Material or Spiritual?


#1

I found this site because I was looking for more information about my faith. I keep returning to it because it seems to have the answers I’m looking for. I usually read the Ask An Apologist forum because other people ask the questions I’ve been pondering myself and there is always a clear, concise answer backed up by the Catechism of the Catholic Church and scripture.

Lately though, the more I read the more it seems to me that we, as a Church have fallen into the trap of being more concerned with following the letter of the law rather than its spirit. When we have to ask whether or not we are permitted to attend, let alone participate in, a wedding ceremony that will take place in another church or perhaps not in a church at all; when we wonder if we should report the priest who, intentionally or not, changed one word during the liturgy; when we worry that maybe the Eucharist isn’t “real” if it’s not made in exactly the way prescribed; when we have to ask what is the least amount of time we absolutely must fast before receiving Eucharist, and whether tea or coffee are permitted; then I worry that maybe we’re too concerned with the material and not enough with the spiritual.

Didn’t Jesus admonish the Pharisees against this kind of thinking when he accused them of offering God only lip service and not their hearts? (Matt 15:1-9 and Mark 7:1-8) Jesus said that He didn’t come to abolish the Law. All the same, if you look through the gospels you’ll notice that He was always rebuking the Pharisees for their strict and mindless adherence to rules without taking into account their purpose. As an example: Jesus would repeatedly scandalize the Pharisees by performing miracles on the Sabbath. I believe His message to them was that they were abusing the gift that God had given them. God decreed that mankind should have a rest period one day out of seven, to be used to replenish himself and worship God. His people had become so caught up in what consituted “work” and what did not that, rather than a gift, the Sabbath became a burden. I think Jesus was trying to teach his disciples (the Pharisees were a lost cause) that while the law is important, it is much more important to serve God in your heart. God is more interested in our devotion to Him and loving our brothers and sisters than whether or not you picked an ear of corn on the Sabbath because you were hungry.

I once read about two rabbis debating very seriously whether or not flicking on a light switch could be defined as work and therefore unlawful on the Sabbath. This is what I meant earlier about the Sabbath becoming a burden to the Jewish people instead of a gift. When I see a question in the Ask An Apologist forum like “can a chalice be made of glass” I think to mysef “is this just flicking a light switch”. Are we so caught up in making sure we “get it right” that we miss the greater meaning?

This post has gone on too long and probably sounds borderline “protestant” if not heretical. I’m not trying to pick a fight here, just trying to find my way. I would appreciate any insights anyone has to offer.


#2

While I believe some folks can indeed get a little caught up in the nitty gritty details, I also greatly appreciate people taking responsibility for living the faith of the church that Christ has given us. I also believe we’re seeing a bit of a reaction to the failure in catechesis, especially in America, post Vatican II. There was a lot of misinterpretation that happened for a long period of time and as people discover or rediscover the faith, they’re also discovering some of the errant ways that have crept in. In my opinion it is far better to error on the side of orthodoxy, especially in our culture which is so incredibly secularized and anti-religion. At the same time, if we run around acting like a bunch of Catholic Taliban, we’ll probably end up not living a Christ-like life, but a self-centered one. One has to strike a balance to not to let the mechanics of practicing the faith overcome the ideals.


#3

The things you describe (fasting before Communion, etc) are (mostly) called the *precepts *of the Church. These are general rules of conduct which (unlike doctrine) may change from time to time, or vary from place to place, or apply differently in different circumstances.

These are sort of like our “Catholic manners.” There are certain “rules” which we are all expected to follow as members of polite society (we say, “thank you,” when somebody does a kindness, etc). I don’t think anybody would claim that the rules of polite society were overly materialistic. The Catholic Church has an additional set of “manners” (we don’t insult the dignity of the Eucharist by eating a meal just before we consume Our Lord, for example - that’s rude). But you can’t just say, “you should fast for awhile before you come to Communion.” Because people immediately want to know what constitutes “awhile.” An hour? Four hours? Since midnight the previous day?

The minute you make a rule, you ought to define it. When I tell my kids they must stay close to home when they ride their bikes, I don’t just leave it at that - I tell them *exactly *which streets and landmarks constitute their boundaries.

If you don’t define the terms of the rules, you ought not make the rule at all. The Catholic Church feels that some manners are proper, so She makes those rules, and She defines them (as She should).

You mentioned priests changing a word in the liturgy. This could be serious - proper form is one of the five requirements for a valid Sacrament (for example, if the priest said, “This represents my Body” instead of “This is my Body” the entire Mass is invalid - and heretical, even though only one word changed). Folks might get overly concerned when the priest misspeaks a word during the Prayers of the People. So when they come here, and we straighten them out.


#4

You make a good point, and many people share your concern.

But the moment the Church affirms an article of faith, such as that the bread and wine become the actual substance of the body and blood of Christ, the floodgates open not always from inside the community of faith but from outside it.

Floodgates open - how long is the substance of the bread and wine the actual substance, 10 minutes? a day? What if it drops on the floor and a mouse eats it - is the mouse given actual grace?

Yes they’re funny questions but people ask them not out of disrespect but because they want to understand precisely the meaning of the dogma.

But sure enough, when the Church answers the questions as a pedagogical matter, it looks to the outside world as if the Church is getting all legalistic and is on a big power trip or something. It’s not doing that. It’s merely clarifying the boundary conditions because people will and do ask.

Hope this helps.


#5

You make a good point, and many people share your concern.

But the moment the Church affirms an article of faith, such as that the bread and wine become the actual substance of the body and blood of Christ, the floodgates open not always from inside the community of faith but from outside it.

Floodgates open - how long is the substance of the bread and wine the actual substance, 10 minutes? a day? What if it drops on the floor and a mouse eats it - is the mouse given actual grace?

Yes they’re funny questions but people ask them not out of disrespect but because they want to understand precisely the meaning of the dogma.

But sure enough, when the Church answers the questions as a pedagogical matter, it looks to the outside world as if the Church is getting all legalistic and is on a big power trip or something. It’s not doing that. It’s merely clarifying the boundary conditions because people will and do ask.

Hope this helps.


#6

seagal, what a great question! I understand perfectly what you are saying. The “rules” of Catholicism can seem to be nitpicking and there are many both in and outside of the church who see them as legalistic.

DavidFilmer, I like your reply but I would add a little something to it. Yes it is important to define the rules and why things are done as they are, but I think there’s more to it. The Church is responsible for all the souls Christ has won for God the Father through the work of the Holy Spirit. What so many fail to grasp is how seriously the Church takes this charge. What I have seen from protestant ministers and the like is the focus on this earthly life and how their flock can, as Joel Olstein says, “live their best life now”. Seldom do they look to their true best life, that is the one after this when we will dwell in the presence of our Lord.
The Catholic Church on the other hand, focuses on the eternal and not the temporal. Of course, our church wants us to have a good and prosperous life here, but her main concern is where we will spend the afterlife.

So just as when we were children, we must trust Mother Church to do what’s best for us, even when we don’t always understand the rules. And instead of looking at the rules as restrictive, we should be grateful that there is somewhere we can turn to for guidance.


#7

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