The Catholic Church holds that there is one eternal God, who exists as a mutual indwelling of three persons: God the Father; God the Son; and the Holy Spirit, which make up the Trinity. Catholic belief holds that the Church “… is the continuing presence of Jesus on earth.” To Catholics, the term “Church” refers to the people of God, who abide in Christ and who, “… nourished with the Body of Christ, become the Body of Christ.”
The Church teaches that the fullness of the “means of salvation” exists only in the Catholic Church but acknowledges that the Holy Spirit can make use of Christian communities separated from itself to bring people to salvation. It teaches that anyone who is saved is saved indirectly through the Church if the person has invincible ignorance of the Catholic Church and its teachings (as a result of parentage or culture, for example), yet follows the morals God has dictated in his heart and would, therefore, join the Church if he understood its necessity. It teaches that Catholics are called by the Holy Spirit to work for unity among all Christians.
According to its doctrine, the Catholic Church was founded by Jesus Christ. The New Testament records the activities and teaching of Christ’s appointment of the twelve Apostles and giving them authority to continue his work. The Church teaches that Jesus designated Simon Peter as the leader of the apostles by proclaiming “upon this rock I will build my church …I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven …” The Church teaches that the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles, in an event known as Pentecost, signaled the beginning of the public ministry of the Church. All duly consecrated bishops since then are considered the successors to the apostles, and they hand on the Sacred Tradition received from the apostles.
According to the Council of Trent, Christ instituted seven sacraments and entrusted them to the Church. These are Baptism, Confirmation, the Eucharist, Reconciliation (Penance), Anointing of the Sick (formerly Extreme Unction or the “Last Rites”), Holy Orders and Holy Matrimony. Sacraments are important visible rituals that Catholics see as signs of God’s presence and effective channels of God’s grace to all those who receive them with the proper disposition (ex opere operato).
Catholics believe that Christ is the Messiah of the Old Testament’s Messianic prophecies. In an event known as the Incarnation, the Church teaches that, through the power of the Holy Spirit, God became united with human nature when Christ was conceived in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Christ is believed, therefore, to be both fully divine and fully human. It is taught that Christ’s mission on earth included giving people his teachings and providing his example for them to follow as recorded in the four Gospels.
Fundamental Church belief is reminded by reciting the Nicene Creed:
“We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all that is, seen and unseen.
“We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, one in Being with the Father. Through him all things were made. For us men and for our salvation, he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered, died, and was buried. On the third day he rose again in fulfillment of the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.
“We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets. We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.”