This morning we will start with a little pop quiz because I am well aware that you all collectively know much more than I do!
- True or False: Catholics are Christians. (True)
- True or False: PRCC is a Christian church. (True)
- True or False: The clerical collar was created by the Catholic Church. (False)
The collar was created by the Church of Scotland, which is Presbyterian, in order that clergy wouldn’t have to wear a full cassock to set them apart in 1865. It gained wider use, and especially where religious groups were in the minority, clergy would wear the collar. In 1884 US Catholic priests were required to wear them. Few other traditions REQUIRE the collar, so it’s not as uniformly observed.
- True or False: Baptism and Communion are the only Sacraments celebrated by PRCC. (True)
- True or False: Baptism and Communion are the only Sacraments celebrated by the Catholic Church. (False)
There are 7 Sacraments observed by Catholics: Baptism, Communion, Confirmation, Reconciliation/Confession, Anointing the Sick, Marriage, and Ordination/Holy Orders
The Catholic Church and the Protestant traditions share much of a similar core theology, both are founded on a belief in Jesus Christ as God’s Son, whose death and resurrection reconciled the world to God. We share the entirety of our Bible, though the Catholic Bible also considers the Apocryphal texts as scripture. We celebrate baptism and communion in both traditions as means of God’s grace.
There are obviously points at which we diverge, and some of those points are theological, and others have to do with practice. The Catholic Church and the Orthodox Christian Church trace roots back to the apostles. Christian history tells of disagreements, and as we read Paul’s letters, we start to pick up on some tensions between faithful people groups. As distinctions became more prominent the two churches split in 1054: some of these distinctions included the kind of bread for communion, whether the Holy Spirit was from Jesus and God the Father or just God the Father, and where the ultimate power/authority center was.
In 1517 Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg, Germany, but reformers like Huldrych Zwingli and John Calvin and others were pushing for change, challenging the church to change. Some of the points of contention were translating the Bible for commoners to read, whether or not people needed the intercession of priests and saints, the sale of indulgences, papal authority, and clerical celibacy. Each of these were grounded in a theological perspective, but had practical ramifications. We could spend all day considering the merits of each, and since I am an ordained woman in the Protestant tradition, my bias is considerable.
However, I would rather highlight a few things that I have come to admire and respect of our friends in the Catholic tradition.
I am rooted in my protestant traditions, which places all people on level footing before God, reliant on God’s grace. However, I think this sometimes leads us into such a familiarity and casual-ness that we run the risk of diminishing our understanding of God as the Most High Creator of the Universe. We don’t need a priest to hear our confession and place our sins before God, but sometimes we just consider ourselves perfect and not in need of grace. The Catholic Tradition reminds us that we are human beings who have fallen short of our capacity to do good.
A more robust theology of reverence could deepen not only our awareness of sin, but an awareness of God’s grace and mercy that is never-ending. Our lack of confession doesn’t limit our ACCESS to God’s grace, but it might limit our AWARENESS of that grace. A more robust theology of reverence might challenge us to acknowledge the holy when we see it. I can always find Catholics in my congregation because when I invoke the Trinity, they cross themselves. The Catholic church has a specific understanding of communion, and thus they tend to the elements with care and reverence as well.
This week I wore my collar out and one person responded that they were ready for a blessing. It’s weird that I don’t get that response typically when I’m wearing my regular clothing. The collar has become associated with the Catholic tradition because they have been the most consistent in wearing it. [As an aside, I typically wear my clergy collar when I’m visiting those who might not recognize me as a pastor, senior, those with dementia, or walking through the hospital. I wear it to funerals if I’m not going to wear my robe so that those unfamiliar will notice I am clergy, and I wear it to rallies and protests when I think it’s important that the Church’s presence is visible, marching for equity and justice, resisting evil in the world..so it feels a little like putting on my superhero uniform] In any case, when I wear my collar, there are those who expect what they would receive from a Catholic priest – a blessing. I have been asked to bless homes and apartments, but it’s rare. Our Catholic friends have a keen awareness of having clergy name and pray for God’s blessing on people, circumstances, and places. I think we could learn from that.
Having a centralized hierarchy can be a challenge to the Catholic Church and catholics individually, but it also makes possible the mobilization of mass numbers of people. When the Pope speaks about poverty or refugees or the death penalty, the audience of faithful listeners is huge. It is estimated that there are 1.2 billion Catholics in the world. The largest percentage of those are in Latin America, then Europe, Africa, Asia, and least in the US. There is a challenge within that because what if you don’t agree. However the potential to mobilize for change is astounding. Here in Park Ridge, our Catholic parishes were able to help get the Sunday Suppers organized and off the ground. Of course, the Ministerial Alliance was supportive, but the network and organization offered by our friends in the Catholic churches was monumental. I celebrate Catholic workers for justice, including Catholic Charities, the Nuns on a Bus, and even Father Michael Pflaeger on the southside of Chicago…who are using their faith to launch them into action.
I think the Catholic church does a better job of telling the stories about the Saints who have gone before, knowing different leaders along the way who have changed the world for good. Even respecting Mary deeply, I think, is something that Protestants could learn from. Protestants have pushed back on this on some aspects that feel superstitious or like idolatry, and yet, there’s something to knowing the stories, telling and celebrating the ways that God has used individuals and teaching our kids about it. The rosary and catechism are also tools for teaching individuals about faith.
The Catholic Church has had its challenges and certainly the abuse that has occurred and been covered up is among the most egregious. There are stories of missions not providing the care that’s been promised. Back in the time of the reformation indulgences were being used not to forgive sins but to line the pockets of the priests. Unfortunately, similar failures and evils have occurred in every religious tradition. I lament for my siblings in the Catholic Church and all of Christendom when such things happen, not only for the victims who trusted the Church, but for all those who will cease to trust the church moving forward. We have work to do together to put systems in place to protect people and heal the hurts that have been caused.
In the Apostles Creed, before there were so many Christian branches of the family tree, the faith fathers incorporated the phrase “I believe in the holy catholic church,” which didn’t refer to the Roman Catholic Church, but catholic with a little c meaning the church universal. One of the tenets of faith was a belief in the church, and God’s movement among and through us – all of us. I give thanks that many are able to live out their faith in the Catholic tradition, filled with rituals, reverence, blessings, people power, and an significant focus on the eucharist. I lament the hurt that has been perpetrated, and I hope for a day when our connections as Christians will facilitate common ministries of justice and mercy.