Thursday, June 22, 2006

Theological musings

While I don't often get into theological conversations on this blog (or any real substantial musings, for that matter), I read T.O.'s blog this morning at it got me thinking (you can get there by following the link to the right to LAMLand).

She recounts a recent experience where a group of Protestant Christians asked her if she would feel comfortable with receiving communion with them during a short prayer time before a mutual class. As a practising Catholic, she declined.

I often feel like I need to qualify the "practising" part of "Catholic." As a Protestant Christian of the Evangelical and Charismatic nature (read "Pentecostal," -shudder-), in my mind a Catholic that doesn't practice is nothing. There are no Pentecostals who are non-practising, probably because you would never subscribe to that community if you didn't "have to."

Anyway, back to the discussion of communion. I've been going through a similar situation every Sunday when I attend Catholic Mass. I don't partake of the Eucharist because I have differing beliefs on its function (as a sacrament) and its form (as the body and blood of Christ).

By the way, for those Christians out there that might find my vocabulary lacking or irreverent, please forgive me. I haven't formally discussed issues of theology since around 1995, when I left my year of theological study in 1995. And I've been doing a lot of other stuff since then. Plus, I'm relatively new to Catholic theology.

One of the comments left on that other blog cited John 6 as a foundation for Eucharist as the body and blood of Christ, and its power. Someone once asked me how Pentecostals interpret Jesus' words at the last supper ("This is my body . . . this is my blood"). How then can the Pentecostals, who are so apparently Biblically "Conservative," not believe in the bodily presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and look at communion only as symbolic?

I can't answer that. It's true that Jesus makes a pretty clear point regarding his "body" and "blood" in John 6, and during that presentation of the bread and wine before his betrayal at the last supper. I still feel that there is a problem with the Catholic sense of eucharist as sacrament, and this probably comes from my upbringing, without ANY sacraments, in the sense of "grace-giving" actions.

My point (and I don't think I'm doing a good job at expressing much here) is that, if Catholics want a unified Church, which we pray for at every Mass, I'm not sure that it would be in the form some of them might want it to be. After years of separation, with some beliefs being particularly different, dialogue would force a kind of synthesis (let's pretent that Protestantism is Catholicism's antithesis).

Will there ever be that kind of dialogue? I doubt it; not before both sides (and, in truth, there are more than just 2 sides) understand that there are other true believers in Christ.

That's all. Feel free to comment, but don't be mad at me. I'm having too much trouble with revisions to one of my chapters, and I would rather not be yelled at.


Maury said...

After all my years of theological study (I have a Masters in Theology, a Masters in Religious Education, and a Masters in Philosophy) and life, in all my experiences with people of different "faiths" and denominations and "religions" — there's a single common denominator one must look for:

Have they asked Jesus to be their personal savior, and asked Him into their life as Lord?

We could dwell on the details of that statement (and expound all day), but that's not the point I wish to make. That point would be this: Different strokes for different folks.

Now don't hear what I'm not saying — I'm not diving into the "whatever works for you is okay" junk. What I'm saying is that there are denominations that praise and worship by dancing, waving streamers, and blowing horns — sounding brass, to me, since that's not my style. There are denominations that speak in tongues under the guidelines proscribed in the Bible — but I'm not one of them. There are denominations that don't allow women to wear makeup, but mine isn't like that. There are denominations that observe the Lord's supper every week as a symbol, though we do it (maybe) quarterly.

That said, if all those various people have asked Jesus into their heart for salvation, asked Him to forgive their sins, recognized that He is the Way, Truth, and Life — then they are my Brothers and Sisters in Christ. Some may wave banners, some may partake of the Eucharist, but if they have Jesus in their heart, they are saved.

However, one must also remember that there IS a difference between the Catholic faith and Protestant faith, or there'd be no need for the Protestant faiths to begin with. The lines are somewhat fine at times, and many Catholics (half my family is Catholic, BTW) just don't know or understand about having a personal Savior. Their practices are different, some of their beliefs are different, but it's not like their a cult or a bunch of weirdoes (and of course, I'm not saying you implied anything of the sort). The Eucharist is one of the differences, though I would chalk it up to one of those "nitpick" items for the following reason:

If I'm truly saved by grace and I'm a Christ Follower, and I partake of the Lord's Supper as a symbol, have I not obeyed Jesus when He told to do so in remembrance of Him? If I'm truly saved by grace and I'm a Christ Follower, and I partake of the Lord's Supper as the literal Eucharist, have I not obeyed Jesus when He told to do so in remembrance of Him?

We both have, and God loves us just the same.

Anonymous said...

Nicholas: We don't think that Protestants are damned or going to hell for their beliefs, of course. All religions have truths. But we are not allowed to receive something that is merely symbolic and that runs counter to one of our sacraments, presided and brought into the Real Presence of Jesus Christ by one who has received the sacrament of Holy Orders. By getting rid of Holy Orders, many Reformation-based churches disposed of an apostolically based Eucharist, according to the Catholics.

Much dialogue is being done every single day. In fact, the Anglicans and Catholics are so close that they could join, except on one problematic issue - the Pope. (Oddly enough the women priests, bishops, etc.) are not a problem for this group.

Truth is everywhere if we but look for it. We may mean the same thing but say it in different ways, and that has to be analyzed and a lot of communication has to happen so we can get to a point of mutual understanding and speaking the truth in a common way. We're unfortunately not there yet, but for now, I didn't feel right receiving at a Protestant table knowing full well that they would be denied at mine.

Anonymous said...

"Much dialogue is being done every single day. In fact, the Anglicans and Catholics are so close that they could join, except on one problematic issue - the Pope. (Oddly enough the women priests, bishops, etc.) are not a problem for this group."

ummm.. don;t think so.. the AC (esp in North America) has moved far beyond the pale - actively gay bishops, pro-abortion, open communion of non-baptized, priestesses, etc etc).. There is some hope for reconciliation with trad Anglicans, but not with mainstream Anglicans/Episcopalians

A. Carlton Sallet said...

I agree - after the Anglican schism becomes formalised, the Catholic part (read: red state & African) will (I expect) enter into full communion with Rome.

Catholic, by the way, means "Universal."

Good post. I am curious though, have you ever had an "inkling" or a stirring sense during Mass that Christ is really present in the Eucharist? You may want to explore that feeling further and see where it leads....

The truth, we can all agree at least, exists quite independently of what people choose to believe about it from time to time.

Anonymous said...

To Anon: Some Anglicans are closer to Rome, yes, but all are closer than you would think. Similarly, some Catholic churches lean a little left and some lean a little right and everything in between. It's what's at the top that really matters, and I offered that insight from a leading ecumenist (from the Catholic persuasion) whom I know personally. As I choose to remain anonymous because of my position, likewise, I will not reveal this individual's name, but rest assured, I would not lie about nor exaggerate something that serious.

Anonymous said...

as an ex-Anglican, I know VERY well what the Anglican leadership thinks.. they are largely pro-abortion, pro-SSM, etc etc.. They are not close to the Catholic leadership! (They do wear nice Catholic-looking robes though!)

Look at what the new Presiding Bishop of the PECUSA believes in... pro-SSM, "Mother Jesus", etc etc..
She prefers heresy over schism (within the US)