Lord’s Day 30 (Q/A 80-82): CATHOLIC

80* Q.   How does the Lord’s Supper
               differ from the Roman Catholic Mass?

A.    The Lord’s Supper declares to us
that all our sins are completely forgiven
through the one sacrifice of Jesus Christ,
which he himself accomplished on the cross once for all.^1
It also declares to us
that the Holy Spirit grafts us into Christ,^2
who with his true body
is now in heaven at the right hand of the Father^3
where he wants us to worship him.^4

But the Mass teaches
that the living and the dead
do not have their sins forgiven
through the suffering of Christ
unless Christ is still offered for them daily by the priests.
It also teaches
that Christ is bodily present
under the form of bread and wine
where Christ is therefore to be worshiped.
Thus the Mass is basically
nothing but a denial
of the one sacrifice and suffering of Jesus Christ
and a condemnable idolatry.

^1 Heb. 7:27; 9:12, 26-28; 10:10, 12-14; John 19:30; Matt. 26:28; Luke 22:19-20
^2 1 Cor. 6:17; 10:16; 12:13
^3 Heb. 1:3; 8:1
^4 John 4:21-23; 20:17; Luke 24:52; Acts 7:55-56; Col. 3:1; Phil. 3:20; 1 Thess. 1:10

*Question and Answer 80 reflects the polemical debates of the Reformation and was added in the second German edition of 1563.  The second and fourth sentences of the Answer, as well as the concluding phrase, were added in the third German edition of 1563.  After the fourth sentence, the third German and Latin texts have a note to the section on consecration in the Canon of the Mass.

As detailed in the preface to the Book of Confessions, these condemnations and characterizations of the Catholic Church are not the position of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and are not applicable to current relationships between the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Catholic Church.


81   Q.   Who should come
               to the Lord’s table?

A.    Those who are displeased with themselves
because of their sins,
but who nevertheless trust
that their sins are pardoned
and that their remaining weakness is covered
by the suffering and death of Christ,
and who also desire more and more
to strengthen their faith
and to lead a better life.

Hypocrites and those who are unrepentant, however,
eat and drink judgment on themselves.^1

^1 1 Cor. 10:21; 11:28[-29]


82   Q.   Should those be admitted
               to the Lord’s Supper
               who show by what they profess and how they live
               that they are unbelieving and ungodly?

A.    No, that would dishonor God’s covenant
and bring down God’s wrath upon the entire congregation.^1
Therefore, according to the instruction of Christ
and his apostles,
the Christian church is duty-bound to exclude such people,
by the official use of the keys of the kingdom,
until they reform their lives.

^1 1 Cor. 11:20, 34; Isa. 1:11; 66:3; Jer. 7:21[-26]; Ps. 50:16

LORD’S DAY 30 (Q/A 80-82)

For autobiographical disclosure, I was baptized in the Roman Catholic Church. Exact location? The Black Construction Camp Chapel in the city of Harmon on the island of Guam. The date? October 3, in the year of my birth (you’ll have to guess my age).  My father’s family is Roman Catholic, my mother’s family is from the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP). Both of my grandmothers were passionate about the particular faith traditions and emphases: my paternal grandmother had her statue of Mary the Mother of Jesus, her rosary beads and candles; my maternal grandmother had her Bible, notepad and pen, jotting down insights for next Sunday’s older adult Bible study class and to record prayer concerns for family and friends.

It wasn’t until later in college I became Presbyterian. And it wasn’t until I prepared for the ordained ministry that I encountered the various strands of the Reformed faith, Presbyterianism, and beyond that, the various kinds of Protestantism, the variety of worship practices, and the Eastern Orthodox side of the Christian community. Graduate studies in liturgical theology and ecumenical theology, combined with worldwide travel further expanded my encounter with and appreciation for being “catholic.”

When I became pastor of Middlesex Presbyterian Church in central New Jersey, were it not for the lawn sign that indicated this community of faith belonged to the part of the body of Christ called the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), this congregation would have been non-denominational. It was no wonder, then, that when we moved to weekly celebration of the Lord’s Table, some in the congregation called it “becoming Catholic.” When we started to use the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving, this was called “Catholic.” And when the term “Eucharist” was used, that was seen, by a few, as “too Catholic.” As a compromise, the worship bulletins described the sacrament as “The Lord’s Table-Eucharist-Communion;” note the em-dash. This descriptor was a way to include all those meanings, education and appreciation by expansion.

Seven years later, the same objectors now look forward to our weekly celebration. The word “Eucharist” is used interchangeably with “Communion.”  The children of the congregation, including our own, are accustomed to the Sursum Corda (The Lord be with you/And also with you/Lift up your hearts…) as well as the pattern and words of the Great Prayer.

That’s being “catholic.”  Note the upper-case and lower-case “c.”

When we confess the Creed every week, and say “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church,” that statement hinges on the person and work of the Holy Spirit.

The expansiveness of the Church of Jesus Christ, with all its diversity, its variety, is expressive of the expansive ministry of the triune God through the Holy Spirit, who transcends time and space.

Part of the wonder of the Holy Spirit’s ministry is this dynamic relationship between local-global, particular-universal, unique-catholic.

Q/A 80-82 speaks to our Reformed tradition’s grappling with what is being done, what is being expressed, what is being effected at the Lord’s Table-Eucharist-Communion.

Theologian George Hunsinger in his book, Eucharist and Ecumenism (Cambridge University Press, 2008), states that the enduring theological arguments about the Table have been centered on the twin issues of the real presence of Jesus Christ and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Where is Christ? How is Christ’s presence known? How is Christ’s work on the cross efficacious? How does the Church receive the benefits of the cross?

Being “catholic” in faith necessarily means expansiveness, comprehensiveness, but tethered to particular communities, tethered to certain practices. It is humanly impossible to fully understand as we are fully known by God.

Q/A 80 highlights the cross and the one, efficacious, decisive death of Christ. But even then, that’s not the whole story. For our dying to our lives of sin and our living into the new life in Christ are not just accomplished on the cross. The cross was connected to Christ’s ministry of 30 years, which was connected to his taking on flesh and blood (incarnation). The cross presumed the resurrection three days later, which presumed his ascending to heaven, and through him the Holy Spirit would be sent; which presumed his return.  Our salvation, our reconciliation, our deliverance by God through Christ in the Holy Spirit – the expansiveness and comprehensiveness of it all – is effected in:

incarnation-Christ’s 30 year ministry-death-resurrection-ascension-return

Note the em-dash. We need the em-dash because otherwise God could have parachuted Jesus Christ directly to the cross, accomplish our forgiveness in nine hours, and be done with it. The expansiveness and comprehensiveness of God’s work of salvation are not isolated to one event, even as the event of the cross is decisive, radical, essential and constitutive to the overall work of salvation and reconciliation.

Which is why when we approach Q/A 81 and 82, the sections that ask “Who should come?” and what about the “unbelieving and the ungodly?”, the same principle applies.  The comprehensiveness and expansiveness of the person and work of the Holy Spirit are beyond what we comprehend.  The responsibility of the Church has been, is, and always will be to proclaim the Gospel, to testify of the Good News, trusting that the Holy Spirit will work in the lives of a whole cast of characters within and outside the Church catholic.

So, yes, I am “catholic.” We all are. Not in the sense that we belong to the once-undivided Church, if there ever was one. We are catholic because in the comprehensiveness and expansiveness of our wrestling, of our grappling with what it means to be people of God, followers of Jesus Christ…there, here, accompanying us, beneath us, above us, inside us, beyond us, among us…is the person of the triune God, who, in His Son, through the Holy Spirit, numbers us among the entire human community, and calls us, and calls so many others, too numerous to count, too large to fathom, and makes us worthy to feast at the Table which the Lord has prepared.