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Confessions of a prejudiced Protestant

Eucharist

Humble and holy: “The Eucharist is God coming near in an almost unbelievable way. He is not just above you, beside you and behind you. ‘It is Christ in you’.”

I was born and raised a Protestant (Pentecostal variety).

I was taught the Bible at church, I read it at home and memorised it at my Christian school.

For this I have no regrets. I am thankful for of my scriptural

knowledge; it really has been ‘a lamp to my feet and a light to my path’ (Psalm 119:105).

What I’m not proud of is my prejudice.

For most of my life I have had an appalling attitude towards Catholics.

I’m one of those people who called them ‘The whore of Babylon’ and the Pope ‘the anti-Christ’.

Worse than that, I took pleasure in seeing Catholics maligned in the media and ridiculed by comedians.

But things have changed.

God tricked me.

It all started when someone emailed a link to a message by an author called Peter Kreeft.

Had I known he was a ‘full-on Catholic’ I would have never clicked on it.

But thankfully Providence hid that information and I listened.

I had never heard anyone speak like this in my Protestant world.

There was a depth and ‘magic’ that made me an instant addict to his material.

Once you start reading one Catholic author it’s not long before you are reading more.

Now most of my favourite authors are Catholic!

I don’t know where my faith would be without them.

The so called ‘Mary worshippers’ warmed my soul to Christ as never before and taught my heart, not just my mind, to love God.

It’s inevitable that if you are interested in Catholic books you are going to be interested in the Catholic Church.

What do they do in those traditional buildings?

How does it compare to the church I grew up in?

Before I discuss the differences, there is one important similarity.

Catholics and Protestants have the same goal in mind when it comes to doing church.

Both are worship services designed to bring us closer to God.

And this is something we should acknowledge and celebrate more.

‘Worship’ on a Sunday morning in my particular Protestant tradition is about the music and preaching.

‘Let’s worship (sing) then so-and-so will bring the word (preaching)’ is a line I hear almost every week.

The only people on the ‘worship team’ are musicians and singers.

Communion is a ‘tag-on’ to the service in my tradition, and generally takes place only once a month.

Catholics have a very different approach to bringing people closer to God.

Their worship service or ‘Mass’ is completely focussed on Communion or the Eucharist, as they call it.

Celebrating the Cross and partaking of Christ’s body and blood is the prime reason good Catholics go to church.

Their Eucharist is more than vague symbolism, it’s supernatural.

They believe the bread and wine, once consecrated, miraculously becomes divine substance, The Real Presence of Christ.

By consuming the ‘body and blood of the Lord’ they become one with Christ, not just spiritually, but physically.

Christ enters the very physical cells of their earthy body.

To faithful Catholics, the Eucharist is a complete God invasion.

Jesus Christ becomes ‘flesh of their flesh and bone of their bone’.

I used to think the Eucharist was way-off and culturally irrelevant.

Now I’m not so sure.

The Protestant way I’m familiar with is certainly modern and attracts many people, but I have a growing concern that the Catholic way may be more scriptural, and in line with reality.

My ‘growing concerns’ aren’t based on feelings or that most of my favourite authors are Catholics.

I have 3 reasons for considering the Catholic position.

My first is ‘exclusive dependence’.

The most destructive weapon unleashed last century was not the nuclear bomb.

It was starvation.

Stalin used the deprivation of food and water to kill 7 million of his own people. Pol Pot did the same in Cambodia to exterminate 3 million.

Armies feed and water their troops well because without food there is no fight.

You may own the world’s biggest aircraft carrier but if the captain hasn’t eaten

for 3 months the ship is going nowhere.

The reason food and drink are so powerful are because life totally depends on them.

Our bodies have an exclusive dependant relationship with food and water.

Culture, art, education, sport, entertainment, music etc all add to life, but they don’t sustain it.

Only food and drink do.

We can’t just smell food or go near water.

They must be consumed and become part of our body to be of any use.

Bread and wine are far more appropriate than music and preaching to demonstrate our exclusive dependence on God.

Christ is food to us, we can’t live without Him.

In light of the facts about food and drink let’s read the words of Jesus in John 6:50-55.

This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.

I am the living bread that came down from heaven.

If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.

And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.”

According to scripture, Jesus declared Himself to be food we eat, not a song we sing.

This is a hard truth for a Protestant to swallow (pun intended), but I was taught to respect the authority of the Bible.

This is a scriptural truth I cannot dismiss as Catholic dogma.

“The command, after all, was Take, eat; not Take, understand.” — C.S. Lewis, Prayer: Letters to Malcolm, Chap. 19.

My second reason is ‘cultural significance’.

This truth hit me on a recent overseas trip.

Most of the in-flight programs were about food and culinary experiences.

The social significance of food in the country I was visiting was all too obvious.

I saw business people doing deals at a restaurant in New York, women discussing things at a coffee shop in Nashville, and men catching up at a bar in Chicago.

Without exception, every social event I engaged in on my trip was over food.

I was not surprised upon returning home to find MasterChef the most watched program on Australian television.

If we want to get to know someone or catch up or discuss something the invitation will be to dinner or lunch or coffee or dessert.

We use food and drink to celebrate a wedding and also to reflect at a funeral wake.

In some middle-eastern cultures an invitation to share a meal is the beginning of a life-long commitment.

You effectively become part of the family!

Those are all fine examples, but what does the Bible say?

Here are a few examples from the Old and New Testament.

It was with food mankind broke covenant with God and sinned in the Garden. It was with food Jacob stole his brother’s birthright, and with food he established another.

It is with food the Passover is celebrated.

Jesus’ first miracle (turning water into wine) was at a wedding feast and his last gathering before the Cross was a supper.

And let’s not forget the grand finale, the invitation to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb!

The cultural significance of food and drink is understood by everyone.

It is practised in all cultures at all times.

It’s universal, it’s catholic.

My third reason is ‘the offence’.

Let’s start by continuing with the words of Christ in John 6:56-61: “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”

Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum.

When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”

But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this?”

Did they take offence?

Yes, to the point most of those who were following Him up and left, never to return.

Why didn’t Jesus quickly assure them that He was only speaking figuratively? The disturbing fact is He made no attempt to correct their understanding.

Maybe His words were destined to be more than vague symbolism.

Only those who are fixated on Christ can accept such offensive truth as John 6.

True disciples put their faith in what Jesus says even though their reason/logic and religious views are offended.

When I first heard of transubstantiation I was offended, so I rejected it.

Now I’m beginning to think my offence was a test, a sign that it might be true. Whatever way you look at it, Jesus is certainly living up to prophesy, ‘… a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling’ (Isaiah 8:14).

The Eucharist of the Catholic Church scares me.

Am I one of those people who pick and choose what I believe based on what I’m comfortable with?

Or what about those Catholics who see the Eucharist as insurance for sin and use it to live lifestyles that are anything but God glorifying?

Surely they must be drinking damnation on themselves (1 Corinthians 11:29).

As much as I’m fearful, I’m also attracted.

If it’s true, then the Eucharist is God coming near in an almost unbelievable way.

He is not just above you, beside you and behind you.

It is ‘Christ in you’.

He is entering the very cells of your body through real food and real drink.

How meek is our God that He would offer Himself in this lowly way?

Personally, I cannot conceive of a more humble or holy thing.

By Wez Hitzke

Wez Hitzke portrait Wez Hitzke was received into the Church on October 11, 2015, at St Mary Magdalene Church, Bardon, with Emmanuel Covenant Community. His Confirmation was the end of a journey of about seven years. Starting with author and speaker Peter Kreeft it moved quickly to an addiction to C.S. Lewis. Other major contributing factors were the Church Fathers, the unitive teaching authority and wisdom of The Catechism, Theology of the Body, Ignite Conference 2010, G.K. Chesterton, JRR Tolkien, Blaise Pascal, Brother Lawrence, Thomas a’ Kempis and anything by Pope Benedict XVI, especially the Jesus of Nazareth Series. His Confirmation saint was St Augustine. 

 

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