Notice! There is a Norwegian
course for foreigners every Sunday at 4:00 p.m.
in St. Paul school. The course is sponsored by the
Caritas-group. For more information contact Klara Wade, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tel. 55 21 59 50
Parish website: bergen.katolsk.no
National website: www.katolsk.no
Catholic youth organization: www.nuk.no
Caritas Norway: www.caritas.no
The total population of Norway is 4.5 million, of which only 1–2 % are registered Catholics. Most of the inhabitants are nominally members of the Church of Norway, which is the established church.
Organization and structure
The Catholic Church in Norway consists of
the Diocese of Oslo (154,560 km²), the
Prelature of Trondheim (56,458 km²) and the
Prelature of Tromsø (175,618 km²). This
administrative division has its historical and practical
reasons. Norway is a geographically large but sparsely
populated country, and until recently communications
were quite difficult. For instance, the parish of
Hammerfest in the far north of the country comprises
48,618 km², while the parish of Bergen on the
West Coast covers 29,570 km². This means that
priests have to travel a lot to get to their
parishioners, a formidable task if one considers the
long and dark winter months, snowy and mountainous roads
and a number ferry crossings.
According to official statistics for 2008 there are approximately 57,500 Catholics, or about 1,5 % of the population. Most of the Catholics live in Oslo, where they make up about 2.5 % of the population, while in Lillehammer only 0.2 % of the population is Catholic. In reality there are many more Catholics in the country, probably over 100,000, and with labour migrants from Poland and other Eastern European countries perhaps as many as 150,000, but they are not registered as Catholics in the Registrar’s Office and hence are impossible to trace. The number of Catholics is increasing mostly due to immigration, but also due to a number of conversions.
In Norway, unless you are a registered member of another religious or humanist association, you are counted as a member of the established church (the Church of Norway), and your tax money goes to the Church of Norway. Therefore it is very important for Catholics to be officially registered as members of the Catholic Church, so that your tax money goes to the Catholic Church! The Church therefore needs your full personnummer (11 digits). You can register online at the national Church website or contact your local Catholic parish.
A universal church in miniature
Catholics born in Norway (included the
children of immigrants) make up about 38 % of all
the members of the Catholic Church in the country. In
many parishes Norwegians are in a minority. Other large
groups include Poles, Vietnamese, Filipinos, Tamils and
Mass in different languages
In big parishes, such as those in Oslo or Bergen, there are several masses in different languages on every Sunday. In smaller parishes this may vary, but there will be a Mass celebrated in some of the main languages used by the parishioners every Sunday, or on some weekdays. In Bergen Mass in English is celebrated every Sunday at 6 pm. Full mass schedules are available online (see above).
When arriving in Norway, you should be aware that this is a Protestant country where Catholic churches are few and far between. Hence, you cannot count on Catholic services and sacraments unless you settle in one of the more populous areas. You must also be prepared to travel – usually drive – a considerable distance to get to church. Hence regular attendance is not always possible and therefore the role of lay Catholics may be more important than in countries where Catholics are in majority.
The lay people and their role
Because of the great distances, the role
of lay people is important. They function as catechists,
readers, acolytes and in other ministries. Lay persons,
and in smaller places also parents themselves, have to
help catechize children before their first Holy
Communion and to prepare young people for Confirmation.
The history of the Catholic Church in
Norway is as old as the kingdom itself, dating back to
about 900 A.D., with Christian monarchs from 930. The
country was finally converted after the death of Saint
Olav, King and Martyr, in 1030. Christianisation was
largely the work of Anglo-Saxon missionaries, and the
Norwegian Church has been considered the only daughter
of the English. The papal legate, Cardinal Nicholas
Breakspear (later Pope Hadrian IV), established an
ecclesiastical province in 1153 with the metropolitan
see at Nidaros (Trondheim) and suffragan sees at Oslo,
Bergen, Hamar, and Stavanger. The prosperous years of
the High Middle Ages were followed by decline for Church
and nation alike, although Norwegian Catholicism
retained much of its vitality.
In several parishes there are male and female religious, including Canons Regular of St. Augustine, Cistercians, Discalced Carmelites, Dominicans, Franciscans, Poor Clares, Picpus Fathers, Missionaries of the Holy Family, Oblates of Mary Immaculate, Little Sisters of Jesus, Sisters of St. Elizabeth, Sisters of St. Francis Xavier, and Missionaries of Charity. Religious houses are rather small with 3–10 sisters or brethren. Some, like the Sisters of St. Francis Xavier in Bergen, were much larger before and after the Second World War, when they were running hospitals and schools, which they have since had to give up due to declining numbers.
Since Norway is officially a Protestant country, Christmas Day, 26 December, 1 January, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Monday, Ascension Day, Whit Sunday and Whit Monday are all public holidays. However, specifically Catholic feast days like Corpus Christi, 15 August, 1 November and 8 December are not.
A secular country
Norway is a secular Western country, which means that most of our neighbours or colleagues, even if they are members of the Church of Norway, perceive religion as a private matter and Sunday as a day for relaxation, often in their cottages, skiing in the mountains or simply having a lazy morning. Our participation in the Sunday Mass may cause some surprise. Often various sports activities for children are organized on Sundays, and sometimes it is not easy to make a choice whether to go to Church or participate in something else. Also the Easter Triduum may be a special experience when we go to church and most of the population spends the weekend either skiing in the mountains or partying in town.
St. Paul’s Parish in Bergen
On 6 March 1843 the King of Norway and
Sweden issued a decree which allowed Catholics in
Christiania (today Oslo) to establish their first parish
since the Protestant Reformation. Two years later
freedom of worship was extended for to the whole
country, but it took 12 more years before a Catholic
priest, Father Christopher Holfeldt-Houen, arrived in
Bergen. He celebrated his first Mass in Bergen at
Christmas 1857 in a temporary chapel in a flat at
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