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Shocked, shocked! On Catholics and belief in the Real Presence

Most Catholics don’t go to Mass, have received very little religious education in their life, and attend liturgies that de-emphasize the unique presence of Christ in the Eucharist. And we’re surprised that most Catholics don’t believe in transubstantiation?

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“Each time the Mass is offered, the fruits of our Redemption are poured anew upon our souls. By uniting ourselves with the sacred rite of the Mass, and above all by receiving Holy Communion, we enter into the sacrifice of Christ. We mystically die with the divine Victim and rise again with Him to new life in God. We are freed from our sins, we are once again pleasing to God, and we receive grace to follow Him more generously in the life of charity and fraternal union which is the life of His Mystical Body.” — Thomas Merton, The Living Bread (1956)

Wow, even Thomas Merton believed the stuff, eh?

There has been conversation here and there this week about a recent Pew Research survey suggesting that barely a quarter of Catholics believe in the Real Presence of the Eucharist.  Here’s a summary from the Pew site:

In addition to asking Catholics what they believe about the Eucharist, the new survey also included a question that tested whether Catholics know what the church teaches on the subject. Most Catholics who believe that the bread and wine are symbolic do not know that the church holds that transubstantiation occurs. Overall, 43% of Catholics believe that the bread and wine are symbolic and also that this reflects the position of the church. Still, one-in-five Catholics (22%) reject the idea of transubstantiation, even though they know about the church’s teaching.

The vast majority of those who believe that the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Christ – 28% of all Catholics – do know that this is what the church teaches. A small share of Catholics (3%) profess to believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist despite not knowing the church’s teaching on transubstantiation.

About six-in-ten (63%) of the most observant Catholics — those who attend Mass at least once a week — accept the church’s teaching about transubstantiation. Still, even among this most observant group of Catholics, roughly one-third (37%) don’t believe that the Communion bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Christ (including 23% who don’t know the church’s teaching and 14% who know the church’s teaching but don’t believe it). And among Catholics who do not attend Mass weekly, large majorities say they believe the bread and wine are symbolic and do not actually become the body and blood of Jesus.

I want to try to unpack this. And not be too wordy about it.

  • To talk about what Catholics believe about the Church’s teaching on anything requires us to look honestly, at how many Catholics are taught, in any formal sense. I am not going to run and do research on this but we all know that most baptized Catholics receive no formal religious instruction. Period. Those that have received formal religious instruction probably had a couple of dozen parish religious ed classes a year up until First Communion or Confirmation.
  • Most Catholic adults don’t study faith. A tiny, tiny number of people who attend Mass every week participate in formal religious education, and Catholicism just does not have the culture of laity-taking-responsibility-for-their-spiritual-formation that evangelical and historical mainline Protestantism has.
  • Secondly, of course, there are many ways of teaching and communicating the faith. When it comes to the Eucharist, one of the most important is through the shape and experience of the act itself. So yes, as many are saying, informality in worship teaches something.

So: Most Catholics don’t go to Mass, most Catholics have received maybe a few dozen sessions of religious education in their life and most of the liturgies that Catholics do attend de-emphasize, via ritual and underlying assumptions, the unique presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

And we’re surprised that most Catholics don’t believe in transubstantiation?


As a side note: one of the ironic aspects of this discussion is – as people who have been paying attention to theological discussions of the past decades, both academic and as they’ve filtered down to popular catechetical trends, have noted – is that for a very long time “transubstantiation” has been critiqued as an inadequate and outdated way of describing the Eucharist, anyway. It’s reflective of a specific moment in time, a specific philosophical worldview, it’s a medieval innovation, it’s not the way the Fathers thought about it, and so on. This was very much a part of how Church leaders and teachers were taught from the 1960s on through probably the early 1990s – and may be still, for all I know. What I do know is that “transubstantiation is a limiting and unnecessary concept for speaking of Eucharist” was assumed  by those in Catholic formation for decades. And, as I said, may still be. I’m not in that world much these days.

So, yeah. Add that reason to my side-eye at people being shocked at these survey results.

But I want to get beyond that and approach the matter from a slightly different angle. Perhaps in reading this, some of you will detect my usual hobbyhorses. Well, that’s the way it goes. Most people have one message they’re trying to get out there to the world, and that’s it.

On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

It’s right there. This is a hard teaching.

In his video response to the survey, Bishop Robert Barron looks at one issue: the post-Vatican II de-emphasis on “teaching,” period – the wedge, as he describes it, that is driven between doctrine and pastoral practice: the notion that when it comes to Catholic identity, what matters most is outreach to those in need, not the content of belief.

As he points out, when you look at the actual history of the Church, what you see is no wedge at all: those who are most passionate about serving the needs of others are those who draw the strength to do that from Jesus in the Eucharist.

This is correct. As are many of the observations at Rod Dreher’s site.

But I think there are deeper problems and other ways to look at all of this, ways that explore what is actually taught and communicated in both whatever content ordinary Catholics do encounter in their (minimal) catechesis and in the whole weight of American Catholic life

The general shape of what most Catholics “hear” and witness is as follows:

  • God made you and loves you.
  • God is with you all the time, loving you as you are.
  • God is present with you all the time.
  • You can pray any time, all the time, for God is always there, and he will help you be the person he created you to be.
  • The most important element a healthy spiritual life is accepting yourself.
  • The Scriptures tell us a little bit about God, but more about the people and cultures who produced them, and what they thought about God.
  • The Gospels tell us a little bit about Jesus, but mostly tell us about the early Christian’s experiences and perspectives.
  • Jesus is present in his Church, the Body of Christ.
  • He’s present in that Body in many ways:  in its service, its gathering, its prayer.
  • During the Mass, Jesus is present in different ways: in the gathered community, in the Word of God, and in the Eucharist.
  • Now, all of the above is true, but of course there are other ways to experience God, as well. As many paths as there are human beings on the earth.

All (most) of those are not untrue statements. But when it comes to faith, there is, of course, much more to consider. My point is not to get lost in that particular forest.

Catholics barely participate in the life of the Church, period. When they do experience it through catechesis and worship, they have been taught for the past few decades that there is no need for a unique, particular Presence: God is always with you anyway. You can pray all the time anywhere, anyway. The official Church’s account of the divine is no more authoritative or revelatory than your own experience, anyway. And everyone is going to heaven, anyway.

I’ve long been entertained by self-proclaimed progressive Catholics critiquing movements that seek stronger Catholic identity as being all about “cultural” Catholicism.

Doesn’t it seem, at this point, that the fruit of the past decades has been nothing but real “cultural Catholicism” – but, ironically, without much culture? Being Catholic is not at all about believing anything. It’s about being a part of a particular group via a ritual or two. The ironic victory of cultural Catholicism, enabled by those who’ve spent their lives and careers sneering at the same. Thanks.

This is, it seems to me, about so much more than getting a better program going. It always is, isn’t it?

It’s about facing so much, and doing so honestly and without rancor or feeling threatened.

And perhaps it begins by simply returning to the beginning of this post and read the words from Thomas Merton, who welcomed the “spirit” of the Second Vatican Council (if not all of its particulars in terms of liturgy – he was conflicted), but who wrote this on the cusp of the Council, in the mid-1950s.

Would any of what he wrote make sense to many people sitting in the pews today?

No, it wouldn’t. In our flattened, de-sacralized, human-centered, discursive, present-oriented landscape, characterized by many, many words and simplistic transactional exchanges aimed at assuring us that we are fine – Merton’s words are like a foreign language, aren’t they?

Obviously, this is a topic that has many aspects. But there is one more essential point that is very, very important.

Let’s add to the weakness in catechesis, the complications of what reality means in the secular age and the flatness of our symbolic life – the failures and sins of those who confect the Eucharist, are in closest proximity to Christ in the Eucharist, and have responsibility for bringing that Real Presence to us.

Basically: does the behavior of Catholic clergy, in general over the past decades, indicate that they actually believe it’s Jesus they’re holding in their hands and sharing with us? Beyond how worship is conducted – when you consider the weight of scandal and – more importantly, really, for this discussion, the excuses made for it all –  the person in the pew can’t be blamed for concluding that since so many clerics don’t seem to believe that this is the One, Really Present with them right now, to whom they are answerable for eternity – shrug. 

This attitude on the part of those in the hierarchy is really just an expression of the weak catechetical stance I outlined above, though – isn’t it? Basically – God’s everywhere, but nothing really matters except my own sense of myself and he’ll forgive me anyway at the end.

(This essay originally appeared on the “Charlotte was Both” blog in a slightly different form.)

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About Amy Welborn 38 Articles
Amy Welborn is the author of over twenty books on Catholic spirituality and practice, and writes extensively at her blog, Charlotte was Both.


  1. Admittedly, the catechesis has been terrible on this issue. However, we cannot ignore how much damage the liturgical praxis has done. When anyone and his grandmother can distribute Holy Communion; when the Sacrament can be placed in someone’s hand like Frito; when the Sacred Host can be given “on the run” as on a supermarket line — are we really surprised at this data? Over 25 years ago, I put together a similar question for Gallup, yielding roughly the same figures as the present poll. I maintain that even if the preaching and teaching were totally orthodox, if the liturgical praxis of lay ministers of Communion and Communion in the hand still happened, we would have no appreciable change in Eucharistic understanding. The Liturgy is a major source of theological education, especially since Catholicism is a sign-based religion. Our signs are contradicting our doctrine. I recommend readers get hold a copy of Bishop Schneider’s “Dominus Est: It Is the Lord!” (Newman House Press).

    • Th priest at my parish, whose Masses are reverent and who is clearly orthodox (not Orthodox!) in his beliefs, holds his thumbs and index fingers together after the Consecration until the Ablutions, and it is beautiful to watch him as he puts the remaining Hosts into the ciborium and puts it in the Tabernacle and cleanses the chalice and puts the altar in order.

      But we have extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist, and they do not hold their fingers together, do not perform ablutions (though they do use hand sanitizer). It makes me sad.

      As to “extraordinary ministers” bringing Communion to people in the hospital, I flinched when someone brought it to my mother. He was carrying it in a pyx his pocket, and came in carrying a cup of coffee, casually put it down and got out the pyx. This was in a Catholic hospital. I look back at the practice of having the priest accompanied by acolytes, with a canopy over his head, and I flinch.

      • No where are priests offering the NO required to “hold their fingers together”, (the “canonical digits”) This is a private devotion of your prieat.

        • Did I say that it wasn’t? The point was that he reverently holds his fingers and thumbs together to keep from losing a single crumb of the Eucharist – and much good that does when extraordinary ministers treat It so casually.

          • Correct, the EMHCs do not know the priest’s private devotion because it is not required and/or he didn’t tech it to them.

          • And then? Suppose there were some arrangements made for the purification of the hands of the extraordinary ministers? What about the people who take Communion in the hand? There’s no way to provide facilities for them to purify their hands.

            And *why* isn’t it required? It was the practice before because of the infinite importance of the Eucharist. Why was the practice changed? One can hardly blame people for getting the idea that the Church no longer believes in the Real Presence when most of the marks of reverence that were shown were ruthlessly stripped away, for no good reason.

            Which brings up another question: Why was Communion in the hand, which was introduced through disobedience and duplicity, given official sanction?

            Why are all these extraordinary ministers needed at all – to make sure that Mass doesn’t last an extra five or ten minutes, perhaps, because goodness knows we can’t have that?

          • Exactly. “Why, yes, the Church still believes in the Real Presence; we’re just going to act as if we don’t, provide CCD classes that are completely lacking in substance, and yet expect people to continue to believe.”

    • A person who recieves either in the hand or the mouth if they believe in the One Holy Catholic Church will be blest with that knowledge, they see the priest at the Altar, they kneel in reverence, do they understand, do they have doubts in this great mystery of faith, many of the Lord’s own followers would leave him because it was too hard for them to accept, faith is a great gift…who has the gift, who trust the Church, many can recieve the sacrament and kneel and say latin all they want, did it make them more virtuos in the
      eyes of God when they exalt themselves over the disciplines of the Church because its not in their image of how the Church should be, how many divide the Church in the name of liturgy, how many think God thinks like they do, how do you know you are pleasing to God with your self righteousness and wisdom, you actually make me throw up because you believe the Church thinks like you do, how do you help such a soul, that is a problem I see with those who think they know God, I don’t care how many communions you have recieved, your pride
      is all about your wisdom and guiding the Church, tell me , how many of you will be saved. Whats your number O WIse One.

      • “how do you know you are pleasing to God with your self righteousness and wisdom, you actually make me throw up”

        Do you see the irony in what you just wrote?

        • Do you see the irony in what you just wrote? yes, I do, I see it as a big irony how one pleases/knows God and the Church, we might not like what the Church has degreed for her children but are we then the Mother, are we then to say step aside Mother, you are unfit, let me speak for you, let me
          cast down your discplines because they do not measure up to my standards, who knows the mind of God and the Church, once upon a time, catholics believed in offering up dislikes with authority instead of putting themselves as the ones the Church should listen too, how do we safeguard virtue when actually we might be going against the mass ,the disciplines
          the Church wants, do we say to the Church, we know better,
          yes, I see the irony indeed.

          • No; the irony I meant was your complaint about others’ being self-righteous, followed immediatly by your own smugly self-righteous statement.

      • Bravo!!! And I celebrate the TLM…some people who attend worry more about what others are doing than worrying about their own salvation. The Bread of Charity becomes for them poison as they receive unworthily in their extreme self righteousness.

      • The handling, in any way, of the Holy Eucharist by un-consecrated hands quite easily leads to intended, or, unintended, abuses of the True Presence of God. The sacred particles are upon many hands, it is dropped during administering, bitten and chewed upon. So many discuss the administering of Holy Communion as the “re-enacting of the Last Super” and a sharing of a “good fellowship” meal whilst singing around a proverbial camp fire. Communion wafers have been found on the bottom of shoes and between hymnal pages. My involvement with law enforcement investigations regarding Satanic groups/ rituals demonstrate that more often than any of us would care to admit or be made aware of, Holy Communion is at reception by members of these groups for later outrageous uses and sacriledges.
        A lack of understanding, and appreciation for, the supernatural nature, which is our Church, the One True Faith, that familiarity rules the day and an approach of reverence is a rarity, indeed.
        We must pray, pray unceasingly for Priests and Holy Mother Church. We are told by countless Saints and Our Lord Himself, that “few are saved”. The sooner we make it a priority to open the Catechism, read the loves of the Saints and , of course, Our Bible the sooner MORE will be saved, world wide sin will reduced and God will enter through the door we collectively open. Until then we are in the battle for our souls here in Satan’s playground. May Almighty God have mercy upon us and stengthen us.
        A general lack of reverence, much of which was never introduced or required by rulings of Vatican II but by ultra liberal “catholic” in name only bishops and cardinals.

      • No worries. The way the comments line up can be confusing, and the name of the commenter to whom one replies doesn’t show up in the reply.

        • “No; the irony I meant was your complaint about others’ being self-righteous, followed immediatly by your own smugly self-
          righteous statement.”

          (Putting my reply here for you because there was no reply button under your last comment)

          You’re right, it was a self righteous statement,.. I was saying who do you think you are to those who talk above Peter for the Church in authority and unity for the good of the Church that does not contradict the gospel and here I am speaking as if I’m the Church herself, the self righteous
          must KNOW THEIR PLACE!! Who is like the Church, who is like Peter in guiding us today so we do not become like you say Self Righteous above our calling and place in the Kingdom, amen.

      • I will leave this conversation with one example, lets say St. Peter decided that all may recieve communion either on the hand or the tongue, and the church of St. Paul welcome the news and had both practices with much peace, the gentiles and the jews can be a hard group to unite but they
        are doing so at St. Paul’s Church, now St James Church, very fussy group,(we all can be fussy with likes, not a criticism unless it harms the good, like order and authority) likes everything done according to the traditions they were brought up with and they have a certain cliche, what would happen if
        the members from St. James Church started to cause unrest by downgrading St. Paul’s Church, everything became a rivalry on who, what, how worship should really be done, the priests from St James could not see any other point of view and St. Paul’s Church became the church of the gentiles and not true
        worship, what would have happen if two groups started pitting themselves against each other, you think the pagans would have been impressed or interested, was not their biggest call to love one another and keep the union that was theirs as the most important witness to the divine hand in the Church, St. Paul and St James… do they live in peace or proclaim their
        way as speaking for Peter, Peter has spoken, it worked in the beginning and it works now, virtue for the good will be blest by following the order/authority of the day that as scripture says does not depart from the Gospel of the Lord, amen. Division has always been a challenge and will always be a challenge until there is no more casting down right authority
        because of free will, because of likes, because of expectations , you name it and divison will make a play for a hand at the table.

    • No, to focus on the liturgy is so far off the mark as to be entirely unhelpful. I realize that many want to focus on the mass, but that is not it. It goes much deeper. The church is viewed as unneeded by modern man. Children, starting in the 80’s and 90’s had it drummed into them every single day by TV movies and school that religion was a negative force that has retarded humanity. Government has taken this position as well. People have been told they were bad human beings if they were religious, or that they were mentally defective. We must accept the fact that every single institution that forms culture and government and society has worked against religion. The only favorable religious behavior was the simpy feeding of the poor, etc. Real belief in a real God was socially stigmatized. I cannot stress how strongly this was imposed on the children of the 80’s, 90’s and later. Every Easter, the History channel would play documentaries about how Jesus never existed. Every Christmas they would play documentaries about how the Gospels were fakes. Democrats were strongly in favor of this. Universities taught every student to be an effective atheist. Changing the mass will have almost no effect. It might have a little effect. But people had better start realizing how massive this problem is and stop diddling around with cosmetic changes.

      • Children, starting in the 80’s and 90’s had it drummed into them every single day by TV movies and school that religion was a negative force that has retarded humanity.

        I tell the perpetrators of such anti-religious bigotry and ignorance that if they like science then they should thank every Catholic churchman they meet. After all, Catholic churchmen invented modern empirical science. The first person who put the scientific method down in writing was a Catholic priest, later elevated to bishop.

        P.S. The recent PBS program Ancient Skies although IMO rather snarky toward the Church does mention in its third episode, titled “Our Place in the Universe” that the originator of the theory popularly called “Big Bang” today was a Catholic priest, Georges Lemaître. (The episode can be watched online. The portion I mentioned here begins at 36:40.) An earlier episode also that Copernicus was a Catholic churchman.

      • Boy you really nailed it. I was a teen in the ’80s and that was absolutely true. And I don’t believe it’s ever ended. I left the church at 18 and returned some years later. I wish I’d never believed them.

    • There is a difference between the Real Presence of Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist and understanding polymorphism and transubstantiation. Many people believe with faith and deep devotion that the Lord is truly present but could never explain transubstantiation.

    • opm
      Many extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist, do not have a clue.
      In the past year, I saw a truly good but clueless extraordinary minister, scratch his nose which holding a host in the same hand.
      Sadly, priests blame others when the congregation are clueless.

      Shadily, it is obvious that a number of priests have lost the faith.

      • Some years ago I was baffled when I heard an extraordinary minister comment that he was unable to receive Communion because of his irregular marriage; but nonetheless he was an extraordinary minister. That just seemed bizarre to me.

        • @Leslie. BTW: I take your comments to be self-reverent rather than self-righteous. Defending rather than divisive! Keep it up!

    • Father I agree. About two weeks ago I started to kneel at Holy Communion at daily Mass and Sunday. We have to show by our actions! It is the Lord

    • Amen Father. I am fortunate to belong to a parish where Holy Communion is only given on the tongue. How sad this situation is.

    • +J.M.J.
      Dear Fr. Stravinskas, Thanks for your comments, and for editing the Our Sunday Visitor Catholic Encyclopedia, a copy of which we keep at home, as a handy reference tool. Along the same lines as your comments, one difficulty that I encounter at many parishes is the lack of Communion plates, under the chin or hands of the person receiving Holy Communion. This probably would indicate to many people that the Church thinks the Holy Communion is just a piece of bread (and the hymns often reflect that), and doesn’t really care or believe in transubstantiation, since nobody seems to care about preventing our Eucharistic Lord from falling on the floor, and being left there. Also, many parishes have little or no access to Exposition of the Most Blessed Sacrament for adoration, and no little or no access to Benediction. However, this could be a matter of people acting under duress, as I’ve encountered people who think that restoration of Communion hymns that are consistent with transubstantiation are a matter for negotiation. Thanks for being a priest and for your consideration.
      In caritate Christi,
      Mrs. Richard Avian (Carol Avian)

  2. First of all,thank you for such an interesting and well written article. Personally I am shocked that anyone is surprised at how few people believe in the real presence. This has to be seen in the context of the scandals in the church. It is beyond belief that a priest who really believes that Christ is present could commit such atrocities. We have had a drip feed of horror. And we have financial scandals and priests who are simply unpleasant people. When in Ireland recently I met the author Delia Maguire. She wrote a novel about a priest who is faithful, kind and trustworthy. Consequently many found her novel uplifting and faith affirming. She maintains that all the apologies in the world will make no difference. What is needed is for every single priest to show reparation by doing something like climbing Croagh Patrick or the equivalent. Only then, will people believe the church is serious. I think she is right and I also think it is highly unlikely that the cardinals in Rome would ever condescend to undertake physical hardship for the sake of the Gospel.

    • If people believed in the doctrine of the Real Presence, their faith would not be shaken by unfaithful priests. No, they have had no faith, to begin with, and often use the “scandals” to cover up for their own faithlessness. God knows, there were plenty of “scandals” in the Medieval Church, however, the faithful continued to believe in the Real Presence.

      • Bravo!!! And I celebrate the TLM…some people who attend worry more about what others are doing than worrying about their own salvation. The Bread of Charity becomes for them poison as they receive unworthily in their extreme self righteousness.

      • Excellent comment! My Parish Priest once said, “There will always be people who look for an excuse to leave the Church.” Secondly, people need to be taught, that the efficacy and validity of the sacraments do not depend upon the personal holiness of the priests. Yes, the Church calls her priests to holiness of life, but even in the weakness of the human condition, the sacraments are valid .

  3. Amy Welborn presents a keener insight into the devastating loss of faith in the Real Presence than other sites covering the same loss. The reason is the focus elsewhere is usually focused on singular areas such as the Liturgy. Her Eleven points that list ways in which God is present while true, overemphasis has led the faithful to assume a form of sentimental dispersing of the divinity pantheistic in nature. She makes that essential point quite well. Together they merge as all in the same. That sort of cosmic New Age Christ is primarily due to concomitant devaluation of the singular, unique Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist. Poor religious ed plus Liturgy are contributing issues. The solemnity of the traditional Mass has mistakenly given way to participation and performance as more meaningful. Laity who instruct that too often have little sense of theology is another. That can be remedied by the reverence and manner the priest conducts the NO Mass. And whether he instructs while preaching. Therein lies the major fault and opportunity for remedy. While Laity have lost faith in the Real Presence many priests have also. The correction must come from our bishops to ensure that their priests are well informed, preach pedagogically. What’s disheartening then is an overall loss of faith within the Church likely including bishops who either lack faith themselves or are complacent. Nevertheless a given few with burning faith in Christ’s Real Presence can reignite the flame.

  4. It’s all way too casual. The atmosphere before, during and after mass shows little respect toward the Tabernacle.
    Our church is simply a prayer building but not a House of God, the Lord of Heaven and Earth and of all things. Reverence, where?
    Using holy water to bless ourselves? Why would we ever do that? Genuflect? To whom?
    But really, the truth teller is the Holy Eucharist and how it is handled and distributed. Few are respectful and I mean the priests, deacons and “Eucharistic Ministers”, as well as the pewsitters. Happy times. No seriousness of purpose. Receiving the Body of Christ in the hand is the last straw. If I can handle this ‘bread’ with my own dirty hands, showing no respectful body language, well then, why should I believe it is the Body of Christ. Actions speak louder than words and the ‘presiders’ actions scream bread and wine…not Body and Blood.
    This will all end soon. It will not be pretty. Bet on it.

  5. My teen siblings and I suppressed embarrassed howls of dismay at our first guitar mass which introduced Bugnini’s Reform. My devout mother mourned and grieved the loss of her Latin liturgy. She then subscribed to the “Wanderer,” TLM magazine, and other counter-VCII Church publications. She supported Christendom College and Franciscan U. She wrote respectful (unanswered) letters of lamentation to the hierarchy. She grit her teeth and offered her penance every Sunday until she died (recently) at 90. She prayed the Rosary with passion and attended daily Mass (NO, the only form offered in her small rural town) often.

    I lapsed in my 20s, then clawed back in my 30s to the only healer I’d ever known, kitsch and all. I began to read the saints rapaciously and to passionately volunteer in my Church. In Boston and then in my liberal northwestern diocese I learned that many priests followed the likes of Schillebeckx, finding their cause more in social justice and hunger than the Bread of Life. “Faith Formation” at one parish consisted of lessons typified by the one explaining that God made the sunset beautiful while science explained how He did that. My parish suffered a disgraced Bishop Remi DeRoo Lenten “mission” where he taught Christianity as communion with both the Jewish and Muslim faith. Oh. He also traveled with a young woman who touted the Enneagram as a valuable aid to further our spirituality. I began a renegade Catechism class of my own, under the auspices of the Faith Formation program; God was generous and taught me well how to do this. I joined the Legion of Mary, did PP prayer vigil, and fought priests for a parishioner’s right to distribute Divine Mercy images and novena prayer cards to parishioners leaving Mass on Good Friday. ETC. ETC. ETC. My personal library grew to include Aquinas and Garrigou-LaGrange. I grew sick of most everything EXCEPT the Eucharist and Adoration within the post VCII church. The young girls dressed with slits up to there and cuts down to where, serving as EEMs and surrounding the altar in the sanctuary at the Consecration? REALLY bothered me, particularly when they then served as EEMs. One Sunday imagine my jolt when the young lady turning to me for the Pater Noster Sign of Peace was the same one who had turned to me as she approached the door of the PP Clinic the prior Saturday.

    When last summer’s Assumption brought fresh millstones for the sheep to wear, I joined a TLM FSSP parish. I do not know what I’ll do if this last bastion is taken away. The Eucharist is front and center at the TLM. Do you doubt this? Go and see.

  6. “In the last 30 years one professional theologian after another, as I’ve said, beginning first in Europe, and now penetrating our own continent, the United States and Canada. Theologians have now reinterpreted what has been for 2000 years the Church’s unchangeable doctrine on the Real Presence. The Real Presence is being reduced to mere symbolism. These theologians, how well I know, I have lived with too many of them not to know what I’m talking about. They might continue using the words Real Presence, but they have drastically changed the meaning of these words. At root has been the claim that nothing really happened on Holy Thursday night when Jesus took bread and pronounced the words, “This is my body.” Took the Chalice, not cup, not cup! The Latin word is Calix. Chalice. The Latin word for cup is poculum. No poculum in the Church’s official teaching. As a consequence we know priest who pronounce these same words of Jesus, nothing really happens. Bread remains bread and wine remains wine. They will tell you often in thick books and sadly with big shining Imprimaturs, they will tell you what we call the Eucharist inspires our faith in Christ’s love for us. Thanks, but I can be inspired by Christ’s love by a beautiful picture or a crucifix. Or again, same word, Eucharist, an almost universally lowercased Eucharist, reminds us, so we are told of Christ’s generous love for us by dying on Calvary for our redemption. Eucharist, and this is in book after book, and not a few of these are textbooks used in seminaries. The Eucharist we are told is a symbol of our union with one another, but it is emphatically not a reception of the Living Christ, of his Body and Blood, of his Soul and Divinity being received by us in Holy Communion thought this introduction was necessary, why? Because much more is at stake, I assure you, than meets the eye. Let us be clear, Adoration of the Real Presence is not in competition with the sacrifice of the Mass, or with Holy Communion. On the contrary, Adoration of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament is a profession of faith in what the Blessed Sacrament really is, or rather, who is the Blessed Sacrament. It is Jesus Christ. As Pope Paul VI makes so clear, without faith in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, there could be no sacrifice of the Mass. There can be no Holy Communion, there can be no priesthood, and there can be no Catholic Church. This is one reason for the widespread removal of even the words Mass or even more so the sacrifice of the Mass, to combine Eucharist and Sacrifice. These words almost 2000 years in use in the Catholic Church have been removed from the Catholic vocabulary of millions in so-called developed countries like our own. ” (Fr. John Hardon, S.J.)

    Oh, and lest we not forget lingering nearby “Dare We Not Hope…” a theological notion Fr. Hardon refused to even preface…except to reject.

    • “As Pope Paul VI makes so clear, without faith in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, there could be no sacrifice of the Mass. ” Paul VI? The guy that created the NO and allowed communion in the hand?

  7. Correction to last line of my previous post:

    Oh, and lest we forget… lingering nearby… “Dare We Not Hope…” a theological notion Fr. Hardon refused to even preface except to reject.

    • Does your “Dare We [Not] Hope?” refer to theologian Balthasar?

      The idea of hoping for something at odds with scripture has always struck me as a sin against faith.

  8. I grew up in the Philippines where private school refers to Catholic school, which were expensive. My family was poor, so Catholic school was not a consideration. It was public school for me from grade school to college. The only catechism I received was taught by students from the University of Santo Thomas. But in God’s infinite mercy, He taught me everything I know about Him through books written by saints and expert theologians and practical application through my mother. To this day, in my old age, I am still learning but now with the help of abundant information available on the Internet. Two years ago, I “converted” from Novus Ordo to Latin Mass after getting so tired and frustrated observing liturgical abuses committed by laity (a Eucharistic Minister wearing a see-through T-shirt with nothing underneath?) and clergy (a Franciscan friar celebrating Mass wearing red Croc sandals?) with a total disregard and lack of reverence to the Holy Presence in the Tabernacle. Receiving my Lord in Holy Communion drives me to tears, the beginning strains of O Salutaris Hostia during Benediction does the same to me. Oh what those unbelievers miss! Like everyone who read Pew Research’s survey, I was shocked but not surprised. Some really serious catechizing must be carried out by our bishops, led by that man in the Vatican who should stop confusing the already confused laity and instead, teaching us the real stuff. Lord, have mercy on Your Church.

    • “The modern habit of doing ceremonial things unceremoniously is no proof of humility; rather it proves the offender’s inability to forget himself in the rite, and his readiness to spoil for every one else the proper pleasure of ritual.”–C. S. Lewis in his preface to Paradise Lost

  9. Excellent article. I was asked once how I could accept the wine at Eucharist. As any alcohol is toxic to the members of a group I belong too? I explained,that I believe it isn’t really wine,but The Blood of Christ.He looked at me like I was from Mars.

    • dan f, I am a celiac. Cannot consume gluten. i also firmly believe that at the consecration, the bread becomes Jesus’ actual body with no trace of bread left behind besides the accidents. However, those accidents cause very definite, painful and damaging effects upon my body, the very same effects that gluten causes. I cannot receive the host ever despite it having nothing of bread present.

      • Mary gluten free hosts are available. Christ’s Real Presence is available for you. I consecrate one for someone every Sunday. Check with your pastor.

      • Mary Fran I recently posted that you could receive a gluten free host. Unfortunately I was unaware until now that it is forbidden since the Church requires some amount of gluten [that explains the editing of my post]. Prior to my serving my current parish I’ve not had that experience. You can nevertheless as you’re likely aware receive Our Lord through the Precious Blood.

      • So as to avoid scandal the hosts referred to do have a minimal trace of gluten that the celiac recipient is able to tolerate well

  10. This is an excellent subject, Amy, and at a critical time in the church. I thank Fr Peter Stravinskas and Fr Peter Morello for their excellent comments on Amy’s very timely article. I suggest Bishop Robert Barron’s CD or DVD on the Eucharist. When after viewing this, a Catholic will be educated and fully understand the mystery of the Eucharist, as a sacred meal, a sacrifice and as real presence. Bishop Barron’s comments are truly enlightening and the best explanation I have ever heard pertaining to this glorious mystery. I pray that everyone who has questions with this mystery, avail themselves to Bishop Barron’s CD or DVD. They will come away enlightened.

  11. Considering that some senior members of the Church (Cardinal Walter Kasper for instance) who do not believe in the Real Presence, the results of this poll are shocking but not surprising. It is a testament to the failure of Catechesis and Catholic education in our age.

  12. I remember as a recent revert a number of years ago talking to my pastor one day. We were discussing the Eucharist. He said, “Well, there are many “presences” of Jesus in the Church, e.g., Jesus is present at Mass in the lector, the choir, the minister, the congregation, and so on.” I told him, haven’t you missed the most important one? He seemed confused. So I said: “The Body Blood Soul Divinity of Jesus in the Eucharist?
    By far, THE most important presence!” He actually was upset and sent me packing. I left crying. I was raised Catholic, believed it then and I even believed it as a Protestant (but didn’t want to be Catholic). I never believed in symbolic communion like my evangelical friends did which put me at odds with all my protestant pastors. But I never thought I’d be at odds with my Catholic pastor!

  13. I see people take communion [in the hand] as though it were a biscuit to be dunked in tea. I see people kneeling [receiving on the tongue] and then rushing away as though they had a train to catch. I see people take communion in both forms reverently. Several observations come to my mind [not judgemental];
    1.) more receive in the hand than on the tongue
    2.) I rarely hear a priest mention that the Host is the actual Body, Blood, Soul and, Divinity
    3.) I rarely hear it mentioned that one must be free from mortal sin to receive
    4.) I wonder how many actually care Who they are receiving
    5.) If we know to genuflect in the presence of Christ in the Tabernacle then why do we not draw the logical conclusion that He is present in the Host?
    6.) I know RE teachers who do not know the 4 marks of the Church and therefor, can never pass this onto the children. Why would a child who then grows to adulthood believe that the faith is the one true faith if they do not know these 4 marks
    7.) If confession is not mentioned on a regular basis by a priest then how do you get people to understand about mortal sin and the reception of the Blessed Host?
    8.) no mention of hell or the devil lessons the notion of sin to the point that it becomes meaningless
    9.) no mention of a “right conscience” guided by the Church and Her teachings engenders moral relativism
    10.) if we are told to (in the Spiritual Works of Mercy, the 3rd work) to “admonish the sinner” for their own soul’s sake then how is that being “self righteous & judgemental? We all make judgements everyday about right and wrong that people do. Does that make us bad people? Are the Spiritual Works of Mercy now irrelevant?
    11. (and finally) Without the courage of our convictions in our belief in the Eucharist, the Church, the Saints, Our Holy Mother then, like the chaff & the wheat, we will be sifted, judged and, found wanting.

  14. Why don’t I know Jesus? I attended Catholic school for 8 years in the 1970’s. Once a month our priest visited our classroom for 20 minutes to give us a Bible lesson or have us repeat memorized traditional Catholic prayers. We were taught about trans-substantiation. However, how can a young teen comprehend it even if adults (apostles) had a hard time doing so? We were taught the Trinity. But again, no one ever explained like St. John Vianney did, that God is Father, Jesus is our redeemer, and the Holy S. is teacher, consoler. We never knew to whom to direct our prayers? So, in short, poor instruction or was I just a “poor” student 😉 As an adult, my sister drifted to other churches with emphasis on the Charismatic. She was the one who taught me to “access” the Holy Spirit. Since then, my spiritual life changed dramatically. Memorized Catholic prayers and devotions are fine, but learning to speak to God from our hearts is seriously lacking in our faith. I will never leave the church no matter how many scandals, but the parishioners will only be as authentically Christ-centered and faithful if they have a priest lit by the fire of the Holy Spirit. The priest has to be guided by love, by the Holy S., and not by his weekly financial numbers or social success. We have to accept people as they are, true, but we should hold one another to task in order to not let this current culture of impurity become the norm. We need spiritual warriors who can authentically lead. St. Michael, pray for priests.

    ” He is always alive with you in the Eucharist, because the Eucharist is His Heart. The Eucharist is the heart of faith. ”

    ” Let the Eucharist be the place where you will feed your souls, and afterwards, will spread love and truth—will bear witness to my Son. ”

    ” The Consecrated Sacred Host transformed into flesh and blood inside the pyx and was bleeding, the Host had the fragrance of rose. ”

    OUR LADY OF MEDJUGORJE August 2, 2019
    “ Dear children,

    Great is the love of my Son.

    If you were to come to know the greatness of His love, you would never cease to adore and thank Him.

    He is always alive with you in the Eucharist, because the Eucharist is His Heart. The Eucharist is the heart of faith.

    He has never left you. Even when you tried to go away from Him, He has not [ left ] you.

    That is why my motherly heart is happy when I watch how you—filled with love—return to Him, when I see that you are coming to Him by the way of reconciliation, love, and hope.

    My motherly heart knows that when you set out on the way of faith, you are shoots—buds. But along with prayer and fasting you will be fruits, my flowers, apostles of my love ; you will be carriers of light and will illuminate all those around you with love and wisdom.

    My children, as a mother I am imploring you : pray, think, and contemplate.

    Everything beautiful, painful and joyful that happens to you—all of this makes you grow spiritually, so that my Son may grow in you.

    My children, surrender yourselves to Him, believe Him, trust in His love, let Him lead you.

    Let the Eucharist be the place where you will feed your souls, and afterwards, will spread love and truth—will bear witness to my Son. Thank you. ”

  16. While perhaps shocking, it is not surprising. However two other related issues spring to mind: a) What is the percentage of priests and members of the hierarchy who don’t believe either ? They are the architects or at least the implementors of the current catechetical and liturgical wasteland; b) Whatever the percentage (one can only hope smaller than that of the laity) does this mean that their masses are invalid due to a lack of intention to act as the Church believes? Where does that leave us ?

  17. Great article! It goes to the heart of the Church’s crisis in this day and age, as recently expressed by Pope Benedict – that it is all rooted in irreverence for Jesus in the Eucharist. We have grown spiritually fat and lazy in our prosperity North Americans and Europeans. This is the story of the Jewish people over the centuries in the Old Testament. It is only with great hardship that the people came to their senses and sought to renew their covenant relationship with God – for us, ratified and Present in the continually offered sacrifice of Jesus for our salvation in the Eucharist: source and summit of our Christian life. So where is our treasure? When you lose everything, what is left? Only Jesus gives us abundant life. Where your heart is, there will your treasure be. It may take great economic hardship, cultural decay and even persecution for us to come to our senses, just as it did with the remnant Israelites of old. Let those of us who truly treasure the Eucharist in our lives lead the way forward by our reverent example – the first step in a renewed catechesis. The rest will follow as people discover their hunger for what only Jesus, truly Present in the Eucharist can give their lives.

    • …and Anthony, as your dated 2019 post attests, we were only a few short months from being denied the Eucharist entirely!

  18. Thomas Merton apparently believed this “stuff” in 1956. By 1968, who knows? Gee, I wonder what happened in the mean time…. At least God zapped him before he became a Buddhist.

  19. Eucharistic miracle in Buenos Aires and in Poland, the bloody hosts were sent to forensic labs and the report stated, pieces of a human heart. Our God feeds us with His Sacred Heart. Sacred Heart of Jesus have mercy on your church.

  20. I am puzzled as to why an individual would be quoted at the beginning of this composition in support of the Eucharistic presence of Christ who as I recall was no longer a Christian, let alone a Catholic, at the end of his life. It is not our recognition of the utterly near proximity of God to us that establishes His justification but our response to His undertaking of truly intimate near proximity to us that establishes ours.

    • “It would be unfair to call Merton an unfaithful Catholic,” wrote Dr. Anthony Clark in this 2008 article for, “or to insist that he became a Buddhist before his death.” Clark readily acknowledges that “some of [Merton’s] ideas are dangerous,” but provides a careful analysis of what Merton did and did not say/do toward the end of his complicated and sometimes messy life.

      • You are arguing that Merton is only partially a heretic, but isn’t partial belief the definition of a heretic? Most of the faithful that were condemned as heretics were condemned because of the ONE thing they publicly proclaimed in error. You often hear it said today that “God spreads a wide tent”, meaning you can pretty much believe what you want and if you’re a “good person” you’ll be beatified–except Jesus said, “No one is good but God alone,” meaning the rest of us have to “work out our salvation in fear and trembling” (we’ve been redeemed by the blood of Christ, but salvation is up to us). John said it best, “Whoever says, ‘I know him,’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” 1 Jn 2:4.

        • No, I’m not arguing that Merton “is only partially a heretic…” I’m just noting that sweeping statements about Merton’s later thinking can be problematic and are rarely helpful.

          Heresy, strictly speaking, is “the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith, or it is likewise an obstinate doubt concerning the same…” (CCC 2090). Has it or can be shown that Merton, then, was a heretic? Perhaps. But as problematic as some of Merton’s late assertions (and Dr. Clark covers them quite well), I’m not convinced it can be flatly said that Merton was a heretic.

  21. I put all the blame where it lies…bishops, cardinals, priest and our Popes! Our churches offer 1 hr per week or 1 hr per month for confession. What does that tell you about the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist? No one sins anymore?! Look at the way Catholics vote! Astonishing! It makes me so sad! They vote for abortion candidates like Biden? Ugh! Yes, it is obvious they don’t believe in the real presence so they can live the life they want. Catholics deserve to loose the blessing of Christ!

  22. This article is BRILLIANT! Amy synthesized the truth in what happened and what’s going on now in every point she made. It’s so much more than poor catechesis. It is absolutely how the clergy have been presenting our Lord to us, what we have seen as children (gen X, Y, millennials +). It’s society’s loss of value in religion, yes, but it’s even more the loss of Faith in the True Presence by the clergy and the hierarchy. It started in the Seminaries. (Even now: be very wary if your son or friend is being sent to St. Mary’s in Baltimore.) It was a systematic destruction of faith. (Amy’s assessment of the Bible and the Gospels for today’s Catholic: brilliant!!) The disease has spread throughout the Body now.
    BUT NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF CHRIST! HE IS IN CONTROL. We must have faith, keep the faith, BE the faith where our pastors are weak. Take courage: a whole new crop of disciples born in the 80s, 90s, and later, have been catechised by the Holy Spirit. This seed will renew the faith over all the earth. Amy is right: in the actions of the Liturgy is taught the Faith itself. I will say, being born post-Vatican II and entirely catechised by a devout mother in NO Masses presided over by faithful priests in a more devout diocese, that a Mass does not need to be TLM to communicate the reality of the True Presence of Christ. It isn’t about veils or suit and ties. It IS about how we receive the Body and Blood of our Lord, and what children see when they see us receive HIM.
    WE DO, however, have to protect the Holy Eucharist, and the Liturgy, from abuses of Communion in the Hand. Even if the first Christians were all about breaking a consecrated loaf together, we cannot have that today. That was the Wisdom of God in the Church. Many devout people receive in the hand today, simply out of it being more comfortable than sticking your tongue out in front of an awkward priest or EM, or doing what everyone else is doing, but the truth is as Amy said. How many times I have personally retrieved our Lord from people who walked off with a Host IN THEIR FIST with no intention of loving Him. BE A REBEL! STICK YOUR TONGUE OUT FOR THE LORD!
    This article is spot-on. Thanks, Amy.

  23. Great article and a much needed discussion. Of the many people receiving Holy Communion I wonder how many believe in confession, sin and condemnation? I witness it all the time in young adults, mortal sin makes the Holy Spirit flee the desecrated temple of your body and soul. God cannot dwell, where sin abides, and receiving the Holy Eucharist in a sinful state is adding another mortal sin. We have to pray for our priests every day to instruct in the holy truth of Christ.edith

  24. We’re actually making progress. Amy would have been too young to remember, but stats on Catholic belief came out when I was in the seminary in the early 1990’s. At that time, only 85% of Catholic believed or understood the Church’s teaching on the Eucharist. This struck many of us hard at that time. As a future catechist and later RCIA director, I emphsized the Church’s actual teaching on the Eucharist. What really helped was that the Church’s brand new Catechism was rolled out by JPII shortly after that statistic came out. According to these stats, we’ve improved by 11%. So, while we have our work cut out for us, I have to say I am elated to see the improvement.

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