Eucharist is source and summit of Catholic faithSource
Following Adam Graham's audioblog podcast on Catholic/Protestant ecumenism, I thought it would be good to begin an occasional series here at the World on some of the key differences which divide Catholics from Protestants. This won't be a continuous series, just one of those "we'll discuss it as we have time" sort of things, and as I have the time and energy, I'll have installments on a number of theological, moral, and disciplinary issues which divide the two sides. Catholics should know that the series will be aimed primarily at educating Evangelicals and other interested parties as to the fundamentals of Catholic doctrine. Many of you already know much of what I am writing here, and like me, you accept it as true. Many more of you have had very poor catechesis and will actually be learning some of this for the first time. Its okay to ask questions, I will do my best to answer them, and if I cannot, I will refer you to someone who can.
To Evangelicals, other Protestants, unbelievers, and seekers of the truth, this series will (I hope) help better explain to you why Catholics believe what we do, and why Catholics seem so peculiar to you. It may also help to have a solid grasp of history, because when we talk about these things here, history will invariably come into the discussion. I am going to do my best to deal with our differences respectfully and with charity.
Adam hit the nail on the head when he said that the Eucharist was probably the most serious issue that divides Catholics and Evangelicals. Evangelicals don't even think about the Eucharist, I believe Adam used the words "not on our radar screen." Adam does have somewhat of an understanding of the Catholic teaching on the Eucharist, however, so let me direct the attention of our readers to John 6:31-70. I won't post the whole passage here, I'll leave that to readers to go to their Bibles, but I will say that Evangelicals believe that in this passage, Our Lord was speaking only symbolically, in fact, in the latest Nelson Study Bible, the Evangelical (mostly Baptist) scholars who wrote the footnotes went to great pains to emphasize that Christ was speaking symbolically. However, Christ made no reference to speaking symbolically in this passage at all, and in his ministry he was always careful to distinguish between an analogy or symbolism and what was real. When he said, in this passage, "the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world," and "except you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you," he meant business. Many of his Jewish hearers understood that he meant business, which is why that the passage tells us that after he said these things, many of his followers "walked no more with him." Like the Protestant reformers of a later era, the notion that Jesus asked these people to eat of his flesh and drink his blood was just too much for these now-former followers.
Where Evangelicals interpret this passage and the passages of the Last Supper and the institution of the Eucharist symbolically, Catholics interpret them literally. Hence, when an Evangelical/Protestant receives Communion, he or she believes that it is merely a symbol for Christ, an act of remembrance alone. Christ tells us it is an act of remembrance, alright, but says "this IS my body," not "this REPRESENTS my body." Catholics believe that Our Lord gave the Eucharist to the Church at the last supper, and that He Himself is really, truly, and substantially present in the Eucharist. Though the Eucharist, once consecrated, has the outward appearance of bread and wine, that is merely the form which the Lord has taken in order to make himself present to us in a holy and living sacrifice. Once the Eucharist is consecrated, it is no longer bread and wine, but it IS Our Lord...Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. That is why good Catholics rarely talk in church, not because they are unsociable or snobby, but because it is disrespectful and rude at the least to have a social hour when sitting in the very Presence of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, and obnoxious and blasphemous at most. At the least he his a King, and at most he is Divine.
This is probably the first and most major difference between Catholics and Evangelicals , and perhaps explaining it will (at least) help Evangelicals understand Catholics' churchtime habits, which I am sure seem peculiar to them.