Earlier this month, the Pew Research Center released the results of a survey that caused quite a commotion in the Catholic community. It said, in short, that more than two-thirds (69%) of those who self-identify as Catholic say they do not believe in transubstantiation, the “source and summit” of the faith that holds that the bread and wine used during the Eucharistic sacrifice miraculously becomes the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Rather, these same self-identifying Catholics posit that the bread and wine are only “symbols” used to commemorate the Last Supper.
Over the centuries, eucharistic controversies have been the cause of schism, war and great divisions. But it’s this reality that has remained at the heart of the Catholic faith for more than 2,000 years. That’s why it’s even more surprising to find that 43% of that 69% not only don’t believe in the Real Presence, but they don’t actually know the Church claims it as one of its most foundational teachings.
Many within the Church have responded strongly to this information, most notably Bishop Robert Barron, auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles, who published a video blaming the collapse in catechesis on all responsible for teaching the faith to others. “It’s been a massive failure of the Church carrying on its own tradition,” he said.
Catechesis, indeed, is critical. But there’s also something else that has been sorely lacking if the Church’s own members are to embrace Christ’s presence in the Eucharist for the miracle that it truly is — the open witness of believers.
Looking back at the numbers, we find that almost one-third, or 31%, of self-identifying Catholics say they believe that the bread and wine used at Mass actually becomes the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord. But do our actions reflect these claims? Do we witness to the world, and to our fellow Catholics, that we really believe what we say we believe? While faith-formation classes are essential tools for transmitting the faith, the reverent actions of believers can be just as effective, if not more so, as tools of catechesis — especially when it comes to witnessing what Pope St. Paul VI, in his encyclical “Mysterium Fidei,” called the Church’s “most precious treasure” (No. 1).
Do we genuflect reverently every time we pass the tabernacle? Do we make time to attend eucharistic adoration or sit before Christ in the tabernacle? Do we bow or kneel before receiving Communion? Do we wear clothes to Mass that express our true belief that we are in the presence of God? Do we raise our voices in loud objection when we hear stories of the desecration of the Blessed Sacrament? Do we refrain from receiving Christ in the Eucharist when we are not in a state of grace, remembering that receiving Communion is a gift, not a right? If we truly believe what we say we believe, our actions should reflect this belief.
So, too, should our prayers. To this end, let us join our voices to that of Pope St. Paul VI as we pray: “May the most blessed Virgin Mary, from whom Christ the Lord took the flesh that ‘is contained, offered, received’ in this sacrament under the appearances of bread and wine, and may all the saints of God and especially those who were more inflamed with ardent devotion toward the divine Eucharist, intercede with the Father of mercies so that this common belief in the Eucharist and devotion to it may give rise among all Christians to a perfect unity of communion that will continue to flourish” (No. 75).
This editorial was published in the Aug. 20 issue of Our Sunday Visitor, a national Catholic weekly.