The two things that define the Catholic faith are Her doctrines (teachings), and the sacraments. In other parts of my book “Thoughts of An Average Catholic” I deal with how the teachings of the Catholic Church are true, and have come down to us from the time of the Apostles. But for this document, which will be included in my book, I am going to deal with the sacramental aspect of it. (I will use the Revised Standard Version of the Bible for Biblical quote in this section).
Note: This document is dealing with the differences between Catholics and Protestants especially in regards to the Eucharist. There is another huge portion of Christianity out there – the Orthodox. In other parts of my “Thoughts of an Average Catholic” I mention differences between the Orthodox and Catholics, but that is just not the main focus of this document. The Orthodox and Catholics are much closer than either of these are with Protestants.
A big difference between a Catholic Mass and a Protestant service is that a Catholic Mass is centered on a sacrifice, the Eucharist, while a Protestant service is centered around the preacher. The Eucharist is a very big deal for Catholics. It defines who we are. It is our very Lord coming down to us in a most intimate way. The Eucharist is the very Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ
I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever.”
Jesus was stating here something huge. He stated that unless you eat His flesh and drink His blood, you will not have life within you. THIS IS A BIG DEAL. I am going to show that Jesus Christ gave His Church, His Apostles, the power to confer sacraments, and that this power to confer sacraments was handed on to the successors of the Apostles. The BIG DEAL here is that the Catholic (and yes, the Orthodox… another part of my book) have the ability to practice the sacraments – particularly Confession, the Eucharist, Holy Orders, Confirmation, and Extreme Unction. Protestant denominations, Protestants ministers, have not been given the power to perform these sacraments!
And when the hour came, he sat at table, and the apostles with him.
And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you I shall not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after supper, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.
As shown in the Gospel of Luke, above, Jesus did not mean the Eucharist to be a one-time event, but meant for the Church to repeat this sacrifice of Jesus The Last Supper matches up with the Gospel of John, Ch 6, when Jesus says “Unless you eat the Flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His Blood, you will not have life within you”.
This sacrifice, the Eucharist, is very important. Catholics have the ability to perform this sacrifice. Protestants do not.
1 Corinthians 10:15-18
I speak as to sensible men; judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. Consider the people of Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices partners in the altar?
Again, another Apostle, the Apostle to the Gentiles, shows how important the Eucharist is.
I would also recommend reading the First Apology of Saint Justin Martyr. But for now, I am going to move on. I wish to show that Jesus gave the leaders of his Church, the Apostles, the ability to perform sacraments. And this ability was passed on, which I will show in a bit.
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.“
This passage shows more specifically Our Lord imparting the power to forgive sins to the heads of the Church, the Apostles. But note that it is here, after His resurrection, that Jesus is establishing His Church, and is giving the leaders of His Church some of His own power, such as the power to forgive sins.
Look especially at the words “He breathed on them”. Some people might just gloss over this detail, but again, THIS IS A BIG DEAL. The only other part of all of Scripture where God breathes on anyone, is when He breathed into Adam’s nostrils. (Genesis 2:7) He breathed into Adam’s nostrils, giving him the “breath of life”, endowing Adam with some of God’s life, God’s power.
And now, in John’s Gospel, is the only other time that God (in the man of Jesus), breathed on a human being. Jesus is giving the leaders of the Church, the Apostles, some of His own divine power and life! It is this power that the Apostles can use to perform the sacraments, such as forgive sins (John 20:22-23) or consecrate the Eucharist (Luke 22:14-20), or perform Extreme Unction, also known as Last Rites (James 5:13-16)
The Handing On of God’s Power
The things I’ve discussed here, so far, is that the sacraments that the Church has been given by Our Lord are a BIG DEAL (sorry about being repetitive, but I am trying to make a point), and that Our Lord gave the power to the Apostles. The Eucharist, the consumption of Our Lord’s Body and Blood, is a particularly big deal because Jesus tells us in John Ch 6 that “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His blood, you will not have life within you”! These are huge words, powerful words. If I want God’s life within me, then I better find ministers of the Lord that can give me this wonderful gift!!
I have shown that the power to confer sacraments were given to the Apostles. Who has them now? How did the Apostles hand this power onto others? While the documents of the Church Fathers show this, I want to stay within Sacred Scripture. And Sacred Scripture shows that the Apostles could pass on the powers that Jesus gave them through the “laying on of hands”.
But there was a man named Simon who had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the nation of Sama’ria, saying that he himself was somebody great.
They all gave heed to him, from the least to the greatest, saying, “This man is that power of God which is called Great.” And they gave heed to him, because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic. But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed.
Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Sama’ria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit; for it had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, “Give me also this power, that any one on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” But Peter said to him, “Your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Repent therefore of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.” And Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.”
This passage in the Acts of the Apostles is very important. For one thing, it shows that there are two separate sacraments at work here.
The first sacrament is Baptism – “they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.”
The Apostles could also confer the sacrament of Confirmation, which other people could not perform – “Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit”. Another Catholic sacrament.
Note how the Apostles passed on their power – through the laying on of hands. The Apostles performed the Sacrament of Confirmation through the laying on of hands. Note also that they have the ability to give this power that they had received from Jesus Christ (John 20:22-23) to others. Simon the Magician asked to have this power, and he was refused.
So the Apostles had the ability to pass on the power to confer sacraments to others! And this power was passed on through the laying on of hands!
The Eucharist Today
Who has the power to give us the Body and Blood of Our Lord today? Who has the power to perform the Eucharist. The people who have the power to perform the Eucharist are those with an unbroken line of the “laying on of hands” all the way back to the Apostles. Catholics and Orthodox call this unbroken line Apostolic Succession. The Apostles passed on their power through the “Laying on of Hands” to their successors, the bishops.
So, if you put 2 and 2 together, it comes down to this. The Protestant denominations do not have an unbroken line of “ordination” through the “laying on of hands” that go all the way back to the original Apostles. Even Saint Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, needed this “laying on of hands”, this ordination, in order to have the powers of the Apostles, the power of the bishops (Acts 9:17-19). Since Protestant denominations do not have this Apostolic Succession, they do not have the Eucharist. They do not have the sacrament of Confession. They do not have Extreme Unction (last rites). They do not have Holy Orders. They do not have Confirmation. They do not have these powers.
The Catholic Church, and the Orthodox Church, has an unbroken line through the “laying on of hands”, going all the way back to the Apostles. Therefore the Catholics, and the Orthodox, do have the Eucharist. They do have Holy Orders. They do have Extreme Unction. They do have Confession.
Going back to the Eucharist, it comes down to this. Catholics have the Body and Blood of Christ. Protestants don’t. Protestants don’t have the Eucharist because they do not have the unbroken line, the “laying on of hands”, going all the way back to the Apostles.
For one last time, lets go back to John Ch 6 – “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His blood, you will not have life within you.”
Very powerful words. And Protestants do not have the flesh and blood of Our Lord.
This doesn’t mean, however, that Jesus never works through individual Protestants. A Protestant can study Jesus, preach the words of Jesus, and follow Jesus. Traditional Catholics often have more in common with good conservative Protestants than they do with extreme liberal Catholics, who seem to, along with their liberal Protestant counterparts, try to explain away the morals that Jesus preaches in the Bible. Protestants validly Baptize, assuming they use the correct words. Protestants can be moved through the Holy Spirit to help others, both in normal and mysterious ways.
However, Protestants do not have the sacraments, with the exceptions of Baptism and Marriage. And, once again especially regarding the Eucharist, THIS IS A BIG DEAL. Due to its unique position, the Catholic Church is the ladder to heaven. Anyone who makes it to heaven, makes it to heaven up the “Catholic ladder”, even if they are not aware this is what they are doing (look up Baptism of Desire).
The Catholic Church is Christ’s Church.