What do we do when someone tells us: "I used to be a Catholic but now I go to a Christian church. I have learnt more about the Bible than in all the years as a Catholic."
What they call a "Christian church" is really a Protestant church, that is, one of the churches which has come into existence since the 16th century.
From the time of Christ there was only one church, the Catholic Church. Later there was a split within Christendom and the Orthodox churches came into being. Protestant churches began at the time of Luther, originally as a protest against some of the excesses and practices which existed in the Catholic Church.
Unfortunately the Reformers did not only reform the discipline: they changed the doctrine, that is, the faith which we believe.
It is as if the Holy Spirit who guides the Church had suddenly said: "You've got it all wrong. The Eucharist is only a symbol. You must not continue the Tradition which has existed since the beginning. You must only use the Bible and you can interpret it as you wish."
The Catholic Church is indeed the Christian church par excellence, the very Church which Christ founded.
It follows a source and a tradition going back to the Apostles and to the days when the New Testament had not yet been written. Jesus did not tell his disciples to write a book, he told them to go and teach, and to baptise.
The New Testament was written in the first century as it was deemed essential to have a written record of the life of Christ and of the early Church.
From the very beginning, when Christians were assembled, they read accounts of the life of Jesus.
The Church has always held the Bible as one of the sources of Revelation, but not as the only source.
It is the Church which preserved the Bible in the monasteries during the dark ages. Monks spent their lives copying the Bible before printing came into being. Bibles were so precious that they were secured in churches to prevent theft, not to stop people from reading them.
Without the Catholic Church we would not have the Bible. It is the Catholic Church which declared which books were true to Revelation. Luther refused to recognise the validity of the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament.
He followed the Canon of the Bible which may have been adopted by the Council of Jamnia, an assembly of Jews in the year 90AD, that is, of those Jews who had rejected Christ and the whole of the New Testament.
An older generation was often well versed in matters of faith and able to quote Biblical passages such as the one from Maccabees which supports the doctrine of Purgatory: "It is a holy and a wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from their sins." Catholics knew that at baptism God puts an indelible seal, a stamp on us.
Unfortunately, the younger generations of Catholics do not study Apologetics. Thus they do not know the Scriptural passages which support and defend the truths we believe.
It becomes impossible for them to answer what appears to be irrefutable evidence that the Catholic Church is erring and so they join popular Protestant churches.
Catholics believe the faith of the Church. The Bible and Tradition are sources of revelation and, while the Bible is not the only rule of faith, it has a revered place in the Church.
In the most solemn worship offered to God, in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the Bible occupies pride of place. The first part of the Mass consists of the Liturgy of the Word.
There are three readings on a weekday and four on a Sunday, that is, one from the Old Testament, a Psalm, a reading from the New Testament and the Gospel. The readings are spread over three years so that we get a wide perspective covering the whole Bible.
The Church encourages us to read the Bible and grants indulgences for doing so. The lectio divina, or reading and meditation on the holy book, is a practice that has existed for centuries. We can respond to a particular passage, express our reaction, our emotions, deepen our understanding and come closer to God.
We must, however, read the Bible with the mind of the Church, with the way in which the Church has always understood a particular passage. The saints were all familiar with the Bible but lay people were often unwilling to become better acquainted with it.
It is private interpretation of the Bible which causes thousands of well-meaning Protestants to start yet another church, one which conforms to their own understanding.
The Bible teaches that the Catholic Church is the true Church. There are many passages which point to the doctrines which we hold dear. The Church does not select certain passages and ignore others, adapting the doctrines to a private interpretation.
Take for instance John, Chapter 6, where Our Lord promises the Eucharist. The Jews who heard him understood perfectly well that he literally meant us to "eat my body" and "drink my blood".
Many rejected this "hard saying" and went away. Take the references to Peter, the rock on which the Church is built, the statements about Purgatory (even though the word itself is not mentioned), the indissolubility of marriage, the command to let the children come to Jesus and not to deny them baptism.
"I used to be a Catholic" means to abandon our dearest treasure: the Eucharist. It is to rob the Father of the most sublime form of worship, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
It is also to deny ourselves the inestimable privilege of participating at the moment of Calvary when the priest consecrates the bread and wine, making present the Sacrifice of the Cross. It is to deny ourselves the intimacy of union with God in Holy Communion.
It is to ignore the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and those delightful times when we come before the tabernacle and talk to Our Lord. It is to miss out on the blessed peace of Reconciliation and on the ultimate comfort of the Sacrament of the Sick.
Audrey English teaches Apologetics at the Centre of Catholic Studies, Polding House, Sydney. cts.org.au