Currently I’m attending a Catholic church. There are many reasons why, but most of them are about making it easier for my husband to take communion where he is comfortable to do that and helping my daughters understand the different traditions of the Church.
I have attended many different denominations of Church – mainly by accident! My family is CofE, my school was Methodist, the nearest church to me in North London was United Reformed, the best place for retreat for me was a Catholic Monastery, I lived on a NATO base and the choice was Episcopal or bust. I have valued the different traditions I’ve encountered along the way and the overwhelming knowledge that in each tradition was God.
Attending a Catholic church over a prolonged period has led me to conclude that my understanding of Christianity is essentially a Protestant one, this is despite the fact that I think the current Pope is someone I would happily be guided by on many matters. However, there are some very important things that come out of the Catholic tradition that I feel Protestants have lost in their struggle to take responsibility for their own actions and respect the identities of the individual.
Here is my current (non-exhaustive) list:-
Festivals, rituals and the marking of time – Did you know we are now in Ordinary Time? I love Ordinary Time, it makes up most of the year but there are other festivals and moments that mark out the passage of time which are useful for focusing the soul from Lent and Easter to Advent and Epiphany. And to accompany these moments the Church has devised rituals. But the Catholics have maintained a little more of this than the Protestants, more spiritual formality, marking out different moments in our lives. Rituals are positive and useful as long as they don’t turn into superstition or ‘magic’.
Strong impetus to public works – Public good seems to often be something left to the communion plate and the individual conscience in my experience of the Protestant church. There is more Church led work in the Catholic tradition from providing Peanut Butter weekly to kids who don’t get breakfast to funding education in under served communities. It’s up front and out there and that makes it easier to access.
Individual experience of God – there is a very public, communal experience that comes via the charistmatics, but not so much of the still, small voice. Catholics have retained a more contemplative element, probably linked to the fact that they retained their communities of monks, nuns and friars whereas Henry VIII took them for all their gold and Luther rejected their mysticism as superstition and magic, throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
On this note, I refer you to a great podcast I have discovered, The Liturgists and a particular episode with the friar RIchard Rohr – The Cosmic Christ. The interview is conducted by two of The Liturgists Science Mike and Michael Gungor and is excellent on theological development and creating too small a Christ. Its’ mystical but filtered through the lens of two ex-atheists it’s revealing about contemplative practice and a more mystical experience of God. Get ready for a challenge!