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Roman Catholic

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Last updated by Meril Jeffery John.J

The term Roman Catholic appeared in the English language at the beginning of the 17th century, to differentiate specificRoman Catholic groups of Christians in communion with the Pope from others; comparable terms in other languages already existed. It has continued to be widely used in the English language ever since, although its usage has changed over the centuries.

The church widely known as the Catholic Church consists of 23 autonomous churches one "Western" and 22 "Eastern" — governed by two sets of Codes of Canon Law. To refer to all 23 autonomous Churches together, official Church documents often use the term "Catholic Church" or, less frequently, the term "Roman Catholic Church". The usage that makes the term "Roman Catholic" mean members of the Latin Rite or Western Church to the exclusion of those who belong to the Eastern Catholic Churches does not appear in any recent document of the Holy See, and popes have used the term "Roman Catholic Church" on various occasions throughout the 20th century to mean instead the whole Church without exclusion of any part.

The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the world's largest Christian church, with 1.2 billion members. The Catholic hierarchy includes cardinals and bishops and is led by the Bishop of Rome, known as the Pope. The Church teaches that it is the one true church divinely founded by Jesus Christ. It also teaches that its bishops are the successors of Christ's apostles and that the Bishop of Rome, as the successor to the Prince of the Apostles, Saint Peter, has supreme authority over the Church. The Church maintains that the doctrine on faith and morals that it presents as definitive is infallible. Within the Church there are a variety of doctrinal and theological traditions, including the Eastern Catholic Churches, the personal ordinariates and religious communities.

The Catholic Church is Trinitarian and defines its mission as spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ, administering the sacraments and exercising charity. Its core doctrines are expressed in the Nicene, Athanasian and Tridentine Creeds. Catholic worship is highly liturgical, focusing on the Mass or Divine Liturgy, in which the sacrament of the Eucharist is celebrated. The Church teaches that when consecrated by a validly ordained priest the bread and wine used during the Mass become the body and blood of Christ, a change called transubstantiation. The Catholic Church practices closed communion and only baptised members of the Church in a state of grace are ordinarily permitted to receive the Eucharist. It holds the Virgin Mary, as mother of Jesus Christ, in special regard and has defined four specific Marian dogmatic teachings, namely her Immaculate Conception without original sin, her status as the Mother of God, her perpetual virginity and her bodily Assumption into Heaven at the end of her earthly life. The Catholic Church also states that they do not Worship Mother Mary but they Honour her as God has honoured her Luke(1:48).

Catholic social teaching emphasises support for the poor and the afflicted through the corporal works of mercy. These include social programmes and institutions throughout the world, including Catholic schools, universities, hospitals, missions and shelters, as well as charities such as Catholic Relief Services and Caritas that help families, the poor, the elderly and the sick. Catholic spiritual teaching emphasises spread of the Gospel message and growth in spiritual discipline through the spiritual works of mercy.

The Catholic Church is among the oldest institutions in the world and has played a prominent role in the history of Western civilisation, inspiring art, culture and philosophy. In the Middle Ages, the Church replaced the Roman Empire as a unifying force in Europe and the papacy became involved in politics. In recent decades, the Church has been criticised for its doctrines concerning sexual issues and the ordination of women as well as for its handling of sexual abuse cases.

In popular usage, "Catholic Church" is usually understood to mean the same as "Roman Catholic Church". In compound forms such as "Roman Catholic worship" the term is sometimes used to differentiate Western (Latin Church) practices from Eastern. However, in itself the word "catholic" translates into English as "universal" or "pertaining to the whole", as opposed to "particular" or "related to a part". Being "catholic" is one of the Four Marks of the Church set out in the Nicene Creed, a statement of belief accepted by many churches, even if not in communion with the Pope.

The term "catholic" is derived from the Greek word καθολικός (katholikos) meaning "universal" and was first used to describe the Church in the early 2nd century. The term katholikos is equivalent to καθόλου (katholou), a contraction of the phrase καθ' ὅλου (kath' holou) meaning "according to the whole". "Catholic Church" (he katholike ekklesia) first appears in a letter of St Ignatius written in about 110. In the Catechetical Discourses of St. Cyril of Jerusalem, "Catholic Church" is used to distinguish it from other groups that also call themselves the church.

Since the East–West Schism of 1054, the church that remained in communion with the See of Rome continued to call itself Catholic while the Eastern churches have generally been known as Orthodox or Eastern Orthodox. Following the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, the Church continued to use the term Catholic to distinguish itself from the various denominations that split off.

The name "Catholic Church" is the most common designation used in official church documents. It is also the term which Pope Paul VI used when signing documents of the Second Vatican Council. However, Church documents produced both by the Holy See and by certain national episcopal conferences occasionally refer to the Roman Catholic Church. The Catechism of Pope Pius X, published in 1908, also used the term "Roman" to distinguish the Catholic Church from other Christian communities who are not in full communion with the Church of Rome.

In popular usage, "Catholic" usually means "Roman Catholic", a usage decried by some, including some Protestants. "Catholic" usually refers to members of any of the 23 constituent Churches, the one Western and the 22 Eastern. The same meaning is attributed also to "Roman Catholic" in documents of the Holy See, talks by Popes and in newspapers.

Although K.D. Whitehead has claimed that "the term Roman Catholic is not used by the Church herself" and that "the proper name of the Church, then, is 'the Catholic Church', never 'the Christian Church'", official documents such as Divini Illius Magistri, Humani generis, a declaration of 23 November 2006 and another of 30 November 2006, while not calling the Church "the Christian Church", do use "Roman Catholic" to speak of it as a whole without distinguishing one part from the rest.

When used in a broader sense, the term "Catholic" is distinguished from "Roman Catholic", which has connotations of allegiance to the Bishop of Rome, i.e. the Pope. When thus used, "Catholic" also refers to many other Christians, especially Eastern Orthodox and Anglicans, but also to others, including Old Catholics and various independent Catholic Churches, who consider themselves to be living within the "catholic" tradition. They describe themselves as "Catholic", but not "Roman Catholic" and not under the authority of the Pope.


The term Roman Catholic is generally used on its own to refer to individuals, and in compound forms to refer to worship, parishes, festivals, etc. Its usage has varied, depending on circumstances. It is sometimes also identified with one or other of the terms "Catholic", "Western Catholic" (equivalent to "Latin Catholic"), and "Roman-Rite Catholic".


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