New study shows that now almost two-thirds of US Catholics believe in Real Presence 


The Eucharistic procession ended in the Vatican’s Lourdes Grotto. / Credit: Daniel Ibáñez/CNA

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 29, 2023 / 18:05 pm (CNA).

A new study shows that almost two-thirds of adult Catholics in the United States believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, a significantly different result from the often-cited 2019 Pew Research study that suggested only one-third of adult Catholics in the U.S. believe in the Church’s teaching on the Blessed Sacrament.

The CARA study, which also points to a high correlation between weekly and monthly Mass attendance and belief in the Real Presence, comes amid the second year of the U.S. bishops’ Eucharistic revival, which was launched in part because of the Pew Research poll.

The new report — published by Georgetown’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) and commissioned by the University of Notre Dame’s McGrath Institute for Church Life — challenges the methodology and results of the Pew survey but still demonstrates that a large number of Catholics don’t believe in the Real Presence, which the Catechism calls the “source and summit” of the faith.

Zachary Keith, assistant director on the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis, told CNA Thursday that it is important to look at how questions relating to belief in the Eucharist are phrased, citing the difference in wording of both studies as a “large part of the reason for the discrepancy.”

Additionally, Keith said that the CARA study shows that those who believe in the Real Presence “do not know how to articulate it as well as I think the Pew study might have implied.”

The revival culminates at its National Eucharistic Congress, which will be held next July and is expected to draw 80,000 Catholics to worship the Blessed Sacrament at Lucas Oil Stadium, home to the Indianapolis Colts.

Tim Glemkowski, CEO of the National Eucharistic Congress, told CNA Thursday: “What the recent study shows is the deep need for a true Eucharistic revival, one that pushes past mere notional assent and awareness of the Church’s teaching but is about providing an encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist, leading to a lived relationship of discipleship.”

‘A different approach’

CARA’s report takes issue with the phraseology of the questioning in the Pew Research study, calling it problematic. The methodology in CARA’s study “used a different approach to try to be as clear as possible,” the report said.

In order to determine the percentage of U.S. adult Catholics who believe in the Real Presence, respondents in CARA’s study were asked a variety of different questions.

The report stated that after an examination of “each respondent’s answers collectively,” 64% of those surveyed “provided responses that indicate they believe in the Real Presence.”

The question answered by respondents in CARA’s study “more accurately reflects the Church’s teachings on the Eucharist” as opposed to the question answered in the Pew Research survey, the report said.

The report said there was a “problem” with the question used in the Pew survey, which asked:

“Regardless of the official teaching of the Catholic Church, what do you personally believe about the bread and wine used for Communion?”

A few options shown below were given for answers.

“During Catholic Mass, the bread and wine…

1. Actually become the body and blood of Jesus Christ

2. Are symbols of the body and blood of Jesus Christ

3. No answer”

The problem with the question, the report said, is that respondents could choose both 1 and 2 and still be correct, citing the U.S. bishops conference, which said: “The transformed bread and wine are truly the Body and Blood of Christ and are not merely symbols.”

The Eucharist is “substance and symbol,” the CARA report said.

Mass attendance and education

Respondents in the CARA study were also surveyed on a host of other questions, including Mass attendance and where they learned about the Eucharist.

The study said that 95% of weekly Mass attendees and 80% who attend at least once a month believe in the Real Presence.

Seventeen percent of adult Catholics attend Mass at least once a week, the report said. Before the COVID-19 pandemic in 2019, 24% of Catholics attended Mass weekly, it said.

Almost 20% of adult Catholics attend Mass at least once a month and 26% attend a few times a year, the report said. Thirty-five percent rarely or never attend.

Those who entered the Church as adults or served in parish ministry polled at higher levels for belief in the Real Presence. Those who attended Catholic schools at any level were more likely than those who never attended to believe in the Real Presence.

The survey also asked respondents where they learned about the Eucharist, leading to their belief or unbelief in the Real Presence.

Fifty-three percent said they learned from their parents, while 44% said they learned through sacramental preparation or religious education. Just over 40% said they learned at Mass, and 37% said they learned at Catholic school.

For those who said they learned from their parents, 67% believe in the Real Presence. Seventy-three percent of those who learned from parish programs believe, while 75% who learned their information in Catholic schools believe.

Sixty percent of those who learned information about the Eucharist from the internet believe in the Real Presence.

“With these methods we hope that we have come to a better understanding of what Catholics believe the Church teaches and what they personally believe about the Eucharist themselves,” the report said.

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  1. A wonderful sign of restoration of the faith. Laity have had it drummed into their psyche that the Holy Eucharist is merely symbolic. That the outcome of poor RCIA, and unclear teaching from the pulpit. Making the Real Presence evident through the varied programs the Church has recently offered, including the renewed emphasis of presbyters in their preaching has had remarkably good results.

  2. What may be obvious to a priest is NOT necessarily obvious to the folks in the pews. I went to Catholic schools and attend daily Mass so I would venture to say I have somewhat more familiarity with things Catholic than some others. But I am always willing to learn more. It is NECESSARY for priests to take a step away from Mass readings once in a while to expound on the beliefs of the church. On sex, abortion, racism, charity, the Real Presence, respect, sacramentals, etc. Recently I went to a funeral Mass and it was obvious many there had not been attending Mass in a long while. The persons assigned to bring up the gifts walked directly to the foot of the altar, clearly not knowing what to do, before being flagged by the priest that the gifts were in the back and they were to bring them up front. During the consecration, a good 70% of the folks REMAINED STANDING as the words of consecration were spoken. I do think the priest should have told them to “please kneel”. Clergy may want to WISH that parishioners will somehow magically “get it”. But the reality is, people only learn if they are TAUGHT. And the person doing the teaching should be the priest. Points need not be belabored, a few minutes each week, even before the actual Mass, would be helpful beyond belief to the uninformed. If some people are bored or affronted, I say, “tough”. I was not shocked when the first survey about the Real Presence was released, with so few Catholics believing. Just frustrated and sad that almost nothing is being done to change it.Too many priests are not willing to fight for the church and are evidently comfortable to allow it to simply melt away with apathy. If they fear blow-back from the pastor or parishioners, they are simply spineless.

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