Explaining the Catholic Church in 1500 words

The woman in the foreground dressed in papal garb is not Pope Joan but the Church Triumphant, robed in the splendour of doctrinal clarity.By Pasquale Cati [CC-BY-2.0 or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

AKA Margot’s Mini Chatachism. Sort of.  I had an interesting experience in a private FB page, and the gent in question seemed to think that no body explains the things I’m about to talk about.  Frankly, I find it all over the web– but I did say I was going to respond to his questions.   So, I cover what he asked, but I won’t post what he wrote.

The Catholic Church has been accused of a number of things, From “glorifying cannibalism” to worshiping Mary and the saints.  Oh yes, and talking to the dead, AKA necromancy.  Let’s not forget about the Pope, either.

Well, let’s see if it’s possible to describe a good chunk of Catholicism in 1500 words.  No, the explanation of what this article is about doesn’t count.

Let’s address the last one first. I could do that in a Facebook post.  First of all, people called saints are people who Catholics believe are in Heaven– Right Now. People who are in Heaven are not sleeping, nor are they dead. People extant with God Right Now are more alive than we are.  So asking a saint to pray with you and for you is little different than asking someone else you know to pray for you. We don’t pray TO the saints, we ask them to pray WITH us. Prayer is a fancy word for “asking”. I wonder how that is, pray tell? Yes, this is in The Bible.  The Church Fathers also talk about it quite a bit.

In Latin (the official language of the Church) the word is the same for asking and prayer. In fact, Catholics are NOT supposed to worship saints— or even Mary. No one is a worthy object of worship other than God. Veneration is not worship– not unless you think that people in England worship the royal family, or a fan worships his or her favorite movie star.  Sure, excesses of this nature do happen with some people, because we are human, just like humans everywhere. Mary worship is not what the Church teaches.

About the statues.  IN short, having lots of art and statues is not the same as worshiping those statues– or idols.  Idols are more than just statues.  Plaster saints are just that– representations of people we admire, so we can look at them and meditate on Who sent them.  Isn’t that awesome for Western Civilization? The world is so much prettier that way.  Even the Jews had “graven images”– God told them to make some to decorate the Temple. He asked them to use the best woods and lots of gold on everything to make it fitting for His Presence. That’s the idea behind a gaudy gilt covered Catholic Church.

That church building isn’t ours, it doesn’t belong to the priests or the Bishop. It belongs to God, and it’s his free gift to His Body. It talks about in depth the decoration for God’s Ark and what have you.  We don’t worship the statues on our Churches any more than the Jews worshiped the graven decorations on the Ark of the Covenant.  In the book of Revelation some of the descriptions of Heaven are also taken as descriptions for things to incorporate in a church building.  Besides, if you make a big pretty building for an earthly king– or a rock star, should not the King of Kings get something even better?

For a different argument with better links and research, go here.  It would take me forever to get the research the references– and it’s out there in the web.   I’m barely adequate for this discussion, but God can use me any time.

There is also a human reason for those old beautiful churches to look the way they do. It’s because we believe that during mass we are joining our worship with angels in Heaven. This is relevant to your question about cannibalism, I promise.  The mass is our participation in the original sacrifice on Calvary.  We did not build that, Jesus did.

Because humans are flawed, we need help to remember that we are lifted out of everyday life and into the great mystery that God saved us. This is what images are for– to touch the heart, to soothe the soul, to convince us of the very real presence on that high Altar. They are for meditation, to focus our worship purely on the Glory of God.  We bow and genuflect to acknowledge the presence of Jesus in God’s house.

This is a faithful photographic reproduction of a two-dimensional, public domain work of art. Such reproductions are in the public domain in the United States. via Wikimedia Commons.

If you got the idea from my description that Catholics get to travel back in time, then are teleported into Heaven every Sunday— or even once a day–when they walk into church and experience the mass, you finally understand. YES.  That’s what it is. That’s why all the bowing and genuflecting. We believe in showing reverence with our whole being– even our bodies.  It is another way of saying Christ is Lord.  Real hardcore Catholics go every day– and be with Jesus on the Cross with God and his angels. When we say One Body in Christ– we mean it.

That’s why the old masses were so full of smells and bells and whatnot.  That’s REALLY Jesus up there, folks. There is only One sacrifice, He made that sacrifice, and we are unworthily invited to join Him– body, mind, soul and His Divinity– through the breaking and eating of the bread.  The flat boring churches are actually a protestant innovation based on some theological confusion laced with Catholic inside baseball.

I won’t bore you with the details.

You ask, why do it more than once if it only happened once?  Because we are flawed humans trapped in time.  God is infinite– we can’t wrap our heads around what that really means, so we should spend as much time with Him as humanly possible. Every Sunday? Well, that’s the Lord’s Day, and you worship him, and doing so at the foot of the Cross seems pretty appropriate. Why mass every day? Because the Lord’s prayer said “Give us this day our *daily* bread.”

By Fennec. (Own work.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Fennec. (Own work.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Speaking of the Lord’s Prayer, the word translated as “bread” is weird, and is most likely related to the Hebrew phrase “whats-it”, which was their term from the manna in the desert. And, Jesus was always multiplying loaves, feeding the masses with blessed bread.  We use pallid looking wafers for the substrate for transubstantiation, because it is what mana looked like. Also, Jesus instituted the Eucharist during Passover, when only unleavened bread was used, so it’s going to look like matzo no matter what.

So the Eucharist is the Lamb of God, which is to say, the blood of the Lamb that saved the Jews from The Angel of Death during Passover. He is also the Manna in the desert. Recall for a moment that both of those things are eaten. They were also about concrete signs that fed God’s people in both body and soul.  So… when God sends his Son, wouldn’t he do more even than that?  This is what we believe He means when He says that he doesn’t come to repeal the Law, but to fulfill it.  Would he give us just some mnemonic to remember him by? Or would he come to us in Person, that we may commune with Him– every single day?  Since He is God and I am not (being a branch rather than the trunk) is it really cannibalism?  Look at John 6.

And he says this over and over again in the last days before his Crucifixion.  Hordes of people left him. You want to know why people left? You want to know why Judas betrayed Our Lord? Because of the implications of the blasphemy of cannibalism!  That is the tough teaching that Peter is complaining about!  So I say to you, “Where shall I go? He has the message of Eternal Life!”

I’ve been around the block a few times. I know that sooner or later, shoddy theology really gets you in trouble. That’s why people took heresy so seriously in the old days. You get this stuff wrong, and you really can justify some appalling and wretched acts– like killing babies and the drinking poison as a holiness test.  Or, you may find yourself without a leg to stand on when confronting a cynical child– even your own.

So let’s talk about Cannibalism, shall we?  Where is that in the bible?  Read any of the Gospels. Let’s take a “random sample”, like Matthew 26th chapter, verse 26. “…Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them saying, ‘Take, eat, this is my body.”  Do we really have to argue over what God meant when using the word “is”?

As for the rest, just relax and watch Father Barron in the last link. He’s the expert.

So I see some people might complain that I have links going everywhere. You are right, I can’t explain the Catholic Church in 1500 words. It’s not possible. Even this post will go over, I’m pretty sure. And yes, I rely on expertise other than my own, with people I know are orthodox and follow the teachings of the Magisterium. You know why? Because God is too big and too important for me to figure out absolutely everything about him and find all those truths myself.   But the choices I made– freely –did not get me off the hook from thinking, or from trying to understand Him as well as I can.  Believe me, there’s plenty of deciding, thinking and figuring out to be done– every single day.

Fra Angelico [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

So if God wants to talk to everyone, how could it be so complicated? Wouldn’t he make a simple creed in a simple form that every person could understand?  He did.  The trouble is, like a stone dropping in a pond, it causes ripples to go everywhere. Ripples in a pond collide with each other and reflect in the environment making for a dizzying pattern.  The world is complex, and the implications of God’s Word are many.  Jesus instituted the Church to explain it to the smallest child so she can understand and know that God loves her– and that no matter how bad life or the world gets, she is never alone.

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4 thoughts on “Explaining the Catholic Church in 1500 words

    1. Yes. From all fronts. Between the Canons Regular on liturgical music, to the efforts of many staff at Thomas Moore College NH, momentum is building.

      in though I will admit, Mother church has had her share of iconoclasm in her breast. Usually in response to excesses– but not to the point where you need a degree in anthro to figure out what it is that people do in this building.

      Back when it was acknowledged that a majority did not read, people were more amenable to using pictures to evangelize. I find Jack Chick tracts to be a profound exercise in irony.

  1. “If you got the idea from my description that Catholics get to travel back in time, then are teleported into Heaven every Sunday– or even once a day–when they walk into church and experience the mass, you finally understand. YES.” This line and the part about “cannabilism” alone made this worth linking to. Thank you for your post.

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