What are the fundamental doctrinal beliefs that set Catholics apart from all other Christians?
The existence of God? No. That’s a given.
The virgin birth? No. Many Protestant churches accept this as fact.
Jesus rising from the dead? No. They all believe that.
Jesus was the son of God? No. They all believe that too.
If you claim to be a Catholic, it means that you believe the Virgin Mary was the Mother of God. You believe in the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. You believe in the infallibility of the Pope when teaching on faith and morals — to do otherwise makes you a Protestant, one who protests his own beliefs.
But most importantly, you accept the central, fundamental teaching of Catholicism, which is this: during the sacrament of the Eucharist, a little piece of wafer is transformed mystically into the actual body and blood of Jesus. Not a symbol. Not a sign. Jesus is actually there in front of your eyes. That’s his body, even though it looks like a biscuit, and you eat your Saviour.
This is known as the Real Presence, and believing in it is what makes you a Catholic as opposed to any general run-of-the-mill Christian.
You might have seen my previous foray into this territory when I wrote about a survey published by the Association of Catholic Priests. The survey found that three quarters of Irish Catholics don’t accept the Pope’s position on women priests. At the time, I suggested that this makes them Protestants, by definition, and I went further by suggesting that in my experience, most self-professed Catholics did not understand the central teaching of their church.
I didn’t have figures for that, but guess what? Hard on the heels of the ACP report comes another survey, from the Irish Times and MRBI.
62% of Catholics think the Eucharist is just a symbol of the body and blood of Jesus. Only a quarter of them believe the central doctrine of Catholicism: the Real Presence. That ties in with my anecdotal experience of talking to committed Catholics. They have no idea what the Eucharist means, and if you press them further, they also have not the slightest idea what the Immaculate Conception means. Most of them think it has to do with the conception of Jesus when in fact it has far deeper roots in Catholic distaste for the human body.
Incidentally, we can thank an Irishman for brokering two of these insane teachings, Immaculate Conception and Papal Infalliblity.
It was Cardinal Paul Cullen who imposed the distinctively Irish Catholic life-hating puritanism on us, even as the Famine crushed the life out of our forebears. Sweeping into a country destroyed by poverty and starvation, Cullen’s first priority was not to relieve human suffering but to establish clericalism, inventing things like Benediction and the Nine First Fridays, requiring people to call priests Father instead of Mister, and supporting the establishment of mind-controlling cadres like the Confraternities.
Ireland suffered horribly as a result, and we still struggle to escape Cullen’s malignant influence 160 years later.
Maybe it’s about time those who call themselves Catholic admit that they have no idea what any of the mumbo-jumbo means and start to confront the big questions of existence on their own terms instead of mouthing formulas they neither understand nor believe. And that includes the many tired, bored Catholic priests who go through the sacerdotal motions day in day out because if they didn’t, they’d have to look for a job.
It’s time for the Irish people to grow up. If you’re a Catholic, well and good. Practise your religion in peace. If you don’t believe a word of it, why not admit it and find a different way to live, one that has some meaning for you?