Monday, February 11

Catholic? What does that mean?

A matter which has been brought up again and again within our circle of churches centers around the middle word in our title - Catholic.  What, precisely, does that mean?  It patently does not mean obedience to Rome, for there are other churches which are most assuredly catholic who are not Roman nor even in communion with Rome.

Thus, one must look deeper and consider a more profound question - what does membership in any denomination mean?

Does the identity hang upon ritual and rite?  Upon the words that we say and how we say them?

What about the trappings and physical tokens of our faith? Is a priest any less efficacious in a T-shirt and jeans than in a cope and chausible?

Is it, instead, about the congregation and the communion which they share?  As parishes change in size, demographics and needs, does that mean that the denomination should change?

Whither theology and doctrinal belief? Are they the defining characteristics for a denomination?  What of when said official doctrines conflict with the experiences, shared or unique, of the people the church?


  1. hmm to be honest this is like nailing jello to a tree. Chicken or egg kind of question. In all honesty what makes a particular denomination is the practice of the religion, the rites and rituals that have become sacred through continuous use. What makes a Catholic is the catholic rituals. What makes an ECC denomination are the Catholic Lite Rituals. Once those rituals no longer serve then it's time to evolve into something else. Not sure what that might be, But I'm betting it's more spiritual and less religious. I don't know, if you strip away the Guilt and Original sin but do the catholic mass are you still catholic? The what we believe and what we do can be different things but they are all tied up in that same definition. In truth it is something that the group of practitioners have to come to a consensus on. Do you redefine your rituals and shed the members who can't hang with that? Can you afford to do that and can you leave those folks who can't evolve by the wayside. Do you change up the set of beliefs and lose those who can't give up certain aspects they were raised with from childhood? It's really difficult to evolve an existing group. It often devolves to change to the lowest common denominator. So little to no change depending on the group you have to work with. It is often easier to leave well enough alone and form a new congregation that is down with the things you want to change. Introduce the new thing in to a specific time and place of the old group and see how it goes, once you have enough to call it a steady group then you can set up new times and places for this new thing. Yeah it splits the original group but then the unchanging ones are still served and the new group can continue to evolve (as they've shown the ability to change and adapt) and hopefully one can draw new members with the new dynamic. Just my 2 cents.

  2. Really, I am very pleased and grateful for the input.

    By your analysis, a catholic mass requires the catholic liturgy, which contains the rites/rituals in their specific formulae. That would mean that 2 groups which say the same words in the same order would be of the same denomination, regardless of their theological differences. Contrawise, two groups which hold to the same beliefs, if they express them in different ways, would be considered different denominations.

    Yes, I do wish to split the hair, because of some of the uber-traditionalists. Only the 'old' mass, in latin, with the smells and bells and such is valid...THAT is what makes you a 'real' Roman Catholic.

    I recognize that theology informs liturgy, but so does tradition and experience. I am inclined to argue that theology is a truer, if more elusive, indicant of faith affiliation. More elusive because most people are ignorant of their theology (in that, they assume that is the way it MUST be and that there aren't any alternatives) but truer because the theology permeates the expression of faith as seen in liturgy.

    Your point about 'keeping people' is prescient and has been a topic of conversation as part of a larger discussion of defining an inclusive community which maintains cohesion and purpose. Things to ponder, certainly, but also to mull over in thoughtful and respectful dialogue.