Saturday, July 12, 2008

Going to Rome

After forays into Anglicanism over the past several years, in the past three weeks I've begun attending a Catholic church here in Ottawa with my Catholic girl friend (she's really not going to like that I said it that way). This is a great irony because it turns out that a considerable number of Anglicans are considering crossing the floor. They're experimenting because the Anglicans are too liberal. I'm experimenting because the Anglicans are too conservative - though Catholicism can't really do much about resolving that.

As you can see from the pictures here, it's a rather impressive structure and no doubt the interior decorating costs could have fed a small island country for a year. It's also the first church I've gone to that had a real genuine organ, which was impressive to me, though perhaps less so for others.

I don't know what to think of Catholicism. I could actually keep up with 90% of the liturgy - it being fairly similar to the Anglican liturgy I'm more familiar with. The sermons - homilies, I guess I should say - are also quite recognizable. (Conservative, evangelically inclined speakers are apparently the same pretty much everywhere; so are liberal ones, though the lines are drawn a little differently than they were in Anglicanism.) The ceremonial aspects were more elaborate, though this might partially be because I was in a much larger and more established church than I'm used to. There was also less singing, which turned out to be okay - this meant not having to flip awkwardly between multiple songbooks the way the Anglicans do.

I doubt I would ever convert to Catholicism, partly for the same reason that I would not actually call myself an Anglican - I have no real interest in submitting to the structure of any church. It turns out there are Catholic anarchists - the Catholic Workers, for example - but I have no reason to use a label that means nothing to me. If the Catholic Church begins ordaining women and blessing gay couples, maybe I'll give some marginal thought to reconsidering. In a way this is a shame because there are a considerable variety of Catholic charity organizations, at least in the east, which would be interesting to work within. The evangelicals of my own past weren't very good at doing charity without preaching.

The fact that I'm formally excluded from communion is also irritating. The fact that this irritates me also interests me, because it's not as if I was ever particularly attracted to the formality of it in any church. Apparently I was only care-free on the subject so long as I had freedom of choice. Even today, when there's a real conflict, the refusal of communion takes on considerable symbolic significance. For this reason, during the gay marriage debates back in B.C., there were some churches whose members would refuse to take communion when visiting certain other churches. (Some conservatives in Vancouver, for example, would refuse to take communion in a church that was willing to bless gay couples.) Communion politics are an intriguing holdover of the religious conflicts of the past five hundred years. The Catholic Church isn't the only one which technically, at any rate, restricts baptism to its own membership, though most Protestants now offer communion to anyone who is baptized (in theory), or to everybody who wants it (in practice).

The decision to restrict communion only to baptized or converted Catholics is of course the Catholics' own prerogative. Formally, the Catholics and certain Protestant groups, I think including the Church of England, have formally recognized one another as Christians, but the Catholic church argues that this is a partial, "imperfect" communion, and therefore - in spiritual terms - apparently we cannot share fellowship before God. I suppose it's a start - in one of my Baptist churches, the question of whether Catholics could even be considered Christians would have been a very divisive one, and most of the congregation would have settled on the negative. Of course, the pope's idea of returning to full communion with Rome appears to be acceptance of his own authority as chief spokesman of God, so I have to say that the Catholic pronouncement of the goal of reconciliation rings somewhat hollow.

Still, I find it rather ridiculous. If we accept that we worship the same God, according to the same Apostles' Creed (though I do have some problems with that one, and this gets more complicated if you toss in the Orthodox, whose creeds are older and unedited), and we're willing to eat together as people (which we are, for the most part), then it seems rather silly to say that we cannot eat together before God. Of course, then there's the whole transubstantiation thing, but the Catholic church doesn't really exclude people based on doctrine, but rather based on baptism.

Ah, well. Yet another church I feel obligated not to join.


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