Going to Church, Slightly Illuminated


Thanks to all of you who responded to yesterday’s blog question. Since I spent the entire day moving ten cubic yards of mulch, it wasn’t until this afternoon that I finally read your comments and those from Frank’s post.

The purpose of this exercise was to see if there is a particular difference in what drives Catholics and Protestants to corporate worship (such insight is of interest to me since Frank and I are contributing to a book which addresses conversion across the Catholic/Protestant divide). Based on your answers, our hypothesis was confirmed: the chief reason why most Evangelicals attend worship is to hear God’s Word preached while most Catholics go to receive the Eucharist. For instance, here is how one Catholic put it:

I go to Mass every Sunday to be connected to the Heavenly Liturgy. I always think of the Mass as a wormhole connecting Heaven and Earth, and through that wormhole Jesus physically comes to us.

Even though my view of the Mass is obviously different from a Catholic position, I nevertheless like how this reader uses the wormhole metaphor. It’s a vivid way to describe the reality of sin. Accordingly, the way Jesus is believed to “physically come to us,” from a Catholic point of view, is in the consecrated host. For evangelicals, however, the most common way that we anticipate the coming of Jesus is in the preaching of Scripture.  My purpose here is not to argue against the Catholic teaching of a transubstantiated presence, but to simply point out that this difference of doctrine is profoundly practical, influencing both groups on the basic level of what draws us to worship on Sunday. It is, among other reasons, why Catholics will often decline an invitation to join you for a worship service at your Protestant church.  Such insight can be enormously helpful when we talk with our Catholic friends and loved ones about church, clarifying where some lines of similarity and difference fall, helping us to communicate the gospel more effectively.

About the author

Chris Castaldo (PhD, London School of Theology) is the lead pastor at New Covenant Church in Naperville, Illinois. He is the author of Talking with Catholics about the Gospel and coauthor of The Unfinished Reformation.


  1. Mr. Wormhole here. At Mass of course with all the readings (Old Testament 1st reading; Psalm; Epistle; Gospel; homily usually a commentary on the readings) I do hear God’s Word preached. You are right though, the Eucharist is the heart of the Mass. I look at it like this: Jesus’ great distinction was that unlike YHWH, he was both spirit and flesh; so flesh & spirit humans could now encounter God through both of their natures. So f’rinstance, the bleeding woman touched his hem; he put mud on the blind man’s eyes; the friends of the paralytic shoved him through the roof to get him in front of Jesus. So on Sunday, I see the Eucharist as a temporary way He maintains our physical access to him until the Second Coming, at which point we will have an eternal physical relationship to him.

    It’s ok if y’all don’t agree; I’m just elaborating on how the Mass looks to me.

    This is for kids, but may be of interest:


  2. Christian had sent me a link to this site and thought I might have a thought or two to contribute. I am in my forties and a lifelong Protestant, as is my wife. We currently attend a large Evangelical church with our children where we are quite active. I have, however, felt the pull of the Catholic Church for years, a pull that has intensified for the last two years.

    Almost my entire adult life I have thought the most important aspects of corporate worship, in order, were: 1. celebrating communion, 2. singing hymns of praise, 3. the offering, 4. the sermon. In recent years I have come to see how outside the mainstream of Evangelical life this view is. I have always been drawn to the celebration of communion, grew up in a church where it was celebrated every Sunday, savor when it is celebrated with honor and dignity, and cringe when it is handled with no more respect than a sack of McDonald’s. Years ago I used to carry a copy of St. Ambrose’s eucharistic prayer in my pocket and would pray it silently, in Latin, as our church celebrated communion.

    Singing hymns and the offering took the next two places of importance for me because both were about my giving something to God. The sermon came last because it was more about me, what I could learn.

  3. Good for you my brother! In general, we evangelicals fail to appreciate the significance of communion as a God-appointed time to celebrate the life and death of our Lord Jesus. I’d like to think that one can take communion seriously, as you do, without having to embrace transubstantiation, immolation, and other such Catholic distinctive, which, in my humble opinion, are foreign to the teaching of the Old and New Testaments.

    The reason why I wrote Holy Ground was precisely for friends like you who are wrestling through questions about how the Catholic and Protestant traditions compare and contrast. If you ever have a chance to read it, I would love to receive your feedback.

    Thanks also to Christian! I will use that wormhole image sometime soon in writing or preaching. Thanks. -Chris

  4. People sometimes prefer the Orthodox who don’t carry Aquinas’ Scholastic explanation & terminology. I even tell my Sunday Schoolers that the East isn’t comfortable with trying to overexplain what they regard as a Mystery.


  5. Yes, terminology is part of the challenge. Immolation, simply, the notion that Christ is presented in a state of victimhood.

  6. Ah, OK. I didn’t know of this term’s use outside of Old Covenant sacrifice.

    When my 6th graders cover the Mass I use this line of thinking on Christ the victim:

    Jesus offered himself at the Last Supper: “my body which will be given up for you,” that is, on Friday.

    The New Covenant lamb was sacrificed at another time and place, the next day on Calvary by soldiers who “didn’t know what they were doing.” Crucifixion’s not reenacted at Mass ’cause Jesus didn’t say “do this,” etc. on the Cross.

    Mass connects us to the continual heavenly liturgy, per Rev 4,5 & 8 (prayers, incense, Holy, Holy, etc.), where Jesus, as the slain Lamb (the victim) stands before the throne. (Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, etc.)

    When the Mass re-enacts the Last Supper, like the Last Supper it’s connected to Christ the victim, in another place & time, who is right now in heaven presenting his victim-slain-Lamb self to the Father.

    The crucifixion was a one-time earthly event which is the manifestation in earthly reality of the perfect sacrifice of the new Passover Lamb, etc. which exists in an eternal present in Heaven where there is no time and space; i.e., the Lamb as victim is always in front of the throne of the Father, who exists outside of time & space.

    So at Mass we’re connecting to the slain lamb in Heaven by recalling the that one-time crucifixion. And of course we believe He makes himself present so we can physically eat the New Passover Lamb.

    I don’t mean to beat this it to death or criticize your Christian faith because we don’t agree about everything. I only intend to show how the Mass makes sense to me.

  7. One of the things that caused me to return to the Church was the discovery of what the early Christian worship service was like. It had marked similarities to the Mass and the early assemblies believed that they were receiving the actual body and blood of the Lord Jesus. Though the term “transubstantiation” was coined in the 11th century by Aquinas, the belief that Christ was becoming present in the “eucharisted” bread and wine upon the altar is frequently found in the writings of the early church.
    Once I realized that Jesus was truly there in the Mass on the altar and I could physically receive Him, then the great preaching and excellent contemporary worship music, etc,(in my former evangelical church) no longer attracted me.
    Here is the writing of a disciple of John’s(the one whom Jesus loved):
    “Take note of those who hold heterodox opinions on the grace of Jesus Christ which has come to us, and see how contrary their opinions are to the mind of God. . . . They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which that Father, in his goodness, raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes” (Letter to the Smyrnaeans 6:2–7:1 [A.D. 110]).

    A little later on:
    “We call this food Eucharist, and no one else is permitted to partake of it, except one who believes our teaching to be true and who has been washed in the washing which is for the remission of sins and for regeneration [i.e., has received baptism] and is thereby living as Christ enjoined. For not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nurtured, is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus” (First Apology 66 [A.D. 151]).

    My reason for posting this is because I had always been told that the ultimate worship experience was to emulate the early christians. My pastor in my evangelical church told us that we worshiped as the early believers did. I accepted this unquestioning.Later in life, I found the writings of the early Christian writers which led me to the conclusion that that the “ultimate worship experience” for me, is to celebrate the “breaking of the bread, ” the Mass, which has been essentially unchanged for 2000 years.

  8. Thanks Christian and Russell. These are well articulated explanations. I see the logic, and Christian you have explained it with remarkable clarity. My problem is that I just don’t see any precedent in the text of Scripture itself for what you’ve described. For instance, when we look at the Passover, I don’t see any sense of mystical connection, actual manifestation of divine presence, or impartation of sanctifying grace. Instead, it seems to have been about remembering what God did in the exodus (and the covenant that followed) in order for God’s people to maintain a living faith.

    Russell, your citations of the Fathers should cause us to pause and think. It’s easy for us evangelicals to dismiss it out of hand b/c it doesn’t fit with our theology. Even so, at the end of the day, (I believe with Protestantism that) we need to let inspired revelation have the last word and in this case I don’t see the biblical evidence supporting Catholic teaching. To some this will sound like terrible audacity and presumption, to contradict Christian leaders writing in the second century. However, my humble response would be to look at Peter and Paul in Galatians 2. Peter, the great Apostle who walked with Jesus for three years got it seriously wrong. Thus, proximity is no guarantee of orthodoxy; rather it’s found in inspiration by the Holy Spirit.

    Thanks also for the scripturecatholic link. I’m familiar with John Salza’s ministry. John is a lawyer by training and extremely zealous for apologetics (especially when it’s pointed at Protestants). But, with all due respect, I haven’t found his biblical exegesis to be very convincing.

    Thanks men for your thoughtfulness. Richest blessings! -Chris

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