The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Catholicism

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The Complete Idiot's Guide To Catholicism explores the world's largest religious denomination and introduced you to the Catholic practice. It offers you a new approach to learning Catholicism, covering the rituals and symbols of the religion, such as Mass, the Seven Sacraments, and the holy days and their meaning. The authors tell you how Catholicism has spread throughout the world, its roots, and how it has grown and changed over the course of this century. It's a valuable tool for anyone interested in ...

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The Complete Idiot's Guide To Catholicism explores the world's largest religious denomination and introduced you to the Catholic practice. It offers you a new approach to learning Catholicism, covering the rituals and symbols of the religion, such as Mass, the Seven Sacraments, and the holy days and their meaning. The authors tell you how Catholicism has spread throughout the world, its roots, and how it has grown and changed over the course of this century. It's a valuable tool for anyone interested in examining--or reexamining--this large and complex religion.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780028636399
  • Publisher: Alpha Books
  • Publication date: 3/14/2000
  • Series: Complete Idiot's Guide Series
  • Edition description: Older Edition
  • Pages: 432
  • Product dimensions: 7.42 (w) x 9.06 (h) x 1.02 (d)

Meet the Author

Bob O'Gorman teaches at the Institute of Pastoral Studioes at Loyola University in Chicago, Illinois.

Mary Faulkner holds a Master's degree in Religious Education from Scarritt Graduate School and is a freelance writer.

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Read an Excerpt

The'60s:Seeds of Revolution

In This Chapter

  • The Catholic Church throws open the windows, and a lot of people catch cold
  • Galileo forgiven:faith and science talk
  • The church ets a new name
  • The 1960s:the sexual revolution and church politics
  • How we lost a few of our favorite things
Before getting any further into our exploration of Catholicism, let's take a look at what many consider the most formative event in the life of the church, the church council called Vatican II. Although you'll learn much more about the history of the church in Part 6, "The Church's History," right now it's important to understand this pivotal event that took place in 1960. During that year, the pope summoned the church leaders to begin to reform and update church policy and practice. Although many leaders of this revolution viewed this as a golden time for Catholicism, others resisted, preferring that it never happen.

The 1960s molded a new Catholicism. The tension between liberals and conservatives that began at that tumultuous time in history continues to characterize Catholicism today. This chapter tells the story behind this tension.

The Stillness Before the Storm

Just as the bland sweetness of Wally and Beaver Cleaver represented the surface of America of the 1950s on television, growing up Catholic in the 1940s and 1950s had a similar innocence and order to it. It probably involved attending a Catholic grade school, which was most likely located right across the street from the public school. Other than a brief encounter at the crosswalks, the Catholics didn't mix much with the public school kids. Catholic schools were named things like Visitation, Incarna-tion, and Resurrection. They had their own ball teams, textbooks, library, and, of course, their own church.

Girls wore blue jumpers and white blouses for school. They kept their heads covered while they were in church, pinning on a tissue with a bobby pin in the absence of a proper scarf or hat. They always wore dresses to church and wore gloves on Sunday. Boys wore shirts and ties to school and suit coats to Mass. The sisters who taught school wore starched habits and long ropes of rosary beads that jangled (giving fair warning of their arrival) as they glided down clean, waxed corridors. The answers to all moral questions were neatly contained in the Baltimore Catechism, the little paper-back book that held all the rules and beliefs of the church. Every Catholic child mem-orized it.

The popular images of this time in history were merely a thin veneer covering issues of social, political, and spiritual unrest that emerged in the 1960s. For better or worse, the world would never be the same again.

Vatican II:A Radical Departure and a Rebirth

Characterized by Woodstock, political assassination, and America's seemingly endless and controversial involvement in Southeast Asia, the United States of the 1960s was in the throes of cultural and social revolution. As if the political questions being raised were not enough to shake the very ground of being, the Catholic Church chose this moment to come to-gether to raise many of the same issues in the arena of religion that were being asked in the political world.

Pope John XXIII, elected in 1958, called a council to update the church and to open it up to the modern world. Ironically, Pope John XXIII was regarded as a transi-tional pope, someone who would fill the space be-tween Pope Pius XII, a scholarly and aloof man, and the next strong leader yet to emerge from the ranks. Although Pope John XXIII's time at the helm was in-deed short—an all-too-brief five years—the church soon realized this very energetic man with an instinc-tual connection to the people and a far-reaching vision for the church was to occupy a particularly crucial place in history. He was possibly the most popular pope of modern times, perhaps of any time, and he consistently demon-strated such warmth, simplicity, and charm that he won the hearts of Catholics, Pro-testants, and non-Christians alike.

S'ter Says

A council is an assembly of representatives from the whole church called together by the pope to make decisions.The preceding council, Vatican I, was held from 1869 to 1870.

The Second Vatican Council, or Vatican II, opened on October ll, 1962. By this time, the pope knew of his own fatal illness. His death came more than three years before the council ended. The council continued, and the changes that were effected are still un-folding, influencing, and changing the face of Catholicism in the post-modern world.

Lighting the Council Fires

As the Catholic Church moved into the second half of the twentieth century, it found itself in perhaps the most powerful position in its history in terms of numbers of fol-lowers, influence on the international scene, and respect. And yet, it found itself too often locked in old battles, fighting against false beliefs and confronting the influence of Protestantism; these issues had been the focus of past councils. Vatican II was the first council called for the purpose of initiating change from within rather than com-bating heresy, pronouncing new dogma, or marshaling the church against hostile forces.

More than 900 million Catholics were living at the time of Vatican II, making it the world's largest religion. The revolution begun by Pope John XXIII with Vatican II put into motion ideas and forces that would come to affect a major portion of the world's population.

Church councils are rare; there had been only 20 in the nearly 2, 000 years of Catholic history. Simply by summoning Vatican II to renew the Catholic Church, Pope John caused a major impact. Although councils are rare, revolutions in Catholicism are even more rare. The last one of any consequence happened more than 400 years ago and resulted in a major split when Protestantism was born (you'll read more about that in Part 6). In the 1960s, Pope John's historic mission was aimed at revitalizing the church's spirit, not only to bring the mother church of Christendom into closer touch with the modern world, but also to end the division that had fractured Jesus' message for four centuries.

By stretching out his hand in friendship to non-Catholic Christians, calling them "separated brethren," Pope John made history. He showed us that the walls that di-vided Christians could be broken down and that it was possible to align the church's life with the worlds of science, economics, and politics. Under his leadership, the church was to become more Catholic and less Roman, making a huge leap toward that distant and elusive goal of Christian unity. The church's revolution brought it into the world and onto the front pages of newspapers, often outranking the secular concerns of the day. The church's monolithic and absolutist character was forever changed.

Prophets have always existed and are part of religious history. We know their names from the Old Testa-ment: Isaiah, Amos, Micah, and Elijah to name a few. Their voices often alerted the leaders to look where they were going; they cried out for change. In the 1960s, a revived spirit cried out for change and was heard. Perhaps the most revolutionary mark of Vati-can II was the tacit acknowledgement of Catholicism's modern-day prophets. It recognized that those who had difficulty with the church, even those who had left it, may well have had good reasons for doing so.

Pope John invited the bishops to Rome to speak freely. He encouraged what he called "holy liberty." The bis-hops, who had long considered the pope as the sole source of power and authority in the church, discov-ered that they, and not just the pope, constituted the leadership of the church.

Pope John's unique gift of perception opened the way for change in the church. Most Protestant and Catho-lic clergymen and theologians, as well as many non-Christians, agree that Catholi-cism is a much stronger, more effective, and more positive influence today than it was when World War II ended. The church had finally begun to recognize and ad-dress the problems that had cut off much of its communication with the modern world.

Your Guardian Angel

Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly.A prophetic mes- sage from the past given to the Jewish people by Micah is as per- tinent to the church today as it was then:"What does Yahweh re- quire of you but to do justice and to love kindness, and walk hum- bly with your God?"(Micah 6:8)


A story that captures the spirit of the changing times in both the arena of politics and re- ligion involves Jacqueline Kennedy's visit to Pope John XXIII.He asked his secretary what would be the proper way to address her.The secretary replied:"Mrs.Kennedy or just Madame, since she is of French origin and has lived in France."Waiting in his private li- brary, the pope went over the options, trying to decide which one to use:"Mrs.Kennedy, Madame;Madame, Mrs.Kennedy." Then the doors opened, and the First Lady entered. He stood up, extended his arms, and cried "Jacqueline!"

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Table of Contents


1. Can You Judge a Catholic by the Cover?

Why You Might Be Interested. What You Have to Believe. Catholic Ways. The Classic Definition.

2. The People: Many Faces, Many Flags.

Would I Know One If I Saw One? So Where Would I Find a Catholic?

3. Catholicism: It's a Big Tent.

From Bishop Sheen to Dan Berrigan. From Cesar Chavez to Clarence Thomas. From Bing Crosby to Madonna. From Mother Teresa to Mother Angelica. From Ted Kennedy to Pat Buchanan.

4. The Vatican: The Church That's a Country.

Just Who Is the Pope? The Big Church and the Little Church. Rules and Regulations.

5. The '60s: Seeds of Revolution.

The Stillness Before the Storm. Church as Listener. Ecumenism: Catholics' Relationship to Other Christians.


6. “It's Elementary, My Dear Watson”.

Ritual: The Old Religion, Roots, and Renewal. “Yada, Yada, Yada”. Influences of the Greeks, Romans, and Indigenous Peoples.

7. The Bible.

Sacred Scriptures. The Canon: How Are We Sure What Texts Are Sacred?

8. Birth and Spirit of a New Religion.

How We Know What We Know About Jesus. The Key Stories of the Christians. Was Jesus the First Catholic? Catholics Separate from the Jews.


9. Tasting, Touching, Smelling God.

A Full-Bodied Experience. The Left Brain/Right Brain of Catholics. Now You See Him, Now You Don't: How God Is Present.

10. Jesus: The Original Sacrament.

Just What Is a Sacrament? Wonder Bread. The Kingdom of God Is Within.

11. Seven Sensual Sacraments.

Baptism: More Than Just Water on the Head. Confirmation: It's No Longer a Slap on the Face. Eucharist: It's More Than Just a Bite of Bread. Menagé à Trois: It's More Than Just Two in a Marriage. Holy Orders: It's More Than Just Oil on the Fingers. Penance: It's More Than Just a Kick in the Pants. Anointing of the Sick: More Than a Simple Good-Bye.

12. Who Is Mary?

Do Catholics Worship Mary? Mary, the People's Choice. Mary's Incomplete History. Council of Ephesus. Apparitions: Here, There, and Everywhere.


13. Feeding the Imagination.

Sacramentals: Little Sacraments. Sacramental Gestures. Sacred Elements: Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. The Liturgical Calendar: Sacred Time.

14. Catholic Prayers and Music: Tangible Poetry.

Personal Prayer. The Rosary. Monasteries, Mysticism, and Contemplative Prayer. Sacred Music.

15. For Catholics Prayer Is More Than Just Words.

Church Movements and Retreats: What's Happening! Sacred Relationships: Communion of Saints. Church Devotions.

16. The Mass: The Catholics' Big Dinner Party.

Celebrating a Sacrifice: What Is the Mass? It's More the Food Than the Talk: The Liturgy of the Eucharist. Here's the Church, and Here's the Steeple, Open the Doors, and See All the People! “O Sacrament Host Holy, O Sacrament Divine”.


17. It's a Tribe.

Where the Tribe Meets. Catholics' Social Face. Getting In and Out of the Tribe.

18. The Teaching Church: More Than Just a Slap with the Ruler.

The Source of the Church's Teaching: Scripture and Tradition. Theology: Formulating New Beliefs. Bargains from the Border: Liberation Theology and Base Communities.

19. The Teachings of the Church: More Than Just the Party Line.

Sin After Vatican II. Sin: Missing the Mark. Human Sexuality: “Male and Female He Created Them”. The Seamless Garment.

20. The Church: Moving from Steeple to People.

Vocation: No Family Is Complete Without One. Religious Orders: Know Your Players. Lay Vocation: What About the Rest of the Folks?


21. Roman Establishment.

From Underdog to Top Dog. Christianity Comes to Your Hometown. From Rationality to Mysticism. A New Empire Is Born.

22. Division, Debauchery, and Reform: The Church's Second Millennium.

Catholic and Orthodox: The Church's Y1K Problem. Catholicism's Dark Side. Problems, Protest, and Protestants. Trendy Trent: Going to Reform School. The Church Turns Its Face to the New World.

23. The Birth of the Church in the New Land.

Colonization: Ready or Not, Here We Come! A New People Emerges. Cultural Contributions to Today's Catholicism.

24. Catholics Earn Their Citizenship.

Catholicism and Colonial America: There Goes the Neighborhood! Coming in Droves: The Immigrant Experience. Infallibility in the Land of Liberty. A Checkered Church Solidifies. Immigrant Catholics Dig In. Catholics Come of Age.

25. Face to Face in the Third Millennium: The Church Looks to the Future.

Recap: Past, Present, and Future. The Paradigm Shift. The Global Village. Partnership: From Power over to Empowerment. “Male and Female He Created Them” (Genesis 1:27). Quantum Spirituality: Matter and Spirit as One. The Next Generation.


Appendix A. Glossary.

Appendix B. Recommended Readings.

Appendix C. Chart of Symbolic Elements.

Appendix D. The Poop on Popes.


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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 12 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 17, 2003

    Idiot's Guide does NOT teach the True Faith

    If you are looking for a book that explains what the Catholic faith really is, and not just what some people want it to be, then don't buy this book. It may be subtle, but it is misleading and wrong on many topics. It might support some peoples agenda but it does't support the Catholic Faith.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 31, 2003

    Oh please...

    While growing up Catholic I have heard some pretty interesting things related to what people think about what goes on in the Church, but this book has got to take to cake! So many simple things have been turned around and misrepresented. The authors really should be ashamed of themselves. If one wants a true idea of Catholic teaching in a simple to follow book, try Catholicism for Dummies. The Dummies book has been reviewed by officials in the Church to be certain the book is free from error. Look for the 'nihil obstat' and 'imprintur' entries on the copyright page.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 12, 2003

    Not Sound Teaching

    This book does not come close to doing justice to the richness of the Catholic faith. Most answers are handled at such a surface level that they miss the real meaning of many topics.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 15, 2003

    Too inaccurate

    When I saw a reference to the 'Rhythm Method' I knew these authors were clueless about the faith. Try Natural Family Planning guys - this isn't the 70's. 'Catholicism for Dummies' is a much better book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 28, 2003

    Things have changed since this book

    Good book, even a fun read with interesting facts, but things are achanging. Also, there are over 116 different Catholic sects as I write this.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 10, 2003


    There were numerous passages in here that were either misleading or against teaching. The Virgin Mary being one example. I would look for more sound advice from a publisher who specializes in this material. Cute pictures though.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 14, 2003


    Finally the right answers to the right questions!! Would recomment this book for anybody who has questions or would like to brush up on Catholicism.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 22, 2001

    A Must Read for Converts

    I highly recommend this book to anyone thinking about converting, marrying a Catholic, or just plain interested in the Catholic faith. I was simply amazed at how easy-to-read and easy-to-follow this book was! When I converted, I still had many unanswered questions regarding Catholicism and this book helped to answer them. I wouldn't be surprised if this became a must-read for all converts!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 27, 2000

    This book answers all your questions

    The authors' love for the Catholic Church comes through, and their theology is sound. I recommend this book for anyone married to a Catholic, or anyone who is thinking about becoming a Catholic.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 23, 2000

    Very necessary, light hearted, INFORMATIVE!!!

    Having been an Alter boy in the church growing up, I'm amazed now at how little i knew then about the church and all of it's mystery....A MUST READ!!! I'd be surprized if this didn't become some type of guideline or perhaps a study guide for young Catholics. john, Kingston Springs, TN

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 20, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted February 12, 2012

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