Roman Catholicism in the Philippines

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Roman Catholicism in the Philippines (Filipino: Simbahang Katoliko Romano) is part of the worldwide Roman Catholic Church, under the Bishop of Rome, Pope Benedict XVI. Philippines is the third largest Catholic nation in the world and the first in Asia.


Roman Catholic is the predominant religion, with 81% of the population belonging to this faith, in the Philippines. It was started in 1521, when the Spanish colonizers landed in the the country. They left significant Spanish Catholic tradition, and Spanish style Catholicism in the country's culture like celebration of different fiestas to give honor and thanks to a certain patron saint and different Christmas traditions.


]One of the major purposes of Spanish invasion of the Philippines was to Christianize the people of the archipelago. It was the Magellan expedition in 1521 that marked the beginning of Hispanization of the country. Though Ferdinand Magellan was a Portuguese, he travelled in the Philippines under the flagship of Spain. Spaniards taught the Filipinos of the Christian faith. However, there were a lot of resistance from the natives. Christian conversion was not easily achieved. Rajah Humabon was the first official Catholic of the Philippines, after he and his wife, Juana, were baptised by Magellan's priest. But the first Catholic mass was celebrated in the morning of March 31, 1521 at Mazaua somewhere at latitude 9 degrees North, according to an eyewitness, The Genoese Pilot, which locates the place somewhere in Mindanao. In the afternoon of that day, a huge wooden cross was planted at the highest hill of Mazaua. The First Mass in the Philippines incident is described by Antonio Pigafetta in his eyewitness account first published at There is another version of Pigafetta's account at the World Digital Library at The Mazaua episode starts at Chap. XVIII, Page 66 and ends on Page 77


The basic religious beliefs of Roman Catholics derived from the New Testament. That God entered the world through the Incarnation of his Son, the Christ or Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, that the Church follows the life and teachings of Jesus, whose death is followed by resurrection from the dead after which he sends the Holy Spirit to assist believers. This triple mission within the Godhead is described doctrinally as the divine Trinity, God one in nature but consisting in three divine persons.

The Roman Catholics believe and follow the seven Sacraments: baptism, eucharist, confession, ordination to ministry, marriage of Christians, postbaptismal anointing (confirmation), and the anointing of the sick.

Roman Catholics worship God through its Liturgy or the sacrament of the Eucharist, through mass usually every Sunday of the week.


If there is one Catholic tradition the Spaniards left the Filipinos with, its the celebration of a patron saint's feast. The Philippines celebrates many festivals in each month of the year. Among them are:

  • Feast of the Black Nazarene Procession - celebrated every 9th of January, is the largest procession in the country, carries a life-size, blackwood statue of Jesus through the streets of Quiapo;
  • Ati-Atihan Festival - a 3-day celebartion in Kalibo, Panay every third week of January. This is considered as Filipino version of Mardi Gras;
  • Sinulog - held each year on the third Sunday of January in Cebu City to honor the Santo Niño;
  • Dinagyang - is a spectacular event in the province of Iloilo where people in unique costumes dance all day and night every 4th week of January to commemorate the Christianization of the natives and to honor the Holy Child Jesus;
  • Via Crusis - a lenten movement held in Cebu City during April 1 where Cebuanos devotees and other near cities and town people do their repentant cavalcade through the 14 Station of the Cross in the cities;
  • Pagoda Festival - held every 1st Sunday of July at Bocaue, Bulacan, honors the Mahal na Krus sa Wawa (Holy Cross of Wawa);

There is also the Semana Santa, Holy Week in English and Hebdomada Sancta in Latin, which commemorates the last week of the life of Jesus Christ culminating in his crucifixion on Good Friday and his resurrection on Easter Sunday.

There is also the celebration of Christmas in the Philippines which starts with Simbang gabi on the dawn of December 16.

Organization of the Church

Catholic church policy is under the centralized government under the pope, currently Pope Benedict XVI, who is regarded as the successor of Peter, the apostle. The Roman Catholic church is structured locally into neighborhood parishes and regional dioceses administered by bishops.

The pope is elected for life by the College of Cardinals (about 130). He is assisted in the governance of the church by the bishops, especially through the World Synod of Bishops that meets every three years. More immediately in the Vatican City, the papal city - state within Rome, the pope is aided by the cardinals and a bureaucracy known as the Roman Curia. The Vatican is represented in many countries by a papal nuncio or apostolic delegate and at the United Nations by a permanent observer.

By tradition the all - male ordained clergy (bishops, priests, and deacons) are distinguished from the laity, who assist in the ministry of the church.

Some Catholics live together in Religious Orders, serving the church and the world under vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.

Church discipline is regulated by a code of Canon Law. A revised code for the Latin rite went into effect in 1983.

In the Philippines, there are 16 archidioces, 56 dioceses, 6 territorial prelatures, 1 military ordinariates, and 7 apostolic vicariates.

Catholic Terminologies

This list of terms used by the Catholic Church is brief and concise. This will help those who are learning about Catholicism and desires to be conversant with Catholics on their terms.

  1. absolution - the act of releasing someone from their sin by God, through the means of a priest.
  2. actual grace - God's interventions, whether at the beginning of conversion or in the course of the work of sanctification.
  3. actual sin - any sin that a person commits.
  4. Annunciation - When the angel Gabriel told Mary that she was to be the mother of the Messiah.
  5. assumption - the taking of the body and soul of Mary, by God, into glory. Catholic doctrine, apparently, does not state whether or not Mary died, but tradition holds that she died and was immediately afterward assumed into heaven both body and soul.
  6. baptism (Binyag) - One of seven sacraments that takes away original sin and actual sin.
  7. bishop (Obispo) - the head of a diocese, successor of the apostles.
  8. Blessed Sacrament - the elements of the communion supper, bread and wine, which become the body and blood of Christ. It is offered at the altar in the church.
  9. capital sins - the seven causes of all sin: pride, covetousness, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, sloth.
  10. confession (Kumpisal) - telling sins to a priest and the Lord forgives the person through the priest.
  11. confessional (kumpisalan) - a small compartment where the priest hears the confessed sins of a sinner.
  12. confirmation (kumpil) - a ceremony performed by a bishop that is supposed to strengthen a person and enable him to resist sin. It is usually done at the age of 12. The Bishop dips his right thumb in holy oil and anoints the person on the forehead by making the sign of the cross and says, "Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit."
  13. consecration - a moment during the ceremony of the mass where God, allegedly through the priest, changes bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus.
  14. contrition - extreme sorrow for having sinned with a deep repentance concerning that sin.
  15. convent (kumbento) - A community of nuns usually gathered in a building or buildings where they live and perform ascetic duties in service of the Catholic Church.
  16. diocese - an area of many parishes presided over by a bishop.
  17. dulia - The honor given to saints and angels. see hyperdulia
  18. encyclical - a letter written from the pope addressed to the bishops.
  19. eucharist - The elements of the communion supper where the bread and wine are the body and blood of Christ.
  20. excommunicate - the punishment of cutting off a person from receiving the sacraments and exclusion from the communion of the Church.
  21. eucharistic Adoration - The practice where the "blessed sacrament," the Eucharist (which has supposedly become the body and blood of Christ) is displayed in a monstrance and adored by Catholics.
  22. extreme Unction - A sacrament given to a person who is ill or in danger of dying. It is intended to strengthen the person's soul and help his love be pure so he may enter into heaven. It is done through prayer and the anointing of oil. This is also known as Anointing of the Sick or the Sacrament of the Sick.
  23. guardian angel - a special angel assigned by God to each person in order to protect and guide that person with the goal of reaching heaven.
  24. holy chrism - the special oil used in the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders.
  25. holy orders - one of the seven sacraments by which men, bishop, deacons, and priests, are given the power and authority by a bishop to offer sacrifice and forgive sins.
  26. Holy See - the seat of final authority for the entire Roman Catholic Church located in Rome and positioned under the headship of the pope.
  27. holy water - Special water that has been blessed by a priest, bishop, etc. or a liturgical ceremony. It is used to bring a blessing to a person when applied.
  28. Immaculate Conception - The teaching that Mary was conceived without original sin.
  29. imprimatur - permission needed to print certain kinds of religious books
  30. indulgence (indulhensiya) - An indulgence is a means by which the Catholic church takes away some or all of the punishment due the Christian in this life and/or purgatory because of his sin even though that sin has been forgiven. This punishment is most often in purgatory but can also be suffered in this life. Therefore, indulgences remove time needed to be spent in purgatory. See also partial indulgence and plenary indulgence.
  31. laity - the members of the Catholic church who are not in the clergy.
  32. legate - An official that has been appointed as an ambassador of the Pope.
  33. Lent - a forty day period between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. Usually it is accompanied by some form of prayer and fasting.
  34. limbo - In the afterlife, it is the place of existence for those who deserve neither heaven nor hell.
  35. Madonna - Another title for the Virgin Mary.
  36. magisterium - the divinely appointed authority in the Catholic Church consisting of the Pope and Bishops, whose purpose is to teach and establish the true faith without error. The magisterium alone, according to Catholicism, has the right to interpret the word of God.
  37. mass (misa) - a reenactment of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross in a ceremony performed by a priest. This ceremony is symbolically carried out by the priest and involves Consecration where the bread and wine are changed into the body and blood of Jesus.
  38. monk - A person who practices a strict religious and ascetic lifestyle. It is usually practiced in a monastery with other monks.
  39. monstrance - a silver or gold stand that contains a circular window surrounded by a sunburst of rays Inside the circular window is placed a wafer which is the Eucharist.
  40. mortal sin - a serious and willful transgression of God's Law. It involves full knowledge and intent of the will to commit the sin. If left unrepentant, can damn someone to eternal hell.
  41. nun (madre) - A female Catholic who has voluntarily taken vows of service to the Catholic Church, given up worldly possessions, and usually lives in a convent.
  42. ordination - receiving the sacrament of the holy orders.
  43. original sin - the inherited sin nature of Adam that resulted from Adam's sin.
  44. parish (parokya) - a subdivision of a diocese with the priest as its head.
  45. partial indulgence - an indulgence that remits part of the temporal punishment due to a sinner.
  46. passion - The sufferings of Christ from the time of the Last Supper to His Crucifixion.
  47. penance - a means by which all sins committed after baptism are removed. The means are assigned by a priest and usually consist of special prayers or deeds performed by the sinner.
  48. Peter (Pedro) - the first pope, according to the Roman Catholic Church.
  49. plenary - complete, entire.
  50. plenary indulgence - an indulgence that remits all of the temporal punishment due to a sinner.
  51. Pope - Christ's representative on earth according to the Roman Catholic Church. He is the visible successor of Peter.
  52. priest (pari) - one who mediates between God and man and administers the sacraments and graces of God. He has received the Holy Orders.
  53. purgatory (purgatoryo) - a place of temporary punishment where the Christian is cleansed from sin before he can enter into heaven.
  54. relic - a part of the body of a saint including clothing, jewelry, etc. The relic is considered holy due to its association with the saint.
  55. remission of sins - forgiveness of sins through the sacraments of baptism and penance.
  56. rite - the words and actions performed during a religious ceremony.
  57. rosary (rosaryo) - A string of beads containing five sets with ten small beads. Each set of ten is separated by another bead. It also contains a crucifix. It is used in saying special prayers, usually to Mary where the rosary is used to count the prayers.
  58. sacrament (sakramento) - an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace.
  59. saint (santo) - A very holy person. Usually, it is someone who has been dead for many years and has been canonized by the Catholic Church. Saints do not have to pass through purgatory.
  60. saint joseph (santo jose) - The Father of all human kind.
  61. scapular - two small cloth squares joined by a string. One cloth is positioned in the front and the other in the back. Indulgences are attached to them.
  62. Sign of the Cross - A sacramental. It is the movement of the right hand from the forehead to the chest and then left and right upon the shoulders.
  63. Sovereign Pontiff - The pope.
  64. Stations of the Cross - depictions of 14 events during the passion and death of Jesus that usually appear on the walls of Catholic churches.
  65. venerate - to honor, admire, and regard with respect.
  66. venial Sin - A sin, but not as bad as Mortal Sin. It lessens the grace of God within a person's soul.
  67. viaticum - communion given to those about to die.
  68. Vicar of Christ - the Pope.

See Also




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