Sacremental Odyssey: What I learned from visiting a Roman Catholic Mass

Having been raised Protestant, my exposure to the Roman Catholic Church has been fairly limited, aside from a mass that my family visited once while on vacation. The usual Protestant dogma concerning Catholics–veneration of Mary, emphasis on tradition and rituals, nominal faith–is upsetting to me, because it sells Protestants short of the approach to Christianity that dominated the first 1,500 years after the life of Christ.

I offer two ideas below that I believe would benefit Protestants–myself included–to consider.

  1. Roman Catholics may venerate Mary, but don’t many Protestants venerate Scripture? “The Bible is the final authority”, it is often stated. That may very well be the case, but for what, and to what end? Without God, without Christ, the Bible is just one of many very old collections of religious texts. Maybe the same goes for Mary in Catholicism. Without God, without Christ, Mary’s just another ancient person. All that aside, if one was to admire any historical figure of Christian faith, Mary would definitely not be a bad choice if we are to believe anything that is written in Infancy Narratives of Matthew and Luke.
  2. Emphasis on tradition and rituals. I’m surprised to see this criticism emerge from Protestantism, whose most popular theologians seem notably incapable of divorcing their inherited theology–often derived from philosophers and interpreters who are either quoted out of context (C.S. Lewis, anyone?) or otherwise are (or seem) generally fallacious–from what the Bible (which of course is claimed to fit perfectly with the theology of said interpreter) actually teaches.

Introductory thoughts completed, here’s what I did learn visiting a Roman Catholic Mass this evening:

  1. Roman Catholics love to pray. During mass, each member of the audience is expected to pray and to relish the delightful reading of Scripture and well-written liturgy.
  2. Roman Catholics appreciate church history. The clergy trace their ordinal line all the way back to the Apostolic age. A strong emphasis is placed on specific saints in Christian history that–in my view–inspires the Catholic to live a life worthy of the good news.
  3. Roman Catholics go to great lengths to beautify the place of worship. In an age in which the doctrine of the beauty of God is oft hidden beneath the doctrine of the wrath of God–in my view beautiful itself, if properly understood–Catholicism presents a refreshing break from any spirituality unconcerned with beauty.
  4. Roman Catholics feel very in touch with the Global Christian movement. Time would fail me to speak of the benefits of this attitude, especially in light of Jesus’ prayer in John 17, many of Paul’s statements throughout his letters, and the letters of John.

I believe that Protestants should look for ready allies in Roman Catholics who are hungry for the kingdom of God to rule on earth and the peace of Christ to rule in hearts.

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