The Catholic Church remains one of the most ancient Christian religious institutions. Alongside the Orthodox Church, from whom the Catholic Church split in 1054, because of a formal schism concerning issues such as papal authority and theological disputes, for example, concerning the doctrinal formulation of the “filioque”, the Catholic Church demarcates an adherence to the ancient Christian tradition. This creates a marked difference between, for example, the Catholic Church and Protestantism. The latter is a relatively new movement in comparison with the Orthodox and Catholic Church, initiated by Martin Luther for, among other reasons, a response to what was deemed excessive papal authority and therefore a corruption of the original message of the Church.
Hence, in an American context, the Protestant church has become the dominant Church in the minds of the people, who are in the majority of Protestant extraction. The Catholic Church, in this sense, represents a more ancient form of the religion, in so far as Protestant encourages individual interpretation of the Christian faith, which leads to the diverse forms we see in contemporary America today, the majority of which cannot even be considered Christian from a strict doctrinal standpoint, since they represent religious institutions entirely conditioned by modern society, such as the phenomenon of the so-called “mega-church”. Such differences are important to note when considering a broader sociologico-empirical consideration to the Catholic Church, since the Protestant image of Christianity is, as mentioned, the dominant image: the Catholic Church, from this respective, represents a more traditional form of Christianity.
However, when visiting a Catholic Church, much of this ancient and respected character has been lost. A visitor to a Catholic Church, for example, will not be confronted with the recitation of the liturgy in Latin, as was the tradition from the inception of the Western Church, since Catholicism, after the Second Vatican Council, attempted to modernize the Church. One of the effects of this modernization was to read the liturgy in the language of the country or population where the Church was located, as opposed to Latin. This was the Protestant tradition, but also was the Orthodox tradition, and therefore, the Catholic Church lost much of its exclusivity and uniqueness with this tradition.
This is confirmed when one enters a Catholic Church for the first time. Certainly, some Catholic Churches embody the architecture which recalls the origin of the Church in Rome and its traditional beginnings within a Latin and Western European context. Nevertheless, many of the modern Catholic Churches, one of which I myself visited, is, from the outside, entirely indistinguishable from a Protestant Church. Research into the traditional architecture of Catholic Churches and the churches new largely American forms demonstrate that radical shifts in how the Church wants to present itself to the public have been enacted.
The imagery of the Church, itself, however remains to a certain extent traditional. Certainly, the presence of music performed in English, often in somewhat modern forms that suggest the Protestant American adaptation of the faith, do not seem entirely Catholic. Nevertheless, some of the imagery of the Church recapitulates this basic Catholic function. For example, the dress of the clergy is explicitly Catholic, not finding a a correlate in Orthodoxy or Protestantism. This dress suggests the ancient binds to Rome and the Roman Catholic tradition, despite the modernization of the Church. The symbolism, despite the language change, is also the same, as there is much emphasis on the Crucifixion and also the Virgin Mary, the latter a special emphasis in the Catholic Church tradition. Symbolism, therefore, in the Catholic Church can be said to have remained explicitly Catholic despite such aforementioned changes. Another clear example of this traditionalism is the gender of the clergy, which is entirely male, following tradition.
One of the most striking aspects of the Catholic Church, however, is the diversity of its church members. The Church exits all over the world and this is reflected in its congregation. Members from all Caucasian races, as well as Latinos and other minorities are present. This reflects the large influence of Catholicism on a global level historically. However, at the same time, this also demonstrates the positive effects a shared faith may have, bringing a diverse, multicultural group together with a shared message. In this sense, the universal message, despite the changes to Catholicism, are still demonstrated in a visit to the contemporary Catholic Church.