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I used to have a lot of misconceptions about the Catholic church, back in my Protestant days. I am constantly blown away by how crazily inaccurate my ideas about Catholicism really were. These are NOT meant to be thorough arguments or really proofs of anything. Those things are out there, but my goal is just to flesh out some common misconceptions and how I realized I was wrong.
I could do way more than 7, but that’s a nice manageable number to start with.
Catholics don’t really believe in anything. They are just going through the motions.
I really did believe this, and um, wow, I was really wrong. It was a reality-altering experience to get to know actual Catholics who actually believe Catholic stuff. Like the Bible. All of it. With great zeal and passion. Blew me away and took months to get used to.
Catholics worship Mary. Sure, they SAY they don’t, but the whole dulia/latria thing is just saying one thing and doing another. For that matter the whole saint thing is pretty much a pagan pantheon.
Yes, I believed this too. Firmly and passionately. It was a big deal to me in the early days of looking into the Catholic Church. Better writers and apologists than I have covered this well; two of my favorite resources to study this further are this article by Jimmy Akin, and Hail, Holy Queen: The Mother of God in the Word of God by Scott Hahn.
In my mind now, I see Mary and the saints as an invaluable part of the “great cloud of witnesses,” cheering us on and praying for us, as we pray and cheer for each other. We are part of a huge and glorious family with every imaginable kind of person in it!
Catholics think they can buy their way into heaven by empty ritual.
Mmm. That is what I saw in Catholic practice, and that is what many Protestants see: empty ritual. The problem with that is that I didn’t know what I was talking about. For one thing, nobody’s buying anything. All the merit comes from Christ. Full stop.
Secondly, these things that Catholics do are about as far from empty as you can get; they are full to the brim and overflowing with meaning and truth. It only looks empty if you don’t understand what you are looking at – and for me, that was an understanding that had to happen in my heart, over time.
For a concise but thorough rundown of what all the rituals mean, I love Ann Ball’s Handbook of Catholic Sacramentals. It was recommended to us in RCIA and it’s been quite useful.
Catholics think they will spend millions of years in Purgatory to pay for their sins. They don’t understand that Jesus paid for their sins.
Ah, Purgatory. That’s a big one and honestly not really a quick take at all. I’m going to cheat a little and give you some links:
My husband Mark wrote something about this that I liked. He draws up a comparison between Purgatory and indulgences and everyday family life. You can find it here.
Also, Jimmy Akin wrote an excellent piece on the subject. It got me through my initial (and considerable) problems with Purgatory, back in those crazy early investigating days. In that article, he starts off with a typical Protestant reaction to the doctrine of Purgatory, with all the objections that I had and many other still do. Then, he breaks that all down and goes through it, piece by piece. It’s long, but if you are serious about understanding the Catholic point of view, it’s a great place to start.
Catholics think that the water of baptism saves you, and that even if you believe and then get hit by a bus on the way to be baptized, well, tough luck, buddy. You go to Hell. Shoulda looked both ways.
Here is a longish quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Section 2, Chapter 1, Article 6: “The Lord himself affirms that Baptism is necessary for salvation. He also commands his disciples to proclaim the Gospel to all nations and to baptize them. Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament. The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude; this is why she takes care not to neglect the mission she has received from the Lord to see that all who can be baptized are ‘reborn of water and the Spirit.’ God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments.
The Church has always held the firm conviction that those who suffer death for the sake of the faith without having received Baptism are baptized by their death for and with Christ. This Baptism of blood, like the desire for Baptism, brings about the fruits of Baptism without being a sacrament. For catechumens who die before their Baptism, their explicit desire to receive it, together with repentance for their sins, and charity, assures them the salvation that they were not able to receive through the sacrament.
‘Since Christ died for all, and since all men are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partakers, in a way known to God, of the Paschal mystery.’ Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved. It may be supposed that such persons would have desired Baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity.”
So, yes, baptism is absolutely necessary (John 3:5). But it can happen in irregular ways, in irregular situations. That doesn’t give us liberty to disregard it, but it does show God’s love and mercy.
Catholics aren’t allowed to think for themselves, and they don’t bother reading the Bible. They just have to believe and do what the Pope says.
There is definitely a Protestant attitude that Catholics, while not actually believing anything at all (see point 1), are also mindless automatons, a legion of robotic yes-men (and women).
It’s not really funny. But it sort of is, because in getting to know the church and the people in it, I discovered that Catholics are quite the spunky, opinionated lot. They also have Bible studies, where they study the Bible. (Yes they do. I go to one.) Not only that, but a huge portion of the Mass is…the Bible. Lots of Catholics read the daily Mass readings, whether they go to daily Mass or not.
Catholics think that Christ is sacrificed over and over again at every Mass.
This is a popular one. Mark the other day pulled together a compilation of quotes about that, and I am going to steal it. Way easier than looking it up myself.
Q. 931. Is there any difference between the sacrifice of the Cross and the sacrifice of the Mass?
A. Yes; the manner in which the sacrifice is offered is different. On the Cross Christ really shed His blood and was really slain; in the Mass there is no real shedding of blood nor real death, because Christ can die no more; but the sacrifice of the Mass, through the separate consecration of the bread and the wine, represents His death on the Cross.
5 Q. Is the Sacrifice of the Mass the same as that of the Cross?
A. The Sacrifice of the Mass is substantially the same as that of the Cross, for the same Jesus Christ, Who offered Himself on the Cross, it is Who offers Himself by the hands of the priests, His ministers, on our altars; but as regards the way in which He is offered, the Sacrifice of the Mass differs from the Sacrifice of the Cross, though retaining the most intimate and essential relation to it.
6 Q. What difference and relation then is there between the Sacrifice of the Mass and that of the Cross?
A. Between the Sacrifice of the Mass and that of the Cross there is this difference and relation, that on the Cross Jesus Christ offered Himself by shedding His Blood and meriting for us; whereas on our altars He sacrifices Himself without the shedding of His Blood, and applies to us the fruits of His passion And death.
8 Q. Is not the Sacrifice of the Cross the one only Sacrifice of the New Law?
A. The Sacrifice of the Cross is the one only Sacrifice of the New Law, inasmuch as through it Our Lord satisfied Divine Justice, acquired all the merits necessary to save us, and thus, on His part, fully accomplished our redemption. These merits, however, He applies to us through the means instituted by Him in His Church, among which is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
If you liked these, you might also like Seven MORE Things I Was Wrong About Before I Was Catholic, Seven Things I Didn’t Lose When I Became Catholic, and my Reading List for the Catholic Convert.