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What Should We Do About the Loss of Belief in the Real Presence?

Most of you have probably heard about the recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, which found that only 26% of Catholics under age 40 believe in the real presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist.

There have been two different interpretations of these results. The first is that the numbers show a failure of teaching; poor catechesis is the fundamental cause. The second is that they show a failure in liturgical practice; a desacralized, demystified, less-reverent liturgy is the underlying problem.

There is truth in both interpretations, but to my mind, the second view is superior, in that it contains the first view but recognizes that faith is more than intellectual formation. Faith is more than what we say; it is also what we do. Too often, things we do and things we fail to do in the Mass are countersigns of the Real Presence and undermine, rather that support, what we say we believe.

The current poll doesn’t really reveal anything new. Back in 1994 Kenneth C. Jones compiled a book containing various statistics about Catholics and Catholicism called Index of Leading Catholic Indicators. In it, he cited a 1994 New York Times/CBS News poll that found that only 30% of Catholics under age 45 believed in the Real Presence. This number shocked many Catholics at that time. To our credit, the Church responded by revamping many of our religious-education texts and other catechetical materials. The publication of the new Catechism of the Catholic Church occurred around that same time, and many of us younger clergy and a growing wave of younger catechists coming from places like Franciscan University of Steubenville and Christendom College set about teaching more clearly on the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Yes, he is really, truly and substantially present: Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. Perpetual adoration of the Eucharist became a key element in this revived emphasis on the Real Presence.

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