Christianity dates back to the first century and is centered on the person and work of Jesus Christ. Christianity has three main branches of belief and practice: Catholicism, Protestantism and Eastern Orthodoxy. Christians worship one God as the Holy Trinity, consisting of the Father (creator of the universe), Jesus Christ (the savior of the world) and the Holy Spirit (which has worked to sanctify and transform lives throughout history and continues to do so today).
The Catholic Church has communities around the globe. Its governing center is Vatican City in Rome, Italy. The Pope is recognized as the leader of the Catholic Church. In addition to the Roman Catholic Church, there are many other Catholic Churches in “full communion” with Rome. Some smaller, independent Catholic Churches exist without recognizing the authority of the Pope.
- God: “God” refers to a single, omnipotent, omnipresent, eternal deity. God is triune, meaning that God is One in Three Persons without division or distinction. God is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This belief is not meant to be grasped in a mathematical way, but contemplated through a lifetime. Like Jews and Muslims, Christians are of the Abrahamic tradition and worship the God who made a covenant with the ancient Hebrew people.
- Christ: From the Greek Christos and Hebrew Messiah, which means “anointed one.” A messiah is sent by God to bring the salvation of the people and Christians consider Jesus of Nazareth to be the ultimate messiah. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, He made Heaven available and attainable for the faithful, bringing ultimate salvation in eternal life with God.
- Mass: The sacred liturgy celebrated every day of the year (except Good Friday) with special emphasis on Sundays as the Sabbath. Mass consists of two parts: “The Liturgy of the Word,” where the scriptures are read and the people respond, and “The Liturgy of the Eucharist,” where the transubstantiation of bread and wine to the body and blood of Jesus occurs and is distributed. Catholics are required to attend Mass every Sunday and on Holy Days of Obligation.
- Eucharist: For Catholics, bread and wine become the body and blood of Jesus through transfiguration at the “Liturgy of the Eucharist” within Mass. Communion is the central act of Christian worship.
- Sacraments: Visible signs of God's grace in the world. Catholic Church, the seven sacraments are: Baptism, Penance, Eucharist, Confirmation, Marriage, Holy Orders and Anointing of the Sick.
- Saints: People who have lived lives of heroic virtue. People with the title of “saint” have been beatified and canonized by the Catholic Church as examples of using your unique gifts to courageously serve God and others. Their feast days are celebrated on the anniversary of their deaths because that is when they joined God in Heaven. The Catholic Church also considers anyone in Heaven to be a saint.
- Religious orders: Groups of men and/or women who have taken vows of poverty, chastity and obedience to serve the Church and others in a specific charism. For example, some orders are teachers, nurses, pastoral ministers or missionaries. Some are cloistered and devote themselves to prayer for the world.
Important Religious Texts
The Holy Bible, both Old and New Testaments. The Catholic and Orthodox traditions also include seven apocryphal books.
- The Old Testament or Hebrew Bible contains the Torah (The first five books, also called the Law, include Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. These are the most important texts in Judaism.) histories, psalms and proverbs, poetry, prophets, and for Catholics and Orthodox, apocrypha.
- The New Testament contains the Gospels, (The story of Jesus’ life. It includes Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) the Acts of the Apostles, epistles of disciples and one apocryphal writing.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church: While not considered scripture or divinely inspired in the same way, the Catechism contains the entire listing of Catholic beliefs. It is structured around the creed, the sacraments, Christian life and prayer.
The life of the Catholic church revolves around the church calendar known as the Liturgical Calendar. The seasons are: Advent, Christmas, Ordinary Time, Lent, Triduum, and Easter. They ranger from three days to several months in length. Many other customs are unique to the geographical area and ethnic background of the people celebrating.
Worship, Prayer, and Practice
Christians traditionally gather to worship in churches on Sundays. See Mass above.
There are countless written prayers and forms of prayer in Catholicism. The most common written prayers are “The Lord’s Prayer,” “Hail Mary,” “Glory Be” and “The Rosary,” which contains all three and more. Prayer can also be exercised in meditation, or contemplation, with scripture or music, in the presence of the Eucharist, in ritual, with others or alone, and in any space.
A common prayer is the “Liturgy of the Hours,” created as a way to pray the Psalms at specific, different times during the day. Most religious orders pray the Liturgy of the Hours together.
Catholic Social Teaching calls to serve each other and the less fortunate, and to work for just systems that end oppression. Many Catholics volunteer on a regular basis with an organization or do different projects with their faith groups. The seven themes of Catholic Social Teaching are:
- Life and Dignity of the Human Person
- Call to Family, Community and Participation
- Rights and Responsibilities
- Option for the Poor and Vulnerable
- The Dignity of Work and Rights of Workers
- Care for God’s Creation
Ways to be Involved at BenU
Here are a few classes offered at BenU about this faith tradition. Please visit the Course Catalog for more information and click here to learn about the Interfaith Studies Emphasis.
- RELS 130 Abrahamic Faiths
- THEO 204 Catholic Spirituality
- THEO 104 Faith and Science
- THEO 207 Catholic Social Teaching
- THEO 212 Land, Justice and Peace