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Fr. Tom Ryan, CSP
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Our readers asked:

What is the difference in belief between Roman Catholics and Episcopalians?

Thomas Ryan, CSP Answers:

Question: What is the difference in belief between Roman Catholics and Episcopalians? I was once told, “All the ceremony and half the guilt” but there must be more to it than that.

Indeed, there is more to it than that, though your pithy line has some validity to it as far as it goes. A large part of the Episcopal Church (its styles vary from the simple to the elaborate, from Evangelical to Catholic) has retained rich and reverent ceremony as part of its Catholic heritage. Because Roman Catholics have a pope and bishops it’s often pretty clear who has teaching authority in the church. The Episcopalians’ hierarchy is less clear as they don’t have a figure like the pope at the head of their church.

Belief-wise, Episcopalians (Anglicans) uphold and proclaim the Catholic and Apostolic faith, based on the same creeds and scripture, and interpreted in the light of Christian tradition, scholarship, and reason. They recognize seven sacraments (the same sacraments as the Catholic Church) and hold roughly the same moral values as Catholics with a few exceptions.

Differences relate to recognition of the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Rome (the pope) as holding an authoritative teaching office for the whole church; the ordination of women as deacons, priests, and bishops; the use of contraception, divorce, and remarriage.

The Author : Thomas Ryan, CSP
Fr. Tom Ryan, CSP, directs the Paulist North American Office for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations in Washington, D.C.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Maria Cantu-Espinoza

    What about Transubstantiation? I thought that only Catholic Priests did that.

  • MJazz

    At my Episcopal church, the priest says “we welcome ALL baptized members, regardless of church affiliation to the alter to share in the gifts of the body and blood of Christ” The belief is that you are baptized into the body of Christ, not into a particular religion or church. I think, Lori

  • Lori Pirraglia

    so i cant go to the episcaple church one week and the catholic church the next?

  • Cat Steppings

    Also, some Catholics can take the Church’s teachings on sin a little too seriously (or misunderstand), and always feel as if they are in a state of grave sin, strong feelings guilt, not believing you are forgiven, (even when having gone to a priest confession or at the confession in Mass), seeking to avoid sin rather than live life, which leads to becoming totally frustrated with church and becoming a lapsed-Catholic, like myself. If taken the wrong way, the Catholic faith can make one feel like you are never doing anything right, and as a perfectionist, I could not get past psychological barriers like that (and some other things).

    But, I’ve been slowly coming back to Christ through reading scripture and the Episcopal Church, for which I am grateful.

    • montana2298

      Well if you did that THAT IS YOUR FAULT . Not the fault of the Catholic Church. In fact, if you go to confession to a priest and still feel guilty and not forgiven the Devil is messing with you. There is only ONE church and that is the Catholic Church which everyone will see very soon . God Bless

    • Andrew Voyer

      All Christian denominations can take sin too far and too literally. God just wants us to love, have compassion and mercy for all. Including ourselves and loved ones. But all denominations have the ‘pharisecal christians in them.

  • Lawrence Mosher

    Thank you for the information. Now I can answer my Protestant friend with ‘factual innformation!

  • annieturner45@gmail.com

    Dear Fr. Ryan, thanks for the discussion and your clarity. I always understood that one of the major differences between the Episcopal Church and the Catholic Church was our belief in the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Do you see that differently?

  • Hillary West

    Thank you Father Ryan, for your succinct explanation. As an Episcopal priest, I’m grateful for the opportunity to teach that the Episcopal Church is both Catholic and Protestant, the best of both worlds, via media or the middle way. We do have a hierarchy but it is not less clear. God in Christ is the head of the church. The Archbishop of Canterbury serves as the spiritual overseer of the Anglican Communion, an umbrella for nearly 50 churches across the globe of which The Episcopal Church is one. The Presiding Bishop serves as the spiritual overseer of The Episcopal Church, some 100 dioceses, all overseen by bishop(s).

  • mary

    Growing up Episcopalian, my father was a preist, and converting to Catholicism much later in life, I find this a fascinating question. I love my chosen faith but I am finding it difficult, as a women, to freely express myself as a leader in the church. The difference in these two faiths, as far as there acceptance of women ,can not be understateded. Although our new Pope has made some liberal friends, especially in the homosexual community ,his stance on women is insulting.

  • Daniel

    Regardless of whether an Episcopal priest believes in transubstantiation, he (or she) cannot offer a valid Eucharist. The only priests who can celebrate communion and effect transubstantiation — bread and wine becomes the real presence of Jesus in his body and blood — are Catholic priests. Because only Catholic priests are part of the true Apostolic succession. FYI, Orthodox Catholic priests ordinations are just as valid as Roman Catholic priests because their ordinations occur within the Apostolic succession.

    • cerenatee

      The last time I checked, and I just checked, the word Catholic is not in the bible. The fact that you believe only Catholic priests are recognized in the Apostolic succession speaks to the Catholic limitation. God does not abide by Catholic creed. Catholics abide by His. Thus I will take communion and be glad for it. Peace.

      • Mike W

        As you changed the spelling of the name or word serenity to cerenatee. Should I get uppity and say that I’ve never seen the word cerenatee, so it’s wrong .No. The Term Catholic is derived from ancient Greek. KATA- means with respect to, and Holos means whole thus Katholikos which the French interpreted as Catholique and eventually Catholic in Middle English. Think of the definition now. Catholics worship with respect to the whole of God/Christianity. Apostolic succesion, is clearly in the Bible starting with St Peter. Folks are quick to say that a certain word word is not in the bible. Then base an argument of un-educated opinion on popular belief that suits their life. Most of the Bible is derived from ancient Greek ,Aramaic ,Hebrew and Latin. Also, I’m pretty impressed in which you can reference the entire Bible verbatim.

  • Mike Hayes

    Charles and KJ…

    Charles rightly pinpoints the primary difference between Episcopalians and Catholics, as Father Ryan also did.

    KJ your point is a bit more complicated. Some High Anglicans do in fact share our belief in transubstantiation, while others do not. Regardless, because of our first point we do not take communion in one another’s church because that would be a sign of Church unity which still does not exist between these denominations despite some agreement in certain sects of Anglicanism on a Eucharistic theology.

  • KJ

    So do Episcopalians believe in transubstantiation? 2nd paragraph makes me think so, but I’m not sure. And if they do, does that mean they can take communion if they come to our mass — or ours at theirs?

  • Charles J Mcallistr MD

    so do you consider them valid Catholics-the Orthodox do not recognize the sole authority of the Pope as well

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