Having been raised Protestant, my exposure to the Roman Catholic Church has been fairly limited, aside from a single 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 in the Western world during 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.
- Roman Catholics may venerate Mary, but do not 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 would just another ancient person, no more extraordinary than Homer or Nero. All that aside, if one is to admire any historical figure of Christian faith, Mary would definitely not be a bad choice, especially if we are to believe anything that is written in Infancy Narratives of Matthew and Luke.
- Emphasis on tradition and rituals. I’m surprised to see this criticism emerge from Protestantism — particularly from American evangelicals (the religious community in which I was raised), whose most popular theologians seem remarkably incapable of divorcing their inherited theology from what the Bible actually teaches. To take an obvious example: how is it the case that many evangelicals believe that Genesis 1 offers a literal account of creation (the earth was created 10,000 years ago without evolutionary processes), while simultaneously believing that when Christ says “this is My Body” when referring to the bread of His Last Supper, it is metaphorical?
Introductory thoughts completed, here’s what I did learn visiting a Roman Catholic Mass this evening:
- 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.
- Roman Catholics appreciate church history. The clergy trace their succession of Holy Orders all the way back to the Apostolic age. A strong emphasis is placed on specific saints in Christian history that, in my view, has the potential to inspire the Catholic to live a life worthy of the good news.
- 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.
- Roman Catholics feel very much 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.