage within Catholicism is also a holy sacrament and a public declaration of faith. The last two sacraments involve the ordination of priests and the ritual healing of the injured or ill.
The Catholic Mass
The Catholic Mass is often the form of worship most closely associated with the faith. Each Sunday -- deemed God's day -- parishioners attend church to hear sermons delivered by priests and to receive communion. Priests are believed to embody Christ at this time. The priest delivers the liturgy -- a series of prayers -- and then parishioners line up to receive wine and bread, the symbolic blood and body of Christ, from the priest. Mass is a formal occasion; punctuality is greatly encouraged and attendees are to remain attentive although mostly seated throughout the ceremony. The coordinated standing, singing, kneeling, making the sign of the cross and other gestures are all meant to provide a unifying effect among worshipers. Observing mass sets the tone for an entire day that is supposed to be restful and contemplative, often immersed in nature or volunteering.
Praying the Rosary
The Rosary is a collection of prayers taken mostly out of the Bible and recited by Catholics around the world. Reciting the rosary is done in devotion to the Virgin Mary. Catholics often recite these prayers while holding a string of beads with a cross at the end, with each bead representing a separate prayer. The word "rosary," which comes from the word "rose," is symbolic of the Virgin Mary and each prayer said aloud or in silence is meant to symbolize laying a single rose at the feet of the sacred virgin. Completing an entire rosary is the equivalent of giving her a crown of roses. Prayers included in the Rosary are "Our Father," "Hail Mary" and others.
Christmas and Easter are the central holidays of all Christian faiths, the days when Christ was born and resurrected, respectively. Catholics have a number of additional days that are observed as sacred. One is Lent, a period of 40 days leading up to Easter, during which Catholics are encouraged to give up something that is a personal pleasure -- chocolate, coffee, sex, shopping, etc. -- in observance of the hardships endured by Christ. In addition to personal sacrifice, Catholics are expected to engage in prayer, self-examination, confession and public service during lent. Ash Wednesday is another holiday and marks the beginning of Lent. On Ash Wednesday, Catholics may visit their local church to have the priest rub ash onto their foreheads in the shape of a cross, symbolizing mortality and signifying their commitment to honor their Lenten sacrifice.
- Catholic Education Research Center: History of Lent
- United States Conference of Catholic Bishops: The Mass
- Catholic Online
- AmericanCatholic.org: The Seven Catholic Sacraments
- Pew Research Religion & Public Life Project: Global Christianity – A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Christian Population
- Catholic Answers: The Rosary
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