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Recovering Cafeteria Catholic

Last weekend when I was back home, I learned my family has become Lutheran for the winter - partially because of the new mass times, but also due to a dislike for a new priest. Raised with a (strict) Catholic upbringing, this declaration was nothing short of shocking to hear. Of course, it was less shocking than if I were a devout, mass-going Catholic, versus a recovering "cafeteria Catholic."

Let me explain. It's not that I regret having grown up Catholic - I think spiritualism is extremely important - but let's just say over the years I've come to despise the Church's strict, rigid rules more and more.

Take for instance the case of first communion for Haley Waldman in 2004: diagnosed with celiac disease when she was young, she had to consume a gluten-free wafer at her first communion, which the Church declared as 'unofficial' because the Eucharist contained no wheat. Okay, Catholic church - just because Christ might've had bread with wheat in it at the Last Supper, tell me WHY, if this bread (and wine) gets changed into His body (and the wine into His blood) does it matter AT ALL what the damn stuff is made of? I'm not making it up:
The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: “Transubstantiation means the change of the whole substance of bread into the substance of the body of Christ and of the whole substance of wine into the substance of his blood."
So that one made me mad. Then there's the issue with the wine - which cannot be non-alcoholic in order to "count" during communion. What about medical issues? Alcoholism? While it's a purely pagan tradition - eating the flesh and blood of a sacrifice - receiving Holy Communion is a very vital part of Catholic parishioners, one in which, if it's denied them, makes a big difference in their faith.

Oh, and don't forget all those Catholic priests who decided - since they're not allowed to get married and thus fulfill normal, healthy sexual urges - that it's okay to molest altar boys. Ish, Catholic church, ISH. FAIL.

Okay, I'm slightly digressing. Anyway, so I don't attend mass regularly anymore (in fact, it's mainly when I'm back home and Christmas Eve) but I grew up with The Guilt so I do feel bad for not attending masses on Sunday. That being said, I'm much more spiritual now than I've ever been.

So I was excited to head to my first Lutheran service since I was in junior high (I slept over at a friend's house and we went to her service a couple times; I was so naive I headed up for communion not knowing I was committing a SIN in the eyes of the Catholic church) and I remember liking it.

Last Sunday was more of an eye-opening experience than I expected. We arrived ~10 minutes before the service started, only to find there was extremely limited seating left. our Catholic church, people pretty much don't come until 10 minutes before, and many of them slink up the aisle after the priest, staying low and trying to remain low profile.

As we sat at the very back of the church, perusing the hymnal, my mother and I noticed an odd thing...these parishioners - they were talking and laughing. OUT LOUD. And it was okay. Other church-goers weren't "shushing" them, no one was giving passive-aggressive, dirty looks; it was perfectly acceptable to kick back and chat with your fellow Christians.

When the priest - sorry, pastor - stepped to the front, the talk died down immediately and he started speaking. He said 'good morning,' told a couple jokes, and started into the service - which was very heartfelt. The singing was exceptional, the readings were quick and related, and the sermon was not only well-organized, it had a message. I actually had a take-away. I was hooked.

Feeling much more comfortable with "being Lutheran," my anxiety rose slightly when it came time for communion. Ever the gracious host (no pun intended), the pastor told the congregation "everyone was welcome" to come and receive Holy Communion - even visitors. Wow. No judgment, no restrictions, just "come and receive the Holy Spirit." Thanks, I will.

As Mom and I walked slowly down towards the front of the church to receive our host and wine, I could almost feel the scarlet "C" burning on my forehead. Acting like I'd 'been there, done that,' I took my host from the Eucharistic minister (which she handed me delicately, only having touched a small portion of it), and - per custom at this church - dipped it into the wine, ate it and continued back to my seat, none the worse for having accepted this mighty gift while in a sacrilegious ceremony.

Sacrilegious because, according to the Catholic church, the bread and wine are actually transformed (transubstantiated) into the body and blood of Christ. For Lutherans, they believe these are symbols, not actual flesh and blood. PS: if you're Catholic and do NOT believe you're eating true flesh and drinking real blood, then you're a sinner. Can you say human sacrifice and cannibalism?

So, while I'm not a devout church-goer, I do think I'm going to like this new winter church schedule...the parents seem to like it, too. Which begs the question: will we continue on with Lutheranism come springtime, when the Catholic mass schedule changes again? I have to say my sentiment - I sure hope so.


Sue Coller said...

Great post, Sarah! One of the things about many of the "Reformed" churches (those that were formed in the 1600's) is that they have a much different view of communion than the Catholic church, and are generally, welcoming to all (there are a few exeptions, like Missouri Synod Lutheran) I hope your parents find that the Lutheran church meets their spiritual needs.

Anonymous said...

In order to be married in the Catholic church I had to sign papers promising to raise my children Catholic. I couldn't bring myself to join because of my belief in birth control. I spent the next 20 years sitting (crying) through communion and saying "Lord I am not worthy." My counselor told me it was spiritual abuse and I should concentrate on "but only say the word and I shall be healed." I am healed and recovering!