The Catholic Church is a global community of believers founded by Jesus Christ over two-thousand years ago. There are over 1 billion Catholics on earth. The Catholic Church is made up on many people from diverse cultural backgrounds. Sometimes the Catholic Church is thought of as a big tent – it encompasses many people within the spectrum of political belief all united by the same central religious belief or creed.
A Group of Christians
The Catholic Church is Christian. Sometimes people are confused and juxtapose the Catholic Church with Christianity when in fact they are one in the same. The Catholic Church was the first group of Christians and is the group from which all other Christian groups have splintered over the centuries.
The Catholic Church is primarily a worldwide group of Christians, but is also an institution. Within the Catholic Church there is a leadership structure. The leaders of the Catholic Church are not like kings and queens, but rather servant-leaders following the example of Jesus. Servant-leaders put themselves at the service of those whom they lead unlike a king who lords himself over the people. The primary servant-leaders of the Catholic Church are all men who have undergone a ritual called Holy Orders in which they are ordained or commissioned into the priesthood. Becoming a priest, while a special privilege, carries much responsibility for priests act in the place of Jesus in a special way. The exclusive selection of priests as men is a tradition that is rooted in Jesus’ selection of the original twelve apostles, the twelve men he chose to carry out his mission after Jesus’ death.
One of the most important roles of the priest in the Catholic Church is that he re-presents Jesus’ great sacrifice at each Eucharistic (YOO-ka-rist-ick) liturgy. A Eucharistic liturgy is commonly referred to as Mass, the time when Catholics gather to worship God by listening to readings of the Bible and receiving Jesus in the form of bread and wine. Catholics believe that the bread and wine at Mass are turned into the body and blood of Jesus by the priest (called consecration). The consecrated bread and wine are then distributed to the worshippers much like Jesus did with his twelve apostles the night before he was hung on a cross (crucifixion). This ritual is at the center of Catholic belief and worship.
Carrying Out the Ministry of Jesus
Aside from the special duties of the ordained priesthood, there is also an expectation of all Catholics to carry out the ministry of Jesus. All Catholics, when initiated into the church through a ritual called baptism, are baptized as priest, prophet, and king thereby responsible for a share in the work of Jesus.
Like any institution the Catholic Church is not exempt from having bad leaders, but even with poor leadership the faith and hope in Jesus Christ remains and it is that which brings the Catholic Church together.