Catholics/Corpus Christi

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QUESTION: Hello Reverend Dave Bechtel,

I'm a Lutheran. I've been dating a Catholic for a few years now. However, we live 350 miles apart, so when we do see each other, it is over a 2 or 3 day weekend. We're both very religious, so we always go to church Saturday or Sunday and we take turns going to his and mine. Next time I will be seeing him will be June 1st and 2nd. I understand this is some sort of obligatory day for him. So, I'm wondering, will Saturday evening service count? Or must it be Sunday? Also, can you please explain to me what goes on in this particular service? What kind of prayers, hymns, or "rituals" for lack of a better word? I usually don't have a problem going unless it's about something that clearly violates my beliefs. So please, if you could, be detailed but also speak in layman's terms.

I had asked this question of another priest in this category, but his answer was of no help at all. He got all up in arms because I said we go to church Saturday or Sunday, and he said that Christians don't worship on Saturdays. Maybe he didn't understand that I meant Saturday evening. Besides, Christians can worship more than once a week, right? He also only explained the sacrifice of the Mass, which I already knew. He didn't explain the service for this particular feast day. I'm hoping you can help answer my question better.

Thank you much in advance.

God bless,
Rachel

ANSWER: First, my grandmother is a Lutheran and when I visit her, sometimes I go to Church with her on Sunday---if I am on vacation.  I myself will either celebrate Mass, or attend Mass on Saturday evening to fulfill my obligation so I can attend Church with my grandmother.  #I do not wear "clerics" in her Church so as not to draw attention to myself.# I have always enjoyed attending her Lutheran service.  I appreciate #just for something different# the simplicity of the Lutheran worship, and always enjoy good Lutheran hymnody--something that lacks in the Catholic Church.  Lutherans are noted for their music.  "A Mighty Fortress" was the opening Hymn at my first Mass. That hymn in case you did not know was written by Martin Luther.

I think it is a GREAT idea for you and your boyfriend to attend Mass on Saturday, then Lutheran service on Sunday if you want to go to Church together.  As long as attending Lutheran service is not a danger to the Catholic Faith of your boyfriend, I think it great that you attend together.  Lutherans and Catholics are both Christians and therefore share the most fundamental of beliefs: The complete, absolute, and total Lordship of Jesus Christ.  We believe that Jesus Christ IS THE one true God and we worship Him equally with the Father and the Holy Spirit.  

All weekends are "Days of Obligation" for Catholics.  Catholics are obliged to attend Mass every Sunday #or Saturday evening# each week.  Failing to attend unless for a good reason #sickness, etc# is a Sin for Catholics.

You ask specifically about June 1--by which I guess you actually mean June 2.  #If you attend Mass Saturday night, the readings are the Sunday readings# This is called the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Jesus.  On this feast the Catholic Church draws emphasis to her belief in the Real, True, and Substantial Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.  In other words we emphasize the Blessed Sacrament #the host people receive at Mass# The Mass will be as it always is, with the exception that the priest might preach a sermon on the Blessed Sacrament, or what Catholics believe about the Blessed Sacrament.  Also on this day there might (depending on the parish you attend) be special processions with the Blessed Sacrament in a Monstrance (thing that looks like a sunburst with the host inside.) and people will adore the host by prayer, etc.  I can't really get more specific because not all Catholics parishes celebrate the special Feast in the same manner.  Some do not do anything special, others pull out all the stops so to speak.  

As for the "Ritual" it is not that different from the Lutheran Church.  The prayers are similar, and the hymns are similar.  The difference between Lutherans and Catholics is NOT necessarily in the prayers themselves, or even the ritual so much but in the MEANING we subscribe to those prayers, gestures, and rituals.  

For example: both Lutherans and Catholics will celebrate the "Last Supper Ritual" though Catholics do it every week, and Lutherans do not always.  However we attach very different meaning to the words "This is my Body, This is my Blood."  Lutherans believe that Christ is present with, through, in, and under the bread and the wine. In other words what one receives as far as Lutheran belief goes is bread and wine together with the mystical presence of Christ's Body and Blood.  The reality of Christ is present, together with the bread and the wine.  Lutherans therefore will not worship or adore the host because it remains bread in essence.  #Some call Lutheran belief "Consubstantiation" though Lutherans do not like that word because they feel it does not accurately describe their belief.# I do not pretend to be an expert on the Lutheran theology of the Last Supper.  The explanation I gave you is my memory of what was explained to me in my inter seminary seminar by the Lutherans in the course. My point is that whatever Lutherans believe, it is very different from Catholics.

Catholics on the other hand believe that after the words of consecration are spoken that the bread and the wine are converted into or change into the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ.  The ESSENCE of the bread and the wine become the Body and Blood of Christ, while the appearances of bread and wine remain. Catholics worship and adore the host because it IS Christ in ESSENCE, even though the appearances of bread and wine remain.  This is called "Transubstantiation."  

The other difference Catholics and Lutherans have is on the role of Mary and the Saints.  Lutherans believe in a Communion of Saints, and in Mary, but they do not honor the Saints and Mary as Catholics do. Thus, there are times throughout the year when Catholics will mark out special days in their worship to honor one of the Saints, or Mary.

As for the ritual, if I have not answered your question sufficiently send another question and tell me what I did not answer and I will answer it.  I am not sure what you mean by what takes place at the ritual.  If you have been to Mass you would know what takes place and how it unfolds. Thus, if you have something more specific I would be glad to answer it.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Hello again,

First off, thank you so much for the way you handled my question. I find that many priests and lay Catholics speak rudely to me once I tell them I am Lutheran. You speak with love, and I appreciate that. Perhaps because, as you mentioned, your grandmother is Lutheran, you understand that not all Protestants are evil.

Yes, I believe you answered my question sufficiently. I'm sorry if I said June 1st, I thought I said June 2nd. The actual day is a Thursday, but it is celebrated on Sunday, isn't it? My "ritual" question was basically about the procession that you mentioned. But from what you said, it doesn't seem like it will be a problem. As you said, I do not believe in Transubstantiation, so I do not adore the host. But most else seems fine. It is not uncommon for me to notice minor difference at his church. Once in a while there is a line in a hymn or a prayer that I do not agree with, but it I simply ignore it. I would not choose to go to Mass on my own, I go in support of my boyfriend. But it's not as though I get nothing out of it. The only times I choose not to go are on certain days like when they celebrate the Immaculate Conception, or Assumption for example, because I feel the majority of it would be against my beliefs. I hope you can understand.

What you said about Communion in the Lutheran church is correct. And I also understand what you said about Transubstantiation, and Mary and the Saints. I've actually considered Catholicism twice in my life, once when I was very young and first introduced to religion, but not really old enough to understand any of them in depth. Then again after being with my boyfriend a while. I started going to RCIA, thinking if I wasn't compelled to convert at least I'd have a better understanding of his religion. I'm no expert by any means, but it seems like I have a better understanding of it now than he does. Of course, my memory fades, just as his has.

I know what you mean about Lutherans and hymns. My boyfriend's first time in a Lutheran church, he was surprised by how much we sing. At his church, the hymns seem much less in number, and I notice many of the people just sitting or standing in silence instead of singing. You mentioned A Mighty Fortress, and yes, I'm aware it is Luther's. Which brings me to another question. I was quite surprised when I found it in a Catholic hymnal. Why do they sing a hymn written by a man they suppose is in hell? I'm not trying to be rude by any means, it just seems a bit odd to me.

Thank you again, and God bless you.

-Rachel

ANSWER: The Catholic Church to the best of my knowledge has not only NOT condemned Luther to Hell, but has condemned NO ONE to Hell.  In the end who does or does not get into haven is God's judgement alone.  The power of judgment does not rest with the Church. The Church only knows mercy for sinners.  Judgement is God's and God's alone.

After the Reformation there was a lot of emotion between both sides, and that emotion continues to this day, though Vatican II has tried to curb the Triumphal altitude the Church has had in the past with regard to Protestants.

If you are talking about a special day of Obligation occurring on Thursday you are referring to the Feast of the Ascension.  This Feast celebrated Jesus ascent into heaven before the throne of the Father to forever live to intercede for us.  In some Dioceses the Feast is a Holy Day of Obligation which means on this day Catholics are obliged to attend Mass.  However in other diocese the Feast has been "moved" to a Sunday.  Apparently in your boyfriends's Diocese the Feast is celebrated when it occurs on the Liturgical Calendar: Thursday.

While I believe in Mary and the Saints---that is to say all the doctrines concerning them, in the end I think Protestants make a bigger deal out of them than Catholics.  Protestants when speaking with Catholics seem to have the impression that the Catholic Faith stands or falls based on the Saints and Mary---and it doesn't.  If you have ever heard of a guy names William Lane Craig he argues that the Christian Faith does not stand or fall with the inerrancy of the Bible. #I disagree for the reason that if the Bible is not inerrant, it is not completely trustworthy, and therefore a human book.  The Bible would loose it's authority--in those Churches that utilize the "Historical Critical Method" this is actually already happening.  In any case Craig gives a spider's web analogy.  For him, the inerrancy of Scripture is part of the web, but if that doctrine went the web might be damaged somewhat, but it would not collapse.  I would apply this analogy to Mary, the Saints, the Papacy, etc.  They are part of the web, and if those doctrines go, the web is damaged---but the web would not fall apart.

Do I believe in Papal Infallibility?  Yes, not because I think the doctrine is a vital doctrine that the Church stands or falls on, but because I believe it is revealed.  In the end however the doctrine does not really impact my day to day life as a Catholic priest.

Do I believe in the Immaculate Conception? Yes, not because the doctrine is essential to the Catholic Faith, but because I believe God revealed it and thus the Church testifies to it.

The doctrines concerning Mary, the Saints, Purgatory, the pope, etc---they are not unimportant, at the same time they are not central.  They are on the periphery.  Jesus is central and core to the Catholic Faith.  We can have a Church without believing in Papal Infallibility or the Immaculate Conception, but we cannot have a Church without Jesus. I believe in the doctrines which are unique to the Catholic Faith simply because I believe they are true, not because I believe them essential to the Faith.

Many Protestants have such difficulty with Mary, the Saints, the Papacy, etc because they do not see them as part of a whole.  In other words they try to understand the doctrines in isolation from the fundamental Christian Truth that Jesus is God.  The doctrines therefore are not read and understood in context, but as though they are somehow unrelated and irrelevant to the core of the Christian Faith: Jesus.  That is a mistake.  

The reason the Saints and Mary are important in the Catholic Faith is because Catholics believe that devotion to Mary and the Saints always leads one to a deeper relationship with Jesus, and a more perfect knowledge of his redeeming work, not to mention an appreciation of it.  Mary "magnifies" the Lord.  Thus to look upon Mary is to look upon what the completed work of redemption IS for humanity.  It is to see first hand the all of the promises of God fulfilled.  Basicallly all we are saying by the doctrines of Mary is that due to her unique and special role in redemption (bringing Christ into the world as his human mother) is that Mary is the first to experience God's promises in the fullness. This is in order that she can be an example to the rest of the Faithul as to the power and glory of God. To look upon the Saints is to look upon those who have given their lives in service of the Gospel.  They thus serve to motivate Catholics on in service of the Gospel as Catholics look at their example.  

I don't blame you for not wanting to go to Church on days when things are celebrated that conflict with your Faith.  

In the end I am Catholic not because I think I will go to Hell if I am not. I do not believe Protestants are destined for Hell either.  It is not necessary to be Catholic to be saved.  Lutherans have the graces of salvation too for example.  The reason I am Catholic is simply because I happen to believe the fullness of the Graces of salvation have been given to the Catholic Church, and that the Catholic Church most fully and completely teaches God's revealed Truth.

In other words: The Church teaches in Vatican II #Lumen Gentium# that the graces of salvation can be found outside the visible structures of the Catholic Church, or even the Christian Church. However, if one seeks the fullness of the Graces of Salvation one must be Catholic.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Hi,

I realize that the Catholic church does not decide who goes to heaven. I only meant that from my experience, the general consensus among Catholics is that anyone who knows the Catholic faith and willingly abandons it is not saved. So, most Catholics (I would think) believe Luther to be in hell. Or is that not so?

I am familiar with Ascension, yes. As a Lutheran I celebrate that too. What I meant was that I thought this Corpus Christi thing was actually May 30th, but celebrated on the following Sunday. Maybe I'm wrong on that.

You said "Jesus is central and core to the Catholic Faith." I agree with you very much. Although I do disagree with some Catholic teachings, I can sit through Mass and almost feel as if I'm in my own church, because of the fact that the Mass focuses on Jesus. Aside from the occasional call for Mary's intercession, there is almost no mention of anyone else, except for in the Bible readings. I think most of the differences between Catholic and Lutheran are not made known during a typical Sunday Mass. So, though many Protestants think Catholics are not true Christians, I believe they are.

I hope you don't mind me asking questions. Several people in the past have become hostile at my questions, maybe thinking my intent is to trip them up or something. But it isn't. If something convinced me that their faith was more correct than mine, I would switch in a heartbeat. After all, I truly believe that if my boyfriend and I were of the same faith, we would be married already. I'm still open to a "conversion" but it hasn't happened.

I didn't intend to get into a debate, and usually I hate to. But your words are actually pleasant. Thank you so much.

-Rachel

Answer
Since I was brought up half Protestant (on my Father's side of the family) I have certain Protestant leanings myself.  Saturday I went to Mass with my mother, Sunday I went to Church with my father who was Methodist.  Ironically as a child I preferred the Methodist Church. I didn't have much use for my mother's Church.  I didn't like it. I did not like the "ritualism" and to be truthful I am not much for it now.  The reason I tolerate it is because I realize the purpose of the ritual and the reason for it. The rituals are necessary as a mechanism of "Traditioning."  In other words in the rituals the Church expresses her belief and hands on the Faith.  For Protestants---the worship is not a means of "Traditioning" because while they accept a certain amount of "Tradition" they do not see it as a means of handing on the Faith. Hence their worship is a little more fluid and open to change.  

I also realize that Protestant and Catholic worship have different goals.  Protestant worship tends to appeal more to the emotions, while Catholic worship tends to appeal more to the intellect.  Catholic worship is designed to lead the person into active contemplation of the divine mysteries unfolding before us, while Protestant worship is more geared to producing an emotional experience of God within the person, or to motivate them spiritually.    

I will admit that many of my fellow clergy have a much better appreciation for the "Roman" Liturgy than I do.  I also attended a lot of Protestant Bible schools from Mennonite to Baptist to Lutheran to Methodist.  I was the organist in a Baptist Church for a while and an organist in a Presbyterian Church for a time.  

I like to say actually that the time I spent in Protestant churches has helped me to understand Catholicism more deeply than I otherwise might have, but it has also given me insight into the Protestant Faith that many Catholics lack.

The same attitude you encounter regarding questions (hostility) is unfortunately the same attitude I find in some of my fellow priests, and my professors in seminary.  For example, I remember once my professor in seminary talking about "Scriptura Sola" and what it means.  I have read a great deal on this subject from Protestant Theologians. I knew what he was saying was inaccurate.  So I raised my hand and asked if he was aware that Protestants do not define Scriptura Sola in the manner he was defining it. (That is as a denial of the concept of Tradition, or the concept of Church authority, or general revelation) I remember my fellow students taking umbrage at my question and the professor not wanting to deal with the question.

I can grant a certain "Triumphalism" on the Catholic side, but many Protestants are just as guilty, especially among the fundamentalist sects that refuse to even grant that Catholics are Christian.  They place us on the same level as Mormon's or JW's.  Since we do not deny that Jesus is God in the absolute sense, nor do we deny the Trinity as Mormon's and JW's do, it is difficult to see how we can be placed on the same level as them.  

You have to understand something about Mary: The "Intercession" she exercises is not her own, but that of Christ's.  That goes for all the saints, and even ourselves.  That is the basis upon which we can pray for each other: the intercession of Christ.  In other words--in being "saved" Catholics believe that the merits of Christ are placed within the person such that when they perform any action it is always together with and united with Christ.  Thus in praying, we are exercising the intercession of Christ because it is in us.  We believe because of Mary's unique role as the God Bearer she most perfectly exercises the intercession of Christ because Sin never tainted her soul through a singular and special Grace of God.  

Put another way: Jesus is the mediator between Man and the Father, Mary is the mediator between Man and Christ.  Just as Christ came into the world through Mary, so it is through Mary that the world is lead to Christ.

These doctrines have never given me trouble.  To be truthful even before I studied theology I accepted them because they seemed so common sense to me.  

Mary figures so prominently in Catholicism because for Catholics Mary is the Type and Image of the Church.  Mary reveals what it means to be redeemed: Sinless, Virginal Bride of Christ, and Assumed into heave (Resurrection of the Body and life ever lasting.) We say "In Mary is Redemption" because indeed the Graces of Redemption are in Mary as one who is the most perfectly redeemed.  She thus reveals what redemption looks like.  Jesus does not reveal this because he is not redeemed.  We cannot look at God if we want to get a picture of what redemption looks like, we have to look at a human being, for humanity is redeemed, not God.  God does not need redemption.  

One who truly knows Jesus cannot but help be lead to his mother, and one who knows the Mother of Jesus cannot but help being lead to Jesus.  True devotion to Mary always leads a person deeper into relationship with Christ for if we understand Mary, we understand Jesus and visa-versa.  

I do not mind your questions, keep them coming.  I can tell when a Protestant is simply looking for a debate or looking to bait me.  I have a lot of experience in this field.  I don't see that in you.

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Father Dave Bechtel

Expertise

I am a Catholic priest in good standing and in active ministry in the Diocese of Scranton PA. I can answer most any question about the Catholic Faith, however my area of specialization is Systematic Theology. Systematic Theology is a branch of theology that focuses on the fundamental tenants of the Faith and the Dogmas of the Faith. I have specialization on the Reformation and Catholic vs. Protestant theology/issues and answering Protestant challenges to the Faith.

Experience

I was ordained in June of 2008. Since that time the thrust of my ministry has been specialized. In my first assignment I was an assistant pastor. A year later I was sent to work in education. I spent six (6) years in education and have now assumed my first pastorate. While education was the thrust of my ministry, nevertheless I continued to have a hand in parish ministry, hospital chaplaincy and prison chaplaincy. Now that I am out of education I will obviously be focusing more on parish work than specialized ministry. I have two years of formal Clinical Pastoral Education and prior to ordination I successfully pursued Board Certification for health care ministry through the NACC. My certification needs to be renewed and I plan to seek dual certification in health care ministry (NACC and APC) when I renew my certification. I have a breadth of experience working with Protestant ministers and collaborating with them to achieve the goals of hospital pastoral care and chaplaincy. These ministers run the spectrum from the liberal to the conservative.

Education/Credentials
Bachelors of Science-- University of Scranton PA Masters of Arts Theology--- Saint Mary's Seminary and University Baltimore MD Masters of Divinity--- Saint Charles Borremeo Seminary Philadelphia PA Board Certified Chaplain (up for renewal)

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