On July 10, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith released “Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church”, a document stating the absolutely-not-new fact that, yes, the Church does believe it is the Church Christ founded and that other Christian bodies are right insofar as they agree and with and preserve Catholic teachings and practice and wrong insofar as they reject or add to them.
The media response was all so predictable, more like kabuki than journalism. “Reactionary” Benedict is overturning Vatican II. Church says Protestants aren’t Christian. Only Catholics are going to heaven.
It mattered not one whit that the CDF was restating the language of the Council itself, not “overturning” it. It mattered not that the Church in fact affirms that Protestants are Christian, including the ones who call the Church the Whore of Babylon. Virtually everywhere in the mainstream media, the reaction was, “How dare the Church deny that all religions are equal and are all saying the same thing?”
It all reminds me of a Catholic friend of mine who was having a rousing discussion with some Evangelical friends. His friends wanted to affirm how much Catholics and Protestants have in common. We worship the same God, affirm the same teachings of the Ten Commandments, pray the same Lord’s Prayer, read almost exactly the same Bible. “So why can’t we just ignore all that extra theological stuff, stick to the basics, and just be one big family?” they asked.
My friend replied, “Great! Let’s all hike over to Blessed Sacrament parish, worship the Eucharist in the tabernacle, and pray to the Blessed Virgin Mary for the Holy Souls in Purgatory!”
His friends shifted uncomfortably in their chairs. They didn’t believe any of that Catholic stuff.
Precisely—because we’re not all saying the same thing.
The recent document from the CDF says to people who don’t believe all that Catholic stuff, “You don’t believe all that Catholic stuff.” Why on earth anybody should be offended by that is beyond me.
Here’s the key to the CDF document: It’s all about the Eucharist, baby. The Church believes that the Eucharist is the actual Body and Blood of Christ and is what makes a Church a Church. Some Christian bodies (like the Orthodox) believe this as well and are properly called “Churches” in the view of the Catholic Church, even when they are not in communion with Rome. (So it’s rubbish to say that the Catholic Church says it’s the “only real Church”).
Other Christian bodies, though truly Christian, do not have a valid Eucharist, don’t pretend to, and often don’t even want to. They are often full of deeply loving, good, and profoundly Christian people who often put Catholics to shame with their faith, hope and charity. But such bodies are not Churches but “ecclesial bodies” because they lack a valid Eucharist.
If you are tempted to say, “Well, I don’t believe any of that!” I can only reply that I am mystified why it is an act of bold independence and courage for a non-Catholic to say, “I don’t believe all that Catholic stuff” but an act of stifling authoritarianism and arrogance for the Church to say, “Right. You don’t. But we do.”