Last night I was at a friend’s housewarming party. I got into a long and intense conversation about religion and politics with one of her college friends whom I hadn’t met before. At first, going by some comments I had overheard her make earlier in a different conversation, I had a feeling this would be someone I disagreed with, but she turned out to be really cool. (Note: Before you get any ideas, she’s married. That isn’t where this story is going.) While there were things we did not agree about, she said that it is a good thing to hear other people’s perspectives on issues. I completely agree with this. But that’s not where I’m going here.
At one point, she was asking about my faith background. She is Episcopal. For me, though, that is not an easy question to answer. I consider myself a Christian, but I don’t consider myself tied to any one denomination. I attended Catholic Mass until I was 20, but have mostly attended evangelical churches since then. I am currently a member of a Baptist church. She went on to talk about some things she likes about the Episcopal Church, and some of the differences with Catholicism. She said that anyone can take communion in an Episcopal church, but only Catholics can take communion in a Catholic church. I said that I still attend Catholic Mass once a year, on Christmas Day at the church of my childhood because I’m always back home visiting my parents and brother and grandmother for Christmas. I don’t take communion at Christmas Mass, though, or any other time I have occasion to be at my parents’ house on a Sunday and go to church with Mom, out of respect for the Catholic beliefs about communion which I don’t agree with. I took a class in college on Christian theology, from the late Dr. Lincoln Hurst, and I wrote my term paper on transubstantiation vs. memorialism and took the memorialist view.
At this point, she gave me a look and asked a question which suggested that she wasn’t following what I was talking about. So I explained. I explained transubstantiation, how Catholics interpret the Last Supper passages in the Bible, where Jesus breaks the bread and pours the wine and says “This is my body” and “This is my blood,” to mean that when the priest consecrates the bread and wine during mass, they miraculously become the actual body and blood of Christ somehow. Most Baptists and Pentecostals, on the other hand, believe that communion is a memorial act, strictly symbolic of what happened on Jesus’ last night on Earth with no actual change in the nature of the bread and wine. In researching that term paper, I rejected transubstantiation because of the wording in Mark’s version of the story. Mark clearly writes (14:23-24) that Jesus did not say “This is my blood” until after the disciples had drank the wine. If one is to accept that the Bible is divinely inspired, then God would have not have allowed this wording in a divinely inspired manuscript, and those who compiled the Bible would not have considered this wording to be canonical, unless transubstantiation was never intended to be an essential doctrine. Again, this is merely the opinion I put forth in a term paper I wrote at age 21, so if you disagree, I’m not going to try to change your mind. These differences, I explained, were one of the first points of dissension between Catholics, Anglicans, and Lutherans in the early days of the Protestant Reformation.
Anyway, the girl I was talking to last night, she said, “I never knew that. I always just thought Catholics were being mean.”
I’ve found over the years that many things that confuse and frustrate people, causing them to complain, have rational explanations behind them. While not all of the explanations are good excuses for why things are the way they are, it helps to understand the history behind something before you complain about it or try to change it. You think that the President of the United States should be chosen by a direct popular vote instead of the Electoral College? Learn about the history of the Electoral College and the Connecticut Compromise, and about the difference between a democracy and a republic, a federation and a confederation, and which ones apply to the United States. You find the US system of measurement confusing and wonder why it takes 12 inches to make a foot, instead of 10 like the metric system, since calculating with 10s is so much easier (in base 10)? Learn about the Romans and their system of numbers, beyond I and V and X, and how they wrote all fractions in twelfths, because twelfths can be grouped evenly into halves, thirds, or fourths, whereas tenths cannot. You live in Sacramento and wonder why there are two Highway 80s? Learn about the Interstate Highway system, and what a business route is, and why the route numbers of these two routes were changed in 1983. Now learning about these things doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll change your mind; I could probably tell you more about the reason there are two Highway 80s in Sacramento than 99% of Sacramento County residents, yet I still think that the numbers should be changed. But, no matter what the issue, learning is the first step to understanding, which is crucial if any meaningful changes are to be made.