World Religions & Cultures
   means a belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ. 
 follower of the doctrines associated with Him is called a Christian.  
This discussion will focus on Roman Catholics (in the West usually simply called "Catholics") since it is the most numerous group and they are the ones English lit majors are most likely in need of understanding.
Three Major Groups
Major Beliefs
Major Holidays/Seasons 
Relevant Links
Dr. Marguerite Connor

The most "famous" and powerful section of Catholicism is Roman Catholic, called this since the seat of the Church is in Rome, but technically in its own country, a small city-state called Vatican City. The leader of this branch of Catholicism is called The Pope, currently Pope John Paul II.  Until 1963, all Roman Catholic services and communications were done in Latin. Usually in the West, references to The Church (capitalized) mean The Roman Catholic Church. For almost 1500 years it was the only major Western Christian group, so it was The Church. It is also referred to in some literature as Holy Mother Church, a reflection of the love and the relationship Catholics envision to have with their church.

An early split in Catholicism created the Orthodox churches in countries which were once part of the Byzantine Empire, the most famous of which are the Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches. They are headed by Metropolitans, and services are held in the national language of the Church, so a Greek Orthodox service in the United States would still be in Greek.

A hybrid of these two are the Eastern Rite Churches. These are technically Roman Catholic, since they follow the dictates of the pope, but they use a form of worship closer to the Orthodox Church, and are associated with an Eastern European country, i.e., Ukrainian Church. 
A marriage in an Eastern Orthodox Church.  The priest holds the wedding crowns over the heads of the bride and groom.  (Parrinder 437) 
The Inside of a Romanian Church 
from Online Icons Larger picture

Major beliefs
These are the beliefs that make Roman Catholicism what it is:
  • The most "controversial" and the real "acid test"  between Catholics and Protestants is the teaching of transubstantiation, a Catholic belief that during the communion (eucharist) ceremony, the bread and wine actually becomes the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
  • The infallibility of the pope on matters of doctrine (called  "speaking ex cathedra"¨)
The doctrine of transubstationation has aroused great controversy over the centuries. (Parrinder 428)
The Immaculate Conception of Mary (means that she was born without "original sin"--the sin humans carry from Adam and Eve's first disobedience).  This is often confused with the Virgin Birth of Jesus.  This is the belief that the Holy Spirit made Mary pregnant, 

"The Virgin of the Grotto" 
at Lourdes, France.  The Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to St. Bernadette 18 times in 1858 and to have revealed to her a spring whose waters have the power of curing ills. (Langley 165)

  • The Blessed Mother - Patron of China
  • St. George - Patron of England
  • St. Patrick, St. Brigid, St. Columba - Patrons of Ireland
  • St. Andrew - Patron of Scotland
  • St. David - Patron of Wales
  • The Immaculate Conception - Patron of USA
  • St. Cecelia - Patron of music
  • Left: St. Patrick Patrick is invoked against snakes and is often portrayed driving them before him. (Langley 94) 

    Right: St. Cecelia The Angel in this romanticized portrayal of Cecilia is holding the roses that are one of her emblems. (Langley 125)


    Major Holidays/Seasons 

    Advent is the four week period before Christmas, a time for preparation for the birth of Jesus. During this times traditional Catholics often light the Advent Wreath: three purple candles and one pink.  For the first three Sundays of Advent a purple candle is lit, and on the fourth Sunday the pink is lit. These are often decorated beautifully and build the anticipation for Christmas. 

    Lent is the 40 days before Easter. It is a time of repentance, sacrifice and preparation for the coming holiday.  It starts on a day called Ash Wednesday, a day many Christian groups, not just Catholics, have their forehead marked by ashes in the sign of the Cross. (T.S. Eliot mentions this day in a famous poem of the same name.) 

    Also See Christmas  and Easter.

    Relevant Links

    Picture source:
    1. Parrinder, Geoffrey, ed.  World Religions: From Ancient History to the Present.  New York: Facts on File, 1971.
    2. Langley, Myrtle.  Religion  (Eyewitness Guides.)  New York: Dorling Kindersley, 1996.

    BACK   to the top 

    World Religions