For people of all religions, when faith is an important part of their life, they want to share it with those they love. Just as Catholics may invite non-Catholic friends to a Baptism, First Communion, or to Sunday Mass, it is common for Protestant friends or family to invite us to their services. But as Catholics, can we do that? And if we can, should we?
A listener named Nick recently e-mailed Patrick Madrid this very question. Nick’s father-in-law is a pastor at a non-denominational church and occasionally invites Nick’s family to join them at their services. Patrick responded to this question on The Patrick Madrid Show, saying:
The Mass is Unique
What makes the Mass unique? Let’s start there. What makes the Mass unique in the Catholic Church, and different than what you might find at Calvary Chapel, or Good Book Baptist, or a more denominational church like a Lutheran or Methodist Church? What makes it different is that at the Last Supper, Jesus said to His apostles, ‘Do this in memory of Me.’ And you know from reading those Gospel passages that Jesus took bread in His hands and said ‘This is My Body’ and then He took the chalice of wine and said, ‘This is My Blood.’
He said that on Holy Thursday evening. The following day, on Good Friday when He was crucified, He actually fulfilled in His person what He was describing there at the Last Supper. And the apostles who were there in the Upper Room, seeing His body language and all the unspoken subtleties of communication, they understood that He meant for them to not only perpetuate this that He was doing, but also the meaning of what He said went beyond the merely symbolic.
In other words, they recognized that He didn’t just say, ‘This is a symbol of My Body’ or ‘This is like My Body’ or ‘This will remind you of My Body.’ But ‘This is My Body.’
The Church Fathers recognized that Jesus was speaking there literally, and in a way that transcended mere symbolism. So the Mass is actually this sacrifice of Jesus. … Christ is not re-sacrificed over and over again, it is not a repetition thing. It’s the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross that is being re-presented in time and space for us. … These gestures and the words that the priest says at Mass is actually the fulfillment of what Jesus said that evening when He said, ‘Do this in memory of Me.’ The ‘this’ that He said to do is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
So at the Mass, in addition to the Bible readings (that you can get at a Protestant church), and in addition to the preaching (which you’ll get at a Protestant church), and in addition to the music and the hymns and the singing and all of the other thing, which you can find in those other churches – the one thing you won’t find in those other churches is the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, which is made present to us on the altar.
Because the priest, having Holy Orders, has the ability (not because of his own merits, but because of the power of Jesus working in the Sacrament of Holy Orders) to confect. That technical term means change or transform, and the word confect refers to how the priest is able, through the power of Christ, to change the bread and the wine on the altar into the very Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus.
That’s what makes the Mass so different. That’s what makes it unique. That’s what makes it the Mass.
Accept No Substitutes
The second thing is that you can’t substitute something else – however pleasant it may be, however wonderful the people there may be – you can’t substitute that in lieu of going to Mass on Sunday. You would not fulfill your Sunday obligation, and you would not be teaching your children to fulfill their Sunday obligation.
What is the Sunday obligation? Simply put, Catholics have rights and duties, privileges, and obligations with regard to the Church. One of our obligations is that we are obliged to go to Mass on Sunday. Now, if you’re not able to because of illness or travel or there’s something else going on, the Lord understands. But if you’re able to get to Mass on Sunday and there’s no compelling reason why you can’t go to Mass, then you’re obliged to go to Mass on Sunday.
And don’t be fooled if somebody says it’s really not that big of a deal and you don’t have to go to Mass on Sunday. That’s not what the Church teaches.
But … A Protestant Service Could Be Good For Your Family
My advice would be, for the sake of your family’s bonds of love, and showing respect to your in-laws, I think it would be OK for you to go 2 or 3 times a year as you describe. And to be there, not so much to participate in the service, but by your presence to show your love for these good Christian people, who are not Catholic but do love Jesus. It’s a way that you can demonstrate good will and affection for them.
The Church does not forbid you to do this, but I would say don’t become a participant in the service. In other words, don’t be a reader or take up the collection or something like that. You can be present at it for the purposes I’m describing here, and I think that in itself would be a fine thing.
But also talk to your kids. You can make it a teaching moment for your children. Maybe in the car on the way home you can ask them, ‘What did you see as the differences between what we do at Mass and what they did here at this church?’ And let the kids talk about it. And then you can say, ‘Now, notice that the one thing they don’t have, because they don’t believe that it’s true, is they don’t have the Holy Eucharist.’
So you could kill two birds with one stone. The one bird would be that you’re doing something nice as a gesture for your family, and the other one is that you can use this to help your children understand more deeply, more clearly some of the distinctions that have arisen as a result of this sad separation between Christians.
Pray That We May All Be One
That’s a whole other area to talk about with your kids. Jesus desires unity. In his high priestly prayer in John 17 He talks about unity. He says, ‘Father may they all be one as We are one.’ And He prays for the unity of the apostles and for the rest of us. Sadly, through our own sinfulness and our own weaknesses, we have brought about this division.
Now, you’re not responsible for the Protestant Reformation, nor am I. We’re the recipients of the problems that arose long before we got here. But we can be agents of change and we can do what we can to try to help bring about that kind of unity – based on truth, not on compromise.
We have to have unity based on truth, always. But that unity can be achieved, and maybe in your own, kind way, by showing this gesture you can erase some of the anti-Catholicism that might be there. People who don’t really know Catholics or know what the Catholic Church teaches can see the love of Jesus in you, and your wife, and your kids, and you can be a kind of ambassador of the Catholic Church to them.