Catholicism – a religion or a denomination? Which is it?


Catholicism (the people (Catholics) and the institution (Catholic Church)) is by far the largest denomination in the world. It is divided into Anglo-Catholic derivatives, Eastern Rite and Latin Rite.

The canons

The Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches (CCEC); Latin; The Codex Canonum Ecclesiarum Orientalium (CCEO) clearly defines the difference between church and rite as follows:

Canon 27 – A group of faithful Christians united by a hierarchy according to the norm of law which the supreme authority of the Church expressly or tacitly recognizes as sui iuris is referred to in this Code as a Church sui iuris.
Canon 28 – A rite is the liturgical, theological, spiritual and disciplinary heritage, the culture and the circumstances of the history of a distinct people, through which its own way of living the faith manifests itself in each Church sui iuris.

Rites of the Catholic Church

Here are the rites of the Catholic Church

  • Latin ritual
    Latin (or Roman) Catholic Church

  • Alexandrian Rite
    Coptic Catholic Church
    Eritrean Catholic Church
    Ethiopian Catholic Church

  • West Syriac (or Antiochian) Rite
    Maronite Catholic Church
    Syriac Catholic Church
    Syro-Malankara Catholic Church

  • Armenian Rite
    Armenian Catholic Church

  • East Syriac (or Chaldean) Rite
    Chaldean Catholic Church
    Syro-Malabar Catholic Church

  • Constantinopolitan (or Byzantine) Rite
    Albanian Catholic Church
    Belarusian Catholic Church
    Bulgarian Greek Catholic Church
    Byzantine Church of Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro (or Križevci Catholic Church)
    Byzantine Greek Catholic Church
    Hungarian Greek Catholic Church
    Italo-Albanian Catholic Church
    Macedonian Catholic Church
    Melkite Greek Catholic Church
    Romanian Catholic Church
    Russian Catholic Church
    Ruthenian Catholic Church (also known as Byzantine Catholic Church in America)
    Slovak Catholic Church
    Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church

Definition of Catholicism

Pope Leo XIII wrote the following in his 1984 apostolic letter, Orientalium Dignitas,

“The Churches of the East are worthy of the glory and the respect that they carry throughout Christendom by virtue of these extremely ancient and singular memorials that they have bequeathed to us. For it is in this part of the world that the first actions for the redemption of the human race began, in accordance with the all-natural purpose of God. They quickly gave their yield: there flourished in the first place the glories of the preaching of the True Faith to the nations, of martyrdom and of holiness. They gave us the first joys of the fruits of salvation”

Speaking of “the True Faith”, all the Eastern Catholic Churches submit to the doctrines and dogmas defined by the Catholic Church, which are found in the Magisterium. Therefore, Catholics, whether Eastern or Western, cannot reject dogma; it is written in Unitatis Redintegratio this,

“All in the Church must preserve unity in the essentials. But may all, according to the gifts they have received, enjoy their own freedom, in their various forms of spiritual life and discipline, in their different liturgical rites, and even in their theological elaborations of revealed truth.

“By “magisterium of the Catholic Church”, theology understands and designates the official teachings proclaimed by the Catholic bishops and in particular by the Roman Pontiff at the head of their assembly, throughout history. These teachings are intended to declare and clarify what the Catholic faithful are invited to believe in order to be consistent with the content of Sacred Scripture and the heritage of Tradition. Documents issued by the Catholic hierarchy have varying degrees of authority. The most important are the teachings proclaimed by the Ecumenical Councils and the dogmatic declarations – usually very few in number – explicitly stated by the Roman Pontiff. Moreover, the encyclicals, letters and speeches delivered by the Bishop of Rome have special significance because of the role he plays in guaranteeing the unity of the whole Church.

When it comes to the relationship between faith and science or other contemporary debated issues, theologians and the Magisterium are called to work together for the spiritual good of the faithful. On the one hand, the bishops must, in order to fulfill their mission as guardians and authorized masters of the Word of God and successors of the apostles, remind theologians of the fundamental truths, which must inspire their intellectual work, and the pastoral priorities to be retained. .

On the other hand, theology being only the exercise of a fides quaerens intellectum, theologians must point out to pastors the key issues and topics that are more present in contemporary cultural and scientific debate and particularly strategic for the understanding of the faith. It is thanks to this work of cooperation between pastors and theologians that the Gospel of Jesus Christ can be proclaimed credibly and effectively to all men and women of all ages. In doing so, theological work can help the Magisterium explain the richness of the Word of God in its teaching, and respond to questions posed by the faithful at a specific time.

Sometimes the magisterium of a council or a Roman pontiff can get ahead of the theologians and indicate to the scholars which themes to approach and in which direction a new intellectual synthesis must be sought. They share a common goal: to serve the faith of the people of God and to spread the Christian message more effectively, especially in a cultural context – like today’s – which is rapidly changing.

This mutual cooperation between the Magisterium and theology also plays an important role with regard to science and scientific culture in general. Recognizing that scientific research is also an enterprise of truth and knowledge, theologians have the task of listening to what science has to say, and of taking into account in their own work the well-documented results of the scientific community; where necessary, theologians are also called upon to address new and cutting-edge issues.

The Magisterium can intervene by providing appropriate clarifications when erroneous extrapolations of scientific results or imprecise disclosures of these same results seem to conflict with the truths of the faith. Sometimes the Magisterium can also foresee prophetically, with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, what the ethical and social consequences of scientific research seem to imply. It also stimulates theology to reflect on these questions, sharing the common desire to deepen the truth and protect society from what could endanger human society instead of serving and promoting its integral development.

Finally, theology also has the difficult task of interpreting the interventions that the Magisterium of the Church has carried out in past ages and of applying a correct hermeneutics to them. Certain statements, because of the linguistic, conceptual or cognitive context in which they were expressed, could have lost their original meaning or could be better expressed in the light of the contemporary scientific vision of the world. In these cases, the message of truth they contain—an expression of the Spirit’s assistance to the Church of Jesus Christ—must be wisely restored and offered again, in fresher language, in a context that has developed intellectually.

Deepening the knowledge of what the Magisterium of the Catholic Church teaches on subjects related to the sciences and their cognitive progress is useful for several reasons. First of all, the believer can use the conclusions and orientations of the Magisterium to reach and develop his own Christian-inspired synthesis between faith and reason, between the mission to elevate the world to the glory of God – a mission in which all the baptized assume part and the task of making society more human through their professional work. – INTERS

As Saint John Paul II wrote in his encyclical, Ut Unum Sint, “the Church must breathe with both lungs”. Both the Eastern (Orthodox) and Western (Roman Catholic) churches serve the same body of Christ despite differences in liturgies. Faith comes from the same root.


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