I wrote these series of articles (see menu sidebar to the left) as a Catholic for Catholics, but I no longer accept Catholic teaching as the authoritative source of truth.I have not attempted to align these articles with my current views.
What it's like to be Catholic. As a Protestant I had no idea.
Catholicism provides ample opportunity for a devotional, religious, and faith-filled life. Examples:
Are Catholics Saved?
There are many Catholics who are simply not involved with their religion. They do not attend mass; they certainly don't believe what the Catholic Church teaches; and likely don't really even know what she teaches. Protestant Denominations have many people in this category also. In this discussion I am not considering these non-practicing Catholics at all.
Then there are those Catholics who occasionally attend mass. These likely don't believe what the Catholic Church teaches or they would go to mass every week like they are instructed to. Certainly there are many of these. From this group I suspect that many are not saved just as in the case of those from Protestant Denominations who only go to church on Christmas and Easter.
There is another group of those who mostly go to mass weekly but who don't do anything else. For example they neglect to go to mass on the Holy Days of Obligation and they don't participate in penance during Lent. These either don't know what the Catholic Church teaches or they don't believe what she teaches. I suspect that many in this category are saved because they hear so much truth during the mass. It's hard for me to believe that anyone can hear the Bible readings and the liturgy each week in mass and not be affected by it. This would be comparable, I think, to Protestants who go to church every Sunday but who have no other involvement with Christianity. Many of these are saved.
Another group is those who appear to be good Catholics but who do seemingly unholy things. An example is those who get drunk during religious celebrations. They are very pious at times but they have bad habits. Much of this is, I suspect, a result of improper spiritual training. Perhaps they are not aware that their behavior is sinful or perhaps they are not really committed to living a holy life. I suppose this group would be comparable to good church-going Protestants who watch R-rated movies or who get drunk or who swear a lot on the side. Certainly it is possible that many of these are saved.
Many Catholics are very pious. They attend mass weekly or even daily, they often have a devotion to Mary and the Saints, they recite the Rosary often, and they actually believe what the Catholic Church teaches. Thus they are against abortion and contraception, they don't think that women should be priests, and they love the Pope. I suspect that fewer Catholics in this category know the Bible as well as Protestants in this category, but some do know the Bible very well. Some Catholics in this category may not be able to articulate their faith very well in a way that would make sense to Protestants. In my opinion Catholics in this group are saved. While they are certainly a minority of Catholics, there are many of them.
So the answer to the question, "Are Catholics saved?" is simply "some are, some aren't;" just as in the Protestant Denominations. The devout Catholics are saved for the most part and the marginal Catholics, the "cafeteria Catholics" (those who pick and choose what they believe) are less likely to be saved.
Since I spent my entire pre-Catholic life as a fundamentalist Protestant, the mass and its liturgy were very foreign to me at first. But now I love the mass and it is such a blessing to me.
First a brief overview of what mass is for those who are unfamiliar with it. There are two parts of a mass: (1) the liturgy of the Word, and (2) the Eucharist.
The liturgy of the Word is based around two or three Bible readings. The final reading is from one of the gospels and is followed by a homily (short sermon). The Eucharist is all about Jesus' sacrifice as the Lamb of God which is re-presented in the mass. In Catholic teaching the bread and wine become the body, blood, soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ through the miracle of transubstantiation when the priest consecrates them. During this portion of the mass there are many liturgical prayers and the congregation recites various prayers. The "grand finale" is the receiving of communion.
I have yet to see a Catholic Church in which people socialize after mass. For many Protestants this social aspect of church-going is a major part of the experience, but the focus of the mass is different. Mass is a deep personal meditation and mystical connection with Jesus. I think that the neglect of the social aspects of church-life are a weakness in the Catholic Church which drives many away (especially young people) and fails to attract new people. I have been attending mass for over two years at my local parish and each time it is as if it is my first time visiting that parish.
When you first go into the church before mass it is very quiet (or at least it is supposed to be). You can kneel down in the pew on the kneeler and pray for a while. Prayer is not limited to improvisational prayer but often takes the form of reciting a prayer such as the "Our Father," the "Hail Mary," and many others. As you look around at the various kinds of artwork in the form of stained glass, statues, and paintings you let your mind wander through the various episodes in Biblical and Christian history. You can gaze at the tabernacle which is the container housing the consecrated wafers from a previous mass. This is the body, blood, soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ which resides in every Catholic Church and as such can be worshipped and adored as if Jesus were physically present — because He is. (Catholics don't worship crackers — they worship the person of Jesus Christ).
There are many symbolic objects in the room. There is the altar which represents the Old Testament sacrificial altar and the altar upon which Abraham began to sacrifice his son, Isaac. The altar also has within it a small piece of a relic from one of the Saints. When gazing at the altar you can kneel in your pew and meditate on the necessity of having the perfect sacrifice in Jesus Christ who died on the cross as if upon the altar. It is easy to meditate upon His sacrifice for us when gazing upon the altar. There is typically a crucifix representing Jesus' suffering and death upon the cross so that we might have life. In some cultures people touch the feet of Jesus upon the cross as a way to worship Jesus Himself.
There are many ways to tangibly express your devotion. As you enter you can dip your fingers into the blessed water and do the sign of the cross as you remember your baptism and the grace of God which made salvation possible. You can genuflect (bend the knee like a curtsy) as you face the tabernacle or the altar. During the mass there is quite a bit of involvement. In addition to the singing of hymns there are call and response sections. At each Sunday mass we recite the Nicene Creed.
Sometimes there is incense used in mass. The smoke of the incense symbolizes our prayers rising to Heaven and the cloud of smoke purifies what it touches.
The mass is very much focused on the Bible and the person of Jesus Christ. It is hard to imagine how anyone who is listening at all could attend mass regularly and not develop a close relationship with Jesus.