Christianity: Roman Catholic


Primary Author
Chara Scroope,

Religious Buildings

There are a variety of places of worship in the Catholic tradition. Most buildings are generally referred to as a ‘church’. This is not to be confused with the Catholic Church, which refers to the institution and structure of the whole Catholic tradition.


A cathedral is the principal church that administers over a diocese; thus there is usually one cathedral per city. Each cathedral is home to the official ‘seat’ (‘cathedra’) of the residential bishop. Cathedrals are often the meeting place for the local clergy, but also serve a number of purposes for : offering daily services, a place for celebrating the Sacraments (especially baptism and weddings) and a meeting place for socialising and other community activities. Most cathedrals also have bells, which can be heard when announcing the commencement of a service or as a time of celebration (such as a newly married couple).


A chapel is a small church or room that features a small altar. The main uses for chapels are individual worship and are usually open to people who are temporarily visiting the area. Chapels are often attached to non-religious institutions or part of a larger structure. For instance, chapels may be found in a college, hospital, prison or church complex.

Parish Church

A parish church acts as the religious centre for a parish. This church is where members of the Catholic tradition who reside within the parish go to receive sacraments. The parish church also acts as the meeting place for congregational prayer, weekly worship services and a place of religious education. In many parts of the world, the parish church plays an important role in community activities and non-religious use.


Non-Catholics are permitted to visit a church and attend regular or special services. Guests are expected to be respectful through modest dress and considerate speech. There are a number of informal rules of etiquette one should follow. For example, while non-Catholics are allowed to participate in services, most churches limit participation in the sacraments to church members or professed Christians. For instance, non-Christians would not typically partake in the Eucharist. It is also common practice when entering or leaving a church to dip one’s right hand in a cup (font) of holy water at the entrance, followed by making the Sign of the Cross.

Handling Religious Texts

There is a general belief among Catholics that the important aspects of the Bible are the scriptures and teachings. As such, while one is expected to respect the physical Bible, Catholics are quite relaxed when it comes to handling religious texts. For instance, it is usually permissible for people to write notes on or highlight their personal copies of their Bible, as long as the notes are for one’s better understanding of the scriptures. Some people also use digital forms of the Bible (such as on their smartphone). It is typically acceptable to throw an old copy of the Bible away, but it should be done respectfully (e.g. placed in a bin or recycled rather than actively destroying the book).



The crucifix is a cross that contains the image of Jesus Christ being crucified. It is a common symbol throughout Catholicism. Nearly all Catholic churches feature a crucifix in the church to serve as a reminder of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. It is also common to find crucifixes in people’s homes or in the form of a small pendant around one’s neck.

Holy Water

Holy water is water that has been blessed by a priest, bishop or deacon. The typical usage of holy water is to sanctify or bless objects, protect people from supernatural evil and act as a symbolic reminder of baptism. When entering or leaving a church, it is also common for Catholics to dip their right hand in a cup (known as a font) of holy water at the entrance, followed by making the Sign of the Cross.


It is common for incense to be burned during weekly Mass, special holy days and funerals. The smoke of the incense represents the prayers of people ascending into heaven. The aroma also acts as a reminder of the ‘sweetness’ of God’s mercy.


Oil, particularly Chrism (blessed olive oil), is used during many sacraments to bless particular objects, such as altars.

Statues and Icons

Statues and icons are often displayed prominently in Catholic churches, throughout predominantly Catholic countries and in the homes of many Catholics. They usually represent important figures (such as saints or Jesus Christ). In Catholicism, statues and icons are not considered objects of worship. Rather, statues and icons serve as religious reminders for holiness, loyalty and obedience, encouraging people to uphold the values and attitudes of their faith. 


There is no formal dress code for laypersons in Catholicism. However, there are general of attire people follow when entering a church. Individuals are commonly expected to dress modestly by covering the shoulders, chest and knees. People also typically take their hat off when entering a church. Women may be required or may choose to wear a headcovering during Mass.

Some people may wear and use the rosary, which is a string of beads or a knotted cord used for prayer. The person usually moves the rosary in their hands, touching each bead as they recite a prayer. Another common article of clothing is a necklace of the cross. The cross is a symbolic representation of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Those who wear a cross usually do so as a sign of their commitment to Christianity. Some also believe that the cross can ward off evil and protect the wearer. Some may also wear medals with images of a saint, Jesus Christ or Mother Mary. These pendants act as reminders to the believer.

Dietary Practices

There are no strict rules or around diet in Catholicism. However, historically there have been several prescribed times of fasting. For example, the 40 days of Lent were traditionally a time of abstinence. This has gradually been relaxed over time and now, the holy days of Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are kept as Lenten fast days. Some Catholics also follow the tradition of observing a meatless fast on Fridays during Lent.

Another common practice relating to food is the Eucharist to commemorate Jesus Christ’s Last Supper, during which participants consume bread and wine. Some Catholics may also state a simple prayer before or after partaking in a meal (sometimes referred to as ‘saying grace’). This prayer is an act of gratitude and dedication to God.

Get a downloadable PDF that you can share, print and read.

Guaranteed secure stripe badge

A unified, searchable interface answering your questions on the world's cultures and religions

Sign up for free