Is Catholicism legalistic?


I wouldn’t judge or make generalizations about Catholics as a whole based on what you see posted here. I see how you can see that in the postings about the things you mentioned. I think most of these, however, are posted by people still learning the depths of our faith, living with an inordinate concern or fear of sin (scruples), or not grasping the love and forgiveness that is offered to us through Jesus.

Sure, there are many rules and customs. Hust as in any society or culture, they are necessary for all the people throughout the world to live in cohesiveness.


The reason the Catholic Church does not have open Communion is because the Holy Eucharist is the source and summit of our unity as the Body of Christ. Allowing Protestants to recieve Communion in the Catholic Church would express a unity which does not truly exist. For many things remain, in matters of doctrine and faith and practice, which still divide us. Indeed, even the theology of the Eucharist itself is a point of such division and controversy. So, we long for the day we may become truly unified in all such matters of faith.


A lot of these questions are coming from people who are very young and/or poorly catechized and/ or are suffering from scrupulosity, which is a disorder.

Believe me, us regulars do not like seeing 100 “is it a sin and will I go to hell” posts either because it is the wrong focus, the wrong message, and people should just skip the Internet and go to confession. I certainly don’t spend my day worrying whether I committed a sin or am going to Hell. It’s not the right way to live my faith.

But we try to be kind and charitable and answer or reassure people because they might just not have anywhere else to turn at 2 am with those questions.


I haven’t read through the 60-odd posts in this thread, but…

No, the Catholic Church does not teach that works are necessary for justification! Justification is a wholly unmerited grace!

(Now… once we accept justification, we must cooperate with that grace, and that cooperation takes the form of works whose merit belongs to God. But, that’s not at all the same thing as “works are necessary for justification”!)

You’re correct. That’s what the Catholic Church teaches, too.

Is it possible you’re confusing ‘justification’ with ‘salvation’?

How would you define ‘legalism’?


How would you define ‘legalistic’?


That’s an unscriptural approach, though, isn’t it?

Yes, Christ tells us to leave our gift at the altar… but to return once reconciliation has been achieved, not to abandon the gift at the altar!

So, sure … defer going to Mass, but reconcile that day and then go to praise God at the Mass!

There’s more nuance than that. In the case you’ve brought up and to which I’ve responded, what we’d have is a misunderstanding of your obligation to Christ’s command, so… although a grave sin, not a mortal one. :+1:


That verse from Ephesians is referring to former Jews who thought they were saved because they were formerly devout Jews who followed the Mosaic Law. The term “works” there is referring to following Mosaic Law.


Welcome to the Forum. I am a cradle Catholic and I admit that many of my Catholic brothers and sisters with Protestant background would be probably better than me in their knowledge about Catholicism because they had searched for it themselves.

Many of them admitted that they had been wrong on what they thought about Catholicism until after they found out the correct Catholic teaching. I am glad that you come here perhaps to discuss issues which you want a clearer picture of.

Not necessary. One does not have to be Mother Teresa. One only needs to attend mass on Sundays and confesses our sins.

I think we have no problem with this. Catholics would just say as much.

When I see a Catholic saying this, it would be invariably with a wink. I would not take that verse that we must have work but rather that salvation is not to be taken for granted. We have to make an effort to live accordingly to follow God’s will. Jesus death on the cross is efficacious insomuch that we respond to it with our faith and repentance. It is not a free passage to sin.


No, Catholicism does not say this. It agrees with you here. What it says is that you must confess your sins for them to be forgiven, the process which includes penance. Penance does not mean to punish nor is it work that you must do but rather more of pastoral care to strengthen and to bring you closer to God against sins.

You may like to point out those rules and regulations.

Yes, there are rules about how to do/receive the Sacraments right. Without the clarity, it will be a free for all. The Church has a purpose and one of it is to guide the faithful on what to do.

While I see this being problematic with Protestants perhaps because of their background that objects to work, you may be surprised that this is not an issue at all with Catholics. The reason is obvious – there is none.

There is nothing wrong. We agree if it is put that way.


After rereading the Catechism, Part III, Article 2, Grace and Justification, I am much more comfortable with the Church’s position on Justification, and the role of Grace and Merit. I don’t see anything there in the Church’s teaching that is in serious disagreement with what I have understood to be true as a Protestant. It is all rooted in the grace of God.

Thanks to everyone who shared their thoughts on this topic. Still, being raised Protestant, Catholic doctrine and culture are unfamiliar territory for me. I was a very happy in Protestant churches until, after reading Chesterton, I began to investigate Catholicism for myself. For years, I have been struggling, with much prayer, to understand which teachings (Catholic or Protestant) are correct. There are smart people on both sides of the theological debate, and I get very confused. Most of the time, I just have to rest in what God has revealed to me within my own tradition. But I still seek for the truth and pray.

God bless.


Rev. 14:13 tells us our works do follow us: Douay-Rheims Bible
And I heard a voice from heaven, saying to me: Write: Blessed are the dead, who die in the Lord. From henceforth now, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; for their works follow them.


If you think that Catholics are not saved by God’s grace, you know NOTHING about the Catholic Church.




Catholics are saved by grace through faith.

Is that all?

James 2. Read it. Learn it. Live it. Why?

Riddle me this: on what are we judged on judgment day?


Wow! Great reference.


Catholic Church: founded 33AD by Jesus Christ.

Rebellious church: Foundation: the human ego, fed by twisted scripture.

I am old. I am curmudgeonly. I have a veritable plethora of health problems.

But I find this never-ending procession of bible know-it-alls very wearying.

They are a 15 year old telling grandpa all about life and truth and beauty.


This would be a great Christian Metal band name. Maybe the now-nearly-elderly Dee Snider could front it.


Great (or is it twisted?) minds think alike.

But, you know what? Each one of the thousands of scripture twisters is 100% certain that they “alone” got it right.

Saint Peter specifically wrote that Paul’s letters were easily twisted - as are all of the scriptures.

And whose letters do they quote incessantly?


I guess that Paul was crucified for them.


What on earth do you mean by that? That’s a formulation I’ve never heard in the Catholic Church. The statement as is smacks of Pelagianism–we achieve salvation by our good works alone. A heresy. Your further explanation of what you think in that paragraph seems fine to me.

Again, mystifying language to a Catholic. What do you mean “complete my justification”? I always use this analogy: Mankind is locked in a room. Christ dies. By his death Christ opens the door of the room–and on the other side is Heaven. But it’s your choice at that point–do you choose to walk through the door (good works) or do you choose to stay in the room (no good works, or perhaps bad works)? Do you “save yourself”? Certainly not. You cannot open the door. Only Christ can. But after that, it’s up to you.

Legalism: You are right. It’s possible (just look at the threads in this forum) to get caught up in the various rules. But of course that’s NOT the way to approach religion. To give an analogy, your city and state have volumes and volumes of laws that have been passed. Do you need to learn all of these laws to be a good citizen? Of course not. You simply need to use your common sense and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you do that, you ARE following the laws. The same with religion. Yes, the volumes of laws are there. But if you simply try to be a good person, you will automatically follow the laws.

Again, a strange formulation for a Catholic to understand. Works are–to use the same terminology–a “fruit” of your free will. Christ does not CAUSE you to do good works. You do. Could you achieve salvation without any good works? Simply by avoiding sin? I suppose theoretically, but that’s certainly not the ideal. We’re put here to actively demonstrate our faith–which is, as Christ said, to love your neighbor.


Yes. You’ve got it.


I think you have a better grasp of all this than most Catholics on this forum! But you need to read more about what constitutes a sin, particularly mortal sin. “Missing Mass on Sunday” is not necessarily a sin at all. Maybe you’re sick. Maybe it snowed two feet. Maybe you need to tend you your sick son/daughter/mother… Sins are NOT automatic. There has to be an intention behind them: If I am insane and believe that God has told me to kill all my children, and I do, I am seriously deranged. But I did not commit a sin. I did not have the ability to understand–and to consent to–what I did.

You really have to work at it to commit a mortal sin (although you wouldn’t think so by reading some of the threads here). You have to know you are committing a serious sin. And it has to BE a serious sin. So if you think eating asparagus is a serious sin, and you do it anyway to spite God, you are certainly committing the sin of trying to spite God, but you did not commit a mortal sin by eating asparagus. And, most importantly, you have to have full consent of your will. Think for a second about all the constraints around each one of us–genetic makeup, how you were brought up, how your friends have taught you to act, how certain faults have become habits that are hard to break (alcohol, etc.), etc. etc. And you should be able to see that full consent of the will is, to put it mildly, a rare thing. So–as an example–if you ask “I did such-and-such. Is it a mortal sin?” The answer is–always–no. If you have to ask, it isn’t. It’s that simple. You can’t “accidentally” commit a mortal sin. A mortal sin means that you actively WANT to separate yourself from God. That’s pretty hard core. I suspect there are very few people who really want that.


Protestantism can be obsessed with this idea that they’re called to do nothing to complete the work of Christ. By so doing, however, they really go a long way in gutting the whole purpose and meaning of the gospel. They believe it to be arrogant to think we can contribute anything to our salvation, but, while we contribute nothing in the sense that we contribute nothing to anything, including our very existence since everything comes from God, He nonetheless has set things up so that our wills are actually the prize, so to speak, and our wills are inextricably bound up with what we do.

So the Reformed theology that insists on repeating the mantra, “Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe”, usually with an emphasis on our complete worthlessness, actually opposes the will of God, misses the mark regarding His nature, regarding His will for and attitude towards man; it misunderstands man’s abilities and role, and borders on priggishness. We do owe everything to God and His Son but He nonetheless covets our participation in accomplishing His ends for us. It’s a package deal, a work of His that we also cooperate in. He throws the life preserver, without which we drown, but we must nonetheless grab it. The Church teaches:

1993 Justification establishes cooperation between God’s grace and man’s freedom. On man’s part it is expressed by the assent of faith to the Word of God, which invites him to conversion, and in the cooperation of charity with the prompting of the Holy Spirit who precedes and preserves his assent:

When God touches man’s heart through the illumination of the Holy Spirit, man himself is not inactive while receiving that inspiration, since he could reject it; and yet, without God’s grace, he cannot by his own free will move himself toward justice in God’s sight.42

The whole thing is a struggle of the will-throughout our lives-and our justice or righteousness is the goal. Read the Parable of the Talents to see how this dynamic plays out. It’s about what we do with what we’re given, with more demanded of those who’re given more (Luke 12:48). This begins with our response of faith, but only begins there; it’s a continuous walk, a continuous relationship, with us remaining in Christ and He in us, and with our justice actually growing, grace leading to more grace as we respond, investing our talents, obeying God’s will for us as we continue walking with and heeding Him.

Proper motivation for our wills is realized as we come to love God and neighbor, this love, itself, being a gift of grace. Love defines man’s justice/holiness/righteousness more exhaustively than any other single virtue. And love acts by its nature. And this is why Scripture can tell us that we’ll be judged on what we do “for the least of these” in Matt 25:31-46, and the Catechism can teach, quoting St John of the Cross, that “At the evening of life we shall be judged on our love.” Not on our faith alone certainly. In fact faith, alone, is inadequate as Paul points out in 1 Cor 13 and James points out in Chap 2 of his letter. “The only thing that counts is faith working through love.” Gal 5:6

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