Will posits, in contrasting his churchgoing nature with that of his lovely wife, the idea that for some reason, Catholics have a “Catholic or nothing” approach to religion. As one of the Catholics of which he speaks, I think I can shed a bit more light on this phenomenon.

The first issue for a Catholic, as opposed to many other churches, is that the gulf in beliefs is much larger. I am fortunate in that my family is of mixed demoninations: my grandparents are a Catholic/Lutheran duo who have managed to stay together for 52 years, and their kids turned out to be 3 Catholics, 3 Lutherans, and a Methodist. This has allowed me to see the differences in what is taught.

For a Lutheran going to services at a Baptist or Methodist church, or even to Church of Christ, there is not an immense gulf in belief. There may be minor dogmatic differences, but there’s a certain “protestant unity.” For a Catholic, the structure of the service will be vastly different; there are also major hurdles to get past (differences in the belief on various sacraments, possible differences in prayer structure related to saints, etc) before someone raised Catholic might feel comfortable attending such a church. By the same token, a Catholic would likely be much more comfortable going to mass in an Orthodox church, whereas I get the feeling most “Protestants” would be much more uneasy in that regard.

This also will extend to how the sunday services are structured. Catholics, for the most part, grow up with a basic sunday mass that includes a definite sequence of events. There’s a lot of sitting/standing/kneeling involved (aka ‘Catholic Calisthenics’ by some). Ironically, the reforms of Vatican II allowed for some radical changes and regional variations, and yet most of the churches I have gone to have seemed to carry much the same music, much the same organization, and much the same character. When I visited Germany, I knew the melody to every single song at mass as well as the sequence of events, even if I was tempted to sing in English rather than in German. Had I not understood a word that was said, I still could have followed the mass just on gestures and timing alone.

The other issue – strongly prevalent in the southern regions but still present nationwide – is a decided animosity towards Catholicism and those who are raised Catholic on the part of many/most Protestant churches.

If a Lutheran wanders into a Methodist church, and speaks to people there about curiosity towards their church, there’s a certain level of acceptance about it. If a Catholic wanders into the same place, there’s much more a “oh dear we need to save you from that evil church” vibe to the response. From personal experience and the experience of other Catholic friends, Baptists are actually worse on this, with many Baptist churches actually teaching that Catholics are “not really Christian”, that their baptisms and sacraments are all 100% invalid (one particularly ugly implication being that Catholic marriages are invalid and they are “living in sin” and producing out-of-wedlock offspring), and other rather nasty things. The one Baptist roommate I had during my college years was 100% friendly, right up until he learned I was attending the Catholic mass on campus; after that point, he decided he hated me.

The more “born again” the particular Protestant branch is, the more likely they will have this sort of reaction to a Catholic. A few places I’ve been, admitting to being Catholic was somewhat akin to telling them to hang up the garlic wreaths and start sharpening the oaken stakes.

This is not to say that all Protestant churches are that way. Lutherans have a varying level of animosity depending on which Synod they belong to, and some have mellowed out in recent years (when my grandparents were married, they had to have a civil ceremony because neither church would take them; at their 50th anniversary, the pastor of my grandfather’s church had nothing but good to say about them, including regret that his church had taken so long to come around). I’ve found Methodists to be much more inviting than Lutherans or Baptists, though they are amazingly hardcore about their music; one imagines that someone tone-deaf might have a hard time there, or at least become very good at lip-syncing.

However, as for just picking up and going to a non-Catholic church? There are a lot of extra barriers to overcome, erected both by the Catholic beliefs and by the other churches.

Category: Church

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5 Responses to Noncatholic Catholicism

  1. Peter says:

    One major obstacle is the Catholic Church’s rule prohibiting non-Catholics from taking communion. Because communion is the whole point of the Catholic Mass, excluding people from taking communion essentially relegates them to observer status. In fact, if I’m not mistaken the Catholic Church draws no distinctions between Protestants and non-Christians in this regard, both being equally disqualified.

    Are the fundamentalist churches more hostile toward Catholics than they are toward mainstream Protestants?

  2. Webmaster says:


    The distinction on communion is an interesting one. If you simply show up for a mass, nobody will ever turn you away from participating in communion. Only in very rare circumstances (a very well-known public figure who has been excommunicated for some serious offense) will anyone say anything at all.

    The official stance of the Catholic church is that communion is for those who are (a) baptized and (b) old enough to understand the significance. It’s for this reason that a child’s first participation in communion is a celebrated occasion.

    As for the ability of non-Catholics to take Catholic communion, there is a rather fuzzy line. The qualifiers are a valid baptism, and shared belief regarding the nature of communion and the doctrine of transubstantiation. If you’re from a “Protestant” church that split at the time of Martin Luther, you probably don’t qualify. If you’re of one of the Orthodox churches or the Anglican church, you probably do. There’s a rather long essay about it at Catholic.com.

  3. Webmaster says:

    Forgot to mention the reasoning for the baptism thing – though it sounds like a small deal. The requirements according to the Catholic church are that (a) water be poured over the head of the baptized (or they be immersed), and (b) the words “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” because that’s the wording specifically required by Jesus in the text of the bible.

    A lot of the protestant churches have started switching to saying “I baptize you in the name of Jesus Christ” or similar alternative wordings, which doesn’t work.

    It’s worth noting that the positions of the Anglican and Orthodox churches are pretty similar to the Catholics on this one too.

  4. trumwill says:

    I think that one of the less talked about splits in the Christian denominations are liturgical vs charismatic services. The Catholic, Episcopal, and Orthodox churches have liturgical services, which Web sums up very well:

    Catholics, for the most part, grow up with a basic sunday mass that includes a definite sequence of events. There’s a lot of sitting/standing/kneeling involved (aka ‘Catholic Calisthenics’ by some).

    Having been to Catholic service and a couple protestant services, the Catholic services were by far more familiar in form. The hymns are traditional, the services structured, and the aesthetic ceremonial and respectful. Charismatic protestantism, on the other hand, is more freewheeling, pastors displaying more showmanship, and sometimes clapping, hooting, and hollering (though only one that I went to did that, thankfully).

    Here’s an excellent joke about hymns (used in more liturgical services) and choruses (used in more charismatic services) that sort of capsulates the difference in form between the two philosophies. {found via Calvinistic Phi}

    On the subject of communion, it’s not unusual for denominations to deny communion to other denominations. Catholics are not unique in this regard. In fact, I may be mistaken but I thought that by not being discriminate Episcopalians were more unusual. In any case, there’s a lot of politics as to who gets to share communion with whom. I know that we can’t partake in Catholic communion and though we used to be able to the same applies to Orthodox (I think it has something to do with our ordaining women).

    On the subject of Baptism, that’s another biggie. Baptists are dunkers and don’t believe in infant Baptism, which very much puts them at odds with Episcopalians and Catholics (and others, I’m sure) who are baptized as infants and then are later confirmed. The Episcopal Church does use the “in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost” verbiage, but I don’t believe that it denies communion to those that use different verbiage. I think all that matters is that you are baptised and, if you were baptised as an infant, confirmed.

    There are some things that you are not supposed to do if you are not a baptized and/or confirmed Episcopalian, usually involving leadership positions. Catholics and Orthodox members, however, can become Episcopalian without any confirmation required.

  5. trumwill says:

    One other thing. I should say that the Anglican Communion and Episcopal Church both vary from church to church and region to region. Within the US there are theoretically High Church and Low Church Episcopalians, the former being more Catholic/liturgical and the latter being more reformationist/charismatic. People in the latter group, though, are the ones that have been leaving the church in droves. Nonetheless, some churches remain more Low Church than High Church.

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