Questioning Church Authority

I am a catholic who is struggling with his faith in the authority of the Church. First off I want to say that I am at the moment a catholic and I have a deep respect and appreciation for the intellectual tradition of the catholic church. Secondly, I truly mean no disprespect in what I am about to write. My doubts and fears are quite troubling to me and somehow I feel more comfortable turning to an anonymous forum for advice.
As I mentioned I am struggling with my faith in the authority of the catholic church. Some will suggest that I am poorly catechized. Possibly so, but I do have a basic understanding of the church’s logic behind her teachings and their root in scripture and sacred tradition. However, I am still having problems accepting them .
Take transubstantiation for an example. Try as I might (even after countless hours of prayer) I cannot fully embrace the idea of transubstantiation. Consubstantiation seems more acceptable I suppose to my finite mind (perhaps something along the lines of Lollardy). The idea that clergymen can literally make Christ manifest in the eucharist is just too much. Once I realized that I had never fully accepted the idea of transubstantiation I began to question the Church’s authority in other areas as well. Life experience has shown me that while there are definitely a plethora of saintly and holy catholic clergymen and laypersons, the catholic church doesn’t necessarily have a monopoly on holiness. There are numerous accounts of non-Catholics performing miracles, and living their lives as shining examples of faith, hope and charity all without the benefit of the magisterium. A few other things that I am struggling with are: The necessity of infant baptism (baptism of desire applies to adults who are ignorant of Christ so why not infants?), apostolic succession (not necessarily questioning the existence of it but it seems it is more of a prerequisite to join the church hierarchy than necessarily imbuing the clergyman with “teaching authority” or extraordinary holiness), papal authority (why is the bishop of Rome given preeminence? The orthodox churches reject this and the notion that Peter possessed extraordinary authority), papal infallibility (I feel it is completely man made, not traditional or scriptural). This is just a small sampling of the issues I’m struggling with and I want to be clear again that I mean no disrespect. These thoughts I am having are truly upsetting to me as I was taught never to question the authority of the church.
To compound my issues I have attended a couple of protestant services where I felt God’s presence very intimately in a way I had not experienced him before. As superficial and trivial as it may seem to some I felt God’s presence most keenly in the warmth I felt from the other congregants. I was blown away by how quick they were to embrace me and how the majority it seemed radiated a genuine love for God and a desire to worship Him. Additionally the quality of the “preaching” was profound and uplifting. I felt ready to go out and convert the world. Later, as I reflected upon this I realized that the only times I ever felt truly in tune with God while at mass was when I heard a homily that had some weight behind it (something positive and uplifting not just the generic “be nice” message) or on the very rare occasions that I felt genuine warmth and fellowship from my fellow parishioners . Unfortunately, I have never experienced the infusion of Grace that so many others have from receiving the sacraments.

Am I doomed? Should I continue to go to mass and “tough it out” ? Should I attend protestant services if the effect is I may possibly become a better ambassador for Christ? Are the feelings I receive at protestant services somehow false or can somehow be attributed to vanity, etc?

From the Lutherans standpoint (I think shared with Catholics) - the priest doesn’t ‘make’ Christ manifest. Christ is manifest in the Eucharist.

We may not necessarily understand how this happens, but we are given assurances from Christ that this is so several times in scripture.

That said, among other books - I’d recommend reading through the CCC several times, speaking with your priest, and asking questions here at CAF before beginning any faith journey.

What you are experiencing is doubt, and it is perfectly normal. I’m not the best person to advise, but I will. Don’t work your way through this on your own. Don’t rely on anything you hear here (including this, of course). Speak honestly to your priest.

Wow, you’ve certainly laid out quite a buffet of issues. There’s no possible way for someone to address all of these simply on a web posting.
Try to cull down your list for now, and little by little we can get through it together, eventually hitting on your whole list.

I could recommend some reading and listening materials on most of your subjects; it takes quite a commitment of time and effort to truly explore these issues, even at a cursory level. I’m hoping that you’re up to it, since it seems that the Holy Spirit is calling you to a deeper understanding.

I’m all for questioning your faith. It’s what tills the ground for a deeper root (see Matthew 13).

Sound advice. Thank you. I know that I should discuss my issues with my priest but at the risk of sounding like a dummy…how does one go about this? In the confessional? Call his secretary and ask for an appointment?

No this is where the Lutherans differ in the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist…

The offering of the Eucharist is a priestly offering from Christ, High Priest, to be administered by priests just like every sacrificial offering has been done, by priests. People bring the gifts of bread and wine up to the priests who offer them up to God for consecration so the bread becomes Jesus body and the wine Jesus blood… It doesn’t get to change because we want it to change. Martin Luther took out the priesthood and therefore took out the sacramental priestly offering so therefore the Catholic church is not in (comm)union with the Lutheran Church because of this…:frowning: That saddens me because I would like to receive with the Lutherans but I don’t because I know I don’t have the same belief as the Lutherans in this.

The priesthood is a special calling by God. It is not the lay who get this calling, it’s priests so they could minister the sacraments to Christs Kingdom. If you take out the priests there can be no body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist. And once the host is consecrated it is Jesus so will be adored as such and it is beautiful to pray to Jesus in adoration, to touch God and feel His presence in adoration as is done in blessed adoration chapels.

I don’t believe you’re doomed, you’re facing the same dilemma many individuals such as yourself face. I do believe that if the holy spirit is drawing you unto another faith then you should seek out this faith and see where it leads you. No one expects you to remain when the lord has called you elsewhere. I believe god has called you to follow a protestant path where you will become an abassador for Christ. I believe there is no vanity nor falseness on your part during protestant services but only a willingness to follow God’s true calling, best of luck to you in your search.:slight_smile:

Thank you. Can you please recommend material in regard to transubstantiation and apostolic succession?

Not long ago a protestant friend of mine showed me an article claiming that more Catholics were leaving the Church and joining protestant denominations than converts joining the Church.

I was stunned.

I carried this “embarrassment” in my memory banks for awhile until I found an article (I will find it and post it) explaining the phenomena.

A Catholic lay theologian did an excellent study. He interviewed as many “fallen Catholics” as well as new converts to the Church as he could and found that:

Catholics left the Church for all reasons as mentioned by the OP as well as things like “better music”, getting more out of protestant services, and the Church’s position on homosexuality and same sex unions.


Every former protestant who converted to Catholicism gave only one reason…salvation.

Maybe its quality not quantity. :shrug:

As for me I can’t be anything but Catholic. I know that other churches make people feel enlightened, but I have studied my religion and know that is the Church that Jesus started and I want the truth because I love Jesus. I think if people really knew the Church they wouldn’t walk away but be inspired by it. Our Faith shouldn’t rest on others helping us feel spiritual, but on Jesus Christ and the truth…

Asking questions about our faith is a good thing, not bad :slight_smile: It’s through our questions and doubts that we’re finally able to understand our faith and why it is the way it is. I’ve been through this many times, and each time, through Gods great grace and mercy, the Holy Spirit has led me to a much deeper understanding of our faith, and it is so beautiful! Perhaps that’s not something you feel or understand yet, but that’s okay, trust in God, pray, and research your questions. God will answer you :slight_smile:

Here is a list of some of my favorite books which have helped me in my faith journey,

The Eternal City by Taylor R. Marshall
A Father Who Keeps His Promises by Scott Hahn
The Lamb’s Supper by Scott Hahn
Christian, Yes-But Why Catholic? by Rev. Joseph M. Esper
Theology and Sanity by Frank Sheed

Good luck and God bless!

I believe that you are under spiritual attack. Notice that everything which you have delineated causes you to challenge authority - which has come only from God - and leads you away from the Eucharist? Everything you experienced recently leads you toward your senses - from the feelings you have at non-denominational services to the Eucharist remaining bread and wine. Someone who knows your weaknesses is appealing to those senses and leading your spirit astray. That would be the malevolent spirit who uses doubt to attack your faith.

First of all, Christ is the celebrant of the mass. He celebrates it through the office of the priesthood. He makes Himself present via the Holy Spirit. That is how He chose it, not how man does. Remember that Christ chose the Apostles, and gave them unprecedented authority.

Your answer will be found in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. Please try to make time to go during adoration, or even when the Lord is reposed in the Tabernacle. Offer your doubts to the Lord and ask Him to make Himself known to you.

Then, be as patient with Him as He has been with you. As Fr. Benedict Groeschel says, “When you are aware that He is there, you will be changed.”

We all have doubts. God gave us the ability to use our intelligence to question that which we cannot understand. I was chatting with a Quaker friend tonight and he asked if I truly believe in Transubstantiation. All I could offer was that yes, I do. To me it is a Mystery of Faith which I believe without question, as I do in the existence of God and the Blessed Trinity etc.

There are however aspects of Catholicism with which I totally disagree i.e The labels of both Mortal and Venial sins, when attached to issues which are deeply personal and private between consenting adults. Also the aggressive attitude shown towards abortion and the right of a person to choose to die. My refusal to accept Catholic ruling on such matters does not in any way affect my trust and love for Our Lord. I don’t believe we should judge others - that is God’s role.

I hope that your Priest is as enlightened as ours. Please just talk with him. It would be easier out of the Confessional,as you need to be free of time constraints. Yes make an appointment or catch him after Mass and just ask when you can come to talk with him. You will be very much in my prayers.
May Our loving Lord bless you and guide you in your path towards Him. :heaven:

As a convert to Catholicism, I would say be very careful of valuing your emotional reaction at Protestant services versus the Mass. Emotions don’t dictate what is true and what is false. The truth is true, whether we are happy or mad about it.

From my perspective growing up in the Protestant world, emotions come and go. But Jesus promised to build His ONE Church, and the gates of hell would NEVER prevail against her. He is the Good Shepherd, and He has never left us as orphans, without the clear, constant teachings from His Church. The doctrines of the Church never change.

But I can guarantee that the Protestant church you experienced has changed teachings, probably multiple times, on things big and small. Every Protestant church has changed teaching on contraception, all of them. Up until 1930, every one of the them regarded it as sinful. And yet now none do. So was it sinful before 1930, and now not sinful after 1930? Of course not.

Same is true for many things. Who determines their teachings? Is it the pastor, or maybe by congregational vote? Whose interpretation of the Bible do they use for substantiation of their teaching?

I think a good exercise for you would be to shine the exact same spotlight you are now focusing on the Church, to focus it on the Protestant church you attended. See if they hold up to the same scrutiny (they won’t).

Better music, more “fellowship”, etc… are pretty weak reasons to leave the Church.

Holy Mass is about WORSHIP; not you.

Want better music? ~ Buy a CD or listen to a better station on the radio.

Want more fellowship? ~ Join the ELKS or go to poker night at the VFW.

Want to WORSHIP GOD? ~ Go to Mass.

Pretty simple… Many former Protestants “get it.”

Are you more interested in the narrow teachings on transubstantiation, or on the broader teachings on the Eucharist (in particular, the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist)?

Can you tell me how technical you wish to go? Popular versus academic?

Here’s one that I really enjoyed:
Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist: Unlocking the Secrets of the Last Supper

Biblical Catholic Eucharistic Theology

A very light but wonderful read: This Is My Body: An Evangelical Discovers The Real Presence

For Apostolic Succession, I’d start with some talks on .mp3 or cd, such as:
Why Do We Have a Pope?. I think this can also be found on Youtube. That reminds me, Dr. Hahn’s The Four Marks of the Church (also in .mp3, cd, or on youtube) has some good stuff, especially the fourth mark: the Church is Apostolic.

He also has a good talk on Understanding the Eucharist.

The Catholic Encyclopedia has a good article on Apostolic Succession.

If you’re looking more at papal succession, then Steve Ray’s Upon This Rock is a great resource.

Here’s a good short article By Francis J. Beckwith on Apostolic Succession.

Of course, there are many good threads right here on the subject, such as Apostolic Succession Proved from Scripture and History

These are some broad, general recommendations. I’m afraid that you’ll need to narrow the scope of what you are having difficulties with if you want me to be more precise, or we can start with these broad generalities. In any event, these should keep you busy for a day or two! :wink:

Absolutely great advice. :thumbsup:

I agree. :thumbsup:

HOWEVER, even though the Mass is most definitely “the source and summit of our faith”, that doesn’t excuse Catholics from the necessity of learning and practicing our beliefs outside of Mass.

I know many Catholics who “only” attend Mass. That’s fine for some, but it can lead to a life of shallow roots, and it also goes against our first Pope’s admonition in 1Pe 3:15.

I know I’m preaching to the choir, but we need to “fan into flame” the complacent Catholics!!

(I’m reading Scott Hahn’s Evangelizing Catholics – maybe that’s one more reason I’m fired up about this.)

Thank you!

The homily this week at my parish obviously had to do with the seeds and the soil (Matthew 13:1-23).

We all get the same seeds every week at Holy Mass. The ONLY thing that is different is the homily/sermon.

The question is; “what kind of soil is in our hearts?” Are we receptive to the seeds planted on Sunday? Do we till the soil? Do we pull out the weeds? Do we water? In other words; do WE do enough?

I think too many Catholics don’t take enough personal responsibility for their own spiritual growth. They want to leave it all to the priest. By extension, they want to leave their CHILDREN’S religious upbringing to a CCD teacher. “Let somebody else do it” is a mantra more and more comonplace in American, not just Catholic, life.

Lapsed Catholics love to say; “the priests didn’t ‘feed’ me spiritually.” Or; “the other people at my parish weren’t nice.” Or; “I didn’t like the music.”

Notice something? Nobody ever blames himself. Ever.

It’s never up to the priest, or even Jesus… responsiblility for your own spirituality lies with YOU. YOU have to want it. YOU have to go to Christ to get it. What better way to go to Christ than to visit Him at His house on Sunday?

He’s there every week.

Thank you for your suggestions. I will seriously look into all of them. To answer your question I prefer popular works. I suppose my biggest issue has to do with the power of the priest to actually cause Christ to manifest. I feel that Christ is omnipresent and to suggest that a clergyman has the power to call him from heaven to me suggests that the clergy have a special communion with Him that is shared with the laity only through their beneficence. I won’t rule out poor catechesis or spiritual assault for my feelings.

I have learned from this thread that I need to read the catechism several times, talk with my priest and practice eucharistic adoration. All of this I will do. :thumbsup:

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