Chapter 5 - Catholic Culture


  • Sean N. Bennett, RN, MSN - Assistant Professor - Utah Valley University - Orem, Utah
  • Jerri M. Kolb, SN - Student Nurse - Utah Valley University - Provo, Utah
  • Tianne M. Pierce, SN - Student Nurse - Utah Valley University - Orem, Utah




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Catholics are known for large, closely knit families with emphasis on traditional events and Sunday worship (7). Popular culture in the United States might yield an image of a veiled woman praying over her rosary, or perhaps an elderly nun in her habit schooling children, or heavy with incense and Latin liturgies, the Church looms heavily, portrayed in films like the Godfather. However, beyond the stereotypical assumptions, many Catholics are fueled by their faith and membership in the Catholic church spans the globe, with many cultures and expressions of that faith. Catholic church membership constitutes nearly 1/6th of the world's population and is spread throughout most countries of the world. The structure is hierarchical in nature, beginning at the lower, more community level as a parish (9). Often times the parish is culturally centered with groups that meet together based on language and background, such as Irish, Latin, or Greek, compared to a parish being organized by a geographically marked area. According to Catholic Canon Law, each parish has a priest that oversees religious rites such as Mass and the sacraments and leads the congregation.

Congregational Structure


Upward from the parish is the diocese with a bishop at its head. Diocese are grouped into archdiocese, which are led by an archbishop. Archdiocese are also in the same grouping as a patriarchate, which is led by a patriarch, the two being distinguished by size. The head of the church is located in Rome, Italy, or more precisely Vatican City, where the Pope is the overall leader of the church. Catholic members usually interact on the local level with their priest who they refer to as 'Father'. Rarely is their member interaction upward from the priestly level. Although the average Catholic will not interact with the Pope, their is usually a sense of reverence and care for the Pope. Prayers and concern for the Pope's well-being are a common practice in Catholic homes.

Family Structure


Overall, the Catholic culture is one of family and faith. There is a strong focus on the nuclear family with a mother and father joined by matrimony. The family is structured symbolically as a representation of the faith. Every Catholic home should be considered a microcosm of the Church in its structure. The father presides as the head of the family in equality with the mother. The mother is revered as the beloved spouse and children are raised in faith with a focus on love, doctrinal knowledge, and faith. The Catholic faith advocates children and due to restrictions on the use of birth control, often times Catholic families are large in number. Ideally, the true patriarch and head of the home is Jesus Christ, in similitude of His leadership of the church. Family activities can include a weekly observance centered on the Mass, and days centered on prayer as an outward mechanism of religious observance.


Catholics don't isolate themselves according to their faith. They integrate well into societies where Christianity is mainstream. In America, many Catholics immigrated and assimilated into American society and have prominent roles in society. As of today, six justices of the Supreme Court are Catholic and Catholics believe that in order to practice their faith in a community, they should be a part of that community, and believe that to truly assimilate, Catholics should be neighborly and participate in the society in which they live (10).

As for a Catholic sense of community, although members do have a local parish as an option to attend for religious services, the culture is defined by families and small groupings, not heavily structured through church membership (11).

Values and Norms




The Catholic faith emphasizes virtues and kindness associated with Jesus Christ, who is God incarnate. Examples of these traits are:


  • Love
  • Compassion
  • Inclusiveness
  • Diversity
  • Friendship
  • Prayer
  • Unity
  • Service
  • Kindness
  • Tolerance
  • Family
  • Justice
  • Unity


The Catholic church believes that Jesus Christ is their shepherd and guide. The Holy Spirit as part of the Trinity of God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost creates and sustains the Church. It unites believers with their shepherd. Each person has been created in the image of God by God who with the breath of life gave life to man here on Earth.

The evangelical mission of the church is to all people. All members are expected to truly live the Sacraments and to uphold their promises to the fullest. Each person is invited by the Holy Spirit to receive comfort, shelter, and redeeming love of the church and to partake in the gifts of the Word and Sacrament and share in the mission and ministry of the Church.

In accordance with the teachings of Jesus Christ and his Gospel, the church membership rejects any discrimination based on race, ethnicity, color, gender, physical challenges, sexual orientation, or cultural heritage (28).

As a whole, the Catholic church does not favor divorce, nor does it approve of birth control and is strongly against abortion (6). The rationale behind these beliefs is that life is sacred and families are symbolic of God's love and should be protected and not limited. Family is of supreme importance and should be nurtured in similitude of Christ nurturing the church.



The Catholic church also teaches corporal and spiritual works of mercy in line with their focus on charitable actions.

The Church enumerates "corporal works of mercy" and "spiritual works of mercy" as a focus of the faith. These are designated as follows: (34)

Corporal Works of Mercy


  1. Feed the hungry.
  2. Give drink to the thirsty
  3. Clothe the naked.
  4. Shelter the homeless.
  5. Visit the sick.
  6. Ransom the captive.
  7. Bury the dead.


Spiritual Works of Mercy


  1. Instruct the ignorant by sharing the gospel.
  2. Help and counsel those who doubt.
  3. Admonish sinners.
  4. Patiently bear wrongs and offences.
  5. Willingly forgive wrongs.
  6. Comfort the afflicted.
  7. Pray for both the living and the dead.


The Catholic faith does not advise upon minutiae of its members lives. As the church has such long standing history and varied membership across the globe, there are very few behavioral admonitions beyond the teachings of the Bible. There aren't culturally specific requirements although certain members of various cultures may implement traditions into their practice of the Catholic faith. The Catholic church is a faith of doctrine and tradition, not necessarily outwardly measured lifestyle choices. (35)

Traditions, Beliefs and Attitudes


Catholics have a fundamental belief in Jesus Christ as the literal human son or incarnation of God (2). Jesus is God made flesh, born of the Virgin Mary at the year AD 1, lived on earth as recorded in the Bible and died on the cross as a symbolic redemption for mankind's sins in approximately AD 34(18). From the death of Jesus Christ, through papal authority, the Catholic faith has instituted many rituals, blessings, prayers, and ways in which each member of the faith can live a life that draws close to God and follows the example of Jesus Christ's teachings. Some of the rituals and ordinances of the Catholic faith are:

Sign of the Cross


Catholics also observe 'The Sign of the Cross' which is to imitate the shape of the cross upon the body by using the arm and hand to draw the shape along with saying accompanying prayers. Below are the options available for Catholics to make the sign of the cross. In order to create The Sign of the Cross, first choose your style:

Option A. With your right hand, touch the thumb and ring finger together, and hold your index finger and middle finger together to signify the two natures of Christ. This is the most typical Western Catholic practice.

Option B. Hold your thumb and index finger of your right hand together to signify the two natures of Christ

Option C. Hold your thumb, index finger, middle finger of your right hand together (signifying the Trinity) while tucking the ring finger and pinky finger (signifying the two natures of Christ) toward your palm. This is the typically Eastern Catholic practice.

Option D. Hold your right hand open with all 5 fingers -- representing the 5 Wounds of Christ -- together and very slightly curved, and thumb slightly tucked into palm Then: -touch the forehead as you say (or pray mentally) "In nomine Patris" ("In the name of the Father")

  • touch the breastbone or top of the belly as you say "et Filii" ("and of the Son")
  • touch the left shoulder, then right shoulder, as you say "et Spiritus Sancti" ("and of the Holy Ghost"). Note that some people end the Sign by crossing the thumb over the index finger to make a cross, and then kissing the thumb as a way of "kissing the Cross."

An optional prayer to pray after signing yourself in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost is this one, said to be favored by St. Benedict: By the Sign of the Cross, deliver me from my enemies, O Lord. It is noteworthy to state that Eastern Catholics (and Orthodox) begin the Sign of the Cross at the right shoulder and progress to the left and end sometimes by touching their right side, above the hip, to symbolize Christ's being pierced by the sword at his crucifixion. (15)



Mass is the term for organized church worship, usually held on the Sabbath (Sunday) or a designated day. It is an opportunity to receive the Eucharist and be taught the gospel with other members of the faith.

Final Rites/Extreme Unction/Anointing of the Sick


The following is how Last Rites are administered to the dying according to the Catholic Church’s guidelines, portions are verbatim in keeping with exactness.

"Extreme Unction," is a Sacrament administered to the sick and dying, also called "Last Rites" or "Annointing of the Sick," it is given to those who are gravely bodily ill, especially those in danger of death from bodily illness or from violence already done to the body (i.e., a soldier about to go into battle is not a candidate for the Sacrament; one who has been shot and lies gravely wounded is).

The conditions for receiving Unction are that one must: • have reached the age of reason (usually considered to be around the age of 7) • be in a state of grace (Penance is part of the Rite) • be sorrowful for past sins, trust in God and resign himself to His will, whether His positive will is to heal the sick person or His passive will is the person's death

The purpose for the Sacrament is the strengthening and comfort of the soul of the annointed one. It represents remission of sins and some of their temporal punishments, and the possible restoration of health.

The Rite in which the Sacrament is offered includes the Sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist (in that order), followed by the Sacrament of Unction. It may be pronounced up to three or four hours after apparent death (the moment the soul leaves the body is not known and can only know with moral certainty after corruption has begun). If the sick one is unconscious, conditional absolution and Unction are offered, without the Eucharist (known at this time as "Viaticum," meaning "Food for the Journey").

The matter of the Sacrament is the Oil of the Sick ("Oleum Infirmorum"), which is olive oil blessed by the Bishop on Maundy Thursday (the Thursday of Holy Week -- the week before Easter).

The form of the Sacrament are the words: Through this Holy Unction or oil, and through the great goodness of His mercy, may God pardon thee whatever sins thou hast committed by evil use of sight (sight, hearing, smell, taste and speech, touch, ability to walk).

Latin: Per istam sanctan unctionem et suam piissimam misericordiam, indulgeat tibi Dominus quidquid per (visum, audtiotum, odorátum, gustum et locutiónem, tactum, gressum deliquisti.) If death is so imminent that there is no time for the full Rite, the Sacrament may be given with a single annointing on the forehead and the words: Through this holy unction may the Lord pardon thee whatever sins or faults thou hast committed (30).

Prayer and Rosary


Memorized prayers, with a few entitled rosaries, are recited for faith and to receive blessings. The word rosary is translated from Latin and means 'garland of roses', which symbolize the Virgin Mary (17). Prayers can be recited in the member's familiar language or in Latin and although there are many prayers, the rosary consists of the following: the introductory prayers: one Apostles’ Creed (Credo), one Our Father (the Pater Noster or the Lord’s Prayer), three Hail Mary’s (Ave’s), one Glory Be (Gloria Patri) (17). The rosary beads are strung together with a cross at the end. Please see Pictures sectioon for the image "Rosary" for explanation of the use of the rosary.

Female use of Veils


Women will traditionally veil themselves before the Sacrament and in church. It is part of Catholic canonical law that women cover themselves when before the 'holy table' (sacrament). Although this is more of an older traditional focus, the variations of the veil are scarves, hats, or lace (19).

Sacred Places


Catholics usually meet in churches that vary from the traditional church building to grand cathedrals such as Notre Dame in Paris, France (see Notre Dame under 'Pictures'). Catholic faith denotes that the home is also a sacred space meant for worship and daily life.

Holy Water


Holy Water is blessed water on January 6th during the Feast of the Epiphany (day of worship) and is comprised of water and salt. It is used as a symbolic reference of baptism, accompanied by prayer and the Sign of the Cross. It is used upon entering a church or sacred space to invoke reverence and a remembrance of baptism. Holy water is also used as a sprinkling before mass with a stick called the "aspergillum" (or an "aspergill"). This process is a blessing done by the priest called Aspérges and is done while reciting the 50th Psalm. Holy water is disposed of ceremoniously by digging a hole and pouring it into the earth. Holy water is also used at home in the same manner, but for personal not congregational use. Easter season holy water is for the baptism whereby "Easter water, or baptismal water, is the water that is blessed on Holy Saturday (the day before Easter) and is used to baptize Catechumens. This water receives a more solemn sort of blessing than "regular holy water": the Easter Candle is dipped into it three times, and the priest blows his breath over it thrice, recalling the Spirit over the waters at Creation, and the Spirit causing the waters of Noe's flood to subside, and how the Spirit appeared as a dove over the waters at Christ's Baptism" (19). There is also Gregorian water, a mixture of salt, water, wine, and ashes to consecrate churches, altars, and altar stones. (20)



Incense is a fragrant material burned and the ashes and smoke symbolize the rise of prayers to heaven. It is used in mass and worship services and held in a boat, symoblizing the barge from which Peter was called by Jesus. The thurible is a spherical structure that holds the burning incense and wood to keep it viable and is swung before mass by the priest or altar servant as a blessing. There are also 5 grains of incense to symbolize the 5 wounds of Christ, frankincense is blessed on the Feast of the Epiphany, and used at home or in the church.



Popular culture relates the Catholic use of ashes to the placement of them on the forehead during Lent. The use of ashes come from burning of the palms used on Palm Sunday and mixed with incense and holy water. The placement of ashes are accompanied by repeating Genesis 3. Ashes are also mixed with water for the blessing of the sick. Ashes are also associated with penance and Lent, where one abstains from meat on Fridays in an effort to control the will and increasing faith (32).

Holy Oils


Oils are used in a sacred manner, in three ways. First is the Oil of Catechumens ("Oleum Catechumenorum" or "Oleum Sanctum") which is used in baptism along with water, in the consecration of churches, in the blessing of altars, in the ordination of priests, and also sometimes during the crowning of Catholic kings and queens. The Holy Chrism ("Sanctum Chrisma") or "Oil of Gladness," is a mixture of olive oil with a small amount of balm or balsam. It is used in Confirmation, baptism, in the consecration of a Bishop, the consecration of a various things such as churches, chalices, patens, and bells. Last is the Oil of the Sick ("Oleum Infirmorum"), which is used in Unction. (25)



Sacraments are usually defined by something that is sacred. The Catholic faith has seven sacraments (34).


  1. Baptism: This signifies a commitment to following Jesus Christ and can be a lifelong journey. Often done as an infant by sprinkling of holy water and a blessing by the priest, this can be done at any age.
  2. Eucharist: This is also called communion and is considered a meal and also a sacrifice. This symbolizes the presence of Jesus Christ who died for the remission of mankind's sins. The Eucharist is the literal blood and body of Jesus Christ in the form of bread and water or bread and wine or a wafer and water that is consumed and is thought to bring the believer closer to God. The idea that the bread and water/wine truly are the literal blood and body of Christ is called transubstantiation.
  3. Reconciliation: Also known as Penance (see Confession), it is divided into three parts, being converted to the faith, confession and avoidance of sin to those in authority, and celebration of life and devotion to the church. This process is to allow forgiveness of wrongdoings and to also facilitate forgiveness for others and a means to draw closer to God as well.
  4. Confirmation: This is usually associated with baptism and is one of the three initiating sacraments for Catholics alog with baptism and communion. It is associated with receiving the Holy Ghost (Spirit) into one's heart.
  5. Marriage: Also called Holy Matrimony, it is a public act of giving oneself completely to another person and symbolizes love of God as shown between husband and wife and the family unit.
  6. Holy Orders: This is also referred to as ordination, a priest being ordained vows to lead other Catholics by bringing the sacraments, most especially the Eucharist, by teaching the gospel and being an example of holiness.
  7. Anointing of the Sick: This was also known as the Last Rites or Extreme Unction, but is a series of prayers and blessings as a ritual preceding death and/or during illness and is meant for not only physical but mental and spiritual benefit.


Crucifixes and Crosses


Catholic families are advised to have a crucifix over each bed in their home and one in each common area as a representation not only of the crucifixion of Christ but that we should individually carry our own crosses and bear our sufferings with humility (26). The cross is the Roman device for torture and death upon which Jesus was crucified in approximately AD 34, see 'Pictures' of Crucifix.



Baptism is not only entrance into church membership but a commitment to live the faith. It is the ordinance of being born again, receipt of the sacrament. It can be done in two ways, Private and Solemn, the more formal Solemn Baptism being preferred. Private baptism is for emergent or non church situations, whereas Solemn baptism is done by a priest in the church. Newborns are baptized as soon as possible, given a name of a Saint, and sponsors or 'godparents'. The infant or baptized person is sprinkled with holy water and the rite is accompanied by prayers and blessings. There are also two symbolic baptisms, one of the Blood which is signified by being a martyr and dying for the faith. The other is baptism of desire (or fire) which signifies a deep desire to share the faith and live its tenets. (27)



Confession is the Catholic's process whereby they can absolve themselves of sin by feeling sorrow, confessing, doing penance, and then avoiding the sin. The steps to Confession are:

Examination of Conscience - looking at your choices and determining if they are in accordance with God's will.

Contrition - sorrow or remorse for sins.

The actual confessing of your sins to God through His priests - done so in a church, usually during the Eucharist during Mass.

The assigning of penance - done so by the priest and can be prayers or rosaries said.

Act of Contrition - agreeing to perform the penance and abstain from sin.

Absolution - priestly removal of sins by authority via the confessional process.

Carrying out your penance - performance of penance assigned and turning away from sin.

Confession is done in the church at the time sacrament is offered. The member will go into a specially built enclosure called the Confessional and there discuss with the priest his or her misdeeds or sins and the priest will instruct on what needs to be done to resolve the issue and be at peace with God.



The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, bases its founding from the Biblical teachings of Jesus Christ. From Jesus Christ, the authority as a Church was given to the apostle Peter as recorded in the New Testament of the Bible. The Catholic church claims direct authority from Jesus Christ and God via the papal succession to the present day for its bishops and priests (1). The Catholic Church holds the Bible as their sacred text (8).

The Catholic church has experienced varied change and adaptation as time has progressed from the first century AD until modern day. Key events occurred for the church with the legalization of Christianity in 313 which established Christianity as a legal religion, mostly with the recognition made of the church by Constantine. The council of Nicea in 325 AD also set forth four key tenets of church doctrine. The Counter-Reformation further caused division and re-establishment of doctrine in response to Protestant reform under Martin Luther. Current adjustments revolve around heated issues such as birth control, homosexuality, and abuse scandals (5).

Today, the Catholic church has over 1.2 billion members and is the largest Christian church worldwide (3). The name Catholic is derived from the Greek καθολικός (katholikos) which means 'universal' and the term Catholic church first appeared in the year 110. The Catholic church has two main portions, Western and Eastern which split in 1504 (37). The church as a whole has 23 autonomous churches that are all subject to Papal authority, 22 of which are Eastern and these two factions are governed by two sets of Codes of Canon Law. The Roman Catholic is the Western portion and is generally ascribed to have allegience to the Pope located in Rome, Italy. The Eastern Orthodox or Orthodox terminology refers to the Eastern portion of the church, but from the 16th century onward, 'Catholic' is the designation most widely used and known for the church as a whole (4).

The Catholic church focuses on caring for the poor, showing mercy, and living a life that is close to God and Jesus Christ by following instruction and teachings written in the Bible.

An excellent timeline of the antiquity surrounding the history of the Catholic church can be found at and spans 33 AD to the current decade.

Sense of Self and Space


The Catholic church teaches every human being is blessed to receive a gift of divine son/daughtership, to become a child of God through His grace. Life begins with the spirit entering the body and continues after death, where one is to join with family, loved ones, and be in the presence of God. There is a sense of living life to the best of one's ability to be holy, like Jesus Christ, serving your fellow man, observing the rites and ordinances of the Sacraments, and doing one's best to be like God.

The Catholic church has a devotion to and affection for Mary, the virgin mother of Jesus Christ. The Catholic church believes these two truths with regard to Mary the Mother of Jesus; the following are direct quotes in their entirety from

  1. Mary is the Mother of God. Catholics do not believe that God was bound by any compulsion to have a Mother; they believe that He chose to have a Mother and all that this implies. He chose to permit His human body to be formed in her womb.
  2. He chose to permit her to bring Him forth as a tiny baby into the world. He chose to let her feed Him at her breast, carry Him in her arms, guard Him from danger, and teach Him as any child would be taught, to walk and speak and pray. He thereby chose to grant Mary a power over Him that only love can bestow. Catholics believe that in choosing a mother, the Son of God chose to grant her the power over His will that the love of a good mother always wields over a good son.
  3. Mary is a mother to all men. Catholics believe that the Son of God chose to come into the world through a mother in order that that mother might accept as His brothers all the children of the sinful race of man. He set an example as to how she should be honored and loved. He prepared her for this motherhood of all by asking her to suffer every conceivable form of pain, thus teaching her sympathy for the sorrows of her children. Had she been His Mother alone, He would have spared her from pain, because He had the power to do so and because He loved her with an infinite love. He wrought His first public miracle at her request, and when He was dying He reminded her that she had been destined from the beginning to be a Mother to all. Catholics therefore believe that Mary will be as eager to help them, in troubles of soul and body, as every natural mother is eager to promote the welfare of her child.

The rosaries that Catholics recite are but the expression of their belief in these two truths. They know that if Mary speaks to her Divine Son in their behalf, there can be no doubt about their receiving an answer to their prayers (29). See also Rosary under subheader "Traditions".

The Catholic faith believes that all mankind has a responsibility to share their faith, show mercy, and live a life close to God as taught in the Bible and through Canonical law.

Communication Style and Language


Catholics come from a wide variety of cultural backgrounds and do not have a certain language that is inherent to its membership. Usually members of the faith speak the language they communicate in. However, many of the prayers and rites can be spoken in Latin, which is recognized as a formal approach to the faith and used widely by the clergy during worship. The Bible is also offered in many languages and there isn't a certain translation of the Bible that is preferred, although the King James Version is most recognized while the New International Version (NIV) is also widely used. (31)

Food and Feeding Habits


Catholics in general do not have food regulations insisted upon by their faith. Alchohol and drug use is not advocated, however wine can be used as part of the sacrament. There are a few traditional meals, but overall, there aren't restrictions on certain foods or instructions on how foods should be prepared beyond items used for ordinances such as holy water and the sacrament.

Lenten Fasting Regulations


Throughout the year catholics observe Fridays as designated days of penance. Traditionally, Friday is a day of abstinence from meat throughout the year (32). The American Bishops have permitted its members to choose a different form of penance instead of meat. The main focus must be some form of penance as this is the day they commemorate Christ's suffering and death. The bishops emphasize that "[a]mong the works of voluntary self-denial and personal penance...we give first place to abstinence from flesh meat" (Pastoral Statement on Fasting and Abstinence) (12). The following are instructions given for the members:


  1. Abstinence on all the Fridays of Lent, and on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
    • No meat may be eaten on days of abstinence.
    • Catholics 14 years and older are bound to abstain from meat. Invalids, pregnant and nursing mothers are exempt.
  1. Fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
    • Fasting means having only one full meal to maintain one's strength. Two smaller, meatless and penitential meals are permitted according to one's needs, but they should not together equal the one full meal. Eating solid foods between meals is not permitted.
    • Catholics from age 18 through age 59 are bound to fast. Again, invalids, pregnant and nursing mothers are exempt.

The Passover Meal


The Passover meal is used to carry on the learning tradition established by God through Moses when he commanded his people to commemorate his loving kindness towards them in the Exodus. The Catholic family can more fully experience the Passion of Christ by participating in a seder meal which is similar to the Passover, or Last Supper that Jesus shared with his Apostles. They believe that Christ came and redeemed the world. A Christian attitude is incorporated during the seder meal "And when your children ask you, 'What does this ritual mean?', you will tell them, 'It is the sacrifice of the Passover in honour of Yahweh who passed over the houses of the sons of Israel in Egypt, and struck Egypt but spared our houses" (Exodus 12, 27).

Each plate should have small portions of the following:

Haroset: Combine: 1/2 cup chopped nuts 1/2 cup diced apple 1 Tbsp. cinnamon 1 Tbsp. sugar Red wine as desired

This recipe can be increased to serve any number; it should serve 4 to 6 people.

Marror: a bitter herb such as the top of the horseradish root or parsley.

Egg: one slice of hard cooked egg.

Salt Water: a separate small dish next to the dinner plate.

Wine glass: This should be empty at the beginning of the meal.

Matzah: one piece.

In addition to these items, the leader should have:

Three Matzot: one on top of the other

The Seder meal is a commemoration of the Exodus story, the meal is accompanied by commentary, prayers and songs. It is recommended that prior to participating the family read and reflect on this event which is found in chapters seven through thirteen of the book of Exodus (16).

Time Consciousness


Pre Life


The Catholic church teaches that man's life begins when life stirs the body and that there is no life prior to life on earth.

Mortal Life


The Catholic church teaches that man's life is a learning period whereby following the life of Jesus Christ and the teachings of the scriptures, one should draw close to God, be charitable, and be as holy as possible and true to the faith.

After Life


Following death, the soul is judged based on its worthiness and adherence to the faith on earth and either sent to heaven, purgatory, or hell. Heaven is eternal joy in the presence of God where there is supreme happiness and fulfillment. There is direct knowledge of God and interaction with God and angels and comes from righteous living on earth and devotion to the church and God. Purgatory is a place of decision. If the person's life was too full of sin, this is the place to be punished until progressing to either heaven or hell. If one is found beyond redemption, the final resting place of the soul is in hell which is supreme sorrow and loss and removal from the presence of God. (34)

Relationships and Social Organization




The greater portion of the Catholic church who affiliate with the Pope and the seat of the Church in Rome are considered Western, but designate themselves Roman Catholic.



Eastern or Orthodox Catholics are the smaller portion and are considered the more eastern members of the church, relative to Rome, Italy. Catholics who are so inclined may initiate the sign of the cross at the right shoulder to designate their Eastern Orthodox affiliation.



The Catholic church teaches that Jesus elevated marriage to the level of a Sacrament, restoring it to what it was "in the beginning" (Matthew 19:8). In marriage, the man and woman can stand before each other naked, with no shame at all, just as Adam and Eve did "in the beginning." Outside of that marriage covenant however, revealing the body immodestly is shameful and leads to a lust that doesn't honor the other, but degrades him or her as an object. Only in marriage, where the spouse is a total gift -- body and soul -- to the each other (22).

Marriage was instituted by God in the Garden of Eden. Jesus Christ, elevated this union to the level of a Sacrament, in the New Covenant. The Sacrament is a contract made between a validly baptized man and validly baptized woman entered in by both freely with no coercion. Where both parties are free of any marital obligation outside of this couple. A valid sacramental marriage lasts until the death of one of the spouses, this is a holy contract not to be broken. Therefore, divorce is not advocated and marriage is considered a lifelong union between husband and wife.

The ministers of the Sacrament are the man and woman, and it must be made clear: the primary purpose of marriage is the procreation and education of children, most especially educating them to know, love, and serve God (24). This makes the home a central focus of the Catholic faith.



The Catholic church teaches every human being is blessed to receive a gift of divine son/daughtership, to become a child of God. In doing so we must reject sin, including homosexual behavior. Any act intended to arouse or stimulate a sexual response regarding a person of the same sex. The Church teaches that such acts are always violations of divine and natural law.

Homosexual desires, like people tempted by improper heterosexual desires, are not sinning until they act upon those desires in some manner. All humans are subject to a wide variety of sinful desires, these do not become sinful until a person acts upon them. By either acting out the desire or by deliberately engaging in fantasies about acting it out. People tempted by homosexual desires, are not sinning until they act upon those desires in some manner. The rejection of homosexual behavior is found in the Old Testament. (Gen. 19:13) (23).

Education and Learning


Catholic Schooling


Children from early age until college have the option of being taught by teachers and clergy in formally organized Catholic schools. As of 2011, the Catholic church operates the world's largest non-governmental school system. These schools run by the clergy with teachers and other educational professionals can be private or public and receive tuition or funding from the state or government. There is focus on academic curriculum along with church teachings and evangelical efforts. Studies have shown that overall attendance and performance are higher in Catholic schools in the United States and a greater impact on poor areas have been made along with a global improvement of women's development in various countries as well (35).

Catholic Health Care/Hospitals


Catholic health care has its roots in antiquity. In today's age, the Catholic church is the world's largest non-governmental provider of health care. The Catholic Health Association of the United States (CHA) was founded in 1915 as the Catholic Hospital Association of the United States and also in Canada. CHA has offices in Washington, D.C. and St. Louis, Missouri and is a ministry of the Roman Catholic Church. Comprising more than 600 hospitals and 1,400 long-term care and other health facilities in all 50 states, it is the largest group of non-profit health care providers in the United States. (36)

Work Habits and Practices


Members of the Catholic church may exhibit varying degrees of outward devotion. Certain holidays are celebrated but are not considered mandatory or indicative of faithfulness. Some Catholics may pray before meals by offering thanks with clasped hands and some may look upward, depending on their own familial or local tradition. The Catholic church does not have mandates on certain dates, such as abstaining from work on the Sabbath. However, in general, meat is to be avoided on Fridays if observing Lent.



Catholics observe, in general the following holidays, these dates were used for the 2013 calendar year(33):


  • Mary, Mother of God (January 1)*
  • Ash Wednesday (February 13)
  • Palm Sunday (March 24)
  • Holy Thursday (March 28)
  • Good Friday (March 29)
  • Holy Saturday (March 30)
  • Easter Sunday (March 31)
  • Divine Mercy Sunday (April 7)
  • Ascension (May 9)*
  • Holy Day of Obligation (transferred to Sunday, May 12, 2013 in most dioceses of the United States)
  • Pentecost Sunday (May 19)
  • Trinity Sunday (May 26)
  • Corpus Christi (May 30 transferred to Sunday, June 2, 2013)
  • Assumption of Mary (August 15)*
  • All Saints Day (November 1)*
  • First Sunday of Advent (December 1)
  • Immaculate Conception (December 8)*
  • Christmas (December 25)*


Some holidays are denoted as a 'Holy Day of Obligation' which are considered the more necessary worship dates to observe or attend a church service and these are followed by *.



As a Registered Nurse (RN), it would be important to recognize:

  1. Catholic church members might be hesitant to use or discuss birth control, abortion, reproductive and sexual topics. Such topics are not taboo, but deeply personal and the nurse should be sensitive to each person's faith and depth of devotion to the principle. When speaking of birth control and reproductive topics, keen assessment and sensitive communication skills are necessary in order to encourage patients to share personal information and beliefs regarding the topic.
  2. Affiliation with the Catholic faith does not imply a certain level of devotion, it is deeply individualized and may require excellent assessment and communication skills of the nurse to determine how best to meet the patient's needs. Unlike many religions, Catholicism does not require strict adherence to the faith. Members may attend services sparingly and still retain a strong notion of their Catholic faith. Asking open ended questions to ascertain how best to meet the patient's needs may divulge to the nurse how best to care for the patient and meet their religious needs as well.

See Also


Catholic Culture Website

Catholic Answers Forum, specifically Nurses

Video presenting The Sign of the Cross (to recognize the hand patterns)

Top 10 “Catholic” Movies [According to a National Catholic Register survey](13)



  • The Passion of the Christ (2004)
  • The Sound of Music (1965)
  • A Man for All Seasons (1966)
  • The Song of Bernadette (1943)
  • It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
  • The Ten Commandments (1956)
  • The Scarlet and the Black (1983)
  • Jesus of Nazareth (1977)
  • Schindler’s List (1993)
  • The Bells of St Mary’s (1945)


Catholics of Notoriety



  • Mother Theresa
  • President John F. Kennedy, Jr.
  • Pablo Picasso
  • Pierre-Auguste Renoir
  • Mae West
  • Adolf Hitler
  • Al Pacino
  • Napoleon Bonaparte
  • Alfred Hitchcock















External Links







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  28. Finnegan, Archbishop Joseph D. Retrieved 2013 from
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