|The purpose of this leaflet is to help
you take those first steps toward exploring the Roman Catholic Church. Its
purpose is not to provide an in depth exploration of the
Church, but to simply help you get over that initial shyness
we all feel when we start to investigate a new group.
It should be said, before going any further,
that should you decide to join the Roman Catholic Church, the Church wants
you to come of your own free will, after suitable study,
reflection and prayer. Your application for entry must be free
of any outside pressure from any source whatever so you
have nothing to fear in that regard. The actual process of
entry is entirely in your hands as to how long it takes and
can vary widely and the process will be briefly described
toward the end of this leaflet.
It is always easier to go into a strange
assembly of people, if you have a friendly face at your elbow to steer you in the
right direction. So one of the easiest introductions to the
Catholic Church is to ask a Catholic friend, if you have one,
to take you to Mass with them one Sunday. Most Catholics
that I know would be only too happy to take you to church
with them and explain what is going on. This friend should
also be able to introduce you to a priest, should you decide
that you would like to know more about the Catholic Church.
It you do not have a Catholic friend,
attending Mass is still one of the best introductions to the Church and going alone
is not really difficult at all. Many non-Catholics experience
a certain amount of apprehension about attending a Catholic
Church but there is really nothing to fear. You will be able
to understand what is being said by the Celebrant and besides,
you probably won't be the only non-Catholic there. Many Catholics
are married to non-Catholic partners and many of those partners
go to Church with their Catholic husband or wife. There may
also be enquirers like yourself there as well, some of whom
attend Mass for some considerable time before going any further
with their enquiries.
You will need to select the Church you wish
to attend and generally, at the front of it somewhere you will find a notice
board that lists the times of the Eucharistic Celebrations
(Mass). When you have settled on a church and picked the
time you wish to attend, it would be best if you got there
about fifteen minutes early. Catholic churches like any other
assembly, fill from back to front and most of the parishioners
come into the church in the last five to seven minutes before
Mass. So if you leave it until a moment or two before Mass,
before entering the church you may be forced to move well
down into the body of the church in order to get a seat.
Before going any further with this
explanation I would like to just take a moment to make a suggestion to you. I don't
know where you come from, what your background is or
where you stand spiritually, but when you are looking at the
Catholic Church you are looking at an expression of God on
this earth and in our lives. So in order to help you
understand what you are looking at, I would suggest that you
invite God along to help you. If you are not a church going
person this is not difficult, all you need to say, in your heart,
is something like, "Dear God, help me with this please!"
The Mass or Eucharistic Celebration is the
focal point of worship in the Roman Catholic Church and goes on
seven days a week. In pre-Vatican II times, the Mass was
celebrated in Latin all around the world. A Catholic could
walk into any church, anywhere in the world where Mass
was being celebrated and know what was going on and what
to do. In these times the Mass is now celebrated in the local
language but the form of the celebration is generally uniform
throughout the world so that after a moment or two, it is still
possible to tell what stage the liturgy is at, even if the
language is not understood. Each day of the year that the
Eucharist is celebrated, there are parts of it that can be the
same and parts of it that change. The portions that always
change are the readings from the Old Testament, Psalms and
the New Testament. As the days and seasons of the Church
year pass, the readings and therefore the teachings retain a
freshness and variety.
Once you are inside the body of the church,
there is usually a small font of water at the head of the aisle or
fastened to the rear wall of the church. This is Holy Water
that is blessed during the Easter celebrations and is used
throughout the year for baptisms, priestly blessings and for
Catholics to bless themselves when they enter and leave
church or at other times, by dipping a finger into the Holy
Water and then making the sign of the cross on themselves.
Some Catholics take some of this water home and use it in
a small font just inside the main entry door of their home.
Although I will describe this blessing for you, it is something
that you need not do and nobody will notice.
The blessing is very simple and although it
is associated with Catholics, any Christian could use it. You bring the
thumb and first two fingers of the right hand together and
then touch your forehead with their tips and say "In the name
of the Father, (then touch the lower centre chest and say) and
of the Son, (then touch the left shoulder and say) and of the
Holy Spirit (then touch the right shoulder and say) Amen".
When Catholics enter their church and reach
where they are going to sit, they will usually face the altar and go down
on their right knee in a genuflection to the presence of Christ
in the Holy Sacrament, reserved in the tabernacle on the
altar. (Or it may be set of to one side of the church or the
other.) Once again, if you come early or come with a friend,
simply slip into the seat and make yourself comfortable.
You will probably notice hymn books and
maybe a Sunday Missal in the book rack on the rear of the pew in front of
you. Finding the announced hymns is fairly easy but unless
someone shows you how to use a Missal you will find it
difficult to work out where you are in the ceremony. It
would be far better to sit back and take in everything that is
going on around you. Most Catholics have the unchanging
parts of the Mass memorized and may only use a missal for
the Readings, Psalms and Gospel as they are being read by
the readers and/or the celebrant.
As the Mass begins with the entry of the
Celebrant, the congregation will stand. From that time on the congregation
will stand, sit, kneel and recite prayers out loud at varying
times throughout the ceremony. It is not hard to follow the
movements if you want to do that. Simply wait a moment to
see what everyone else is doing and then do the same.
Recently I took a non-Catholic friend to a
mid-day Mass at a city church. He was feeling a little nervous but
everything went along just fine until that time in the Mass
when just after everyone has recited the "Our Father" (The
Lords Prayer) the Celebrant will invite everyone in the
congregation to offer each other a sign of peace. I had
completely forgotten to warn my friend and it shook him up
for a moment until he realized that the people in the
congregation were shaking each other by the hand, usually
with a big smile on their faces and saying variations of
"Peace be with you!" and my friend quickly joined in.
Shortly after everyone offers each other the
sign of peace, you will notice everyone stand up, move into the aisle and
then go forward, in turn, to the altar area where they will
receive communion. The communion is in the form of a
small circular wafer that will be given to each person by the
Celebrating Priest or a Eucharistic Minister. In some
churches you may notice that after the communicant receives
the wafer, they may move to another Minister where they
may take a cup into their hands and drink from it or be seen
dipping their wafer into the cup and then consuming it.
This moment of communion is a solemn moment
for Catholics because they believe that at this moment they are
receiving the actual Body and Blood of Christ under the
species of Bread and Wine. During this time you should
remain in your seat, either sitting or kneeling, but under no
circumstances should you go forward and receive
After everyone has received communion, the
priest will return to the altar and clean the various vessels that he has
used. This only takes a few minutes and the final prayers of
the Mass will be said and the congregations dismissed with
Should you decide that you would like to
know more about the Roman Catholic Church, all you have to do is phone the
rectory of the Catholic Church nearest to you and ask to
speak to the Pastor. If he is unavailable simply explain to the
person who answers the phone that you are interested in
finding out more about the Catholic Church and they should
be able to help you.
Entry into the Church for adults is now
largely done through a process called the Rite of Christian Initiation for
Adults (RCIA). This RCIA is a gradual process that can be
fitted to the needs of the individual and entering into it does
not place any obligation at all on the enquirer. In general
though, newcomers who choose to go forward are received
into the Church at the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday.
In closing I am reminded of a story about an
old farm hand that I heard some time ago. This man had worked for a
Catholic family for many years. When the family went to
church on Sunday they would invite the farm hand along and
he would go with them and over the many years that he
worked for this family he did not show any inclination to
actually go ahead and join the Church. Finally, when he was
dying he asked to see a priest and when the priest arrived the
old man asked if it was possible for him to join the church.
The priest made the necessary enquiries of the old man and
then baptised and received him into the Church. The good
family that this old man worked for were astounded by all
this and just before he died one of the family asked why he had
waited so long before joining the Church. The old
man's reply was very simple, "Nobody invited me to!"
With the above example in mind, please
accept my invitation to you, the reader, to come and find out what the
Catholic Church is all about. If you like what you see the
rest will be between you and God.
May God bless you in your searchings and be
confident that you are in our prayers.
William J. Bradley