All Roads Lead to Rome
Over Easter weekend I was confirmed into the Catholic Church during the Easter Vigil. As a lifelong Protestant, this was not a decision made lightly.
I went to a conservative church that I deemed faithful to the Bible, but many, actually most, Protestant churches are not like this. Protestantism was rooted in breaking away from the church which had preceded it: the Catholic Church.
The infinite sects of Protestantism have different views to such an extent that some support gay marriage and abortion while others say these are immoral and incompatible with the faith. The Catholic Church has a set doctrine on these issues, so its teaching cannot be changed by an individual parish. In most Protestant denominations, the congregation and the pastor set the beliefs of the individual church. Church “shopping” is much more common in Protestantism. You explore until you find the place where you feel most at home.
Who determines what the church teaches and what Truth is? In most Protestant churches these questions are answered with interpretation of Scripture by the individual church. There is generally no set of doctrines since most Protestants believe in sola scriptura, which means that scripture is the only way we can understand God, which leads to vast inconsistencies through differing interpretations. Even if a Protestant church is part of a larger denomination, the specific beliefs of that denomination may not be well-known by the congregation nor have a substantial effect on the details of a service as individual church practice supersedes devotion to denomination.
The Bible contains Truth, but we humans have distorted it. The latest social trends have corrupted Protestant Christianity, but the inherent structure of Catholicism has made is more resistant to the modern liberal cause. While there may be individual Catholics and local practices which may be altered by society, the official doctrines of the Church are resistant to change. Since Protestantism rests on interpretation of Scripture alone, the interpretation is more susceptible to be transformed by the views of the society. To paraphrase Chesterton: “We do not want a Church that will move with the world. We want a Church that will move the world.”
The canon law of Catholicism provides the organized hierarchy of the Catholic Church that determines the Church’s teaching. The official doctrines of the Church are laid out in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. These official teachings are the culmination of sacred tradition and sacred Scripture preserved by the magisterium of the Church. The magisterium of the Catholic Church from Pope down to a local Priest is unlike any other because it can uniquely trace its lineage to Jesus thus showing a direct connection to His ministry while on Earth. This is not to say Protestantism has no official teachings, but the many sects have a wide assortment of views each deems to be correct. The Catholic Church is bound to the same doctrine throughout the world, even if some would like to deny this and mould the Church to conform to their views, as some liberal Catholics do.
It is not only the structure and tradition of Catholicism that make it more cohesive but also the Mass itself. The Catholic Mass is centered around the Eucharist. Rather than serve as a mere symbol, the Catholic teaching of Transubstantiation shows that the bread and wine are transformed into the body and blood of Christ. This means that Catholics believe they are one with Christ through this transformation. A couple who were converts speaking at my confirmation class said their 8-year-old daughter wanted to have “real communion” and “stop pretending.” The Catholic Church provides the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, so there is not pretending necessary.
The music and homily may differ, but the central focus on the Eucharist along with the same Scripture readings and prayers throughout the world links Catholics in one common union that simply is not possible in Protestantism.
A Protestant church tends to be based on feeling and personal taste. The doctrines enumerated in the Catechism give it a firm foundation over the sects of Protestantism. No institution carried out by fallen man can be perfect, thus the need for the tradition and structure unique to the Catholic Church to prevent the societal mores of the day from secularizing the faith.
There are numerous Protestant churches where the pastor is simply a charismatic man who appeals to the feelings of the attendees using the Bible as a tool to uplift and inspire without any real challenge. But a true Christian life is not so simple. There will be sacrifice needed to cast aside our passions in favor of something beyond ourselves. For instance, weekly Mass attendance is mandatory for Catholics and to miss intentionally is a mortal sin. While some do not respect this, the rule establishes the principle that faith demands things that might be inconvenient. Reconciliation is another way that Catholics are “held accountable” through confession in which we seek absolution for our mortal sins.
The divine mysteries as taught in Catholicism are what we ought to pursue. In a culture that consistently advocates self-interest and instant gratification, we need the Truth inherent in Catholicism to elevate us and draw us in to a two-thousand-year history that can be traced back to Jesus and the Twelve Apostles. I had a great Protestant upbringing, but that is not the case for many and it can easily veer into relativism. Catholicism is not relative. It is a more full expression of Divine Truth.