What is Catholicism?
The Catholic Church is essentially a communion of persons united to God and each other in Christ. The Church is a complex reality that is at once visible and invisible, natural and supernatural, human and divine. The Church is composed of followers of Jesus, who are united together as Christ’s body, with Jesus as the head. The Church is visibly united by professing the same faith, celebrating in common the liturgy and sacraments, and submitting to the authority of the Pope and bishops.
How do I join the Catholic Church?
You might be reading this page because you are curious about what is involved in becoming a Catholic, or because you firmly desire to join the Catholic Church. Either way, we wish to assure you that at no stage will the Catholic Church put you under any pressure to sign up and become a full member. In fact, you may find the process of becoming a Catholic somewhat slower than you would like… because membership involves making a firm committment to God and to the local Catholic community, and is not to be undertaken lightly!
There are two sides to becoming a Catholic – receiving instruction in the faith, and taking part in the services of a local Catholic community. You can start with one or the other, but you will need to have completed sufficient instruction AND be attending regular services before you can become a full member of the
Receiving Instruction in the Catholic Faith
Many parishes offer a group where those considering becoming Catholic can gather together to learn more about the Faith. Smaller parishes may offer one-to-one conversations with the parish priest or a trusted instructor (“catechist”) from the local congregation. Through these sessions, you will learn about the teaching of Jesus as the Catholic Church has received it: teaching about God and about who human beings are in God’s eyes; the moral principles which God asks his followers to live up to; the ceremonies of the Catholic Church in which we worship God, express sorrow for our deliberate wrongdoing, and seek God’s healing in times of sickness; and the different ways of praying which are part of the Catholic tradition. There is quite a bit to consider, so the instruction can take several months, and often a year (sometimes more).
If you have previously been part of a Christian Church, you will probably need less instruction, because you will know the basic message of Jesus already, but a mixed group of enquirers may need to travel at the speed of its least experienced member.
If you have not already been baptised, the normal way of becoming a Catholic is to be baptised on the night before Easter Sunday.
If you HAVE been baptised – and the Catholic Church recognises both adults and children as properly baptised if water has been poured on you “baptising you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”, then you will be guided in making a confession to a priest shortly before the day (again, often the night before Easter Sunday) when you will be Confirmed as a Catholic and receive Holy Communion for the first time.
Many parishes might call their Instruction Group RCIA – Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. Strictly speaking, RCIA refers to the prayer services which are used to bless you at certain stages of your journey towards becoming a full member of the Catholic Church, but loosely it can also refer to the instruction sessions.
Our Catholic Worship: The Mass
The main Sunday service in a Catholic Church is called Mass, and at Mass we remember the command of Jesus to take bread and wine – “do this in memory of me”. The priest repeats the Lord’s words, “This is my body, this is my blood” and as Catholics, we believe that the bread and wine truly become the Body and Blood of Jesus. The wafer and the liquid don’t change their taste or appearance, but we believe that what they are in God’s sight has fundamentally changed. No longer are they truly bread and wine, but rather the Lord’s own Body and Blood. For this reason many churches also offer a kind of service called Adoration – the Body of Jesus is placed in a frame on the altar and members of the congregation come for silent prayer.
Guests are welcome to attend Mass, Adoration, and all other services in your local Catholic Church. You might choose to try attending Mass before introducing yourself to the local priest or community.
If you do choose to attend a Mass without someone from the local community guiding you, in most parishes there will be some kind of prayer card or book available to help you follow the service and take part in the prayers. There is only one restriction: when Holy Communion is distributed, guests who are not yet members of the Catholic Church are asked to refrain from receiving communion: you may either remain in your place, or join the queue and come forward to receive a blessing, indicating this by folding your arms in the form of an X over your chest.
Catholics in good health are expected to observe the Lord’s Day by attending Mass every Sunday, as far as practically possible (a Catholic ‘Sunday’ includes Saturday evenings). You don’t have to attend Mass regularly to join a group exploring what Catholics believe, but if you decide to become a member, you will need to have become used to attending Mass regularly.
Everything written above is a basic introduction. As you explore the faith you will discover the Church’s teaching is a little more complex – there are circumstances where Christians from other denominations can share Holy Communion; there are certain Holy Days in addition to Sundays when Catholics are expected to attend Mass. But everything written above is good for beginners! Find and contact your local Catholic Church to begin the process of entering into full communion with the Body of Christ.
Learning the Catholic Faith
There are many ways to learn about the Catholic Faith. God has revealed himself to us in Scripture and Tradition, so reading the Bible, experiencing the liturgy, and reading the writings of major saints in the Church’s history are all very good ways to grow in your understanding of the Catholic Faith. Jesus has also established the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, which is continually guided by the Holy Spirit. It teaches the faith revealed in Scripture and Tradition so that followers of Christ may know what to believe. Thus, familiarizing oneself with the writings of popes and councils of the Church is another reliable way to learn the faith.
Pope St. John Paul II standardized the teachings of the whole Church into a book called The Catechism of the Catholic Church. As a compilation of the Church’s teachings, it is saturated with Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium of the Church. He declared it to be “a sure norm for teaching the faith” (Fidei Depositum, 3). The Catechism of the Catholic Church can be found by clicking here.
Learning the Catholic Faith in the Diocese of Tyler
In the Diocese of Tyler, Bishop Joseph Strickland has founded the St. Philip Institute of Catechesis and Evangelization. It is the teaching institute of the diocese which assists local parishes with resources and teaching materials.
On The Web
The website of the St. Philip Institute is a readily accessible resource for learning the Catholic faith. There, the Institute produces and publishes both video and written content to ensure that the people of East Texas have the teachings of Christ at their fingertips. The content published by the St. Philip Institute distills the great teachings found in Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium.