Can A Catholic Attend A Protestant Worship Service?


#1

My mom was invited to attend a Lutheran Sunday worship service by my brother who is married to a Lutheran, and my brother and his wife have raised their children in the Lutheran church.

No one is getting married, and it is not a funeral service.

What is the Catholic Church’s moral teaching about attending non-Catholic and specifically Protestant worship services?

I know there are famous (and non-famous) Catholics that attend both on a weekly basis, but, at least prior to Vatican II, the only legitimate reason to attend a Protestant service was only if it was necessary for a social obligation reason, such as a funeral or wedding.

Has the Catholic Church’s modified its teaching about attending non-Catholic religious worship services since Vatican II?

A book I have about the Catholic faith that was published in 1958 says that “a Catholic sins against the faith by taking part in non-Catholic worship”, unless it is **necessary **for social obligations at a non-Catholic wedding or funeral.

The book, written by a Catholic Bishop, says a Catholic “** must not **participate” in non-Catholic services.

This book says it is wrong to be present at Protestant or Jewish services (and I assume any other religion’s worship services, e.g. a Moslem mosque worship service) because such services are intended to honor God in a manner He does not wish to be honored in.

If God instituted a Chuch of His own (the Catholic Church), God must wish to be honored in the ways of that Church.

Has this teaching changed since Vatican II?

It seems like more and more Catholics are visiting / attending non-Catholic worship services for reasons other than funerals or weddings, and now attend non-Catholic worship services.

OK, and, please, I would appreciate that you not respond to my question if you just want to express your own personal opinion or personal feeling about this matter, or if you disagree with the Catholic Church’s teaching on this matter for reasons X, Y and Z.

What I would like and prefer is an answer with actual documentary evidence (e.g., a passage from the modern Catechism of the Catholic Church) or something you have read on a Catholic website written by a Catholic expert (e.g. Catholic priest, apologist, or well-known Catholic writer; and a link would be appreciated:) ).

Thanks,

Dwyer


#2

Attending is perfectly fine from what I learned in my Confirmation class. You only have to worry when you begin to really get into it. If you’re involved or believe in their teachings rather than the Catholic teachings, you’ve got a problem.

I don’t agree with it, but that’s just what I’ve been taught. I hope that helps.

Ironically Yours, Blade and Blood


#3

I appreciate your attempt to answer my question, Blade and Blood, but it is not the type of answer I am seeking.

I want an actual quote from some sort of Catholic Church document (like the Catechism) or a Catholic priest, a professional Catholic apologist. or reputable Catholic periodical or newspaper (like “Our Sunday Visitor”).

Thanks for trying though.

Dwyer


#4

Okay, I think I found something that *might *help you… for starters.

mostholyfamilymonastery.com/passive_attendance.php

en.allexperts.com/q/Catholics-955/2008/8/Attending-non-Catholic-functions.htm

Ironically Yours. :heart:


#5

Blade and Blood, I’m not too sure about that first monastery link you provided.

They list Pope Benedict XVI as an “antipope”.

Not sure about the other one either.

I probably should have just googled the question first.

Looks like it has been already asked and answered here before:

Jeanmarie wrote:

I occassionaly go to a midweek service at a Methodist church several of my friends belong to. They have communion once a month. I recognize that they do not believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. I’ve read through some of the other threads and seen that it Is it wrong for me to participate in their communion service. My question is why is it wrong as long as I recognize that it is only symbolic?


In essential things, unity.
In doubtful things, liberty.
In all things, charity. - St. Augustine

Father Serpa wrote:

#2 Mar 28, '08, 2:30 pm
Fr. Vincent Serpa
Catholic Answers Apologist Join Date: May 4, 2004
Location: San Diego, CA
Posts: 2,610

Re: Protestant Communion


**Hi,

In the first place a Catholic has no business attending Protestant church services even occasionally. To participate in a heretical worship service and especially a communion service can be sinful for a Catholic because such an act is an affirmation of what we believe to be untrue.

To attend an ecumenical service or a wedding or baptism is allowed, but Catholics are not allowed to attend such churches for the main reason of worship.

Now if there are no Catholic churches in the vicinity on a Sunday, Catholics are allowed to participate in the Liturgy of Churches whose clergy are validly ordained such as the Eastern Orthodox Churches—including the reception of the Eucharist.

Although we consider them to be in schism (not in union with the Pope) with the Catholic Church, such Churches are not heretical and share our basic beliefs.

Fr. Vincent Serpa, O.P.**


#6

I think the whole point here is not to substitute Protestant worship services for mass.

Attending a worship service, as mentioned by the OP, as long as one attends mass that weekend, methinks one will not be able to find a prohibition against in any on the literature.


#7

Newbie2 wrote:

I think the whole point here is not to substitute Protestant worship services for mass.

Attending a worship service, as mentioned by the OP, as long as one attends mass that weekend, methinks one will not be able to find a prohibition against in any on the literature.

Have you looked??

I appreciate your speculation, Newbie2.

However, I am not interested in other people’s opinions and feelings or what you **personally think **about this matter.

I want the Catholic Church’s actual teaching.

Father Serpa, who is a Dominican priest and a Catholic apologist for Catholic Answers, has provided an answer.

The answer to the question whether a Catholic may attend a non-Catholic religious worship service, except when necessary for weddings or funerals, is: no, they must not.


#8

There’s another exception for people who represent the church for ecumenical services and cooperative efforts. Building bridges and identifying common ground to help protestants find their way to the church and unity with her.
vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/chrstuni/documents/rc_pc_chrstuni_doc_25031993_principles-and-norms-on-ecumenism_en.html

There is no real forbidding of Catholics from attending protestant services with the exception of wedding funerals from what I can tell. A Catholic must of course not recieve communion or give the impression that there is no separation between Catholics and protestants. The Catholic must also guard their faith and anyone they are responsible for such as a minor child. Anyone with a shaky or not well grounded faith should not attend protestant services and should apply themselves to Catholic teaching instead.

cuf.org/faithfacts/details_view.asp?ffID=225

On occasion a priest will give someone permission to attend protestant worship services on a regular basis for the sake of family unity as in the case of a mixed marriage. The person of course must not neglect their own responsibilities to the Catholic Faith.

Be kind in any declining of invitations to attend protestant church services. My personal opinion is that in general for the average Catholic Father Serpa’s response is sound.


#9

While I respect Fr. Serpa’s answer, is his answer not his interpretation and “opinion” as well? While as Seatuck mentioned, it is sound general advice, I don’t find any prohibition in the CCC nor in any other documents that I’ve read…and would gladly like to be directed to any that state such a prohibition

As well, where is is “when necessary” defined?

Is there a valid reason not to attend the baptism of, say, a protestant nephew, say, in a Lutheran Church where such a baptism is considered to be a valid sacrament in the Catholic Church?

I’d like to see a reference as to where this is prohibited if such exists, beyond the respected opinion of an apologist.


#10

While I respect Fr. Serpa’s answer, is his answer not his interpretation and “opinion” as well?

Well, Fr. Serpa has been to the seminary, studied this sort of stuff, is a Dominican, and, as a priest, he is God’s representative on earth.

His opinion is an expert’s opinion, wheras mine and I assume yours is a layperson’s.

So it is an expert’s opinion I have to respect; also, a priest has a pastoral duty before God to direct others to right action.

OK, this question came up on another Catholic website.

Basically, the reason it is forbidden for a Catholic to attend Protestant services, except for weddings, funerals, and ecumenical reasons, is that there is only one, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church of Christ’s which is the Catholic Church.

A priest who responded in this thread also mentioned a Papal Encyclical letter, which he said the Pope stated that Catholics cannot attend Protestant worship services.

OK, I noticed that web page from Catholics United for the Faith mentions Protestant prayer services.

Isn’t that were a group of Protestants gather in a church and just pray?

I’m specifically am referring to the Protestant Sunday Worship service, meaning their Sunday morning or early afternoon weekly service.

I’m not absolutely certain, but I think these are two different things.

There’s Worship services; and then there are prayer meetings.

Here is some of what the other priest wrote at the other forum:

forum.catholic.org/viewtopic.php?f=56&t=53515

Jeff:
Quote:
It is wrong to miss Mass without a grave reason.
It is wrong to fully and actively participate in a non-Catholic service.
It is not wrong to attend, in the interests of domestic tranquility, a non-Catholic service so long as we do not fully and actively participate (for example, taking communion) and it is known to those to whom it is relevant (such as our firiends and family) that we do not endorse the service as “just another church service equally valid with the Mass”.

That is my undersatnding.

Jeff, I can cite papal encyclicals, especially **“Mortalium Animos” **of Pope Pius XI and the Vatican II Decree on Ecumenism.

These documents forbid “comunicatio in sacris” which means participating together in worship.

There is no distinction between “actively participate” and “passively participate.”

Do not get confused with the occasional participation in an ecumenical prayer service at which Catholic and Protestant clergy are present together. Those services are carefully planned out so that the faithful will not be exposed to anything which contradicts Catholic teaching.

Also, do not get confused with the occasional attendance at a wedding or funeral, which is done out of some urgent family need for attendance.

Even these ceremonies would be off limits where there is the danger of scandal or exposure to dangers against the faith. The case being discussed here is where one is routinely attending Protestant services and Catholic Mass has not been actively sought out first.

I don’t mind you disagreeing. But for the future, I ask that if you are going to enter a delicate pastoral question such as this, you need to research and back up your assertions with church documents. It gets very confusing when you take a contrary position and don’t cite anything more than “That is my understanding.”

“That is my understanding” sums up well why so many Catholics are Protestantized in their spirituality and approach to worship. The grave error of indifferentism, so vigorously condemned at Vatican I, and with pointed and scathing words against the US Catholic Church by Pope Leo XIII, is now mistaken to be the official Catholic position.

One does not know whether to laugh or cry at the lamentable state of affairs.


Sincerely in Christ,
Fr. Angel

Now, after I had “laid down the law” there came this quote from Jeff: “While I certainly agree that taking communion in a Presbyterian Church is a sin, I feel the need to specify that I am aware of no Church teaching indicating that we are prohibited from attending such services.”

I know Jeff meant well, but that comment contradicted what I had laid down in my post in that one could conclude that “Father’s advice was correct to the point of prohibiting communion, but then he went too far, got too strict, and presented more pre-Vatican II thinking.”

Now, Jeff did not say I was misleading, but he did say “I just want to make sure that the advice we are giving to Diana is accurate.” So, perhaps I am being too strict. And perhaps now I am not totally accurate.

At the end of his post, Jeff states again that in his understanding, “It is not wrong to attend, in the interests of domestic tranquility, a non-Catholic service so long as we do not fully and actively participate (for example, taking communion) and it is known to those to whom it is relevant (such as our firiends and family) that we do not endorse the service as “just another church service equally valid with the Mass”.”

This is what caused me to be a bit blunt. I wanted to present clarity for the sake of practical decisions that must be made according to the mind of the Church, the Magisterium. I am not trying to bully Jeff or anyone else from asking questions. I firmly believe that quoting our sources is essential and do not wish to see anyone tied down to my answers alone.

And I am glad that Jeff raised the issue of the Ecumenical Directory. It gave me the opportunity to state that although the Catholic Church has striven to reach out to Protestants with Christian fellowship and love, it has not abandoned its traditional caution in dealing with participation in Protestant worship

Sincerely in Christ,
Fr. Angel


#11

Well, there you go…ecumenical reasons.

We cannot simply ignore intent in discussing this question. If the intent of the person attending such a service is to “check it out” and see if it’s to their liking…bad idea, and it would be discouraged/forbidden.

However, if a Catholic were to attend such a service with the intent of learning more about, say, Lutheran liturgical practices with no intent of ever “re-verting”, or going to a Jewish Seder meal with the intent of learning about our Jewish ritual roots (after, of course, going to mass on that particular weekend)…those are certainly ecumenical reasons; learning about different faiths. One has to know about the other side, as it were, if we are to have any hope of convincing them that “we’re right”.

As well, let’s say that a Catholic and Protestant meet in college…boy and girl :wink: …and they decide that perhaps they might someday get married. Let’s further say that they are both firmly rooted in their faith, and they decide that on alternate weekends, the Catholic will (in addition to going to mass every weekend) go with the Protestant to their service.

That’s forbidden for the Catholic?

Let’s say they do get married, and eventually the Protestant converts. The new Catholic grows in their faith, becomes active in the Church, say teaching RCIA, goes on to the seminary to get a lay degree, say a Masters in Theology and then considers discerning the deaconate.

Adhering to the “letter of the law”, this probably would not have happened.

Would Pios XI and Fr. Serpa have preferred this not happening? I think not.

This is the danger with flirting with Pharisee-ism; rigously adhering to the letter of the law and ignoring the (intent) spirit. I fully understand and appreciate the potential dangers of a Catholic being tempted to “going over to the dark side”, but to say such-and-such is forbidden out of hand ignores the fact that “ecumenism” has many faces and facets.


#12

My short answer: Yes. But be careful. As a faithful Catholic, I must respectfully object to the idea that we are to stay away from non Catholic churches and services. As long as we are strong in our faith and receiving the most precious body and blood regularly (I go to mass 3-4 times a week), I personally see no harm in an occasional trip to another church, especially when I do it to support family or friends. My last time was 3 years ago at the Episcopal baptism of our neighbor’s new baby.

Before I converted to Catholicism, my first concrete experience of Jesus was during a Presbyterian Easter “communion” service. Jesus came to me, and it wasn’t in a Catholic setting. Ever since this experience as a 18 year old, I have been willing to accept that Jesus can come to anyone he wants, Catholics or not. That said, I choose to be a practicing Catholic because I believe that’s where the triune God is most present to his people.

BTW, I have been registered on the site all of 10 minutes and this is my first post.

Peace and God’s blessings to all.


#13

Why don’t you ask your own priest? Maybe he can give you some insight?


#14

I just found out I dont agree with Fr. Vincent Serpa.
I have worshipped and will continue to WORSHIP, and to come for that exact purpose as well as prayer, in both Evangelical churches and at the Western Wall, also called the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, alongside the Jews.
There is no place on earth where the true God should not be worshipped. He is everywhere, especially among our baptised brethren and among the chosen people…

Grace.


#15

This is referring to a service that is actually advertised as an ecumenical service, where Catholic clergy have been involved in setting up the Order of Service, and have reviewed the material that will be presented to the congregation - and have found it safe for Catholic consumption.

You cannot just show up at your local Protestant church’s regular Sunday service and potentially expose yourself to heresy, willy-nilly, for ecumenical reasons.

As well, let’s say that a Catholic and Protestant meet in college…boy and girl :wink: …and they decide that perhaps they might someday get married. Let’s further say that they are both firmly rooted in their faith, and they decide that on alternate weekends, the Catholic will (in addition to going to mass every weekend) go with the Protestant to their service.

That’s forbidden for the Catholic?

Based on the advice given by both Father Serpa and Father Angel (both of whom are well-known and well-respected for their orthodoxy in every other area of Christian thought), it seems that the answer is, Yes, this is absolutely forbidden.


#16

This is a common fallacy. It is not necessary to become well-versed in error, in order to know what is true. When they train people to detect counterfeit money, those people are never actually exposed to any counterfeit money. Instead, they are thoroughly instructed in all of the features and identifying marks of real money. In this way, they detect counterfeit money by noticing that some feature or identifying mark of real money is missing.

In any case, it would be physically impossible to learn about every variety of Protestantism thoroughly enough to debunk each one of them point by point. It’s a lot easier simply to become well-versed in the Catholic faith, to the point where if someone tells you something that goes against it, you will detect the error straight away. :slight_smile:


#17

What person who has a shaky or not-well-grounded faith is self-aware enough to realize that fact?

I have never met or heard of anyone who thought they didn’t know their faith well enough not to marry a Protestant, or not to attend regularly at non-Catholic services of worship.

Of those who don’t do these things, there are two categories - those who don’t do it because they are being obedient (but think that, if it were permitted, they would be one of the people who would be okay to do this), and those who don’t do it because they are so absorbed in the active practice of their Catholic faith that they simply don’t have the time, interest, or energy to put into the study and observation of a different religion.


#18

This topic was covered quite extensively on this thread:

forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=229138&highlight=attending+protestant+service

I have not waded my way through all 15 pages of responses, but from what I have looked at the definitive church document on the topic appears to be the revised Principles and Norms for Ecumenism found on the Vatican’s website here:

vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/chrstuni/general-docs/rc_pc_chrstuni_doc_19930325_directory_en.html

For what it is worth Catholics United for the Faith offers a different opinion than Fr. Serpa:

cuf.org/Faithfacts/details_view.asp?ffID=225


#19

The opinion of CUF makes the most sense to me because I can see where taking communion would be bad - since it’s not real due to the lack of apostolic succession - but I can’t see how praying with Protestants or listening to what a Protestant has to say can be bad…what difference is there between praying with a Protestant at church and praying with him/her elsewhere? Are Catholics prohibited from joining Protestants in prayer in all instances? (I didn’t think so, and I don’t see why it matters where the prayer is taking place - and if you don’t agree with what the preacher is praying…then just don’t say "amen!) Also, where does the church teach that we shouldn’t listen to their opinions? After all…isn’t that what there sermons are? Protestant opinions? And if all we’re doing at their church is listening to their opinion and praying alongside them…how is that wrong? If anything, a Catholic attending and abstaining from their communion might spark an interest or curiousity in someone who’s observing and could lead to the opportunity to share the truth about communion with that individual. It’s not like the Catholic is going to attend the Protestant service with their family member and the family member is going to think you’re no longer Catholic…you’re not leading them to think you accept heresy by simply being there, and if you think you’re leading them to think that, then simply clarify.


#20

To my RC brothers and sisters who think it’s forbidden, dangerous or somehow subversive to the Catholic faith to step inside a non Catholic church, let alone participate in a lilturgy or prayer service, I must say this: I think this attitude contributes to the general mistrust of us Catholics. What’s really dangerous is this attitude that Catholics have it all right, and everyone else has it all wrong. As for me, I am strong in my faith, and my soul is not at risk by attending an occasional Protestant service in support of my family, friends or community. Besides, isn’t it possible the Holy Spirit is providing this opportunity as a way to seek common ground, or maybe even for me to evangelize someone outside the Church? I prefer to keep an open mind, always with the realization that the Catholic Church is the best spiritual home. I’ve been in some of those other churches, and thankfully God led me to the Catholic church. But we can still act in ways that are respectful to our Protestand brothers and sisters.


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