Monday, August 3, 2015

Reader Q&A: The Catholic vs. Protestant View of The Mass

So.... we're talking theology today. ;)  Things have been serious on my blog recently, I know, but that's just how the cookie crumbled this week. I'm sorry if I'm drowning you in seriousness.

Anyhow, onto the post. ;) I recently received a question in my email box, and  I thought it was an interesting question and the thoughts it brought out seemed like they would be beneficial to share in this space. Now, my prior disclaimer is twofold: first, that I am a convert, and none of my (extended) family is Catholic. And two: I'm not sharing this to threaten anyone into converting. I'm just doing so because it gives me joy to share more about my faith. So. There's that to contend with- I'm new at this- and two, keep in mind as I answer this and perhaps other questions in the future that I'm doing this simply in response to a question I received.  I still wanted to address it here on the blog, and do so anonymously, just to remain, as always, on the safe side.

The person asked:


As someone who was Protestant and is now Catholic, what do you think of the following article?

The Gospel for Roman Catholics @ For the Church

Is he representing Catholic doctrine fairly?  If he is, then how would the teachings he describes be reconciled with passage like Hebrews 9:28, which says that Christ “was offered once to bear the sins of many?”

I’m not going to make the judgment about whether the Catholic understanding of grace is contrary to the Gospel or not, but it does seem deeply problematic to me.


Questioning in Questionland

{answer has been edited from its original}

Dear Person,

Thank you for the message.  It was an interesting question you - and the article- brought up.  I think - if you will pardon me a little diversion- that first off, we should address this issue of conversion, in general... not at length, but with if it is possible-  thorough brevity. I can't go into the questions you ask without first laying a quick groundwork for even considering conversion in the first place.

You may be wondering, underneath all of these questions, first- would I have to become Catholic in order to be fully in line with Christ’s teaching? I have the Holy Spirit, a church that aligns with my social convictions, and I try to live out the principles of the Bible in my daily life. Why should I have to change my spiritual identity? What is the difference between being a Practicing Catholic and being a Bible-believing, Confession-Professing {Protestant} Christian?

Well… You make not consider yourself a seeker, but for my purposes, I’d say you aren’t quite ready to accept the catechism of the Catholic church, which means you are a seeker in regard to Catholicism! Why would that be? There are lots of big differences between being a Catholic and a Protestant, such as saints, Mary, Confession, the Pope, and the real presence in the Eucharist. This list is by no means exhaustive though!!! These are just a few examples.

~First— to deal with my very incomplete list, we have saints. If you want to become a saint, first (as far as I know...) you’ll have to become Catholic.  If you want to engage in all of the beauty of Catholicism, teach your children about them, and with it the praying with the saints, you’ll have to become Catholic!

~Second- we have Mary. Read my article on Mary, How a Convert Accepts the Church's Teachings on Christ's Mama. See also: Peter Kreeft’s thoughts on the matter.  To quote Kreeft: "Mary was the greatest saint: she was full of the most perfect love: both God's love to Mary and Mary's love to God." Put simply, she is the Queen of Heaven. She does not take Jesus’ place- she is who she is because of Jesus. As Catholics, we’re really able to put her in her proper role as one who is a leader in our faith, and as someone who works on the behalf of our (yes, ongoing) salvation.  Just think of the Rosary. It is a worker of grace in our lives as Catholics. Without converting, well.... you just don’t got it.

~Third- we have Confession (with a capital C, to priests) and true absolution. In order to find true and pure, complete holiness, in my humble opinion, Confession is a must. An older Catholic woman once told me, “You’ll know when it’s time to go to Confession, because your conscience will convict you that it’s time.” Compared with not having it be a part of my life, I feel like I am safer- sort of like I am hemmed in behind and before- by the grace of Confession.  The priest offers real absolution for my sins, and the experiences I have in the weeks following Confession profoundly change my soul. I cannot remain in sin, not because I have pulled myself up by my bootstraps (as Protestants criticize Catholics of doing), but because I have truly received the Rite of Reconciliation by participating in the Sacrament of Confession.

~Fourth, {and most significantly- to this discussion and over all} we have the real presence of Christ in our Communion (The Eucharist). You can trust the guidance of the Holy Spirit as a Protestant, yes… but in truly discerning God’s will for you and his nudging and daily conviction in your heart, the Eucharist, in my humble experience, is profoundly better.  Yes, you may be a Christian, without it... But the demands day-to-day feel greater, the responsibilities feel steeper, and what he asks of me feels more- which tells me it must be better for my soul to be where I am. My depression is better. My soul is more healthy now. If you have a besetting sin that is frustrating or keeping you in a terrible cycle, Confession + Eucharist can heal the soul.*

Now, to really dig into your question, we should look at how you (or the person writing this article) is looking at the issue of the Mass being a sacrifice that happens again and again, and that that must be a bad thing. To be honest, I think the fact that we have a humble reliance on the Sacraments to be one of the most beautiful things about The Church, especially as I have now experienced the sacraments as a Catholic with a real “insider” perspective for several years.  I find it ironic that the author of the aforementioned article- worth a read, truly- harps on that one thing, since to my mind that is so crucially essential to our faith, and one of the best and most shining, beautiful things about the Church.

Peter Kreeft calls it the crown of our faith. In his own words, "Why is the Eucharist the greatest of the sacraments? Because 'in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself."

The Catholic Catechism (a beautiful thing that I would recommend owning and reading often- it really is so good!) states:

“The victim is one and the same: the same now offers through the ministry of priests, who then offered himself on the cross; only the manner of offering is different… And since in this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the Mass, the same Christ who offered himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross is contained and is offered in an unbloody manner… this sacrifice is truly propitiary." Paragraph 1367 of CCC

It is not a bad thing- as the writer of the article suggests- that the sacrifice of the Mass happens over and over again. Why would it be?  As it states above, it was a one time thing, and a once and for all thing… and that is in agreement with Protestants... or most Protestants, I would assume.;)

To quote the article you sent me:
The reason the Eucharist is performed repeatedly is because even though it is claimed to be a propitiatory sacrifice that can make reparation for sins (CCC, 1414), it is a sacrifice that never perfects anyone. According to the Catholic message grace is something that you get from God by performing certain acts.  First, God gives you the grace for faith in Jesus (CCC, 2000).  Second, when you are baptized God graciously erases the sin of Adam from your record (CCC 1257). From that point on you get more grace by doing things like participating in the sacraments, including the Eucharist. The problem is that when you commit sins, you lose some of the grace you have gained and now need more lest your grace be found wanting at final judgment. 

This forces the Catholic into a position where they need to return day after day, week after week, and year after year to a priest who serves to repeatedly re-present the same sacrifice which never perfects those for whom it is made, since it only offers grace to cover some sin.
This is not the gospel.
I must say it again- it is not a bad thing to perform the liturgical rite of the Mass again and again! It is not wrong to need it! That need to return is actually what I love about the whole damn deal. You can go back for “more Jesus” when you want to or need to. If we are not "forced into the position of needing it, then what is even the point? " I mean, truly.... otherwise, what is the point of church? If it isn’t for the real Eucharist and for truly receiving Christ therein- in Spirit and in Truth- then what is it for? I think I would insert here that it is no surprise, once you're Catholic, that we have a closed table for Communion. It is different and therefore you must accept all of the Church's beliefs about it in order to receive it and to be in what we call "full Communion with the Catholic Church."  To receive Communion at a Catholic Church without being Catholic is to do so when not in a state of grace.

And as for the grace issue, according to the Church’s catechism, grace isn’t “earned,” but... it can be garnered or “improved upon,” if you will, via the Sacraments. Sanctifying and actual grace give us the strength to do God's will. Otherwise, I would ask, how can we be  truly holy and eventually perfected in grace, if we don’t have to keep needing these very Sacraments? It would be easy to say, “We’re saved!” and then lose grace, because we think all is said and done, and nothing else need be done, or said.  In fact, more needs to be done, such as observing Holy Days, praying the rosary, and receiving the Rite of Reconciliation, among others.  We receive grace through Sacraments such as Baptism, Marriage, and Eucharist, as well as by observing Holy Days and performing acts of penance in connection with the Sacrament of Reconciliation. To learn more, see The Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Finally, I find it puzzling (and truly, problematic) to say "This is not the gospel." The good news of Jesus Christ is not hindered, but rather, made more beautiful, more important, more deep, and more full of grace, because it is something that we need over and over again... yes,  each and every time we go to Mass.

That's the difference between the Catholic and Protestant view of the Eucharist, in a nutshell. And it makes all the difference in the world. To quote Flannery O'Connor in The Habit of Being, "If it's just a symbol, then to hell with it." We are truly fed by it. I believe this with every fiber of my being. And you can't take it out of context and say the Eucharist - from a Protestant's perspective- is the same thing, because it is not. It just simply is not the same thing. And you can't fully grasp the profundity of that until you cross the Tiber.

*Sometime after I'm a) not pregnant and b) have a lot more time, I would like to address the process of conversion a bit more, and what it was really like.  I have so much more to say about that!

In the mean time, I would recommend listening to/checking out this interview with my husband, Stephen over at Called to Communion.  He is also a great person to have as a contact, in case you need book recommendations or advice on personal things. Peter Kreeft is a great person to have on your shelf, as well as the Catechism of the Catholic Church. And I would encourage you to pray about the Spirit’s guidance in all of this! So important to stop and take time to pray for Christ's leading.

God bless,


{I did receive some follow-up comments and questions from this friend- mostly about their  Protestant position still being firmly intact- but, for the sake of brevity, I have chosen not to bring up those questions at this time. Perhaps in a future post...!}

Have a question yourself? I would love to answer.. or hear from you ... or just let your puzzles become my puzzles. Please feel more than free to email me with your questions about theology, Catholicism, parenting, and/or anything else. Here is a list of my article by subject, to find out what types of things I write about.

Catholic and/or a convert and want to weigh in on these issues? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

adding my link to the ACWB


Manny said...

Yes, and if the Protestant person wants it right from the Bible:

"And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19)

SL Hansen (CWB) said...

Amen! Great response to the question. Thanks for spelling it all out clearly.

melody said...

Good stuff! So glad to see you defending the faith online! Prayers that minds and hearts will be reached.

Evan Williams said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Tacy said...

Yes- that's right Manny! I can see Protestants taking that verse out of context for themselves too, though. That is the frustration I have with many Protestant theological textbooks and treaties online. It is easy to take words- especially Jesus' words out of context.

Tacy said...

Thank you Sherri-Lynn! I appreciate your comment.

Tacy said...

Thank you for your prayers, Melody.

Tacy said...

Wow, I have to say Evan. There is so much anger in your response it feels more like an emotional attack than a response. Honestly I cannot address your thoughts unless you take the emotion out of it, and instead address the issues rationally. I'm sorry, I just can't. And I say it that way because I know you and I love you!

Rochelle said...


I love hearing your thoughts. I'm sorry to see that Evan is so angry. His poor tone and use of language is really disappointing.

That being said, I think the original question was not clearly answered. :) I *think* the distinction is between Christ dying once for all and then "doing this in rememberanc of me" (Jesus was using bread and wine as a symbol as he shared the Passover meal with his disciplines; please don't say those were His ACTUAL body and blood he was holding before His death. Vs. the Catholic belief that Christ is re-crucified every time the Eucharist is given. Eek. I may be misunderstanding what Catholics do, but I DONT think the problem is needing Jesus (every hour!), rather isn't sacrificing his literal body over and over and over. That leaves the impression that His Death on the cross was incomplete, insufficient, and He must die repeatedly. Of course we need HIM alway and we need the Lord's supper over and over as a reminder that we need Him, but that is why it's symbolic and powerful. He is Enthrowned in heaven and has sent HIs Spirit to dwell with us until He returns. We practice the Lord's supper to remember His work on our behalf and our complete reliance upon

Am I misunderstanding? That just seems like the issue: not whether or not we need Jesus continually (of course!), but rather how many times did Christ die? Was His death sufficient? He is seated on high in glory from whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead, or is He being continually crucified?

Grace and Peace Friend, by His Work,


"It is finished." - Christ on the cross

Tacy said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Rochelle. :) I think the heart of this conversation is the fact that the differing views of atonement between Catholics and Protestants have real implications and real weight now, (and they will in heaven!). If the bread truly becomes his body and blood, then every time we partake, we are receiving him.This is offensive if you believe that it is merely a symbol, because as the author of the article linked to is right, then it undermines the "once and for all" model of atonement. If it is only seen as symbolic, then the "each and every time" doesn't matter... I mean, does it? I mean even if you as Protestant did have "daily 'Mass'" or daily communion- as I have heard is practiced in some places, such as Korea- by Korean Protestants, that is... it still doesn't mean you are "in need of it" in the same way.

This is all pure philosophizing, but living it out in daily practice, the rubber has met the road for me, and it makes so much sense now that I have had it both ways!

Rochelle said...

I would love to see you address my comments re: Jesus at the last supper and on the cross. :)

Tacy said...

I will have to think about that. I'm not sure how or why they prove necessarily the Protestant position?

Libba said...

Tacy, the Baptist tradition believes communion is JUST memorial. The PCA position is between that and the Catholic view that Christ is somewhat present in the elements, that it is working in us and sanctifying us without it being the actual body and blood of Jesus. He commanded we do it in remembrance of him so it DOES matter because he told us to do it. It is a means of grace, it is a sacrament. It is pointing to the finished work of Christ on the cross. It is that reminder, yet again, that we are sinners saved by our beautiful Jesus. There is deep deep richness and actual sanctifying work happening in the Protestant communion; it's not "merely a symbol".

What do you mean that the different views of atonement will make a difference in Heaven?

I understand completely that you're saying your personal experience with confession has been good, but the problem is what is being communicated and taught by the practices of the Catholic church. It's being communicated that Jesus' work on the cross was not sufficient. That it has to be ongoing. The Bible says our sanctification is ongoing, and that our justification was once for all.

Protestants confess faith corporately and privately, but not to an earthly mediator, to Christ our heavenly and perfect mediator. It's done weekly at church and encouraged constantly because we're sinners in need of living in light of our salvation.

You mentioned being "hemmed in by the grace of confession" and that "the priest offers real absolution for my sin". But, the only grace we need has already been given when we're justified. That's God's righteous act of mercy and grace to cover us with the blood of his son. Having a man/priest "offer absolution for sin" seems to be getting in the way of what Jesus has already done - it's not a resting in his work, but in an act of yourself and the priest. "I've received the Right of Reconciliation by participating in the Sacrament of Confession". All of this is adding on to Jesus' work - that you feel better and are getting better because you've participated in these things and been given rights. But Jesus already did all of that for you. In the PCA, we're constantly taken back to the word of God and to the finished work of Christ - taken back to our need to mortify sin, but also how that happens - through the power of the Spirit.

I whole heartedly disagree with your 4th point that things are weightier. Tacy, I challenge you to prayerfully consider what you're saying. You're basically saying the Holy Spirit's power isn't good enough. Depression and anxiety are real. I've been struggling with chemical imbalances, that doesn't mean the HS isn't good enough. It's just part of the Fall. The Bible is clear that we'll remain in sin until we're in heaven. There's no formula that will truly and forever mortify sin all the way. Don't fool yourself that way otherwise you will be so disappointed when you fail time and time again because you're a sinner. We won't be perfected in this life time. You can't take your own personal experience with something and say it's therefore truth. All the ways you say you're encouraged by the Catholic Church's practices are things we protestants will be encouraged in the faithful preaching of the word, the sacraments of baptism and communion, the community of believers, and all the other means of grace. All of it was there for you in the tradition you left. The Catholic church seems to be changing the meaning of grace and justification by adding all these practices.

The point of church is because God told us to be with believers. And to practice the sacraments and to be in community. The partake in the means of grace. I have all the profundity I need in Jesus' work already completed. The Catholic Church doesn't make Christ's work any better. Church isn't to improve upon it, but to remind and uphold it.

Amanda Patten said...

To Rochelle I would say that Catholics do not believe Christ gets re-sacrificed at every Mass but rather the "once for all" sacrifice of Christ is perpetuated in the Mass for all to be able to participate in it down through the centuries. His once for all sacrifice was complete and sufficient. The Catholic Church has always taught that.
We do believe that His actual Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity is present under the disguise of bread and wine at Mass. It is an unfathomable mystery and miracle that we truly believe. Heaven is union with God; the Mass is heaven on earth, God uniting Himself to us both spiritually and physically. This is what was taught to the apostles by Christ Himself and passed down ever since. I find it unlikely that John Calvin was right to change that belief 1600 years later. It is a hard belief to accept which is why most of Jesus' followers left Him after he explained it in John 6 when He said Truly, truly my flesh is food indeed and my blood is drink indeed.

As for the original question posed by the article Tacy posted, the author seems to be confused about the Catholic position on justification /sanctification. She seems to think that Catholics have to earn their way into heaven rather than believing in the atonement of our sins through Jesus on the cross. This is not true nor has it ever been taught by the Church. We believe Christs death made atonement for our sins and the gates of heaven were opened to us should we choose to accept to enter by repenting of our sins and having faith in Christ. But unfortunately, as soon as we repent and have faith, we are still prone to sin again. When that happens, we repent again. God asks us to be perfect, to sin no more. Martin Luther thought our souls could not grow in holiness but that we should "sin and sin boldly" because we will simply be covered in Christ's blood. Whereas the Catholic says, we CAN grow in sanctification. We can defeat the sin in ourselves and become saints. It can take a lifetime but it is possible with the grace of God. We are constantly trying to mold our souls to be in line with the will of God and this can only be done through the grace of God. Luckily, He has given us some wonderful food for our journey to strengthen us....Himself in the Eucharist.

I am no theologian and I don't have gifts of debating but this is how I have come to understand it. Check with a knowledgeable priest or theologian if I have said something wrong. I try to explain in simple terms. Thank you Tacy for being so brave in bringing about this dialogue. It can be scary to put yourself out there on such an emotional issue. I usually shy away from it!

Amanda Patten said...

Not speaking for Tacy here but, since I had a moment I thought I would attempt to explain the Catholic view of confession in response to Libba. Catholics go to a priest in confession because that is what Jesus asked us to do. At Baptism the stain of original sin is washed away and we are called children of God. When we break those baptismal vows through sin, He restores us through the ritual of confession. We don't believe in "once saved, always saved." The gates of heaven and God's mercy are always open to us due to Christ sacrifice on the cross. But as long as we have free will, we have the choice to reject Him and his forgiveness. It is possible to sever your relationship with God by your own choice through mortal sin. These are the sins confession was designed for, although it is good for venial sin as well which injures our soul.
God uses ritual to bring about supernatural realities of our covenant with Him. He uses tangible, visible, ritualistic ways to dispense His grace. The seeds of the sacrament were present in the garden of Eden and became ritualized in the days of Moses. The apostles understood what Jesus was doing when He breathed on them and told them to forgive or retain sins. That power was passed down to every priest since. God can, of course, work outside the sacraments, outside the rituals he prescribed the Church, but He knows us well. He knows our psychology. Confession gives us gifts of humility, certainty of forgiveness, spiritual direction and help to overcome self deception and justification of sin. It demands examination of our consciences on a regular basis and helps us grow in holiness and be one with His will. It does not take away from Christ because Christ is the one who chose to prescribe it this way.

I hope that helps in understanding the Catholic view. We never believe Jesus is insufficient or that we add to his work because he didn't do a good enough job. But we do believe we are asked to participate in his work, as His children. We believe our actions have value and merit because they are united with Christ on the cross, not because we ourselves have any power. But that's another topic!

I am encouraged in some of your words. I didn't realize Presbyterians believed in at least a spiritual presence of Christ in the Eucharist and I didn't realize they believed in sanctification, at least theologically. We are closer to unification that I thought. Prayers that we may all be one as Christ wishes us to be.

Tacy said...

Libba: Thank you for your thoughts! You are extremely eloquent and I loved what you had to say. Actually, if I were still PCA I think all of the explanations you gave would be all of the things I would have said then, too. I really like how you explained that these things are sacramental for you, too.

Mainly for two big things that I would ask you to consider. Namely saints- how would you respond to my explanation earlier about saints? (You asked why I say it has implications in heaven.... saints will be "rulers".... I'm thinking of St. Therese and St. Catherine in the procession of Holy Virgins with Mary!)

Second, now that I grasp the Closed Communion table, I view the Protestant position as being not in a state of grace, in contrast to Catholic Eucharist. Again, a reason to consider the Catholic position, and how it will be impactful and needful for heaven.

Our priest made the distinction recently in a Q&A at our church, that while Latter Day saints, Mormons, and the like are *not* Christians because they deny the divinity of Christ, Protestants are Christians and so I'm not saying will not be in heaven!

Amanda: I agree and I think you explained these things really, really well!!!