Tuesday, December 11, 2007

On being Catholic:

Jim Ryland, a good friend of mine, sent this very thoughtful piece, and I thought it appropriate to share it here.

As a professional church musician I have served in most of the major denominations, both Protestant and Catholic, over the 50 years of my career. I have directed music in Temples and Synagogues as well as some Orthodox parishes. In each of these venues it would have been a great disservice to both the congregation and our Divine Creator had I not been a fully participating worshipper and an integral part of each particular fellowship at Service time.
Within the Protestant denominations, no matter how elaborate and beautiful the services, there always seemed to be a pervading sense of being slightly unfulfilled when the postlude sounded. It began to dawn on me quite early that I was unconsciously comparing the liturgy and theology to my own rich Catholic heritage. The Service and the homily seemed a bit like reading one of those artless condensations of literary classics that college students review in order to pass examinations. The plot was there and so was the theme, but that miraculous element, that rich combination that made it a true work of art and a classic, was nowhere to be found.
In each of the denominations there were devout and good souls, even pious and dedicated clergy, but there was always something missing. The sometimes-varied views of Jesus often reflected accurately many facets of Our Savior but the collection of parts never seemed to equal the whole. He was revered as the great teacher, the Son of God, even the incarnation of the second person of the Trinity, and on rare occasion, the true Sacrificial Lamb. In each case I felt a part of an “audience” that viewed Him from afar no matter how “personal” He was made to appear by the hymn texts and homilies.
The Lutherans were, for me, an enigma. Here was deep Catholic theology, liturgy, and worship but there was also a reserve… something held back as though admitting to true catholicity somehow sullied things. One could not tread too near Rome, Canterbury, or Byzantium lest some medieval or Eastern superstition should creep into the purified church.
It took many years for me to clearly analyze what I felt was missing. In truth, it took the full surrender to my true faith after ages of “smorgasbord Catholicism” to bring me to the full realization of the nature of the void:
The true gift of our Catholic faith lies in the realization that after countless ages of our Creator reaching down to touch man through the Patriarchs and Prophets, we have been given the means to reach back and to touch His face who made us. Christ is the conduit through which the second person of the Trinity has touched us, joined with us, and through Him we may, for the first time, reach back to touch the Divine. We no longer are simply the awestruck observers of his miraculous presence but through His Sacraments we travel to the time of Jesus and beyond to touch the hem of eternity. We are living participants in the Covenant. Through His Sacraments He transcends two thousand years to enter our daily lives with a potency as fresh and revealing as it was to His disciples centuries ago. In the Consecrated Eucharist His presence is as real as it was in that stable in Bethlehem and in Penance and Reconciliation His Crucifixion and Resurrection become an inseparable element forever cleansing and changing our souls.
This is the missing element of an “incomplete” work. The reformers, for all their good intentions aimed toward removing superstition, abuses, and “baggage” from the church, have also removed her heart and soul.

------------posted by ed pacht


Anonymous said...

Lutherans do in fact believe in the Real Presence, though I've encountered a few who seem to want to move towards Calvin's position (which is quite different from Zwingli's)

poetreader said...

Yes, Lutherans do believe in the Real Presence, but the prevailing view (at leas while I was a Missouri Synod Lutheran some decades ago)is not Catholic, not Calvinist, nor Zwinglian. Lutherans believe that the Elements are the Body and Blood of Christ, but it is perfectly acceptan;e to believe that the Presence begins only at the moment of reception. At least at that time, the majority of Lutherans did not believe, for example that any of what had not been consumed was actually consecrated. Most Lutherans, moreover, bristle at any suggestion that the Eucharist might be sacrificial.

Calvin and his followers indeed believe in a presence of Christ at the Supper, but distinctly NOT as in the Elements themselves. Zwingly reduces the whole thing to empty symbolism.


poetreader said...

BTW, Anonymous,
It would be helpful, if you post again, to select a nickname, and put it either in the box below, or at the end of your comment. That helps us to know which of the legion of anonymi we are addressing. Much less confusing that way.


Albion Land said...

Thank you, Ed, and thank you, Jim.

Beautifully put.

Anonymous said...

Not with my pastor. The Presence begins at consecration, and never leaves.

What is left is taken to the shut-ins, what they do not consume, pastor consumes.

I do not know how wide-spread that is, though.

Calvin taught that Christ's body and blood are present "spiritually" in the sacraments. What he meant by that, I do not know.

Zwingli appears to have taught that Christ is truly present, but not specifically locally in the elements. Moderns go for the edible flannel-graph view.