Monday, November 2, 2009

Roman Catholics

Q: Are all Catholics Roman Catholics?

A: Yes and no. The phrase “Roman Catholic” can mean two things. Usually, it means a church that acknowledges the Pope as the leader of the Catholic Church on earth. A true Catholic Church is in union with the Pope in Rome – that’s where “Roman Catholic” comes from. Because of this, churches that have split off from the Vatican aren’t truly Catholic churches.

However, it can also refer to the liturgy the church uses in the Mass. In this sense, Roman Catholic means a church that celebrates the Mass with the Latin Rite liturgy. Some Catholic churches use different liturgies like the Byzantine, Coptic, or Chaldean liturgies. (Just to name a few.)

This means that they celebrate the Mass differently than you’re probably used to. In most other rites, they don't call it “the Mass.” They call it “the liturgy” or “qurbana” or something else, depending on the traditional language. The ritual has all the same essential elements as the Mass – Bible readings, Eucharistic prayer, and Holy Communion – but the prayers will often use different words (and sometimes different languages). In some Eastern Rites, the priest offers the entire Eucharistic prayer behind closed doors. In still other rites, the liturgy includes a lot more Bible readings than you'll find in the average Latin Rite Mass.

These churches may call themselves “Byzantine Catholics” or something else instead of “Roman Catholics” but as long as they look to the Pope for authority, that’s okay.

Basically, a true Roman Catholic Church is a church that acknowledges the Pope as the visible leader of the Catholic Church on earth and obeys what he says. Some Catholic churches that have different ways of saying Mass call themselves something different than “Roman Catholic,” but that’s all okay as long as they’re “Roman Catholic” in that they’re in union with Rome.