Other religions, even other Christians, often look at Catholics with curiosity or disdain due to our customs and Traditions. We may not even know the origin of some of the things in question, or we may have questions ourselves. I will attempt to clear up some of the most common misconceptions about our faith.
Wearing a Crucifix: Catholics wear crucifixes rather than just a cross, not because we are morbid, neither because we have forgotten that Jesus is our Risen Lord. To the contrary; we chose to remember the sacrifice that Jesus made for us by dying on the cross. He lay down His life, so that He could take it up again. ( John 10:11-18 ) We are not wearing a symbol of torture, but rather a reminder of love. “Proclaim the death of the Lord, until he comes again.” 1 Corinthians 11:26
The Eucharist: Some, of other faiths, believe Catholics to be idol worshipers due to our belief in the Eucharist; however Sacred Scripture clearly points out why we believe what we do.
In John 6:31-66 Jesus repeatedly instructs us to eat His body and drink His blood. When the crowds questioned Him, He did not correct them and explain that it was a “symbol,” rather Christ let them leave as they would not follow His teaching. We see further evidence of this in 1 Corinthians 11:17-33 when the words of the Lord are repeated and clear instruction is given to receive this gift equally and worthily. Study of early Christian Church shows that the Eucharist was celebrated with the understanding that it was the Body and Blood of Christ well into the 1500s.
Saying the Rosary: Many misunderstand this beautiful Catholic prayer. They equate it to “prattling” as we are instructed not to do in scripture. (Sir. 7:14). The basic truth of this scripture is that God hears our prayers and we do not need to repeat them to be heard, nor to repeat them just to be seen by others as holy. The Lord often repeated Psalms and other prayers. He, Himself, taught us The Lord’s prayer. He clearly encouraged us to pray it. He did not object to formal prayer, just to the misuse of prayer.
The Rosary consists of a few prayers: The Creed (which just states our belief in the Trinity, the Life, Death and Resurrection of Christ and our hope in the life to come), The Lord’s Prayer, The Glory Be (again just expressing belief in the Father, Son and Spirit) and the Hail Mary.
What many don’t realize is that the Rosary and especially the Hail Mary is Biblical. The Mysteries of each decade describe an event in Christ’s life. The entire first verse of the Hail Mary comes from scripture. “Hail, full of grace… blessed is the fruit of your womb.” (Luke 1:28- 43) The second verse is asking the Blessed Mother to pray with us and for us. We do not worship her, we honor her as Christ’s mother and a wonderful example of holiness to us. “Holy Mary, Mother or God.” Luke 1:43 (Elizabeth refers to Mary as “the mother of my Lord.” In Luke 2:35 and in John 2:5 we are reminded that Jesus respected His mother and would do what she asked of Him, this gives us the courage to go before her and ask for her help when we talk to her Son.
Saying the Sign of the Cross: Many Christians end their prayers by saying, “In Jesus’ name.” This is a reference to the Bible verse which instructs us to ask all things through Jesus. (Col. 3:17) What about the rest of that verse though? “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.” When we make the sign of the cross, we are honoring Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and offering our prayers to the Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. It is referenced at the end of Matthew. “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and of the holy spirit.” (Matt.28:19)
Telling a priest your sins (Reconciliation or Confession): “Catholics are strange, they don’t realize they can tell their sins to God, so they tell them to a priest (who is just a man).” That’s what we sometimes hear even in our own Church. Well, the first answer is that we have been instructed to do so. Jesus himself instituted the Sacrament of Confession and the priesthood. “Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loosed on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Matt 18:18
Jesus also states, “Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them and whose sins you retain are retained.” John 20:22-23 “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” James 5:16 He stated this to His Disciples, His first Priests.
In the Catechism of the Church 1457, we are reminded that, “after having attained the age of discretion, each of the faithful is bound by an obligation faithfully to confess serious sins at least once a year.” We are instructed by the Church to go to confession whenever we have committed a mortal sin and furthermore, to confess venial sins.
Confession helps bring about accountability. It is hard to move past a sin if you are just holding it privately in your heart. Saying it out loud (and having to repeat it when you are having trouble breaking free from a particular sin) helps to keep us on track. Furthermore, we believe we are, “whispering in the ear of Christ,” the priest only takes the place of Jesus during the sacrament.
The Catholic Faith is rich with wonderful prayers, customs and Traditions. Traditions by themselves are not bad, I’m sure many families have holiday Traditions and family Traditions. Additionally, we are instructed to ( 2 Thes 2:15), “hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.” Furthermore, 2 Thes. 3:6 states, “according to the tradition which you received from us.” The Bible was not yet put together, so the teachings passed on by word of mouth are in fact Christian Traditions.
Hopefully this clears up some of the questions that you may have about the customs of the Catholic Church. May God bless you in your quest for truth.