Participation in Protestant Services
Question from Dave on 9 December 2004:
I've been asked whether it is permissable for a Catholic to attend Protestant services. Some schismatic SSPXers I've debated in the past have insisted that this is prohibited, quoting from Pope Pius XI, Mortalium Animos, 1928: Quote:"it is clear that the Apostolic See cannot on any terms take part in their assemblies, nor is it anyway lawful for Catholics either to support or to work for such enterprises; for if they do so they will be giving countenance to a false Christianity, quite alien to the one Church of Christ."
I contend this canonical discipline may have been true in 1928, and could have been interpreted in accord with the 1917 Code of Canon Law, canon 1325 which forbade Catholics to engage in debates or conferences with non-Catholics without the permission of the Holy See. However, even if that included all protestant services as "conferences" instead of merely pan-Christian movement promoting indifferentism, that 1917 canon seems abrogated by Pope Paul VI, NOSTRA AETATE, 1965: Quote:"The Church, therefore, exhorts her sons, that through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, carried out with prudence and love and in witness to the Christian faith and life, they recognize, preserve and promote the good things, spiritual and moral, as well as the socio-cultural values found among these men." ... as well as the 1983 Code of Canon Law, canon 755. I like your input, however. Is there any current prohibition with regard to Catholics attending Protestant services (assuming no reception of the sacraments), so long as they still meet the obligations to attend Catholic Mass?
Answer by Peter J. Howard, S.T.L. on 10 December 2004:
The heart of your question really is, if I understand you correctly: "Can a Catholic 'participate' in a Protestant liturgical service?" I think Pope John Paul II answered this question clearly in his Encyclical Letter "Ecclesia de Eucharistia" when he stated in number 30: "“It is unthinkable to substitute for Sunday Mass ecumenical celebrations of the word or services of common prayer with Christians from the aforementioned ecclesial communities, or even participation in their own liturgical services. Such celebrations and services, however praiseworthy in certain situations, prepare for the goal of full communion, including eucharistic communion, but they cannot replace it”.
So, the short answer to your question is Catholics cannot "participate" in Protestant liturgical services, even if Catholics fulfill their Sunday Mass obligation. This is primarily because "active participation" as we are called by the Second Vatican Council (Sacrosanctum Concilium # ) involves our body, mind, and spirit (which includes our intentions). When we do that in a Protestant liturgical service we act contrary to our faith which professes fundamentally different beliefs in critical
ecclesiological and theological areas. This is summarized in the theological maxim, "lex orandi lex credendi" (as we pray, so we believe). Catholics can, however, "observe" Protestant services for educational purposes to deepen one's understanding of that particular ecclesial community, but to have the intention to "actively participate" in their liturgical services acts contrary to our Catholic Faith which possesses through the ordained priesthood a valid, sacramental Eucharist which is the means and sign of total communion to which all Protestant churches tend. Protestant churches, despite what they may claim, do not have a valid, sacramental Eucharist because they lack a valid priesthood.
The words you quoted of Pope Pius XI from Mortalium Animos are not "outdated", but must be understood in their proper context which I believe Pope John Paul II provides in Ecclesia de Eucharistia. Pius XI's words are not contrary to ecumenism, but rather protect the Church from a false or misguided ecumenism which confuses the identity, purpose, and mission of the Catholic Church which possesses the fullness of truth and communion with Jesus Christ with something less. The goal of ecumenism is to bring all into fullness of communion with Jesus Christ in "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic" church as we profess every Sunday. We do this through honest and charitable dialogue, fervent prayer, and challenging our Protestant brothers and sisters to seek the truth. Dialogue for the sake of dialogue is fruitless. It must be an honest dialogue seeking the truth and the intention of Jesus Christ.
God bless you.
Later, in response to a letter to the editor of the diocesan paper from a priest, Mr. Howard stuck to his guns:
Well, Mr. Howard isn't some closet traditionalist--he's making up excuses and parsing things quite finely in order to defend the current order of business when it comes to non-Catholic sects. This response calls further into question Bishop Sheridan's apology, which ran in the Gazette on October 21:
Response to Letter to Editor Re: "Why not attend 'New Life'?"
By Peter J. Howard, S.T.L. 21 October 2005
Thank you, Father Slattery, for your thoughtful response. I would like to take this time to offer some needed clarifications based upon matters raised in your letter.
It is important to note that there are two reasons for a Catholic attending a non-Catholic denomination’s liturgical service. The first applies to weddings and funerals of non-Catholic Christians, where a Catholic may attend that service out of respect for the one being married or the one being buried. This is not what my column was addressing. My column addressed the second reason, namely, that Catholics attend a non-Catholic liturgical service to share in the faith of that particular assembly. This is the problem addressed by Pope Pius XI and by the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Ecumenism as cited below. Catholics who attend funerals or weddings of non-Catholics are not there to express their faith in that denomination. They are usually there simply out of human respect.
The same cannot be said for those who attend other denomination’s liturgical assemblies where the purpose of that assembly is to express that community’s particular Christian faith, which is not compatible with Catholicism. I am
troubled by your statement regarding Catholics being told “they could not attend weddings of Catholics in a non-Catholic church.” This is not something that has changed since Vatican II. Catholics are bound to observe canonical form when they marry. Unless a dispensation from form was granted through the bishop, they remain bound to observe it. Any attempt otherwise results in an invalid marriage and the couple’s manifest scandal to the church. This is the teaching of the Catholic Church and for Catholics to think it is OK to witness what they know to be an invalid marriage in the eyes of the church only adds to that scandal. This certainly has not changed since Vatican II.
The vespers service you alluded to at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome was an “ecumenical service” which is not the same as a Protestant community’s liturgical service for their own assembly. The ecumenical prayer service is a jointly-organized prayer service focusing on common elements of faith between the Catholic Church and participating Christian communities, while Protestant churches’ particular liturgical service is an
expression of their particular faith which, “on account of their origins, and different teachings in matters of doctrine vary considerably, not only with us, but also among themselves,” [Vatican II, Decree on Ecumenism, 19] although there may be common elements of faith between Protestant communities and the Catholic Church.
One further clarification, the Assisi gatherings convened by John Paul II were not ecumenical, but inter-religious events. Moreover, the various religious faiths (Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, et al.) never “prayed together,” but, as John Paul stated, “came together to pray” according to their respective religious faiths and in different sections of Assisi when it came time for the various religions to pray for peace.
It is true that the Second Vatican Council ushered in a new ecumenical age of the church, as evidenced in its Decree on Ecumenism, “Unitatis Redintegratio” [UR]. However, there remains misunderstanding by some as to what true “ecumenical sensitivity” entails. The church has never taught that random participation in Protestant liturgical services as an authentic expression of Catholic faith is acceptable or even ecumenical. Nowhere is this promoted in Vatican II or any other official teaching of the Catholic Church. In fact, UR states the opposite in No. 8: “Worship in common is not to be considered as a means to be used indiscriminately for the restoration of Christian unity” — and precisely for the reasons you list at the end of your letter. When this teaching is compromised, even with the best of intentions, Catholics endanger their salvation by being misled by false doctrines, expose the church to potential scandal by giving the appearances of belonging to a non- Catholic church, or even lose their Catholic faith.
Catholics must ask themselves, “Do I truly believe that the Catholic Church is the one and only church founded by Jesus Christ, has possessed and faithfully transmitted the fullness of truth for 2000 years, is the mainstream and instrument of God’s grace and possesses the greatest gift of all: the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ truly present in the Holy Eucharist?” If I do, then why would I ever entertain the thought of participating in any other denomination’s liturgical assemblies which cannot claim the same? How is this treasury of the Catholic Church ever insufficient? How can it ever be exhausted?
Local Catholic diocese believes in ecumenism
Recently, my assistant Peter Howard gave an interview to The Gazette regarding relations of Catholics with non-Catholics. The result of that interview was an article in Monday’s Gazette (“Protestant services not OK for Catholics,” Life). While I do not believe that it was intended, many people were offended. While Howard is free to express his opinions as a Catholic layman, the interview was done without my knowledge or direction and does not represent my thinking on the subject. Nevertheless, I am deeply sorry for any hurt or insult that has been experienced, and I humbly ask that all men and women of good will accept my apology. The Catholic church is irrevocably dedicated to the ecumenical movement, which found its modern impetus in the Second Vatican Council. That council urged all Catholics to engage in the work of ecumenism “in fidelity to the truth and with a spirit of good will.” I want nothing but good will to prevail in our community. In all denominations there is a desire to retain members and help them grow in the faith they have professed. However, that concern for the spiritual well-being of our members must never express itself in ways that hurt our brothers and sisters in Christ. Even more, it should be unthinkable that we demean the teachings or disciplines of denominations other than our own or engage in name-calling of any kind. The many Christian denominations remain separated from each other to one degree or another. But all who have the name “Christian” rejoice in a unity that comes from our common faith in Jesus Christ. Even though we may not yet be sharing fully in worship with one another, there is so much we can and ought to be doing together. Not least among the ways that we can express our solidarity is by engaging in projects that benefit our fellow Christians and, indeed, all in the human family. I want all to know that I remain steadfastly committed to the ecumenical endeavor begun four decades ago and I dedicate myself to the first and most fundamental dimension of ecumenical relations — mutual respect and friendship.
Bishop Michael J. Sheridan Colorado Springs
One less Bishop on my honor roll, and one (now former) lay chancery official (imagine that, me praising a lay chancery official!) to add to it. Kudos to you, Mr. Howard for (1) earning a licentiate in sacred theology in this day and age without losing your faith, (2) speaking the truth, (3) not backing down from it, even though it meant you had to quit or get fired by Sheridan.