Michael Walsh introduces readers to basic Catholic beliefs in his introduction, setting the base for the rest of Roman Catholicism: The Basics. Many people think that all Catholics attend Mass in the vernacular and follow bishops who wear pointed hats called miters. This is only the largest portion of the Catholic Church; other Catholics who are in communion or union with the Pope include the Maronites, the Melkites, the Malabars, the Chaldeans, the Ukrainians and several others (Walsh has a table listing these and their numbers).
The liturgical garb and church structures of these other Catholics resemble Eastern Orthodox Churches. The term “Roman Catholic” generally refers to those in the Catholic Church who celebrate the Mass according to the Roman Rite, which used to be in Latin but is today mainly in the vernacular - although some continue to celebrate the Latin Mass known as the Tridentine Mass. This shows how complicated it can be to describe Catholics which really fulfills what the word “catholic” means: universal.
Walsh discusses the topic of authority in the Church, where it comes from and who has it - what the Vatican is and how it operates. The Vatican is not only the smallest country in the world; it is the headquarters of the Catholic Church. Walsh brings in Church history to help show how various positions, doctrines, liturgy, and other aspects of today’s Church developed.
In chapter six, he discusses the Mass, other liturgies, and the Sacraments. He touches on the hot-button issue of women priests by noting that some are discussing it. He also discusses annulment in this chapter before moving on to a discussion of some of the devotions that Catholics practice. He proceeds to show how the Catholic Church makes an impact on the world and society, and the last chapter is a history of the papacy.
Walsh provides a glossary with short definitions and finishes the book with a short bibliography and an index. There are no illustrations, but endnotes of sorts close each chapter. The author includes charts and helpful informational sidebars. Some British English shows up in this book, since the author is British. Readers should be aware of this minor aspect.
Michael Walsh is a retired librarian of Heythrop College, University of London, England. He is on the editorial board of the Heythrop Journal and author of Pocket Dictionary of Popes (May 2006), Warriors of the Lord (2003), Conclave (2003), Lives of the Popes (2001), Book of Saints (1995), John Paul II (1994) and editor of the Dictionary of Catholic Devotion (1994), Opus Dei (1992), the new edition of Butler’s Lives of the Saints (1985) and Illustrated History of the Popes (1984). This book is recommended for anyone looking for affordable information on the Catholic Church.