Why I Could Never become a Roman Catholic – Part 1: The Mass

19 May

It should be stated that I am a regular, non-communicant attender of my local Roman Catholic Parish, where I am wholly accepted, heretic that I am.  My religious background is mixed: Christened Congregationalist, raised Church of Scotland, confirmed Anglican, worshipped with Baptists and Charismatics of various denominations, returned to the Kirk, and now attending a Roman Catholic church.  Thus, these reflections are part of the journey of faith and an explanation as to why I could not ever convert.

The reasons for my not being able to embrace the Roman faith are multiple, but principally centre round the supremacy of human tradition over Holy Scripture.  The core areas of disagreement are:   1) the Mass;  2) the Cult of the Virgin Mary;  3) the Crucifix and statues;  4) the way the Bible is used; 5) the Sacrament of Penance;  and 6) the Papacy.

1)   The Mass

I do not believe in the doctrine of transubstantiation which lies at the heart of the RC understanding of the Mass.  It is possible that I lack the faith to believe such a thing, but that alone would not be sufficient reason to reject it.  My objections are more fundamental.  It is a wholly unnecessary dogma.  The symbolic representation of Christ in the bread and wine, which follows the example of our Lord Jesus Christ at the Last Supper, is sufficient in itself for the remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.  The Real Presence of Christ does not rely on the superstition of transubstantiation or “a Tabernacle” but on the presence of the Holy Spirit, who God gives “without limit” (John 3:34).

I also question the theology of reserving the “Blood of Christ” to the clergy alone, thus denying the “People of God” the “Cup of Salvation”; especially when the Eucharistic Prayer explicitly states for both elements “Take this, all of you, and eat of / drink from it…“.   Such exclusion clearly runs counter to the example of Christ at the last Supper (as recorded in the Gospels – Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:19-20; Matthew 26:26-28) and the liturgical prayer as given by St Paul (I Corinthians 11:23-26), while intimating a false dichotomy, in which priests (through their ordination?) are inherently superior to other Christians, who by implication are unworthy to receive the Commnion in both kinds. Furthermore, it also gives creedence to the common, yet dubious, notion that Holy Orders are the only true vocation.  (Let it be noted that this giving of Communion in one kind is a Spanish practice that is no longer generally applicable in the UK or USA, though some older Catholics still choose to observe taking the bread alone.)

Allied to this separation is the claim that the Mass is a sacrifice by the priest on behalf of the congregation:  “The sacrifice of Christ the only Mediator, which in the Eucharist is offered through the priests’ hands,” (CCC, 1369).  This, to me, implies, contrary to Roman Catholic denials, that Christ’s once and for all sacrifice is repeated through sacerdotal offering each time the Mass is celebrated . I fully understand the Catholic Church’s response that it is a “re-presentation (makes present)” (CCC, 1367) of the sacrifice of the cross but, unfortunately, this argument does not stand up to scrutiny when other parts of the Catholic Catechism are taken into account:

“…this sacrifice is truly propitiatory…The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice,” (CCC, 1367);

As sacrifice, the Eucharist is also offered in reparation for the sins of the living and the  dead,” (CCC, 1414).

These statements  indicate that it is a repetition of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross contrary to what the Bible tells us was a “once and for all” sacrifice (Hebrews 7:26 – 27; I Peter 3:18).  It also has the unintentional effect of making the priest  the one who sacrifices Christ to God (on behalf of the people) in direct contradiction to St John’s Gospel (10: 17 – 18), in which Jesus states:

18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”  (John 10:18)

Thus, it is clear from Scripture that this once and forever sacrifice can only be made willingly by the Lord Jesus Christ.  Anything else is to put human tradition before the revealed Word of God, which can only divert attention from God’s plan of salvation.

Finally, despite it’s being proclaimed “the Communion of Saints”, there is the denial of Communion to non-Catholics, irrespective of whether they are Christians or not (salvation only being granted to Catholics who (as we shall see later) have earned their redemption).  While I understand the Roman Catholic position that the priest is trying to protect the heretic’s immortal soul by preventing them from committing a mortal sin (in line with St Paul’s warning not to partake of the Eucharist in “an unworthy manner” (I Corinthians 11:27-32), it does beg the question as to just whose table is being approached: the Lord’s Table or that of the Roman Catholic Church?  The difference, of course, lies in the fundamental belief that underlies the Eucharist: whether you are actually eating Christ’s transubstantiated physical body or, through the grace of Christ, are being invited, despite being a sinner, to come just as you are and share in the Paschal meal which is a “re-presentation” of the Last Supper in obedience to Christ´s command to “do this in remembrance of me.” (I Corinthians 11:24) in celebration of His “once and for all” sacrifice on the Cross by which we are saved.

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