Sunday, April 14, 2013

Why do Catholics make such a big deal out of Mary?

Recently I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, The Phil Vischer podcast.  Phil Vischer is one of the founders of Veggie Tales and of the very enlightening “What’s in the Bible” series, which I recommend to anyone who wants a better understanding of Scripture.  The podcast's 3 regular hosts, Phil Vischer, Skye Jethani and Christian Taylor, and all three are very knowledgeable, thoughtful, and funny in how they communicate faith principles.  And they are very respectful of Catholics.  I almost never hear anything I disagree with on their podcast. 

But with the recent election of Pope Francis,  they were discussing him and his election, and Christian raised the fact that she was uncomfortable with the honour that Pope Francis immediately gave to Mary, which she likened to worship.  In the following podcast, Phil mentioned that he had gotten a lot of feedback from Catholic listeners about the fact that we do not worship Mary, but we do honour her, and Phil kind of said something to the effect that while he does not agree with the Catholic theology, he now understands better where we come from and he respects our viewpoint.

Well and good.  But why do Catholics give Mary so much honour?  And let’s be frank-  if kneeling before a statue of Mary, placing flowers before it, lighting candles, and singing words like “our life, our sweetness and our hope” is not worship, then what is?

Typically us Catholics will try to respond in an apologetic way, and stick with arguments based in scripture.  I think that there are plenty of good arguments found in scripture-  Like the fact that the angel greets Mary saying “Hail, full of grace” (Luke 1:28) effectively replacing her name with the title “Full of grace”, a greeting which troubled her.  Or that Mary herself predicted that “All generations will call me blessed”. (Luke 1:48)  Or that Jesus performed his first miracle at the wedding at Cana at Mary’s prompting. (John 2)  That Jesus gives her to us as our mother with his dying breaths. (John 19:27).  Or that John seems to imply that Mary is thenew ark of the covenant (Revelation 11:19-12:6).  (A fascinating study on this typology, idea where something in the Old Testament is fulfilled in the new Testament, can be found in many of the Church fathers, such as Ephrem, Athanasius, Cyril, Ambrose, Hippolytus, etc- which show that while the original ark contained the manna, commandments, and rod of Aaron, so Mary contained within herself Christ, who fulfilled these three things as the true bread from heaven, fulfillment of the law, and the High Priest.)  Other types of Mary can be found in Old Testament queens like Esther or Bathsheba (as Solomon’s queen Mother) when they intercede with the king.

Anyway, tons can be said about that, and has been all over the place, which is part of the reason that I am not that interested in getting into it here, beyond making references to the passages and arguments, which once directed anyone can now follow up on.

The thing, though, about Catholics is that we are not limited to just scripture based arguments, and I think that even if you accept all the arguments above it still does not lead fully to what Catholics actually think.  To a Catholic, the idea that all doctrine is based on scripture is not only foreign, but it does not make sense.  This is because the Church existed, and taught, for 400 years before the Canon of the Bible was finalized, and it was in fact the Church which gave us the Bible, and not the other way around.  We cannot have read the Bible and then drawn our doctrines from it.  But instead all of our doctrines and the Bible itself were given to us at the same time, in what has been called the deposit of the faith.

To me, the authority of scripture is dependent on the authority of the Church who gave it to us.  So I always wonder how old a tradition within the Church is.  If it goes back to the Fathers, to before the finalizing of the Canon, this indicates to me that the doctrine was in the deposit of faith, and not some medieval development.  So can it be shown that honour of Mary goes all the way to the Early Church?

I already demonstrated that the ideas of Mary as the Ark of the Covenant does.  In fact, if you read the quotes I referred to, you will find lines like these;

 St. Athanasius (c. 296-373)

“Be mindful of us, most holy virgin, who after childbirth didst remain virgin; and grant to us for these small words great gifts from the riches of they graces, O thou full of grace. Accept them as though they were true and adequate praises in they honor; and if there is in them any virtue and any praise, we offer them as a hymn from ourselves and from all creatures to thee, full of grace, Lady, Queen, Mistress, Mother of God, and Ark of sanctification” (Orat. In Deip. Annuntiat, nn. 13, 14. Int. Opp. S. Athanasii) (Blessed Virgin, p. 80).

 “O noble Virgin, truly you are greater than any other greatness. For who is your equal in greatness, O dwelling place of God the Word? To whom among all creatures shall I compare you, O Virgin? You are greater than them all O (Ark of the) Covenant, clothed with purity instead of gold!” Homily of the Papyrus of Turin.

Hesychius (lived c. 300)

“Behold a Virgin. Who is she? The most noble of women, the elect from among virgins, the splendid ornament of our nature, the glory of our mold, who freed Eve from her shame and Adam from the curse, who cut off the bold insolence of the dragon, she whom the smoke of concupiscence touched not, nor the worm of pleasure harmed” (Is.vii. 14). (Hesychius, Orat. De Virginis laudib. Biblioth. PP. Græco-Lat. Tom. ii. p. 423) (Blessed Virgin, p. 89).

I love reading the Church fathers, because they were so poetic and unapologetic in their expression of truth!

Marian devotion does go at least as far back as the 2nd century, with Origen coining the term ‘theotokos’ (Mother of God) before he died in 254AD.

The oldest known Marian Hymn, the Sub tuum praesidium, dates from about 270ad, and is as follows.


Beneath your compassion,

We take refuge, O Mother of God:

do not despise our petitions in time of trouble:

but rescue us from dangers,

only pure, only blessed one


I could go on in like manner for a very long time, citing early references to Marian veneration, but suffice it to say that Mary has been venerated by Christians since well before the Canon was finalized, seemingly from the beginning, and is universally venerated among the ancient Churches-  Catholics, Orthodox, Coptic, etc.


That’s enough apologetics-  meaning arguing for the legitimacy of the practice. Here on in I am going to articulate the Church’s teachings without bothering to defend them with scripture or history.  The question still remains-  why do it, and how is it not worship?


Catholics make a distinction between the honour we give to Mary and the Saints, and that due only to God.  In Latin, the one for God is ‘latria’ where the one for saints is ‘dulia’.  For Mary it is ‘hyperdulia’.  This distinction goes all the way back to the second council of Nicea in 787.  So the quick answer, that Catholics do not worship Mary, is quite right, in that the honour we give her is quite different from that which we give to God.  You may find, however, the occasional older document which refers to the worship of Mary.  This has to do with the changing of the meaning of the word ‘worship’ in English.  It used to just mean “worth-ship”, so giving one their due, but now it means that which is due only to God.  (For this reason to this day Brit’s call their judges ‘Your Worship’, where Americans call them ‘Your Honour’)

So if lighting candles, etc, is not the worship due only to God, then what is? 

Interestingly, every ancient religion had the offering of sacrifices as their highest form of worship.  Catholics do to, in that we offer the Mass, which is the fulfillment in Christ of the Old Testament offerings.  Catholics never offer the Mass to Mary.  I can understand that to a protestant, where for many their highest form of worship may be playing really moving music on the guitar and singing, they would regard what we do to honour Mary as a form of worship.  You have to understand liturgy (which also goes all the way back to the beginning) to understand worship from a Catholic perspective.

So, why so much honour?  The early Christians immediately honoured their saints-  if someone was martyred, their blood was preserved, bones were gathered, altars were built over their tombs.  When St Paul dropped a hanky, people kept it as a relic and brought it to the sick (Acts 19:11-12).  How much more with Mary?

The idea with Mary is that she was the first one to have gone through the sanctifying process which Jesus came for.  God’s plan for all of us is to become saints- to be holy, purified, have our will in complete union to His. Mary went through it first! In fact, she was saved before being conceived.  So she is what we will all be when we are completely purified.  But she is not God, she is one of us.  One of us that has been given the honour of being raised above the angels.  Notice that all honor due to her is because of what God has done in her-  as is clear in her own prayer, the Magnificat. (Luke 1:46-55).  You cannot understand Mary except in relation to Jesus, and Mary always points at Jesus. (Usually in art, she is even looking at Jesus.)  By analogy, Mary is the moon, which is only radiant because it reflects the light of the sun.

St Louis de Montfort explained that just as God originally deemed to send grace into the world through Mary the first time, so he continues to do so.  So Mary has become for us the channel of grace, won for us by Christ on the cross. 

This is confusing, because to many it seems that we are making Mary a mediator between us and God.  Indeed, she is even called the mediatrix. But Jesus is the one mediator, in the sense that only He can restore our relationship with God.  Mary is a mediator in the same sense that any other holy person could be.  We can ask her to pray for us, and she can.  And because of her special place, (the first to be fully sanctified, the spouse of the Holy Spirit, the mother of Jesus, the queen mother, the ark of the covenant, the new Eve… etc) her prayers have more power. 

I think to many people it feels like we should not have to ask Mary to pray for us, when we can pray directly to God.  Much like we should not have the sacrament of confession, when we can ask God directly for his forgiveness. We can go directly to God, and anyone who has ever listened attentively to the prayers at a Catholic Mass would find that almost every word is directed to God the Father.   But God’s salvation plan for some reason uses people other than himself.  We are needed to evangelize and pray for others. Priests to give the sacraments.  God uses angels for his tasks, despite the fact that he is all powerful.  And so God has deemed to make Mary a key piece in his plan for salvation, and she continues to hold that honored role even now.

I have a suspicion, and that is that the reason so many of us are uncomfortable with Marian devotion is because we are imposing certain philosophical ideas on God and the way that he works, rather than just watching to see what He is actually doing.  I suspect that if we could drop some of our own ideas, and just dive into the mystery of Christ and Mary’s role, we would come away with the same enthusiasm and love for her that the Early Church and all of the saints have had.  Then, guided by these more profound principles, we can return to scripture and discover a richness there that we had never before seen.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Is it wrong to not desire as many children as God can give you?

Q:Is it wrong for a woman not to want as many kids as God can give her? There are times when I feel as though, as a woman, I have more to offer the world than just simply making and having children, and therefore I find myself thinking that I will probably use contraceptives.

A: Uhhh...

The thing is, God can give you 20, 25 kids. I don't want 25 kids. Is that wrong? If you actually knew that it was the will of God to have more kids, and you chose not to anyway, then I suppose that would be wrong. I really like the saying that Maximilian Kolbe used to say. The equation for holiness is w = W. The small w represents my will, and the large one God's will. If my will equals God's will, then I will be holy. Since God created us to be holy, (and in the end we will become holy, if a little purgatory is required) then anything that puts my will before God's will is a sin... so if God wants you to have lots of kids, or be a nun, or be poor, or be a high powered lawyer who fights for justice.... whatever God wants, we seek His will, even if it means having 25 kids.

But I don't think God wants us to have 25 kids. Our attitude has to be that every kid is a gift- because of course each one is. But when you get married (the primary purpose of which is to build a family, and companionship is secondary) you are entering into a covenant with God. One of your vows is to be open to life. "Do you promise to receive children lovingly from the Lord?" "I do."

So it's like you enter into a bargain with God where he says "I'm going to put you in charge of growing a garden, here's a plot of land and the tools and the seed, I'll provide the rain and the sun, you take care of it." The attitude of contraception is like saying "gardens are a lot of work, I'd really rather not grow one. So I just won't plant the seeds" or worse "I will plant these seeds, but then I will spray round up on my garden so nothing will grow." The reason God gave you the plot of land is because he had a job for you!

On the other hand, if you just plant seeds all over the place, or in the wrong season, your garden can become over grown. So you do want to plan. I always hoped to have a large family, but now at three kids my wife's health is suffering. It is likely that we will have to stop at 3. But contraception is out, so we'll have to use NFP.

NFP stands for 'natural family planning.' Contrary to popular belief, this is not the rhythm method which assumes that every woman is on a 28 day cycle and so you just have sex when the woman is infertile, which you judge based on when she gets her period. It is true that a woman is only fertile for a few days of the month, but not true that every woman is on such a regular cycle. So there are much more sophisticated ways for knowing when a woman is fertile. I won't get into them here, and anyway I am hardly an expert, but suffice it to say that NFP takes into account the woman’s natural cycle, respects her body, and yes, abstains from sex when she is fertile if you are trying to avoid having kids for good reasons.

I think a lot of people fail to understand ethics and morality because they try to reduce it to a bunch of laws.  A major precept of Christianity was that Christ came to free us from the laws, and make us into a different kind of person.  So when you look at NFP vs contraception from a legalistic perspective, people think, yeah but it comes to the same end!  But it’s about the attitude that is concerning.  NFP teaches discipline, respect for the body, and openness to life.  Contraception is about avoiding pregnancy as though it was a negative consequence, but having sex regardless for pleasure or companionship. Even the words betray the attitudes in question-  Contra-Ception means “against conception”.  Whereas NFP is “Natural Family Planning”.  The Catholic attitude then is not that we are against having a family, but that we will responsibly plan a family.  And I cannot stress enough that having a family is the mandate of married people!  (Considered in this light, all kinds of other sexual ethics questions start making sense!)
This is going way further than the original questioner intended, but I do want to mention that the attitude for Catholics is that each sexual act must be open to life.  As in you can’t interfere with it to prevent life.  Having sex when a woman is known to be infertile, either from her cycle, or from age, or what have you, is fully acceptable.  But preventing life goes against natural law.  Natural Law can be summed up as God made the world a certain way, and ethics respects the way that it was made.
As to the comment that as a woman you have more to offer the world than simply making and having children-  this is true, but we have to be careful not to act as though making and having children is some small thing!  My vocation as a father should be prioritized like this- God, Wife, Kids, work (which in my case is ministry.)  Anytime I put these in a different order my life becomes ‘disordered’.

GK Chesterton wrote in the 1st half of the last century, and he described what would happen if Contraception became widely accepted.  (He lived in England, and the Anglican Church reversed its stance on contraception in the 1930’s.)  The attitude of contraception would lead to seeing children as a negative consequence of sex, and ultimately to abortion.  It would also remove the commitment that sex entailed, leading to casual sex, higher adultery rates, higher divorce rates, the use of sex for pleasure, men using women more, and ironically with that culture shift would come an increase in unwanted pregnancies, single mothers, the breakdown of the family, and seeing as the family is the building block of society, eventually the breakdown of society.  It is interesting how many of the things he predicted came true!  And I don’t think he even recognized how with all this would be the rise of pornography, (certainly he could not have predicted the internet as a means), the rise of Sexually Transmitted Infections, homosexuality, prostitution, human trafficking for the sake of prostitution (biggest form of slavery in the world today)…. Etc.

I think it would be over stating things to blame all of these social ills on contraception-  however contraception is one of the symptoms of a “Culture of Death”, as JPII called it. As stated before, reducing Catholic ethics to a list of rules misses the point entirely.  This is about an attitude, and a philosophy of life.  The proper Catholic attitude is that Sex is good and beautiful, even Holy, because it is through Sex that a man gives himself to a woman, and she receives him, and a new human life comes into the world.  The sacredness of this act is so profound that it is a part of the sacrament of Marriage. 

To the reader who is interested in learning more, I recommend you research John Paul II’s Theology of theBody.  Or if you are between 14 and 18, attend the Spring Retreat at Our Lady of Victory Camp, May 3-5 2013, where we will be diving into these teachings in depth!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

How is God justified for killing innocent babies in the Bible?

Q. How do you justify God murdering babies and young children? This question is not meant to sound condescending, so I apologize if it does. I'm genuinely curious.

I'll cite the following instances.

1) God murdered the Egyptian first-born, just to prove a point.
2) If you believe that God flooded the world, then he drowned thousands of innocent babies to death.

Why is it okay for God to commit child-murder and sacrifice innocents?

Do you yourself feel morally okay bowing before an entity who slaughters babies en mass?

(This question was posed in the comments after Denmark does not exist. )

A.  This, I think, is one of the most challenging questions to the authenticity of Scripture and thus of Christianity.  I do not know of a perfectly satisfactory answer.  (I suppose if there was one, people would stop asking the question!)  I think part of the difficulty is that a very direct question is given, but the answer is very indirect and nuanced.  Seems that a lot of life is like that, especially regarding things like history and ethics and theology!  So someone like me tackles the question in an indirect and nuanced way, and it is exasperating and maybe the reader will not read to the end.  Others will attempt a more pithy answer, but fail to capture the true nature of the problem.

I can dismiss the flood scenario rather easily, by saying that as a Catholic I am not required to believe that the first 11 chapters of Genesis were intended to be taken literally, that their genre is epic poem, etc. (For more on this, read Sola Scriptura ).  But even as epic poem, it is included in Scripture because though it may not speak to literal history, it does speak to the nature of God, so the problem remains.  And it is even more explicit in Exodus when God kills the first born Egyptians.  This book, I would argue, falls clearly into the historical book form.

So, here's the first indirect, nuanced bit.  The Bible is not dictated word for word by God, but inspired and written by men.  (Unlike the claims about the Koran or Book of Mormon.)  So, the author of Exodus, for the sake of argument let's say Moses, is recounting a series of events but with his own interpretation.  In the ancient world, people would attribute causality to God, saying "God hardened Pharaoh's heart" or "God killed the first born." 

This is yet another difficult theological concept that I don't fully understand today.  What is the distinction between God's active will and His permissive will?  Does he actively Cause everything, or just allow everything, or is the balance somewhere in between?  But if God is who is (Yahweh), and the one in whom everything else that exists exists....  you get the gist.

All of that aside, let's just take the story at face value.  God says let my people go, Pharaoh says no, God warns of consequences, and a series of plagues affect Egypt.  (Each plague, incidentally, relates to one of the Egyptian gods, as if God were saying "I am bigger than your God.  You worship the Nile? I killed it, it's blood!  You worship frogs? Here's some frogs!  You worship the sun? I'll block it out!")  Despite the fact that Egypt is getting destroyed, the economy is collapsing, and everybody is sick, livestock are dead, Pharaoh still refuses to obey God.  So God keeps stepping it up, and finally does what he needs to do to establish justice.

I wonder what would have happened if God had not killed the first born?  Would the Israelites ever have become a nation?

I am always suspicious of the values that we hold today that were not held throughout history.  As we all know, history is replete with errors in the way the culture at that time thought.  I suspect that some of our ideas are wrong too-  and I don't just mean the ones I happen to disagree with.  I often suspect that even my own ideas might be wrong.

I think that if you read the Old Testament, you get a picture of God who is very unlike the picture we have of God today.  We emphasize so much God's love and compassion and mercy, that I think we might overlook some of his other traits, like justice and grandeur and holiness.  The Bible says repeatedly that "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom."  It is thought by many that the most radical concept that was introduced by Christ, the one that got Him killed, and is still considered anathema by Muslims and Jews, was calling God "Father." 

Think for a moment about what modern physics has told us.  There are 100 billion stars in our galaxy, and 100 billion galaxies in our universe.  But apply this to theology, and God is much bigger and more powerful than any of our primitive notions ever allowed.  The idea that God would care about humans, and interact with them, and actually become one, is astonishing. 

The idea that we would demand that God comply with our notions about morality while we disobey Him is even more so. But this is precisely what we do.  When God fails to live up to our preconceived notions of who He is, we decide that rather than believe that He is different than we thought, he must not exist.

I suspect that we are wrong both in emphasizing God's mercy at the expense of His holiness, and on the other hand we downplay the guilt of our own sins.  I suspect that the magnitude of both are greater than our culture acknowledges.  (I also suspect that a cursory glance at the writings of saints and prophets would illustrate this point!)

So, how does this tie in with the Egypt story?  I think God, who created and holds the entire universe in existence, and every thing in the universe does His will perfectly, except those that he imbues with free will, who make slaves of each other, and stubbornly refuse to listen when He speaks, even when his words are backed up by miracles.... I think that God needs to act.  But He has put a limit on himself, which is free will.  He cannot simply override the will of pharaoh, pharaoh must learn to submit.  I wonder if to God the death of the first born is not so awful as it is to us. To God (presuming they go to Heaven) he's just bringing a bunch of children out of the broken world and to Himself. 

I suspect that to God, it is not an atrocity, but a mercy, and anyway it is the price necessary to change structural oppression.

So, I should sum up in a pithy way to satisfy the direct question:  God is enormous, and he is Holy, he demands righteousness, he mercifully gives us chances to comply, but He will not stand by indefinitely while we go on imposing suffering on others.  He will do what it takes. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Why can't Catholics recieve communion in Lutheran Church?

Q.  What I was wondering about is Communion outside of the Catholic Church. At my Lutheran School there's Chapel activities three times a week, and on Wednesday's we do Holy Communion (There's only a 20 minute space available three times a week, so basically what we do is have mass in three parts throughout the week). Today I was told that as a Catholic I shouldn't be receiving Communion, and the person who said that didn't really know why. I get that there's a huge difference between Communion at a Catholic Church and a Lutheran Church, but I don't see how that makes it wrong to receive Communion at a Lutheran service. If it were the other way around, a non Catholic at a Catholic Church, I can see how that would be wrong. I also get how it would be a big mistake to replace or substitute for Catholic Communion, but that's not at all how it is. I'm not even thinking of them as the same thing; in my mind they're totally separate.

I guess it just seems haughty and almost arrogant to say "no, this isn't good enough for me because I have something similar and this is different" when instead it could be treated as something totally different, which really it is, not something that is taking away from or disputing the transubstantiation in Catholic Communion. It's not like the Lutheran Church is making a sacrilege of Communion by doing it the way they do, they're not even opposing any beliefs of the Catholic Church. Their Communion is just not as special, it's not as intimate. But the Catholic Church has nothing wrong with symbols, and that's all that their Communion is, so there should be nothing wrong with it. Because their Communion is merely symbolic and therefore not nearly as intimate, it is definitely no replacement and should never be thought of as such, but I don't understand what is wrong with participating.
A. I used to struggle with the same issue, when I was heavily involved in the Anglican Church.   Church teaching is that the reception in another Church would be superficial. It is not a put down to the other Church, but rather an acknowledgement that we are not in communion with each other! I think now a days we really emphasize the fact that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ, which it is and that emphasis is important, but sometimes we forget that receiving communion also indicates that we are one, and one with the Church we receive it in. While out hope is to one day be in communion with all the protestants, we aren't right now and so it would be superficial to receive such an important symbol, while rejecting what it signifies.
Historically when someone was a heretic or a schismatic, they could be cut off from the sacraments, or ex-communicated. This was a really big deal- so much so that kings would stand barefoot in the snow to repent to the Pope and be welcomed back into communion! If you receive communion in a Lutheran Church, it is not only problematic because they don't share our theology, it indicates that you are one of them.
To be honest I sometimes think that if it were left to me, I would not make communion more accessible, but rather less. In Catholic Churches it is supposed to be the final stage of initiation into the Church (or confirmation is, depending). But we give it to every kid of the age of reason regardless of their own level of devotion to the Church, or that of their parents. And people receive it in an unworthy manner- either due to sin, irreverence, eating before Mass, or they are not Catholic- on a regular basis. The holiness of the sacrament gets undermined if we treat it as something that we have a right to.
I think that it is fantastic that Catholics and Lutherans can worship together, have fellowship, dialogue, etc. But it would be premature to say we are in full communion. I hope and pray for the day that we will be, and I think that will be a powerful and fantastic day, but let's not undermine the symbol in anticipation of something that is not yet!

(The original questioner has kept the conversation going...)

Q:  So the big problem with it then is that it signifies that we are all united as one, even though we aren't? And that's what makes it superficial? That doesn't really make sense to me. "For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one spirit we were all baptized into one body- Jews or Greeks, slaves of free- and we were all made to drink of one spirit." (1 Corinthians 12: 12-13). Christ came to die for all of us, not just Catholics, so why do we separate ourselves from other Churches? I think the part I don't understand is what you mean when you say "While our hope is to one day be in communion with all the protestants, we aren't right now". To me it seems like, just as the verse says, we are all one body in Christ, we are all saved by grace just the same, and though we are different, we are all united. St Paul repeats this idea when he says, "For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members of one another." (Romans 12: 4-5). If we are all united as one body in Christ, why do we reject this symbol of unity?

Actually it's because the Lutherans separated themselves from us. It begs the question about how much theological agreement there needs to be to be in communion with each other. For example, suppose we allow that we hold enough in common with Lutherans and Anglicans to be in communion... despite the fact that many Anglicans deny that homosexuality is wrong. Should we also be in communion with the United Church, many of whom deny the trinity and thus the divinity of Christ? Or the Jehovah's Witnesses, who think Jesus was Michael the Archangel? Or Mormons, who think that the Church is in a state of apostasy for denying true revelation? To Luther, the Catholic Church was the whore of Babylon. While you will not find many Lutherans who hold that position today (though you may find evangelicals) if you receive their communion you are affirming everything they believe- and vice versa when they receive ours.
This is precisely why we have Church authority, because while Luther may have meant well and sincerely believed that if we read the Bible by ourselves and guessed at the truth, the Holy Spirit would guide us, history and the proliferation of denominations and new teachings have demonstrated otherwise. This is a major difficulty for ecumenism. While Lutherans and United Church can both acknowledge one another as Christians making their best guess at it, the Catholic Churches claim is that the Church was granted authority to interpret scripture and pass on teachings. So when I say I hope we will all one day be in communion, in truth I mean that I hope one day protestants will stop protesting and will come back to the Church that Jesus founded and guaranteed the truth to!
I don't know how all of this works for the idea that we are all 'one body'. Within the Church we can say that we are one precisely because we receive the one body, but Lutherans do not receive the one body. Their baptism is valid, so in a sense they are certainly Christian and part of the Christian Church. But they have broken their apostolic lineage, denied the authority of the Church and of the sacraments, and in effect cut themselves off from the sacraments.
I think that if we receive their communion, we affirm them as being not only Christian but just as right as Catholics. Of course, everyone wants to do this... but if you really believe that the Church is infallible, then only Catholicism is fully right, which means by definition all other denominations are defective, to greater or lesser degrees. (The Church released a document in 2000 called Dominus Iesus,  which expounds on this.)
So again, it is a huge difficulty. There is hope that that Churches that are very like minded with ours, like the Lutherans, can be reunited. Pope Benedict XVI even invited Anglicans to become "Anglican Catholics"- like Ukrainian Catholics. This let's them keep their rites and liturgy, etc, while acknowledging the Church and her authority to teach, therefore affirming whatever the Church has taught authoritatively. I do not think it is impossible for a right like "Lutheran Catholics" (though probably under a different name!) to exist. They would be, effectively, Lutherans who are back in full communion. It may happen, or something like it, but it would be premature for you or I to declare that it has happened just because we hope it will. But Ecumenism can go too far- I don't think we will ever have "Mormon Catholics" or "Muslim Catholics", because they are too contradictory.
There are many who, in the name of ecumenism or open mindedness, would undermine the infallible truth of Catholicism. Infallibility is a major stumbling block for these movements.... however, it is the assurance given us by Christ that we can get it right! Otherwise it is anyone guess. And it is not difficult to see from the Anglican Church or the United Church what democratizing the faith actually does to unity and fidelity to truth.
Often in North America where Catholics are a minority it feels like we should move to join the protestants. But worldwide we are the largest religion, and that with 2000 years of non contradiction, and the (apparent) blessing and guarantee of teaching from Christ. While we have a responsibility to worship with, and dialogue with, our protestant brethren, whatever distinctions there are between our faith and there's was introduced by them, and it is up to them to reconcile them if we are ever all to be one, as Jesus prayed.
If you check history, where major movements in Christianity were declared "Heresies" or "Schismatics" I think the Church has demonstrated a remarkable openness to Lutherans- at least in recent decades. That may be a balm for the wounds, but I suspect it will be decades more before the healing is complete.