Friday, March 03, 2006

The Riches of Emmanuel

I know that most Protestants who have thought about and determined to be Protestants have manifold problems with the Roman Catholic Church - many of the problems arise out of competing worldviews (sometimes differing eschatologies) while most of them, in my opinion, bubble up out of simple misunderstandings of or misinformation about what Catholics actually believe. Though only a novice, I have begun studying the Roman Catholic Church, and I have found richness there. And, possibly, exceedingly great richness.

Let me share with you the true riches of the Catholic Church. It is not found in her history, and it is not in her unity or charity (or even her hats). I do not find it in her strong moral stand within our culture or in her unrelenting grasp of right. It is not that she has given us the Scriptures or that she is, after two millennia, thoroughly orthodox. Don't misread me - there are riches here. But her true riches are, unquestioningly for me, in her Mass.

Many of the riches in the Catholic Church I can explore as a Protestant. In many cases, I can even make them my own. But the Mass is wholly different, wholly other. It has its liturgies (the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist) that must be performed. And though the priest plays an essential role in the Mass, it is not about the priest. Or the music. Or the homily (sermonette). The Mass is a celebration of the Eucharist. And the Eucharist - and here lies the scandalon, the stumbling stone - is Christ.

The dogma of the Real Presence (the transubstantiation) is a difficult one. The Church claims that the wafer and the wine truly, really, and substantially transform into the body and the blood, the soul and the divinity of Christ - though completely indiscernible by the senses. The Eucharist, therefore, celebrated as such, is either the greatest good or it is foul evil. I don't know that there is a middle way.

And therein is my great struggle with Catholicism. It is the most profound and life-changing news I have ever received as a believer - that I can touch and experience and feast upon our Lord. And it is the most terrifying.

What am I to do with this Sacrament?

For the first millennium of the Church's existence, the Real Presence was never questioned. And it was not rejected until the Reformation (even Luther and Calvin believed in the Real Presence, though they rejected the Catholic Church's teaching about its transformation - some of our "higher" Protestant traditions still believe in the Real Presence as the real spiritual presence of Christ). The Early Church Fathers write about the Real Presence and believe it. The Scriptures certainly allow and even suggest such an interpretation (This is my body, whoever does not discern the body, etc.). Is the Reformation more weighty than the first 1500 years of Church tradition? Wouldn't the Early Fathers have better known what our Lord intended than Luther or Calvin?

If the Real Presence is true, then I cannot keep myself from the Catholic Church.

What am I to do with this Sacrament?


Michael Barber said...


I also love the Mass. The lectionary is amazing. The fact that the focus in on the Eucharist - not on the minister - is another wonderful thing.

I am a Catholic who is also a Ph.D. student at Fuller. I also did my undergraduate work at APU. I have great, great respect for non-Catholic scholars and believe Catholics can learn a lot from them. At the same time, I could not agree more about what you said concerning most disagreements arising out of misconceptions. I hope you'll visit my site - especially the posts on the liturgical seasons and the ones called "Taking God At His Word". I think you'll find the posts there interesting. You would probably also enjoy

God bless.

Alexa said...

Wow Scott. What am I to do with this Sacrament?
I received The Body of Christ each Sunday. What am I to do with this Sacrament? What do we do?
Christ was given to us even before he died on the Cross by His Father in Heaven. And His presence here on earth shows that people either rejected Him or accepted Him. I think it comes down to that. And the "people" are "us". We reject and we accept Him within the parameters of our own Free Will. Will we crucify Him again? I think that is the question. I believe God is giving you this wonderful, wonderful gift of discernment not only for yourself, but for those of us who have claimed to have received Him -- who have indeed received Him as Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. This discernment of yours, for example, as I approach His altar tomorrow and receive Him on my tongue and into my being, I will be asking myself your question, "What am I to do with this Sacrament?"
Indeed. It is my choice.
May God continue to bless you as you are blessing me.
You're becoming my "food" for Lent.

Please forgive my inability with words -- I'm not very good at expressing myself. I'm not an apologist or a philosopher or an intellectual. Just a homemaker,wife and mother.

Suzanne said...

Oh how beautiful this is! Oh how respectful! If only we all continue to search like this in our hearts. One can see why so often a soul that has converted to
the Catholic Faith turns out to be such an amazingly dedicated soul!
Your question: "What am I to do with this Sacrament?" recalls the Holy Spirit moving that welled up within me on a recent retreat with young people. The words to the beautiful song that we sang together as we moved into the church for Mass and mostly where we'd stay for an entire weekend.
"Lord, prepare me to be a Sanctuary, Pure and Holy, Tried and True....With Thanksgiving, I'll be a living Sanctuary for You!"
What are you, me, we to do with this Sacrament? My belief is just what the words to the song say above.
Let us pray for one another!
God bless you and thank you for sharing a part of your journey here with us.

curious servant said...

Excellent perspective (a protestant here).

We feast on the Lord (and are thus deitarians), and in so doing take responsibility for the greatest of all sins (deicide).

And He rises above all this and continues to sustain us, as the millennia roll past.

Thank you.

Moneybags said...

"If the Real Presence is true, then I cannot keep myself from the Catholic Church."

And it really is that wonderful because the Real Presence is real. As a Catholic (I became one in the Easter Vigil of 2004) the Real Presence is the source of my faith. The Church and the Mass are sources of such profound joy I will never leave the faith.

I pray that you will continue to learn about the Catholic faith and one day be received into it.

In Christ!

truevyne said...

From one searching protestant to another, I am madly in love with the Eucharist. It's as real to me as Jesus words, "This is my body and my blood". How could it be anything less? Jesus allows me to draw strength and pours out even more of Himself when I eat the bread and drink the wine. What a beautiful and brilliant way to remember and BE with him in these tangible gifts rather than suffering and gore of a cross! Sometimes tears fill my eyes when I visit Mass and respectfully watch as the Catholics partake of the Euchartist. I'm waiting for Parousia when every knee will bow and every tongue confess, and we'll all drink and eat together at the table.

Jamie Dawn said...

I don't attach significance to whether or not it becomes the Real Presence. I have always seen communion as a time to restore my heart to a right place and to celebrate what Christ did for me that enables my forgiveness & restoration. It is done in remembrance.

I appreciate Mass, as well as other traditional church services that include things that today's contemporary churches avoid. I think there are gems to be found there. I feel the pendulum will swing back to more tradition in church. I think I have found good in both tradional as well as contemporary services.

alison said...

I really love this post.

Jason said...

As one who will, by God's grace, enter the Church and receive that Sacrament this Easter vigil, your post was a vivid reminder of how wonderful and terrible it is when, as non-Catholic, you first catch a glimpse of that Treasure with the eyes of faith.

I shared your thoughts over on our "Per Christum" blog in this entry.

God bless and be well.

Scott said...

Thanks for your post on "Per Christum," Jason. I truly appreciate that. I wasn't sure if Michael was going to read it on Friday or not, because I wasn't able to return his e-mail. I'm glad that it resonated with someone.

Jim said...

Congratulations, EWTN radio is doing a glowing commentary on your wonderful post!