With this post, I am beginning a series of posts in which I will address questions that, in one way or another, always bugged me as a Protestant because the Protestant answers to them never satisfied me. In my experience, these questions seem to bug a lot of rank-and-file Protestants. Speaking for myself, before I began investigating Catholicism, I was pretty much resigned to not having good answers to them. In fact, I became at one point what I’ll call a “Christian skeptic” on these issues, reaching the conclusion that good answers to my questions were simply “unknowable” this side of eternity.
The problem, though, was that all of my questions dealt directly with how I live here and now–not just with whether I’ll make it to heaven–so it was difficult to blow them off. They also seemed to me to be pretty basic questions about the Christian faith, and I never could bring myself to fully accept that a good and loving God would leave us without good answers to them. As a consequence, they continued to gnaw at the back of my mind.
When I began looking into Catholicism, I was dumbfounded to find that the Catholic
Church actually had good answers to my questions. And, what’s more, all the answers pointed straight to Jesus. That was really shocking because I’d been told the biggest problem with Catholicism was either that it ignored Jesus or covered Him up in layers of superstition and religious mumbo-jumbo. How wrong I was.
So let’s turn to the first question: “Why do I drag myself out of bed on Sunday mornings?” As a Protestant, the best answer I got was: (1) the New Testament indicated that the church met on the first day of the week; (2) the Book of Hebrews told us “not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together;” and (3) throughout the Bible, “worship” is important. This answer fell short for me for a few reasons. First, why was the fact that
the New Testament said the early Christians met on the first day of the week dispositive? The New Testament also indicated that the early Christians met in their homes, but, for the most part, we didn’t do that. And why did I have to attend a “worship service” to satisfy the obligation to assemble with other Christians? If the whole point was “assembling,” couldn’t I do that at Denny’s at a more convenient time?
More fundamentally than all of this, though, was the question of how exactly God was
worshiped in the services I attended. At least in my experience, it was quite clear that the main event of these services was the sermon, and that included worship services at which communion was served. This centrality of the sermon seemed to me to leave the quality of worship up to how good the sermon was on a given Sunday (or, maybe, the quality of the music). If the sermon and/or the music was “good” and got me worked up into a sufficiently pious state, then I could say I felt like I had “worshiped” God. But would God really leave us with a system where worship was dependent upon the quality of the preaching or singing? That seemed a pretty thin reed to support the worship of Almighty God. I also searched my Bible in vain for any indication that that was the case.
Where did I ever get this idea that worship primarily consists in listening to a sermon or singing or listening to music? The New Testament doesn’t say any such thing. Indeed, the New Testament says relatively little about early Christian worship, other than indicating that it included preaching, prayer, and communion (which, from the earliest times, also has been called the “Eucharist” from the Greek word for thanksgiving). And the Old Testament (which does contain a lot of detail about how God was to be worshiped) doesn’t indicate anywhere that the ancient Jews primarily worshiped God by singing or listening to their priests sermonize. Rather, the worship of God in the Old Testament quite clearly centered on the sacrifices the priests were to make.
If Jesus Christ is God, and if He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8), why would the worship of God in the Old Testament center on a tangible, perceptible sacrifice while worship after the time of Christ would have nothing to do with such sacrifice, except in the sense we might remember, in a “spiritual” (i.e., intangible) way, Christ’s tangible sacrifice on the Cross? This became a headscratcher to me. Even when we celebrated
communion, it was typically described as “just a symbol,” and there was virtually no explanation for why it was important to take it, other than because Christ had commanded His followers to do so.
Once I began investigating Catholic doctrine, I discovered that the Catholic view of the Eucharist lined up with the Old Testament’s emphasis on tangible sacrifice and gave a reason for why we took communion, beyond simply that “Jesus said so.” This is because, to the Catholic, the celebration of the Eucharist every Sunday (indeed, at every Mass) is a re-presentation of Christ’s once-and-for-all-time sacrifice on Calvary in a real and substantial way since Jesus is “really present” in the consecrated bread and wine. The technical term for how this happens is “transubstantiation.” This means that, in the act of consecration, the bread and wine truly become the Body and Blood of the resurrected Christ Himself. So, when I go to church as a Catholic, I’m going so that I can really receive Him and, by receiving Him, partake in His eternal life. See John 6; Catechism of the Catholic Church No. 1406. In other words, I belong to the Church, His mystical Body, so that I can receive the Eucharist, His true Body. How’s that for a reason to get up on Sundays and go to church? Indeed, how’s that for a reason to make it to church as much as I possibly can? And, at bottom, what’s the reason? Jesus.
Because Jesus is truly and uniquely present in the consecrated bread and wine, the Eucharist is, to the Catholic, the “sum and summary” of the Christian faith. CCC No. 1327. As a consequence, as I was investigating Catholicism, I couldn’t dismiss this doctrine as some interesting curiosity to discuss in a comparative religions class or in a review of different Christian views of communion. Rather, if the Catholics were right about this, it meant that, if I really wanted Jesus, I had to bring myself into communion with the Catholic Church. But if the Catholics were wrong, it meant they were idolaters who
worshiped ordinary bread and wine, as the Catholic author Peter Kreeft has pointed out. This was serious stuff. I didn’t see how I could say, “Well, I can agree to disagree with the Catholics on this and go my merry way.” I either had to accept the doctrine as true myself and re-orient my life to it or, if I decided it wasn’t true, I had to dedicate myself to fighting the Catholic Church as a monstrous apostasy. Anything other than those two options, it seemed to me, would be unworthy of what was at stake in this question.
So far, on the question of whether the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation is true, everything I’ve said has centered on what it means to “worship” God as “worship” is revealed in the totality of Scripture. In addition to this, of course, is what Jesus had to say in John 6 about “eating His flesh and drinking His blood” and how, on Holy Thursday, He said, “This is My body,” and “This is My blood.” Others, such as here at Catholic Answers, have addressed these passages in detail, so I won’t do so here. Suffice it to say I find the Catholic interpretation of these passages far more persuasive and consistent with the totality of Scripture than I find the Protestant ones. If readers would like to have further discussion on this topic, though, I’d be happy to do so in the comment boxes.
I freely acknowledge that none of the above “proves” the Catholic position on transubstantiation. For myself, though, as I came closer to the Catholic Church, I had to acknowledge that there’s no argument out there that “proves” the Resurrection, either (if by “prove” you mean “demonstrate beyond all possibility of doubt”). The Catholic view of
the Eucharist, like the belief that the Resurrection actually occurred, requires me to accept that miracles happen. And, when it came down to it, that’s why, for all the years I was a Protestant, I rejected the Catholic doctrine of the Real Presence. At the end of the day, it had nothing to do with how I interpreted the words of Scripture. That was all a cover for an inability to believe that God could possibly love me so much that He’d allow me to be
that close to Himself in such a miraculous way. And now, having crossed this hurdle and looking forward to receiving Him for the first time next month, the words of my favorite hymn as a kid have taken on a new and deeper meaning: “I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene.”
 By “Protestant,” I mean folks who (for the most part) would purport to subscribe to the doctrinal positions articulated in the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds but who: (1) claim that the Bible is the “sole” ultimate authority for Christians today; and (2) reject the Catholic Church’s claim to be the visible Church Christ founded.
 I am aware that there is an alternative interpretation of why I couldn’t let these particular questions go, which posits that those of us who are drawn to the Catholic Church from Protestantism simply have a psychological need for more certainty than the “freedom” of Protestantism provides. I’ve given this idea much prayer and thought, and I don’t buy it for a few reasons. First, I find it hard to believe that folks as seemingly diverse as Cardinal Blessed John Henry Newman, G.K. Chesterton, Scott Hahn, Dale Ahlquist, Stephen Ray, Marcus Grodi, and Mark Shea (other Protestant converts to Catholicism) all, in reality, just suffer from the same psychological tic as I do.
Second, the theory doesn’t account for how the process of being drawn to the Catholic Church actually works. None of the conversion stories I’ve read indicate that
the convert started on the path to Rome by saying, “I’m tired of thinking. I want to go find a ‘church’ that will just tell me what to believe about all the important things so I don’t have to think about them any more.” Rather, the Catholic convert typically starts out with some particular issue that he’s having a hard time resolving, so he starts looking for better answers than he’s found in his own particular Protestant tradition. Eventually, he comes across the Catholic answer and is surprised to find how good it is. He then goes and investigates the Catholic answer to some other question he’s had for a while, and finds that’s a good one, too. It’s only after this has gone on for a while that the convert begins to think that perhaps the Catholic Church has such good answers because it really is what it claims to be–the Church Christ founded while He was on earth. That’s when the convert begins to panic and try to think of reasons not to become Catholic. For me at least,
this panic was driven in part by a desire not to give up my role as the final arbiter of what constitutes true Chrstian doctrine. Unless I’m completely deluding myself, the very last thing I wanted was to enter a Church that reserved that function for itself.
Finally, on this “psychology” point, I can’t believe that Protestants become (or stay) Protestant simply because they believe Protestantism is true, but Catholics become (or stay) Catholic only because they have an unhealthy need for certainty. I also don’t believe that people become or stay Protestant simply for psychological reasons. Moreover, if either (or both) groups are driven primarily by psychological issues, then discussion of any of the differences between Protestantism and Catholicism is meaningless, and there’s no hope of ever arriving at the truth. Again, I can’t believe that’s the solution when our whole religion is based upon Jesus Christ, Who is Truth Himself, and Who promised we would know the Truth and that the Truth would set us free. See John 8:32.
 It’s not my purpose here to denigrate sermons and singing, both of which I love and both of which are an integral part of the Mass. Instead, it’s simply to point out that, in my experience, Protestant worship services, because they lack the Real Presence in the Eucharist, almost inevitably become exercises in which the thing that matters most is how well the preacher and/or the singers perform.
 I’m speaking here about my own personal experience in “evangelical”-type Protestant churches. I do recognize that there is variation among Protestants regarding the nature of the Eucharist, with some taking a “higher” view than the “just a symbol” approach. However, their views of the Eucharist, while more “Catholic” in a sense, are not tied to the Catholic doctrine of the Church (which I’ll discuss in a separate post), and the Eucharist and the Church go hand-in-hand: the Eucharist is His true Body and
Blood, and the Church is His mystical Body. I ultimately came to see that you can’t have one without the other.
 It’s important to note that, in celebrating the Eucharist, Catholics are NOT, as I’ve heard so many times, improperly “sacrificing Christ all over again.” Rather, as I’ve already mentioned, the Eucharist is a re-presentation of Christ’s one-time sacrifice. See Catechism of the Catholic Church Nos. 1365-67. Because He was both fully human and fully divine, Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary is BOTH a temporal event, occurring in human history, AND an eternal event, transcending human history. Similarly, the celebration of the Eucharist is an event that occurs in time but also, miraculously, an event that participates in Christ’s death on Calvary almost 2,000 years ago.