Issue: May a Catholic attend non-Christian worship services?
Response: Catholics are not prohibited from attending non-Christian worship services. However, before attending a non-Christian worship service, there are some considerations a Catholic should make.
Discussion: Our world is marked by ever-increasing communication between diverse groups of people. In Nostra Aetate, the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, the Council Fathers recognized that we are in an age “when men are drawing more closely together and the bonds of friendship between different peoples are being strengthened” (no. 1). In our daily lives, we are more likely than ever before to encounter a mix of people from different religious backgrounds. As a result, the opportunity may arise for Catholics to attend non-Catholic worship services. No Church law prohibits a Catholic from attending a non-Christian worship service, but certain considerations should be kept in mind.
Non-Christian religions contain elements of the truth, and the Church “rejects nothing of what is true and holy” in non-Christian religions ( Nostra Aetate, no. 2). Christians are encouraged to “hold fast to what is good” (Rom. 12:9). At the same time, non-Christian religions also contain elements that are not true. So while Catholics respect and affirm the truths of other religions, we do not affirm error.
The Church urges her sons and daughters to enter with prudence, charity, and humility into discussion and collaboration with members of other religions (cf. Nostra Aetate, no. 2). Before deciding whether to attend a non-Christian worship service, a Catholic should evaluate his reasons for attending. For example, is he motivated by a desire to better understand another faith? Is the intent to find what is common, or to find differences and divisions? (Is the goal to look for common ground or for “ammunition”?) Is there a sense of respect for persons of other faiths?
It is important to have a strong grounding in one’s own faith before learning about other faiths. If a Catholic is not strong in his faith, he would be better served by spending time strengthening his own faith than by exploring other faiths. Then, as he interacts with people from other faiths, he will be more prepared to engage them in conversation and answer questions about Catholicism.
Certain services are not appropriate for Catholics to attend. Catholics should not attend any service that is explicitly anti-Christian. For example, activities associated with the New Age movement or the occult should be avoided (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 2115-17).
Additionally, attending a non-Catholic worship service does not replace a Catholic’s Sunday Mass obligation.
When these principles are kept in mind, attending a non-Christian worship service can have a number of benefits:
- A Catholics can increase his understanding of another faith tradition. He can see where it excels and where it falls short.
- A Catholic has the opportunity to experience another style of worship. In all religions there exists a search “among shadows and images, for the God who is unknown yet near” (Catechism, no. 843). Worship is one facet that reveals how the search is conducted.
- It can help a Catholic to understand not just the tenets of a particular faith, but the people of that faith.
Recognizing what is good in other religions does not mean ignoring legitimate differences or pretending that all religions are equal. Nostra Aetate reminds the faithful that the Church “proclaims, and ever must proclaim Christ ‘the way, the truth, and the life’ (John 14:6), in
whom men may find the fullness of religious life, in whom God has reconciled all things to Himself” (no. 2). As members of the Church, all Catholics are called to proclaim Christ to the nations. By showing genuine interest in another person’s faith tradition, a Catholic can build bridges to dialogue. That dialogue can create opportunities for evangelization—and perhaps plant seeds of conversion.
Holy Bible (Catholic edition)
Catechism of the Catholic Church
Documents of Vatican II
Michael Barber, Coming Soon: Unlocking the Book of Revelation and Applying Its Lessons Today
Hahn and Suprenant, eds., Catholic for a Reason: Scripture and the Mystery of the Family of God
Leon Suprenant and Philip Gray, Faith Facts: Answers to Catholic Questions
Ted Sri, Mystery of the Kingdom: On the Gospel of Matthew
Leon Suprenant, ed., Servants of the Gospel
Most Rev. Thomas J. Tobin, Without a Doubt: Bringing Faith to Life
To order these and other titles, call Emmaus Road Publishing toll-free: (800) 398-5470 or visit www.emmausroad.org
Other Available FAITH FACTS:
• Attending a Protestant Service • Hold Fast What Is Good: On Borrowing Forms of Meditation from Eastern Religions • Jehovah’s Witnesses: A Catholic Response • Let the Son Shine: The Truth about the New Age Movement • Mormonism and the Great Apostasy Theory • Reiki • Seventh-Day Adventists • Without the Church There Is No Salvation
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Last edited: 2/22/06