Cultural Catholic

A lapsed Catholic is a baptised Catholic who is non-practising.[1][2] Such a person may still identify as a Catholic[1] and remains a Catholic according to canon law.[3] Lapsing is not necessarily connected with a lack of belief.[4]

Catholic teaching on membership of the Church

According to Catholic belief, baptism "seals the Christian with the indelible spiritual mark of belonging to Christ. No sin can erase this mark, even if sin prevents Baptism from bearing the fruits of salvation."[3]

From 1983 a formal act of defection from the Catholic Church was recognised in the Code of Canon Law, making defectors ineligible for the privileges of membership of the Church, such as marrying in church. This form of defection was removed from the Code in 2009, and it was no longer possible to defect formally from the Catholic Church.[5]

Even the form of censure known as excommunication does not make a person an ex-Catholic;[6] they are still subject to the same religious obligations, but their communion with the Church is considered impaired.


In the time of the persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire, many Christians, including clergy and even some bishops, failed to hold firm. They were referred to as the lapsi (those who had slipped and fell) as opposed to the stantes (those who stood firm).[7] They included clergy and even some bishops.[8] Different attitudes developed within the Church towards the lapsed: some held they should never be readmitted to the Church before death, others were for demanding serious penance of them before readmitting them, while others again were still more lenient.[9] The First Council of Nicaea insisted that any clergy who had lapsed were not to be readmitted to clerical rank.[10]

Present canon law

Today, a Catholic who lapses to the extent of becoming an apostate, a heretic or a schismatic is automatically excommunicated,[11] and, until the excommunication is lifted, is forbidden to have any ministerial part in the celebration of Mass or other worship ceremonies, to celebrate or receive the sacraments or to exercise any Church functions.[12] This is an obligation that binds the excommunicated person. Unless the excommunication has been publicly declared by the Church and not merely incurred automatically, the excommunicated person cannot on that ground alone be publicly refused the sacraments, even by a priest who knows of it. However, to assist at the marriage of someone who has "notoriously" (i.e. consciously and publicly) rejected the Catholic faith, a priest needs the permission of the ordinary and the same promises required by spouses in mixed marriages are also required.[13] The Code of Canon Law lays down no particular penalty for a lapsing that consists of failure to fulfill the obligations to attend Sunday Mass[14] and to receive Communion during Eastertide.[15]

Colloquial names

Some lapsed Catholics attend Mass on special occasions like Christmas and Easter. Such lapsed Catholics are colloquially referred to by such terms as Cultural Catholics, Two-Timers, Chreasters,[16][17] C&E Catholics,[18] Poinsettia & Lily Catholics,[17] CEOs (Christmas and Easter Only), CAPE Catholics (Christmas, Ash [Wednesday], Palm [Sunday], Easter), PACE Catholics (Palm [Sunday], Ash [Wednesday], Christmas, Easter), CASE Catholics (Christmas and Sometimes Easter), CMEs (Christmas, Mother's Day and Easter), or A&P Catholics (for Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday).[19]

Examples in literature

"He was of the faith chiefly in the sense that the church he currently did not attend was Catholic" (Kingsley Amis, One Fat Englishman (1963), chapter 8).

"I've usually found every Catholic family has one lapsed member, and it's often the nicest." (Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited).

See also


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