It is often claimed that one insuperable difference between Protestants and Catholics is that Protestants, since Luther, believe in the priesthood of all believers, while Catholics believe Christians need a priest to bring them to God. Today this is usually a Protestant accusation against Catholics, although in the sixteenth century Luther’s notion of the priesthood of all believers, including illiterate and semi-literate peasants, did come in for a certain amount of ridicule from some of the more educated members of the clergy. Some of the wilder branches of Protestantism have gone further than Luther, even rejecting, on the claimed basis of the “priesthood of all believers,” any ordained clergy whatsoever (this includes the Plymouth Brethren and the Quakers), while many “Bible-believing” Protestants draw a sharp distinction between Roman Catholic priests and their own pastors or elders. As with so many things, however, the disagreement between the denominations over the scope of the priesthood is based more on an argument over words than over the substance of what the Bible says. There are substantive disagreements in Roman Catholic and various Protestant understandings of priesthood(s), but the “argument” over the priesthood or not of all believers can safely be put down to a deficiency of northern European languages like English, which have one word where Greek has two, and a desire on both sides of the argument to affirm the superiority of their group over those who disagree with them.
In honor of yesterday’s feast of Corpus Christi, in some Latin liturgical calendars, here is a narration of my experience leading up to my first communion. I remember how I described those events at the time, without Christian jargon which was then unfamiliar to me, because of the impression they made on me, both because of their force and because of how unexpected they were.
When I decided to become a Christian, I started visiting churches on Sunday mornings, and in the course of four weeks I visited three churches, one a Calvary Chapel and the other two both Presbyterian churches. I think none of these churches offered communion more than once per month, but in four consecutive weeks I was offered communion three times. (more…)