Catholic Community

At my Latin mass this morning, the homily discussed the part of the Apostle’s Creed about “the communion of saints.” For the priest, God’s people are united when they take the Eucharist, which is powerful because it is literally the body and the blood of Jesus Christ. That’s why priests don’t take the Eucharist privately, he said. He also asked how the custom of shaking hands during the service entered the church. He remarked that the people who introduced that custom were trying to create a sense of church unity, but shaking hands is not where unity is at: it’s in the celebration of the Eucharist.

There was a lot that went through my mind as I heard this homily:

1. I thought I read in the book Radio Priest that Father Charles Coughlin celebrated his own private Eucharist in his chapel.

2. Then there’s the whole issue of the Catholics and community. Max Weber made the point that suicide rates were higher among Protestants than among Catholics, and he attributed that to the communitarian nature of Catholicism, whereas Protestantism tends to focus on the individual Christian’s relationship with God. When I attended an independent Seventh-Day Adventist church in Massachussetts, a preacher appealed to Weber’s study to encourage us to become more of a community.

But is the Catholic church communitarian in the way that’s becoming popular among evangelical Protestants: Christians being involved in one another’s lives, encouraging one another, rebuking one another, etc.? Not entirely. I once said to a friend who was converting to Catholicism that the Catholic church didn’t have much community, and he replied that its community is not so much a matter of knowing everyone’s name, but rather of gathering together and believing the same thing.

At the same time, the Catholic church does have certain rituals that involve interpersonal interaction. Confession of sin to a priest is one example. In a sense, Catholicism does well to have a specific person one can talk to. The structure is already there when I walk in. Evangelical Protestantism, on the other hand, expects people to go into a large auditorium and make friends, or to encourage people they don’t even know. Or it emphasizes small groups, where not everyone feels comfortable, and where people may be expected to share the intimate details of their life to people they don’t really know, or to conform to a certain way of seeing the world. In my opinion, I’d be much lonelier as an evangelical Protestant than as a Catholic.

3. I have a hard time getting all that excited about the Eucharist, probably because (a.) I can’t partake of it because I’m not a Catholic, and (b.) I’m from a tradition (Armstrongism) that only celebrates the Lord’s supper one a year, and that sees the bread and the wine as merely symbolic. So I don’t identify with the priest’s belief that the Eucharist is where the unity of the church takes place, for, to me, the Eucharist is just a bunch of people lining up and eating part of a cracker, in their own little universes. There isn’t any intimacy, or encouragement of one another, or concern about one another’s lives. I like the Catholic church because there is a sense of privacy there, but that can be pretty lonely. Although I don’t fit in most places, I have my own ideas about community, what it is, and what it isn’t.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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