I’m about a third of the way through Stephen W. Webb’s Mormon Christianity: What Other Christians Can Learn From the Latter-day Saints (OUP, 2013). Webb is a Catholic professor of philosophy and theology turned writer. His Catholic perspective on LDS doctrine and his evident sympathy for the LDS approach to Christianity make this insightful outsider treatment of LDS theology quite refreshing. I will no doubt post a longer discussion of the book in a week or two, but here is a quotation highlighting some similarities between Catholic and Mormon approaches to Christianity (apart from both traditions being the target of historical Protestant animus, of course):
Mormonism and Catholicism have a lot in common, in spite of the fact that Joseph Smith had little contact with Roman Catholics during his formative years. These two traditions share a love of ritual, an affirmation of the holiness of space (the desire to worship in holy places), robustly conservative moral traditions (especially a commitment to traditional views of marriage and gender), a respect for authority (especially in its role as an ongoing, institutionalized, and living voice), and a strong sense of a community of believers that transcends the limits of time to include the dead (Mormons baptize the dead, while Catholics pray for them and ask for their prayers). (p. 73.)
Webb then goes on to express some surprise that, with this much in common, the two traditions have such radically different views of the Eucharist (LDS: sacrament). The Catholic view:
Transubstantiation involves more than just the transformation of bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus. Transubstantiation is the ritualistic foundation of Catholic Christianity because it reveals the fundamental relationship between matter and spirit. Jesus Christ united divinity and humanity in his own incarnate form, but that unity, Catholics believe, is made visible and accessible to his followers in the Eucharist. It is no exaggeration to say that the entire edifice of the Catholic Church rests on the presupposition that the simple material of grain and grapes can become a conduit of God’s real presence in the world. In this ritual, the incarnation becomes a reality that pervades everything Christians do and believe. (p. 71.)
Here is Webb’s description of the Mormon view of the Eucharist: “Mormons, by contrast, have a very Protestant, indeed, a very rationalistic, understanding of communion. The Saints treat the Eucharist as a common, ordinary, and token meal, hardly more than a symbolic and visible lesson of invisible truths” (p. 73-74).
So when you bring a Catholic friend to an LDS sacrament meeting, warn them ahead of time that we take a more relaxed approach to the Eucharist, administered by teenage boys and distributed to the congregation (both bread and water) by preteen boys. If it helps, you can tell them that in the early LDS Church we used wine and distributed it from a common cup.