Rituals and Practices
Many practices of Catholicism relate to the Seven Sacraments. All sacraments are considered to be channels of receiving the grace of God. The Sacraments are categorised into the Sacraments of Initiation (baptism, the Eucharist, and confirmation), the Sacraments of Healing (reconciliation and anointing of the sick) and the Sacraments of Vocational Consecration (matrimony and ordination). Each sacrament contains both a visible ritual and an invisible, spiritual component that connects the receiver to God. Some sacraments are received once, while others require active and ongoing participation.
The Sacrament of Baptism is seen as admission into the Catholic Church. The ritual usually occurs when the person is an infant. To perform the ritual, a priest sprinkles or pours holy water on the head of the person being baptised. The priest simultaneously invokes the Holy Trinity with the words, “I baptise you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit”. It is believed that the old self dies in the waters and a new self emerges, mirroring the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The ritual is usually performed only once in a Catholic’s lifetime. A baptism performed by another Christian denomination is usually recognised by the Catholic Church.
The Sacrament of the Eucharist, also known as the ‘Holy Communion’ or the ‘Lord’s Supper’, is the second sacrament of initiation in the Catholic Church. During the ritual, bread and red wine are sanctified by a member of the clergy. This process of consecrating the bread and wine is believed to change the substances into the body and blood of Jesus Christ. The congregation then shares the sacred meal as a way to commemorate Christ’s Last Supper, as well as his crucifixion. Although the Eucharist can be received as often as one wishes, an individual’s first communion and their participation in the Eucharist during Easter is considered to be particularly important.
The Sacrament of Confirmation serves to confirm a baptised person in their faith. The ritual is usually received when the person is a young teenager. During a confirmation, a bishop or priest places their hands on the person and offers a prayer, blessing and an anointing of the forehead with holy oil. The religious leader then utters the words, “Be sealed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit”. The act of ‘sealing’ confirms the person is a member of the Church and also welcomes the inner presence of the Holy Spirit.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation, also known as ‘Confession’ or ‘Penance’, is seen as an opportunity for one to renew their faith. During the ritual, sins are privately recounted to a priest, who acts as an administrator in the reconciliation between God and the sinner. It is also an opportunity for self-reflection and to take responsibility for one’s actions. Some Catholics may participate in the sacrament based on personal preference. For example, some participate in reconciliation weekly before they receive the Eucharist, whereas others may seek penance during particular seasons such as Lent or Advent.
Anointing of the Sick
The Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick is the Sacrament administered to give strength and comfort to the ill. The ritual is usually performed in a home, a church or a hospital by a priest or bishop. The clergy member typically prays over the person and anoints their head and hands with holy oil. A Catholic may receive the sacrament if they experience a serious illness or injury, awaiting surgery and/or if they are elderly or an ill child who is mature enough to understand the significance of the Sacrament. A person can receive the Sacrament as often as they wish throughout their life. The Sacrament is believed to unite the person’s suffering with that of Christ during his crucifixion and death.
A baptised man and baptised woman administer the Sacrament of Matrimony to each other through their lifelong partnership (also known as marriage). The Catholic Church sees marriage as a reflection of the union of Christ, thus considering it to be an indissoluble union. The ritual usually takes place during a religious ceremony, with a cleric who serves as the minister and witness to the mutual consent of the couple. Only scriptures from the Bible can be approved as the vows to be read and recited by the couple during the ceremony.
The Sacrament of Ordination, also known as Holy Orders, is a sacrament available to men who are being ordained as bishops, priests or deacons. During the ritual, a prayer and blessing is offered as a bishop places his hands on the head of a man being ordained into the holy order. The ritual grants newly ordained ministers the power to administer the Sacraments depending on their respective order.
refers to the Christian practice of charity whereby a Christian offers a set proportion of their wealth. The act of is usually voluntary and members may offer money, goods or services. In some exceptional cases, one may be required to give a specific percentage of wealth. This depends on the country and the Christian denomination.
In Christianity, there is a general distinction between liturgical (‘high church’) and non-liturgical (‘low church’) churches. This is often based on the degree to which a church’s worship is elaborate, standardised and whether it contains formalised rituals. Typical practices in liturgical churches include special attire for the clergy, religious symbols, recitation of prayers, observance of a yearly liturgical calendar and performing sacraments (especially the Eucharist).
The Catholic Church is a liturgical faith, meaning that Catholic services (known as Mass) use carefully prescribed rituals. Some of the major characteristics of Catholic liturgical practice include a formal structure to religious ceremonies, specific prayers and spoken texts, iconography, a variety of hymns and the use of physical materials (such as holy oil and incense).
A common gesture throughout Catholic worship is the pressing of one’s hands together (known as ‘folded hands’). This is usually done when in prayer. A variation of folded hands is interlacing the fingers. Some people may also kneel on the ground with their hands pressed together as they pray. These hand gestures and body poses are often used as a way to express one’s submission and confidence in God while communicating.
Another common gesture in Catholicism involves making the Sign of the Cross on one’s body with a hand accompanied by the words “Father, Son and Holy Spirit”. In the Catholic tradition, one starts by touching their forehead along with the word “Father”, the lower chest at the mention of the ‘Son’, and the left shoulder on the word “Holy” and the right shoulder with the word “Spirit”, symbolising one’s belief and faith in the Holy Trinity. The Sign of the Cross is usually performed before and after prayers, entering or leaving a church, and at the start of Mass.
Genuflection is another common act of worship, which is the physical movement of touching the right knee on the floor while bending the left knee. Someone performing the genuflection typically will make the Sign of the Cross at the same time. Genuflecting is reserved for when one is in front of the Eucharist.
There are various ways Catholics show their devotion through prayer and worship. One of the most common prayers is the Lord’s Prayer, which is a prayer directed to God. It is also common for prayer to be in the form of psalms, hymns and songs. People may participate in communal prayer at the church, or may perform a private prayer. For example, some Catholics pray before or after partaking in a meal, when one wakes up and before one goes to sleep. Many also consider reading the Bible as a form of prayer. Some people may also wear and use prayer beads during prayer by touching each bead as they recite a prayer.
Mass is the primary weekly worship ceremony celebrated by Catholics all over the world. The ceremony is held each Sunday, often in the morning or multiple times a day. Mass can only occur through the exercised authority of a clergy member and is nearly always held in a church. Some churches may hold a service on Saturday evening as an alternative for those who cannot attend on Sunday. Masses can also occur throughout the week (known as daily Mass), albeit shorter in length. The main purpose of Mass is to commemorate Jesus Christ, especially his sacrifice on the cross, and to enter into an intimate fellowship with Christ and other members of the church.
Mass incorporates readings from the Bible, prayer and worship, music, symbols, gestures and sacred objects. The typical structure of Sunday Mass begins with a procession of clergy members and assistants entering the main part of the church. The next part is the Liturgy of the Word, which contains readings from the Bible, a sermon and prayer. The final part is the Liturgy of the Eucharist. This includes the offering of bread and wine at the altar which is consecrated by the priest and consumed by the congregation.
Get a downloadable PDF that you can share, print and read.