Roman Catholics, Protestants, and how the two come Together
If there is one thing I’ve learned this semester it is how incredibly complex Roman Catholicism is. From the saints to relics and from the arts to the Pope, there is a lot of history to understand and questions to be asked. Coming from a Protestant background, this is all new material for me. But, I have really enjoyed figuring out what it means, for different people, to be a Catholic.
Both Catholics and Protestants can easily distinguish how different the two traditions are. In the beginning of his book, Peter Stanford, author of Catholicism – An Introduction, says, “Catholicism places a greater emphasis than other Christian denominations on the force of its own traditions” (Stanford 569). An example would best be seen through the analysis of the act of prayer. In a typical Catholic home children are taught to pray every night before bed. Both children and adult Catholics traditionally pray before bed at home by kneeling aside their bed with their hands in prayer formation. Additionally, in Mass, prayers are often memorized and recited ritualistically such as the Hail Mary, Praying the Rosary, or the Lord’s Prayer. These Prayers are one of the strongest traditions in the Catholic Church. Stanford says, “the ‘liturgical prayer’ approach was used throughout the Church’s history to allow its leaders to place, above the views of individual believers, an officially sanctioned interpretation of the extracts from scriptures included in the cycles of readings to be used in the Mass” (Stanford 564). In addition, Catholics are expected to participate in the liturgy at mass, but personal prayer and daily devotions are personal matters and vary from Catholic to Catholic. In contrast, Protestant prayer tradition is much less structured. Protestants more commonly pray when inspired. For example, one may feel moved to pray to God when in the presence of a beautiful view or in a time of trouble. Although the two are praying to the same God and follow the same Bible, the Catholics and the Protestants evidently practice their faith through prayer in very different ways.
The differences between the two, however, do not stop there. Traditionally, Roman Catholics experience the Bible mostly within the setting of mass or formal Bible Studies. During this time, many Catholics rely on the Clergy’s interpretation of scripture and in most cases take the Bible literally. The most critical example would be how Catholics rely on the Biblical interpretations from the Pope as an appointed speaker of God. Instead, Protestant denominations typically encourage their pupils to pursue personal time reading the Bible. In addition, Protestants are encouraged to interpret and find meaning from the Bible on their own instead of just listening to the word of the Clergy. Protestants do not follow the direction of a Pope like figure, but instead rely on personal interpretation of the Bible for guidance through a faithful life. But for both denominations, Gerald OCollins, author of Catholicism: A Very Short Introduction, says, “As an inspired text, the Bible illuminates for millions of Catholics and other Christians the deepest reality of God and human beings” (OCollins 985).
In addition to the difference in Prayer-style and Biblical interpretations, a main difference between the two can be seen when entering a church. In regards to a Catholic entrance of a church Stanford says, “Outside of the sacraments, there is a variety of other devotions which have long been a part of Catholic life…making the sign of the cross as you enter a Catholic Church, with holy water from a stoup near the entrance. This is a form of cleansing and reminds Catholics of the baptismal vows” (Stanford 2527). On the contrary, Protestant denominations do not do this. Contemporary Protestant churches do not focus on ritualistic ideals such as a memorized prayer or using holy water to sign the cross. Instead, they focus their worship through passionate song, strong community, and deep reflection. Instead of simply glorifying and praising God, the essence of a Protestant Church service is to build a real and authentic relationship with Jesus. For some people, Catholicism can be considered “stuffy” or “impersonal” because of the traditions. Others, however, condemn Protestant churches for losing focus on God’s grace and lacking traditional structure.
The differences between Catholics and Protestants are clear and there are many others—including, for example, a difference of views on divorce, birth control, and heaven, hell, and purgatory. But, what hasn’t been recognized yet is how beautifully the two traditions can come together to create understanding. What once was a bloody and vengeful war between the two is now a peaceful coexistence. This coexistence is the leading example of reconciliation and genuine understanding between two different religious sects in today’s World. In particular, Pope Francis has been incredibly influential in promoting acceptance between all religions and coming together to promote love and peace. No matter the religious denomination—whether it be Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist, or Atheist, experiencing a historical Catholic site, such as Saint Peter’s Basilica, is equally awe-inspiring because the arts have always been, since the beginning, incredibly important to Catholics. One can see this simply through the ornate Basilicas drenched in rich architecture. These houses of worship hold some of the most extravagant paintings and sculptures by many of the most famous artists. All of these detailed artistic features aim to celebrate the greater glory of God and reflect His holiness. Although this may not be personally important for one to become faithful, any person can recognize that for many these traditions bring joy to people and that it is something for all people to celebrate.
Because of the rich cultural experiences studying Roman Catholicism has brought me, I have learned that it doesn’t necessarily matter what denomination or sect of Christianity you identify or don’t identify with. Instead, being a person of the World gives you an unquestionable duty to continually seek understanding of other people’s beliefs and to constantly challenge your own. This is truly what life is about.