Synod 2006 completed the work of a previous synod in ending the Christian Reformed Church’s condemnation of the Roman Catholic Mass. The 450-year-old Heidelberg Catechism calls the Mass a “condemnable idolatry” (Q&A 80). Synod 2004 had already said that statement “can no longer be held in its current form as part of our confession, given our study of official Roman Catholic teaching and extensive dialogue with official representatives of the Roman Catholic Church.”
But what to do with those words as part of a historic document? Synod 2006 decided that in future printings of the catechism, the text will be preserved as part of the historical document and because it maintains unity with other denominations in the Reformed family of churches. However, the part of the text that denounces the Roman Catholic Mass will be placed in brackets with a note that explains that those paragraphs “do not adequately reflect the official teaching and practice of today’s Roman Catholic Church and are no longer confessionally binding on members of the CRC.”
Delegates spent a fair bit of time talking about what exactly the Roman Catholic Church teaches concerning the Eucharist. George Vandervelde, part of the committee that extensively studied and consulted on the issue, explained that the Catholic Church believes that Christ’s sacrifice was made once and for all. The Mass does not sacrifice Christ again but applies the forgiveness that is available through Christ’s sacrifice. “We still have significant differences with the Catholic Church in that we do not need a priest to apply the forgiveness of Christ to us,” said Vandervelde. “We believe forgiveness is ours by faith. But that does not mean that we have to label [the Mass] as a condemnable idolatry.”
Rev. Harry Winters Jr., Classis Lake Erie, was satisfied with the change. Q&A 80 “is not consistent with the rest of the Heidelberg Catechism,” he said, “which is primarily a pastoral document and states what we believe, not what others believe.”
Synod instructed the executive director of the CRC to send the complete report to conferences of Catholic bishops and to the appropriate ecumenical bodies.