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Home > 2012 > July Online Only > Busted at Mass

As a Protestant pastor, I have a confession to make. In fact, I've already confessed it to a Catholic priest.

For more than 15 years, I snuck into the Catholic mass, taking the elements while knowing full well that Catholic doctrine allows only Catholics to share in the family meal. A guest in someone's home should abide by the family rules, and I did not. For that, I repent.

My deeper sorrow, however, is not for what I did among Catholics, but rather, for what I did not do among my fellow Protestants—namely, experience power and joy in the sacrament. In fact, if God hadn't intervened dramatically, I might still be searching elsewhere.

At my first pastorate, I was surprised to discover that Communion was celebrated only quarterly. Our denomination was in merger talks with another denomination whose tradition includes weekly Communion. How often to offer the sacrament threatened to become a major stumbling block to uniting. The discussions, however, never seemed to reach beyond simply affirming that each congregation was free to do as it pleased. A rich opportunity for education and renewal was thereby miscast as an issue of tolerance and individual rights—and lost.

Those who defended our own congregation's quarterly Communion generally believed, as one woman put it, "If you do it more often, it's just not special anymore." To that, a fellow pastor remarked to me, "Quarterly? Would they say the same about making love?"

I encouraged the church to reconsider our policy, and devoted a month to preaching and teaching on the subject. Afterward, I was pleased when the congregation voted to increase Communion celebrations to monthly.

Dry spell

Then, beset by a crisis in my life, I felt the need for Communion more often.
I decided to attend 7 a.m. mass daily at the Catholic parish nearest to my house, and found myself substantially strengthened for each day. During that time, one of our church leaders mentioned at a Church Council meeting that he would like an opportunity to take Communion during the week. I said I'd be happy to oblige, and we began a trial 45-minute Communion worship service on Wednesday nights, which drew only five or six people.

As I entered the local Catholic church one morning for my usual mass, I discovered a funeral mass in progress. This hadn't happened in all the years before, so I decided to skip it. The next day I had an early church meeting, so I decided to attend a noon mass at another parish which I had visited before.

As I walked up the front steps, I noticed someone trying unsuccessfully to open the door. "It's locked," he said, puzzled. As several others arrived, we checked the side doors, but to no avail. One man said he'd heard they were remodeling the sanctuary. Confused, I turned and left with the others.

When I returned to my "home" mass a few days later, however, another funeral mass was in progress. As I walked back to my car, I puzzled over this recent turn of events. Being closed out of mass three times in a row struck me as more than coincidence. I wondered: Could God be trying to tell me something? I decided to forego mass for the next two weeks and see.

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Posted: July 9, 2012

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Displaying 1–5 of 73 comments

Chau Phan

September 22, 2013  11:07pm

The peace of the Lord be with you! A genuine article full of sincerity and humility. May the Lord bless you in your journey. As a Catholic, I am truly moved and edified reading this account, and I am passing your article to my pastor and to Catholics I know. My heart was aching when I could not partake in communion, even though invited, at a solemn Lutheran (ELCA) liturgy recently where I was a guest. Maybe it will not happen in my lifetime, but being able to to partake in the Eucharist at other churches is the ultimate goal for working for Christian Unity. That's when Jesus' prayer that his followers be one like He and the Father are one (John 17:20-23) will be realized. P.S. I appreciate the openness displayed by the editorial board of Christianity Today, and I hope the editors will do a piece of Pope Francis' interview in America magazine found at http://americamagazine.org/pope-interview. Your brother in the Lord Jesus.

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September 20, 2013  11:08am

Great to Read this Article. As a Catholic and reader of Gordon's books over the years-have found them extremely helpful-I've also wondered why he didn't enter the Church. He has a very Incarnational/Sacramental view of life. Come Holy Spirit............

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September 15, 2013  3:45pm

I WONDER HOW MANY OTHER PROTESTANT MINISTERS GO TO COMMUNION AT CATHOLIC CHURCHES. THE WEB SITE http://LifeoftheMotherofGod.org has a book on the Eucharist by a priest who quotes the saints down through the ages on what the Eucharist meant to them. Very interesting.

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Richard Magnus

September 13, 2013  12:43pm

While there is undoubtedly much that different churches can learn from each other, let's no romanticize Roman Catholicism (or Eastern Orthodoxy, either). I grew up in Rhode Island (where Catholics form the majority of the population), and I can attest that most Catholics are simply "cultural Catholics" who go to church out of tradition (if at all) and dismiss the Church's teachings as quaint, which is why RI is an ultra-liberal state with legal prostitution and other curiosities. Despite this, many Catholics are overtly hateful towards evangelicals. They are not content to criticize evangelical doctrines, but disparage evangelicals on a personal level as nuts, heretics, idiots, etc. The Eastern Orthodox are even worse. There is much - very, very much - that Catholics and Orthodox can learn from evangelicals, including graciousness in speech and thoughtful awareness of what Christianity is about. Let's see an article on that.

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July 30, 2012  3:44pm

Receiving the Eucharist daily is so important for your spirituality.

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