Details

Written by Joel on October 9th, 2008

It has been awhile since I have made a post here, mostly because nothing of much significance has happened in this area of my life since the summer.

However, I would like to give you some details about that summer discussion we had at chaplain school (as best as my memory will allow).

A bit of background
There was daily chapel for all students, held in the morning before classes began. One for Protestants and one for Roman Catholics. The Protestant chapel was the dominant one, attended by 90% (or more, in a class of 160). The Roman Catholic chapel was smaller with about 15. It was attended by Roman Catholics (of course), Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans, and myself. So, I was not the only non-Roman Catholic there. It was a small group which led to a greater sense of community.

I remember the first time I attended the chapel. Someone asked “Are you Catholic?” (because you can’t tell by looking), and I answered “it depends on what you mean by catholic.” He raised his eyebrow, and looked a bit confused, and possibly irritated. I continued “I am not Roman Catholic. But I am catholic, meaning I belong to Christ’s universal church.”

Occasionally there would be no official chapel on a given day for scheduling reasons, but the Catholics were insistent on having mass, especially on holy days and I would join them. The question eventually came up (knowing I was not Roman Catholic) “So, why do you join us for mass so often as opposed to the Protestant chapel?” And I told them a bit about my story and my struggles with the Protestant Church. This lead to the invitation to dinner and discussion with the priest, 2 seminarians and myself.

The dinner and discussion
We picked a night and went to dinner. We shared our stories. The 2 seminarians, as it turned out joined the Catholic church from Protestant traditions. The priest was a “cradle Catholic.” We talked about a crazy man at the priest’s church who wore a red collar and pretended to be a priest; our personal faith journey; how one of the seminarians worked for the state department prior to his call.

We were enjoying each others company so we decided to go over to one of the seminarian’s room and have a theology-on-tap. Here we got more theological. And I found a great deal of agreement with them. We talked about the Eucharist and real presence, inter-church marriage, liturgy and the sacraments, and Vatican II.

There was disagreement concerning the nature of the church. I argued for a larger-than-structure, universal Christ-Church in which all Christians belonged. The two seminarians argued that the Roman Catholic Church is the only true church, and Protestant Churches are only true in that they reflect the Roman Catholic Church. I brought up Ut Unum Sint, and Unitatis Redintegratio concerning the view of protestant churches and an eccumenism of convergence (not individual conversion). For inter-church marriages I brought up Familiaris Consorito, and how it says “The Eucharist is the very source of Christian marriage” (57) that if the Church does not allow a protestant husband and a Catholic wife to share together in the Eucharist we do harm to the foundation marriage. The Eucharist feeds a marriage.

So we were having a nice healthy discussion, finding points of agreement and were we differed. Enter the seminarian’s (very) Protestant room-mate. He naturally joins the conversation but shows such cynicism toward the Catholics that it produced no useful discussion. He kept spouting things like “The Bible is the only source of authority, we shouldn’t have a Pope.” He challenged me once (indirectly) and asked “Why would a Protestant want to take Catholic communion?”

Later he offered an “analogy” of the Catholic Church saying it was like an exclusive club in which you have to jump through many hoops and learn the secret handshake in order to be “in.” I offered another (more productive analogy) saying I see Protestants as similar to the Samaritans – separated from the temple with some strange beliefs according to the Jews, and yet Jesus said the Kingdom of God was for the Samaritans too. Protestants might act goofy and deny some pretty important beliefs, but we are like crazy unlce Frank at the family reunion – Still part of the family.

At this point it was fairly late and it was a “school night,” so we all went home. I appreciated there time and being able to dig deep in some theology with some fellow seminarians and Christians.


 

11 Comments so far ↓

  1. Agellius says:

    I’m glad you’re back. I’ve been checking on you from time to time. I plan to comment on your two latest posts as soon as I get a few minutes.

    (You may get this comment twice. Blogger did something strange the first time I tried to post it.)

  2. Joel says:

    Thanks, its nice to hear from you again too agellius.

    I have been somewhat distracted in the previous few months, but now that my internship is going on I imagine I might be more active here as I continue to discern my call.

    I’m looking forward reading your comments.

  3. Agellius says:

    You write, ‘For inter-church marriages I brought up Familiaris Consorito, and how it says “The Eucharist is the very source of Christian marriage” (57) that if the Church does not allow a protestant husband and a Catholic wife to share together in the Eucharist we do harm to the foundation marriage. The Eucharist feeds a marriage.’

    Again I can only ask: Are you saying the Catholic Church should allow a Protestant to participate in and partake of the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, when he not only does not recognize the Body and Blood of Christ therein (1 Cor. 11:29), but also believes such sacrifice to be a sacrilege?

    Although I have asked this question before, I don’t recall receiving a direct answer to it.

  4. Joel says:

    agellius,

    Yes, I am saying “the Catholic Church should allow a Protestant to participate in and partake of the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass”

    but not if he or she cannot “discern the body” (1 Cor 11). Also, I do not believe a Protestant Christian would request admittance to the Eucharist if he or she believed it to be a sacrilege.

    I believe that the greater scandal is a husband and wife who cannot fully celebrate their sacrament of marriage in the Eucharist. (Especially if the Protestant party believes the Eucharist to literally be the Body and Blood – which is not an exclusively Catholic belief)

    The church sends very mixed messages when it 1) allows inter-church marriages (a sacrament); 2) Says that husband and wife fulfill their sacrament of marriage in the Eucharist; 3)Except Protestant-Catholic marriages (which are still sacramental)

  5. Agellius says:

    Here’s what I think you’re not addressing in my original question:

    The Catholic Church believes and teaches that the Mass is a **Sacrifice**. The Bible says that “those who eat the sacrifices [are] sharers in the altar” (1 Cor. 10:18). By receiving communion, you are participating in the offering of Christ on the altar.

    Do you understand this?

  6. Joel says:

    I understand this, and I affirm it; with clarification.

    The sacrifice of the mass is NOT a new sacrifice. That is, Christ does not die again – because the original was once and for all.

    However, through the mystery of the Eucharist we participate in the original Last Supper, and thus Christ’s death on the cross for us.

    I would say that at each celebration of the Eucharist, Christians step into a “spiritual time machine” in a way.

  7. Agellius says:

    You said previously, ‘Yes, I am saying “the Catholic Church should allow a Protestant to participate in and partake of the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass” but not if he or she cannot “discern the body” (1 Cor 11).’

    So then, you’re not saying the Catholic Church should allow any Protestant to receive Communion, only those who believe that it is the actual Body and Blood of Christ. Right?

  8. Joel says:

    Sure, but I believe that all Christians (Protestants and Catholics) ought to discern the Body in the Eucharist.

    I’m saddened that many Protestant communities do not acknowledge Christ in Holy Communion, claiming a strict symbolic understanding.

    I can empathize with the Catholic view that “one must be in communion in order to receive communion.” Therefore, communion should not be shared universally with other Christians (even those believing in transubstantiation…yet) There is a great deal of work left to do in this area.

    However, denying the ability for inter-church families to share in the Eucharist denies the fact that communion does exist in such sacramental marriages between a Catholic and baptized Non-Catholic Christian. For example my wife and I are in communion with one another and have struggled to find a way to celebrate that communion in the Eucharist, which we so desperately desire.

    I believe this situation should be one that fits in the subsection of canon 844, which spells out certain exceptions to the “communion is for Catholic only” rule.

    Otherwise, we have a contradiction on our hands: A sacramental marriage, without the sacramental expression in the Eucharist.

  9. Agellius says:

    So you agree that the the Catholic Church should not allow Protestants to receive communion if they do not discern the Body of Christ in the Eucharist.

    You also affirm that the Mass is a sacrifice. You qualify it by saying it merely makes present the sacrifice of Calvary. We could quibble about that, but my question is, Should the Catholic Church allow Protestants to receive communion if they do not believe the Mass is a sacrifice?

  10. Joel says:

    agellius,

    I really appreciate this discussion we are having, it is proving very helpful.

    It “merely makes present the sacrifice of Calvary?” I think this is the most profound aspect of Holy Communion – that we are transported back to the historical Christ, participate in his meal; and yet at the same time receive BOTH his body, blood and Holy Spirit in the meal.

    If Protestants are admitted to Holy Communion for any reason, they should not be held to any higher standard than the Catholic laity. Catholics do not approach the altar because they have a flawless theology, but because they are in communion. Children for example come forward to receive, but certainly do not fully grasp the idea of substitutionary atonement.

    So yes and no. Yes because we hope for the laity to understand what they receive. But no, because there is no theological exam you must pass while in the communion line.

  11. Agellius says:

    Joel writes, “I really appreciate this discussion we are having, it is proving very helpful.”

    I’m glad to hear it. I was afraid I might come across as hostile. But really I’m just trying to whittle down and figure out exactly where our differences lie. I’m sure I’m missing some large nugget of information that makes sense of what you’re saying. And vice versa. I have found that as long as both parties persist in good faith, they may not come to agree, but eventually they will figure out where the sticking points are.

    You write, ‘[quoting me] It “merely makes present the sacrifice of Calvary?” I think this is the most profound aspect of Holy Communion . . .’

    Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying that’s a small thing. I’m just saying that as I understand it, Mass is more than just a time machine or a worm-hole in the space/time continuum. It not only takes you back to the sacrifice of Calvary (or brings it to you), but is an unbloody offering of the Body and Blood of Christ in its own right.

    You write, “Catholics do not approach the altar because they have a flawless theology . . .”

    Actually they do.

    “. . . , but because they are in communion.”

    The two cannot be separated. Being in communion with the Church means (among other things) being of one mind (Phil. 1:27). It means assenting to ‘all that the Catholic Church teaches’. This is part of the baptismal vow, which is repeated every year at Easter. And baptism is what initiates you into the covenant and brings you into communion in the first place.

    Your response will no doubt be, that Protestants are baptized too. Certainly, and that’s why we consider them Christians. But we also call them “separated brethren”. They do not enjoy *full* communion, not because we don’t want them, but because they no longer assent to ‘all that the Catholic Church teaches’. They are no longer of one mind with us. This was their own choice; certainly it was not the will of the Church that they should refuse such assent.

    This is why your complaint that the Church should not refuse communion to a Protestant spouse, rings hollow to me. The premise there is that the Protestant spouse is in the right place, and needs the Church to change. The Church’s premise is that the Church stands ready to welcome the Protestant. The Protestant is the one who refuses to enter fully into its communion.

    Let’s not forget now, this is all in response to your statement that the Church should not hold Protestants to a higher standard than it holds Catholics. My response is, the Church holds Protestants to precisely the same standard it holds Catholics to: It insists that they assent fully to ‘all that the Catholic Church teaches’. Refusing assent to the Church’s teachings is a sin that needs to be repented of and confessed to a priest — this goes for Catholics as well as Protestants.

    Remember that the Bible says “God loveth whom he chastiseth” (Heb. 12:6). In the Church’s eyes, admitting a Protestant to communion without first insisting that he abandon his sin, would show a lack of love towards him.

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