What Catholics Believe


Catholics believe that Jesus is God incarnate, “true God and true man” (or both fully divine and fully human). Jesus, having become fully human, suffered our pain, finally succumbed to His injuries and gave up his spirit when he said, “it is finished.” He suffered temptations, but did not sin.

Holy Spirit

For Catholics, receiving the Holy Spirit is receiving God, the source of all that is good. Catholics formally ask for and receive the Holy Spirit through the sacrament of Confirmation (Chrismation). Sometimes called the sacrament of Christian maturity, Confirmation is believed to bring an increase and deepening of the grace received at Baptism, to which it was cojoined in the early church. Spiritual graces or gifts of the Holy Spirit can include wisdom to see and follow God’s plan, right judgment, love for others, boldness in witnessing the faith, and rejoicing in the presence of God. The corresponding fruits of the Holy Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. To be validly confirmed, a person must be in a state of grace, which means that they cannot be conscious of having committed a mortal sin. They must also have prepared spiritually for the sacrament, chosen a sponsor or godparent for spiritual support, and selected a saint to be their special patron.


According to Catholicism, forgiveness of sins and purification can occur during life. However, if this purification is not achieved in life, venial sins can still be purified after death. The sacrament of Anointing of the Sick is performed only by a priest, since it involves elements of forgiveness of sin. The priest anoints with oil the head and hands of the ill person while saying the prayers of the church.


People can be cleansed from all personal sins through Baptism. This sacramental act of cleansing admits one as a full member of the church and is only conferred once in a person’s lifetime. The Catholic Church considers baptism so important “parents are obliged to see that their infants are baptised within the first few weeks” and, “if the infant is in danger of death, it is to be baptised without any delay.”[117] It declares: “The practice of infant Baptism is an immemorial tradition of the Church. There is explicit testimony to this practice from the second century on, and it is quite possible that, from the beginning of the apostolic preaching, when whole ‘households’ received baptism, infants may also have been baptized.”

Penance and Reconciliation

Since Baptism can only be received once, the sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation is the principal means by which Catholics obtain forgiveness for subsequent sin and receive God’s grace and assistance not to sin again. This is based on Jesus’ words to his disciples in the Gospel of John 20:21–23.[123] A penitent confesses his sins to a priest who may then offer advice or impose a particular penance to be performed. The penitent then prays an act of contrition and the priest administers absolution, formally forgiving the person’s sins.[124] A priest is forbidden under penalty of excommunication to reveal any matter heard under the seal of the confessional. Penance helps prepare Catholics before they can validly receive the Holy Spirit in the sacraments of Confirmation (Chrismation) and the Eucharist.

Prayer for the Dead

The Catholic Church teaches that the fate of those in purgatory can be affected by the actions of the living. In the same context there is mention of the practice of indulgences. An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven. Indulgences may be obtained for oneself, or on behalf of Christians who have died.

Prayers for the dead and indulgences have been envisioned as decreasing the “duration” of time the dead would spend in purgatory. Traditionally, most indulgences were measured in term of days, “quarantines” (i.e. 40-day periods as for Lent), or years, meaning that they were equivalent to that length of canonical penance on the part of a living Christian. When the imposition of such canonical penances of a determinate duration fell into desuetude these expressions were sometimes popularly misinterpreted as reduction of that much time of a person’s stay in purgatory. (The concept of time, like that of space, is of doubtful applicability to purgatory.) In Pope Paul VI’s revision of the rules concerning indulgences, these expressions were dropped, and replaced by the expression “partial indulgence”, indicating that the person who gained such an indulgence for a pious action is granted, “in addition to the remission of temporal punishment acquired by the action itself, an equal remission of punishment through the intervention of the Church.”