Exploring Catholicism: Part 3

The Eucharist

Currently, the way I understand the Catholic eucharist is two-fold.. one, it is the real presence of Christ, given to all believers as a sign of His grace and presence among us. Now I’ve gotten over the strangeness of it, the concept of the Real Presence fascinates and excites me. What a pity I cannot experience the Eucharist without becoming Catholic first.. but of course, this wouldn’t make sense anyway, since a key part of the meaning of this ritual for Catholics is the unity it represents between all Catholic Christians.

And that is the second part of what makes the Eucharist realistically a different ritual from the protestant communion… the fact that is represents (and cultivates) a unity of believers. Since the post-vatican II Catholic Church acknowleges that Jesus is also present in non-catholic churches, I very much doubt that non-catholics are excluded from eucharist at mass because they are seen as unworthy. Every person I’ve met who ‘gets’ Jesus in the Catholic Church acknowledges the spiritual oneness of all christians. From observation and reading Catholic apologetics, the exclusion of non-catholics from eucharist appears to be because they take unity very seriously, not the other way around. To quote one site:

“Because Catholics believe that the celebration of the Eucharist is a sign of the reality of the oneness of faith, life, and worship, members of those churches with whom we are not yet fully united are ordinarily not admitted to Communion … For this reason, it is normally impossible for non-Catholic Christians to receive Holy Communion, for to do so would be to proclaim a unity to exist that, regrettably, does not.”

Eucharist in Mass has always been a sign not just of unity with Jesus, but unity with the Catholic Church (and this is before the catholic/protestant split). The catholic church has been around for 2000 years, and it seems one of the reasons it has survived that long is by having strong practices centred around building community and connectedness. The catholic church is spread across so many cultures that they have deliberately built in rituals that create and perpetuate unity. You can see this in the RCIA process, where converts to Catholicism go through a year-long process of studying catholic beliefs before they decide to be confirmed.. and then, if they are really sure, the whole church gets behind them.. a beautiful part of catholic confirmation is how the whole parish will publicly declare their commitment to fostering that persons spirituality and welcoming them into the community. It is an acknowledgement that their spirituality and growth is tied up with everyone elses. The upside of this is a global church with an incredibly strong feeling of unity and community.. something that is a much-needed foil for the rampant individualism pervading western christianity, I think. The downside of course is that we protestants who turn up to mass can feel excluded (though, in every other way, I have always felt warmly welcomed at Mass.. and besides, getting a blessing from the Priest is a wonderful experience!).

It’s almost one in the morning here, and I should go to bed. More on this another time. =)

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~ by humblemonkey on July 27, 2009.

One Response to “Exploring Catholicism: Part 3”

  1. Such good stuff. I’m glad you didn’t have a short, simple answer to my little question. 🙂 After looking through the link you referenced in the comments of the other post, I thought a lot more about the “Real Presence” concept. One of my friends married a Jewish man. At our church with its open table, he is invited to the table. Essentially, we say that Christ invites all who believe. There is no formal way, however, to signify whether you are truly a believer or not. So even though we know he is a faithful Jew, whenever he visits our church he takes Communion. On the one hand, I love knowing that God works that out, and I don’t have to do anything about it. His coming to the table doesn’t change what it means to me; but I do wonder why he chooses to come to the table. I’m glad we’re seemingly hospitable, but everything in our Communion liturgy points to Christ as savior. Why would he want to partake in this feast knowing this?

    So it makes me respect the Catholic Church and its respect for the Real Presence. Why would a Protestant want to participate in the feast when what it is for everyone there isn’t what it is for her or him? As seemingly inhospitable it is (because just declaring unity within the Catholic Church isn’t our ultimate calling, right?), I also respect the responsibility of assuring that there’s a real understanding of what the Eucharist table represents. There’s no murky water.

    I’ve honestly not thought much about the Catholic Church aside from my time at the convent. In college I knew a girl who was participating in a mission week to “save” the Catholic Church. It was so sad to me; until that point, I never realized that people still had such hostile reactions toward Catholics and would dare even suggest that they do not follow Christ. It seemed so absurd to me. So your posts are nice to learn more about a Church I really don’t think about too often and to hear how you’re seriously discerning why you should or should not join Catholicism.

    Peace . . .

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