By Bob Sullivan
A few months ago, I devoted four consecutive columns to transubstantiation. In that series I said that there was one Catholic teaching which was so important, so essential, that we are setting our faith, even our salvation, up for disaster if we do not know and understand it.
A few weeks ago, a new national survey came out, which said that around 7 out of 10 Catholics do not believe in transubstantiation. While that survey is not really talking about you, who not only reads stuff about the Catholic faith, but who attends Mass regularly (at least every Sunday, and every holy day of obligation which does not fall on a Sunday), it is a really important fact to consider. I say this because a lot of American Catholics do not go to Mass regularly, which means somewhere around 50 million American Catholics do not understand or believe that the bread and wine actually turn into the body and blood of Christ when the priest prays the words of consecration over them during Holy Mass.
There are approximately 73 million Catholics in the United States today. However, only about 18 million attend Mass regularly. It is interesting to note that this is fairly similar to the number of Catholics who believe in the Eucharist. This is no coincidence. When you truly believe that the Eucharist is Jesus Christ, you believe what Jesus says…
So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.” John 6:53-55
Either it is Jesus’ flesh and blood, or Jesus is a liar or a lunatic. And if Jesus is a lunatic or a liar, the Christian faith is in vain and you and I would be fools to believe in it.2 However, you and I know He is the Lord, and therefore, we trust in Him. Because of this belief in the Eucharist, we make Mass the priority of our weekend, no matter where we are and no matter what else we are doing on the weekend. This actually describes about 25% of American Catholics. If it described half of American Catholics, our Catholic churches and Catholic schools would be bursting at the seams.
It seems to me that there are likely two or three primary reasons why more than 50 million Catholics still fail to understand or believe that the Eucharist is truly and fully, the body and blood of Jesus Christ. The first is apathy. Many of us are distracted, overworked, overstimulated, blinded by sin, etc… Because of this, we are not even inspired to try to understand our faith. We are attracted to worldly things instead of heavenly things. However, God isn’t worldly. While He can manifest Himself in awesome and powerful ways, He is usually found in the simplicity of silence:
…but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. 1 Kings 19:11-13
The Eucharist is the silence given to us by Jesus Himself.
The second reason people fail to understand or believe in the Eucharist is poor teaching and example. I believe that we have excellent resources and sources of Catholic education today. This has not always been the case. The 1960s and 1970s are notorious for horrid Catholic catechesis, including religion class in Catholic schools, RCIA, CCD, and sometimes even in seminaries. Young Catholics received a very watered-down version of the faith, and many received deeply flawed catechesis.
The third reason is bad examples. In years past, Catholics received the Eucharist on the tongue while kneeling. Most now receive the Eucharist in the hand while standing. It appears we stroll up the aisle in a neat line while folk music resounds, get a round piece of bread, then stroll back to our seat while thinking about lots of things which do not involve God. This never applies to you, right? Me neither. But it does. Whereas in Heaven, the reverence is very different:
…the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who is seated on the throne, saying, “Amen. Hallelujah!” Revelation 19:4
In heaven, the saints fall down. They also cry out so loud it is like “mighty thunderpeals.” In other words, in Heaven, the worshipers are the loud and active ones and God is quiet and still, whereas in our Mass today, we are quiet, and we don’t even know God is right there with us.
Are people failing to believe in the Eucharist because they don’t go to Mass, or are they failing to go to Mass because they don’t believe in the Eucharist? It is probably a combination of both. However, those of us who do believe, couldn’t stop going to Mass if we tried. How could anyone believe in the Eucharist and choose to stay away? I do not think it is possible, apart from Satan and his demons.
Therefore, we must pray, but also teach, and inspire others to come to know the truth of the Eucharist. We do this through our words but most especially by the reverence we give to the Eucharist.
1 Flannery O’Connor
2 1 Corinthians 15:12-19