Today was a long day. I had several posts I spent most of the day plotting in my head, but when I got home, I was met with something far more exigent: the first real, vehement opposition I’ve met from a friend to my becoming Catholic.
She raised a valid point: To what degree have I foregone my conclusion? Have I already concluded that I am becoming Catholic? This blog is titled, “A Catholic being born.” Apparent in that is the assumption that I am in a process that will result in my conversion. Might my “delivery” still end in a “stillbirth”? It is possible; I have not closed my mind. But I have felt good about the road I am on, and until tonight have had a relatively smooth passage.
She, an ardent Baptist, had consulted with another friend who was very knowledgeable about matters of theology and doctrine. She proceeded to aggressively challenge me, making a number of mistaken assumptions about what I believe and why I am pursuing Catholicism. It was very clear that neither of us understood where the other was coming from: she didn’t understand where I stand, what I believe, or why I am approaching the Catholic Church; I didn’t understand why she was so vociferously opposed to it. She called me “ridiculous” and “unreasonable”; I do not believe I was.
So I thought it would be productive for me to try to formulate where it is I stand and what it is I believe — the premises from which I’m proceeding. Feel free, reader, to challenge me or question me — but please don’t call me ridiculous or unreasonable; I’m making every attempt not to be.
Premise: Everyone who calls on the name of Christ, and subscribes to the central tenets of Christianity, as laid out in the orthodox, traditional creeds of the Church, is a Christian.
I’ve come from an evangelical Protestant background. I’ve known and been close to many people from many different Christian denominations, Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox. I’ve witnessed firsthand the grace of God to transform lives and save souls, active in their lives and in their churches. Therefore, I can come to no other conclusion but that all of our differences of doctrine and practice amount to nothing in God’s eyes. Despite our human divisions, we are still, in the Spirit, one unbroken and unified Body of Christ.
Does one’s belief in the sacraments change the fact of what they are to God? Does the Catholic belief in the sacramentality of baptism create in it an efficacy that doesn’t exist in a Protestant baptism, where in many traditions, it’s considered merely symbolic? This seems not to be the case: if I become Catholic, the Church will accept the validity of my Protestant baptism when I was twelve, as my “one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.” This apparently doesn’t extend to marriage: the Church doesn’t accept the sacramentality of a Catholic’s marriage outside the Church.
It also doesn’t seem to extend to the Eucharist: our pastor explains to non-Catholics every week that “while we may believe in the same God and the same Christ, we don’t believe in the same Eucharist,” so they are not allowed to receive it. But, then, is Communion in a Protestant church without any efficacy at all? I don’t know that I can accept that. If we believe in the same Christ, does he not provide His Body and Blood to all His brethren? Is it the Catholic belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist — the participation of a man ordained as a priest, the practice of a liturgy — that makes Him really present — or does Christ Himself transubstantiate the elements?
Christ said to the Apostles, “(You) do this in memory of me.” The Catholic Church believes that all ordained priests, having been ordained by bishops, who in turn have been ordained by older bishops, are successors of the Apostles by apostolic succession. Therefore, the priest in the Mass is a substitute for Christ at the Lord’s Supper. It’s not the priest who transubstantiates the elements; it’s Christ Himself.
Protestants, on the other hand, read the Gospels, and take the passages where Christ was enjoining and entrusting authority to the Apostles, such as the Great Commission and the institution of the Lord’s Supper, not as injunctions to only the Apostles, but to all believers. Therefore, to a Protestant, any believer has the authority to baptize or cast out demons in the Lord’s name or celebrate Communion. The Protestant minister who does those things does not believe he is Christ’s substitute — but he is doing them in Christ’s name, so he nonetheless is.
But if Christ is truly present in the lives and churches of Protestants, would a Protestant minister standing in for Christ not be as valid as an ordained Catholic priest? By another tack, if a Catholic priest is a successor of the Apostles because he has been ordained by the bishops of the past, would a Protestant minister, having been taught and having received tradition from Scripture and from the Christian leaders of the past — even back to and across the chasm of the Reformation — not also be a successor of the Apostles? If Christ is truly, really present in the Catholic Eucharist, why would He not be present in the Protestant Eucharist also? Why wouldn’t He make Himself present in the crackers and grape juice of every church that proclaims His death until He comes?
I have gotten lost in a tangent I didn’t intend to go on. This is not the course I wanted this post to take. It is almost midnight, hours past my bedtime. I’ll have to collect my thoughts and try again tomorrow. Needless to say, tonight has seriously disturbed me and put me in a panic.
[Be sure to read my reflections on this subject in the ensuing days, “Bridging the Gap” and “The Historical Church.”]