Like the Christian church, the Roman Catholic church has different branches and practices, although there are certain chief commandments of the Roman Catholic church: to attend Mass on all Sundays and holy days of obligation, to fast and abstain on certain appointed days, to confess sins at least once a year, to receive Holy Communion during the Easter time, to contribute to the support of the Church, and to observe the laws of the Church concerning marriage. Roman Catholics also observe the Ten Commandments.
The late Rich Mullins, a Protestant music artist, commented, "I have been interested in Catholicism because there are so many things about it that are unanswerable." He included a picture of (the Virgin) Mary as part of the artwork on one of his albums. "I did get a letter from a guy who asked me why I have a picture of Mary and whether I think Mary should be prayed to. I am going to write back and say my other albums have pictures of me and I don't think I should be prayed to," he said.
A Catholic monk in Kentucky of the Trappist order named Thomas Merton published a book entitled The Seven Storey Mountain (1948) which brought racism, economic injustice, and militarism into greater awareness in the Catholic scene. His book Zen and the Birds of Appetite concentrates around a central Catholic theme: there is good in all religions; to say that there is only one religion and disregard the possibly beneficial principles of other religons is not respectful, nor very wise. In fact, "Catholic" means "according to the whole" or "universal." But radical traditionalists believe that to attain salvation, you must only attend the Catholic church. When he was in Bangkok, Thailand, attending a conference for Christian and Buddhist monks, he died tragically (the cause for his death was attributed to electrocution). However, since Merton's ideas were controversial to some and there may have been foul play in regard to his death.
The Catchesism of the Catholic Church says, "By the solemn forty days of Lent the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert" (CCC 540). Basically Lent is symbolic of Jesus' forty day period of fasting and prayer. Lent is mainly a Catholic tradition, but some Christian individuals and groups practice it also.
There are serious Catholics, non-practicing Catholics (basically people who call themselves Catholics just because they were raised that way), but there are Catholic groups that have made themselves independent of Rome. These include the Eastern Orthodox, Anglican (they are called Episcopalians in the United States), Coptic, Old Catholic, as well as the Liberal Catholic church.
The term "Catholic" can imply different things to different people. In Medieval times, "Catholic" and "Christian" were synonomous. Martin Luther had not yet reformed the church. After the death of Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul started to spread Christianity. Christianity was basically built upon Judaism, with the difference that Jesus Christ was acknowledged as being equal with God. The Apostle Paul took Judaism, an ethinic religion, into the level of Christianity: a universal religion. And so Catholicism means "universal" and was an early form of modern day Christianity. Since then, Catholicism/Christianity has branched off into several different groups, denominations, and sects.