An altar call is a common practice in Evangelical churches, where the pastor summons all those who would like to give their lives to Jesus to come forward and be prayed over. This is a popular way of inviting new members into the church community, but it is not something you see at Catholic churches.
A listener recently called in to The Patrick Madrid Show to ask why Catholic churches don’t have altar calls or similar practices to welcome new members and visitors. Patrick responded:
“First of all, they didn’t do altar calls in the New Testament. St. Peter, on the day of Pentecost, after he preached to the people and they believed what he said, they asked, ‘What must we do now?’ And he said, ‘Repent and be baptized.’
So there was no altar call, it was ‘Let’s get you into the sacraments right away,’ and they were baptized. So the biblical way for the Church to summon people is at Mass. Those who are making the biggest and best of all altar calls are going forth to receive Holy Communion. And that requires some preparation.
So the kind of altar call that people are accustomed to in the Protestant world is a repentance for their sins, a turning away from sin, a desire to give one’s life to Jesus Christ, and to enter into the Church that He established. That’s all good and valid. There’s nothing wrong with that.
But, biblically speaking, the way you do that is you enter the Church, you become a catechumen, and at the Easter Vigil Mass, if you are not baptized, that’s when you receive the three sacraments of initiation – Baptism, Confirmation, and the Holy Eucharist. For those who are already baptized, they would go to Confession, then make a Profession of Faith, and they would be received into the Church and receive the other sacraments of initiation – Confirmation and the Holy Eucharist.
So this is the methodology for, in essence, completing that altar call. Because it doesn’t really mean much of anything if you go up to the altar at Sunday service at the Protestant church and ‘give your life to Christ.’ It doesn’t really mean anything unless you follow through on that.
And, as Jesus Himself said in Matthew 28:19, the doorway in is through the sacrament of Baptism. So that is the process, and I realize that it is longer and more involved than what people are used to in a Protestant church. But it certainly fits the biblical paradigm in a way that simply asking people to raise their hands or come kneel around the altar does not.
It’s nice, it makes people feel good, and there’s something good in that, in general, to turn your life over to Jesus. But that’s not the biblical prescription for how to do it.”
Listen to the full conversation below:
The Patrick Madrid Show airs weekdays from 9:00 – noon Eastern/6:00 – 9:00 a.m. Pacific on Relevant Radio®