Thursday, January 3, 2013
The common understanding is that Catholics emphasize community and Protestants emphasize the individual. From the Catholic perspective human beings are social animals rooted in a community that begins with the family. Catholic support for the poor is rooted in the recognition that we are all made in the image of God, are all part of the human family, and that the option for the poor is a part of what it means to be a Christian. On the other hand, the common understanding is that Protestants emphasize the individual. One common path from that is a strong endorsement of the capitalistic system (where Catholic thought emphasizes the perils of unregulated capitalism) though quite different conclusions follow from Protestant individualism for evangelicals and mainline Protestants (though there are differences within those groupings). The former tend to limit support of the poor, for example, to the “worthy” poor; the latter tend to be closer to the traditional Catholic view in this respect though not in many others including women, sexual teachings, and the like.
The communitarian/individualistic emphasis seems to be turned upside down on Sundays. The communitarian Catholics turn into individualists at Sunday Mass. It is possible for a visitor to walk into a Sunday Mass (of course, there are exceptions) and be spoken to by no one except a person assigned to hand out a program (of course, contact is made with others when the exchange of the Peace of Christ is made during the service, but the Vatican advises parishioners to stay close to their places). In stark contrast in the overwhelming majority of Protestant churches, it is not possible to walk into them as a visitor without being greeted by many. It is sometimes overwhelming. It is hard to go into such churches and simply pray at the outset of a service. The passing of the Peace in many of these churches is an occasion for greeting most of those present.
I imagine a Protestant walking into many Catholic churches feels unwelcome. A Catholic walking into a Protestant church feels barraged. But there is more. I do not mean to criticize Catholics or Protestants here (I aim to describe general patterns). I believe that the reason Catholics are not as social when they gather for Mass is that there is a sense of the sacred in church, and a sense that the right thing to do is to quietly pray. There is surely no intention to make visitors feel unwelcome. Similarly, Protestants are not trying to make visitors feel uncomfortable. Quite to the contrary, they are simply making clear that visitors are welcome. I wonder, however, what impact this difference in the ritual has on the communitarian sense of Protestant congregations and without arguing against a sense of the sacred, I wonder whether the sense of the sacred works against community bonding in Catholic congregations.
cross-posted at religiousleftlaw.com