12 Simple Differences Between Catholics and Protestants

By Wendy Thomas Russell | June 10, 2013 | 106 comments

The rapid rise of the “Nones” — those unaffiliated with religious groups — was back in the news this week, when the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released its most recent study on American religiosity. Here’s what Pew had to say:

The number of Americans who do not identify with any religion continues to grow at a rapid pace. One-fifth of the U.S. public – and a third of adults under 30 – are religiously unaffiliated today, the highest percentages ever in Pew Research Center polling… Their ranks now include more than 13 million self-described atheists and agnostics (nearly 6% of the U.S. public), as well as nearly 33 million people who say they have no particular religious affiliation (14%).

In addition, the group emphasized that, for the first time in history, there is no Protestant majority in the United States. That is, Protestants have dropped to 48 percent, whereas they comprised 53 percent of the public as recently as 2007 — a drop of 5 percent in five years. (Catholics, by comparison dropped 1 percent during the same time period — to 22 percent). As you all know, Protestants are Christians who broke off from the Catholic Church 500 years ago. Although there are more than 33,000 (!!) Protestant denominations, all of them still operate in ways that are separate and distinct from the Catholic Church. But what are the differences, really? I mean, all Christians Churches hold the same core value: Jesus Christ was the son of the God who died for our sins, arose from the dead, and ascended to heaven. Isn’t the rest just window-dressing?

Well, here, you decide.

Twelve Differences Between Catholics and Protestants:

1. The Pope. Catholics have a Pope, which they consider a vicar for Christ — an infallible stand-in, if you will — that heads the Church. Protestants believe no human is infallible and Jesus alone heads up the Church.

2.  Big, Fancy Cathedrals. Catholics have them; Protestants don’t. Why? Well, Catholicism says that “humanity must discover its unity and salvation” within a church. Protestants say all Christians can be saved, regardless of church membership. (Ergo… shitty, abandoned storefront churches? All Protestant.)

3. Saints. Catholics pray to saints (holy dead people) in addition to God and Jesus. Protestants acknowledge saints, but don’t pray to them. [Note: There is much debate about the use of the word "pray" in this context, so let me clarify: Saints are seen by Catholics as an intermediary to God or Jesus. Although Catholics do technically pray to saints, they are not praying for the saints to help them directly but to intervene on their behalf. They are asking the saints (in the form of a prayer) to pray for them. It's like praying for prayers. Hope this helps.]

4.  Holy Water. Catholics only.

5. Celibacy and Nuns. Catholics only.

6. Purgatory: Catholics only.

7. Scripture: The be-all, end-all for Protestants is “the Word of God.” For Catholics, tradition is just important as scripture — maybe even more so.

8. Catechism: Protestant kids memorize the Bible. Catholic kids get catechism.

9. Authori-tay: In Catholicism, only the Roman Catholic Church has authority to interpret the Bible. Protestants hold that each individual has authority to interpret the Bible.

10. Sacraments: Catholic are the only ones to have the concept of the seven sacraments (baptism, confirmation, the Eucharist, penance, anointing of the sick, holy orders, and matrimony). Protestants teach that salvation is attained through faith alone.

11. Holidays: Catholics have 10 Holy Days of Obligation (which mean they must go to Mass). Protestants are more like, “Just come to church on Christmas, that’s all we ask.”

12. Communion: In Catholicism, the bread and wine “become” the body and blood of Jesus Christ, meaning that Jesus is truly present on the altar. In Protestantism, the bread and wine are symbolic.

This post originally appeared in October 2012.


  1. Savio says:

    As Scripture indicates, those in heaven are aware of the prayers of those on earth. This can be seen, for example, in Revelation 5:8, where John depicts the saints in heaven offering our prayers to God under the form of “golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.” But if the saints in heaven are offering our prayers to God, then they must be aware of our prayers. They are aware of our petitions and present them to God by interceding for us.

    • Crankypants says:

      Savio, from what I read the bowls of incense are all the prayers that have been made by all the saints (you and me and those who believe in God). BUT, this is an event that will take place at a future time. It is not an on going event.

      • anonymous says:

        God is always in the present…therefore, God’s Eternal Word is always in the present.
        There is no “time” with God and prayers.
        Prayers said long ago don’t have a time limit from the “past” and are not held to the “future.”

  2. Protestantism is far easy;simple;short to understand;follow than Catholicism.It’s
    more open;liberal;& welcomes & respects all other faiths religions like Hindusm.

    • anonymous says:

      Catholic means “Universal”…so indeed it is a TOTALLY welcoming Faith to ALL.
      “Protestantism is far easy, simple, & short”
      Catholicism mostly focuses on Spirituality…to raise our heart, mind, and total being to God. After all, we are primarily Spiritual beings…and we should be primarily concerned about our eternal after-life than this fleeting, temporary world.
      Understanding Catholicism comes through the grace of the Holy Spirit and the person’s willingness to accept His grace. It’s really not difficult at all.
      Unlike some Protestant faiths that actually teach their members to openly criticize and judge Catholics to condemnation, Catholics respect and do not bash other faiths.
      “open & liberal” is the opposite of “straight and narrow.”
      The pathway to Heaven is straight and narrow / God’s way….not man’s way.

      • Greg says:

        Yes, I used to watch the Billy Graham Crusades when they were live. Always deeply moving, as the whold stadium would rise to their feet and come down to Reverand Graham – “do you want to be sure, sure that you are saved, then come down now, because Jesus always wanted an open and public proclaimation that he is Lord.” And, I, being Roman Catholic, agree but, down deep, in my core, and in my reason, I feel I need to take it one step further. The Catholic religion seems to support this core sensability I have. The Protestant Religion seems to say “nope, you’re good, you made the conversion and yeah try to live a good life. But, the conversion is enough.” Not for me, I need to satisfy this spiritual craving I have that I believe was put there by God, (would this feeling come from the devil?)to find ways to live a life that openly problaim that I take seriously the words of Jesus when he says “take up your cross and follow Me”. Aah, and there’s the rub. “Follow Him”, what does that mean? The lives of the Saints, humans like us, are spiritual studies on their one special way they tried to take up a cross and folow. I will even go back to David, it is written “he was a man after God’s own heart.” Oh, how I want to be like him! I ask you, Did David love God, of course, did he do more than make a person conversion? The Holy Scriptures that his life reflected his desire to pursue and penetrate the wisdom, knowledge and love of God” I ponder this Protestant question “where in the bible does it say that Saints can answer prayers” to see where it goes wrong. The Saints, by their lives, can instruct us so we too can be called friends of Jesus. And, then, just as we read about the intercession of Saint Mary, the Mother of God, (Jesus from the cross, “Behold Thy Mother”,) at the wedding of Cana, sees the need of her friends and asks her son, the Saviour of the World, Jesus, to help them. I ask you, do you really believe, Saint Mary, Our Mother, in Heaven, has stopped being the intercessor for us that she was on earth I find great spirtiual comfort and inspiration believing that Saint Mary is even more so in Heaven.

        • anonymous says:

          Greg, such lovely, refreshing comments!..deeply faith-filled and strongly witnessing! I read them several times!
          I’m probably “singing to the choir,” but anyway…
          I love our Faith, and I thank God for giving me this precious Gift. And I thank God that you received and accepted His precious Gift too!
          Our Faith is tremendously rich in graces, blessings, and Spirituality. Our Dogmas are untainted and firm.
          There’s no need to wander or feel like we are wandering.
          And, yes, our Blessed Mother is a VERY special Gem!
          God bless you always!

          • Crankypants says:

            I realize posting comments leaves a lot to be desired because we always can’t say what we mean. I know this is my downfall.
            However, when you say ” our Blessed Mother is a VERY special Gem!” and never stated God’s sons name Jesus I wonder where your focus is.

            1. God sent his only begotten son Jesus to die for our sins ..not Mary.
            2. As the apostles were chosen so was Mary
            3. “Our Dogmas are untainted and firm” Be careful there. Much of Roman Catholic dogma was instituted by man not God.
            4. If God hears all prayers why ask Mary?
            5.Look in Wikipedia and see the history of Maryism. All developed by man.
            6. Follow what Jesus and the Apostles recorded in the Bible.

        • Crankypants says:

          Your quote “Protestant question “where in the bible does it say that Saints can answer prayers” to see where it goes wrong.   The Saints, by their lives, can instruct us so we too can be called friends of Jesus.  And, then, just as we read about the intercession of Saint Mary, the Mother of God.” But I do not see where you quoted scripture to support your stance.

          My interpretation of how the word “saints” is used in the Bible means followers of Christ.

          As far as prayer goes: romans 8:26 says “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.” and 1 Timothy 2:5 says: For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.

          I can’t really see where asking deceased saints to pray for us or where asking Mary to intercedes for us is valid. Wouldn’t the Bible state that?

          • anonymous says:

            Our teaching: Catholics are not in the habit of quoting Scripture…not because we don’t know it…but because it can lead to arguments / debates, “weapons,” and misinterpretations taken out of context by others.
            I’m not sure if you really want to know the answers or are you trying to disprove our beliefs –which will never happen– because the entire source of our Faith is the Catholic Holy Bible.

  3. anonymous says:

    It doesn’t say anywhere in the Holy Bible that I know of that saints can answer prayers….and neither do Catholics say that.
    We pray to the saints (our favorite saint, a spiritual friend) to ask them to pray to God for us, our needs sometimes…since they are most in favor with God.
    If something is granted through them, we thank God.
    The saints’ lives were dedicated to serving God, helping others…and they don’t stop helping just because they are not on earth anymore.

  4. chris says:

    Quote from above: [Protestants are more like, “Just come to church on Christmas, that’s all we ask.”]

    Question: Where on earth did you get your information from?

  5. Crankpants says:

    it is an admission by the Roman Catholic Church that the Scriptures do not teach in any direct way their dogma of praying to the saints.  The Roman Catholic Church must infer this from scripture and read it into the text in order to support its error.
    It is only God who knows all things, and only God can grant anyone to hear or know what the prayers are of those who pray in silence.  Let’s not give the saints superhuman powers similar to omniscience

    • Greg says:

      Your response lacks a maturity of spirit and knowledge of our Lord and his holy Scritpure. In the next few months, I will try to help you grow in your holiness as I sense this is what has drawn us all to this blog.

      • Crankypants says:

        I got my info from the internet which I admit can be a little “doggey”.

        However Greg, I look forward to what you have to say.

  6. Greg says:

    Jesus said feed my lambs to Saint Peter.

  7. paul says:

    Catholics pray all the time to Saints for help. Many pray to St Anthony for lost items, which I pray directly to Jesus. Where in the Bible does it say that saints can answer prayers?

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