The Eucharist is Effective, or Why Protestantism doesn't make sense

This post is inspired by my reading of Dom Gregory Dix's The Shape of the Liturgy. Dix was a 20th c. Anglican Benedictine.

In his discussion on the development of the Mass in the high middle ages, he discusses how the people's participation in the Mass had become one of "seeing". Since the Mass was in Latin and with a silent Canon, and ad orientem, their participation in the Mass was primarily adoration of the Host when it was elevated. During the rest of the Mass, they were occupied with private devotions, eg reciting the rosary or meditating on the Passion. Dix writes, "it needed only a continuation of the shift of emphasis for the eucharistic action itself to come to be regarded as a mere occasion for or accompaniment to the individual's subjective devotion and thoughts."1 He believes that Protestant worship, having arisen from this milieux, is based on this practice of the eucharist. Justification by faith alone having stripped the sacraments of their efficacy, it treats the eucharist as nothing more than an occasion for personal piety and reflection on the Passion. This was all that was left of the Mass after removing its role as an effective re-presentation of the sacrifice of Calvary. Rather than treating the sacraments as acts that really effect, or do, something, Protestantism views sacraments as occasions for reflection.

Dix recognizes that
"The logical development would have been to remove the external action altogether, and so leave the individual's mental appreciations of and reactions to the passion and atonement in complete possession of the field. But official protestantism (apart from the Quakers) felt unable to do this, at all events for a long time. The tradition that the eucharist was the culminating point of christian worship was too strong to be overthrown at once. The New Testament represented our Lord as having instituted this action for His followers, and great attention had to be paid to that fact."2

If you're going to be Protestant, then it seems that being a Quaker is at least logically coherent. However, the vast majority of Protestant churches continue to celebrate the eucharist. It really doesn't make sense. Why do they do it? Jesus told them to.3 Now, that isn't a bad reason. But it doesn't really make sense, either. If they're going to make sense, Protestants should do away with eucharistic celebration entirely. Instead, sing and listen to a sermon. If worship only exists to be an occasion for the worshipper to reflect on Jesus' life and resolve to be more like him, there's no need for the eucharist.

The Protestant view of God is someone who shouts down commands from on high, without any real rhyme or reason. "Do this in memory of me!" "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit!" The believer's reaction to this view could be one of two: a mindless "Yes, sir", without any thought of why it is done; or it could be "Yes, sir, but will you tell me why?" I contend that the Protestant reaction is the first, and the Catholic reaction the second.

Protestant churches retain at least two of the sacraments, baptism and eucharist, because the bible is pretty darn clear on their institution. But, they don't really stop to think why God wants these sacraments done. It really doesn't make sense to do them, in a Protestant mindframe which denies that the sacraments are effectual: "I'm saved by faith alone. I accepted Jesus into my heart and I got saved and I got the Holy Ghost! I don't need meaningless ceremonies to prove I'm saved. And now, I'm gonna go get baptized cuz the Lord Jesus told me so! Baptism doesn't really do anything, faith in Jesus Christ is what already done saved me, but I'm gonna have this ceremony done anyway." Seriously, that is what should be running through the head of every Protestant anytime a sacrament is performed.

The Protestant mindframe denigrates Christ, because it makes him into a person who commanded practices that just don't make sense. If we are saved by faith alone, then there is no reason to celebrate baptism. If we are saved by faith alone, then there is no reason to celebrate the eucharist. And yet, for the sola scriptura lovers out there, the bible clearly tells Christians to baptize. So Christ told us to do something, even though there is no reason to. Protestants worship a god who commands nonsense.

On the other hand, the Catholic reaction is reasoned. It too recognizes that Christ clearly commanded (as recorded in scripture) that the sacraments be carried out. The Catholic view is that the sacraments are effective: they really do something. Baptism really does get rid of original sin. The Eucharist really is Christ present among us, and reception of communion really does draw us into him, and really does forgive venial sin. The Catholic response respects Christ enough to see him as a person who commands sacraments to be celebrated because they do something, rather than commanding they be celebrated despite their impotence.

The Catholic Church teaches that men's salvation is by faith which is mediated through the sacraments. The sacraments effect changes in the recipient, deepening their faith, hope and love. The eucharist, celebrated every day but one, is effective. This is why the Catholic Church is True.

Protestantism teaches that men are saved by faith alone, and that the sacraments don't do anything. They believe that the eucharist is not efficacious, and yet they regularly celebrate the eucharist anyway. This is why Protestantism doesn't make sense.

^1Dix, Gregory. The Shape of the Liturgy. (The Seabury Press: New York: 1982), 600.
^2Dix, Gregory. The Shape of the Liturgy. (The Seabury Press: New York: 1982), 600.
^3Lk 22:19 "Do this in remembrance of me."

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