Recently I was talking to someone that said "I can tell if a person is Catholic or Protestant by the way they talk about Jesus." She went on to explain that the Protestants generally speak of Jesus as a "personal" savior and speak of having Jesus in their heart. Catholic on the other had talk about encountering Jesus in Mass and in the Eucharist.
Both of these positions are true and both are legitimate and the distinction goes back hundreds of years. This division leads to much contentions and misunderstanding. I need to wade into this carefully as not to misrepresent any understandings of this issue.
So why do many Christians place the emphasis on personal relationship over communal necessity? Where as Catholic place the emphasis on communal worship (ie the Mass) over personal relationship?
This could be a book but I'll make it one (two if necessary) blog posts.
I have heard protestants say to Catholics they they do not understand why Catholic go to Mass every week, and how could there be an element of sin attached to missing it. They says things like "God would understand if you missed one time", "Some things are more important than Mass" and "Didn't you just go last week."
I don't want to go off on the 4/5 commandment (depending on your interpretation) about "Keep holy the Sabbath" tangent based on the semantics of the word "holy". I want to steer us to personal relationship vs communal experience.
When I refer to protestant in these generalizations, I want to say that I am mostly referring to evangelical groups that place a heavy emphasis on personal relationships and individual salvation. Their understanding is that salvation is a personal matter between you and Jesus Christ. Once you accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and savior you are saved. Going to church is a time to have this personal encounter with Jesus through song and opening the scripture. The pastor preaches what Jesus has reviled to him or her through prayer so that the congregation can also take that message and prayerful discern it to grow on their faith journey as well. While the communal aspect is welcomed, it is not a necessity to salvation. One could miss a week and pray at home and still be about to maintain the relationship. It is recommend attending church and many people go weekly to receive the message it is not necessary to your salvation since you already accepted Jesus and are saved.
The Catholic Church takes a different stance on this be placing a great emphasis on the communal aspect. The Catholics place the Mass as the "source and summit" of the faith with all grace flowing out of the Eucharist. So therefore the greatest place to encounter Jesus is in the Mass. The greatest privilege is to receive Jesus in the body and blood through the Eucharist.
So is a vertical relationship between me and God all that is necessary? or is there need for a horizontal relationship too?
This issue is more than just personal vs relational it goes to deeper theological divisions that manifest themselves in the language each group uses.
These issues are transubstantiation vs consubstantiation, in that is Jesus truly present in the Eucharist or is it mealy a symbol to remember the passion of Christ.
The issue of if Jesus died for you or if he died for all. Both are true but which is emphasized. Is our responsibility to try and get to heaven through salvation (YES!) or to try and get the world to heaven through our witness.(YES!)
When there is no Eucharistic theology their is no need to emphasis gathering as a community to celebrate and receive the Eucharist.
Personal relationship with Christ is imperative for all.
In the end this issue is another one that continues to divide the Christian religion. As a Catholic I fall on their side when talking about reformation. But I am also interested in ecumenism and building relationships to discuss our differences so that we can be more similar than different. We may never agree on everything but coming together to talk about our similarities and learn from each other will help the world more than fighting about our differences.