"The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing."


Glenn Reynolds:

Barack Obama:
"Impossible to transcend."

Albert A. Gore, Jr.:
"An incontinent brute."

Rev. Jeremiah Wright:
"God damn the Gentleman Farmer."

Friends of GF's Sons:
"Is that really your dad?"

Kickball Girl:
"Keeping 'em alive until 7:45."

Hired Hand:
"I think . . . we forgot the pheasant."

I'm an
Alcoholic Yeti
in the
TTLB Ecosystem

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Protestants & the Most Blessed Sacrament

Sometimes it's interesting to react instantly, while other times wisdom dictates providing time for reflection. This is one of those latter times.

Last week The Crescat put up the following post:
I will never understand...

... why protestants get so damn offended when they find out they can not receive the Blessed Sacrament when visiting a Catholic parish.

Guests I have invited to mass get indignant and feel slighted even after I warn them before hand explaining that we believe the Eucharist is truly Christ and not a symbol. They tell me it makes them feel unwelcome and they doubt they will return. When I ask them would they visit a mosque or temple and expect to participate with every ritual they respond they would never dare, opting instead to just quietly and respectfully observe. Yet, according to them, it's ok to risk offending your Catholic host who invited you to join them for mass.

Catholics are not deserving of the same respect according this logic.

However, pointing out the hypocrisy of their thinking does little for my ecumenical skills. How can I continue to invite friends to mass sharing my faith with non-Catholics and have them not be offended?

I'm curious to know how others handle this situation, especially since I will be having many non-practicing Catholics and protestant family members come to my son's first Communion. To be honest, I am tempted not to invite them all. If the sacrament holds no special importance then I see no reason for them to be there. Of course I risk offense by not inviting them... damned if you do, damned if you don't.
Let me first clear away what I consider to be rhetorical weeds. If one's non-Catholic friend is not a Christian, then I find the question completely uninteresting. That person attends entirely as an observer. Moreover, if one's guest is a serious atheist, Jew or Muslim, then he affirmatively disbelieves. Neither person can expect to participate, or be insulted by being excluded, any more than I am insulted that I'm not allowed to climb down from the stands and play first base for the Nationals.

When your guest is a fellow Christian, however, the situation is quite different. Our Church does not teach that your Protestant friend is a complete outsider, but instead is a Brother or Sister in Christ in imperfect communion with the One True Church. The Church teaches that his Protestant baptism was entirely valid, and takes care -- should he convert -- not to "rebaptise" him. Indeed, Catholic Canon Law treats his marriage to another (non-Catholic) Christian as something quite different from a "marriage" between two non-Christians.

Benedict XVI has rightly been called "The Pope Of Christian Unity." Close to the Holy Father's heart is the pain and scandal of Christian division. If we are to assist him in healing these wounds to the Body of Christ, then we would benefit from looking at ourselves through the eyes of our estranged Protestant brothers and sisters. To this end, I laid this matter before a close Protestant friend whose faith is strong, his beliefs completely orthodox, his learning very great, and his good will toward the Roman Catholic Church unquestionable.

Here is what a faithful serious Protestant thinks and feels about being excluded from receiving Communion at a Roman Catholic Mass:

Crescat wonders why Protestant Christians should “get so damned offended” when they are dis-invited to receive Communion at Catholic Mass. I personally don’t get offended, since I think I understand the RC position and am used to it; but Crescat’s attitude--completely dismissive of Protestant friends’ objections and evidently much “offended” by them--seems to me to need substantial correction. I would point out five things that inform the situation:

1. As G&S has noted, exclusion from Communion is a blunt instrument that the RCC uses for non-Catholic Christians as well as total unbelievers. To treat them all the same is, well, counter-intuitive.

2. Crescat says that Protestants are excluded because, unlike Protestants, Roman Catholics “believe the Eucharist is truly Christ and not a symbol”. However, the RCC simply does not carry through on this reasoning:

For example, the RCC sloppily distributes the Eucharist to people who are indeed RC but who do NOT in fact have a RC belief about the Eucharist. This includes not only (i) the great MAJORITY of Catholics (and a sizeable number of RC priests) who, if asked, innocently confess a downright Zwlingli-ite view of the Eucharist, but also (ii) any RC who fully understands RC doctrine on the point but has come to consciously believe that it is wrong. To these RC disbelievers, the Church says, “No problem; get in line and receive; maybe receiving will help to fix your errors.”

On the other hand, the RCC denies Communion even to those non-RCs whose views are pretty close to the RC view. Like many Anglicans and Lutherans, I do believe and affirm that Jesus is really present in the Sacrament. I cannot go so far as to affirm transubstantiation, which I consider to be one theory about the Real Presence. I don't insist that the RC doctrine is wrong, I just think it goes beyond what has been divinely revealed. I understand that this is deficient from a RC point of view, so I'm not quarreling. But I simply know from very substantial anecdotal experience that my view of things is MUCH closer to RC doctrine than the view of many of the RC “faithful”. Their gross doctrinal defects don't bar them from receiving; but my relatively minor defect is said to bar me.

And by the way, even if I were to come to believe in full-blown transubstantiation, the RCC would still deny it to me--because I am not a member of the RCC.

Thus, the RCC's exclusion of non-RCs has only a very, very loose connection to vindicating RC sacramental doctrine. The exclusion appears to be, rather, simply based not on one’s belief but on whether one has a membership in the RCC, whatever he may or may not believe. At Crescat’s son’s first Communion, the genuine Protestant believer who stays in the pew may watch communion be administered to RC acquaintances whom he has reason to know don’t believe a thing. To me this is merely ironical and I'm used to it. But it really bugs some RC-friendly Christians (my wife, for example). And it evidently bugs Crescat’s friends.

3. It’s likely that Crescat’s friends heard about this exclusionary rule only from Crescat, and not from any official of the RCC. The rule is printed in the missalette, but the great majority of the people have no idea of the rule or of its being printed there, and attention is certainly not called to this instruction in the great majority of RC Masses. On the contrary, the instruction is frequently contradicted implicitly and sometimes explicitly. As a result, the Protestant friend does NOT see a coherent RC position reflected in RC practice but rather sees only a situation of rumor and lore. (“Is this really the rule? Or is this just some picky notion of my friend the old-school Catholic?”)

4. By denying Communion to Crescat’s friends, the RCC affirms to them very vividly that it, unlike their Protestant church, is the one True Church; that the RCC’s sacraments, unlike theirs, are the true ones; that Crescat’s friends are NOT members of the True Church; and that they are therefore not entitled to receive the True Sacrament. I have always confidently assumed that the exclusion has a deliberate intended purpose of making the Protestant visitor know that he is excluded, so that he will realize that there's a thing (communion with the True Church) that he lacks, and that he cannot get without submitting to the Church's program. This corresponds to (or maybe is an instance of) the general evangelistic necessity of making the non-Christian understand that he is outside and needs to come inside. But if that is one's intention--to make someone understand that there is an outside and he is there--then one cannot resent it when the hearer says, “Hey, wait a minute. So what you're saying is, I’m outside! Well, if this is not really for me, then I'm not coming back.” I think Crescat has not thought very carefully about why it is so annoying that the non-Catholic friends say "they doubt they will return"? Why is Crescat not instead pleased that the friends have gotten the message, at least in part?

At my non-Catholic church, Communion is open to any baptized Christian who is trusting in Jesus, has confessed his sins, and is in charity with God and his neighbors. To those who can’t or won’t receive, we offer a blessing, so that they can go through the motions along with everybody else and not be conspicuous in their non-reception. Given its Eucharistic discipline, perhaps the RCC should institutionalize such a procedure, but I get the feeling that this is looked down on. Perhaps the RCC’s failure to adopt any such convention proceeds from a determination NOT to blunt the scandal. So be it. But then, there's the scandal.

So the non-Catholic sits awkwardly in the pew while the real Christians go forward--standing to let them pass, and then standing again to let them back in place, and wondering how conspicuous he is to everyone else. Do they think I’m weird? Are they assuming I’m not a Christian? Are they assuming I can’t receive because I’m in a state of mortal sin? This is uncomfortable. Why am I here?

5. The RCC owns its real estate and personalty and is therefore legally entitled to exclude whomever it wants; but for what it's worth, some of us believe that, even if the RCC is absolutely and necessarily right about the Sacramental theology, the RCC is wrongly discriminating by denying the Sacrament to Christians who disagree with that theology. If a Dominican priest offered communion but said that only Dominicans were eligible to receive, and not, say, Jesuits, other Roman Catholics would understand that this is most improper; you can’t use the Eucharist to make nonessential distinctions among the faithful. I assume Crescat would be offended by this distinction even if she is neither a Dominican nor a Jesuit; she would be offended because she is a Christian, and this is against the Christian rules. Similarly, at my Church, we feel we do not have any warrant to exclude a baptized Christian on the grounds of his non-membership in our church or communion. Likewise, when I go to a Baptist Church, I expect to be offered Communion and I expect to receive. It's not "Baptist Communion"; it’s Christian Communion offered in a Baptist Church. I believe that the Baptists’ "symbolic" view of the Eucharist is deficient; but their view of the Eucharist doesn't change what it is, any more than a heretic Catholic priest’s bad sacramental theology would invalidate his Eucharist. In my way of thinking, the heretic Catholic priest and the Baptist minister are both giving out more than they think they are, and those who can receive should do so happily.

But my point is: It is the Lord's Supper (not ours) offered from the Lord's table (not ours). It is His Body and Blood, offered to the Church that is His Body. Anyone who is in that Body is entitled to receive that Body. And anyone who refuses him Communion is doing wrong. So, Crescat, the reason that we non-Catholics are bothered by this disciplinary practice of your Church is that we think the RCC is a Christian Church administering Jesus’ sacrament but that it is doing so wrongly, in this particular. We think this is against the Christian rules. Of course you disagree, but you need not wonder any more why we are bothered.


I think Crescat should not presume that her Protestant Christian friends should just accept this discrimination placidly, and should not view their attitude as "hypocritical". Crescat should instead be sympathetic to their awkwardness and unhappiness.

I can’t help wondering how frequently Crescat attends non-RC services and goes through the awkwardness of NOT receiving. In her instance, she would refrain from receiving Communion even though it was offered to her--i.e., by her own choice, which is awkward enough. Even more so when one is barred.

Last Sunday I was away from home and attended a Catholic Mass. All the rest of you said, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive You”, but then you went and received Him.

I said, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive You”, and then, true to my word, I did not receive Him. I say, from frequent experience, that it is something of a humiliation; and it takes (and/or teaches) a certain humility that one should not impatiently demand of others.


Comments on "Protestants & the Most Blessed Sacrament"


Blogger Brookie said ... (9:31 PM) : 

Your protestant friend expressed himself beautifully and I fully agree with him, as an Episcopalian.


Blogger Badger Catholic said ... (8:23 AM) : 

Wellll, I think that the post was a bit more tongue and cheek than anything else. We are all aware of the sad state Christendom finds herself in. The fact remains that a person must believe in the Roman Catholic Priesthood, not just the teaching on transubstantiation. Don't get me wrong, high church Episcopalians often times have more beautiful liturgies than their RC counterparts, but, no western protestants have a valid priesthood. With that said, I know many RCs who do not practice the True Faith and I tell them not to go up and receive(the missalette says that too). They usually ignore me, but I don't think lowering the standard would show to be effective at bringing people to perfect belief and to correct intellectual error. Why would an Episcopalian become Catholic if he can receive the sacraments of the RCC? And why would he want to? If I have time, I'll try and post the history of the rules on receiving. I'm sure it's in the CIC, but don't have time to look it up right now.


Blogger Brookie said ... (9:23 PM) : 

Badger Catholic, I think you missed part of the Protestant's point.
It's not that Roman Catholics and Protestants disagree on one issue or another, but that communion is Christ's table. Who are we to deny communion to one of Christ's own children?
"Whatsoever you do to the least of these, you do unto me" was of course referring to children at the moment, but it has been applied to the minority or even "undesirable" people from other walks of life or social status. Abolitionists surely meditated on that verse. Yet Protestants seem to be overlooked when it comes to the Roman church. Why is that? Theological disagreement doesn't discount that I am a child of God. Just because I am was not baptized in your Church doesn't mean that my Trinitarian baptism is invalid. Just because I have a few different doctrines than Catholics doesn't mean that I'm less worthy to receive the Body of my Blessed Savior than them- for Catholics admit that even they are unworthy to receive. How am I more unworthy? Why is my love of Christ and my status has His redeemed nothing?


Blogger Badger Catholic said ... (8:25 AM) : 

When you receive communion in a Catholic church, you are affirming that you agree with the common deposit of Faith. You would be affirming that you deny the Episcopalian community has a valid priesthood by your action. It's not that you are dirty or your baptism is invalid, it is that you in reality don't believe in the "common union" or "communion" of the Roman Catholic Church. Yes we agree on many points but you are indeed giving affirmation to your denial of your true faith(and acceptance of the papists). I don't go up for communion at communities with open communion calls, not because they are bad and I am good or vica versa, but because I don't share the same faith. I recommend Ut umun sint - JPII, art. 97 at the end gives the specific request but he does a nice job of summing up the desire for unity which all true Christians have but he recognizes the painful separation of teaching that prevents our "common union". I pray we may one day all receive the hierarchical communion I have been blessed with. Peace of Christ to you and your family Brookie.


Anonymous Fr. Christian Mathis said ... (1:45 PM) : 

Thank you for sending me an email link to your post.

It seems that you are assuming more is being said by Catholics denying communion to non-Catholics than is meant. The Catholic Church does not deny that there are non-Catholic Christians, but our understanding of what is happening during the Eucharist is more than belief in the real presence. It is an outward symbol of communion and for us, a sacrament of initiation. I understand that this is not the belief of most protestant churches and this is why we do not open communion to all. It was be dishonest to do so when there is still a real separation in belief.

My own question goes beyond why Protestants are upset about it to why many do not feel the need to respect Catholic belief when visiting a Catholic Church. I just returned from visiting the Holy Land where we visited both Jewish and Muslim holy sites as well as Christian ones. When we were there, we respected the traditions of each group even if we did not agree with their beliefs.

I would hope that the same could be done when others visit Catholic Churches.

It is my great hope that there will be unity among all Christians again someday, but I would like it to be an authentic one.


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