Several years ago I finally realized what the fundamental difference between Christianity and Catholicism is. Now firstly, I want to say that all these assumptions and conclusions are drawn purely from personal experience, and if you have had experiences or have knowledge that counters it, feel free to tell me, but I am just saying what I know and have experienced. Also, this is not meant to offend anyone who happens to BE catholic or come from a Catholic family (I come from a Catholic family, so there! :P) I am just making an observation here. So, that being said, onward!"Remember, man, that you are dust
Today is Good Friday. For those who are not Catholic savvy, Good Friday is the Friday before Easter that commemorates the day of Jesus’ crucifixion. It usually involves going to mass for special prayers and possibly the reading of The Passion as told by John, maybe even meditation at the foot of a crucifix. It is a very solemn and sober occasion, and not really one for the joy and cheer that is in Easter. It commemorates death, after all.
As I’m sure we all know, Easter is a cause for joy because it commemorates the Resurrection of Jesus. It is an uplifting, optimistic holiday signifying the final miracle, which gave us all the opportunity for eternal life. It is the act of ultimate love and sacrifice, but the focus is on the good and not on the pain. Usually it involves church and a variety of rather commercialized activities that nonetheless keep with the spirit of the holiday.
So, the fundamental difference between Catholicism and Christianity: Christians focus on life, Catholics focus on death.
This is, of course, a very blanket statement, so allow me to back up this thesis. Firstly, the holidays that are celebrated in Catholicism are far more focused on the death of Christ. I will give a few examples, starting with the celebration of Good Friday, one that focuses solely on the death of Christ. It is true that Christ’s death should be commemorated, but it still strikes me as a bit morbid. Also, on Ash Wednesday, sometimes when the priest draws the cross onto a persons head he says (among other less morbid phrases),
And unto dust you shall return."
Also, there is the general feeling of doom and gloom in the tradition of Lent. It seems to me that most Christian holidays are happy and surround life!
Also, the symbol that the church chooses tells you a lot about their beliefs. Often times a person can be identified by something they choose as a symbol, and organizations are the same (think heraldry). The connotations and messages from that symbol contribute greatly to an image. The catholic symbol is the crucifix; the Christian symbol is the cross.
Crucifix: The crucifix is an image of the dying Christ hanging from the cross. It is depicting Jesus’ death, reminding us constantly that he died to save us. This has the potential to generate feelings of guilt, gloom, and fear.
Cross: The cross, on the other hand, is without Jesus, just the cross, no dead man hanging from it. It focuses on the fact that Jesus rose again. It generates feelings of hope, happiness, and eternal life.
By no means am I downsizing Catholicism, I am just stating how it appears to me. Personally, I feel that I would rather focus on the resurrection. For one, it has better connotations. For another, it is what truly makes Jesus special. Anyone can die for his religion. Not everyone can come back to life after that. Also, the resurrection is symbolic in more ways than the crucifixion. The crucifixion focuses on the fact that Jesus died for our sins, he sacrificed his life to wipe our souls clean, to give us the ability to be forgiven and to live eternally in heaven. The resurrection symbolizes that and so much more! It also has connotations of eternal life. Just as Jesus was reborn we shall reborn in God’s kingdom.
Now, just to be contrary…Is it possible that Christians have shied away from the crucifixion, not wanting to face the fact that it is the sin of humanity which caused Jesus to die on the cross? Perhaps it is a good thing to be reminded on occasion that Jesus didn’t just rise again, it wasn’t just some random miracle. The resurrection was his ultimate miracle, it was his big finale, in a way! But, regardless, an important element in the resurrection is in the crucifixion. Jesus had to die in order to rise again. Do Christians ignore that? Do Christians focus all their energy on the positive? Are we living in self-inflicted naivety? Perhaps we can’t rightly learn our lesson if we don’t remind ourselves of it. Maybe a little guilt is a good thing?
Of course, this is all apples and oranges, and what truly matters is that we don’t take Jesus’ gift for granted. He has given us the opportunity for forgiveness, given us passage into heaven. He has given us the ultimate sacrifice, the ultimate act of love, and regardless of whether you focus on the death or the resurrection, it all says the same thing,
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”