The following guest sermon was submitted by ULC minister Robert West. All ULC Ministers are invited to contribute their own sermons for consideration/publication. To submit a sermon, please email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
With Easter coming up, I thought I'd share an enlightening moment I had regarding a key difference between Catholic and Protestant doctrine.
As a Free Methodist, I grew up with a different understanding of the Holy Communion than my Catholic friends. While I always knew that the Eucharist was a sacred sacrament, I was taught to see the bread and the juice as symbolic representations of Jesus' sacrifice on the cross. Imagine my surprise upon learning about the Catholic belief of transubstantiation! To be honest, I was a little horrified, but also fascinated by this concept.
Transubstantiation is the belief that during the Holy Communion, the bread and juice (well, it seems for Catholics it’s actually wine) are transformed into the physical body and blood of Jesus Christ. For them, this is all facilitated through the priest's consecration of the elements, which elevates their substance while somehow leaving their outward appearance unchanged. To a Catholic, this means that they are literally consuming the body and blood of Christ during the Eucharist!
My young protestant mind was blown. We worship the same God of Abraham as Catholics, we both achieve salvation through the sacrifice of His son, and I had always assumed the difference between us was like those between different protestant denominations, where it consisted in simply a different focus on agreed upon aspects of Christianity. I suppose this is still true to an extent, and while notions of purgatory and holy water were foreign to me, they were easy to understand.
This, however, this was strange and even a bit unsettling.
The idea of consuming Jesus’ actual body and blood, chewing the same flesh that was whipped by the Romans and swallowing the same blood that spilled down the cross; it all seemed practically sacrilegious to me at first. However, as I began to learn more about the Catholic belief, I started to appreciate the profound spiritual significance that it held for many of them.
One of the key differences between the two ways of understanding the sacrament is the role of the priest in the consecration of the elements. While protestants generally believe that anyone can lead the Eucharist, Catholics believe that only a priest, who has been ordained and has the power of consecration, can perform the necessary rites to transform the bread and wine.
For Catholics, the act of consuming the Eucharist is not just a symbolic gesture, but a way of physically connecting with Christ and receiving His grace. The more visceral aspect forces one to consider the true cost of salvation, and it is okay to be rocked out of the comfort in doing something just for the sake of ritual. It is believed that through the Communion, Catholics can participate in the sacrifice that Christ made on the cross and that they can be united with him in a deeply personal way.
While I still view the sacrament as being purely symbolic, learning about the Catholic perspective has given me a new appreciation for its significance. It has broadened my understanding of the spiritual richness and depth that faith holds for Christians of all denominations.