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What makes the Catholic Church Unique from the other Churches?

Blessed Sacrament Catholic Parish is celebrating the Year of Catechesis from July 2022 – June 2023. The theme of the Year is: Journeying Together in Renewing our Faith. Each month, a new topic is addressed.


The major Christian denominations can be grouped into three main branches – Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant.

We Share many beliefs and practices with other Christians – with mainline Protestants, with Orthodox, Evangelical, and Pentecostal Christians, but we differ in some ways.

The bonds which bind men to the Catholic Church in a visible way are;

  • Ecclesiastical governance and communion
  • Profession of Faith
  • Sacraments

  • The Church is constituted of the people of God. People of God includes all Christ’s faithful, since they are incorporated into Christ through baptism. This Church, established and ordered in this world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the successor of Peter and the Bishops in communion with him.
  • Those baptized are in full communion with the Catholic Church here on earth who are joined with Christ in his visible body, through the bonds of profession of faith, the sacraments and ecclesiastical governance.
  • By divine institution, among Christ’s faithful there are in the Church sacred ministers, who in law are also called clerics- the others are called lay people.

  • Just as, by the decree of the Lord, [“And I tell you, that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)], Saint Peter and the rest of the Apostles form one College, so for a like reason the Roman Pontiff, the successor of Peter, and the Bishops, the successors of the Apostles, are united together in one.
  • The office uniquely committed by the Lord to Peter, the first of the Apostles, and to be transmitted to his successors, abides in the Bishop of the Church of Rome. He is the head of the College of Bishops, the Vicar of Christ, and the Pastor of the universal Church here on earth.
  • The Roman Pontiff, in fulfilling his office as supreme Pastor of the Church, is always joined in full communion with the other Bishops, and indeed with the whole Church. He has the right, however, to determine, according to the needs of the Church, whether this office is to be exercised in a personal or in a collegial manner.
  • The Bishops are available to the Roman Pontiff in the exercise of his office, to cooperate with him in various ways, among which is the synod of Bishops. Cardinals also assist him, as do other persons and, according to the needs of the time, various institutes; all these persons and institutes fulfil their offices in his name and by his authority, for the good of all the Churches, in accordance with the norms determined by law.

  • The head of the College of Bishops is the Supreme Pontiff, and its members are the Bishops by virtue of their sacramental consecration and hierarchical communion with the head of the College and its members. This College of Bishops, in which the apostolic body abides in an unbroken manner, is, in union with its head and never without this head, also the subject of supreme and full power over the universal Church.
  • The College of Bishops exercises its power over the universal Church in solemn form in an Ecumenical Council.

  • The synod of Bishops is a group of Bishops selected from different parts of the world, who meet together at specified times to promote the close relationship between the Roman Pontiff and the Bishops. These Bishops, by their counsel, assist the Roman Pontiff in the defence and development of faith and morals and in the preservation and strengthening of ecclesiastical discipline. They also consider questions concerning the mission of the Church in the world.
  • The function of the synod of Bishops is to discuss the matters proposed to it and set forth recommendations. It is not its function to settle matters or to draw up decrees, unless the Roman Pontiff has given it deliberative power in certain cases; in this event, it rests with the Roman Pontiff to ratify the decisions of the synod.

  • The Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church constitute a special College, whose prerogative it is to elect the Roman Pontiff in accordance with the norms of a special law. The Cardinals are also available to the Roman Pontiff, either acting collegially, when they are summoned together to deal with questions of major importance, or acting individually, that is, in the offices which they hold in assisting the Roman Pontiff especially in the daily care of the universal Church.
  • Those to be promoted Cardinals are men freely selected by the Roman Pontiff, who are at least in the order of priesthood and are truly outstanding in doctrine, virtue, piety and prudence in practical matters; those who are not already Bishops must receive episcopal consecration.
  • Cardinals assist the Supreme Pastor of the Church in collegial fashion particularly in Consistories, in which they are gathered by order of the Roman Pontiff and under his presidency. Consistories are either ordinary or extraordinary.
  • In an ordinary Consistory all Cardinals, or at least those who are in Rome, are summoned for consultation on certain grave matters of more frequent occurrence, or for the performance of especially solemn acts.
  • All Cardinals are summoned to an extraordinary Consistory, which takes place when the special needs of the Church and more serious matters suggest it.
  • Cardinals have the obligation of cooperating closely with the Roman Pontiff. For this reason, Cardinals who have any office in the Curia and are not diocesan Bishops, are obliged to reside in Rome. Cardinals who are in charge of a diocese as diocesan Bishops, are to go to Rome whenever summoned by the Roman Pontiff.

  • The Roman Pontiff has an inherent and independent right to appoint Legates and to send them either to particular Churches in various countries or regions, or at the same time to States and to public Authorities. He also has the right to transfer or recall them, in accordance with the norms of international law concerning the mission and recall of representatives accredited to States.
  • To Legates of the Roman Pontiff is entrusted the office of representing in a stable manner the person of the Roman Pontiff in the particular Churches, or also in the States and public Authorities, to whom they are sent.
  • The principal task of a Papal Legate is continually to make more firm and effective the bonds of unity which exist between the Holy See and the particular Churches. Within the territory assigned to him, it is therefore the responsibility of a Legate:
  1. To inform the Apostolic See about the conditions in which the particular Churches find themselves, as well as about all matters which affect the life of the Church and the good of souls;
  2. To assist the Bishops by action and advice, while leaving intact the exercise of their lawful power;
  3. To foster close relations with the Episcopal Conference, offering it every assistance;
  4. In connection with the appointment of Bishops, to send or propose names of candidates to the Apostolic See, as well as to prepare the informative process about those who may be promoted, in accordance with the norms issued by the Apostolic See; 
  5. To take pains to promote whatever may contribute to peace, progress and the united efforts of peoples; 
  6. To work with the Bishops to foster appropriate exchanges between the Catholic Church and other Churches or ecclesial communities, and indeed with non-Christian religions; 
  7. To work with the Bishops to safeguard, so far as the rulers of the State are concerned, those things which relate to the mission of the Church and of the Apostolic See; 
  8. To exercise the faculties and carry out the other instructions which are given to him by the Apostolic See.

  • Particular Churches, in which and from which the one and only catholic Church exists, are principally dioceses.
  • A diocese is a portion of the people of God, which is entrusted to a Bishop to be nurtured by him, with the cooperation of the presbyterium, in such a way that, remaining close to its pastor and gathered by him through the Gospel and the Eucharist in the Holy Spirit, it constitutes a particular Church. In this Church, the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church of Christ truly exists and functions.

  • By divine institution, Bishops succeed the Apostles through the Holy Spirit who is given to them. They are constituted Pastors in the Church, to be the teachers of doctrine, the priests of sacred worship and the ministers of governance.
  • Bishops to whom the care of a given diocese is entrusted are called diocesan Bishops; the others are called titular Bishops.
  • The Supreme Pontiff freely appoints Bishops or confirms those lawfully elected.
  • To be a suitable candidate for the episcopate, a person must:
  1. Be outstanding in strong faith, good morals, piety, zeal for souls, wisdom, prudence and human virtues, and possess those other gifts which equip him to fulfil the office in question;
  2. Be held in good esteem;
  3. Be at least 35 years old;
  4. Be a priest ordained for at least five years;
  5. Hold a doctorate or at least a licentiate in sacred Scripture, theology or canon law, from an institute of higher studies approved by the Apostolic See, or at least be well versed in these disciplines.

  • When the pastoral needs of the diocese require it, one or more auxiliary Bishops are to be appointed at the request of the diocesan Bishop. An auxiliary Bishop does not have the right of succession.
  • If the Holy See considers it more opportune, it can ex officio appoint a coadjutor Bishop, who also has special faculties. A coadjutor Bishop has the right of succession.

  • An ecclesiastical province is presided over by a Metropolitan, who is Archbishop in his own diocese. The office of Metropolitan is linked to an episcopal see, determined or approved by the Roman Pontiff.
  • The Dioceses that are under a certain ecclesiastical province are called suffragan dioceses. E.g. in the Archdiocese of Nairobi, the Suffragan Dioceses are; Kericho, Kitui, Machakos, Nakuru and Ngong.

  • To foster pastoral care by means of common action, several neighbouring parishes can be joined together in special groups, such as vicariates forane/ Deanery.
  • The Vicar forane, known also as the dean or the archpriest or by some other title, is the priest who is placed in charge of a vicariate forane.
  • Unless it is otherwise prescribed by particular law, the Vicar forane is appointed by the diocesan Bishop; if he has considered it prudent to do so, he will have consulted the priests who are exercising the ministry in the vicariate.

  • A parish is a certain community of Christ’s faithful stably established within a particular Church, whose pastoral care, under the authority of the diocesan Bishop, is entrusted to a parish priest as its proper pastor.
  • The parish priest is the proper pastor of the parish entrusted to him. He exercises the pastoral care of the community entrusted to him under the authority of the diocesan Bishop, whose ministry of Christ he is called to share, so that for this community he may carry out the offices of teaching, sanctifying and ruling with the cooperation of other priests or deacons and with the assistance of lay members of Christ’s faithful, in accordance with the law.
  • Whenever it is necessary or opportune for the due pastoral care of the parish, one or more assistant priests can be joined with the parish priest. As cooperators with the parish priest and sharers in his concern, they are, by common counsel and effort with the parish priest and under his authority, to labour in the pastoral ministry.

  • The catechism of the Catholic Church defines prayer as, “the raising of one’s mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God”. (ccc. 2259).
  • Paul commenting on liturgical prayer in his 1st letter to Timothy says, “I urge then, first of all that petitions, prayers, intercessions and thanksgiving should be offered for everyone…. To do this is right, and acceptable to God our Saviour: he wants everyone to be saved and reach full knowledge of the truth. For there is only one God, and there is only one mediator between God and humanity, himself a human being, Christ Jesus, who offered himself as a ransom for all.” (1st Timothy 2: 1-5).
  • So as Catholics Christian, all prayer is directed to God through Jesus Christ, hence the Formula ‘we ask this through Christ our Lord. Or ‘Through our Lord Jesus Christ who lives and reigns in the unity of the Holy Spirit One God forever and ever Amen.’
  • We also realize prayer can take many forms, i.e. petition, praise or thanksgiving, intercession, etc.
  • As Catholic Christians and especially in the prayers of intercession, we intercede for others or ask for intercession both from the living and the Saints in heaven. It is from this that Catholics seek intercession, in a special way from our Mother the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the Saints.

Many times, Catholics Christians have been accused of praying to Mary. Our Prayers as Catholics are not directed to Mary but to God. Mary, Foremost among the Saints, has a special place in the Salvation History. Her role in the Church flows and is inseparable from her union with her Son. Her “YES” at the Annunciation consented to the Lord’s incarnation, thus collaborating with her Son’s work from the Beginning.

There are several things the Catholic faith teaches about the Blessed Virgin Mary;

As you say, we do call Mary the "mother of God". We call her by that title, for example, in the "Hail Mary" when we say "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners..." In simple terms, what we mean by this expression is that Mary is the mother of Jesus, who is God the Son, a divine person. Therefore she is the mother of God. Naturally we do not mean that Mary gave birth to God the Father, the creator. There are various relevant passages in Scripture. When the Archangel Gabriel appeared to Mary in the Annunciation, he told her that, if she accepted, she would conceive and bear a son, "and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High. (Lk 1:31-32) That is, Jesus is the eternal Son of the Most High God, he is God the Son, the second person of the Blessed Trinity.

The Immaculate Conception means that Mary, unlike any other human being, was conceived without the stain of original sin. Original sin consists essentially in the soul being deprived of sanctifying grace; that is, deprived of sharing in God's own life and nature. On what do we base this belief? An implicit reference may be found in Scripture in the angel's greeting to Mary in the Annunciation: "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you." (Lk 1:28). In 1854, Pope Pius IX declared the Immaculate Conception a dogma in these words, "The Most Holy Virgin Mary was, in the first moment of her conception, by a unique gift of grace and privilege of Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of mankind, preserved free from all stain of original sin."

The teaching of the Church is that Mary was "ever virgin"; that is, she was a virgin before the birth of Christ, in the birth, and after the birth. The Catholic Church teaches that Mary had no carnal relations with Joseph and no children after Jesus. The reference to Jesus' "brothers and sisters" in Mark 3:32 and 6:3 refers to relatives, not actual brothers and sisters. The Catechism explains: "The Church has always understood these passages as not referring to other children of the Virgin Mary. In fact James and Joseph, 'brothers of Jesus', are the sons of another Mary, a disciple of Christ, whom St Matthew significantly calls 'the other Mary.' (cf. Mt 27:56; 28:1).

Pope Pius XII, in defining Mary's bodily assumption in the Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus on 1 November 1950, wrote: "Finally, the Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, so that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords and conqueror of sin and death."

  • The devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary is well known through the prayer of the Rosary among Catholics. Aside from its spiritual benefits, its appeal no doubt lies with its ease of recitation, its soothing repetitiveness, and its intimate connection with scripture and the life of Christ.
  • The rosary as we know it today grew out of a combination of many factors. Briefly, the basic origins of the Rosary lie in the monastic practice of reciting all 150 psalms in one week. In the desire to give the laity a common form of prayer that ties to the monastic community, the laity were encouraged to recite 150 ‘Our Fathers’ in imitation. Parallel to this practice were those who had a Marian Devotion. They used the Angelic Salutation (“Hail Mary full of Grace…”) instead.
  • The Rosary as we know it today took its final shape in the fifteenth century. In 1483, a Dominican composed a rosary booklet called Our Dear Lady’s Psalter. In 1569, Pope Pius V approved the 15 decade form of the Rosary.
  • Later, Pope John Paul II added a new set of mysteries called the luminous mysteries in his publication, Rosarium Virginis Mariae.
  • The popularity of the rosary grew in 1917, when Our Lady appeared in Fatima to three Children, Maria, Francis and Jacinta. Her message was, Pray the Rosary every day, do penance and have devotion to her immaculate heart. The reason our Blessed Mother appeared at Fatima was to tell us what we must do in order to have peace. World War I was ranging at that time.

  • As Catholics, we have a great devotion to the saints.  And with good reason:  saints are good models for us in our faith.  According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “By canonizing some of the faithful, i.e., by solemnly claiming that they have practiced heroic virtue and lived in fidelity to God’s grace, the Church recognizes the power of the Spirit of holiness within her and sustains the hope of believers by proposing the saints to them as models and intercessors” (CCC 828).
  • After the Saints have been received into their heavenly home and are present to the Lord, through Him and with Him and in Him they do not cease to intercede with the Father for us, showing forth the merits which they won on earth through the one Mediator between God and man." The saints, the members of the Church who have arrived at perfect union with Christ, join their wills to the will of God in praying for those in the Church who are still on their pilgrimage of faith.

  • We recognize that the Sacraments have a visible and invisible reality, a reality open to all the human senses but grasped in its God-given depths with the eyes of faith. The visible reality we see in the Sacraments is their outward expression, the form they take, and the way in which they are administered and received. The invisible reality we cannot "see" is God's grace, his gracious initiative in redeeming us through the death and Resurrection of his Son.
  • With Regards to the Sacraments, the Catholic Church mostly differ from the other denominations in the manner of celebration and beliefs in particular Sacraments.
  • A sacramental celebration is woven from signs and symbols. In keeping with the divine pedagogy of salvation, their meaning is rooted in the work of creation and in human culture, specified by the events of the Old Covenant and fully revealed in the person and work of Christ.
  • Since Pentecost, it is through the sacramental signs of his Church that the Holy Spirit carries on the work of sanctification. The sacraments of the Church do not abolish but purify and integrate all the richness of the signs and symbols of the cosmos and of social life.
  • In the catholic faith, it is worth noting that for the validity of any sacrament, the matter and the form of every sacrament must be observed. The matter refers to the tangible thing used and the form refer to the words used when administering the Sacrament.

In the Catholic Church we have seven Sacraments divided into three groups.

  1. Initiation Sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist.
  2. Healing Sacraments: Penance and anointing of the sick
  3. Service Sacraments: Holy orders and Matrimony

In the celebration of the sacrament of baptism, there are common features that are notable between Catholics and Mainline Churches. For example, the use of water as the matter for baptism and the Trinitarian formula as the form.

We differ in that, in celebration of Baptism, we have more signs than we have in other denominations. For instance the use of oils representing deliverance from the original sin and incorporation to the priesthood of Christ whereby we participate with Christ as Priest, King and prophet. The candles signifying Christ as the Light of the World, and the white garment signifying the call to purity by the baptized.

In Confirmation the uniqueness of the Catholic Church is in the use of the Holy oils of Chrism which confirms the believer in the common priesthood of Christ and bestow the Holy Spirit. In Confirmation the Matter of the Sacrament are the oils of Chrism and form is the words used (receive the Gift of the Holy Spirit).

According to the Catholic teaching, the Eucharist is a real and permanent presence of Christ under the species of bread and wine. This presence occurs by transubstantiation, effected by a priest by the virtue of the power received through ordination. For the Protestants, their celebration of the Eucharist is in the commemoration of the last supper and there is no real presence of Christ is the species of bread and wine. The Matter of the sacrament of Eucharist in the Catholic Church are the Eucharistic species of bread and wine and the form is the consecration words said by the priest.

The Catholic Teaching on penance is borrowed from the words of Christ said to his apostles in the Gospel of John, “if you forgive anyone's sins, they are forgiven; if you retain anyone's sins, they are retained.” (John 20:23). The Confessor’s role is to represent Christ and announce the words of absolution on behalf of the Church. With the words of absolution, Christ Himself is giving us the sign we need to know that God has forgiven us. The Matter for Confession is both remote and proximate. Remote matter consists of sins committed after baptism that have not yet been confessed. Proximate matter consists of contrition, confession and penance. The form for the sacrament of penance are the words of absolution from the Priest.

In the letter of James 5:14, “Any one of you who is ill should send for the elders of the church, and they must anoint the sick person with oil in the name of the Lord and pray over him. The prayer of faith will save the sick person and the Lord will raise him up again; and if he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven.” The oils for anointing the sick are blessed by the Bishop during the Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday. The Teaching of the Catholic Church is that only a validly ordained priest can anoint the sick person. The Matter for the Sacrament are the oils and the form are the words used during the anointing.

The catholic teaching on Matrimony is that  it is covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of their whole life, and which of its own very nature is ordered to the well-being of the spouses and to the procreation and upbringing of children, and has to be between the baptized. Hence there is no divorce in the teaching of the Catholic Church. The form and matter for the sacrament of marriage involves the free consent exchange between the bride and the groom.

By means of ordination, the Lord consecrates certain men to one of the three degrees of sacred orders: episcopacy (bishops), presbyterate (priests), and diaconate (deacons). The uniqueness of this Sacrament is in the teaching that only Baptized man can validly be ordained in the Catholic Church. This by no means does not discriminate against women. Jesus himself involved women in His ministerial work but he called the 12 apostles to continue his work after his resurrection. The bishops are the successors of the apostles with the priests and deacons as their helpers.

Priestly celibacy is also unique to the Catholic Church. This allows the ordained to offer himself fully to the service of Christ. Priestly celibacy acts as a pointer to eternal life where there will be no marriage.

The matter for the Sacrament of Holy orders is the laying on of hands and the form is the prayer of consecration.

  • According to Vatican II in the constitution on Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, the sacramentals are sacred signs which have a sacrament-like structures. They have been created by the Church to produce spiritual and material fruits.
  • Their efficacy depends not on the rite itself, as in the sacraments, but on the influence of prayerful petition; that of the person who uses them and of the Church in approving their practice.

It might be helpful to organize the types of sacramentals into categories, as author Michael Pennock lists in This Is Our Faith: A Catholic Catechism for Adults, 176-177.

  1. Actions (blessings; genuflections; the sign of the cross; bowing one’s head at the name of Jesus; church processions);
  2. Objects (candles; holy water; statues and icons; holy pictures; blessed ashes; palms; rosaries; relics; incense; vestments; scapulars; church buildings; crosses; religious medals);
  3. Places (the Holy Land; Rome; Fatima; Lourdes; and other places of pilgrimage; chapels, retreat centers, and even Catholic cemeteries);
  4. Prayers (short prayers we say throughout the day; grace before and after meals; prayers at rising and going to bed; praying the rosary, praying a host of other traditional Catholic prayers and devotions);
  5. Sacred Time (liturgy; holy days; feasts of saints; your saint’s name day; special days of prayer; fasting and abstinence; retreats, etc.)”
  • “Sacramentals prepare us to receive grace and dispose us to cooperate with it” (CCC 1670). In a word, sacramentals, through the prayer of the Church, bring us to holiness in Christ. All devotions of piety, including sacramentals, should point us toward the liturgy of the Church, a connection to a local parish community, and to the Eucharist (CCC 1675).
  • The Church, through Christ’s passion, death and resurrection, has given us these sacred signs to lead us in holiness, and to better recognize an authentic Christian life.

When we declare ourselves Catholic, we are not merely expressing a “religious preference”, we are Catholics because of our relationship with Jesus Christ. Jesus made us members of the Church by linking us to Himself, something similar to grafting branches onto a vine. Jesus Himself used that image to depict our union with Him. “I am the vine; you are the branches (John 15:5). Simply put at the most fundamental level, a Catholic is a Christian- a follower of Jesus Christ.

Compiled by Fr. Dominic Muturi

  1. The Code of the Canon Law 1983.
  2. Vatican II Documents
  3. The Catechism of the Catholic Church
  4. This Is Our Faith: A Catholic Catechism for Adults
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