Why Protestantism Lacks Beauty

IMG_9902In the age of mega churches and strip mall worship centers, many Protestants and especially evangelicals are asking themselves if perhaps they have lost their way somewhere along the road between Rome and the outer reaches of the empire. Many who spent the majority of their youth in the carpeted atriums, white-walled classrooms, and bland worship auditoriums of their parents wonder if such “churches” are a one generation phenomenon. Many feel an emptiness; a void; a certain privation of beauty and the divine sense. When the instigators of the 16th century “reformation” were tearing out altars of churches and white-washing walls they probably never would have imagined that their descendants would be sitting in “churches” complete with reclining chairs and a coffee bar just a short walk outside the auditorium. Some will protest that I am critiquing an already emasculated Protestantism, and that popular Evangelicalism is not a faithful heir to the reformation. Perhaps this is true, but let us not pretend that the more “historical” branches of Protestantism are better off. One is hard pressed to find a Protestant Church that comes even close to the cathedrals of Europe, the basilicas of Rome, or Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona for a more modern example. The stain glass, statues, altars, candles, lanterns, gold vessels, incense, the vestments, and ornate representations of the heavenly hosts carved in marble and stone have all but been forgotten or eradicated.

IMG_9777If the critique stopped here I might be accused of having a certain ascetical, historical, and architectural hypersensitivity or snobbery. Often Protestant converts to Catholicism are dismissed as being allured and stupefied by the ascetical and historical ambiance of Catholicism. In other words they are willing to compromise a bit of intellectual integrity for some nice bells and whistles. It is almost impossible to not be allured at some level by the beauty and sheer transcendence of St. Peter’s Basilica, or a solemn High Mass, or the echoes of Gregorian chant in the confines of a monastery, but at the end of the day are we to dismiss this all as incidental and insignificant? Certainly a single soul is of greater worth than all the basilicas and cathedrals of Christendom, and it is by faith that the soul is united to the saving benefits of Christ’s passion; but we must not forget that every soul has a body, and the divine is made manifest in flesh. More to the point: Protestantism lacks beauty because it lacks the divine truth of four words:

“HOC EST CORPUS MEUM”

“THIS IS MY BODY”

No reinterpretation or re-translation of thIMG_9899ese words of our Blessed Lord can sidestep their truth and the central importance they held for the apostles and the early church. “Do this in remembrance of me:” In pronouncing these words Christ instituted in the same moment the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the Holy Priesthood. Ever since there has been in every place a perfect and holy sacrifice offered to God as prophesied by Micah. In every Holy Mass the priest acting in the person of Christ offers the true and substantial body and blood of Christ upon the altar, in which the Holy Sacrifice of Calvary is re-presented and the saving benefits of Christ’s passion dispensed upon the Church and by extension, the entire world. In the consecrated bread and wine, the Holy Eucharist, Christ is truly and substantially present; body, blood, soul, and divinity.

By negating this doctrine, Protestantism has relegated itself to an impoverished existence, a kind of spiritual pragmatism and fragmentation. If “it” is just bread and wine and the real spiritual substance in communion is attained through faith, then who needs truly dignified and transcendent liturgical space? To pray beside one’s bed becomes an act equal to praying in the pew. Why bother with ornamentation and beauty when all you really need is a space to accommodate preaching, singing, and Sunday school? A 40 ton, marble high altar or a 3-story baldacchino has little to do with utilitarianism and everything to do with expressing the sublime and heavenly mysteries of the faith. The Catholic etho has always seen an integral unity between the true and the beautiful; the human and the divine. To defrock the Mass and deny the Eucharist is to disfigure and fragment the faith, and the results are not pretty.

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When Boundaries Are Transgressed

IMG_8970Ruins, Pompeii, Italy

“Do not move the ancient landmark that your fathers have set.” 1

Rejecting Novelty

Ruin consequentially follows when the boundaries fixed by our forefathers in the faith are trampled down and burst asunder. Every Christian ought to have the conviction that what their faith is not a product of their own ideas, or those of a select group of “enlightened” individuals from a certain period of time, but part of an unbroken chain of witness to the very faith given by Christ to the Apostles, and by the Apostles to the Church. One ought not to depart from what was universally believed and authoritatively taught by the church from ancient times, else each generation must rethink Christianity anew.

“Through Him the Church is enriched; abounding grace is multiplied among the saints, furnishing understanding, revealing mysteries, proclaiming times and seasons, and rejoicing over the faithful believers – the grace which is granted to every seeker who does not violate his vows of faith, or transgress the bounds fixed by the Fathers.” 2

Where else does heresy originate except in a definite time and place as a mutation of the apostolic faith handed on in the Church? This is why the supposed “reformers” of Protestantism ought not to be trusted, nor any of their offspring, since they offer novel interpretations of Scripture that directly contradict the faith of the entire church that precedes them. They preach a “gospel” that denies the necessity of the sacraments for salvation, especially baptism and the Eucharist in direct contradiction to the very words of Holy Scripture and the unanimous consent of the church fathers.

“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.’” 3

“Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.’” 4

As early as the year 110 A.D. we find St. Ignatius of Antioch, a disciple of St. John and bishop of the church in Antioch declaring that those who do not believe that the Eucharist is the very same body of Christ that suffered upon the cross have a “perverted notion” of grace and “reject God’s good gifts.” 5 He does not minced words for those who reject the sacraments of the Church in favor of a novel teachings:

“But make no mistake, my brothers; the adherents of a schismatic can never inherit the kingdom of God. Those who wander in outlandish by-ways of doctrine must forfeit all part in the Lord’s Passion. Make certain, therefore, that you all observe one common Eucharist; for there is but one Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, and but one cup of union with His Blood, and one single altar of sacrifice…” 6

There is only one true Church, one Eucharist, one body of Christ, on altar of sacrifice, and one true gospel taught by the apostles and their successors, the bishops of the Holy Catholic Church. St. Vincent of Lerins expresses this sentiment of the Church in commenting on the anathema of St. Paul in Galatians 1:

“[I]t is unlawful for all to receive any other Gospel than that which the Catholic Church preaches everywhere.” 7

Similarly St. Augustine declared,

“I should not believe the gospel except as moved by the authority of the Catholic Church.” 8

Catholicity or Caprice?

Catholicism claims to be nothing less then the religion of Christ in the world. The Catholicity of the Church is crucial because it means that the true faith is universal — for all people of all times. This certitude is only applicable if the Catholic Church is a visible institution established by Christ and granted a charism of infallibility to teach in his name until His return. If Christ’s authority is not visibly and historically embodied in the Church then one can simply claim that any given “church” has misinterpreted the Scriptures or gravely misunderstood the teaching of Christ according to their own caprices. It is all too convenient to pick and choose from the faith of so many holy martyrs, priests, bishops, popes, councils, doctors, and saints in order to form a custom-catered Christianity. Such is the religion of the devil and has nothing to do with the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church founded by our Lord Jesus Christ. Faith requires that we assent to the authority Christ gave to his apostles and their successors and not our own whims and imaginations. The faith is made for transmission, not tampering; it is to be faithfully handed on whole and intact; not rethought in every generation. As St. Vincent of Lerins explained,

“[T]rue piety admits no other rule than that whatsoever things have been faithfully received from our fathers…it is our duty, not to lead religion whither we would, but rather to follow religion whither it leads; and that it is the part of Christian modesty and gravity not to hand down our own beliefs or observances to those who come after us, but to preserve and keep what we have received from those who went before us.” 9

An Integral Unity

It only takes one drop of poison to pollute a whole glass of water, and such is the danger of heresy. In other words a faith that is 99% truth and 1% error is not the true faith and is dangerous to the soul. Now some might think this is extreme, but we have the word of Our Blessed Lord himself promising to send the Holy Spirit to lead the apostles into all truth, not just 85% or 99% of the truth. 10 He himself gave to them the authority to bind and loose, that is, to render authoritative and binding decisions concerning “all that I have commanded you.” 11 To Peter as the first among the apostles he gave the keys of the kingdom of heaven and the charge to strengthen the brethren and tend his flock. Christ promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against His Church founded upon the rock of St. Peter.

IMG_8919Statues of Christ and the Apostles, St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican

The Catholic Church unflinchingly adheres to her teaching and traditions out of fidelity to the commission given to her by the Lord Jesus Christ. The problem with a “church” whose teachings are only 99% true is not only that this makes a mockery of our Lord’s promises but also that it opens the door to the dissolution of truth. The Catholic Church understands that the faith is an integral and indissoluble unity. Even one false teaching is a crack that shatters the entire glass:

“…If any one part of Catholic truth be given up, another, and another, and another will thenceforward be given up as a matter of course, and the several individual portions having been rejected, what will follow in the end but the rejection of the whole?” 12

The rejection of Catholic truth necessarily leads to a downward spiral of error, disunity, and confusion. Those who remain outside the true church of Christ may maintain some degree of truth but only because it was first taught by the Catholic Church. In this sense all truth is Catholic truth. Protestantism offers no truth original to itself; only heresy. The Catholic Church is the fountain of all truth and bosom of all heavenly blessings. Outside of her there is positively no salvation. The Church would cease to be who she is if she taught as infallible dogma but one single error. She would cease to be the spotless bride of Christ and would succumb to the wiles of the devil. The gates of hell shall not prevail against her.

Submission of Judgment

This leads to the crucial question: if one does not submit their judgment to the Church then to whom do they submit? To claim that one submits to the Word of God alone is a fallacy since we know that every appeal to the Scriptures is mediated through human authority, just as even God’s revelation in Christ was mediated through his humanity. The Catholic submits their judgment to the Church as the divinely appointed teaching authority while the Protestant ultimately submits to the teaching authority of self as aided by subordinate guides (history, pastors, theologians, etc.). Just consider the uncomfortable conclusion that Protestants believe that the individual guided by the Holy Spirit is the highest form of human authority, even after other authorities are referenced and consulted. Ultimately the Protestant believes X because they are personally convinced that X is true. If personal convictions and those of a particular denomination or pastor conflict, the individual’s judgment trumps. The Catholic believes X is true not primarily because they are personally convinced of X, but because the Church teaches that X is true.

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That Uncomfortable Conclusion

This all leads to that uncomfortable conclusion that the Church possesses a divinely ordained and binding authority over the individual Christian in matters of faith and morals. This does not mean that one “checks” their critical thinking at the door or that the Scriptures are “subordinated” to the Church. What this means is that Christ intended the true interpretation of the Scriptures and the fullness of the Christian faith is found only in union with the Church He founded. But — some will ask — what if along the way the teaching of the Church deviates from the Scriptures? That will be the day you can proclaim yourself Pope and establish your own pseudo-church, if you haven’t done so already. Until then we would do well to heed the warning of St. Athanasius:

“[L]et us look at the very tradition, teaching, and faith of the Catholic Church from the beginning, which the Lord gave, the Apostles preached, and the Fathers kept. Upon this the Church is founded, and he who should fall away from it would not be a Christian and should no longer be so called.” 13

Deo gratias!

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Notes:

  1. Proverbs 22:28.
  2. The Epistle to Diognetus, 11.
  3. John 6:53.
  4. John 3:5.
  5. St. Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Smyrnaeans, 6-7
  6. St. Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Philadelphians, 3-4.
  7. St. Vincent of Lerins, Commonitory, 9:24. (434 A.D.)
  8. St. Augustine, Against the Fundamental Epistle of Manichaeus, 5:6
  9. St. Vincent of Lerins, Commonitory, 6:16.
  10. John 14:26; 16:13.
  11. Matthew 16:19; 18:18
  12. St. Vincent of Lerins, Commonitory23:58.
  13. St. Athanasius, First Letter to Serapion, 28.

Finding Jesus In Mary

The Virgin With Angels_William Adolphe Bouguereau, 1900

“The Virgin With Angels,” William Adolphe Bouguereau, 1900

Evangelical Enthusiasm and Eccentricities

Evangelicals are enthusiastic about many things: Jesus, evangelism, the Bible, worship bands, small groups, young adult conferences, and of course a good potluck after church. I suppose I should know since I spent a good twenty-one years of my life from infancy through college thoroughly immersed in my Christian faith and the broader American evangelical ethos. At fourteen I experienced a deep inner conversion to Christ resulting in my baptism and public profession of faith. My desire to know and follow Christ led me to memorize Bible verses, read through the Bible annually, teach Sunday school, lead college small groups, attend discipleship groups, initiate campus outreach, participate in “street evangelism,” share my testimony on retreats, attend national youth conferences, read theological works, and pray often for myself and the world. My only desire was to love and adore Christ as I knew him through the Scriptures. My world revolved around all things evangelical and therefore all things Christian and all things Christ—or so I thought.

Something of the mystery of the incarnation slowly started to unsettle my evangelical mind during my college years. Not that I ever found the incarnation puzzling or troublesome per se as an evangelical, but the Catholic understanding of the incarnation left me unsettled. I had no problem believing that the eternal God took on human flesh in Christ Jesus and was born of Mary–provided we say no more of Mary! She played her role two thousand years ago and is now worshiping Jesus in heaven, so why all this praying to Mary business? Why the Immaculate Conception, the Perpetual Virginity, and the assumption into heaven? Why the various pompous titles such as Queen of Heaven, Mother of God, Virgin of Virgins, Mother of the Church, Our Lady of Victory, et cetera? Why all the feast days, rosaries, icons, statues, devotions, confraternities, and churches dedicated in her honor? Does not this all amount to so much superfluous praise and unnecessary devotion if not idolatry plain and simple? Why is devotion to Mary necessary when we can just pray directly to the Lord Jesus? Does not devotion to Mary tend to impede true devotion to our Lord?

The Marian Dilemma 

So many questions arose in my mind yet I could not ignore Mary any longer; I had done plenty of that for the previous twenty one years of my life. My evangelical exposure to Mary was safely limited to the Christmas service, a few Christmas hymns, and the occasional excursion through the beginning of Luke’s gospel. Any mention of Mary in a sermon read more like the warning label on a bottle of medicine than a serious theological reflection: “warning: may cause serious side effects including idolatry, irrationality, heresy, and Catholicism. If symptoms worsen during treatment, seek biblical help.” Of course a lot of this was born more out of ignorance and fear rather than antagonism or hatred. But why the theological blackout on Mary among evangelicals; why the allergic reaction? Is she really that threatening and dangerous? I cannot say I found anything particularly threatening about Mary; in fact something about her was quite intriguing and mysterious, but it was just slightly awkward trying to relate. I mean, what do I say? Does she hear our prayers? It all seemed rather silly, childish, and foreign at first, so I decided I would start by talking to Jesus about Mary since I figured he could probably help me relate to his mother!

At this point I had finished college and had enrolled in RCIA at my local Catholic parish. My journey to the Catholic Church from evangelical Protestantism came via the road of authority. Only once I became convinced that the Protestant paradigm of authority, aka sola Scriptura, was theologically, biblically, philosophically, historically, and practically untenable did I start taking the claims of the Catholic Church seriously. As an aspiring Catholic I tentatively acknowledged the infallible teaching authority of the Church on matters of faith and dogma, including the Marian dogmas, yet my approach to Mary remained quite Protestant even as I pursued full communion with the Catholic Church. Unknowingly I had embraced Catholic theology while still following the basic contours of Protestant spirituality. Although I asked for Mary’s intercession in the prayers of the mass and occasionally prayed a Hail Mary or even a rosary, I did not see Mary as an essential, even necessary path to Christ. Certainly I believed in the validity of praying to Mary and the power of her intercession, but I viewed this devotion as merely supplementary and not as a vital and necessary component to my devotion to Christ.

Crucifixion by Gabriel Wuger                   “Crucifixion”, Gabriel Wuger

Mother of the Church

However I began to understand that there is something disingenuous about a love for Christ that does not extend to his very mother. Without devotion to Mary our faith is stunted and our love incomplete for to love Jesus but act indifferently towards his mother is to disregard the very Sacred Heart of Christ. It is the Catholic conviction that there is a depth and perfection of love for Christ that can only be acquired through the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Can we imagine that in heaven Christ is embarrassed and ashamed of how often and devoutly people speak to his mother? Christ is not a jealous demiurge that spurns association with lowly men but rather he is our very brother through the humanity he received from Mary. Simply put, if Christ is our brother then Mary is our mother. God formed the body of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit in the virginal womb of Mary and likewise he produces Christ in all the members of his mystical body on earth through Mary. As St. Louis De Montfort eloquently explains,

“If Jesus Christ, the Head of men, is born in her, then the predestinate, who are the members of that Head, ought also to be born in her, by a necessary consequence. One and the same mother does not bring forth into the world the head without the members, or the members without the head; for this would be a monster of nature. So in like manner, in the order of grace, the head and the members are born of one and the same Mother.” 1

Within this theological framework one can see how passages of Scripture like Mary and John beneath the cross in John 19 and the vision of the woman and the dragon in Revelation 12 carry deep spiritual meanings concerning the relation of Mary to the work of Christ’s redemption. What Jesus declared unto John and Mary his mother in the eve of his passion represent an exemplar for all the Church. Christ did not merely commit his mother to John for her safety and well-being and John to his mother for her maternal care. We cannot merely interpret these words in a situational and temporal manner. After all Jesus did not say “John take Mary as your mother” and “mother, take John as your son;” rather he declared “woman, behold your son” and “behold your mother.”  These words hearken back to the original woman Eve whose disobedience brought death to all mankind and who became the mother of all the living by means of physical generation. At the foot of the cross Mary becomes the Second Eve through faith and the mother of Christ’s mystical body through spiritual generation. Like John, we are committed by Christ to Mary at the foot of the cross. Concerning John and Mary, Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen comments that,

“…in him all humanity was commended to Mary, who became the mother of men, not by metaphor, or figure of speech, but by pangs of birth. Nor was it a mere sentimental solicitude that made Our Lord give John to His mother, form a human point of view. The import of the words were spiritual and became fulfilled on the day of Pentecost when Christ’s Mystical Body became visible and operative. Mary as the mother of the redeemed and regenerated humanity was in the midst of the Apostles.” 2

"Pentacost" by Jean Restout II, 1732“Pentacost” by Jean Restout II, 1732

Reconsidering Mary

When we read in the twelfth chapter of the Revelation of John of a woman “clothed in the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” We discover that this woman gives birth to a child “destined to rule all the nations with an iron rod” and she is identified as the mother of “those who keep God’s commandments and bear witness to Jesus.” Coincidence? I think not! If anything can be learned about Mary from the Scriptures it is that Mary is anything but an ordinary Christian with no significant role in the redemptive work of Christ beyond the virgin birth! It is true that the woman also signifies the people of God but these two interpretations are not mutually exclusive. As the Anglican convert Blessed John Henry Newman explains,

“Now I do not deny of course, that, under the image of the Women, the Church is signified; but what I would maintain is this, that the Holy Apostle would not have spoken of the Church under this particular image, unless there had existed a Blessed Virgin Mary, who was exalted on high, and the object of veneration to all the faithful.” 3

As a “Bible-believing” Evangelical it was too easy to miss or gloss over these significant spiritual truths since I viewed the Scriptures through non-apostolic interpretive traditions. In other words I approached the Scriptures with a set of assumptions and beliefs that were foreign to the faith handed on from the apostles to the Church. For example I assumed that any practice or doctrine not explicitly taught in the Scriptures such as prayer to the saints or devotion to Mary was “unbiblical” and therefore non-apostolic. I certainly did not believe in the communion of saints since I assumed that the saints in heaven have no direct role in aiding and interceding for the body of Christ on earth. You would think the cries of the martyrs under the altar and the intercessory role of the angels in the book of Revelation would have cleared this up! 4 The difficulty lies in that Scripture is never alone and is always interpreted through the lens of a preexisting faith. The real question becomes whether or not that faith is apostolic and in continuity with the teachings of antiquity. Once I saw that my evangelical interpretive tradition was incongruent with the faith of the early church I had to seriously reconsider Mary in light of the teaching of the early church fathers. Talk about a radical paradigm shift!

Later as a young Catholic neophyte I still had a somewhat deficient understanding of the necessity of devotion to Mary and the depth of the Church’s teaching on her. I certainly believed in the importance of devotion to Mary, but I probably would not have said it is necessary for salvation, and yet this is just what our holy Church teaches us. Hence St. Louis De Montfort pointedly declares “He who has not Mary for his Mother has not God for his Father.” 5 As the Catechism teaches “She is mother wherever he is Savior and head of the Mystical Body.” 6 After all, Mary’s intercession and that of all the saints is superfluous if our prayers alone are a sufficient means of obtaining every grace necessary for salvation from God. Certainly Christ is the only mediator between God and man, but Mary’s intercession “in no way obscures or diminishes this unique mediation of Christ, but rather shows its power.” 7 God has freely chosen to associate man in his work of redemption, and nowhere is this seen more clearly than in Mary Immaculate 8 We cannot help but contemplate in awe her sublime faith and humility and spontaneously declare with St. Elizabeth, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!”

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Notes:

  1. St. Louis De Montfort, True Devotion to Mary, 32.
  2. Fulton Sheen, Life of Christ, 549.
  3. John Henry Newman, A Letter to the Rev. E.B. Pusey as quoted in Mary the Second Eve, comp. Sr. Eileen Breen, pg. 18.
  4. Cf. Revelations 6:9-10, 8:3-4.
  5. St. Louis De Montfort,True Devotion to Mary, 30.
  6. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 973.
  7. Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, 60.
  8. Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2008.

Helping Evangelicals and Catholics Speak the Same Language

[The following post is from Anthony, a fellow evangelical convert to Catholicism who shares a lot in common with my own background. He came into full communion with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil in 2012 after resigning from his studies at a major evangelical seminary. Anthony blogs on his journey to Catholicism and subsequent discoveries over at  Evangelicaltocatholic.com.]

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Many Catholics and Evangelicals speak different jargon that leads to plenty of confusion and frustration. I’ve listed an example below:

Evangelical: Do you think you’re going to heaven?  

Catholic: I hope so

Evangelical: (Woah. He must not be saved. If he were saved he would know.  I feel bad for him. I wish he understood the love of Jesus Christ and God’s grace.)

Catholic: How about you? 

Evangelical: YES!!!!

Catholic: (Wow. That is really arrogant. He’s not even dead yet and he knows he’s going to heaven? I think it’s sinful to be that arrogant. I am so confused.)

This demonstrates how two people who both love Jesus and both embrace grace can misunderstand each other. Roman Catholic theology does not accept “once saved always saved,” but it still affirms all entrance to heaven is by grace alone. Many evangelicals (David Platt/Paul Washer camp) will embrace the “saved” theology, but do not mean that once “saved” a person can do whatever they want.

The two sides are actually much closer than they appear. If we are to foster a spirit of ecumenism, we must make sure we’re speaking the same language when we agree. It’s not helpful for Catholics to imply all evangelicals believe “eternal security” means saying the Sinner’s Prayer and then forgetting about Jesus for the rest of their life, and it’s not helpful for evangelicals to imply “Papal Infallibility” means choosing decaff coffee if Francis says so.

What ways do you think Catholics and Evangelicals can speak a different language?

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Locked and Empty: Church Without Real Presence

St._George’s_Church_lockCall me audacious, but I’m convinced that few Protestants go to church simply to pray. They may go to church for a worship service, or attend a Bible study, or perhaps some social gathering, but rarely just to pray alone in silence before God. Perhaps this is partially due to the fact that a prayerful atmosphere is almost non-existent in Protestant churches. You cannot find silence unless they are empty, but then the uninspiring whitewashed walls, stackable chairs, and carpeted floors tend to impede the spirit of prayer!

Consider the dilemma of the Protestant traveler in a foreign city. If they want to go to a church to pray they ideally should find one that is compatible with their particular understanding of the Bible. Once they narrow the list of acceptable local churches they will have to deal with the fact that most Protestant churches are off limits to the general public outside of service times, if not actually then at least practically. Many are locked and empty for the majority of the week outside of Sunday worship and perhaps a Wednesday night Bible study or occasional social gathering. Our traveling friend might be fortunate enough to find a church that is staffed during the day only to have to deal with the futility of sitting in a dimly lit, empty auditorium or sanctuary staring at an empty wall. So why try when you can just pray to God in the comfort of your home or while on a walk in the park? Again, most Protestants rarely if ever go to Church simply to offer prayer to God.

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This phenomenon is so common and widespread among Protestants that few stop to think about it. I certainly did not until I became Catholic and found myself praying in church at odd times like 3 am on Saturday or 7 am on Monday before work. Yes, some Catholic Churches are open 24 hours for perpetual adoration and prayer! It seemed natural for many of the Catholics around me, but it was so foreign to my evangelical background.

The general inaccessibility and unsuitability of Protestant Churches for prayer flows primarily from the rejection of one single Catholic dogma: the real presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist. If Christ is not truly, really, and substantially present in the Holy Eucharist in the tabernacles of Catholic Churches than it makes no sense for Catholics to spend so much time praying in silence in the pews! If Christ is not present in the Holy Eucharist then it makes sense to lock up churches in broad daylight unless there is a meeting or service being held. Unfortunately Protestants have replaced the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist with the feel presence of Christ in the believer! There is no reason to pray in church if you believe Christ can be equally present in the basement of your house or at the country park. Again this is why you will rarely, if ever, find a Protestant silently kneeling in church with eyes closed in prayer.

One of the distinctive marks of Catholicism is the availability and accessibility of her churches for the faithful for prayer and the adoration of Christ in the Holy Eucharist. Catholic Churches are not to resemble the local rotary club, town hall or music venue; they are houses of prayer to the true God as Christ intended (Matthew 21:13). All are welcome to enter, but with silence and reverence for the real presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist. When one enters a Catholic Church they cross a threshold separating the sacred and the profane; the earthly and the heavenly realities. Heaven and earth meet wherever the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is offered. How refreshing and reassuring it is for the Catholic traveler in foreign lands to entry into the sanctuary and bend the knees in silence prayer and adoration of the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us.

The door is ever open for us.

Door of St. Emmeran at Regensburg

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