“Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:12). There are Catholics. There are Protestants. Even within those two groups, there are plenty of sects and denominations to be found. We read the same book, but come away with such different interpretations. For someone with a (sometimes too) curious and (far too) anxious mind, a question arises. Why?
I’ll be the first to tell you, I didn’t grow up in the church. Even today, I don’t always quite feel at home, like I’m with family, let alone friends. I’m no expert on theology, but I love to learn. And church has allowed me to learn from fascinating people, many of whom think differently than me. One thing I’ve heard from time and time is that Catholics are not Christians.
They told me what Catholics believe, who they worship, even that they are a “cult.” Unsurprisingly, the person sharing was not Catholic. More unsurprisingly, after I asked whether they expressed these concerns to a Catholic, they said, “No.”
Experience shows, we learn when we talk to people. Not those who think like we do, but those who can teach us something new, something different. That’s why I sought out and found a Catholic, so that I could learn just what they think, not secondhand, but right from the source.
Thus, in stepped Jenna, a young, intelligent, charismatic woman born and raised Catholic. We met after I visited a local church, which she too was visiting. I asked her the question I always ask. Here’s what she said.
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A Conversation with a Catholic on Religious Differences
Q: Share with me a bit of background on your faith. Were you raised Catholic?
A: I was raised in a two-parent, conservative Catholic household in Northern Virginia. I was baptized as an infant and grew up in the faith. We went to Mass every weekend, on all Holy Days, and I received all my sacraments (Baptism, First Confession, First Communion, and Confirmation) at our home church.
Every summer, from ages 8-18, I attended a Christian sports camp in the mountains of Pennsylvania, and in middle school, I belonged to a youth group at a Methodist Church.
Growing up, I always had friends and peers of different Christian faiths, and learned many different perspectives and viewpoints on the Bible and its teachings.
Whatever we believe in childhood, at some point we have to decide as an individual whether to maintain our religion or apostatize. What was that decision like for you?
Having been raised in a family of devout Catholics, I was encouraged and expected to study Catholic doctrine and apologetics. My parents ensured that I was baptized as an infant (customary for Catholics), and that I received the sacraments of Confession and Holy Communion.
As mentioned, I attended a non-denominational Christian middle school for three years. I was met with many questions from peers and teachers alike, who didn’t understand or agree with my beliefs. These experiences led me to desire a deeper understanding of my faith, not only to grow my relationship with the Lord but also effectively communicate my beliefs to others.
This decision also coincided with receiving the sacrament of Confirmation at age 13, through which the Holy Spirit imparts additional sanctifying grace on the recipient. In the Catholic Church, this sacrament is recognized as the pivotal moment in a Catholic’s life where they profess their belief and accept the challenge of always acting in strength and courage to defend and fight for their faith.
What does Catholic mass entail?
Most simply, Mass is a holy celebration of Jesus’ life and ultimate sacrifice for us on the cross. Catholics are obligated to attend Mass each week (at a minimum) to receive the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist. Mass itself contains four main parts or ‘rites,’ each one having unique components.
The first rite is the Introductory Rite. The second rite is the Liturgy of the Word. The third part of the Mass is called the Liturgy of the Eucharist. And during the final part of Mass is the Concluding Rite.
Differences Between Catholics and Protestant Faiths
This may sound silly, but do Catholics worship Jesus?
Catholics worship Jesus as He is the One and Only God in three divine Persons (the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), and He is the one true Savior of the world. Protestants often say that Catholics worship Mary and the Saints, but this is not true; Mary and the Saints deserve honor, however, God deserves our worship.
What are some notable differences between the Catholics and Protestant faiths?
I’ve had conversations with friends of the Protestant faith, and most of our differences concern: infant baptism, Confession, the Eucharist, honoring Mary and the Saints, the Pope, Purgatory, and contraception/abortion.
I’ve heard that Catholics worship Mary and the Saints. Is this true?
Catholics worship and adore God in the Holy Trinity, but honor Mary and the Saints. There is an important distinction between worshiping and honoring. Without God, Mary and the Saints have no meaning or independent power. Catholics understand that adoration is given to God, and that veneration is given to Mary and the Saints.
Why do you pray to Mary and the Saints? Is there a Biblical basis for this tradition?
It is true that we pray to Mary and the Saints, however, our prayers are for Mary and the Saints to intercede for us and strengthen us in our faith in Jesus. This is like asking a friend, family member, or pastor to pray for us. In fact, it continues the ancient Christian tradition of paying respect to and asking for intercession from those that are in Heaven.
In the Apostle’s Creed, recited by Catholics and many Protestants, we state our belief in the “communion of Saints,” which refers to the unity between all believers, both living and dead. In Romans 12:5 and 8:35-39, we are reminded that all Christians are members of Christ’s body, that death cannot separate Christians from Christ or one another. As we pray for and ask prayers of the members of the body of Christ, we believe Mary and the Saints are not excluded from this. In Revelation 8:3-4, we are told that the Angels and Saints place the prayers of the holy ones at God’s feet, supporting those prayers with their intercessions. Thus, Catholics call upon the Saints and Angels in Heaven to intercede for us before the throne of God.
What books of Scripture do Catholics recognize that the Protestant Church does not?
The Catholic Bible includes 7 books - Wisdom, Sirach, Judith, Baruch, Tobit, and 1 and 2 Maccabees, as well as additional verses from Daniel and Esther. Since the Councils of Hippo (AD 390), the Catholic Church has recognized 46 books in the Old Testament. To understand and explain the history more clearly, I turned to a book of Catholic Apologetics, written by Fr. Frank Chacon and Jim Burnham in 2010. Fr. Chacon and Burnham explain that the Protestant Old Testament is based on the Hebrew canon while the Catholic Old Testament is based on the Greek canon.
During the reign of Ptolemy II Philadelphus in Egypt (285-246 BC), a translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek began by 70 or 72 Jewish scholars (6 from each of the twelve tribes), and from this translation comes the term “Septuagint” which is Latin for “70.” The Septuagint was the translation used by Jesus and the New Testament writers, and the great majority of Old Testament quotations in the New Testament are from the Septuagint. In fact, two Protestant authors, Gregory Chirichigno and Gleason Archer (2005) found 340 places where the New Testament cites the Septuagint and only 33 places where the citation comes from the Hebrew canon. The Hebrew canon continued to be debated and eventually, rabbinic Judaism rejected seven books from the Hebrew canon that were found in the Septuagint.
In 1529, Martin Luther adopted the 39-book of canon as the Old Testament canon because these Greek books had no Jewish counterparts. The Dead Sea Scrolls found later at Qumran in 1945, however, contained ancient Hebrew copies of some of the disputed books. It is also important to note that Martin Luther attempted to exclude Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation from the New Testament because these books did not agree with his doctrine, specifically on the issue of faith unaccompanied by works. Early followers of Luther did not agree with this decision, and these books remain in the Protestant Bible today.
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Unique Catholic Beliefs
What is transubstantiation?
Transubstantiation is the transformation of substance that occurs when a priest consecrates the bread and wine during Mass. While the appearance of qualities of the bread and wine remain, the substance itself is changed into the Body and Blood of Christ.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus teaches we must consume His flesh and blood as food. John 6:51 says, “I am the living bread that comes down from Heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” When the Jews questioned Jesus on this teaching He explained, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him” (John 6:52-56).
What is the Eucharist?
The Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ. Under the appearance of bread and wine, Jesus is truly present in His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.
What is the role of the Pope in the Catholic Church?
The term “pope” comes from the Latin word “papa” which comes from the Greek word “papas” meaning “father.” The Pope is a spiritual father to believers of the faith and is the successor of St. Peter, the rock on whom Jesus built His church (Matthew 16:13-19). When Christ established the church, He bestowed on the Apostles' continuing authority to teach, govern, and sanctify. This is why we call the Catholic Church an “Apostolic faith.”
Like St. Peter, the Pope helps Catholics define and explain what we already believe, specifically on matters of faith and morals.
What do church members do if the Pope acts in a way contradictory to Scripture?
The concept of papal infallibility only applies when the Pope is teaching on solemn official matters of faith and morals. Papal infallibility does not extend to a pope’s private theological opinions, remarks to reporters, published books, or public actions. Papal infallibility also does not mean that the Pope cannot sin; he is human.
Please explain the unique Catholic belief of Purgatory.
To understand Purgatory, one must also understand the Catholic belief of mortal and venial sin. In 1 John 5:16-17, Scripture says there is sin that is deadly and sin that is not: “If anyone sees his brother sinning, if the sin is not deadly, he should pray to God and he will give him life. This is only for those whose sin is not deadly. There is such a thing as deadly sin, about which I do not say that you should pray. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that is not deadly.” In the Catholic Church, this “deadly sin” is referred to as mortal sin, or freely-chosen, gravely evil acts that destroy our hope of eternal life in Heaven, unless we ask for forgiveness through confession.
Venial sins, meanwhile, do not kill God’s grace within us, but still hurt our relationship with Him. If someone dies in a state of venial sin, it does not mean they will go to Hell, for they are not separated from God. In Revelation 21:27 it is said of Heaven that “nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who does abominable things or tells lies.” In Mere Christianity C.S. Lewis describes the need for purgatory as a final purification of our souls where we will be cleansed from all sin. Defined in the 15th and 16th centuries, Catholic Catechism on Purgatory teaches that this final purification is not the same as the eternal punishment of the damned. Matthew 12:32 says “And whoever speaks a word against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or the age to come.” This implies that some sins will be forgiven after death. Sin cannot enter Heaven and sin is not forgiven in Hell. Therefore, a state of existence must exist where sins of the faithful are purged, and this state is what Catholics refer to as Purgatory.
Division Between Catholics and Protestants
Why do you think Catholicism gets a bad rep amongst some protestants?
I think many Protestants do not understand fully where Catholic doctrine or beliefs originated and thus, jump to conclusions about what Catholics believe and the validity of those beliefs. Even within the Catholic Church, there is dissension on many “popular” topics (abortion/contraception and homosexuality) which adds to the misunderstanding between believers.
Division within the Church was never intended by God, nor did He instruct us to judge others. I hope that in answering these questions, I can appeal to Protestants who are interested in understanding the Catholic faith and lessen the divide.
What do Catholics gossip about relating to protestants?
Most Catholics regard Protestants as their brothers and sisters in Christ. As the Catholic Catechism teaches: “The Church knows that she is joined in many ways to the baptized who are honored by the name of Christian, but do not profess the Catholic faith in its entirety or have not preserved unity or communion under the successor of Peter. Those who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are put in a certain, although imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Paragraph 838).
I learned a lot in my chat with Jenna, more than I could have expected. We can all learn a thing or two when we take the time to talk instead of gossip, or seek understanding instead of making quick judgments. Are there Catholics in your life or Protestants of other denominations that you question?
Reach out to them, start a conversation. The more you grow in wisdom and refine your faith, the more as Jenna quotes, we can “Always be ready to give an explanation for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 15-16).
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