Roman Catholics Roman Catholics are Christians. That means they are followers of Jesus Christ. The Christian Church has three main parts – Roman Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox. All Christians believe in one God. They believe that God sent his son to live as man. He was called Jesus. He spent three years teaching and living with his followers. He was put to death on a cross but Christians believe that he came back from the dead. (For more information on Christians – see separate section on this). The Pope The Pope is the leader of the Roman Catholic Church. He is helped by Bishops, who each look after an area called a Diocese. This is split into smaller areas called parishes and they are looked after by a parish priest. Church The Parish Church is the heart of the Catholic community. There is holy water near the entrance. As people go in they dip the fingers of their right hands into the water and mark a cross upon themselves with it. The cross is the sign of Christianity. Altar: Most of the activities in the church take place around the altar. Next to the altar or behind it is the Tabernacle. The altar is really a big table. The people gather around it for the mass. Catholics believe that God is everywhere but this special place is kept in every church. A light burns there to remind people of God’s presence. Mass: All Catholics are expected to go to mass on Sundays and some go during the week as well. The priest wears special clothes called vestments. The mass is a celebration for Catholics of the last meal that Jesus shared with his friends – called the Last Supper. The priest’s Vestments or robes vary according to the time of the year or festival. The Mass has several parts. First the congregation asks forgiveness for its sins. There is often a prayer of praise, readings from the Bible and a talk by the priest. There is also Holy Communion and mass ends with a blessing from the priest. After Mass people sometimes stop to chat with the priest and their friends. Communion: When children are about seven they make First Communion. There is a special celebration of Mass – often on a Saturday and children generally dress up in new clothes for this. Confession: Catholics believe that God is like a kind father, always ready to forgive. They talk to a priest when they are sorry for doing wrong. The priest sits in a very small room called a Confessional. Catholics then ‘make up’ with God. This is called a Reconciliation. Baptism: Catholics welcome new-born babies into the church through baptism. At baptism, babies have Holy Water poured on their heads. They are annointed with oil and their parents hold a lighted candle and a white cloth for them. These are signs for them of starting a new life with God. Confirmation: When young Catholics are about 12 or 13 they are invited to ‘confirm’ the promise that was made at their Baptism and join the church as a young adult. Mary: Catholics sometimes use rosary beads when they say the Hail Mary which is a special prayer to Mary. Catholics believe that Mary was the mother of Jesus and for this reason they give her special devotion. Most churches have pictures or statues of her. Saints: There are many saints recognised by the Roman Catholic church. They are all people who are considered to have lived very special lives. Many people are devoted to particular saints and ask them for help in coming closer to God. Advent: During Advent Catholics prepare for the birthday of Jesus – which is Christmas. The season of advent is the beginning of the church year. An advent wreath reminds everyone that Christmas is appoaching. Each Sunday, one more candle is lit and on Christmas day the central one is lit. All Christians believe that Jesus was born in a stable even though they also believe that he was the Son of God. The story of Jesus was not written down until many years after his death so very little is known about his childhood. Catholics make cribs at Christmas to remind themselves of the birth of Jesus. Palm Sunday: Palm Sunday is the beginning of Holy Week – the most important part of the Christian Year for Catholics. Palms were waved when Jesus rode into Jerusalem. The next week he rose from the dead, according to their belief. Worldwide The Catholic Church has about 1,000 million members in almost every part of the world. Of these 700 million are Roman Catholics. In Ireland there are many Catholics – more than 3 million.