10 Common Catholic Rituals That Leave Non-Catholics Puzzled

🌺  Written by Autumn Bain-Patel

Every religion has their own unique quirks, traditions, and curiosities, and the Catholic church is no exception. 

While many Catholic traditions have their roots in Scripture, others have evolved organically over time, often due to important events or surprising miracles in the Church’s long and varied history.

Not a fan of these traditions? The good news is, most are completely optional.

Here are 10 common Catholic rituals you might see at a Catholic church that you won’t find in most other Protestant churches.


1. Dipping Fingers in Holy Water

Holy Water
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Ever wondered why Catholics dip their fingers in water when entering and exiting a church?

It’s because of holy water, a sacred symbol of purification and protection.

Holy water holds a special place in Catholic spirituality, serving as a reminder of God’s grace and protection. It is often used in blessings, sacraments, and prayers to ward off evil and bless those who come into contact with it.

The practice of blessing oneself with holy water when entering a church symbolizes cleansing and renewal.

2. Participating in the Blessing of Throats

woman praying with eyes closed
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Did you know that Catholics have a special blessing for their throats?

Known as the blessing of throats, this ritual takes place on the feast day of Saint Blaise.

According to tradition, Saint Blaise miraculously healed a young boy who was choking on a fish bone. This led to his association with throat ailments and the development of this blessing.

Priests bless the faithful by holding crossed candles across their throats to protect against illnesses and ailments.


3. Worshipping the Sacred Heart of Jesus

Catholic woman praying in church
Photo Credit: DepositPhotos.

The Sacred Heart of Jesus is a Catholic religious tradition that focuses on the physical heart of Jesus Christ as a symbol of his divine love for humanity.

Through prayers, devotions, and acts of reparation, Catholics honor the Sacred Heart as a symbol of Jesus’ compassion and redemption for all.

This devotion emphasizes Jesus’ love, compassion, and mercy for humanity, as well as his sacrifice on the cross for the salvation of mankind.

In pictures, you often see Jesus with a heart on his chest, surrounded by a circle of sharp thorns and bright light coming out.


4. Sharing Saint Anthony’s Bread

Loaf of bread
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Ever heard of Saint Anthony’s bread? This unique tradition involves the custom of giving bread to the poor in honor of Saint Anthony of Padua.

Legend has it that those who receive or give Saint Anthony’s bread will never go hungry. The act of giving bread to the less fortunate echoes Saint Anthony’s own commitment to serving the less fortunate.

It’s a heartwarming tradition that embodies the spirit of charity and compassion.


5. Celebrating the Feast of the Assumption

Statue of Mary
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The Feast of the Assumption, also known as the Assumption of Mary, is a celebration in the Catholic Church that honors the belief that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was taken up, body and soul, into heaven at the end of her earthly life.

According to Catholic tradition, this event occurred either at the time of her death or shortly thereafter.

During the Feast of the Assumption, Catholics attend Mass to honor Mary. A day of joy and reverence, it’s often marked by special prayers, processions, and devotions dedicated to the Virgin Mary


6. Making the Sign of the Cross

Man praying in church
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Making the sign of the cross is an incredibly common Catholic gesture that involves touching the forehead, chest, and shoulders, in order.

Catholics commonly make the sign of the cross before and after prayer, when entering or exiting a church pew or building, throughout Mass, when they pass an accident, or before meals.

By making the sign of the cross, Catholics invoke the presence of the Holy Trinity, express their faith in the crucified and risen Christ, and invoke divine protection and grace.


7. Participate in the Blessing of Pets

A large white dog.
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Catholics don’t merely bless themselves. They also have special rituals for blessing their beloved pets!

On the feast day of Saint Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals, many Catholic churches hold ceremonies where pets are blessed by priests.

The Blessing of Pets ceremony is a heartwarming tradition that celebrates the bond between humans and their beloved animals. It also acknowledges God’s abundant blessings upon all creatures, great and small.


8. Receiving an Exorcism, When Needed

Priest holding a hand over a man's head
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While exorcisms are very uncommon within the Catholic Church (most Catholics have never been to one), they do still take place when needed. 

Exorcisms are dangerous (but effective!) religious rituals performed by Catholic priests to expel evil spirits or remove demonic influence from individuals believed to be possessed.

While exorcisms remain a controversial and often misunderstood aspect of Catholicism, they serve as a reminder of the ongoing struggle between good and evil, and the Church’s commitment to safeguarding souls from spiritual harm.


9. Wearing a Scapular

Catholic Scapular
Photo Credit: DepositPhotos.

Along with cross necklaces, scapulars are an incredibly common piece of Catholic jewelry many Catholics wear as a sign of their devotion to Mary and their commitment to the Christian faith.

The scapular is a small piece of cloth, usually worn around the neck, with two panels connected by strings, which hang over the shoulders. It typically features images or symbols associated with Mary or a particular devotion.

Many Catholics believe that wearing a scapular can bring spiritual protection and blessings, as well as the promise of Mary’s intercession in Heaven.


10. Participating in the Veneration of Relics

A row of saint statues.
Photo Credit: Lightstock.

Catholic relics are physical objects associated with saints, Jesus Christ, or significant events in Christian history.

These objects are often parts of the bodies of saints (such as bones or hair), clothing they wore, or items they used during their lives (such as religious artifacts or personal belongings). As a result, these relics are often believed to possess spiritual power and healing properties.

Catholic relics are often housed in special containers called reliquaries and may be displayed for veneration in churches, chapels, or shrines. Pilgrims and worshippers may visit these sites to pray before the relics, seeking the intercession of the saint for various needs, such as healing, protection, or spiritual guidance.

By venerating relics, Catholics honor the lives and legacies of the Saints, seeking their assistance in times of need and drawing inspiration from their examples of holiness.


15 Common Catholic Church “Facts” Protestants Constantly Get Wrong

priest baptizing infant
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Think you know the Catholic Church? Think again.

Despite being the largest Christian denomination in the United States (and the world), much of what people believe about Catholics and the Catholic church simply isn’t true.

Are you guilty of believing any of these 15 Catholic Church myths?

15 Common Catholic Church “Facts” Protestants Constantly Get Wrong


15 “Mass Icks” That Seriously Annoy Devout Catholics

woman holding up dress
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When it comes to church, everyone has their own opinions and preferences.

That doesn’t mean that everyone else has to agree, however.

Recently, a Catholic user on a popular social media platform asked,

“I love being Catholic, I love everything about mass and just how joyous I feel when I go to mass. But there are some little things, not too serious, that people do in mass that just make me go ‘ick…’ What are your Mass icks?”

From wearing the “wrong” clothes to standing the “wrong” way to lining up at the “wrong” time, many people were quick to share the small (but annoying!) things that give them “the ick.” Here’s what they had to say.

15 “Mass Icks” That Seriously Annoy Devout Catholics

Autumn Bain-Patel
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Brittany Ann Equipping Godly Women

About the author

Brittany Ann is an ECPA bestselling author of “Fall in Love with God’s Word” and “Follow God’s Will” and the founder of EquippingGodlyWomen.com, a popular Christian-living website dedicated to helping busy Christian moms find practical ways to go "all in" in faith and family. Her work has been featured on CBN, The Christian Post, Crosswalk, and more.

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