I have a secret. I know how to get more Protestants into the Catholic Church. Would you like to know? It’s guaranteed to work with shocking effectiveness. You’ll get more Protestant converts to the Catholic Church than you know what to do with. They’ll come in small numbers at first, just a trickle really, but that will slowly grow into a torrent. You won’t know what to do with them all. You’ll probably have to build bigger parishes or add on to existing ones. From these converts you will find the most faithful and passionate Catholics in your whole diocese. You’ll even get an increase in vocations, as Protestant ministers will convert too, many of whom will seek ordination to the priesthood under the terms of the Pastoral Provision that allows for married priests. Did I peak your interest? Well, sit down and read because I’m not just going to come out and tell you. No. Now that I have your attention, you’ll have to read through my article.
You see I am a Protestant convert to the Catholic Church myself, and not just any type of Protestant, but three types to be exact. I was raised as a nominal Baptist. As a young adult I became a passionate Evangelical, and a staunch Fundamentalist one at that. It was here I was instructed on how to be an anti-Catholic, that the Church of Rome was really the “Whore of Babylon” written of in the Apocalypse, and the Roman Catholic Church was a counterfeit Christian “cult.” I was part of the fastest growing Evangelical movement in the United States during the 1990s — Calvary Chapel. I even studied to become a pastor in this movement, and nearly gained a pastoral role at my local affiliate before turning it down to pursue a more traditional form of Protestantism. You see my pastoral studies of Church history and the Jewish roots of the Christian faith led me to understand that the early Christians were much more “catholic” than I was comfortable with. So I decided to study and experience these “catholic” practises in a good safe Protestant environment. That’s why my wife and I joined a local Episcopal Church. We spent some time as Episcopalians, learning how to genuflect and make the sign of the cross. We learnt the meaning of liturgy and that church “services” were really supposed to be an act of worship that is a sacrifice, not just a fellowship for mutual edification. In time however, we had difficulty accepting the liberal practises of the national province (female priests and acceptance of homosexuality). My wife also wanted to be part of a larger church that was in communion with a larger number of Christians. I agreed with her on this, and so, on the Easter Vigil of 2000, Penny and I were received into the Catholic Church.
Our story is not so unique really. Lot’s of Evangelicals become Catholic, and a good portion of those who find the Roman Road do so by following the Canterbury Trail, just as Penny and I did. It’s because our story is not so unique that I happen to know the secret of winning Protestant converts to the Catholic Church. It’s not hard really. Any Catholic can do it with virtually no practise, no drills, no study and no experimentation. In other words, it’s really no problem. Curious? Stay with me.
Ever since the Second Vatican Council there has been this notion among Catholics (both clergy and laity) that in order to attract more Protestants to the Catholic Church we need to be more like them. We need to make our churches look more Protestant, get rid of excessive icons, and make them more “trendy” or “modern” in appearance. There is been this notion that if we dispense of traditional Catholic music and bring in more protestant-style hymns and praise music, we will attract the Protestants. Likewise, it has been assumed that if we scale down the mass, get rid of the incense and bells, reduce the chanting, and dispense of many of our time-honoured customs, we will certainly get the Protestants’ attention. Whatever we do, of course, we should never upset the public with fiery homilies that touch on controversial issues. Or so it was believed, that Protestants desire a more “touchy-feely” kind of worship and message. Like the Protestants, many Catholics began to focus on the mass as more of a “fellowship service” aimed at mutual edification and community. Some parishes also introduced rock music into the mass for the younger generation along with all sorts of goofy innovations. Now to be clear, the Second Vatican Council never called for these things. In fact, I think it’s safe to say the bishops of that council never even imagined them. This was more of a trend that occurred after the council, and was not necessarily sponsored by the council. I think it was something that just sort of happened on its own. Perhaps we could say that people were just caught up in the spirit and emotion of the times, rather than faithfully administering what the conciliar fathers had in mind.
Well, if you’re a Catholic who has bought into any of these things, sit down (if your aren’t already) because I’m about to burst your bubble. Here it is. Brace yourself.
Protestants do it better. That’s right, Protestants do it better. When it comes to acting like Protestants, the Protestants do it better. They have always done it better, and guess what? They always will do it better. You, as a Catholic, will never even hold a candle to them. Their traditional hymns are better. Their contemporary prayer and praise music is better. Their pop and rock bands are better. Their Protestant-style music always has been better than ours and it always will be. It really should be when you think about it. After all, they invented it. When it comes to worship, that is a central part of it. They generally don’t focus on the sacrificial nature of worship. Their focus is on community and fellowship, so naturally that genre of music is going to sound better in their churches, not ours, because for them it’s just as much about entertainment as it is about worship. We, as Catholics, can try to imitate them if we want, but we’ll never be as good as they are in that area. The truth is, if all I ever wanted to do was go to church for good music, I would head down to the local Evangelical mega-church on the other side of town. I certainly wouldn’t go to a Catholic church! In the 1970s it was nuns singing “Kumbaya.” Yuck! While today it’s praise bands singing the latest from Michael W. Smith, and that’s not a whole lot better. The acoustics are usually bad in Catholic parishes, with all that marble and wooden pews, while Evangelical churches are designed more like sound stages with padded chairs, thick carpeting, track lighting and insulated walls. When it comes to putting on a show, the Evangelicals have got us beat, and they always will. Face it. Nobody can be as good at Evangelicalism as the Evangelicals themselves. Why would I want to go to an entertainment knock off at a local Catholic church? When I could go to the very people who invented that genre of worship thirty to forty years ago? Duh! Sorry, but this is how I see it. If I ever desire to go back to church just for the good music and feeling of community, I’ll let you know, because my “goodbye” letter of self-excommunication will be lying on my bishop’s desk, and I will be sitting in the soft comfortable chair of an Evangelical mega-church while clapping loudly, raising my hands in the air, and singing at the top of my voice, just as I did twenty years ago. I left that behind for a reason. Think about it.
Here is another bubble to burst. Sorry, but the truth is painful sometimes. When it comes to teaching like Protestants, again, the Protestants do it better. They have always done it better, and guess what? They always will do it better. You, as a Catholic, will never even hold a candle to them. You want a feeling of “inclusiveness?” You want a theology that doesn’t offend? Hey, the Protestants literally invented that stuff! You can go into thousands of Protestant churches today, both traditional and evangelical, and there you may find a woman standing behind the pulpit as the head pastor of the congregation. She’s the boss, and she’s running the whole show. Some of these churches are fairly “conservative” and some are fairly “progressive.” In fact, you’ve got a whole range to choose from all across the moral and social spectrum, ranging from left to right, in virtually any city of any relatively large size. If all I ever wanted was a church I could go to for the purpose of “good feelings,” and not being “offended,” indeed, if all I ever wanted was a warm and fuzzy sensation upon walking into a church and listening to the homily, then I have a whole range to choose from. I could return to my ancestral Lutheran heritage if that’s all I wanted. Heck! I could even find a couple of Baptist churches in my area who cater to that mentality. If I like traditional catholic-style worship, without all that commitment to Catholic doctrine, I could just go back to The Episcopal Church. The point I’m trying to make here is that if adhering to the full and complete teaching of the Catholic Church were not a priority for me, then I have an assortment of other churches to choose from, most of which will cater to exactly what I want. I could just as easily, and in some cases more conveniently, go to one of those churches instead. I’ve always found it amazing that most so-called “Cafeteria Catholics” never do this. They would, after all, be more honest with themselves if they did. Why stick with a religion you don’t believe in anymore? Anyway, this isn’t about them. It’s about me and why I became Catholic in the first place. The truth is, if I wanted a church that didn’t morally challenge me on all levels, then once again, my “goodbye” letter of self-excommunication would be laying on my bishop’s desk, and I would be comfortably sitting in the chair (or pew) of any number of Protestant churches to my liking. I left that kind of “freedom” behind for a reason too. Again, think about it.
If I wanted to be more “protestant” in my worship and doctrine, I could easily go back to any Protestant church, and believe me when I say they would welcome me with open arms. Oh the tales I could tell them, of how “Catholicism failed me” and so forth. They would just eat it up. Of course I have no desire to do that, because you see, I love Catholicism. I love everything about being a Catholic. I love Catholic worship. I love Catholic teaching, even the hard stuff I find difficult to put into practise. I am thankful to be part of a Church that leads me into sacrificial worship and challenges me morally. By failing some of the moral teachings of the Church, I know God is challenging me. By going to confession for these sins, I know God is reforming me, and rebuilding me the way he wants me to be. By approaching our Eucharistic Lord in the sacrifice of the mass, I know I am worshipping him in spirit and truth, and that it’s not just entertainment for my pleasure. You see, I really dig Catholicism for Catholicism’s sake, and that my friends is the secret to winning Protestant converts. Just be more Catholic!
Protestants don’t convert to Catholicism to be more protestant. They don’t convert because they kinda-wanta-sorta be Catholic. No! They convert because they want to BE Catholic, totally Catholic, and fully Catholic in every way. I’m not talking about the fiances’ of Catholics who are converting for marriage sake. (Though they could be just as passionate about becoming Catholic too, and many of them are!) I’m talking about regular Protestants who convert to Catholicism on their own, or as a couple, because they have found an interest in the Catholic Church. I guarantee it wasn’t the contemporary worship and feel-good homilies that attracted them. That I promise you. No, it was a more traditional-style of Catholic worship that caught their attention, and it was the staunch moral theology of the Catholic Church that challenged them in a way that was refreshing. This is what draws Protestants into the Catholic Church, this and nothing else! Once they get interested, then they learn about the sacraments and sacramentals. That’s secondary to them. It comes later, as they enter the Church through the RCIA process or some other method. That isn’t what draws them in at first. The initial draw that brings in more Protestants is so simple really. Just be more Catholic. Bring back the traditional style of worship, the Gregorian chants, the old hymns, the sung liturgy, the incense and bells, and by all means, bring back the Eucharistic processions, adorations, and public vespers. Ladies, by all means, wear head coverings again, like they used to not so long ago. Ladies, you have no idea how much a simple hat, veil or mantilla can affect a Protestant (both male and female) who has read the scripture in 1st. Corinthians 11 dozens of times but never understood its meaning. You have the opportunity to give Protestants a visual testimony that the scriptures are living and breathing within the Catholic Church. That you, as a Catholic, take them more seriously than they do. Men, start dressing up for mass again, and for heaven’s sake, wear a scapular or bring a rosary with you. Don’t you know that all of these are visible signs that help Protestants see there is something different about you? Don’t you know these things give testimony to a visible faith with material manifestations. This is something they are missing in their Protestant churches which put an over-emphasis on spiritualising the Christian faith. When you show them visible manifestations of the Christian faith, this peaks their curiosity, and it gets them to start questioning things. I’m not just talking about questions concerning Catholicism, but also questions about the legitimacy of their own Protestantism.
Protestants don’t seek modernity in worship. I guarantee, if that’s what they want, they will remain Protestants, and there is nothing you can say or do to attract them. The ONLY Protestants that will ever seek out the Catholic Church are those who are looking for an anchor to the past. They want something that is solid and unchanged. They want a connection to their ancient Christian ancestry. They want to worship the way their ancestors worshipped, and they want to be morally challenged in a world that is morally fluid. People seek modernity in shopping malls, automobiles and the workplace. Where they don’t want modernity is in religion. The only people who want modernity in religion also want modernity in doctrine, and to provide that is to cease to be Catholic.
In truth, the biggest change the Catholic Church ever needed to make, to draw in more Protestants, was already made over forty years ago. That was the change of the mass from Latin to vernacular languages. If that’s all the Catholic Church ever did, and nothing more, it would have been enough. Because you see, Protestants are big on understanding what is going on. As a tenet of Protestant idealism, worship should be fully understood and in the language of the people. As beautiful as Latin is, and it is beautiful, its use should be limited in ordinary masses. If for no other reason, just so the people can understand. However, that doesn’t mean we should scrap Latin all together. Far from it. It should be used sparingly in vernacular masses, so as to maintain heritage and mystery, while it should also be used exclusively in celebrations of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite (Tridentine Mass), so as to maintain a solid connection to the Church’s past. This is part of what Pope Benedict XVI refers to as the “hermeneutic of continuity.” Unfortunately, there was an attempt in the 1970s through 2000 to reach out to Protestants by adopting some of their ways, and I am sad to report that is a major “turn off” to most of them. They watch our contemporary masses, with our contemporary pop music, and they say to themselves: “Well, that’s nice, but I can get the same thing much better in my local Protestant church.” However, show them a high mass, with all of the chants, smells and bells of that ol’ time religion, and I guarantee you the Protestant guest sitting in your pew is not going to say to himself he can get that in his Protestant church.
You see, the thing about the old Catholic traditions is that they’re infectious. Once people get a taste of them, they tend to come back for more. This is why many Protestant churches historically would attack Catholic doctrines and tell wild tales (usually exaggerated or blatantly untrue) to scare their congregations away from Catholicism. Today we call this a type of Protestant Fundamentalism, and it’s popular in many Evangelical churches. The pastors of these churches, many of them former Catholics themselves, know all too well that if you expose an Evangelical to ancient Catholic tradition, with homilies that challenge their moral sensibilities, there is a good chance that Evangelical may come back for more. So they have to scare their congregations away from that by calling the Catholic Church the “Mystery Whore of Babylon” from the Apocalypse, a “cult,” and the pope the “Antichrist.” They’re not stupid. They know this is the only way to keep their congregation from going back to Rome, and they employ this method frequently, especially if they are former Catholics themselves. There will always be room for apologetics in dealing with these lies, but that is something that can be best left to the apologists. On the other hand, the Anglicans figured this out early on, and simply adopted their own liturgy and rituals that mirrored Catholicism, knowing full well this was needed to keep people within their fold. In the end, it actually led many Anglicans back to Rome in their own way.
As for you, the average Catholic sitting in the pews, the answer is simple. Do you want to be an Evangelist? Do you want to help bring Protestants back into the Catholic Church? Then just be Catholic! Encourage your priest to bring back the old customs and apply them to the new mass. If you’re a woman, dress modestly and wear a veil (or hat) of some kind to mass. If you’re a man, put on some slacks and a nice shirt and scapular, crucifix or carry a rosary. Learn the catechism and teach your children the same. Kneel for communion and receive on the tongue, if you are physically able, as this is the normal way Catholics receive communion all over the world and at all papal masses. Take your Catholic Christian faith seriously, and start living according to its teachings. For I promise, no Protestant was ever attracted to Catholicism by the testimony of a “Cafeteria Catholic” or one who didn’t practise the faith seriously.
If Catholics will simply rediscover our tradition, and live according to who we really are, then I promise you, more Protestants will come into the Catholic Church. By that I mean not just a little more, but a lot more, and you might be surprised just how many.