I'm glad my replies have been enlightening. Our correspondence has been a great joy to me. However, I should let you know that I'm heading away for two weeks on vacation, so I may not be able to reply to anything you write until I get back, which is a great disappointment to me. I'll try to catch up here when I return. That said, I'll just take a second to address what has been said already.
First, your comment on Religion, being "man made" dos and don'ts: I'm wondering how you would apply that to the Israelite religion, as handed down in the Torah (ignoring, for the moment, the Pharisaical Judaism of Jesus' day, or the Judaism of modern times). If, as a Christian, you believe the Bible to be the Inspired Word of God, then the "dos and don'ts" of Exodus, Leviticus, et al. would comprise a religion that was not "man made", but "God made." Thus, decrying "religion" simply because it is dos and don'ts won't work, since God has Himself given us dos and don'ts. Decrying religion as "man made" begs the question of whether or not God gave us any religions, or whether all of them are, in fact, man made. Now, since we know that God made the religion of Moses, that becomes a bit of a problem. Since we know that Jesus came to found a Church, that poses even more of a problem.
You can hate all you like "man made" religions, but you cannot lump all religions into that category. If the Bible, which comes from God, gives us "dos and don'ts", which it does (even your favourite book, Romans, has a pretty hefty list), then the Christian religion, coming from God, is neither free from rules, nor man made.
You protest very loudly against the Catholic practice of the "Closed Table", saying that, as a Christian, you should be entitled to receive Communion along with Catholics. It is a complaint with which I strongly sympathise, having gone through that turmoil myself, and while others have done a wonderful job of answering your objections to not being able to receive Communion, I just wanted to echo what has been said. Communion is just that: Coming together in Union with both God and each other. Specifically, it is the symbol of that Union (though, of course, as a Sacrament, it also effects what it symbolises). Thus, to receive Communion, one must believe along with the Community.
In my Pentecostal church growing up, where the Communion elements (crackers and grape juice) were thought to simply symbolise and commemorate our Lord's passion for us, the requirement for receiving was being a Christian, or at least professing to be so, since we cannot judge hearts. It seems that your own tradition holds a similar belief.
But for the Catholic, we believe that when the Priest has prayed the words of Jesus over the elements (unleavened bread and wine) those elements actually change from bread and wine into Jesus--His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity are entirely present in the elements. We refer to this as "Transubstantiation" because, while the "accidents" (the outer appearance) of the bread and the wine remain the same, the "substance" (the inner nature--that which makes bread, bread and wine, wine) has changed into the Substance of Jesus.
Now, believing this leads to certain conclusions: namely that those who do not believe this would, when partaking, profane the sacred reality before us--they would, in effect, be assaulting Jesus. In 1 Corinthians, it specifically tells us (chapter 11) that those who partake unworthily (that is, without recognising Christ's body--11:27-30) will actually become sick or possibly even die. Now, someone who does not believe that Christ's body is present would obviously fall under this warning--as would someone who is living in a state of unconfessed sin, and so the Church says even a Catholic who has not repented is barred from Communion.
Now, on the other hand, you might say, as I myself reasonably could have just five years ago, that I believe in the Real Presence, and, as I had done even though not a Catholic, confessed my sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, why therefore could I not participate? The reason is because of the second meaning of Communion--that is, Unity with the community of believers--in this case, Catholics. Protestants, having protested Catholic teachings (including, especially, this one which we are discussing), have separated themselves from the unity of the Catholic Church. In restoring that unity, it's not quite enough to say, "I think Catholics are nice people, or Christians, or whatnot, and that Pope is a cool guy--Can I have Communion?" No, actual tangible steps must be taken, similar to how a person immigrating to your country must take oaths and tests of citizenship. Thus, for one desiring to receive Catholic Communion, one must be Confirmed as a Catholic.
As far as understanding our rituals go, I would suggest seeing if your former Catholic friends are willing, and knew enough about Catholicism to remember, they might be able to help guide you through a Mass. Though I'm not too hopeful on that, since most former Catholics that I've met or dealt with, didn't really know much about their faith when they left.
You say these rituals and rules and exclusive nature make Catholicism seem like a "secret club", but you must keep in mind that there are things that one has to be a part of before one can really "get" them. It's not a matter of secrecy, or even really exclusivity. It's just common sense. Your family, for example, would probably seem rather like a "secret club" to me, if I was invited over for dinner. I wouldn't know where dishes went if I offered to help clean up. I wouldn't even necessarily know where to sit. It's simply a matter of being "foreign" rather than "secret." With Catholicism, there is a lot of symbolism and ritual (truthfully, there is probably as much ritual in your church services, but since a) you're used to them, and b) they probably aren't emphasised in the same way in your tradition, you might not really realise that they're there. I know I never did in my PAOC days. It just is what it is--familiar to those for whom it is familiar, and dreadfully strange for those for whom it is new.
I'm afraid that as far as that goes, all I can recommend is an open mind and a willingness to understand--both things which you have so far demonstrated.
I eagerly hope to renew our discussion when I return from my vacation.
(Category: The Church: Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus--The Church and other Christian denominations)
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
Posted by Gregory at 6:57 pm