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